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Indeed, the whole year seems in Stockholm to be divided into epochs (yet not kept as Church epochs) in preparation for which the people have no time to do anything. The very first phrases of the Swedish language, which I learned to understand, from their constant repetition, were, "Jag har inte tid;" that is, I have not time: and "Man kan inte hjelpe det;'' or, One cannot help it.
Now I am trying to get some clothing made up. The dress-maker brings me home a dress fhreequarters done, after keeping it a wearisome time in hands. When I want her to finish it, she says, "Jag har inte tid," because Jul is coming; but the little lady—little is a pet word, meaning dear—may be sure she will come and take it away, and finish it very soon. And then the bill is produced, and the little lady will be so very good as to pay it. I am patted, and clapped, and coaxed, until the bill is paid; and with a promise that, as soon as she has "time," she will do all the noble little lady requires, she curtsies out of the room.
I go, after some "time" lost in waiting, and in going after such work-people, to complain to my hostess; who looks very wise and kind, and says, "Man kan inte hjelpe det. They have not time, and they want their little money. One cannot help it."
Now every fair hand one sees is engaged in preparing Jul-klappar, which droll word signifies Christmas presents—a really serious and mercantile sort of affair in Sweden: for it is a sort of exchange, which is expected to be pretty equal in value. Every face one meets has Jul-klappar in its regards; every lip that speaks to you is sure to utter the word "Jul" before it is silent.
The elderly Frokens, or noble old maids, get up raffles for their work, to enable them, I believe, to make presents to the richer relatives and friends who give to them. Grefvinnan bustles in with a fine worked foot-rug, which is meant to be placed before a sofa on a bare floor.
"Madame, as the English like grand carpets, Eroken P. wishes to know if you will take a ticket for this? It is to be put in a lottery."
"If Eroken wishes it, I will take a ticket; but I do not expect to get the rug."
"Perhaps not; but man kan inte hjelpe det."
I hear nothing more of the lottery, so I ask a young lady one day if Eroken P.'s sister got the rug.
"Nay," says the girl, with simplicity, "Froken's mother got it."
These are minor notes of the preparation for Jul-Afton; and many a lottery ticket has lain in my drawer uncalled-for. "Man kan inte hjelpe det," is my solace in all troubles.
Stockholm, in other respects, continues rather dull. The gay season commences after New Year's-day. Travelling in winter is seldom thought of, without necessity, in Sweden ; otherwise, many persons who have houses or estates in the country, would prefer keeping their Christmas there.
Morning visitors are not often received here; but accident has been the cause of my not meeting with one of the occupants of the many carriages which have stopped at the door, and left cards with such long, and noble, and, some of them, such unpronounceable, titles, that I should be almost afraid of making acquaintance with their proprietors.
Some of my countrymen, who have spent a short time in this land, have given very strange, and others very unfavourable, accounts of its people. Of these the only one whose book is known, or talked of, or, I might add, feared, in
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Sweden, is Laing. His apparently dry facts seem hard to get rid of. Swedes, the most learned in the law, will tell you that he made mistakes in his statistics; and others assure you that he only spent six weeks in the country, and knew nothing about it. This is the common verdict against all who find fault with Sweden or the Swedes. I was amused the other day with a French writer's laughable description of Swedish cookery, the irony of which one took for commendation, until it came out into open and broad ridicule. I brought the book to my patriotic hostess, who read it aloud to her young ladies, remarking at first, "How well he knows all! That is truly surprising. He describes so time and well. Yes, that is because we are so like the French.''
The tone of the writer became more apparent; his words were plain at last. He had been desiring the French cooks to throw away their laurels, to cast them into the saucepans of Sweden, and to go and learn the art of cookery there; but when this tone changed, the pleased countenance of the reader changed also—" Hah—ah—ah—yes! —he knows nothing of our country—nothing at all. That is all wrong, Madame," she said, closing the book; "it is not likely that a Frenchman should learn our customs. He stopped at some poor tavern when he was here, and took all his ideas from that."
That such would be the general sentence pronounced against any writer who dispraised Sweden and the Swedes, I am very certain; but at the same time I must say that I never yet read a book written by an Englishman on Sweden, which did not show an utter ignorance of its society.
I feel that, to judge of society, one must depart a little from the conventional laws of Stockholm life; for small as society is here, it is arbitrarily divided. While we find the higher circle very unlike what it is. in. London or Paris, we enjoy its amenities, and observe the natural amiability that so often appears through the encumbrances of artificial existence; but we know that it is not there we are to observe strong national characteristics, any more than it is in the lowest grade that we should look for the refinements of advanced civilization; therefore it is, perhaps, in that link which connects both, the middle classes, we shall find our best resting-point when wishing to form a judgment of either.