One of the first things that I learned upon arriving in Sweden is that Swedes love the queuing and number system. This means that people can’t just form a line in front of a teller when they walk into a bank. Instead, they have to get a ticket from a machine and look for something that resembles a scoreboard to figure out how many people are ahead. This system isn’t just at banks. It’s at any train station, post office, and doctor’s office, too.
Unfortunately, my hyperactive New York City personality easily forgot about the queuing system when I was in a rush to receive some medical attention, which led to my first awkward situation in Sweden.
My story begins with an earache. After dealing with what I thought was an ear infection for about nine days, I finally decided to cough up the $200 it costs to see a doctor here. So, I went to the student health center, where I was told to go to the reception desk. Now, the fact that the receptionist’s desk and waiting room were separated by an automatic sliding door should have been a reminder to GET A NUMBER, but I clearly forgot. I hurried inside and was greeted by the dirtiest look I’ve ever experienced from an older Swedish woman standing in front of me.
Awkwardly trying to avoid her gaze and play it cool, she finally turned completely around and scowled at me. Then she walked out while muttering something in Swedish under her breath. My eyes followed her and I saw it: The scoreboard on the wall in the waiting room.
“OH, I need a ticket!” I exclaimed as if I had just discovered the long-lost city of Atlantis. The receptionist smiled and told me it was okay, making me feel less like an idiot. So I walked out of the waiting room, grabbed a ticket (actually two because there were two ticket dispensers on the wall along with two scoreboards-I’m still not sure what the other was for) and waited while my ear throbbed harder from the panic I had just endured.
After getting home, I still couldn’t shake the image of the woman’s grimace so I decided to do a little research about this paper-wasting phenomenon. Since Sweden is well known for its equality policies, I wasn’t surprised at what I found. Regardless of skin color or economic background, everyone receives the same opportunities as everyone else even while waiting in line for a service. The idea behind separating the receptionist’s desk from the waiting room obviously (or not, in my case) has to do with privacy for discussions about health concerns.
All in all, my trip to the doctor wasn’t terrible. I did end up paying $200 to find out that I didn’t have an ear infection, just pressure due to the common cold. I did realize, however, that I appreciate the queuing system. The queue tells you approximately how long you need to wait so you can step outside or finish another errand, making waiting rooms less crowded and frantic. I mean, you might miss your turn if twenty people decide to take tickets and never come back but for the most part I think it works.
So, some tips when running errands in Sweden: look for a ticket machine immediately upon entering a place and take a ticket. If there is more than one machine, take a ticket from all of them and figure it out after. If you’re in a rush, just muster up the courage and ask someone for help. Except for the woman at the doctor’s office, Swedes are really friendly and usually love to show off their English speaking skills. Finally, always walk into a place with the expectation of finding a queuing machine unless you’re getting on a crowded bus. Then, sorry to say, but you’re on your own.