The Encounter, or Human-human and human-animal relationships on Stockholm trains

The other day I witnessed on the Stockholm commuter train the following scene.

A woman was sitting with a dog on a leash, and the dog was whining most miserably. In fact, one’s heart was nearly breaking hearing that dog. I sat across the aisle from them, and on the sly cast a glance at the dog once in a while; it was a beautiful black rottweiler, and there seemed to be nothing wrong with her other than she kept crawling under the seat, and jumping up, and then crawling under another seat, as far as the leash allowed her, and kept whining. The woman pushed her, quite rudely, with the tip of her boot; I would not dare say kicked her, but pushed her quite substantially, so to say.

A man entered, and sat in the seat opposite to the seat next to the woman; you know, the usual pattern of occupying seats on the commuter train.

I have to make a socio-anthropological diversion here, please bear with me: the order in which seats are occupied on the commuter trains.

  1. In the first instance, all the seats are taken next to the window, in the direction of the movement of the train.
  2. In the second instance, all the seats are taken in the aisle, facing the direction opposite to the movement of the train. Which means the seats are taken which are opposite the empty seats next to the occupied seats. Which means no-one is facing anyone, and no-one is sitting next to each other.
  3. The seats are taken in the aisle facing the direction of the movement of the train.
  4. In the unlikely event that train is full (rush hours), the last seat is taken, which means that the person has to most uncomfortably squeeze past the three seated passengers into the empty seat, unless the passenger of the seat #2 above moves to the window and yields their place.

There are further rules and exceptions concerning race and class, mostly race, but I will not go into that here. It deserves a separate post.

So the man sat according to instance #2, opposite the empty seat next to the woman. The woman and the man both ignored each other, as is custom on a Stockholm commuter train. No eye contact was exchanged, and to all extents and purposes it could be assumed that they were unaware of each other’s presence, as the code of commuter train politeness prescribes.

Not the dog, however.

Dear Swedish dog owners, this is a clear example of how you continuously and appalingly fail to educate your dogs according to the code of Swedish etiquette. Sometimes you succeed, I admit, and your dogs become as capable of not blinking an eye at the presence of another fellow being as yourselves. But not always.

The dog noticed the man. Oh yes, she did. She opened her mouth and started panting; her whole body was smiling and wiggling. The woman grew tense and pulled the leash towards her, so that the dog could not reach the man. But the dog seemed to possess more strength, or more desire to enter a social interaction than her owner had expected. Suddenly, quick as a lightning, she licked the man’s hands; she did not just give them a greeting lick, she licked them all over, quickly and greedily. The reaction of the man was astonishing. He pressed his lips tight in order to restrain a happy, ticklish smile. He could not withhold it, however. It briefly blossomed on his face, untied the knots, relaxed the muscles. Within a second he managed to regain his composure, and the woman managed to pull the dog back, hard, so that the animal screamed and curled under the seat, showing with her whole poor dog body the insult and misery she suffered.

The humans did not exchange so much as a glance, let alone a word.


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