So, since there wasn’t a wave of anger after the appearance of the first part last week, I’m going to republish the whole of Bjorn for Youth Work over the course of the next 12 Mondays. All things being well, each part will appear at 9am Monday morning . Read the intro/disclaimer here, or catch up with part one, here.
2: Swedish youth worker Bjorn Argen learns some valuable lessons in British culture while waiting for his routine police checks to clear.
The people in this country are very different to those back home. For a start, they seem to think that any social situation has to include the consumption of alcohol. They watch the football – they drink beer; they walk in the country – they stop for a beer. The other day I even caught two guys in the health club drinking beer in the sauna. Surely this is not healthy?
The whole culture here is very interesting to me. Apart from the beer, it seems to be built on three things. First, everyone has a mobile telephone – I mean everyone: teenagers, old people, babies – and some people have more than one. Nobody talks face-to-face anymore. And because they’re all on different networks, nobody actually calls each other either. They just spend the whole time sending each other these tiny little text messages on their phones. And I really mean the whole time – the other day, I swear I saw a man who’d texted so furiously that he’d worn part of his thumb away. So they don’t talk – they just communicate by short phone messages, which, by the way, aren’t even in English. It is going to be very difficult for me to perfect my language skills here, but then again, I’m guessing that their language may die out in ten years anyway.
Secondly, they are completely obsessed with the private lives of famous people. The other day in the newspaper, they devoted the first three pages to a footballer who took his baby out for a walk. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it’d been a slow news day, but there’d been a landslide in Africa.
Thirdly, they seem to have a problem with foreigners. They call it patriotism, but then hey, so did Hitler. Every time someone hears my accent, they look at me like I’ve just robbed a pensioner. I wondered why that was, but then I read a newspaper called The Daily Mail. According to them, people like me are only here to steal all the jobs, the money and the women. I wrote them a letter, explaining that my job involves massaging overweight men, that it pays less than begging in the street, and that every woman I meet likes me until I speak, and then looks at me like I’ve just robbed a pensioner. So far they haven’t printed it.
After working all that out, I thought people here were pretty strange. Then I went to church, and realised that the Christians here make the regular people look quite normal.
There are many examples, but one thing has really blown my mind. In my church, they have something called a ‘prayer chain’. According to its organiser, Mrs Buttermunch, this is an invaluable service designed to get urgent prayer requests around the righteous intercessors of the church as quickly as possible. In fact, it’s a big fat gossipy game of Chinese whispers.
You see, in order to take on the church youth group, empty as it is, I have to go through a routine police check. Basically, I make an approach to the Swedish national police myself, then they run a check, and send the results on direct to the church. It’s a very simple process, especially for a man who had the schoolyard nickname fyrkantig*! Still, it’s always important to involve God in every situation, and so I thought that this might be a good opportunity to make use of the prayer chain. I called Mrs Buttermunch, just to explain that my routine police check application had gone off to Sweden, and that I’d love people to pray, as it was important that the process wasn’t held up in any way, because I wanted to get my teeth into the youth group. I assumed that this last expression, which I have heard many English people use, was appropriate. This, in hindsight, may have been a little foolish.
The following Sunday, I found myself sitting alone in church. The place is never full of course, but as I was three rows from the front, and with the pews directly behind and in front of me heaving with whispering people, I found it a little surprising. That was nowhere near as weird as the sermon, a sudden break from the current series on ‘Great Genealogies of the Old Testament’, which addressed the subject of vigilance, seemingly from no actual Bible passage. ‘We have to be careful,’ said the minister, (have you ever thought someone was preaching directly at you?) ‘as among us there may be many kinds of secret evil.’ All the way through, people around me kept looking over at me, nudging their friends and pointing. This I found slightly offensive, but grudgingly accepted that they must be Daily Mail readers.
Then, as I tried to leave, slightly embarrassed, I heard two old women talking behind me:
‘Has he got no shame?’ asked one.
‘Tut’ said the other (I can only assume that she couldn’t actually tut, and so had to say the word in order to make the point).
I spun on my heels, incensed. ‘What is all this about?’ I gasped, trying my best British accent, which came out slightly Welsh.
‘You! You’re under police investigation!’ screeched the Tut lady, helpfully causing every pair of eyes in the whole church to fix on me.
‘What?’ I replied, incredulous.
‘For biting young people!’ accused her friend.
I shook my head in utter despair, and then it clicked. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Mrs Buttermunch slowly retreating into the shadows.
‘Hang on a minute,’ I said. ‘Are you members of the church prayer chain?’
They looked at each other, and nodded. At which point I went tearing towards Mrs Buttermunch in a rage, and the Tut lady screamed:
‘Look out! He’s going to bite her!’
Anyway, in the end, we managed to sort it out. Next week’s genealogies sermon is to be bumped for a special session on gossip, and my clearance came through from the Swedish police. People around the church are no longer avoiding me, and the Tut lady even bought me a present to celebrate: four cans of beer. And once I’ve enjoyed those, possibly during a visit to the gym or a trip to the supermarket, I can start getting my teeth into some local young people. If you know what I mean.
Give my best to everyone back home,
Bjorn Argen is a volunteer youth worker based in Harley Newtown, in the North Midlands. Not really.