Decisions, bartering and resistance: On trading and the nature of rural neighbors


In recent posts, I labored over choosing between a regular stationary bike and a spinning cycle. I opted for the latter.

I debated making Samoa cookies again, but I just could not be bothered with all the steps it involved. But you know, looking at them, they do look like they would be delicious — for the kinds of people who like caramel, toasted coconut and chocolate. And let’s face it — most people do.

When I had a baking episode over the weekend, I aimed for making eight varieties. I baked six (snickerdoodles, white chocolate macadamia, M&M, lemon, Anzac biscuits and a variation on the butterscotch-cashew cookie I tried to make before) and made dough for two other kinds (maple sandwich cookies and peanut butter chocolate chip) that I will make later this week.

Living where I do (the middle of cold, Swedish nowhere), I get plenty of quiet and isolation. The problem is that there are distant neighbors who, despite their distance and silence, seem to have a thousand vigilant, watching eyes all trained on me. In a place like this, you may never get around to meeting the neighbors, but as one neighbor (a recent acquaintance who found the courage to introduce himself to me after almost two years) confirmed, all the neighbors in this area talk incessantly about me (me in this case because I am the newest resident, young, alone and foreign). Apparently they make up tales about me, which they have never had the nerve to confirm. According to them, I work and have my lights on at all hours of the night. And did you know? I am Yerman (the way Swedes say “German”)! He seemed perplexed as to why the neighbors would find me so curious, but I pointed out to him (none of these people have ever lived outside of this region; he came from a town maybe 20 kilometers away — but the neighbors were undoubtedly curious about him and making up scenarios about his life until they met him. He moved here ten years ago, and my arrival is probably the first thing to happen in that decade) that in a rural area, nothing else is happening. In a big city, neighbors in apartment blocks don’t bother paying any attention to the comings and goings of their neighbors. In that sense, being in a crowded metropolis might offer a liberating anonymity not to be found even in semi-remote seclusion of the Swedish forest. He perhaps is the lone diplomat who will extend himself on this mission to find out if I am as weird as the neighbors have decided I am. (I told him to caution the neighbors that my husband and his five other wives are moving in soon.)

The thing, though, is that once you do make the connections with the neighbors, there can be some good opportunities for helping each other and bartering. I had encountered this “rural-neighbor bartering” kind of thing earlier in my Swedish life with someone I knew. He exchanges his hunting rights (on his commercial property) to a businessman/hobby hunter from Stockholm for meat from the hunt. As 19th century as that sounds, it is eminently practical. (And who doesn’t want to make stew of the mighty älg, who makes nighttime driving so perilous?) With me he exchanged some of his expertise and manual labor for some of my labors… and now, my newly friendly neighbor has extended this chain of trade by taking my broken washing machine off my hands and delivering it to his repairman friend, who will fix it in exchange for my neighbor fixing some small electronic component of his. And in return, all I did was give the neighbor some cookies, which I would have done anyway. (And I offered him the fencing/dog kennel area in my yard — his friend needs a solution for containing an unruly dog.)

And to think, I was so close to buying a new washing machine and might not need to. All because one very shy neighbor decided to reach beyond his normal boundaries.

Sometimes the most effective path to take is not to resist. Just surrender.

3 thoughts on “Decisions, bartering and resistance: On trading and the nature of rural neighbors

  1. gargoyle38

    So, you work all the time and that makes you German….What a delightful discovery about the rural Swedish mind….This is such a wonderful post: thanks for sharing so much.

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