Hotels reflect an international standard – there’s an expectation that a hotel room will provide you with certain things in a certain way and you’ll know what that way will be. Once you’re inside the hotel you could be almost anywhere in the world, and the only difference is whether or not it has a trouser press. Staying at a bed and breakfast, though, brings you a bit closer to the culture of the country you are in.
For instance, the first thing that happens when people arrive here at 68 degrees is they are asked to take off their boots or shoes. This probably does not come as a surprise, given the snow and potential for wetness if you walk in with them – but the same request would be made whatever the time of year. When I first moved to Sweden I failed to appreciate that removing your shoes at the door wasn’t just the personal whim of my host but a national unwritten law, and I was later embarrassed to be told to remove my shoes in what seemed to me to be unlikely places – a visit to the dentist, for instance, or a gym changing room.
The second unwritten law I stumbled over was in the bedroom section of IKEA. I had recently moved in with Rolf, my Swedish partner, and – quickly tiring of the charms of sharing his single bed – we were there to buy a new double bed. Given that we were from different countries, our relationship had so far developed along safe, shared, international lines. Within twenty minutes I feared an international crisis – we were about to have our first major row, in IKEA.
This was back in the days when IKEA was less international than it is now, when it tended still to sell items to suit the different countries (although they were still called Björn or Billy). We didn’t seem to be able to agree what bed or bedding to buy – every time I suggested something he looked puzzled and picked up something else. When he suggested something it seemed to me he was trying to persuade me that we should keep our single bed habit. It was a new relationship; we were trying very hard to make this work.
Eventually the wires crossed badly enough to blow a fuse and the truth came out…. A Swedish ‘double’ bed is likely to be two beds, joined together. A Swedish mattress is not a thick bouncy thing, but a thin mattress, laid on top of a (slightly bouncy) bed base. And, most surprising of all, people in a double bed never share a double duvet.
I found these revelations deeply disturbing and not at all conducive to a good night’s sleep. But once the purchase had been made, I saw the sense in them – to the extent that I now think my own country’s habits in this regard rather bizarre. Who can claim they are never bothered by their partner’s twitchy foot or constant turning? Or that their partner has never rolled over in the night and taken all the duvet, leaving them with a cold chill down the far side?
When people come to stay here at our bed and breakfast, I see them eyeing up the two duvets on the bed, thinking this is a make-do arrangement. I don’t try and convince them this is the Swedish way and that they might like it. I just smile, and wait. I know that the next morning they’ll tell me they’ve had the best night’s sleep for ages.