Crime isn’t big in Kiruna. There is a police station but I’ve never seen a policeman. The police station is very visible in the way that a burglar alarm might be, and I suspect it isn’t really connected.
So imagine my surprise when, out for an evening run in the downtown industrial area, I was overtaken by a blue-light-flashing police car. I wondered if I was being pulled over for running too slow, or possibly for running in a faulty vehicle with insufficient lights, or maybe I was to be breathalysed after being spotted wobbling in the street.
Then I noticed the police car wasn’t stopping me but was forcing a car off the road right in front of me. The two cars ground to a halt and I wondered what would happen next. Rather than keep jogging through the middle of all this – which was tempting, I’ll admit, because I really wanted to know what was going on – I made the decision to cross the road and run on ahead – after all, I could be hit in the crossfire.
Only this was Kiruna, not an episode of ‘Miami Vice’. The most likely offence was underage driving, Why else drive through an industrial area at night? Kiruna allows teenagers to drive slow tractors and many people convert cars into these so they can drive them before they’re 16. It must be very tempting to borrow your parents’ car if your tractor breaks down – who’s going to notice in Kiruna? Sadly for this driver he came across probably the only police car to drive through town in the last six months. His life is clearly blighted by bad luck.
Criminal activity in Kiruna is infrequent, and generally limited to the tourist industry – selling ‘Northern Lights Tours’ for instance.
We have to explain to guests that the reason we keep our front door locked is not because we’re afraid of burglary but because it’s normal here for people to walk into a house without knocking. We’re told that when you go away you should leave your outdoor broom leaning against the door so people don’t waste time and energy climbing up the steps to the door. This isn’t a society that expects crime.
So it can come as a bit of a shock when we suspect that a guest is considering committing some kind of crime. We regard the role of running a bed and breakfast as a holy order, bringing with it a requirement for absolute confidence when a guest unburdens themselves to us in the confessional downstairs hallway. They do this from time to time. I don’t know if it’s the cold temperatures, or the wild landscape, or the northern lights, but sometimes people open up and tell you things, and you just can’t stop them. They’ve never in their entire lives eaten reindeer meat. They didn’t know you can’t make a snowman this far north. They used to think that penguins lived in the arctic. Or maybe, they confess that they’re wearing cotton underwear. Yes the confessions can be quite shocking.
It’s very important for us to remember that there are cultural differences and what might appear criminal to us might be a normal occurrence where the guest comes from. This week a guest actually admitted that he was planning a murder. It was hard to know how to respond. Should we tell the police? Or was he just saying it, as a figure of speech, and not really intending to do it? We couldn’t tell.
He was sitting on the stairs in our confessional hallway, lacing up his boots after a very happy two days with us. He and his friend had been lucky enough to see the northern lights, they’d done a good sled dog tour, experienced a snowstorm, and learnt a little too much about Kiruna’s night life. So we weren’t expecting it. Then it suddenly came out; their flight wasn’t until 1pm, and so they had some time to kill.
There, it had come out, just like that. Clear, premeditated murder was the plan and as people who had witnessed the statement didn’t that make us accessories to the act?
Then I remembered; where he came from this might be perfectly normal. Treasure the moments you have in Kiruna, I wanted to say, and just don’t do it. No-one here feels the need to kill time.
The two of them thanked us for their stay and left. I like to think they didn’t follow through with their plan. We decided not to call the police, and anyway, if we had we probably wouldn’t have been connected.