All the tourists in San Francisco

It’s been fun people-watching all the tourists around San Francisco. There’s not many around WIRED’s office in the financial district, but once you go towards the wharf and the water and the Golden Gate Bridge, they’re everywhere.

I think the most I’ve seen is Germans. Sometimes you’re walking along, and you just go from one German family to another, the parents gripping the hands of 2-3 kids.

Then, there’s a lot of French people, and some Spaniards. There’s also a lot of people from Asia but I don’t know enough to tell what country.

But of course I had my eyes peeled for anyone from Sweden. To my chagrin, I haven’t had a 100% match 😦 I passed some people I thought might be Swedish; but either I was biking past, and couldn’t very well slam on the brakes, extend my ears, and listen closer; or they just weren’t talking as I passed them on the sidewalk.

The only one I was pretty sure about was a couple, maybe in their 50s, one bald and the other with frizzy hair, who were wandering around the financial district as I left work for the day. They were pointing out skyscrapers to each other or something. But after all, I only heard them for about 2 seconds.

Sadly, I think I’ve run into more Norwegians and Danes. Well, with the Danes it’s tricky. One second it sounds Danish, one second it sounds German.

But there’s been two groups of Norwegians I can confirm:

First, at the end of my second week here, I decided it was high time for me to poke a bit around San Francisco, so I went walking like 5 miles along the water until I got to  Ghirardelli Square and the little sand beach there. Then, I walked up the streets into the mansion-thronged hills, and I swear I didn’t do this on purpose, but I came across some footpaths, some wind-bleached staircases set right into the hillside and away from the cars; the dwellings became fancier and fancier and all of a sudden, a snow-white building arose before me with a giant black ship anchor planted in the tiny grassy lawn. It’s the Swedish-Norwegian-Danish consulate. So I stood there for a while, and then as I continued farther up the hill, there was a lady with two teenaged kids, one boy and one girl. They were all talking, and it was definitely one of the Scandinavian languages; and it was not Swedish; and I decided afterwards that it must have been Norwegian, not Danish. I had to give them a nice big smile, and the mom, who was looking a little harassed, stopped, and said, “excuse me, could I ask you a question?”

My dear lady, you may ask me a hundred questions. But all she wanted to know was: “Do you know if there’s anything to eat around here?” And she pointed down the hill I’d just walked up.

Unfortunately, I had no idea at all, and I hadn’t seen anything on my way except a pizza place – maybe. I stammered something out along those lines, wished them luck, and we passed.

The second group of Norwegians I’ve run into now 3 times – they get on at the Berkeley train stop, which is one stop after me. I see them if I catch the 8:07 am train and board the first or second car. They are not tourists; they must be here for the summer just like me, or maybe even longer. The first time this happened was in my second week. Four of them got on – two guys and two girls. It was a crowded car, and everyone was quiet, except these four going on endlessly in Norwegian, they really needed to announce to everyone that they were foreigners and they were new and that they were having a very good and exciting time. Especially the biggest guy, every time the train slowed to a stop and was the quietest of all, he would crack a joke which I’m sure wasn’t funny, but nevertheless set all four into howls of mirth. Ha ha.

Then I saw them again two weeks ago, but this time, just a girl and the smaller guy. They talked the whole time, too. The girl is very distinctive because she has bleach-blonde hair which she ties back with a thick black bow and then also wears all black, so you know the contrast is kind of hard on the eyes.

Then last week, I was standing there against the train wall – all the seats being taken as usual, and at the Berkeley stop, this time both girls got on. And in a new twist, they stood right in the empty place next to me. But don’t worry, I didn’t do anything to alarm them,  I don’t think. I just stood there and tried to work out what they were saying. I didn’t make it too far, though, because I only seem to understand filler talk in Norwegian: “did you know”, “it’s absolutely true,” “and I felt…” So I don’t much get to the meat of the matter.

I have passed the Swedish-Norwegian-Danish consulate a second time now. It was open, so the flags were all flying out front, and there was a family walking up the hill towards me as I came down towards them, just a man and woman, faces very pink from the exertion and smiling very widely – I think because of the Norwegian flag that comes out the side of the building at the entrance to the Norwegian seamen’s association, or something. But it makes me made because it is the same entrance used for the Swedish church, so why on earth is there no Swedish flag coming out the side?

Then when I got closer to the consulate, there was another family there, this time with two kids. And I don’t know if they have a special pass or something, but when I looked back again, this time they were up on the balcony of the consulate. Right from where the flagpoles rise up. You can believe I felt left out. Is everyone allowed to do that?

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