In the UK you must always give up your seat for an elderly person.
In Sweden, by contrast, doing so is fraught with danger.
50% of older people will smile and accept. The other 50% will reject you with a snarl.
This is bewildering to a Brit, but self-evident to a Swede. So what’s the difference? Self-reliance. Some elderly Swedes consider it an insult to their independence. You are publicly shaming them with your pity.
You can’t tell who will smile and who will snarl. This makes offering a help a risky business. And not just with elderly people.
We were shocked at first at how seldom my wife got help from passers-by when bumping the baby buggy up and down the icy staircases in the centre of town.
Then we figured it out: fear of insulting her independence. She would have welcomed the help, but passing strangers were not to know that.
So, how to deal with this risk, this game of social Russian roulette?
Most Swedes prefer not to take the risk. Better to bury yourself in your phone and avoid the dilemma altogether…