One of the things you notice fairly quickly when travelling in Scandinavia is that everyone is able to speak English. And when I say everyone, I mean you will not come across a single person who does not speak it. Not only that, people here talk with very little accent and are often easier to understand than many people in the US and UK. I’m sure that the governments of the Nordic countries realize that the rest of the world will not be learning their languages anytime soon. As a result, they require their students to learn and master English at a very early age. The benefits of these kinds of policies are innumerable and at the very least enables their population to be able to communicate in the language that dominates so much of the global economy.
Another thing I did not anticipate here is the accessibility of fast food restaurants. Although I almost never eat fast food when I’m back home in the US, I eat it quite a bit while travelling. This is due mostly to the fact that it is a quick, cheap, and tasty form of sustenance. Also, a Big Mac here in Stockholm tastes exactly the same as one in the US. Being cognizant of the general European dismissal of American cuisine, I assumed you would only be able to find a McDonalds in places like airports and shopping malls. My theory was that these locations are more appropriate for fast food since they are far enough away from the cultural treasures of the city centers. And yet here I am in downtown Stockholm and all around me are establishments with names like McDonalds, Subway, and Burger King. I guess the desire for a quick, cheap, and tasty meal is a universal one that is far more powerful than any anti-American sentiments.
Speaking of fast food, I’m a bit hungry and think I will grab a bite from the McDonalds just down the street from my hotel. While placing my order, the worker behind the counter asks me where I am from. He perks up considerably when I tell him I am visiting from the US and tells me he wants to visit soon in order to become an actor. Detecting a slight French accent, I ask him where he is from. It turns out that his mother is French and his father is Finnish and he apparently split the difference by settling here in Stockholm. Due to the fact that he is in his early twenties and looks like a young Johnny Depp, I tell him that he might be able to make it and suggest that he choose LA over New York. This is due to the fact that struggling actors can at the very least find affordable housing in southern California.
As I begin to devour my chicken mcnuggets, it dawns on me that maybe I should look into becoming a Hollywood talent scout. I could spend my days frequenting European fast food joints looking for the next fresh face. One of the things that strikes me about my talk with the young man is how enthralled he was by the idea of Hollywood. Most Americans over the age of 21 seem pretty jaded by the entertainment industry as a whole and often see it as quite phony. This general cynicism towards Hollywood is probably due in large part to the countless TV shows and films made about the industry itself. The image of a sleazy agent, megalomaniac film producer, and neurotic actor are so familiar to American audiences that they have become a cliché. Perhaps Europeans have not been exposed to these kinds of characters and still view Hollywood as a place where your dreams often become a reality