Anna Ingrid Elisabet Eliasson – formerly known as Ingrid Palmgren and Ingrid Persson – has witnessed volumes of changes in relationships, lifestyles, language, weather, politics and transportation over more than eight decades of her action-packed life in Stockholm.
Somewhere along the way, my friend Iida began working at the corner grocery store near Ingrid’s apartment. After a couple years of seeing each other when Ingrid stopped in for food and cigarettes, Ingrid (in her seventies) and Iida (in her twenties) became friends.
When Iida left the job and the neighborhood a few years ago, she and Ingrid determined that they would remain close. They have been meeting ever since, sharing coffee, wine and an indignant sense of humor with each other.
Ingrid, now 86, has an exceptionally colorful and unrestrained mouth. She speaks only Swedish and this interview was conducted in her native language. Iida and I have done our very best to accurately translate her spicy vocabulary into English.
PHOTOS BY EMILY DAHL
Interview co-written with Iida Hellström
How did you meet Iida?
At the ICA grocery store.
How did you all become friends?
It started when I would come to the store and we would talk a little bit. I’m not sure how it happened exactly. I started giving her Christmas funny things as presents, just as a joke. [laughter]
I know she’s vegetarian. So I found this canning jar with vegetarian wieners. So I bought it for her and wrote a note on it, “Open and enjoy or spit it out.” [laughter]
How long ago was that?
So you shopped at ICA while she worked there?
How long have you been a smoker?
For 70 years. [laughter] Yeah.
The same brand the whole time?
No, no, no. I’ve used lots of different ones.
Which is the best?
The ones I have now. Gula Blend. [laughter] Free advertising!
Are there magazines or newspapers that you read regularly?
Dagens Nyheter (The Daily News).
How many years have you read Dagens Nyheter? Your whole life?
[laughs] Yeah, you could say that!
Have you lived in Stockholm your entire life?
Do you like the Stockholm style of life? Or have you traveled anywhere else?
Yes, I take a vacation trip every year. I’ve been around Europe and I’ve been to Morocco.
When you live in Sweden your whole life, do you ever get used to the cold?
You can’t get used to it! [laughter] Right? It doesn’t matter where you live. You can’t. No, I hate it! [laughter]
Do you have more young people like Iida who are your friends?
Yes, yes. I do. Well, I have my grandchildren. Yesterday I had a girl at my house. She is… What is she? 56 or 57.
Iida is a little younger than that.
[laughter] Yeah. No, I don’t have any friends like Iida.
Let’s talk about Stockholm a little. What are the biggest difference between today and the 1940s or ‘50s?
You know what they always say? It was better before! [laughter]
Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard. But how?
The houses were more beautiful. Now it’s just shit, I think. Yeah, and then it was a little more… [laughs]
Everything wasn’t so big?
There weren’t so many people. You’re a foreigner, right? Where do you come from?
I’m from the United States.
Ahh… [laughs] Okay. That’s okay. [laughter] But then so many more immigrants have come here. [laughter]
Too many? Like me? [laughter]
[laughs heartily] Well, that’s why I asked! [laughs] I thought, “Oh, maybe he’s from Poland or…” [laughter]
Oh, so America is okay but Poland isn’t?
But… [hesitates to answer the question]
Do you miss anything from the Stockholm of the past?
When you say it like that, I think about my age a lot. I went out and partied more and we all made fools of ourselves back then… [laughs] I had a lot of fun.
You miss that?
No, I don’t know. It’s hard to do that when you’re old and don’t have the energy. You can’t really miss it.
But you are out partying now!
[shakes her head like it’s a stupid remark, then much laughter]
Oh, yeah! [holding up her coffee cup…] Yep, this is what you can drink these days! [laughter]
Tell me about when you worked at the big Åhléns City department store.
You all are totally crazy. [laughter]
Okay, I saw the job advertisement and I hadn’t worked before. I never had a job before. So I thought I should take it easy since I didn’t have any experience.
It said in the ad that the person would work in the warehouse, and I thought I could handle that. And you could switch between the warehouse and the retail store.
So I walked up to the Åhléns City personnel office and talked to some of the girls who worked there. I looked through their window and saw all the workers eating lunch at tables in the employee cafeteria and so I said, “Do you have any jobs here that don’t require intelligence?” [laughter]
And the girl said, “Yes, we do, actually. I’m going to quit my job, so there will be an opening in the cafeteria.”
“Yeah? Okay,” I said.
“I’ll take it!” [laughter]
Yes, exactly. She said, “Well, the personnel manager isn’t here right now, but he’s coming back in the afternoon so you can talk to him then.”
So I came home to my husband and I told him that I had been looking for a job. And he said that he didn’t really want me to work.
I don’t fucking know. He wanted to have his bitch at home so she could clean. [much laughter]
No, he was scared I would go out and meet somebody else. [laughter]
I told him I was going to apply for the job at Åhléns City anyway and he said, “You’ll never get it.”
Then the telephone rang! The personnel manager said, “You can start the 6th of March!” [laughter]
When I went to work, I had no idea what to do there. This woman who was going to be my boss came down to the lunch room. She said, “You can start here,” and she showed me where they wash the dishes and there were a couple of Turkish people there.
And I thought, “Well, have I sunk so far?” [laughs] But I said, “Okay, I’ll take it.” [laughter]
So I started washing dishes but it was only a few months before the bosses noticed I was doing a good job and that I was Swedish, which was a plus.
After a while, they thought I was doing a good job. The pay negotiator asked what I wanted in my new contract, so I said I’d like to have a vacation and higher pay. The boss said no at first, so I said I was going to quit.
After that I got a vacation added to my contract and they moved me to a new department. I became the boss of the cafeteria which must have been because I was Swedish, because I wasn’t that fucking good at my job. [laughter] That’s what I think, anyway… [laughter]
So I was there and I helped out in the kitchen sometimes and at the register. I was there fifteen and a half years.
How long ago was that?
I quit in 1984. I had some other shitty job because I got sick of that.
Where else did you work?
I worked in a bamba (western Swedish slang for a school cafeteria) at two schools and then at Sabbatbergs Hospital in a small coffee shop.
When the boss was on vacation [laughs] I started talking about how I wanted to quit. So when she went on vacation, I faked that I had to go in for foot surgery, so I quit and took a trip to Morocco and I haven’t worked since then. [laughter]
What time do you wake up and go to bed every day?
I wake up when the newspaper comes and that’s usually between 3:30 and 4:30 in the morning.
Then I fika (drink a coffee and have a snack) and then I go back to sleep for a few hours until about 9:00.
At night, I turn off the TV at 9:00 or 10:00. Then I lay around and read until I turn everything off at 11:00 or midnight.
Does that seem healthy enough for you? [laughs]
Yeah! It sounds great. It kind of sounds like paradise! [laughter] Do you remember your first kiss?
Yes, I do, I believe. [long pause, as if she’s not going to say anything more about it, then laughter]
It wasn’t for real… we were playing Ryska Posten (“Russian Mail”). Do you know what that is?
You’re in the closet and they ask you, “Kiss or hug or blah, blah, blah…” I don’t really remember now. So it was just a really fast kiss. (she makes a fast peck-kiss in the air, like she doesn’t want to kiss someone) [laughter]
How old were you?
I wasn’t so old. I was 11 or 12. [laughter] Then there were more kisses after that! [laughter]
Have you dated tons of guys?
Yeah, I have, actually! [laughter] But now we have to talk about something else. [laughter]
People went out and danced a lot, you know? For example at Nalen (a Stockholm club that is still open today) and other places like that.
I know you drink wine, but do you drink hard alcohol or beer?
Not beer. Ugh! [laughter] But everything else.
Is it easier to meet someone if you both smoke?
Not even when people say, “Do you have a lighter?”
No. When they ask if I have a cigarette I say, “What are you, a beggar?” [laughter]
The guy you are dating now you met because you both smoke, right? Because you were sitting outside in the middle of winter. [laughter]
Yeah, well, he doesn’t smoke. He was just sitting outside anyway. [laughter]
What about that guy? Who is he?
[laughing] Some 77-year-old dude! [laughs]
Oooh! So you’re a cradle robber! [laughter] What do you all do?
We just fika and sit and chat.
You sent him a postcard, right? Why did you do that?
[laughs] I just wanted to test him because he’s kind of “crazy bananas!”
So I said, “Can I have your telephone number?” He said yes and I almost fell out of my chair [laughs] because I didn’t think he was going to give it to me. So he wrote it down.
When I got home I started thinking, “This number could be any number in the world.” [laughs] So I called the telephone information service.
And she said, “Yes, that’s him and he lives on such-and-such street…” And she gave me the address, which he had not done. He just said which street he lived on. [laughs]
That’s when I thought, “Now I’m gonna give this dude what he deserves!” [laughter] “I know where he lives!”
Did he call you when he got the postcard?
No. He has only called me once, but we see each other at the coffee shop by chance pretty often.
Did he ever say anything about the postcard?
No. Not really. He doesn’t want to have a relationship. He likes to keep his distance. I haven’t exactly considered having a new guy either.
But you want to have his apartment, right?
[laughter] No way! Fuck that! [laughter] He doesn’t even have a balcony!
Do you have a motto or any words to live by?
No. It will be like it will be.
That’s a motto!
Well, now it is. [laughter]
Can you talk a little bit about your family?
Which family? My marriages? My children?
Who do you like the most? Your parents or…
No, no, no. I didn’t like my mother at all.
Well, my father was a professor of anatomy and histology. [speaking slowly] He and my mother got divorced when I was 5.
I have a few siblings. A sister and two half-sisters. And a step-brother because my mother got married again with a man who had a son.
Then I got married. Had two kids, got divorced, got married again, had a kid… [laughter] and now I’m alone… Finally! [laughter]
Have you ever had a problem with neighbors? Loud noises or anything?
No, not that I can think of. I don’t think that has ever happened before in our part of the building. I’ve lived in the same apartment for 59 years.
Wow. That’s in (Stockholm suburb) Bagarmossen?
If I think about that, I imagine there have been a lot of changes there in 59 years.
Was it a new apartment when you moved in?
Yes it was. It was newly built when I moved in. I’m the only person who has ever lived there.
Do you have a balcony?
[laughter] Yeah, I have a balcony!