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The mysterious case of the Lapp, who couldn’t close the door

Native American Brainfood

Bet you didn’t know that the Sami, known in English as the Lapps, formerly lived in teepees, did you?  They are the indigenous people, who live in the Land of the Midnight Sun  . . .  above the Arctic Circle in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Northwestern Russia.

Lapp-Lisa_ThomassonSome Sami tribes, living in remote locations, deep within the mountains between Sweden and Norway look just like full-blooded Uchee.  They are called  Gamla Folk or “Ancient People.”   Sjø Sami ( Sea Lapps) on the coast of Norway look like the Inuit or perhaps the Native peoples on the Northwest Pacific Coast.

Lapp-Sea_sami_manMost Sami,  these days, look like what you would get if you crossed an American Indian or Siberian with a blue eyed blond.  As the peoples of Scandinavia continue to mix, more and more Sami look little different from Swedes, Norwegians or Finns.    The genetic tests done so far on the Lapps have little meaning, because they do not distinguish between individual tribes and the samples are usually taken from Lapps living in large towns.

LappMother-ChildOne of the funniest experiences I ever had  occurred about two weeks after my arrival in Landskrona, Sweden. I was just beginning to be able to speak short sentences in Svenska, the language of Sweden.

Early on a Saturday morning,  I heard repeated knocking on doors, followed by slamming of doors as apparently someone was making their way down the hallway of my apartment block.  Finally, they knocked on my door.  I peered through the peek hole and saw two young men with classic Nordic features, blond hair and blue eyes. Oddly enough, they were wearing white “Sunday School” shirts and black ties.   They obviously were not from around here, so I figured they were government bureaucrats from Stockholm, with Migrationsverket, the agency, which handled temporary and permanent work visas.  There were a lot of immigrants on my floor.

I opened the door immediately, smiled and said velkommen!  They smiled and responded with blah, blah, blah.  I didn’t have a clue what they were saying.   I told them . . .

Jag förstår dig inte! Kan du tala engelska?
Kan du tala spanska?
Kan du tala franska?

I do not understand you.  Can you speak English?”   They looked blank faced.     “Can you speak Spanish?”   They still looked puzzled.  “Can you speak French?”   They still didn’t have a clue.

I wrote down on a card in Swedish for them to go to the Radhuset (City Hall) and get a copy of the paperwork for Richard Thornton.  I worked for the City of Landskrona’s Town Architect’s Office. They looked at the card dumbfounded, as if it was Chinese.

I didn’t want to slam the door on government officials from Stockholm, but the situation seemed hopeless.  They apparently thought that I was from another country and obviously my newly learned Swedish was really bad.

One of the young men, raised up his index finger in the universal symbol of “Wait a minute.”    I responded, “Du vill vänta en minut?” They still didn’t have a clue.

Then the guy pointed to a page in book he was thumbing through.  He said, ”  Look at this picture, David.  He’s a Lapplander!There is phrase under the picture in Lapp that we can use to introduce ourselves  with.  

They were speaking perfect English.   I interrupted their halting attempts to speak Sami.  “Wo-o-o guys!  I’m not a Lapp.  I am a recently minted Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech.  My hometown is Atlanta, Georgia. Who are you and what are you doing here at my apartment? ”

The other one, I think his name was John or something like that, responded, “Uh-h-h . . . but you look like a  Lapp and you don’t speak like someone from the South!”

I laughed and told them that I was suffering from a fried chicken deficiency and it made me talk with a foreign accent and say strange words.  They were more puzzled than ever.   I asked them, “What in the hell are you doing here at my apartment?”   I had to be suspicious, because no one was supposed to know the real reason that I was here in Landskrona.

Uhh-h-h . . .  We are missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ and His Latter Day Saints . . .  and we are here to bring a message of hope and salvation to the lost souls of Finland.”

Finland?  Guys, did you say Finland?  You are in Landskrona, Sweden in the province of Skåne.   You are about 550 miles from Helsinki, Finland.  How in the heck did you get here?

Finnish is an entirely different language than the Scandinavian tongues.  It closest linguistic relatives are Hungarian and Turkish.

They had pale skin, but now it turned white.  “Oh my gosh.  We don’t have visa for Sweden and the American embassy is closed.  They’re gonna throw us in prison. ”

Hold on there, this is Scandinavia, not the United States.  People are much more free here. The police don’t normally even carry guns.”   That comment really confused the Mormons.  “Just go back to Copenhagen and take the right ferry to Helsinki and no one will bother youYou look like the locals.  How did you get on the Landskrona ferry anyway?  It docks at Tuborghavn, but the ferries for Poland and Finland leave from Nyhavn in Copenhagen and stop at the docks at Malmő and Hȁlsingborg, Sweden . . .  you know the city, where that new tennis star is from . . .  Bjorn Borg?

David responded, “Uh-h, I don’t know.  It took us 38 hours to get from Montana to Copenhagen.  It was late at night and Tuborg is where the taxi took us.  I think he was from the Middle East.  He did not understand much English.

I wrote instructions on a card in English, Swedish and Danish, telling the Danish taxi driver that these guys wanted to go from Tuborghavn to Nyhavn to take the ferry to Finland.   They looked like they were about to drop dead from starvation.  I asked them when was the last time they ate.  They said on the jet crossing the Atlantic about 24 hours ago.  I invited them join me for lunch at the Tempo Supermarket cafeteria.

John or whatever his name was said, “They have supermarkets in Sweden?   I thought they were socialists and so only could buy a limited variety of food from government stores?  We know that Sweden has the highest suicide rate in the world because of the misery caused by socialism.  They are very unhealthy because of socialized medicine.  Many people die waiting to see a doctor.  That is what our bishop told us before we left.

I answered, “Government stores? . . . that’s Russia and that’s communism. The bit about highest suicide rate was a lie created by Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles that no reporters ever bothered to double-check.   Many countries have higher suicide rates. The suicide rate among American teenagers is much higher than Sweden’s. ”

Perhaps the biggest lie is about the healthcare systems here in Scandinavia.  They are the most technologically advanced in the world.   Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland also have the healthiest people in the world.   Despite being funded in full by the MUMS sales tax, the per capita cost of those healthcare systems is far lower than in the United States.  The doctors and dentists here are affluent, but don’t live like royalty.   All of the costs of their education was free and they were paid a salary while in medical school . . . it’s a different world. “

The two missionaries shook their heads in righteous anger.  The very essence of their belief system had been shaken to the core.

The stores here in Scandinavia are amazing. Sweden has supermarkets bigger than  Kmarts with food from all over the world – including canned peaches and frozen chickens from Georgia . . . and you wouldn’t believe their check out stations.  The food is automatically rolled forward on a conveyor belt. Their cash registers are really computers that use lasers to add up the cost of the food.  Instead of using money, you can use a card to pay for the groceries that takes money straight from your bank.  It is pretty amazing technology, but it probably won’t catch on in the States. American will never go for machines adding up their grocery bills or plastic money.

The two Mormon missionaries never did talk religion with me.  Either they were too embarrassed about taking the ferry to the wrong country or they were too busy filling their empty stomachs with Swedish meat balls and stuffed cabbage.  Food . . . the international language of diplomacy.

Life in the USA

A week later, a new hit TV series premiered on Swedish Channel Two, “Livet på OSA”  (Life in the USA).  I almost fell out of my couch when the program opened up in Carrollton, GA.  It was surrealistic to be on the other side of the world from the heart of the Creek Homeland and then seeing it on a prime time TV show.

Much of the program focused on the successful efforts of the Southwire Corporation in Carrollton to improve the quality of life of its employees.  The company even provided free health insurance, maternity leaves and college scholarships for the families of employees.  Unheard of! Socialism in Dixie?  Next thing you know, they will be building subways in Atlanta.   That will never happen.

The last third of the premier was filmed in Atlanta.  It praised the city for the attempts of civic leaders to bring African-American citizens into the mainstream of society.

The program closed with an interview with Georgia’s young governor, Jimmy Carter.   At the very end, Sweden’s equivalent of Walter Cronkite gave a editorial.   He pondered how different relations would be between the United States and the rest of the world, if someone like Jimmy Carter was president rather than Richard Nixon.

Watergate occurred while I was in Sweden.   Within 5 days after the Watergate Burglary, Swedish newscasters had all the sordid details correct . . . details that Americans would not learn for over two years.

But this thing about about Jimmy Carter becoming president . . . that was going too far.  Everyone knows that there will never be a president from the South.  It just ain’t gonna happen!

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

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