From passive-aggressive notes to violence: a perfect Swedish saga

Laundry room
Image by Photochiel via Flickr
What happens to a highly individualistic population with homogenous expectations, hates confrontation, but nevertheless trapped with tedious aspects of communal living?  You get passive aggressive notes! It’s just like college, but worse.

In the egalitarian heaven that is Sweden, many rental units have common laundry rooms, which is pretty normal.  But they come with a plethora of booking, cleaning, and maintenance rules.

Communal laundries were introduced in the 1930s as part of a project to raise living standards. By the 1950s, more than 80 percent of apartment blocks in Sweden had shared washing machines and dryers, as well as a strict set of rules on booking times and cleaning duties. It was perhaps inevitable that laundry rooms became battle zones.

In Stockholm in 2008, more than 70 cases of laundry-related threats and beatings were reported to police. Much more common are the angry, threatening, and insulting notes some people leave about timekeeping, tidiness, and other infractions.

As someone who’s gone through various versions of laundromats during both dorm life and in shared housing, it is hard to imagine this level of agitation and mental exertion on a matter this minute.

[The victim] cleaned the fluff from the filter on the tumble dryer and wiped all of the washing machines she had used.  But the 60-year-old woman, expecting an altogether more thorough job, got in front of the door and blocked her neighbour’s exit. The time was 1pm.
“You have to clean up. I’m not going to leave you. We’ll keep going until 7 o’clock,” the self-styled guardian of the laundry room is alleged to have said.

While the laundry phenomenon might be distinctly Swedish, but the slavish adherence to rules – both explicit and implicit, is not at all uncommon in the North.  Add some everyday pettiness to the mix, and we have ourselves some distinctly pedestrian Nordic drama.

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