So my friend Hugh was visiting from Canada, and we went to Stockholm for the weekend. On Friday night we had dinner in a nice vegetarian cafe in Södermalm. It was a little crowded, so we took a table that was pushed right up against another table that was occupied. By a crazy middle-aged earth mother.

After sizing her up and deciding that she might possibly be nutty, I tried to avoid eye contact and therefore conversation. To no avail. She informed us that we were allowed to ask for second helpings on our meals. We felt that the first helping was generous enough, plus there was unlimited salad and bread, so we decided against it. She herself got thirds. One of the times when she was getting up she told the people at the next table that the overhead light was shining into their newborn baby’s (closed) eyes and that they ought to hold him in such a way that it wasn’t. I don’t know much about parenting, but I do know that new parents love getting advice from strangers.

Later she engaged us in more conversation. I mentioned that I was studying in Falun, and she said that it must be very nice and clean there, and then it became clear that all this small talk was just a pretext to get around to her main point, which was to talk about environmental issues, and in particular, to exhort us to see Al Gore’s environmental movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Apparently at the end of the movie, they say something like, “go tell other people to see this movie, and they’ll tell others, and the message will spread”. OK, fine. I believe in this principle, but not so much that I’d beat total strangers over the head with it in a restaurant. She made us each repeat the name of the movie and the guy who — what? produced? directed? sponsored? narrated? — whose name is attached to the movie. “You won’t forget that name? Al Gore?” No, I won’t forget. I worked on Ralph Nader’s 2000 campaign and there are people who credit me with costing him the presidency.

It was just so silly, because I am SO ON BOARD with the environmental movement, as is Hugh. Hugh, in particular, doesn’t even have a driver’s license, much less a car, he’s still a vegetarian (when so many of us who once were have given up), and he’s been wearing the same winter coat for the ten years I’ve known him. I mean, you can’t get more preaching-to-the-choir than that was. Of course, she had no way of knowing that.

I have a theory that she goes to that restaurant every day, getting her three helpings, and haranguing people. The experience was a useful reminder that one walks a fine line between spreading the message and turning people off completely.

But there we are, the link’s up there, and while I haven’t seen the film yet, I would if it were playing somewhere near me, or if the university library had the DVD. So now I’ve done the earth mother proud.

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