The Stockholm Cafe - Wells-next-the-Sea
Europe,  People,  Politics and Society,  Sweden

The gentleman in the Stockholm café

My first trip to Stockholm was in summer 2003. It wasn’t my first trip to Sweden; the summer before I had been to the south of the country, combining a few days in Copenhagen with a few more in its Swedish neighbour across the Öresund Bridge, the city of Malmö in southern Sweden. I immediately took a shine to the country, with its fresh air and sparkling water (for more on my then-burgeoning love affair, see 5 Reasons Why I Love Sweden), so the following summer I headed to its capital to see a little more of what Sweden had to offer.

It was there, in a basement café under the Royal Swedish Opera House in the city centre, that I had an encounter which, brief as it was, had a lasting impact on me. I had gone in for a spot of lunch; this was back in my pre-vegetarian days, and I decided this was the perfect occasion to try Swedish meatballs. Determined to make an effort, I had a stab at ordering using the Swedish name of the dish, köttbullar. It wasn’t too successful – this wasn’t the first time I discovered that Swedish words aren’t pronounced anything like how they would be in English – but at least it broke the ice with the waiter, who insisted on me repeating his pronunciation until I got it right…

The gentleman in the Stockholm café - stockholm gentleman
Stockholm’s beautiful Opera House

Sitting down at a counter with meatballs and a beer, I settled in to a quiet lunch with my guidebook. Towards the end of my meal, however, I was approached by an older gentleman. I would probably have him pegged as a typical opera-goer: well-dressed, dapper, a little flamboyant; in any case he struck me immediately as a nice person as he politely asked where i was from. “England”, I told him.

“You’re from England? Please let me pay for your lunch”. Taken aback, I politely declined. “No, please, let me. I want to thank you for everything your country did for Sweden during the war”.

The gentleman in the Stockholm café - stockholm gentleman
The beautiful waterfront views of Stockholm

And with that, accepting my stunned but grateful thanks, he said his goodbyes and departed. No expectations, no ulterior motive, just a man with memories I couldn’t fathom who wanted to do a good deed for a citizen of the country he credited for helping Sweden through a tough period. I accepted mainly because I sensed his offer was genuine and it would have been disrespectful to decline, but the encounter left me with thoughts whirring through my head. This gentleman was from another era, one of respect and mutual support which would be treated with suspicion today. It was a reminder that there are still people alive with memories of a very different time in Europe’s history. I was glad I met him.

The gentleman in the Stockholm café - stockholm gentleman
Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town

If you enjoyed this post, check out these other inspirational encounters with people around the world!

I'm Jill, and I'm a British blogger who has been travelling for two decades, visiting more than 70 countries on 6 continents. I love to travel both solo and with groups, and to discover the cultures and peoples of the countries I visit. And I love to share a good story or two along the way!


  • Dippy Dotty Girl

    How fantastic an incident. I do not think one usually bumps across such individuals. He is straight out the pages of a book.

  • Lucy

    What a beautiful and humbling experience it must have been for you, he sounds like a wonderful man. It’s definitely the people in the places we visit that have a lasting effect on us isn’t it? xx

  • Alex

    What a great story! Although I wanted you to chase after him and get his back story! And now we’ll never know. What a gentleman.

  • Sara

    Such a great story. I think we often expect there to be ulterior motives behind all kind acts at first, and it makes me sad a little. What a beautiful reminder of the good there is in the world.

  • Lindz @ I've Been Bit!

    Aww that’s so sweet! I love encounters like that – they give me faith in the human race! 🙂

  • Maria

    That’s a nice story there. I like the way you wrote it down, not blowing it up to anything bigger than it was, just a very short encounter that made you think and can make your readers think, too, despite it’s brevity. Lovely read.

  • Julie

    It’s amazing how chance encounters with strangers can etch such a lasting impression on us. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Forty AndEverythingAfter

    What an extraordinary experience. Unexpected encounters such as this can have a really profound effect can’t they. Very interesting, I’m glad you shared it here 🙂

  • Lynne

    I love this story! And I do think you meet people along the way — especially of a certain generation — that speak to that time of civility, decency and genuine kindness. We could use a bit more of that today.

  • Nuraini

    Indeed. We tend to think of how people engage the world is in our lifetime, its values and its priorities, its fears and its manners, is what has always been – or that things have ‘improved’ to present day enlightenment because we’re in it.

    But the reality is, every age has manners it adapts for its situation. It’s not one ‘progression’ line. Just change and adaptation. The better we understand the different eras, the more ideas we have to choose from, the world changes and changes again.

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