Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Question 14: What's your first memory?

IMG_1225Traumatic memories
10 out of 15 people in Sweden mentioned something more or less traumatic as their first memory (everything from a death in the family to pooping in their pants) but only 4 out of 15 people in England shared a traumatic memory. 
I have no idea why it turned out this way. If I'd chosen 30 different people for the Svenglish project the result might have been reversed. That Swedish people mentioned so many traumatic events was perhaps because they felt closer to me as we spoke the same language and grew up in the same country. 
Memories from the pram
What surprised me was that three people (two in Sweden, one in England) mentioned very early memories.
"I'm sitting in the buggy and am allowed sweets for the first time and I thought 'I'll remember this'. It was the first time I could think in that way, I must have been two or three years old. I've remembered all my life that I will remember this."
"My birthday party when I was two. I'm looking out of the window and I see my granddad coming."
"Lying in the pram, Dad singing the Batman theme tune".
Age obsession
I hardly remember anything at all before I was six. It's like my life began when I started pre-school and what happened before that didn't really exist. I had a theory that people in England had earlier memories because they start school earlier, but that theory didn't work out. There were several people in Sweden who had memories from kindergarten. However, the Swedes knew more specifically how old they were when certain things happened.

I don't know if people are more age obsessed in Sweden, but sometimes it seems like that. At least when you read the headlines and it says "29-year old woman" or "36-year old man" did this or that. In England, in my experience, it's not as common to mention age as an important quality even though it might be mentioned in the article in itself.
Abstract and detailed memories
Many writing exercises at creative writing courses or in books ask you to describe your first childhood memory. (And sometimes lie about it.) The Swenglish participants recalled both abstract and detailed memories that inspired me:
"Light playing on the ceiling."
"Eating toothpaste and watching King Kong on a black and white telly." 
My first memory
Funnily enough I remember an old lady visiting my childminder and she told me about breaking a cup and telling me that it's sad that you only remember the sad things ... But I think I was seven or eight then. My first memory is playing with a dark red purse with a zip and that there are thick yellow and red crayons inside and that I'm on somebody's porch. How I found the purse (pictured) again after all these years you can read about in the book some time in the future ... 
This study is by no means scientific, the answers are based on interviewing 15 people in England and 15 people in Sweden, aged 22-59. Look out for the next question: What's your relationship to your family? (I've chosen not to include question 14b "How was your childhood?" as people gave either too general or too private answers.)

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