You've heard of Stockholm syndrome, when a captive or an abuse victim starts to sympathize with their abuser. It came from the 1973 Norrmalmstorg robbery in Sweden, in which four bank employees felt no ill will toward Jan-Erik Olsson, who had held them as hostages for six days. They even refused to testify against him. But what you might not recall is how very American the bank robbery seemed at the time.
Olsson was born and raised in Sweden. When he arrived at the Kreditbank on August 23, however, he didn’t speak in his native tongue. He barked orders in English, obscuring his identity. According to Daniel Lang’s New Yorker report on the robbery, he also donned “a pair of toy-store spectacles and a thick brown wig; his cheeks were rouged; and his reddish-brown mustache and eyebrows were dyed jet black.”
But the American accent proved to be perhaps the most crucial piece of his cartoonish disguise. He announced his presence to the customers and tellers at the bank with a round of fire, directed at the ceiling, and a shout: “The party has just begun!” This was a line Olsson had lifted from “an American movie about a convict on the loose,” as Lang wrote, though the exact film was never specified. It wasn’t the only bizarre allusion to U.S. pop culture that day. When a plainclothes police sergeant arrived on the scene, Olsson threatened him at gunpoint, teasing him to sing a song. The sergeant chose Elvis Presley’s “Lonesome Cowboy,” assuming the (seemingly) American man before him would enjoy a familiar tune.
Through this assumed identity, Olsson was telegraphing a propensity for violence—one that was largely foreign to Sweden.
The movie Stockholm, a slightly fictionalized account of the Norrmalmstorg robbery starring Ethan Hawke, is in theaters now. The image is from the film.