Friday, November 14, 2014

I’m So Hungry I Could Eat a Horse

It's Friday. Don't forget your horsemeat.
From the January 22, 1920 issue of Arbetarbladet.
Horsemeat. Beautiful horsemeat.

This beautiful horsemeat was for sale every Friday and Saturday back in 1919 and 1920 in Gävle, Sweden, according to a recurring ad in the newspaper Arbetarbladet. I don’t know how long this ad ran. My research has nothing to do with advertisements, the food being eaten by or marketed to the working class, nor does it have anything to do with horsemeat. That being said, the phrase “Horsemeat. Beautiful horsemeat.” will apparently catch my attention in Swedish. (Although, I still don't know if it should be one word or two. Horse meat? Horsemeat? Horsemeat.)

The US tends to recoil at the thought of eating horsemeat. I’m painting with broad strokes here, but plenty of people view horsemeat as akin to slaughtering cute baby seals. Kicking puppies. Hating freedom. Devising dastardly deeds. It’s taboo, to say the least.

I'm accepting hand modeling gigs. 
So I should come out and say it. I don’t slaughter cute baby seals. Or kick puppies. Or hate freedom. Or even devise dastardly deeds. I do, however, eat horsemeat. At least while in Europe. I’ve eaten it as a steak in Iceland. It was delicious. But more commonly, I eat it as a cold cut here in Sweden. Maybe that makes me a bad person, but I eat meat. And horse is a meat when it is in my refrigerator. It's even more of a meat when it is in my lunch, which for the past two days has consisted of toasted bread, some mustard, some cucumber, and three slices of horsemeat. Or, as the sneaky Swedes sometimes like to call it: hamburgerkött. Hamburger meat. Sneaky sneaky Swedes. That’s not hamburger. That’s horsemeat. Smoky, salty, delicious horsemeat. I prefer the brands that just right out and tell me what I'm eating. Like the picture to your left.

That ad for beautiful horsemeat may have been from 1920, but the horsemeat industry is alive and kicking (see what I did there?) here in Sweden. Turns out that about 400 metric tons of horsemeat is imported to Sweden every year. On average, Swedes eat 200 grams of horsemeat each year. That’s not a whole lot per person, but, considering horse slaughter was illegal in the US for several years (legal again since 2011), I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s probably more than the average in the US.

It seems that plenty of people are against horsemeat because horses are smart, they are sometimes pets, they help us work, they symbolize freedom and the openness of the plains, they are big and pretty and majestic and on and on and on. Fine. People like horses. Of course, they never were stuck on the back of Joker, the meanest (and last horse) I ever rode at the age of 10 near Granby, Colorado. Since that day, I have found myself mucking out stalls with dressage horses eyeing me. I have placed horse hooves between my legs (against my better judgment) to clean the gunk out of them. I have fed them and led them and brushed them. However, I have never ridden a horse since I was 10. But I sure as hell have eaten one.

Welcome to Sweden. And the sweet (but mostly salty) taste of revenge.

Wait. That sounds pretty messed up. How about this?

Welcome to Sweden. And the horse with [one] name: hamburger.

Or this one?

Welcome to Sweden. And yet another Swedish food that Americans fear.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Sandwich Cake WTF?

“smörgåstårta. wtf is this? you cant put a sandwhich on a cake! *explain further*”

That is an actual email I received several years ago while teaching Swedish. I haven’t changed a single thing. That’s a copy and paste job right there. And I know you’re supposed to cite your sources, but I’m not citing this student. It’s best for everyone involved.

In a stroke of pedagogical genius, I just sent this student links to the Wikipedia page in English AND in Swedish. See? A learning opportunity.

I don’t necessarily expect super formal emails to be sent to me when I teach. Especially as, at the time, a graduate student who was only a few years older than some of the students in my class. But this one was new. I got the full on “wtf.” It bothered me, I’ll be honest.

Which is too bad, because it’s a legitimate question. Seriously, smörgåstårta? Wtf?

I’m hungry right now. And I walked by a bakery earlier. And bakeries make me think of delicious baked goods. And delicious baked goods make me think of things like kladdkaka and princesstårta. And the word tårta makes me think of smörgåstårta. And that, my friends, is how genius happens. Or a complete and utter inability to focus on anything important the second I get a little bit hungry.

The smörgåstårta first made it’s way into Sweden around the 1940s, was credited to Gunnar Sjödahl from Wedemarks konditori in Östersund in 1961, and became a Swedish staple in the 1970s. Since then, the smörgåstårta has been a staple of the finest Swedish cuisine. And by fine Swedish cuisine, I mean something that will feed a bunch of people, because it sits like a rock in your belly and can be served as leftovers for days, because no one can eat more than a piece at a time.

Anyway, a smörgåstårta is a sandwich cake. Literally. What it really is is a sort of savory cake with several layers of hedonistic Swedish pleasures smushed into a sort of creamy spread smothered all over bread. It’s not uncommon to bite into a cake filled with shrimp, salmon, crayfish, eggs, tomatoes, and cucumber. Of course, none of those things are creamy. That’s where the liver pâté, and mayonnaise comes into play. If you’re really lucky, you’ll also find some cold cuts, maybe an olive or two, and of course some lemon slices on top.

Now I want you to read through that last paragraph one more time. Then I want you to imagine biting into that and letting that sit in your gut for the rest of your workday.

Because, you see, the only time I’ve ever run into a smörgåstårta in the wild is at a Swedish office. Every now and again, while working here, we were graced with the presence of this monstrosity and invited to partake in the glory that is the smörgåstårta. I’ve heard rumors that this is sometimes served at parties. Apparently, my friends have better taste than that. Or they just don’t invite me to their parties. My friends are clearly assholes.

Welcome to Sweden. And Swedish foods that Americans fear.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Express Disenfranchisement

Everyone is voting back home. Colorado and Wisconsin both have some important elections today. My Facebook feed is choked with people exhorting everyone to vote. It’s a good idea. In general. Although, there’s something to be said for abstaining. In fact, Stan from South Park said it: “No, I think voting is great, but, if I have to choose between a douche and a turd, I just don't see the point.”

So if you’re stuck choosing between a douche and a turd, do what you want.

Of course, I actually tried voting today. From Sweden. But I have been disenfranchised! Kind of. I shouldn’t joke about that. Wisconsin has actually been actively trying to disenfranchise people recently.

I requested an absentee ballot on October 6 and had sent in all of the required documents by October 7. That was four weeks ago. I had to send a reminder on October 24, because nothing had happened. Turns out, my ballot had never been sent. I was told it would be sent on Friday, October 24. It was not. The postmark on the ballot I received said October 27. Another delay. Because of that, I just received my ballot yesterday on November 3. I have filled out my ballot, I have signed my envelope, I even found another American citizen to serve as my witness and sign the envelope that holds my ballot. And all for naught. Because I realized that there is no way for me to get this envelope from Stockholm, Sweden, to Madison, Wisconsin, by Friday.

Wisconsin state voting law requires the absentee ballot to be postmarked on or before election day. Check. It also requires the absentee ballot to be received on or before the Friday of election week. Today is Tuesday. Friday is Friday. That’s three days from now. Not check.

A first-class letter sent internationally from Sweden to the US is predicted to arrive in four to six business days for the low, low cost of 14 SEK. That math doesn’t add up for a Friday arrival. That’s what the postal employee in Stockholm told me. The one that knew his job so well that as I waited, he helped a woman weight, address, stamp, and mail her package while also explaining the rules and requirements of a PO box to the other woman in line.

After explaining the intricacies of international, first-class postage, he said I could send it express. But that he couldn’t help me with that. You had to have a computer, access to the internet, and a printer to do all that. While I appreciate the convenience of online transactions, not everyone has easy access to a printer. Or the internet, for that matter. But fine. I’ll pay ball Sweden.

What does express mean? That your envelope is predicted to arrive in three business days (plus the one that you’re sending it on). Which sounds like four to me. What will express cost you? Only 410 SEK. That’s it. Don’t forget the customs papers. You’ll need those, even for letters. And finally, posten.se suggests that you have the proper envelopes to send things express. You can order those online and they will be delivered right to your door at no extra cost! What service. You just have to wait three days. Which sounds like not express to me. Express shouldn’t involve planning. I need to ship things express because I failed to plan.

Let’s do a recap and some quick math here. If I want to send something express, I can expect it to arrive in three plus one days. However, it is suggested that I send things express in fancy express envelopes. So wait three days. Three days plus three plus one days equals six plus one days. Total cost, 410 SEK.

If I want to send something first-class, I can expect it to arrive in four to six business days. I can plop a stamp on and send away. Total cost, 14 SEK.

Six plus one days for express is greater than four to six days for first-class.

I bought a first-class stamp. I'm sticking my ballot in the mail anyway. Just because. Just because it doesn’t matter. Just because I wanted to try. When I requested the ballot so far in advance, I was hoping that everything would be ok. That I would be able to vote. That my vote would actually be counted. That I could be a part of an election of this importance, even though I am in Sweden for a year (ironically, some of my funding to be here for a year is coming from the US Federal government). Instead, I'm sitting here with a signed, sealed, and yet-to-be delivered ballot that means absolutely nothing.

There is nothing that can be done at this point, so instead I’m annoyed with the Madison City Clerk for taking 28 days to get me an absentee ballot and leaving me feeling disenfranchised. I’m annoyed at the Swedish postal service because their express service doesn’t seem very express. And I’m annoyed that I didn’t have anything better to write for today.

Welcome to Sweden. And the voting problems of the privileged.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween in Sweden: 2014

Boo. It’s Halloween. This year, Halloween is getting my own special locker at the library, eating lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Stockholm, and drinking farewell to a couple of friends who are moving back to the US. All while dressed like a prematurely-balding graduate student. I know, pretty spoooooky…

I haven’t been in Sweden for Halloween since 2009. It was a glorious year. I was dressed as a zebra and did some graceful bounding while disembarking from the train. I remember that I was dressed as a zebra for two reasons. One, I wrote a post back in 2009 about it called Halloween in Sweden. Damn this blog and its ability to remember everything I did. And two, before moving back to Sweden I was cleaning out my closet in July and came across a pair of white pants that had clearly been ruined by duct tape. Turns out I hadn’t taken much care of my zebra costume. Turns out I also didn’t have much need for a pair of white pants. Weird.

I really am terrible at taking pictures.
Especially one-handed so as not to call attention to myself.
Halloween in Stockholm has become more and more popular. For one thing, people talk about it. Openly. They do sometimes seem a bit confused though, wandering around in costumes on the Monday before Halloween. New holidays are hard. There’s still a big ghost hanging over Drottninggatan. So they've got that going for them. And now Halloween-themed ads are almost common, like the McDonald’s ad creepily asking you “Chick or cheese?” Get it? Trick or treat? Chicken sandwich or cheeseburger. They rhyme. Kind of. Very cute. There are even pumpkins popping up in grocery stores. For example, at one of the many grocery stores that I sometimes find myself shopping at, you can buy what is being billed as a giant American pumpkin. Only 3 000 SEK! $400. Or as I like to call it: half a month’s rent. I can only wonder if this is, finally, the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

But I even found numbers to prove Halloween is growing in popularity alongside my own anecdotal evidence. Depending on which study you believe somewhere between 30-40% of Swedes will be celebrating Halloween. GP suggests that a whopping 16% are planning on having candy at home for trick-or-treaters, 10% are going to make jack-o-lanterns, and 8% are even going to go to a Halloween party. One website claims that Swedes spend one billion SEK every year on Halloween. That’s over 136 million USD. It’s a super legitimate looking website, which is why I wanted to be sure to cite it, like any good academic would. But the statistics that count the most? They come from Expressen. Did you know that Karamellkungen, a glorious company that makes me feel bad about my eating habits every Saturday, says that sales of candy increase by 50% around Halloween? And did you know that sales of pumpkins have increased from 500 metric tons in 1999 to 1 100 metric tons today. So many conversions, but that’s an increase from 1 102 311.31 pounds to 2 425 084.88 pounds. Approximately.

Halloween is coming. It’s not yet beating out All Saints Day, but it’s trying.

Welcome to Sweden. And a quarter pound of pumpkin for every Swedish citizen.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Teaching Svenska Around the Värld: Money Matters

This isn’t a funny post. I didn’t do anything ridiculous this time. I didn’t embarrass myself. Or get yelled at. Or fail as an adult. This is one of those serious ones where I reveal my biases.

For years and years, the Swedish government has supported Swedish instruction around the world. This has taken the form of professional development, jobs, grants for translators, even text books purchased for students (something many of my former students have benefited from when they all received free copies of Bröderna Lejonhjärta, which we used in our second semester course).

A lot of this support comes from the Swedish Institute, Svenska institutet, SI. They are an amazing group of people, some of whom I have met and worked with. They all have specific jobs, but generally speaking, they are cultural ambassadors for Sweden and support the 38 000 students at 228 universities in 39 countries who are learning Swedish. I know there are more students learning French. Or Spanish. But 38 000 new Swedish speakers for a country of nine and a half million is a big deal.

By the way, I grabbed those statistics directly from an article written the other day by Olle Wästberg. The article, titled “Ändra beslutet att slopa stöd till svenskundervisning,” was published in Dagens Nyheter yesterday. It’s worth reading. Especially considering that I know many readers of this blog have, at one point or another, taken Swedish courses abroad. Chances are that you benefited from SI without even knowing it.

A few years ago, the government in power decided to shut down a few of these cultural centers abroad. They were dissuaded. Luckily. Unfortunately, they did reduce financial support for instruction and translation of Swedish abroad.

A few days ago, the government in power decided to shut down a few of these cultural centers abroad. They look to have been dissuaded. Luckily. Unfortunately, they still plan to reduce financial support for instruction and translation of Swedish abroad and by 2017 killing that funding completely.

People are starting to take note. It’s a very shortsighted approach by a very small country that is a very active member of a very globalized economy and culture. I’m obviously biased. Horribly, horribly biased. I’m kind of ok with that bias.

There are petitions that have been started. One by a professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Illinois garnered over 1 000 signatures in less than 24 hours. Not huge numbers, but nothing to sneeze at. Articles, along with Wästberg’s, have begun popping up in Swedish newspapers. People have started emailing Sweden's Minister of Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson, who has some say in all of this. They’re sending their own stories about learning Swedish abroad, the importance of cross-cultural support, and the long-term benefits of organizations like SI. You can do all of those things. And you should.

Welcome to Sweden. But, you know, only if you’re actually IN Sweden.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room

Bruce Springsteen woke me up this morning at 6:55.
The screen door slams
Mary's dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays…

I usually don’t make it to Roy Orbison singing for the lonely before I reach over and swipe my alarm to the right and into oblivion. Today was no different, but rather than snagging my phone to read the news, I jumped out of bed ready to tackle the day. And by tackle the day, I mean do my laundry. I had scheduled a laundry time for 7am. That’s a silly time to do laundry, I know, but I had zero clean pairs of underwear and zero clean pairs of socks. In fact, I may or may not have worn the same pair of socks twice. Don’t judge me.

I packed up my clothes, grabbed my detergent, and started hiking to the laundry room. It’s about a five-minute walk from my apartment. Not bad, but dirty laundry is surprisingly heavy. I fought through the pain and acted an adult. And now I’m writing this while wearing clean boxers AND clean socks.
This is where the magic happens.
But anyway, I think it’s time for another Moving to Sweden post. It’s been about three and a half years since I wrote one of these. If you’re new, check them out below. I’ll be honest, there’s probably some stuff here that’s out of date. If you have questions, ask or email:

Moving to Sweden – What to Bring
Moving to Sweden – The Swedish Language
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Place to Live
Moving to Sweden – The Metric System and You
Moving to Sweden – Getting a Cell Phone
Moving to Sweden – Getting from the Airport to Stockholm City
Moving to Sweden - The Weather
Moving to Sweden - Swedish Citizenship Test
Moving to Sweden - Public Holidays
Moving to Sweden - Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden - Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden - Making Friends
Moving to Sweden - Cost of Living

Now to the laundry.

Laundry in Sweden is a bit different than laundry in the US. Notably, the cost. I have never paid for laundry in Sweden. Ever. Most apartment buildings have a tvättstuga. Sometimes that stuga is in the building, usually the basement or the first floor. Sometimes it’s a separate building. And sometimes it’s both. Which is my current situation. All you do is schedule a time, show up, do your laundry, and leave. There is no monetary transaction. Clearly, socialcommunofascism (or whatever the Swedish model is thought of in the small towns that surround my hometown) means not having to pay for laundry.

There could be classic Laundromats in this country where people go and take their kronor with them. Feeding the washer and waiting patiently. Maybe meeting the love of their life as they awkwardly fold their skivvies. I don’t know. I’ve never seen it though.

Outside of the laundry room is the booking board. That’s a technical term. It’s the place you book your next laundry time. Sometimes they’re electronic. Sometimes you can do it online. Sometimes they’re big and unwieldy and you need to unlock an actual plug-like apparatus and move it to the time you want. Because I have hipster tendencies, I prefer the big unwieldy thing that looks like it got stuck in the ‘70s. Unfortunately, I’m not so lucky and I have to make do with a keyfob and an electronic booking board. Life is hard.

Booking a laundry time though? That’s important. It’s important because without it you might not even be able to get into the laundry room (if it’s a fancy electronic system). It’s also important because if you steal someone’s laundry time, they will be angry. You might even get a dirty look or a mean note. Of course, there tends to be a grace period. If the person hasn’t claimed their machines after half an hour the machine is probably fair game. But check your rules for the exact time period. And trust me, there are rules.

That’s because the laundry room is a place of acute Swedishness. Or acute passive-aggressiveness. They might be synonymous. There are books about the passive-aggressive notes that people leave in the laundry room. Seriously. Make sure you clean up your lint from the dryer. Make sure you don’t leave anything behind. Make sure you don’t steal someone’s time. Be polite. Be nice. Don’t mess up. It’s really that simple. Usually. But, stay here long enough and you’ll find yourself in at least one awkward situation. Like the time my machine was filled with a load of wet clothes that had stopped mid-cycle (I just took them out and dumped them in a basket. The laundry room is no place to make friends.). Or the time I got locked out of the laundry room in -13 degree Celsius weather

Once you get in you’ll be met by washing machines galore! Or at least one. Plus some other things. There are so many foreign machines in the Swedish laundry room. See what I did there? Foreign? Swedish? Because I’m also American. Get it? Cool.

Looks inviting, doesn't it?
There’s the drying cabinet. It’s like a sauna for your clothes. There’s the mangle table. It’s like a torture device for your clothes. Actually, that’s it. There are two foreign machines in the Swedish laundry room. There’s obviously a washing machine and a dryer. Those aren’t foreign to me though.

I still haven’t dared use the mangle table. It scares me. And I’m not really sure why I would need it. Sometimes I use the drying cabinet, but I usually end up hanging things improperly and opening the door to find a pile of clothes on the floor. I fear change and so stick with what I know, the dryer. But do what you want. You’re your own person.

You’ll notice signs everywhere. Read them. Learn them. Know them. They’re telling you how to properly behave in the laundry room. They’re reminding you to use the proper dosage of laundry detergent because it’s better for the environment and your clothes. They’re explaining how to use the different machines. And, of course, they’re reminding you to clean out your god-damned lint. Do it.

Welcome to Sweden. And the laundry room.