Sunday, August 04, 2013

MKE to LAS or: How I Came to Hate the Plane

Southwest Airlines herds people onto planes like cattle. Unless you’re rich(er) cattle. Then you get to pay to pick a seat that is slightly better, slightly earlier. Aisle and window seats fill up first, like an inverted Mohawk on each side of the plane the middle seats are left empty. Less-fortunate cattle must wander down the aisle, eyeing those middle seats and glancing towards the windows and aisles making snap judgments about those who will be their sandwich bread for the remainder of the flight. Any sign can be interpreted. Or misinterpreted. So when the middle-aged woman sitting by the aisle looked up at me as I eyed the seat beside her, she gestured as if it were mine for the taking. It was.

I sat down. I stored my bag under the seat in front of me. I buckled my seatbelt. I turned on the air. I grabbed my book and sat resting with my hands in my lap. I was ready for three hours and 48 minutes of flight time to Las Vegas on my way to Portland. I caught the tail-end of her phone call.

I feel sexy. Like really sexy.

Then it started.

So… where you from?

Here. Kind of. I go to the University here at least.

I was polite. But not overly polite. I was firm. But not overly firm. I was, well I was airplane-y. I didn’t even ask her where she was from. I didn’t care. I don’t care.

Then the onslaught began.

What city is this? Why are there no houses by the lake? Ooooh, that’s pretty. When I was little the clouds looked like they stretched forever up into the sky. But they don’t.

I buried myself in my book. It was a good book.

How old are you? Wait, let me guess. 28? 29?

29.

Well-played middle aged woman, well played.

Me too. I’m 29.

I have a habit of raising my right eyebrow at ridiculousness. A slight shake of my head and you can be damned sure all I’m thinking is – no you’re not. No. Just no.

She sensed it. I’m not sneaky.

Ok. I’m in my 30s.

This time I let it slide. But no you’re not. No. Just no.

And then it happened. Her hand. It came out of nowhere. And slammed down on my book. Fanned out, covering the poor little paperback.

You can read when we get to Vegas.

I can read now, too.

Are you gay? Do you have a girlfriend?

No. Yes.

Did I insult you asking you if you were gay?

Nope. It takes a lot more than that to insult me.

Oh. My friend got mad when I asked him if he was gay.

Bummer.

I was going to hook you up with the flight attendant if you were gay. All my best friends are gay. I call them my girls. I can do that.

This was starting to sound like a preface to a homophobic joke. I’m not a racist, but… I’m not a sexist, but… Whatever you say. I looked at her. And back to my book. Only three hours and 28 minutes to go.

That woman next to you is a bitch. She won’t talk to me. She’s just talking to the people she came on the plane with. I just quit my job. I was a lawyer. It’s the first time I’ve ever quit a job. They lied to me. So I flipped my boss off and flew home two days early. I’m coming from Orlando. I live in California. I’m a single mom with a daughter. Tomorrow I have to fire my nanny. And my housekeeper. And my driver. I have a few months’ worth of savings though. Do you think I’ll be ok?

Yes. I’ve quit a few jobs already and I’m only 29. You’ll be fine.

But all I could think was: I work three jobs while also working on my PhD and make so little that, according to the helpful information on the city bus, I would actually qualify for food stamps. Lady, you’re barking up the wrong tree if you’re looking for sympathy from me. I didn’t say that though. Half the time I never even think it. Not until the moment has passed, but regardless, I never say it. Back to my book.

And there was the hand again. On my book.

What’s happening in the book?

A boy is being yelled at by a teacher.

You suck at explaining things. That’s boring.

That is literally what the last paragraph I read described.

I know. I hate the word literally too. I try to avoid it. But I said it. And it fit the moment. I didn’t want to engage by actually talking about the book. And I didn’t want to say, you asked a dumb question. Because the years of higher education have shown that old adage about there not being any stupid questions to be a stupid lie. There are plenty of stupid questions. As far as I'm concerned, at that very moment, she had asked one.

Snacks! To save me. The flight attendant came by. He who was to be my lover had my sexual orientation only been a bit more fluid. Alas.

Water and cranberry juice please.

Can I get a ginger ale? And vodka? And red wine?

Only one at a time, ma’am.

Ok, vodka and ginger ale please.

The poor flight attendant. His eyes drooped, he could barely look at her, his voice was flat, bored, done. Just done.

The vodka and ginger ale was served.

My daughter is 12. She’s a diver. She’s training with the US National Team. I did too, when I was her age. My daughter shaves all of her body hair. All of it. We didn’t do that when I was younger. Do you trim yours? What color is your pubic hair?

I looked at her. I answered. I didn’t know what to do. No one has ever asked me that before. But every hair on my head gives the answer away. All I could think was: no. No. Just no. Only two hours and 28 minutes to go.

Cool. This ginger ale is gross. Especially with vodka. What else goes well with vodka?

I don’t know? Tonic water? Orange juice?

The vodka and ginger ale disappeared. Apparently, it wasn’t that gross.

Excuse me; can I get that red wine now?

Of course.

Turns out vodka, ginger ale, and red wine will go through a middle-aged woman’s system in no time. And the woman to my right and I staggered out of our seats to allow her to head to the bathroom.

I just looked at the woman in front of me. My eyes wide. Shell-shocked. Tired. Pleading. At least, that’s what I told my eyes to convey. It worked.

I’m so sorry. You’re handling it so well. I’m really impressed. She started talking to me when I got on the plane. I just shut her down when she started touching me. And then she got into it with the flight attendant. Got smart with him. She wouldn’t let people sit here.

Dear god. That means I was chosen. She chose me to sit here.

She’s back. She tried making friends with the woman on the aisle.

Can I borrow your magazine? Us Weekly?

Sure. For a little bit.

Isn’t that crazy? This woman is just a year older than me. She looks good.

She does.

I don’t know if she was on a fishing expedition looking for compliments, but I was having none of it. Instead, I peered down at the caption. 42 year old Kelly Ripa blah blah blah. Ah ha! The woman to my left was 41. Not 29. Not in her 30s. At least that made sense.

Can I buy you something?

No. No. Just no.

But I still have my corporate card. I bought everyone a drink at the bar in Orlando. I’d never done that before. I’ll buy you something from SkyMall on my corporate card.

No. No. Just no.

What about this Big Foot statue? Or this Spanx compression undershirt? How about this? It’s supposed to help regrow hair for balding men. Or this one? It does the same.

No.
No.
No.
No.

You look hot. Are you hot?

Very.

Your ear is really red.

Yeah, that happens when I get hot.

Turn the fan on.

It’s on.

And suddenly, a tug. On my ear lobe. And then another. This one harder. She was pulling my ear towards her. I’m pretty sure that’s not helping the redness of my earlobe.

No. No. Just no.

And I turned my head away. Back to my book.

Something about your face makes me want to punch you in the nose.

Thanks.

I’m too nice. Or too scared. Or polite. Or Swedish. Self-loathing was setting in. But only about one hour and 28 minutes left. Not that I was counting.

The flight attendant walked by. Or tried to.

Excuse me? Sir? He hates it when I call him sir.

Oh.

Can I have another drink?

No.

Are you cutting me off?

No. We’re landing soon.

My eyebrow shot up. We had well over an hour left. But that’s fine by me. The flight attendant walked away.

Will you buy me a drink?

No. No. Just no.

I’ll pay for it.

No. No. Just no.

Am I annoying? Am I obnoxious?

Yes.

Silence. Sweet, sweet silence. Finally. I finished my book even. Great book.

Thank you.

For what?

For letting me talk. And for telling me I was being annoying.

You’re welcome.

Damn you! Why must you play on my desire to be nice? All those mean thoughts? They feel so petty now. But we were landing. Or preparing to land.

How much time do you have in Vegas?

An hour.

That was a lie. I had over two, but I wasn’t interested in having to slither my way out of continuing this very one-sided conversation outside the friendly confines of a Boeing 737.

We landed. The woman to my right stood up. So did I. She stayed sitting by the window. I grabbed my bag. I did not look back. I used my long legs and strode off the plane. I went to the left. I saw the departure board. I didn’t look. I didn’t care. The left offered me an escape. I turned left. I turned right. I turned right again. I was free. I had found a secluded gate. I waited. I peed. Not at the gate. There was a bathroom nearby. I looked around. Nothing. To the departure board! As expected, my flight was delayed, but the gate was right there. And empty. And I was free. Free. Just free.

I hate flying. So much.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And pure, unadulterated hatred. For flying.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kalles Kaviar in Swedish America

I’m in my third year of teaching Swedish at the university level. And every year I bring Kalles Kaviar in for my students to taste. (I had initially written that I make my students taste it, but that suggests an authoritarian regime that belies the 50 minutes of chaos that my classes tend to devolve to.) For those of you who don’t know, Kalles Kaviar is the orange fish roe that can be found in the blue tubes that are ubiquitous in Swedish grocery stores. It’s a glorious food. Salty, delicious, and great on knäckebröd. Knäckebröd tends to be translated as hard tack. It’s the Wasa crackers you can buy in grocery stores throughout the US. These are two Swedish products that were meant to be. No matter what country you find yourself in.


This is essentially what I tell my students. You know, university level indoctrination and all that. And so it was that last week I packed some Kalles and knäckebröd into my backpack and headed off to school. It’s always an exciting day, I love the reactions. Some people love it. Some don’t. And those who don’t, fail life. Not my class, just life.  

This year, I got quite a reaction. In fact, it was a reaction I had never received before. A squeal of sorts. A look of disgust. A hand flying in the air. And then finally, it was verbalized. There’s a maggot on my knäckebröd. Really? A maggot? Yup. A maggot. And it’s moving. Really? It’s moving? Yup. Look. It’s moving. Awesome.

At this point, the knäckebröd in question was in my hand. There was, in fact, a maggot. It didn’t look to be moving, but I wasn’t about to argue that point. I once had a boss in Sweden, who, in broken English, liked to say: You can’t make shit shine. And you can’t make a maggot look better, just because it’s dead.

But as I stared at it, two thoughts flew through my head. One. Gross. How did this happen? Two. I should just eat it. I mentioned that my class was essentially 50 minutes of chaos right? Luckily, my better senses prevailed as I realized that 50 minutes of chaos would quickly turn to 50 minutes of shit show if I ingested a maggot in front of my students. I chose instead to empty the knäckebröd and pick out the pieces that looked clean.

I passed the remainder of the knäckebröd and Kalles around. To my pleasant surprise, and to the credit of 19 first year university students, the vast majority of students took a bit of knäckebröd and a bit of Kalles. Some people loved it. Some didn’t. Even a maggot couldn’t change that.

Welcome to Swedish America. And a little extra protein in your Kalles and knäckebröd.


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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cultural Stereotypes of High School and College in the US

Are high school and college in the US like the movies? I was asked that question more times than I can count the last two summers in Sweden and Denmark. Strangely enough, I never remembered being asked that question when I was actually living there. It might have simply been that while living there I was an actual adult with an actual job and an actual pay check. When visiting the last two summers I was a student hanging out with a bunch of other students, many of whom were much younger than me. My liver can attest to the age gap.

But that question. That question about movies and pop culture mirroring reality. It’s one I never know how to answer. Partially because it is a Hollywood depiction of something that tends to be a very individual experience for people. It’s a glorification of something that doesn’t necessarily exist in the form that is depicted on film. It is a cultural stereotype though that is transported across the Atlantic onto the screens of millions of Europeans. And it’s a cultural phenomenon that seems to leave a mark on those very Europeans.

So is high school like the movies? Is college like the movies? Yes. And no. You kind of make it what you want. I suppose that is the beauty of a system that has universities with only a thousand or so students, to universities like the one I attended in Oregon with about 20,000 students, to the one I attend now with about 40,000 students. And that’s just the universities themselves. Once there you can find your niche, whether it is with a student organization or just a group of like-minded people. Of course, for some people, it can still be a miserable situation that leaves them feeling more lonely than ever. Thankfully, I never felt that way, although as a teacher now, it is something I have helped students deal with more frequently than I care to admit.

The same can be said about high school. From the big to the small, from the good to the bad. It’s all there. Football teams and proms. Drugs and alcohol. Sex and pregnancy. Straight A’s and flunked exams. The jocks and the nerds. The bullies and the bullied. For better or worse. It’s all there.

It’s not like the movies for everyone though. Or maybe parts and parts aren’t. . I never once felt like high school was meant to be a movie life. Or that high school was meant to be the best time of my life. But I fit some of the stereotypes. And some I didn’t. I was a co-captain of the football and basketball teams in high school. I never went to prom. I went to parties. I never drank. I got straight A’s. I got accused of cheating. I graduated and I left town. It was time.

College was the same. I still have never done a keg stand. Although I have played a whole lot of beer pong. And taught a whole lot of Europeans how to play beer pong. I’m a cultural ambassador really. I never joined a fraternity. I never went streaking. I never snuck into the football stadium. That stuff happened. And I know plenty of people who did at least one of those things above, if not all of them. But not me. I had fun, met friends, got my degree, and left. It was fun. And it was stressful. And it was worth it. But it wasn’t like the movies. For me.

So yes. Or no. But this is the problem with some of that cultural exchange. The high school movies and college movies that get sent abroad glorify one aspect of high school and college. Mostly the sex, drugs, and alcohol aspect with the occasional hint of sports. Or the nerdy girl who, once she gets contacts, suddenly is the most beautiful girl in school. Just because the movies say it’s so, doesn’t make it so. It’d be like assuming that, just because every popular book and movie coming out of Sweden these days seems to glorify crime, Sweden is a criminal utopia filled with rapists, murderers, and drug dealers. And we all know that isn’t true, right? Right?  Good.

It’s not as easy as watching a movie and extrapolating. It never is when it comes to stereotypes. So go abroad. Be a high school exchange student. Or a college exchange student. Come visit. Explore. Just stop watching those crappy movies.

Welcome to Sweden. And America. And cultural stereotypes.

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Friday, October 05, 2012

How Much Wood Could a Woodchuck Chuck if a Woodchuck was on the Interstate?

Since moving back to the US, I’ve been in graduate school in a Scandinavian Studies program. For the most part, I study identity questions and what it means to be Swedish or Scandinavian. It keeps me busy. It also keeps me on the road every now and again as I drive around the Midwestern United States interviewing old Scandinavians.


Generally, these folks are second or third generation. Sometimes the interview is in English. Sometimes in Swedish or Norwegian (and hopefully one of these days Danish). Sometimes, these people, despite being born in the United States, grew up speaking Swedish. In these cases, they usually didn’t learn English until they went to public school for the first time. It’s always amazing to me that there are people in their 80s and 90s who, despite not using Swedish on a regular basis at all, still have the language in there somewhere. They are usually super excited to sit down with people like me who want to interview them and record them.

Just the other day, I was on one such fieldwork trip in the Upper Midwest. I found yself with a group of Norwegians and Norwegian speakers speaking to second and third generation Norwegian Americans who had grown up speaking Norwegian. It was a great opportunity to hear the language spoken, hear the different dialects preserved, hear the different Norwegian-American words being used. I sat, mostly quiet, considering they had a hard time with my Swedish. Not surprising really.

We got to hear about Norwegian being used at work in the area up until the 1940s and ‘50s. We got to hear about Norwegian being used in the church and eventually discontinued. And we got to hear about the continued love for lutefisk in the region. All in all a very interesting trip.

But the trip got even more interesting on the drive home. As it so often does whenever I leave home, potential disaster follows. Or at least delays. My friend (and research partner), DN, and I were driving home on the interstate following a semi-truck as he passed a slower moving vehicle to our right. We were at a safe distance, the requisite two second buffer. We had recently been commenting on the guy in the minivan who seemed to be on his cell phone as he drifted in and out of the lane next to him before realizing a large truck was trying to pass him. All in all, we were pretty aware of our surroundings. And that’s when it happened.

Out from under the semi-truck in front of us, a piece of wood came flying up in the air. It was maybe two feet long, a piece of planed lumber. Think a two by eight. A solid chunk of wood. And it was flying right for us. Which is unfortunate. There’s not a whole lot of time to react in such a situation. DN was driving. I turned my head towards the back seat. Despite my awful eyesight, I apparently felt the need to protect my baby blues. Or browns as they are.

DN seemed to slow down. I’m not sure. I never asked him. The wood hit the front of the car with a thump. Or a thwack. But it was loud. As I realized the thump was a thump and not a shatter, I turned back to see the piece of wood split in two and tumble through the air over the car. Had he sped up, there was a good chance that piece of wood was coming right at the windshield. And I know windshields are designed not to shatter, but I really didn’t want to test it.

As the heart rate returned to normal and the adrenaline dissipated, we drove on. Safely. Slowly. In the fight between wood and metal. Trees and cars. Nature and man. We won. Thankfully.

Welcome to Swedish America. And the dangers of fieldwork.


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Friday, September 28, 2012

Swedish Racism

I’m white. Super white. Like I put SPF 50 on during the summer in hopes of being light red instead of bright red.  So, no, I have never experienced racism personally. At all. I’ve seen it though. In the US. In Sweden. And before everyone gets all fired up, I know, there’s a whole lot of racism in this country. I know. But there’s a surprising amount of racism in Sweden as well. I’ve even written about it on this blog several times – Sweden’s Dirty Little Secret, Acute Swedishness... I Think, Really Sweden, Really?, and even about Sverigedemokraterna (and yeah, they’re racist, don’t argue that).


Recently though, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) came out with their fourth report on Sweden (you can find all four Swedish reports here at the ECRI) essentially giving Sweden a slight pat on the back while shaking its head as if to say, keep trying. It’s a start. And starts are always good in my opinion.

It’s important to note that the report does acknowledge some improvements, while also highlighting plenty of problems, Sverigedemokraterna being one. Another being the public discourse surrounding immigration from Islamic countries. This excerpt seemed especially familiar anytime I happen upon a Swedish news report:
“ECRI notes that the situation of Muslims in Sweden has not improved over the past few years.  Anti-Muslim political discourse has become more widespread and the tone has hardened. Some researchers have found that four out of five media reports about Muslims are negative. On the Internet, comments calling Muslims ‘invaders’ of Europe and inciting violence against them have proliferated, and some members of Parliament have made comments on their blogs to the effect that use of violence against Muslim immigrants is inevitable.”

Open up any online message board in Sweden (much like in this country) and you’ll find a level of vitriol that borders on criminal.

Or how about this quote?:
“As ECRI already noted in its third report, Afro-Swedes continue to suffer acts of racism and discrimination in everyday life. They are the object of racist insults in public places and racist remarks in the workplace…”

Again, I know. There is plenty of racism in the US. Glass house. Don’t throw stones. Got it. But the report highlights the things that I have seen too many times. Take the racism and discrimination  in everyday life quote from above and my experience a while back in Helsingborg when a pudgy, middle-aged Swede whipped a lighter through the air that hit me. He apologized by way of saying Ursäkta, det var inte meningen. Jag missade negern bakom dig. The man behind me couldn’t help but hear. It was a disgusting display of racism that shocked me. And stuck with me.

Plenty of folks will argue that the word neger means negro and is ok to use. They are wrong. On a variety of levels. This is something that has shifted in the last twenty, thirty maybe even forty years, but Språkrådet (Swedish Language Council), in one of those moments that should shed some light on things, answered a simple question: Är neger neutralt? with a simple answer: Nej, neger är inte neutralt. That includes negerboll a word used to describe a delicious baked good known as a chocolate ball (read the full answer from Språkrådet here).

Or how about this past summer in Stockholm, when a friend was asked if she spoke Swedish? A legitimate question early in the conversation considering the linguistically diverse group I found myself in. However, the subsequent follow-up raised my eyebrows. Kommer du från Sverige? In Swedish. Where do you come from? There was really no reason to ask that question in that way. We had already spoken plenty of Swedish. Established that she had come from her job in Stockholm. Curious to know if she come from Stockholm? Then ask that. Curious to know if she comes from up north or down south. Then ask that. Asking if she’s Swedish? Not necessary.

The two experiences were different in their severity. But that shouldn’t really matter. Both speak to the very problems that the ECRI reports on. A latent problem that sometimes spills out in very blatant ways, like in Helsingborg, or more subtle ways, like in Stockholm.

Welcome to Sweden. And a ways to go.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My (Cousin's) Big Fat Swedish Wedding


                This weekend I had the pleasure of going to my cousin's wedding south of Stockholm. I have been to a few weddings in my time, but only one other had been in Sweden, and I was fairly young and didn't really experience everything in the way it should be experienced. This was an interesting way to start off my "culturalization" into Swedish society and how they do things. Sitting there, I definitely noticed a lot of differences. And I'm sure you'd all love to hear them.
                A couple of months ago, one of my best friends got married. It was in a beautiful location in a somewhat small town near where I grew up. The wedding was in a chapel on a lake and the reception was right next door in a sort of tent thing that was set up. My friend stood at the altar and waited while the bride's father escorted her down the aisle towards her husband-to-be. This is a traditional American wedding style. The father of the bride brings her into the chapel and "gives her away" to the groom. The idea being that the bride and groom are about to embark on a new journey together as a new family, and the parents are no longer as prevalent in their lives, the father must give up some of his claim to his daughter and give her new husband his blessing and his love in order for them to live a happy life together. The priest did a very good job and gave some advice and had a few jokes, but overall it was to present the new couple to God and ask for His blessing. It was a beautiful service (just like the newlyweds... Aww).
                The reception was a lot of fun, with a buffet dinner and a DJ with good music and dancing. As is traditional, the best man (men, in this case) and the maid of honor made a toast to the new couple. There was also a microphone that went around the room and whoever wanted to say a few words were able to do that whenever they wanted to. The night ended with dancing and laughter and fun. It was a good time.
                This is a fairly normal wedding in America: a service presenting the new bride and groom, followed by food, dancing, and fun. It is a good system, and one that I quite enjoy.
                In Sweden, there are a few things that are a bit different. This particular wedding was a bit in the middle of nowhere. It took place in a very old church in the middle of farm country, with virtually no houses nearby. Everyone assembles outside the church, and walks arm in arm with his or her date (or if you don't have one, you make friends quickly) into the church. Once we sat down, the bride and groom walk into the church together toward the altar. The priest was a bit of a character (he sang a bit of Elvis, to the surprise of everyone – including the bride and groom), my aunt mentioned that she had never laughed so much at a wedding before. He gave his advice, said his prayers, sang psalms asking God for His blessing, and presented the new couple.
This bit, however, is pretty much purely tradition. Sweden's official religion is the Lutheran Church of Sweden. Only about 70% of the population identifies themselves as belonging to the church and only 2% are regular attendees. Religion is not nearly as prevalent here as it is in the US, so the church, the psalms, the priest, all seem to  be a tradition that people follow. I was told by the groom that the psalms were chosen pretty much at random. They said, "how about this one?" and the priest agreed that, "yeah, that works." Once the wedding was over, everyone filed out in the same way we went in, arm in arm, and waited outside the church until the newlyweds came out and we all blew bubbles at them and individually congratulated them before going to the reception.
The reception, then, was similar but different ("same, same, but different" as they enjoy saying here). We mingled a bit with champagne and hors d'oeuvres and waited until it was time to eat. Maybe that was just me being an American. Food is always my main priority.
This is where the main difference comes in. There is a seating chart for Swedish weddings, and really any formal dinner party-type event. It is carefully planned so that it is man, woman, man, woman, etc. You are not supposed to sit next to someone of the same gender, and you're not really supposed to sit next to someone that you know very well. This means that couples and families are separated in an effort to make you get to know other people. To help with this, there was a small booklet with the seating chart with numbers, and every number had a name to go along with it. Each name had a small description with an interesting fact or two to help conversation.
There was some talking and visiting before dinner came, which was served in three courses (soup, entrée, and dessert). Wine was constantly being refilled (which also helped with conversation), and overall it was a delicious meal. During the meal, though, the toasts were made.
This is another difference. There were a pair of "toastmasters" that introduced every person making their toast. The first two were the fathers of the bride and the groom, respectively. Then the best man and maid of honor and it finished with a few friends saying a few words and even a slideshow. It was very structured and very formal, with everyone finishing their toast with a "Skål!" and a deep drink. One of the toasts involved something which I tend to think of as very Swedish (correct me if I'm wrong here, but I know Christmas is similar to this), with a present being given to the bride along with a poem. It wasn't given directly, though, but to the bride, then she had to figure out the poem and give it to who she thought it fit, and it went around for a bit before it finally made its way back to the bride. It was actually really cool. Another quizzed the two about how well they knew their guests. We each got a card with a few things on it ("I have completed military service," "I have completed the Vasaloppet," and a few others) and we were asked to stand and they had to guess what the description was. That was pretty fun, too. All in all, the toasts were a mixture of formality, tradition, well-wishing, fun, and alcohol. The Swedish way, really.
After dinner, it went back to what I was used to, with music and dancing and even more fun. The music, though, was a bit different from what I usually hear at an American wedding. There was some Bruce Springsteen (awesome), and Michael Jackson, and something that I can only describe as what Richard Simmons would listen to while "Sweatin' it to the Oldies" (not as awesome for me).  Everyone loved it though, and everyone, young and old, danced and sweated and had an amazing time.
At the end of the night, there was a shuttle to take everyone back to their hotels or hostels and we finished off the night walking into a brisk, star-filled night that perfectly capped off the night.
The difference were many, but in the end, the weddings in America and Sweden are essentially the same. They are about bringing two families together and sharing in a beautiful moment the love and loved ones that make a difference in our lives in a night of food, fun, and friendship. As I've said, I've been to several weddings, and I will always have an amazing time with those that I care about, no matter where I am.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Scandinavian Travel Adventures

It wouldn’t be an international trip for me if something didn’t go wrong while flying. And it did. I recently took a trip with Delta from Denver, Colorado to Stockholm, Sweden and then Copenhagen, Denmark to Denver, Colorado. It was less than impressive. But, luckily, I had absolutely no problems at Arlanda (considering I once dubbed Arlanda the worst airport in the world, a statement I stand by, by the way), this was no small feat. It’s the little things really.


I was scheduled to leave on July 23rd from Denver. At around 11pm on July 22nd, I received an email stating that my flight had been cancelled. Awesome. I immediately called and was told that there were no problems, I would just have to spend a night in New York. Because that is super cheap and easy to do on short notice. I told the customer service agent (whose name I do not remember, but who was quite helpful), that that wouldn’t work. To Delta’s, and her, credit, they were able to reschedule me on a new flight leaving at 7:35 the next morning. Obviously, this was short notice – less than nine hours actually. But it worked. I arrived in New York without any problems. I boarded the plane without any problems. I sat down without any problems. And I waited. And I sat. And I waited. And for approximately two hours, we sat in the plane. There was something wrong. Obviously. Turns out there was an oil filter issue with one of the engines. The pilot even said that had it been a domestic flight, they would have just gone for it. Part of me was grateful that they took such caution, the other part was sitting on the runway at JFK airport for nearly two hours. Finally, mercifully, we took off and arrived in Stockholm quite a bit later.

My time in Scandinavia was lovely. As it so often is.

On August 27th, I left Copenhagen for Denver. I thought that I had used up my bad luck while traveling. I was wrong. Although, this time there was no flight cancellation. I did make it to New York without any problems. I cleared customs and glanced at the departures screen. Delayed. Two hours. Awesome. I went to the gate, grabbed a vitamin packed drink (I was feeling a bit of a cold coming on), and waited. I wasted time on my phone. Read. Ate. And waited. Mostly I waited. I kept glancing at the departures screen as the delay continued to grow. There was no announcement explaining the delay. And so I waited. By the time we started boarding, I had been waiting for two hours and 41 minutes past the original departure time. By the time we finally took off, nearly three hours had gone by.

I travel a decent amount. Usually a couple of international flights every year and several domestic flights. I understand that things go wrong sometimes. Sometimes they are out of the airline’s control, like the weather. Sometimes they are under the airline’s control, like the mechanical readiness of their fleet. But every time I sit on a Delta flight, I watch that short film before the safety instructions with the CEO who espouses the virtues of customer service and mutual respect in his southern drawl. It’s charming really. But this last trip was just too much. There was not a single offer of compensation or a show of good will. I know, even that is not
required, but this was rough. I spent nearly as many hours delayed as I did in taking a trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Stockholm. And that’s ridiculous.

What’s not ridiculous though, was the incredible response by Delta when I emailed them asking them about the above trips. I spend a lot of time complaining about flying. Mostly because I am delayed so often. And because I like to complain. But I very seldom do any of that complaining to the actual company. You know, the ones that can actually do something about it. This time was different. What you just read was essentially my complaint email. Within four hours, a Delta customer service representative responded to the individual flights that I had taken and even offered a $100 travel voucher. Well done Delta, well done.

Welcome to the US. And customer service.