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. But 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 cheese burger. 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.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

1,000,000 Page Views

I started this blog on September 5, 2007. That was 2,608 day ago. That’s a lot of days. I’ve written over 500 posts, over 500 single-spaced pages in a Word document, over 275,000 words. That’s a lot of words. Last week, someone clicked on this blog and read something, I don’t know what, but it was the one millionth page view. That’s a lot of page views.

That number isn’t earning me a fancy living and it’s not going on my CV, but I like that I’ve had the opportunity to interact with so many people through this blog. Sometimes by email, sometimes in the comments section, and sometimes meeting up in flesh and blood. I’ve made plenty of friends through this blog. Some have moved to Sweden only to leave a few years later. Some have stayed. And some, like me, have just gone back and forth.

It took me a while to get going with this blog. To find my voice and to find my style. My first few posts are rough and I once wrote about Bill Murray getting pulled over while driving a golf cart in Stockholm. So there’s that. But I also got to write about a country that I love and admire. And sometimes that country annoyed me a bit.

I wrote plenty about the things that bothered me about this country. And that bothered a lot of people that live in this country. I criticized and I joked and I had fun. There are posts that make me cringe and comments that make me laugh. There are emails that make me wonder about the goodness of people (it’s surprising how many ways people can use the word fuck) and then there are emails that remind me of the goodness of people. I learned a lot along the way and have changed a lot as well. Something that becomes (sometimes) painfully obvious when I read back on what I've written. I've even seen a popular TV show emerge titled Welcome to Sweden. Clearly, it was inspired by the popularity of this blog. There can be no other explanation.

I don’t post as often as I used to or even as often as I’d like to, but I’m glad so many people have stuck around and popped in to say hello over the past seven years. Thanks for reading and commenting and making this a fun experience.

Welcome to Sweden. And thanks for putting up with me for so long.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Stockholm Christmas Creep

This is not my new nickname. Just putting that out there immediately. Christmas creep is that friendly reminder that you should be buying your Christmas gifts now. It’s hearing “Jingle Bells” on your favorite country station before the leaves have even turned. It might even be seeing Christmas decorations being mounted across Stockholm. In October.

I first noticed it last Thursday. That’s October 16, 2014. Or, as I like to call it: The day from which there are only 69 days left until Christmas!1 I admit that the name may need some work. Maybe it was just Stockholm trying to get ahead of the game. It must take a while to decorate an entire city and it is getting colder and darker. Maybe the city was just taking advantage of daylight and better weather. Maybe.

But then a few days later there were Christmas decorations in store windows. And tomtar and pepparkakor to be bought.2 And today, Christmas trees were being hung on the buildings with care. Now Åhléns is all dressed up with nowhere to go for two whole months.

Turns out tomtar are not responsible for Christmas decorations.
The nice thing about Christmas creep are the lights. Stockholm is getting dark and daylight savings means we’re falling back an hour in just a few days. Any light helps. Of course, the downside is that now everyone (ALL OF THE PEOPLE!) will be inundated with Christmas suggestions. Which is probably annoying for the folks who don’t celebrate. And also annoying for me. And clearly I should be catered to at all times. Especially since everyone knows that the best time to buy Christmas gifts is the day before Christmas. Duh.

Welcome to Sweden. And 62 days until Christmas.

1 From which? On which? Prepositions are hard.
2 You’ll notice those two links are to You know, to get you in the spirit. It’s ironic. Or something.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Adventures in the National Library of Sweden

Despite my headphones, I heard him coming up behind me. Quickly. Aggressively. Loudly. It’s amazing what just a few strides can convey. He grabbed me and began to turn me around while yelling: what do you say when you bump into someone‽1

I am not a brave man, but I am a big man and with that comes a bit of privilege. I don’t immediately have to fear for my safety, especially in a public setting like the café of a library. Which is where this man chose to yell at me. So I slowly took out my headphones. I looked at him. He was old. He had white hair. A tired face. A saggy torso. And he was frantic. His eyes were dancing. He was legitimately angry. He felt aggrieved.

A group of three Germans were standing in the corridor on one side. This older gentleman was standing on the other side. I tried to sneak between them to get out of their way. Because I still wear a backpack, my size ends up being a bit problematic in tight spaces.2 So I brushed him with my bag. I knew it and he clearly knew it. But as I did so I said, as one does, ursäkta. Excuse me. And I continued walking.

That’s when he grabbed me. And as he yelled, I noticed the rest of the room noticing what was going on. Yelling is rare in Sweden. Rarer still in libraries. People stare. It’s a sort of national sport in Sweden, along with avoiding your neighbors. So as calmly as I could, I explained that I had, in fact, said excuse me. Without missing a beat he yelled: you need to say it loud enough to be heard! Apparently, the last couple of months in archives and libraries has trained away my American voice and replaced it with a Swedish library voice: loud enough to communicate with librarians, not loud enough to communicate with angry old men.

Having heard more shushes in this library than in any other library I’ve ever spent time in, a small part of me wanted to lift my finger to my lips and shush him. Just once. For yelling. But I did not. Like I said, I am not a brave man and there’s really no reason to tempt fate. Or an angry old man, whichever the case may be. Instead I stared at him. Probably a little confused. Probably a little shocked.

The woman working at the café to my left just started laughing. Just burst out laughing. As if this were a normal occurrence. As if she had seen this play before. I looked at her. Smiled. Shook my head. Walked away. I did not say another word to the old man. There was nothing left to say. He had said his piece. He had made his scene. He needed a reason to yell and I was as good a reason as any.

Welcome to Sweden. And library voices.

1 That’s an interrobang. An incredible punctuation mark that combines the question mark with the exclamation point. Use it. Love it.
2 I have officially, by the way, exceeded 20 years of education at public institutions. Yay public education!