Friday, December 28, 2007

I am a Swedish Public Transporter

I am officially reliant on public transportation. Accidentally. Don’t get me wrong. I love driving. So much freedom. I can get in my car and go anywhere I like whenever I want. It’s an amazing feeling and something I have grown very used to over my seven years of driving in the US. But here, it’s just so expensive. And mostly a pain in the ass to try to drive around in Stockholm. Plus they just added a toll getting inside the city limits. Trying to force people to use public transportation. And I do.

Earlier in the summer I had a premonition of this happening. I just didn’t realize how strong it would become and it was before I had a car here so it didn’t seem like such a big deal. My parents needed directions to a store and I told them what bus to take not being able to explain how to drive there. But at that point I hadn’t been driving around at all so it seemed justified.

But it wasn’t until yesterday that I realized just how reliant I am on public transportation. I was giving directions to our apartment and immediately found myself explaining how to get there using only public transportation. Which stop to get off at, which way to walk, all the basics of a public transporter. And then I was told our guests were coming by car. And I was taken completely by surprise. While, I feel confident in my abilities to give driving directions it was just such a shock that I ended up only giving my address and pointing them towards the trusty Eniro Kartor website for directions. But now after this episode it seems like I am just a changed man. And I’m not sure I like it.

This incident came just a few days after having taken the car down and back to southern Sweden for the second weekend in a row. They explained to me how they also liked taking road trips. I was dumbfounded. It takes five hours to drive down there. Maybe six. That’s not a road trip. Hell, I can almost make that on one tank of gas which means there’s not even a reason to stop. But driving more than a couple of hours seems to constitute a road trip in this country. Silly Swedes.

Swedes don’t understand when I tell them the beauty of driving. Actually, Swedes living in Stockholm don’t understand. They try to argue that there is always a train or subway or bus on its way. But what if I want to go now? I mean right now. Then you wait for the train. And we use the commuter train. Which has a nasty habit of being late, cancelled, or running irregularly because we aren’t included in the main subway line. And there’s also the business of summer and holiday times when the train comes maybe twice an hour. I have things to do. And these things involve me getting places in a timely fashion. Which is what a trusty car can do. In my case a Saab. Of course.

The next argument is usually the importance of the environment. But honestly, I’m not that concerned. I drive because I like to and it gets me places quickly. Here in Stockholm, I drive less because of the negative impact on my wallet and because it’s a pain sometimes. Not because of the environment.

Plus there is the whole idea of things being so much bigger in the US. America is big. There is a lot of space there. Sweden is not. It’s the size of California. Granted, California is a solid sized state. But it’s just that – a state. We have 50 of them. It takes time to get places, and time usually means using a car to cut down on some of that time. Swedes can’t grasp the concept of how big America is and the reliance on cars to get us places unless they have spent a good amount of time in the states. Most have not.

Finally, it devolves into some sort of pissing match and Americans are called wasteful and lazy. Maybe, but we get where we want to be and we do it quickly. And that’s why when I finally move back to the US I intend to drive 3 minutes to pick up a gallon of milk at 2:47 am. Because I can.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas From Sweden

Now it’s the 25th. Christmas in the US. And somehow Santa managed to find us here in Southern Sweden and fill our stockings with goodies. My parents must be good friends of old Saint Nick because they sent the stockings in the mail to us but I’ll be damned if Santa didn’t write a little note telling us not to open them until today. And we followed the rules. I mean it is Santa right?

Christmas Eve was quite nice here in Sweden. We even went to church. And I don’t go to church. It was quite nice and a good experience mostly because it is something I never do. But whenever I do go into a church, either for sightseeing or for the occasional (as in maybe once every three years) service, I never feel anything. I always kind of expect to just because of the sheer magnitude of all the people who do have such strong feelings and experiences in church. But it doesn’t happen. I suppose I need to let that go and just appreciate it for a social and cultural experience. Which it is. And so I will.

After church was enough food to feed a small army. We were only seven so I’m not sure we constituted a small army. But we did some good work on the food. And it just kept coming. And it was delicious. And I kept eating it because that’s what I do. After numerous courses and drinks and various other delicacies we moved onto the presents.

I love the Swedish way of opening Christmas presents. It’s not just a free for all. Everyone sits around and one present is passed out at a time and one person opens the present. The spotlight is completely on them and everyone gets to ooh and ahh about the gift and then it is someone else’s turn. It draws everything out and makes it a much more intimate affair rather than the feeding frenzy that is so often depicted on TV and in the movies.

Finally we made it back to the house around 3am. Exhausted, full (maybe full in both the English and Swedish sense), and pretty happy overall. Even got a chance to talk to the family back home. They were prepping for dinner and waiting on Jultomten to make his appearance. Hopefully my dad gets to see him this year. For as long as I can remember he’s had to go out to buy milk. We always seem to run out of milk on Christmas Eve. Poor planning on the part of my parent’s if you ask me. But so it goes. Who knows? Maybe one of these days we’ll have enough milk.

So since we made it through Jul I guess it’s just a Merry Christmas to everyone back home.

Monday, December 24, 2007

God Jul From Sweden

Well, it’s Christmas Eve, the big day in Sweden. We made the drive down from Stockholm. And made it. Barely. Had some car trouble when the back left tire decided it didn’t really want to be attached to the car anymore. Which is always exciting when you’re driving on the highway and it’s completely dark out at 6 in the evening. But we made it. And the car made it. And the car is back in driving shape. So now we’re going to have ourselves a nice little Christmas Eve down here in Southern Sweden. But it will be the first one without the family.

Granted, I am with family, cousins, aunts and uncles, all of that good stuff. But not THE family. We’ll see how it goes. Apparently this is what happens when you grow up. Or at least what happens when you move halfway across the world. And now it’s official because I drove CBCC to the airport on Friday. Which means no one is left. It was nice having him around. Made it seem like I hadn’t completely left home. But now… no more.

But I’m excited for the holiday. It will be fun to spend some time with the extended family and to be in Sweden for a Christmas. It’s been a long time since that’s happened. And that was the point of moving here. Experience a little bit of Sweden.

So God Jul/Merry Christmas. Enjoy the holiday. Enjoy your family. Enjoy your friends.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sweden’s Customer Service Rankles The Boozehound Inside Me

I was in the System Bolaget yesterday buying some glögg in a bottle. I found myself standing in line with the cash register on my left hand side, behind an older woman who was standing in line behind an even older man. Let’s say he was about 60. The Swedes have a habit of looking healthier as they age though so he may have been 75. Who knows. He had paid his money. He had moved to the end of the rolly conveyor belt thingy that delivers the booze and was packing it into his plastic sack that he had paid 1 SEK for. And that’s when it happened.

The older man reached his hand out to collect his change. And the cashier, let’s call him Lars, snapped. Lars began lecturing the older man about how if he were forced to reach across his body to hand people their change with his right hand he would hurt himself. So he made the man come back to the cash register to collect his change. To his credit the older man tried to laugh it off and make it into a joke. Lars was having none of it. Apparently the Christmas stress was getting to him because he snapped back that he was just making sure that the older man understood and that it just wasn’t feasible to reach across all day.

I of course began thinking, Lars is nuts. And lazy. And is probably hoping to get hurt so that he can collect his sick leave money and not have to work. There were just so many solutions available that would have made lecturing a nice old man unnecessary. The most obvious being, of course, to move the change to his left hand so that he wouldn’t have to reach across his body. But that was probably too easy. I just couldn’t believe that this had happened right in front of me. He gets paid to hand people their money and yet somehow he has the balls to lecture someone on proper change giving form. I suppose when you work for a monopoly there is no need to have good customer service. What is the old man going to do? Buy light beer from the grocery store and boat over to Finland for any of his other alcohol needs?

All this made me realize just how important a little competition can be good for everyone. But especially the consumer. Lowers the prices a little bit, which would be welcomed by anyone who has bought booze at Systemet lately, and it should, at least in theory, improve customer service. No one wants to go to a store that has a bunch of Lars’ employed who are ready to lecture you at the drop of a 5 kronor piece.

Of course, the advocates of this monopolization of alcohol in Sweden argue that lowering the prices would lead to untold deaths, a ridiculous rise in alcoholism, destruction of property, abuse, neglect, and crime. I don’t buy it. For one thing I would imagine that if prices were to drop a lot of the people who are buying their booze from other countries would start doing it here in Sweden, which would just bring a little money back into the country. And there is so much black market booze shopping that it would eliminate the need to smuggle car loads of beer in from Germany.

But the Swedes seem happy the way the system is. It’s almost like it has become a part of their society. Friday afternoons you get in line at the System Bolaget and buy your alcohol and just accept that one can of beer is going to cost at least 10 SEK. And then you move on smiling dumbly, paying your taxes.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Swedish Athleticism Takes Many Forms

I made a scientific discovery today. One of the utmost importance to anyone using public transportation. You are in shape. A special shape.

Back when I was an active athletic person I was able to identify being in different kinds of shape. There was a difference between football shape and basketball shape. No matter how many cross fields we ran I was always sucking air when we ran suicides that first week of basketball. Since my athletic career ended long ago I forgot how there could be different shapes of fitness. Until today.

So a couple of months ago I bought myself some nice looking dress shoes. Kind of elf pointy at the front as is the style of the day. And clearly I am stylish. Shiny black even. Which is mostly why I bought them. But they were too big. Damn European shoe sizes. Anyone, they turned my heels into chewed pork. It was nasty. So I shined them up and took them back as if I had never worn them. I even picked the rocks out of the bottoms, which was lucky because the girl even flipped them over and checked. Ha. My sneakiness is too much for the common Swede. Anyway, I got a new pair one size smaller. But due to my chewed pork heels I didn’t wear them. Until yesterday.

They were better. But I still have heel blisters, not chewed pork heels but blisters none the less. And I spent the majority of the evening walking on my toes so as to minimize the damage on my heels. And today my calves are sore. And this is when it struck me. Public transportation did this to me.

The Stockholm public transit system has seared an imprint of itself onto me. I am capable of walking long distances without any trouble to catch a bus, a train, or even the subway. I can sprint through throngs of people to catch my train. I can bound up escalators (always keeping to the left as I bound, mind you, it is Sweden after all) to make it to the bus on time. I can even suck myself in and hug the wall so that people can slide past me as they try to get off the train. This is public transportation shape. You can do everything that involves you catching your preferred mode of transportation but running just a little extra will leave you winded.

I am a public transportation all-star. Some might even call me the Tom Brady of SL what with my rugged good looks, super model girlfriend, and chiseled public transportation physique. It’s a gift. And a curse.

Because injuries befall even the greats. And my chewed pork heels really sidelined me for a while. I limped along looking like Muhammad Ali lighting the torch at the Olympics. Shaking and downtrodden, but still proud, the shadow of my former athletic self. And the reoccurrence of this heel injury yesterday reaffirmed the importance of keeping my body in peak form. Which is probably why I should heed the heel advice of my super model girlfriend and use band-aids as a preventative measure.

We’ll see. As of now though, my heels are on injured reserve, and I will soldier on as best I can. Showing up on the injury report every day but still gutting out the public transportation, that is what separates the common public transportationers from the all-stars.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Driving in Sweden

Did some driving over the weekend. Quite a bit of driving actually. CBCC and I went down to southern Sweden to visit some family. About 600 kilometers from Stockholm. It was a good time but I learned a few things about driving in Sweden.

To start off we had some car trouble. The battery was shot. I don’t drive so much so the car had been sitting for about a month in some pretty cold weather. I walked to a grocery store near where we live and asked around. With no luck. None. I even had jumper cables to offer but no one was taking. People were just not in a mood to help. Maybe it was too early on a Saturday and the cold weather turned everyone’s heart the size of a lump of Grinch-like coal. I’m not sure. But, finally, CBCC managed to flag a friendly person down and we got the car started.

Once the driving started I realized something else important. It is expensive. Really, really expensive. I’m driving a classic Saab 900. A decent size car but not huge, and not a huge gas tank. But I put over 700 SEK into it each time I filled up. Which was once on the way down and once on the way up. That’s over 100 dollars with the dollar being at about 6.5 SEK. That’s insane. That’s how much it costs to fill up a Suburban in the US, not a Saab. I’ll be honest; it hurt, like taking a swift kick to the groin. You swallow, straighten yourself and just man up and keep going.

Driving with kilometers per hour is tricky. I kept looking down and saw that I was going over 100. But I had to keep reminding myself that it was only kilometers per hour. Which then made me think that I should speed up because it was only kilometers per hour and I was converting in my head constantly. But eventually I just found myself a nice Volvo to follow and settled in behind him, when in doubt, just follow the locals.

On the way back I bypassed Stockholm to drop CBCC off in Uppsala. Added a bit of time but it saved him a lot of hassle and I ended up picking up a Christmas tree so it worked out quite nicely. But while in Uppsala I started reflecting on my biking days there as an exchange student. It was required by law to have lights on your bike. Not just reflectors but actual lights. I only got one for the front towards the end of my time there. I figured I could see just fine. I didn’t need a light on my bike. There were plenty of street lights to lead the way. Well, turns out the lights aren’t for the bikers. They are for drivers. Those bikers are damn near invisible without lights on. Scary invisible. And since the sun goes down at 2:30 there’s a lot of time for bikers to ride around in the dark. Luckily, I didn’t hit anything. Or anyone.

And I had other things I was going to write, but South Park came on and well, I got distracted. Hence the abrupt end to this.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sweden Has Great Tits and My Immaturity Knows No Bounds

Sometimes things happen that make me question my maturity. I’m 23 years old. Some things I just shouldn’t laugh at. But I do. And today was full of them for some reason. It wasn’t that I was in a great mood, or that work was just a blast, it’s just, quite simply, that I am quite immature sometimes. And maybe a little mean.

I suppose this happened two days ago, but I’ve been giggling about it since then like a little school girl. DCP is out on a biology field study. She’s checking out Sweden’s Great Tits. Seriously. There is a bird in Sweden called the Great Tit. DCP was at first convinced this was some sort of lost in translation moment, or maybe a Freudian slip by a lonely biology professor. Nope. Sweden has Great Tits. And I laughed.

I’ve been eating lunch almost every day with CBCC. But I always call at 11 for lunch at 12:30. So sometimes he can’t make it. Instead I try to find new restaurants around work. I found some sort of buffet today. I sat down at a table to eat my meat and potatoes and there were a couple of girls sitting at the table across from me. On black stools. Just like I was. And for the longest time I thought the girl with her back turned towards me somehow finagled her way into a bigger stool. Maybe she was short and needed a grown-up booster seat and didn’t want to lug around a phone book. I was wrong though. She had a huge ass and had black pants on. It actually blended in with the stool. This makes me both immature and a bad person. And I laughed.

On the way to the train after work I saw a girl sprinting for the bus. The bus driver slowly drove away. Teasing her. But she just wasn’t fast enough. Her short little legs were pumping right along like a little flesh colored steam engine but she just couldn’t do it. And her shoulders sagged, and her face fell, and she had the look of a five year old that had just watched his ice cream fall to the ground. I’ve been there, both with the ice cream and the bus. And the more I use Stockholm’s public transportation the more I realize most everyone has been there. And still I laughed.

When I made it to the train I was letting them rip, and they were ripe. Maybe it was the buffet at lunch that just wasn’t sitting right. Or maybe my gut was punishing me for laughing at the misfortune of others. I don’t know. What I did know, though, was that my gut wasn’t going to control me. So I just let them fly, on the train, on the way out of the train, on the subway, no remorse. And they stunk. And I laughed.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

The 2007 Nobel Prize Dinner in Stockholm

Well, I’m watching bunch of fancy people on TV eat dinner. It’s the 2007 Nobel Prize Dinner in Sweden and the winners were awarded their prize today and then the fancy dinner was tonight. This year, as I mentioned in earlier posts, there were some very old winners. Two of those were unable to make the trip due to poor health, Doris Lessing and Leonid Hurwicz. And of course, Al Gore wasn’t in attendance because the Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo not Stockholm.

The dinner is a fancy part of the whole event. In fact, the menu is kept secret until the actual dinner. One of the people involved in the whole thing said in an interview today that the menu is almost as secret as the actual award. Despite the award being Swedish, Alfred Nobel being Swedish, the menu’s main language is given in French.

There were quite a few American winners this week, and the TV personalities covering the event actually discussed the American table manners. They referred to the “Yankee” way of eating with only a fork and keeping it in your right hand instead of the fork in your left hand and knife in your right hand. They suggested that if an American wanted to be eccentric this would be a good way to eat at the Nobel Prize Dinner. Good. The reputation of our table manners precede us the world over.

But enough about that. Let’s get to the meat of the evening. The actual dinner. And so without further ado, the December 10th, 2007 Nobel Prize Dinner menu as brought to us by (as in I copy and pasted) the Nobel website:

Lobster aspic with dill-baked halibut and Kalix bleak roe

Young cockerel with cockerel sausage, accompanied by
almond potato and celery root terrine

Raspberry and blackcurrant parfait on beds of pistachio,
with vanilla ice cream

Jacquart Brut Mosaïque Millésimé 1996

Corton Grand Cru Grèves Bourgogne 2002
Domaine Jean-Claude Belland

Tri de Vendange Coteaux du Layon 2003
Raymond Morin

Remy Martin VSOP

Eau minérale Ramlösa

Next, I would like to present you with the December 10th, 2007 Hairy Swede Dinner menu as brought to you by me:

Chocolate shaped teddy bear from Advent calendar

Young Chicken Top Ramen, accompanied by tuna fish flavored with
lemon pepper herbs and moutard sandwich on buttered bread

Vanilla yogurt accompanied by sugar cookies


Apple Juice


A quick note, apparently vegetarian options were offered at the Nobel Prize Dinner, but this wasn’t shown on the website. In regards to the Hairy Swede Dinner, no vegetarian options were available.

And there you have it, the difference between living in a very small apartment and just having found a real job, and being a Nobel Prize winner. It’s the food you get to eat on December 10th.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Run in with the Swedish Police (Almost)

Today something amazing happened to me as I was driving around picking up print jobs for work. I was cut off by a police car. And not one that was in a hurry to get to a crime scene. And not one that had lights flashing and sirens blaring. Nope, just your classic Swedish Volvo police car. Of course they are Volvos. Come on now. What did you expect? It does make it hard to identify in the dark sometimes. Just so many Volvos driving around.

But anyway, the policeman waved politely as if to apologize as I slammed on the brakes and swore under my breath. My initial reaction was, “Shit, I almost hit a cop,” followed by, “Shit, that wasn’t even remotely close to being my fault.” He did give the wave though so I forgave him. I’m a forgiving person, and for the most part if you mess up in traffic all I ask for is a wave. But it was nice to see this from the police. Just developing good relations obviously. Or trying to save face.

Needless to say though I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know this sort of thing happened. Police are the ones who are supposed to be enforcing the traffic laws, not nearly causing an accident. Anyway, as luck would have it, I followed him for a while until I had to make my turn. All the while thinking that I hope he was worried that I was going to pull him over and make a citizen’s arrest. Because come on, when you are being followed by a cop after having done something stupid that’s all you’re thinking about. But he made his getaway and I went about my business reflecting on my rainy Friday afternoon where I almost crashed into a police car.

Now most people have a poor image of the cops. No matter what country you’re in. But I’ve always had pretty good luck with the cops. Except for this one time when I was 16, and my girlfriends dad was a cop. Good times indeed. But aside from that no really bad experiences. I have a couple of buddies from college who are cops now; a couple of friends who have dads who are cops. All in all, a good lot. But it’s still nice to see that even Swedish police make dumb traffic mistakes but will cop to it immediately. See what I did there?

But there you have it. My amazing experience. And first near run in with the Swedish police. Good times indeed.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

YouTube - Funny Swedish Prison Cell

No idea how real this is. But it made me shake my head. And I even chuckled a bit to myself, mostly because I can't believe it. So enjoy.

I'm undecided. But even I have a hard time believing this is an actual prison. Unless it is just one of those white collar fancy prisons and someone forgot to mention that in the post. Very possible I suppose.

But please, please, don't let this be a prison where you serve 10 years for murder. That just can't happen. Right? Anyone, please, someone tell me that this is in fact just a white collar prison or some sort of halfway home like thing.

I’ve made a lot of comments about the justice system here. But this, if it is real, could be the last straw. This is nicer than the dorm room I lived in my freshman year of university. Seriously. I could kick my roommate from my bed when he was on his. They were tiny. Granted my roommate wasn’t a criminal so that helped the overall atmosphere in the room, but it looks like the room shown in the video is a single.

Maybe someone knows someone who has a cousin whose girlfriend’s mom’s best friend knows what’s going on here. Because I want to know. I’m very curious.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I Paid 5 Swedish Kronor to Use the Bathroom

I did some Christmas shopping on Sunday with DCP and CBCC. I’m not a big fan of shopping but ‘tis the season. So I soldiered on. As we all did. At the time though I thought it would end quickly, so I ignored the pressing need to find myself a bathroom.

And then it hit. Hard. And I needed a bathroom. Now this can be more difficult than it would seem in Sweden. Many bathrooms in Stockholm will cost you five SEK. But not just five SEK, they actually require an actual five piece. None of this piecing together ones. The idea is that the money is used to keep the bathrooms nice and clean. And so not all stores have bathrooms available to the common customer. And I was a common customer. So I crossed the street into a large shopping center and began frantically looking for a bathroom.

I found one. And then had to pay my five SEK to use it. Apparently the common customer can’t be trusted. Even places like McDonald’s will make you pay sometimes. And places like H&M don’t even give you an idea as to where they might have a bathroom.

When I need to use a bathroom desperately I hate this. When I get into the bathroom and see how nice it looks I like it. And when I don’t need a bathroom, well I just don’t even think about it. The downside of this is that there is always someone who needs the bathroom. And so there is always someone thinking about this. Which is fine most of the time. Except for Friday and Saturday nights. Because that is when people go drinking. And when people go drinking they need to go peeing. And so any public place that seems halfway suitable smells of urine and beer. The subway stations especially. Gross.

And so I came up with a wonderful solution. Stockholm can still earn a little money to keep their bathrooms clean and charge their five SEK to use the bathrooms. But Friday and Saturday night after four I think it is pretty obvious that they should be free. Imagine how glorious this would be. The drunks are happy when they need to pee. And the people in charge are happy because they still get clean bathrooms for most of the days of the week.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Swedish News that Blew My Mind Today

I snagged all three of the glorious free newspapers offered around Stockholm today. I have some time to kill on my commute and usually read one of them but I was feeling ambitious. Each one had a little bit to offer that just blew my mind. For better or worse.

First, in an article in Punkt SE about a Finnish guy who killed a father, mother, and their son in Sweden and who is about to be released despite the life sentence he received. From the defense attorney “Livstid ska inte vara livstid. Alla måste få en andra chans, hur grymt brottet än är.” Which translates to, “A life sentence shouldn’t be a life sentence. Everyone must get a second chance, no matter how brutal the crime is.”

Second, a huge headline on the front of the Metro that said “Lurade hundratals med penispiller,” “Tricked hundreds with penis pills.” Yup, a guy was selling calcium pills under the guise of penis enlarging pills. Who needs a Swedish Penis Pump like Austin Powers when you can get penis pills straight from Sweden? He got caught. I laughed.

Another headline, this one a bit smaller and found in City. “Jessica handlar för 10 000 i månaden,” or “Jessica goes shopping for 10 000 SEK every month.” And that’s pronounced Yessica not Jessica. Come on, say it like a Swede. This girl spends nearly $2,000 a month on clothes and shoes and beauty products. She says it’s especially bad in the fall and winter because she feels a little depressed.

And finally, this one also from Metro. “Jultomten stannar i 34 mikrosekunder,” “Santa stops for 34 microseconds.” That’s all the time he has if he’s going to make it across the entire world. No word if this includes the time it takes to leave coal in the stockings of all the bad little boys and girls. This according to a Swedish research group that apparently has way too much time here in the dark of winter. But I loved it.

Well there you have it. The news from Sweden that blew my mind. In one way or another. I love free newspapers.

Welcome to Sweden.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Eagles and Jaguars Make a Swedish Debut

Technology is amazing. I watched football last night. It didn’t show up on TV and I wasn’t watching on any website. The beauty of technology is that it can solve so many of the world’s problems. Like me not being able to watch the NFL in real time.

And so it is that I was able to watch football last night with a glorious Swedish invention. Skype. Along with the help of a webcam and a very accommodating father. Did I mention how amazing technology can be?

So I sat and watched the Philadelphia Eagles play the Jacksonville Jaguars for a while. The picture was ok. Not amazing, but decent. I could see what was going on. I could watch football. American football in Sweden without having to be a ridiculous amount of money to get a few extra TV channels. Instead I paid nothing because Skype is free. And even video calls are free. Across the ocean. I love technology so much. We tried getting my brother in on it too but while Skype is incredible, it seems to have some limitations. It would only allow football to be shown by video to one other person. Two was just too much. But still.

It was amazing how excited and happy this made me. Maybe a little sad actually how much enjoyment I got out of it. But come on. The idea is genius. But what it really made me realize is how nice familiar things really are. Even if it’s as simple as a football game being shown over a webcam. Made it feel like a real Sunday. All I needed was some junk food and a couch instead of my computer chair and I would have been set. But beggars can’t be choosers. And I was damn excited to have the chance to watch football.

Having made the move here I’ve found plenty of things I like, and plenty of things to complain about. I could do the exact same thing if I moved someplace new in the US. That’s the way it works I think. You love some things, you hate some things, and you miss the good stuff about back home. But the beautiful thing is that with the help of a little technology those things that just seem to be missing, like a football game on a Sunday night, can be arranged and suddenly there is just a little less to complain about and a little more to be happy about.

It also made me realize how a lot of the things I miss are just small little things that might seem so banal to someone else. But those little things are what added up to make the life I led back in the US, and it sure is fun to sit here in Stockholm and start to realize all these things. I’m gaining insight into the life I left behind. Maybe not left behind, but made changes to.

So here I find myself realizing how big of a part sports have been as I’ve grown up. And what I value in life. And what makes me happy. And how as my Swedish improves and I settle more into my life here in Sweden some things still make me want to break out into a USA!USA!USA! chant. And how I just can’t bring myself to be as liberal as the Swedes. But at the same time how I find myself thinking that they sure manage to do some things right in this social democracy of theirs. And that sometimes when things work out just as you had hoped, well they don’t necessarily work out just as you had hoped. But that makes for a hell of an adventure. Or at least I think it will. Growing up is crazy.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Mystery of Nationalism in Sweden

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of King Karl XII of Sweden. He died in 1718 in Norway from a shot to the head. Controversy surrounds the shooting, was it a Norwegian bullet, or was it, in fact, a Swedish one who felled the King? Doesn’t really matter to the people who celebrate his death, who see him as a hero who fought for Sweden.

He is celebrated because of his wartime victories and having ruled Sweden from Lund, which is in southern Sweden and part of Skåne. Skåne of course, was part of Denmark for quite a while so this was a big deal. During his rule Karl XII was known for his battles against the Russians, the Poles, and of course the Danes.

So there you have a quick background on the good King. Here is what bothers me. The people who celebrate this King tend to be nationalists. And for some reason, with nationalists you get neo-nazis. This year’s celebrations were only marred by a few arrests as opposed to the violence that apparently tends to accompany these celebrations. It’s disgusting. It seems as if these people take pride too far and you end up with some good old fashioned jingoism spilling over into racism. And that’s just no good for anyone.

What’s worse is that this becomes a stereotype of anyone who decides to fly a flag or be patriotic. This happens both in the US and Sweden. In fact, earlier this year a group of young boys decided to wear Swedish soccer jerseys in their school picture. Show a little national pride; show their support of the sport they love. No big deal right. Nope. The principal refused to allow them to be in the picture dressed that way because it was seen as xenophobic. Incredibly, the principal had no opinion on the racism shown by the actual soccer team that wears those jerseys for every international game. The reason given was some nonsense that the Swedish flag and jersey would could insult or offend those who are not of Swedish descent. Seriously.

Being proud of your country is frowned upon. Because there are immigrants here. Most of who have chosen to move to this country. Which would suggest they want to be here. And by making that choice you would think they might have pride in their new country. And I would imagine that quite a few of them do. But in an effort to make everything as non-confrontational as possible people go too far. Ridiculous.

I’d be willing to bet that the majority of people who moved to this country are excited to be here, proud to be here, and probably support Sweden in all sorts of sports. As long as they aren’t playing their home country. They probably don’t see a Swedish jersey as xenophobic. Maybe some do, but I have a hard time believing that the majority of people who move to a country would be disgusted by something as simple as civic pride. And apparently it was the poet John Lydgate who said something along the lines of “You can please all of the people some of the time, you can please some of the people all of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” Wise words indeed. There will always be a few people who are pissed about something. Doesn’t mean that the rest should suffer. Political correctness can go too far.

Maybe that is exactly why nationalism is so often adopted by the neo-nazis. They see people like this principal prohibiting students from showing pride in Sweden and decide that nationalism is a cause that they will support. Which is too bad. Because in doing so they weaken the very cause they purport to support (look at the rhyming right there. Poetic.). Silly nazis, clearly they are just misunderstood.

Most people have a hard time supporting anything with neo-nazi ties. As they should. A famous painting in Sweden shows Thor throwing his hammer in a battle against evil. On Thor’s belt is a swastika. The painting was painted well before the rise of the nazis and is meant as an ancient symbol of luck. The painting is amazing. Unfortunately, the neo-nazis have adopted it as some sort of battle cry. Again, they have bastardized something that many Swedes would be proud of and turned it into something instilled with attitudes of hate.

It’s amazing that a group of people blatantly broadcasting their hate for others can ruin something so simple as being proud of your homeland.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Swedes Have Dirty Mouths

Swedes have no problem cussing. At all. In any language. Well in Swedish or English at least. Maybe they have no problem in other languages I just don’t understand them. But it bothers me a little bit. Not because I never swear, because I’ll be damned if I don’t. But because they use the English words as if they are no big deal.

Most Swedish cuss words are hell or devil based. They call to the devil, refer to the devil or satan, that sort of thing. Not very creative and actually quite interesting considering the lack of religious conviction most people show in this country. Old habits are hard to break I suppose and so you get stuck with antiquated cuss words that don't really relate. So they turn to the wide array of English cuss words.

Little kids throw out “shit” and “fuck” all of the time. Like third grade little kids. I wouldn’t have even dreamed of using that sort of language at that age. Maybe by fifth grade I might have tried it on for size, but only because one of my best friends had an older brother and clearly he was a bad influence on our young impressionable minds. Or because as we sat in their basement playing Nintendo we just drove the poor guy nuts. Either way, I’m pretty sure that’s the way it works. You learn from the older brothers.

Which is fine. But cuss words didn’t really become a part of my usable vocabulary for a few more years. But here it is everywhere. A lot of this has to do with TV. People swear all of the time. Swedish TV personalities say shit all the time in both good and bad terms. In the US shit is one of those off limit TV words. You can get away with it on HBO but it’s not a huge population that gets HBO, and so we live in a world where swearing is reserved for special moments. Like when you burn your hand on the frying pan, or when you realize that you’re going to spin out on I-25 on Christmas Eve, or when you realize you forgot your subway pass at your apartment and all of a sudden you need to run if you’re going to get to Stockholm on time.

Shit is not to be used by eight year olds when they see a cool toy as in, “Shit vad coolt,” shit is not supposed to be used by eight year olds when they realize that their favorite cartoon as been cancelled as in, “Shit vad synd.” I think you see where I’m going with this. If I had been using this language my mouth would have been filled with soap suds, instead these kids are validated by their parents using the same language. Bullshit I say. See what I did there? Cute huh?

Every time I hear it I snap my head around because that little kid voice shouldn’t be using that language. I’ve decided that this is not because I’m getting old. I’ve decided it is completely my being raised in America. Granted the rules for what is acceptable on American TV can be a bit ridiculous sometimes, but still, some things just don’t really need to be heard on a regular basis. Granted, a swear word here and there can spice things up a bit in conversation, galvanize the troops, bring people together, show people you have a rebel side or something like that, but too much and you kind of sound like an idiot.

Of course, it’s a bit different here, where cussing is woven into the social fabric that is conversation. Maybe it’s because of this that English cuss words are overused, or maybe it’s because the words are in English. They lose their power when not spoken by someone who has a mother tongue command of the language. Or maybe English is just taking over the world one swearword at a time. Either way, I’m tired of listening to little Swedish kids cuss in English. Next time I hear it I’m going to turn to the little kid, and in my beautiful Colorado American accent say “Shut the fuck up, you’re too damn young to use that sort of language. Bitch.” That’ll teach them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

An Intro to Swedish Hockey

I went to a hockey game with CBCC on Saturday. It was amazing. We had a good old time and learned a little bit more about the Swedish ice hockey culture. Which is very different than what we always saw back in the US, it was an adventure, and even a little educational. In a cultural sport sort of way.

The fans were nuts. There were only about 7,000 people at the arena. Which was almost a full house. But they were a rowdy 7,000 people. It was incredible, pretty cool, and kind of creepy at times. A whole section of fans seemed to be some sort of fan support club. CBCC dubbed them the hockey hooligans. Anyway, this group of fans chanted throughout the game. Not just cheering or the occasional "Red Wings Suck!" chant, they chanted for the whole game. Made hand gestures to go with the chants. And everyone knew them. There were even little kids emulating the chants. Incredible. Very cool, but somewhat frightening. The power of the mob is amazing.

The marketing environment surrounding hockey was interesting as well. Instead of packing the arena with seats so that people could be smashed up against the glass there was quite a bit of room between the rink and the fans, and that allowed for a ring of sponsor ads. It seems that sponsorship and ad revenue is more important than the number of fans in the building. Of course, considering the game was almost sold out I suppose the argument could be made that they were doing it the right way and just squeezing a little bit more money out of the empty space. But I say put some seats there and then jack up the price so people can sit right next to the glass. That’s an experience that’s hard to replicate when a big hairy defenseman checks another big hairy forward into the glass and all that separates you from his smooshed face is a little bit of plexiglass.

The actual hockey was really good. Very high level of play and just a hell of a show. There was even a penalty shot, which is by far the most exciting moment in all of sports. Nothing can compare. The entire arena is absolutely enthralled by the one-on-one battle unfolding. Time stands still, or at least the game clock does, and in the blink of an eye the game can be completely different than it was just a few seconds before.

The goalie takes a few strides out towards the skater as the skater comes fullbore with some idea of what he’s going to do, but not really sure. He reads the goalie to see if he gives any opening, a tell if you will, and then he pops that shot off. Sometimes it’s just too easy for the goalie, and he snags the puck, and skates off in that badass way. Sometimes, the skater makes it look too easy and the goalie lies on his ass embarrassed to get up as the skater strides away a hero. And sometimes the most painful noise in sports can be heard ringing through the arena. The crossbar. I’ve seen no-hitters go into the 7th inning, I’ve seen basketball buzzer beaters, last minute drives in football, but nothing compares to a penalty shot in ice hockey.

Man, I love sports.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sweden is Glorious (Social Issues in Stockholm)

Sweden is an amazing country. On Friday, in a couple of the free newspapers that are handed out in just about every corner of the public transportation system in Stockholm, there were two different articles that mentioned some amazing Swedish statistics. First, the Swedes are working to cut homelessness in half in Stockholm. The second had to do with teen pregnancy. Both these issues were given press time, and for good reason. Both are important issues that should be put out there for the public.

But the reason Sweden is a glorious country is because Swedes think these issues are a big enough problem that the homelessness actually makes the front page of a newspaper. Granted a free one, but still. Before someone posts an anonymous comment about me not having good sources or not being able to speak for all of Sweden. I know. It’s a free newspaper. And I’m giving an opinion.

Homelessness is a problem, all over the world, but everything is relative. And having only 433 people without a roof over their heads, however deplorable, is not a huge problem. But like I said, Sweden is amazing because they are appalled enough to put a lot of money into it to make it even less of a problem. And as much as I comment on things like jail time in Sweden, they do some good work when it comes to certain social issues. Homelessness is clearly one of them! The benefits of the Swedish welfare state do make an appearance every now and again. The beauty of the Swedish model.

Sweden is planning on halving the homeless in Stockholm. The idea is to put a whole lot of money into helping people who are out on the streets. And here is where the amazing statistics come into play. There are 3200 homeless people in Stockholm. This includes those who are living in shelters and have some sort of roof over their head. So 433 people in Stockholm are actually, literally, homeless, with nowhere to go. Four hundred and thirty three. That’s it. That is amazing to me. Stockholm is a big city. And that’s it.

The goal is to get that number down to about 200 some people. Which is wonderful. But I’m still amazed that there are only 433 people in Stockholm that don’t have a roof over their heads. Which is why Sweden is an amazing country. I make some snide remarks about the government in this country, but they manage to do some things well. And it seems that all that tax money they take in, at least some of it is used to do some amazing things. Because I have a hard time imagining to many other big cities have such a small number of homeless people.

The next important issue was teenage pregnancy. Again some amazing statistics were published in the paper. In the year 2006, there were 1,236 teen age mothers. Yup. And that is all of Sweden. In a country of 9 million. Just over a thousand teenage mothers. Now from my understanding this only counts mothers who went through with the pregnancy. And abortion is pretty well accepted here, so I’m sure there were a few more than the 1,236. But it couldn’t have been that many more.

I’m sure this has to do with Swedes being much more open about different forms of birth control and just sex in general. Abstinence isn’t the only way in Sweden. This might have to do with the government, or it might have to do with Sweden being a very secular country and not putting as much weight into religious doctrine as other countries. Whatever the reason, they do good work. Just another reason Sweden is an amazing country.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving in Sweden (Observed)

Thanksgiving went well. We found a turkey. Two in fact. And CBCC and I cooked them. DCP was out being a breadwinner so I became a bread maker. And it was delicious. Well a little dry, but still pretty delicious. And come on. It was the first time I’d ever had to cook a turkey by myself. All in all it was a successful first Thanksgiving in Stockholm.

CBCC and I spent a good part of yesterday looking for a turkey. We went to three different grocery stores. We managed to find frozen drum sticks, frozen turkey breasts, sliced turkey breasts, deli turkey, but no actual whole turkey. At some point the thought crossed our minds that maybe we could just piece together a turkey. We were getting a little nervous because usually my mom sets the turkey out in the fridge about two or three days in advance to thaw it. We were looking at about 27 hours. But then ICA finally came through. And wouldn’t you know it; it was in the American frozen foods section. Silly me, looking in the meat section. Luckily the turkeys were small. Three and a half kilos small. Not quite your standard 20 some pound turkey like at home but hey, considering we were short on time it worked out nicely. So we bought two. And they thawed in time. In cold water in our bathtub.

Today was spent figuring out how to cook a turkey. Luckily, it’s pretty easy once it gets in the oven. Just sit back and let the delicious aroma fill the apartment. And that’s exactly what we did. And a few hours later we had two delicious looking turkeys ready to be carved. Which was done with precision and skill by yours truly. Actually, CBCC complained that I was doing more picking with my fingers than carving with the knife but in the end the meat came off the bone and we ate ourselves stupid.

It was nice being able to sit down with some family and just eat a whole lot of food. Just enjoy the holiday. We sat down around 4 and started eating and managed to cram all kinds of different foods in us. Even some nice desserts courtesy of a Thanksgiving package from NBC. Aside from the fact that we couldn’t find any football to watch and that the sun went down at 3 and kept confusing me because I thought we were eating really late, it felt very much like a good old fashioned American Thanksgiving. Oh yeah and it’s Sunday not Thursday. But we were close.

Happy Thanksgiving. Again.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving in Sweden

Happy Thanksgiving! No one actually cares about Thanksgiving here. Which makes sense, Thanksgiving is very much an American holiday. What with the English heading off to the US and colonizing and all that good stuff. And now we give thanks every year by eating a whole lot of delicious food and watching football. It’s a glorious holiday and one that should probably go international.

I am sitting here not eating delicious turkey and not watching football. I had leftover tacos and watched some weird documentary about football. Yup, that's European football, also known as soccer. Not quite the NFL. But don’t worry, Thanksgiving will happen. This weekend. Of course, we don’t have a turkey and can’t seem to find one in any of the local ICA stores or Vi, or Coop. But we’re working on it. And if there isn’t a turkey to be found in the greater Stockholm region, we’ll find some other sort of poultry.

It’s weird not being home for Thanksgiving. I’ve done it twice before when I was an exchange student and a bunch of us Americans hunkered down, scrounged up a turkey and had a good ol’ time, and the second time was in Australia last year. So this will be the third time I've celebrated Thanksgiving outside of the US and the second Thanksgiving in a row. But still, it’s a strange feeling celebrating a holiday that no one gives a damn about in a country half-way across the world. That being said I intend to make those pilgrims proud and eat myself stupid when we do celebrate.

I suppose this is just one more thing to get used to having moved to a different country. No matter how familiar you may start to feel there are always some things that won’t be the same and that will be missed. And that’s good. And bad. So instead you try to keep alive all those little things that make you feel at home and bring them with you wherever you go. And you should, it’s just as important though to not shut yourself out of all the other glorious things that make your new home what it is. There’s always a balance that needs to be found between the old and the new. Shutting yourself out from either one only leads to beautiful cultural experiences being missed out on.

So move to a new country. Learn the language. Learn the culture. Celebrate the holidays. And speak your mother tongue. Keep alive your old culture. Celebrate your own holidays. Or don’t move to a new country, but learn the language of your ancestors. Learn their culture. Celebrate their holidays. Keep your family history alive by combining everything that is amazing about each respective culture. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to pick and choose all of the good stuff. Which is why I intend to celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend, and in just a few weeks Santa Lucia.

By the way, I'm thankful for the extra time with CBCC here in Sweden, for DCP putting up with this adventure, for the old parents back home who worry about me, and support me, and listen to me rave about the great things, and bitch and moan about the not so great things. I'm thankful that I can even do something like this when I'm just 23. That's pretty damn cool.

Enjoy the turkey.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Important Swedish Exports

You may know all kinds of exciting products that Sweden is proud to export to the rest of the world. H&M, Saab, Volvo, IKEA, Absolut. All glorious companies and products. But Sweden prides itself on its natural environment and beauty. And with that in mind they have gone to exporting nature.

Sweden recently exported two moose to Scotland. The article says elk. It means moose. Two elk calves are being sent to Scotland. I have a hard time wrapping my head around this. They are actually sending two moose by plane to Scotland in hopes of repopulating Scotland with moose. It’s amazing. And this article has it all.

I learned so much from the article. For example, there are moose farms. And apparently finding farmable moose are hard to get a hold of. A moose can basically only become farmable if it is an orphan. So the moose farmers become de-facto parents. And like any good parents the moose farmers will be flying with their children to Scotland as they give them up for adoption.

I also learned that people like poop soap. Moose farmers really take advantage of all of the extra products that the moose produces. So they take a pellet and stick it in a bar of clear soap. And people buy it. Which is probably the best use of byproducts in business that I have ever heard of. Clearly the moose farmer is the ultimate environmental entrepreneur. Nothing goes to waste, and everything can earn money.

Moose farmers are even treated like celebrities in Scotland. One moose farmer was treated to a few rounds at the pub. Just for being a moose farmer. What a life. Clearly, I have chosen the wrong path in life. But I suppose there is still time. And I am in the right country to go into the business of moose farming.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Swedish Mafia Gains Traction

Well just to keep going with my Swedish justice posts I thought I’d pop out one more. Just a quick little one on the Swedish Mafia. Yup. Sweden has a mafia. And apparently it is growing which is of great concern to the police. As it should be. It should probably be more of a concern to the common Swede but they might still be caught in their age of innocence.

Regardless, organized crime is growing in Sweden. And because of the growth the Swedish police are lobbying for a Swedish version of the FBI. The FBI of course is famed for its work against organized crime dating back to the times of the romanticized gangsters like Al Capone, who I believe is sometimes credited with coining the term “G-Men.” Anyway, here in Sweden, all kinds of classic organized crimes are being committed. Of course, your classic extortion. Even some good old fashioned kidnapping.

A common misconception is that these crimes are being committed by non-Swedes. Basically the immigrants coming to this country from former communist countries. This doesn’t seem to be the case and it seems that the majority of Swedish crime is being committed by… Swedes. This revelation actually smacks in the face of some of those people who just aren’t willing to admit that Swedes would ever do anything wrong. This view though can be seen the world over. The others are always to blame. It was better before they came. Always. But, usually, when things actually get looked at it turns out that this isn’t the case. Jingoism, nationalism, racism, whatever. It pops up a lot.

But with all this organized crime the Swedes are still showing off a little bit of their innocence. No one is really sure why gangs are popping up. But as The Local reports, there are some good ideas being thrown around. And these ideas resulted in one of my favorite quotes of the article: "’Maybe it's simply because more people like to be in gangs. There hasn't been any studies done on this’, says Henrik Tham.” Well, there you have it - people like to be in gangs so they join them. It’s so simple. Yup, Welcome to Sweden.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Swedish Smackdown

Swedes are now officially allowed to hit their kids. As long as it’s not too hard. After years of ridicule from the international community (ok I made that part up) for basically banning all forms of corporal punishment (I didn’t make that up) against kids, Swedes can now lay a smackdown on their children. A Swedish Smackdown if you will. As The Local reports “[t]he 1979 Parenting Act states that children ‘may not be subjected to corporal chastisement or other demeaning treatment.’" Most people read that to mean that no kid should ever be touched or even yelled at.

A surprising (to me) number of Stockholmers interviewed by the Metro, a beacon of journalistic integrity, agreed that kids should never be spanked. One even saying that even raising your voice should be avoided. On page two of the above link you’ll find Afsaneh Amini, who says: “Det är glasklart – man ska aldrig röra barnet i uppfostringssyfte. Man ska inte skrika heller om man kan undvika det.” Which translates to: “It’s crystal clear - you should never touch the child when it comes to child rearing. You should not yell either if you can avoid it.” No problem. No yelling at all. My parents had to yell. There were three boys in the house being little hellions as loudly as we could.

Well, despite these incredible crazy parents who never yell at their kids, Sweden has made a change. As long as you don’t hit your kids too hard and you have their wellbeing in mind you can get away with it.

A little girl was at a checkup and told a nurse that she had been hit. She said that her dad it her on the butt. The dad admitted to it and was then put on trial for assault. For spanking his daughter. Assault. Luckily, there are people in Sweden who aren’t idealistic to a fault. The court ruled that the spanking was not hard enough or done with ill will and so should not be considered assault. Well done Court, well done.

Swedes have this strange view that a spanking is akin to child abuse. In fact, that’s exactly how the newspaper described it with the title: “Barnmisshandlare blev frikänd,” which translates to: “Child abuser acquitted.” So even though the Swedes won’t show the faces of accused murderers they will continue to refer to someone who was acquitted of a crime as a child abuser. Good. So someone who spanks their kid but isn’t convicted of any crime doesn’t get the same respect as a person who might have pushed someone into the path of an oncoming train. Makes sense to me.

I got spanked every now and again. By my father. A Swede. I probably even got spanked by him while living in Sweden. Or maybe the move to the US was just so he could spank us without fear of repercussions. Hopefully the statute of limitations has run out on this. Wouldn’t want the old man to end up in prison. Anyway, never once did I think that a spanking was meant to do anything than remind me that I was being a little shit. I was never left with any physical harm, nor mental for that matter. I think I turned out pretty normal too. Along with my younger brothers. None of us are hardened criminals, none of us torture small innocent animals, pretty normal really.

Kids these days are just wimps. Back in my day we took a spanking and didn’t tattle to the police. But the fact that this little girl’s lawyer is planning to appeal the verdict really bothers me. The lawyer is pitting little girl against parents even after one decision has already been made. If anything, the whole process of trying to convict the parents will do more harm to the little girl than a quick spanking ever could. Welcome to Sweden.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Swedish Age of Innocence

I can’t believe this nonsense. The Swedish justice system is disgusting. As I mentioned in my previous post I understand that it is important to protect the rights of your citizens. Innocent until proven guilty and all that good stuff. Fine. But Sweden just doesn’t seem to get it. Sweden takes it too far.

A person was recently murdered here in Stockholm. They were pushed in front of a train at the subway station and were run over and killed. The police still haven’t made any arrests. They did release some pictures in the free newspapers today of two men who are thought to be of interest in a little kiosk. This could mean they are suspected of the murder or of at least knowing who is behind the murder. You would think released pictures would be extremely helpful. It’s not. The picture doesn’t show the persons face. It is completely censored. All I see is a man with jeans on and a tan jacket on. That really narrows it down in a big city. There aren’t too many people who wear that getup in November in the middle of Stockholm. How the hell do they expect people to help them?

This happens regularly. People who are thought to be suspects or involved somehow never have their identities revealed. Even after they are convicted they are still censored out. Maybe it’s Sweden’s passive aggressive way of erasing someone from the country. Or maybe they are just taking this way too far. Getting help from the general public in finding criminals can be pretty effective. America even has numerous shows that ask for help in finding wanted criminals. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but I’ll take sometimes over never. And I have a hard time believing that a censored picture showing a man in jeans and a tan jacket ever works.

Two men known as Stureplanprofilerna, the Stureplan Profiles, were accused of raping a couple of women in a popular area of Stockholm called Stureplan. These men never had their identities revealed. So here we have two guys who have been accused of raping women and they are out on free foot hanging out in the same areas, and the average person has no idea what they look like. People should have the right to know. They were finally convicted and sentenced for rape, but only after having been released once and then raping again.

After the murder of Anna Lindh, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the police released surveillance footage, again censoring out the face. She was murdered in one of the busiest department stores in all of Stockholm, NK, and was stabbed over twenty times. Of course no one “saw” anything and the man got away. It took two weeks before the right man was arrested. I say right because another man had been brought in on suspicion of murder because he resembled the man in the censored picture. So did a lot of people. Ridiculous. The guy turned out to be of Serbian descent and asked to be sent to Serbia to serve his time. The Swedish government refused because they didn’t think Serbian prisons were safe enough. It’s prison! Not a vacation.

It drives me nuts. This country is too innocent sometimes, and it seems when something bad happens then it just doesn’t know how to respond. And when it does respond it acts in an idealistic and often unfeasible way. While there is obviously something very nice about the innocence here a place not plagued by murder, school shootings, rape, drugs, and everything else imaginable. It does happen. And when it does it should be acted upon quickly and efficiently. And Sweden’s idealism gets in the way. An interesting Catch-22 really, because in trying to preserve Sweden’s innocence they might actually be accelerating its demise.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Swedish Police Force Gets Some Help – After 25 Years

Well, it only took 25 years but finally Sweden has taken a step in the right direction when it comes to fighting organized crime, even your common drug deal, which I suppose is less common in Sweden. The Swedish government has finally decided to allow the police and investigators to bug people. Hidden microphones are now a legitimate tool in fighting crime.

This decision came after the issue was first brought up 25 years ago. Oh the beauty of the Swedish Model, just a beacon of governmental efficiency in a world full of red tape. And what did they do in all those crime movies, they must have been seriously lacking in tense moments when someone went undercover with a microphone. Would they get caught? Would it work? Oh shit.

Obviously, this decision was met with fear and conspiracy theories of the abuse that would follow. Which is why the government made sure to set some guidelines. Wouldn’t want anything to get out of hand. Hidden microphones can only be used in crimes that, with a conviction, would give four or more years of jail time. And the government has also said that hidden microphones will only be used in about 40 cases per year. Yup, they even decided how many times this tool should be used over the course of the year. It wasn’t decided that it should be up to the discretion of the police, instead an arbitrary number was picked. Sweet.

Currently in southern Sweden, Göteborg, or Gothenburg, has been beset by a series of shootings in the last few days, which the police suspect to be gang related. Seems like this might be a good time to use these microphones. Of course, wouldn’t want to use them too early. If sweet, innocent little Sweden suddenly has to deal with this sort of thing on a regular basis then 40 hidden microphones just aren’t going to be enough. The police director chose not to comment on that number though. Which could be taken as placid acceptance or quiet denial.

I just don’t really understand this Swedish mindset. This idea that criminals should be protected to such an extent that hidden microphones are automatically assumed to be a dangerous tool that only leads to misuse is mindboggling to me. There is a difference between violating someone’s natural rights of citizenship and working to prevent grave crimes. And honestly, when people are committing these crimes they forfeit some of their rights. One of which usually ends up being in the form of a prison sentence. To handcuff the police from doing their job by not allowing simple, yet effective, tools like hidden microphones is ridiculous. Sweden finally realized that.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Swedish Coffee Culture

I don’t drink coffee. Which seems to shock Swedes. People are kind of taken aback when I tell them. I usually just politely decline or ask for some water. But after being asked repeatedly by the same people I will eventually let the cat out of the bag. I don’t drink the black stuff. This is a big moment in Sweden. Reactions can vary. Some people try to be supportive. Others are disturbed and want nothing to do with me. Still others pretend like it’s ok but never look at me the same again. But in the end most people have a similar reaction. They are shocked and follow my admission with some sort of snide remark about how it’s just a matter of time.

It’s not that I haven’t tried. I have. I actually think it smells pretty good as it’s brewing. But I can’t do it. It’s too bitter. Pushers try to get me to try it with milk, cream, sugar, flavoring. But still it tastes like coffee. Then they try to push the fancy little drinks that cost 45 SEK for something the size of a shot of vodka. They tell me it won’t taste like coffee. But they lie. They just want someone to have that nasty coffee death breath with. But it won’t be me. I’ve even tried it when drunk thinking that my taste buds would be dulled and I could handle it. I was wrong.

It’s actually not just coffee, I’m not a big hot-drink person. I like hot chocolate, and I like glögg, which is a glorious Christmas time alcoholic drink that usually involves a good party and plenty of shenanigans. At least in my family. And that’s about it. No tea, not hot apple cider, no hot toddies. It just doesn’t do it for me. Anyway, Swedes aren’t exactly used to that mindset. Maybe it’s the cold that forces them to suck down hot drinks all the time. And the darkness that forces them to always get their next caffeine fix. Or maybe they are all just addicts.

In reality though coffee seems to be used as some sort of social lubricant, kind of like alcohol just without the chance of vomiting in someone’s lap, or dancing in someone’s lap for that matter. It gives people a reason to meet up aside from the ever important fika, and, more importantly to the Swedes, it gives them something to occupy their time when the conversation hits that awkward silent part. And there’s a good chance it will.

When I told my cousin in Stockholm that I didn’t drink coffee she was shocked and then asked me what I drank when I went out with friends as if cafes and restaurants only served coffee or coffee variations. I manage quite alright without slurping down liter upon liter of Swedish coffee. Although, sometimes the restaurants get a little carried away with the coffee thing.

I’ve even had someone tell me that since I was in my twenties and grew up in the US it wasn’t surprising that I didn’t drink coffee. As if all twenty something Americans don’t drink coffee. I didn’t even know there were stereotypes that Americans in their twenties don’t drink coffee. I have clearly led a sheltered life.

A few restaurants offer lunch time buffets where you get food, salad, and coffee at the end. Great deal right? But they won’t let you trade the coffee for a regular drink. I’ve asked. Multiple times. At multiple restaurants. And it’s always the same answer… tyvärr. As in, sorry, why the hell don’t you just drink the coffee like a normal person. But I don’t. And I won’t. And I’m ok with who I am and the choices I have made.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Long November in Stockholm

It’s November. There’s not a whole lot going on in Stockholm. It’s getting darker and colder as the Swedish winter reminds you to never venture outside with gloves. Never. It’s the kind of cold that gives you an ice cream headache without the benefit of the ice cream. The kind of cold that makes you walk way too fast considering there is ice on the ground. People everywhere look like a wildebeest in one of those National Geographic documentaries learning to walk. It’s hilarious, until you realize that you’re all in the exact same boat, at which point it becomes a fight for survival.

With November come all the Christmas decorations. Christmas trees are being set up all throughout Stockholm. Norrmalmstorg already has its tree up. I couldn’t believe Christmas was already being advertised. I mean, people complain in the US about the commercialization of Christmas and how it comes earlier each year so people have more time to shop. Gotta burn that disposable income before the stock market crashes anymore or the dollar gets even weaker. But here Christmas ornaments come out at the beginning of November. Julmust, a sort of sweet cola like drink that is only sold during the Christmas season, is out in stores. Special baked goods that only make an appearance during Christmas are out and about. Lights are being strung up, hell; it’s just a matter of time before the stockings are hung by the chimney with care. This has all been so foreign to me. And then it hit me. November in Sweden sucks.

Swedes have nothing in November. The leaves are gone and it’s not quite time for the snow to really stick around. And there are no holidays. They don’t even really have anything in October. December is the month to be at the end of the year, there’s Santa Lucia and then of course Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Years Eve. It’s just a smattering of glorious Holidays and reasons to go to System Bolaget.

In the US however, we have things to tide us over until Christmas. Halloween for example. Which makes a half-hearted appearance here but never really does much. It’s like your bum neighbor who offers to help but mostly just wants you to offer him a beer after the work is done. Basically, it shows up but doesn’t perform. The Swedes just aren’t that into it. It’s damn cold by then too. And dark. That brings us to November.

November on the Swedish calendar is devoid of exciting things. American has Thanksgiving. And while the Swedes might be talked into celebrating Halloween they most definitely will not celebrate Thanksgiving. They just don’t seem all that impressed by a bunch of English immigrants landing on Plymouth Rock and having a happy-go-lucky dinner with the friendly natives. It doesn’t seem to translate all that well over here. Which is why Christmas is already showing its face in Stockholm.

Part of me is annoyed and confused. It’s early November and I haven’t even watched a single NFL game. Christmas is not here yet. And another part of me is pumped because it means Christmas lights throughout the city and that always helps when the sun sets at 3:30 in the afternoon.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Swedish Fanny Pack is Back

I have bad news from Stockholm, Sweden. The fanny pack is coming back. (By the way, does anyone have a correct spelling on fanny pack. Fannypack? Fanny-pack? Anyone?) Which means I might move. I don’t know if I can live in a country that sees the fanny pack as a fashion accessory. It’s just not right. Now, I’m not usually one to pay much attention to fashion fads. But I do notice things. Especially ridiculous things. And today was no different.

I was walking around central Stockholm, near Sergels Torg where you can’t walk more than a block without running into at least one H&M. I’m not kidding, within about a mile radius, or hell, even a kilometer (we are in Europe), there are at least 5 H&M stores. It’s amazing. Like Starbucks but with clothes. Anyway, as I walked by one of the stores I took a peek in the window. And there, staring back at me, were numerous mannequins sporting the H&M clothes along with fanny packs.

This wasn’t just one lone dummy with a fanny pack because some kid in the back wanted to have a little fun at the expense of the company. No no. This was deliberate. Fanny packs were being touted as a fashion accessory. I was dumbfounded. Appalled. Shocked. Scared even. The Swedes have no shame. Fanny packs are for old men on vacation not for anyone under 40. I’m pretty sure that is written down as law somewhere. I don’t care how practical DCP might think a fanny pack is. I just don’t. It’s not right for anyone under 40.

I can deal with the tight pants despite my grumblings about them. I can deal with scarves being worn in winter. Sort of. I can even deal with some guy wearing his girlfriend’s shirts and admitting that to a journalist in Stockholm. I’m not sure I can deal with a company that considers itself fashionable to be marketing and selling fanny packs.

I can only hope that this is some sort of weird design thing that I just don’t understand. Let’s hope Dr. David Knightfish can clue us in to the world of the designers. Hopefully. For the sake of all designers the world over. Swedish fashion has hit a new low. Fanny pack low.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

You'll never know until you go to....Sweden!

So I think this is glorious. Just a great ad campaign by Lufthansa. There was even a contest built around it but that ended about a week ago. Hey no one ever said I had to bring you breaking news. Anyway, you can still vote on a contest entry and send some lucky person to Europe. It’s the least you could do if you’re not going yourself.

The ad campaign has a few different countries featured, but the Swedish one was just a beautiful play on the Swedish stereotypes I’ve written about before. Beautiful women everywhere, in all walks of life, my favorite had to be the garbage-woman jumping off the back of the garbage truck in a skirt. Hilarious. Of course, I was a bit surprised that there weren’t more blonde women featured, but I got over it.

The video was spectacular though. I loved how it opened with two Americans bullshitting about the women in Sweden. It’s perfect, and very similar to things I’ve heard from plenty of my buddies back home. It’s amazing how a stereotype can gain so much traction. Granted these videos are tongue-in-cheek but still. Without these sorts of stereotypes these ads are nothing but eye candy for prepubescent boys. Which I suppose is alright for all the 13 year olds out there. But probably not something the feminists here in Sweden appreciate too much. But so it goes. And when it comes to marketing travel to Sweden with a stereotype, what better way than to use the hot women.

Whatever your reason though, be it the hot women in Sweden, or the beer in Germany, or the making out couples in France, you should take the plunge. Do some traveling, go places you’ve never been. Explore. Do it. Because, like the ad says “You’ll never know if you don’t go.”

So come visit Sweden. It snowed last night and the sun is setting around 3:30. And that means one thing. Tickets are dirt cheap to Sweden. Who the hell wants to come to Sweden in the middle of the winter? You do. It’s a perfect time to visit.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Thinking of My Move to Sweden

Tonight I miss Colorado. I was listening to some country music by a band that was on the free stage at the Stampede and it hit me. Colorado is glorious. And I miss it. Even if this tiny little apartment we’re living in is starting to feel like home Colorado is always there. We’ve got postcards hanging from Colorado, lots of pictures, even a magnet. Like I said, it’s always there.

So even though this tiny apartment in Stockholm might start feeling like home and I’ve managed to get a job and am now officially working in Sweden, I think Colorado will always be what I consider my home home. It’s where I grew up. Where I made my best friends, where I went to school, where I made a childhood’s worth of memories. And where I always end up going back to. And that’s one important thing I’ve learned about moving. No matter where I go, be it off to university or over here to Sweden I can’t leave Colorado behind me. Nor do I want to.

In fact, moving to Sweden has made me appreciate what home really means. I didn’t move away from Colorado. I moved to Sweden. I think a big part of moving away from home is missing it a little bit. Missing it means a lot. It means it was good to you, it means you were happy there, it means so much to who you are. I would be worried if I didn’t miss Colorado just a little bit. I suppose though that if you move away from somewhere and don’t miss it, well at least you know you made the right choice. But you need to move to find out, move and try things. Explore. You can always bail. No matter the situation, you can always bail. So give it a go.

I’ve had a lot of people comment who are in similar situations. People who have moved to Sweden from the US or who are planning to do so. One thing I’ve noticed is that so many people who moved from the US are happy to be here in Sweden. But at the same time they speak so fondly of home. That’s important. To feel like the US is always a part of you, to feel like wherever you grew up is always a part of you no matter where you end up. That’s good stuff. That’s country music stuff.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

English Speakers Abound in Sweden

The Swedes love English. They will speak it at the drop of a hat. I often dress very much like an American. That is to say that I’m not a big fan of the pants that show off way too much of my anatomy and the shirts that look like they could be my girlfriends.

On a side note, one of the free newspapers here runs a section where they stop people on the street and ask them where they get their clothes. Which, in my opinion, is a very shallow thing to do but somehow strangely Swedish when you think of the fashion sense the Swedes seem to pride themselves on. Regardless, the newspaper printed a quick little section on a very Swedish looking fellow in Stockholm. He was wearing designer jeans that he probably had to peel off, he was wearing a scarf despite it being the middle of the summer, and his shoes were Chuck Taylor’s. Fair enough. Not really my style but fine. The kicker was the shirt. It was his girlfriend’s. Yup. He was wearing his girlfriend’s shirt. He didn’t say, oh this shirt is from H&M, which would have been a safe answer because the question was where the clothes were from, not who owned them. Nope. He told all of Stockholm that he was wearing his girlfriend’s shirt. I would stretch the hell out of my girlfriend’s shirt if I wore it around town.

Anyway, back to dressing like an American. My cousin says I dress big. Whatever that means. But maybe I do. Countless times I have walked into stores, restaurants, places of business and been greeted with English, “Hello, how can I help you” stuff like that. I seem to confuse people when I go right into Swedish. Sometimes I take it as a bit of an insult. I have worked hard to speak Swedish well so I don’t want to speak English to Swedes. But really the Swedes just want to use their English.

They start learning the language in elementary school and basically study it all through their educational careers. You’d be hard pressed to find a Swede who doesn’t speak English. Especially in Stockholm. Swedish TV is dominated by English speaking programming. English slang is used everywhere. With even little kids saying “shit” and “fuck” which still throws me for a loop (I always have this overwhelming desire to grab them and wash their mouths out with soap). Movies are shown here in their original languages so English language movies just have subtitles.

English is everywhere. Which might be why this country is so attractive to people who want to move to Europe but just don’t want to move to English speaking Europe. They want that feeling of being in a different country with a different language without having to worry too much about getting around. And that’s fair enough. Just remember though, if you make the move at least make an effort to get a base knowledge. It helps. And you won’t miss out on so much, like the news, and funny conversations people have on the trains, and what in the hell the bus driver is saying on the horrible intercom.

Monday, November 05, 2007

People Watching in Sweden

I am officially a commuter. It took me 92 minutes door-to-door this morning. And a lot longer getting back. The trains were late this evening. Both of them. That’s a solid amount of time but I got a lot of reading done, so it wasn’t too bad. Of course we’ll see when I’m commuting solely in the dark. It’s still kind of light when I leave the apartment in the morning. But pitch black coming home.

Being on the train gave me plenty of time to think. And people watch. And read as I already mentioned. But more exciting I people watched. It’s a great pastime. So many interesting characters ride public transportation. Today I saw just a wide range of them.

I saw the young dad with his young kids taking them to dagis. Gotta get those kids in the state run daycare.

I saw the hot blonde girl that was the epitome of the Swedish stereotype.

I saw the bum, who still looked like he was drunk. Which is impressive and sad all at the same time considering it was Monday morning.

I saw all kinds of students from high school to university, studying, reading text books, finishing up homework on the way into school.

I saw the old man who looked like a kind old grandpa who was heading to work still looking sharp in his nice winter coat and fashionable old man hat. You know the kind. The kind that farfar used to wear.

I saw the young Stockholm man with his slicked back hair, fancy sports jacket and too tight pants on his way to his job.

I saw the older lady who was heading into town with her fluffy white dog. For what I have no idea. It was early and it seems silly to me to take a dog on the train when it should be out for a walk that early.

And I saw the train station teeming with people in the way to work. And I realized that I was one of them. In my khakis and blue shirt. Leather briefcase that CBCC gave me and that has replaced my well-used and well-loved backpack. My life changed drastically today. Oh shit.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Swedish American in Rome

I’m back. I’ve been in Rome for a week with DCP to visit SB and BB. Good times indeed. But I figured that since I was no longer in Sweden I was really of no use to my blog. A Swedish American in Italy just doesn’t have the same ring to it. And doesn’t really make all that much sense.

So here I am, back in Stockholm. It’s cold. Rome rained most of the time but it was still warm. Not so much here when we got back. That’s ok by me though. It’s November. Time for winter to come rolling in. It was the first time I’d ever been to Rome. I had a blast and saw all kinds of history. That city is alive with history. But having spent a few days there I decided a few things:

Rome is dirty. Or maybe it’s not that dirty. But Stockholm is clean. There was dog poop all over the sidewalks in Rome and trash in the streets. Not in Stockholm. I guess I’ve been kind of spoiled living in a little big city like Stockholm where everything is just a bit cleaner. Of course Italy alone has about 66 million people living there. Sweden has nine million. That’s a big difference and a lot of people and dogs to make a mess.

Stockholm has some solid history. But even it can’t compete with Rome. The Forum, the Colosseum, the Pantheon. That’s hard to beat. And it’s right in the middle of the city. It was incredible. Now Sweden has Gamla Stan. But the 1300s was ONLY 700 years ago. Come on Stockholm. Rome has stuff from thousands of years ago. No contest.

English speaking countries need to not change the name of things. I can say Roma. Rome isn’t necessary. I can say Italia too. Italy just isn’t necessary. Changing the names of things just takes away from the multicultural experience (how do you like that hippie buzzword?). English speakers do this in all kinds of languages. Let’s have a little faith in our ability to adapt and pronounce things as they should be pronounced.

Fewer people smoke in Rome than in Stockholm. Surprising I know. I had this image of Italians always sucking on a cigarette. It seems like there just weren’t that many smokers. I obviously gathered some empirical data while there so you can take this for fact, but there are at least 25% less smokers in Rome than in Stockholm. This is clearly due to the cold weather. Cold weather makes people want to suck hot smoke down their lungs to warm them up. It’s just not necessary in Rome where it’s so much warmer.

Italians would rather correct your Italian than speak English to you. This is in stark contrast to the Swedes who will jump at any chance to speak English. If you so much as look like you might be American they will start you off with some English. The Italians want you to speak Italian and they want you to do it well. I like it. If I had some sort of knowledge of Italian it would have been perfect. I think it’s important to learn the language you are living in, or visiting for that matter and what better way than to have the locals help you out. At the same time though, I felt pretty dumb having to constantly rely on English in someone else’s country.

Which brings me to my next point, an epiphany if you will. I hate looking like a tourist and feeling ignorant. It happens a lot when I travel to places I have never been before, like Rome for example. Rather than make me not want to travel though it makes me want to travel even more. To learn more about the different places I am seeing, to learn different languages, to learn the history and culture of every place I visit. It’s exhausting. And amazing.

I’m glad to be back. It was strange because as DCP and I landed here in Sweden and made our way back to the apartment it felt like coming home. I suppose that’s what is supposed to happen after you’ve lived somewhere for long enough but I wasn’t really ready for that. But now I’m home. In Sweden.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sweden Hates Convenience

I have never seen a garbage disposal in Sweden. Ever. They have to exist somewhere. I’m absolutely convinced of it. I can’t imagine Americans being the only ones who appreciate the convenience of just throwing all of your food down a drain then chopping it all up with the push of a button. Or maybe it is just an appliance for the upper class. Or the lazy. Which could really span a wide swath of consumers if you think about it.

Garbage disposals tend to spoil a person. I didn’t have one in college either. It’s awful. Food sits in the trash and grows. Food is supposed to stop growing once it is my kitchen. But without a garbage disposal it doesn’t. It lives on. It stinks. It molds. It’s just really gross. With the growth comes all kinds of weird bugs. Fruit flys for example. Where do they come from? How do they appear on the 12th story of an apartment building just a couple of days after I throw an apple core into the trash?

I blame the whole Swedish garbage culture. They make you sort out everything. Paper, cardboard, clear glass, colored glass, metal, batteries, food. They are relentless. And when you have to sort out everything it’s not good to be able to just throw it down the drain. My apartment building tells me (that’s right, it’s big, purple and orange, and it tells me stuff) that sorting out all of this food actually provides electricity. Maybe. But is it worth it? I don’t like stinky food in a small apartment.

These are the sorts of things that people should tell you before moving somewhere. Are garbage disposals standard? Yes or no, it could be a deal breaker to some people. So if you’re planning on making the move to Sweden, beware. Garbage disposals in Sweden are as rare as me dressing up as a mountain yeti for Halloween. Which has only happened once. Keep that in mind. And Welcome to Sweden.