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.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Stockholm Reveals 700 Year Old Secrets

Seriously, I love this sort of history thing. Stockholm is really old. Everyone already knew that. In fact it was founded around the 1200s. Considering the United States as we know it today didn’t really start until the 1700s that’s pretty impressive. So when historians and archaeologists suddenly dig up buildings from the 14th century in the middle of town, I’m impressed.

And that’s exactly what happened. Buildings from the 14th century have been found right outside of the Castle in Stockholm. The cool thing about this is that Gamla Stan in Stockholm is already really old, like 1300s old. A lot of these buildings are still in use. Suddenly, a bunch of buildings that were really close to the castle have been discovered abandoned (obviously) and buried under hundreds of years of life, and culture, and history, and time.

Why? What happened? Why were they so close to the castle to begin with? Why did people bail from them? Why did some buildings from that time period survive and others crumbled into decay? So many questions to ask.

Amazing. I’ve walked around that area plenty of times since I made the move here to Sweden. I’ve even made comments about all the secret passageways that must be around there. I mean come on, it’s a medieval castle. Well, no secret tunnels, but buildings at least. And that’s pretty cool too. History is everywhere, sometimes right underneath us. So go out to Gamla Stan, check out the 14th century buildings that are still being used, then see if you can get a glance at the 14th century buildings that didn’t make the cut. I might have to make my way out there in the next day or two and see if I can snag some pictures. Until then, it can be pretty fun to just let your historical imagination run wild.

I still can’t get over this sort of thing. I’m in a country that is so old that there are things in the middle of the capital that are nearly about 800 years old. And some of those 800 year old things are buildings that are still being used. I have a hard time imagining the house I grew up in in the US sticking around for that long. I have a hard time imagining any buildings sticking around for that long so when I find myself looking around here in Europe and realizing that I’m surrounded by streets and buildings that have seen hundreds of years of war, peace, murder, crime, love, life, and just plain history, I’m amazed. It’s something I hope I never get tired of. It’s something I hope I can always find. It’s something I love about Sweden.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Stockholm, Sweden Needs Your Help in Monopoly

Stockholm, Sweden needs your help. As we speak Stockholm is languishing in only 5th place vying for the most important space on the next edition of Swedish Monopoly (Monopol). This was first reported by (man I love those guys) and at that time Stockholm was actually in 7th place. Obviously, the general public here in Stockholm has taken note of this important voting opportunity. And so, I ask you, the voting public to take up this important cause and bring Stockholm to the forefront of Swedish cities and help it take its rightful place on the Monopoly board. Vote here!

Voting ends November 1st, and so the time to act is now. It’s going to take quite a lot of people to vote Stockholm to the top. Right now Stockholm is down 16,000 votes to Umeå, our friendly neighbors to the way north. Some might say it is because they have so much pride in their community, but come on, I don’t even think there are 28,000 people living up there. But apparently, since it is already so dark and cold up there they sit inside and vote. Clearly they are taking advantage of the rule stating that you can only vote once a day but are more than welcome to vote on multiple days. Fair enough. But Stockholm must fight back, there are just too many people living in this great city that have to take part in the democratic process. Voter apathy must not get in the way of recognizing Stockholm. If Stockholm wants to make a claim as the “Capital of Scandinavia” then it must at least occupy the most important Monopoly space. It has already been rated the most livable city in the world. Snagging the most important spot on the Monopoly board would be the icing on the cake.

I’ll be honest, you don’t need to vote for Stockholm. You should, but there are plenty of other great cities in Sweden. So if you don’t vote for Stockholm may I suggest Lund, Göteborg (also known as the lovely city of Gothenburg), Uppsala, and of course, Helsingborg. All these cities are languishing far from the top. This is unacceptable. Despite my living in Stockholm, and having been born in Stockholm, I actually voted once for Helsingborg, I blame my father completely for this.

So go out and vote. Make your voices heard. Take pride in the democracy that allows for you to vote your city to the top of the Monopoly board. And take a little offense that a place like Skellefteå could be the most important space just because a Swedish supermodel calls it home.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Seven Truths About a Hairy Swede in Sweden

So there is this blog thing going around about telling seven truths, and since I have some time on my hands right now, and Mogli took the time to inform me about it I figured I would pop out a few truths.

I have a job. Just got it. I start tomorrow. In Sweden. Sports marketing. Finally. This is a very important truth.

I love Swedish food. Especially meatballs. Actually I like just about any kind of meat and I just don’t understand a life without meat. People try to explain it to me but it just doesn’t register.

I’m kind of conservative when it comes to politics so this whole liberal Swedish thing is taking some getting used to.

When I was growing up my favorite song was “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen, despite the fact that I was not born in the USA.

I read a lot. Books, blogs, news articles, it just kind of happens. I’m even branching out to the Swedish in hopes of improving my fluency.

Sometimes I freak out about this whole move to Sweden, sometimes I’m completely pumped. This whole growing up thing can be rough sometimes.

I am constantly amazed by the breadth of comments people write on this blog. Sometimes I write completely smartass posts like about bestiality being legal or elk shootings. These are tongue in cheek for the most part with a little bit of my opinions thrown in. Both of these have actually borne intelligent and fruitful comments. People constantly surprise me.

Well there are my seven truths. Nothing too groundbreaking but there they are. Enjoy. And if you have a blog, like Montastic for example, feel free to add your own seven truths. Just leave a comment letting me know you did it and I'll be sure to check it out.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Swedes Walk with the Animals, Talk with the Animals, Sleep with the Animals?

Know why they sell pants in Sweden with buttons instead of zippers? So the sheep can’t hear men sneaking up on them. Alright, well as long as I’ve known that joke it’s been Wyoming, not Sweden. That might change though. In a stunning bit of political barnstorming a member of the Liberal Party in Sweden (that’s Liberal with a capital “L” because who are we kidding, most of the parties in Sweden are liberal) has called for the banning of bestiality. Which, interestingly enough, is not spelled beastiality.

Apparently, Sweden is one of a few countries that doesn’t explicitly ban having sex with animals. I’m sure most people realize that having sex with a sheep or your preferred barnyard animal isn’t a good idea. But I guess the winter’s can be very long, cold, and dark. Clearly, this is a result of geography and the latitude. No way would people stoop to this if it wasn’t so cold and dark right? Of course, the article also tells us that it has become more popular recently. Having sex with animals is becoming more popular? What constitutes popular, and how is it defined? Because I just have a hard time imagining bestiality and popular being uttered in the same sentence. But there it is. In a country that prides itself on being progressive.

Unless this is all a progressive attempt by the farmers of Sweden to create a super-animal. Some sort of strange breeding program that just hasn’t come to light yet. Or there are just some seriously sick people in the world. No matter what part of the world you find yourself in.

My favorite quote from the article at is “‘[w]hat most people think of is the classic image of cows in a shed. But having spoken to a number of veterinarians, I know that it is smaller animals such as dogs and cats that are most at risk,’ Ertsborn told The Local.” Oh a classic image indeed. Who doesn’t imagine a creepy farmer sneaking up on a lone cow in a shed?

Oooh, I’ve got another one for you. Sweden, where men are men and sheep are nervous. Get it? Because the men want to have sex with the sheep. Get it? Oh man, that’s funny stuff. The tourism board here in Stockholm should probably use that one. I’m sure it would bring in a whole lot of new clientele to Stockholm and the surrounding countryside.

Seriously though, this blows my mind. Why is this not illegal? Who thinks it is a good idea to schtoink a cow? Or a dog? I mean seriously. It’s only a short trip down to Amsterdam if the need should arise. Ryan Air flies cheap.

What might be the saddest commentary on this issue is that there is a petition started in order to influence more politicians. Isn’t this one of those things that should just be put into law the second someone brings a complaint? Is there anything to discuss here? People should not have sex with small animals, or even big animals for that matter. That a petition has to be started rather than someone in the ruling party just deciding that “Hey, sex with animals isn’t cool, and most of the civilized world has banned it. Let’s follow suit,” is kind of disconcerting.

I have faith though, in the Swedish government here in Stockholm. Say no to bestiality. And beastiality. And all forms of having sex with beasts.

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden for free enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Swedes Love Charity and So Do I

I’m a sucker for a good cause. So with that in mind you should probably go out and donate some money today. This post is going to be full of links. Click on at least one of them. It will be worth your time. I promise.

Buy a net to combat malaria. Donate some money to fight cancer, all cancer, breast cancer, leukemia, donate to the United Way. Or find your own charity and give some money to them. It’s pretty easy, everyone has a cause they believe in, everyone has a connection to cancer, everyone has something they want to change about the world. So go and do something, it can’t hurt. Even if it’s only a few dollars.

Buying a net only costs 10 dollars. That’s nothing. That’s maybe an hour worth of work and you get to save a life. That’s a pretty sweet tradeoff. Rick Reilly, probably one of the greatest sports writers ever wrote a few articles about this organization. The first one was a call to action if you will, the second, a thank you.

Money to the United Way does all kinds of amazing things from helping little kids with school supplies to helping single mothers to hotlines for helping with abuse and even suicide. Give some money. Or some pencils, some markers, some notebooks. Anything. Raid Office Depot when they have a sale then give it all away.

You can even pick a charity here in Sweden. Rädda Barnen (Save the Children) gives all kinds of money to helping children, usually in Africa. Recently in Stockholm, this organization put small coffins around town with a number to text message. Every text message donated 50 SEK and helped save a life. Which in turn removed one of the coffins from the city. A very visual and effective reminder of what a little bit of money can do. If you join IKEA Family, every time you make a purchase and show your card IKEA donates 25 öre to Rädda Barnen. Again, not a whole lot but it adds up quick. Especially when you consider IKEA on a Saturday.

Or if you just don’t want to give any money start using GoodSearch. It’s a search engine run by Yahoo. Every time you search for something they donate one penny to whatever cause you choose. It’s not a lot but that starts to add up pretty quick.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Swedish Ingenuity Betters the World

The Swedes do some good work. They are a creative bunch really, maybe it’s all the time they spend in the dark during the winter. These are the people that brought the world IKEA and flat packaged furniture. Where else can you go and furnish your entire home, pack it all in your car, and get a hot dog for less than a dollar? Nowhere. Spectacular.

Not only have they brought the world cheap furniture but also dynamite. Alfred Nobel, the man whose name graces the Nobel Prizes in Stockholm, invented dynamite. Where would the world be without the ability to blow all kinds of stuff up. A better questions is, where would the cartoon world be without the use of dynamite. How many times did Wile E. Coyote get stuck with dynamite in his hands. Think of the comedic excellence we would have missed out on without this Swedish invention.

The Swedes Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis are also responsible for Kazaa, which obviously caused some problems with the whole music industry but come on, it’s just utilizing the technology available right? Those same guys though also brought us Skype. The best way to call people around the world for free. I call to the US all the time now and don’t pay a dime. All it takes is a microphone, speakers, and a decent internet connection and suddenly I’m back in contact with the good old family.

They even have their hand in the sciences, with a couple famous people coming out of Uppsala University. Anders Celsius came up with, you guessed it, the Celsius scale of measuring temperature. Of course the US completely ignored this, we couldn’t be bothered with taking that sort of European nonsense with us to America.

Carl von Linné decided it was a good idea to organize every single organism on the face of the planet. No small feat really. He is the man behind the nomenclature that is attached to everything. Biologists love him. High school biology students hate him.

And let’s not forget Absolut Vodka. A glorious Swedish vodka that usually doesn’t even score that well in vodka taste tests but has some of the best advertisements to grace the alcohol industry. Absolut Genius really.

Saab, Volvo, H&M, TetraPak, Ericsson, Electrolux, AstraZeneca. Well done Sweden. Well done.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Fall Stroll Through Stockholm

I took a walk through Stockholm today. It was a nice fall day in Sweden, the sun was shining off and on. And it wasn’t too cold. A jacket and beanie was all it took. I snagged a few pictures as I wandered and since I didn’t really have anything all that exciting to write I thought it was time for a few Stockholm pictures.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the castle in Stockholm. It’s a big box. Nothing too exciting. The original castle burned down a few hundred years ago. It at least had some towers and cool castley things. But the sun was really shining on the royal residence today and it was probably at its most regal.

It’s starting to get really cold. The Swedish darkness is setting in. But the leaves are changing so the city is alive with colors. It’s not quite a fall day up in the mountains back home but it's not bad. The leaves are really changing out near my place and this one really stood out, mostly because it was still hanging on to the tree. Holding on to that last thread of dignity that leaves have.

I couldn’t resist this one with the shadows on the church and the clouds gathering in the background. Something about the color in the otherwise bland setting really grabbed my attention as the cross stared down on Kungsträdgården and the statue of an old Swedish king. Just another place where the church and the state come into contact.

And finally, this one just made me laugh. Right on Drottninggatan on the way to Gamla Stan. This area is full of tourists so there are a lot of signs in English. Not only is the restaurant new and open it is new open. Glorious really. There is so much fun to be had with the different languages as Mogli has pointed out.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Swedes Cheat on their Model

Sweden prides itself on the Swedish Model. Basically it’s a form of social democracy. Watered down socialism if you will. What that means is that Sweden has some of the highest taxes in the world. It also means that people have a lot of things handed to them by the government. University is free, students receive money for studying, parents receive money for their kids (barnbidrag), healthcare is socialized, money is handed out to the unemployed.

I went to one of the unemployment offices here in Stockholm earlier in the summer to register my CV in hopes of getting a job. I got on one of the computers and went through all of the work and education history and got myself registered. I went to the front desk like the computer instructed me and the first question I received was not something to do with actual work. I was asked if I was going to be registering for unemployment payments. The very first question. I politely informed them that actually I wanted a job. They were of little help. I left. Dismayed. I came to find out later that they post all of the available jobs online and that the only reason to register at the unemployment office is to get money. Which is strange. I thought the idea of an unemployment office was to help people become un-unemployed. I was wrong.

Anyway, the Swedes, while they complain about high taxes don’t seem to mind so much when it comes down to it because of all the free money available. Free I suppose is relative when you consider the taxes paid but stay with me. A year ago a more conservative government was voted into office and set about lowering taxes. This was met, surprisingly to me, with backlash. People didn’t want to pay lower taxes; they wanted a big pot of tax revenue to claim from.

Finally I understand why. Swedes cheat the system (you really need to read this to grasp the ridiculousness of it all). Apparently, 95% of Swedes take advantage of the Swedish Model. First, I have to commend the Swedes for their honesty. Amazing that this many people would admit to cheating their own government out of money.

This statistic doesn’t mean 95% of the population is out there committing fraud, pretending to be sick, or pretending to pop out extra babies. It means that they are taking advantage of loopholes, legal ones technically, to get as much money as they can. Of course, there are some people who are just cheating the system completely, 16% admitted to “seriously cheat[ing] the public sector.”

The article from Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish) states that this is often swept under the rug because the extent of the cheating of the system reflects poorly on the people in charge, namely the politicians and everyone in charge of these social welfare organizations. Great. So the general population is cheating the system and the people in charge of making sure that doesn’t happen are embarrassed and not willing to discuss it in order to fix it. Sounds like the perfect way for a country to handle their tax revenue.

A few years ago Sweden had commercials running on TV showing an old decrepit park. No grass on the soccer field, beat up swing set, you know, the sad downtrodden playgrounds of the inner city. Then they contrasted that with a bright green field with new playground equipment and played up how beautiful it was. Then the tagline: “Jobba vitt,” they even had a website. Jobba vitt translates literally to work white or, more to the point, work and pay your taxes. To “jobba svart” is to work under the table and actually keep all the money you earn. Can’t be having that. While it amazed me at the time that they actually had to have commercials because so many people were cheating the system, it amazes me even more now that the problem obviously still persists (I feel fairly confident in saying that 95% is a problem) and they DON’T have commercials.

Ladies and gentleman, the Swedish Model.

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sweden Separates the Church and State

Sweden has recently banned the teaching of creationism in schools. This ban is aimed at stopping teachers in faith based schools from presenting creationism alongside evolution. It is a move directed towards religious based teaching here in Sweden. The government will not be banning prayer, and will still allow for religious education but what gets taught will be regulated. Science is king here; or God if you will.

Obviously, this has caused a bit of a stir here in Sweden. I first read about it at and Swenglishman has written a couple of posts on the topic and brought up some good points. After having just visited Uppsala yesterday for a quick little day trip I decided that I was also going to weigh in. My inspiration comes from the castle and cathedral in Uppsala, and of course ATM who noticed it first. Both impressive structures, both easily seen from miles away, but interestingly enough there seems to have been some strife between the two. In fact cannons are pointed at the cathedral from the hill atop which the castle stands. The battle between church and state in a very visual way.

I am not a religious person. I’ve had plenty of discussions with people who are and plenty with people who aren’t. You can believe whatever it is you want to believe. I just don’t really buy it. Just as I’m sure believers don’t buy my ideas. That’s fine. Sweden is an interesting country when it comes to religion and the discussion of these beliefs.

Most people in Sweden are very hesitant to talk about their religious beliefs. While they may not adhere to organized religion, many Swedes are spiritual in some way. It’s the whole “I don’t believe in God, but…” argument. They believe in something, just not God. That’s just too old fashioned and not nearly progressive enough for the Swedes. It’s an interesting attitude and one which I really have no problem with.

With this attitude in mind though it is important to understand another important cultural phenomenon here in Sweden. Everyone in Sweden is allowed to speak their minds. No one is ever really wrong, they just have a different idea. Everyone is worth listening too. No matter how crackpot their ideas.

Now couple these two attitudes together and look at the recent ruling banning the teaching of creationism in schools and you have a bit of a problem. Suddenly, that ‘everyone’ who should be allowed to express ideas has become ‘everyone, but…’ kind of like Sweden’s attitude towards religion in the first place. It seems that being progressive sometimes gets in the way of a society open to any and all ideas. Somewhat contradictory. It plays to this attitude that can be seen at all spectrums of politics that “I’d love to hear what you have to say, as long as you agree with me.”

I don’t buy creationism, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a subject that should be taught in public schools. At the same time though skeptical of the complete banning of a subject or idea. I never learned about creationism in my biology classes. Had I been taught this I have the utmost faith in my ability to disseminate science from religious fundamentalism. Suddenly, the Swedish government is taking that decision away from young people. Instead of allowing for the development of critical thinking, it spoon-feeds young Swedes exactly what the government deems acceptable.

This ruling is stopping the teaching of creationism in faith based schools. And that’s where I have a problem. These people have chosen to attend a faith-based school. These students, as it stands now, have had the opportunity to learn both creationism and evolution, and so have been presented with ideas which they should then discuss, debate, and finally decide on. To have the government suddenly crackdown and say that despite your religious leanings, despite your freedom of choice when it comes to both religion and education, despite you living in a country that prides itself on accepting all ideas, there are just some things you shouldn’t be allowed to learn.

Swenglishman argues that this ruling will help to integrate because it keeps people from segregating themselves within schools that focus on their religion. He makes a good point, but at the same time I worry that completely outlawing something like this will only exacerbate problems. Suddenly, the part of the population that considers themselves religious, or has a strong religious history in their cultural background will feel attacked and segregated by the very government that is hoping to integrate.

We’ll see what kind of backlash this has. I wouldn’t be surprised to see very little actually considering the Swedish attitude towards religion. But, as the world saw with the Mohammed Roundabout Dogs, religion can be a powder keg issue. Maybe we’ll see some sort of protests in Stockholm. But I doubt it. Not everyone’s ideas are worth listening to it seems.

*I felt it necessary to clarify what I have written. Having returned to this post after numerous comments I felt like my opinion became muddled. And no one likes a muddled opinion. So. I do not believe that creationism should be taught as science in public schools. However, this ruling, as I wrote about it, refers to the banning of creationism in faith based schools. Schools which people who believe in a higher power, people who base their life on faith, have chosen to attend. This is an active choice, not one forced upon people in the public school systems. My problem is that Sweden is banning this teaching of creationism alongside evolution in these very faith based schools. To do so smacks of prejudice in that creationism (as ridiculous as it seems to me) is viewed by many as legitimate, or at least something to be coupled with evolution. It is important to note that evolution is still being taught in these schools.

Hopefully that clarifies a bit.

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Stockholm, Sweden’s Five Best Museums

Being a history nerd kind of makes me into a museum nerd as well. And Stockholm has plenty of museums to choose from. I decided that everyone should get a quick rundown on the best museums in Stockholm. So, without further ado, in no particular order, I present to you the five best museums in Stockholm, Sweden.

Vasamuseet (The Vasa Museum) – Just a ridiculously old ship that sank on its maiden voyage right in the harbor. Turns out the King got a little cocky and wanted too many cannons on the ship so they added another gun deck. That tipped the ship and down it went. The ship stayed down until they decided to raise it in the mid 1900s. That brought the whole thing up and stuck it in a museum. They have a movie that shows just how they did it, it’s starting to get a bit outdated but it’s pretty cool and they usually have it subtitled in all kinds of different languages. The ship is amazingly well preserved and well worth seeing and they cater to just about every language imaginable with guided tours in Swedish, English, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian and who knows what else.

Skansen – Huge open-air museum/zoo/park. You can wander around this place all day. It has everything you could imagine. They hold dances and big events here. They have a zoo with Nordic animals. They have what I would describe as a living museum with houses and farms from different areas and time periods in Sweden complete with people walking around in traditional garb. You can watch people blowing glass, then you can go and buy what they have just made. They even have concerts on occasion during the summer. Definitely worth checking out. This is really close to Vasa too so you can hit the two of them in one trip!

Riksidrottsmuseet (The Swedish Sports History Museum) - This museum opened just a few months ago but is very impressive. They have all kinds of interesting exhibits and a film archive which is amazing. The archive has over 60 films of classic moments in Swedish sports. Only problem with the films are that they are only in Swedish with no subtitles. Everything else though is friendly to the non-Swedish speakers. They even have an interactive area which is perfect for kids. One of the cheaper museum tickets in town and it is situated along with three other museums so if you’re in a museumy mood this is the place to go.

Historiska Museet (The Museum of National Antiquities ) – Great for the history nerd. Like me. They have a really nice Viking exhibit that has all kinds of stuff ranging from skeletons, to jewelry, to Viking weapons. They also have a great religious exhibit which is interesting because of the religious history in Sweden and their Viking origins. Nice little section on St. Birgitta, one of the most famous holy women to come out of Sweden. The museum usually has some sort of events going on, this summer it was an archaeological workshop into the Viking age. They really go after that Viking Age here. I suppose they like to play it up for the tourists. The museum also has guided tours on a pretty regular basis and even does them in English.

Nationalmuseum (The Swedish Art Museum) – An amazing collection of work some of which dates back to around the 16th century. Obviously it’s also a good place to see quite a few Swedish artists. I don’t know much about art, but I do know that there are some paintings there that definitely catch my attention and make me marvel at the artistic abilities of the painters. Some pretty impressive paintings and definitely worth a trip! Plus the museum is right across the water from the castle so you can hit a few different sightseeing attractions in a short amount of time. I’m all about saving people time. Saving money I can’t help you with though.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Americans Show the Swedes How the Economy Works

Americans won the Nobel Prize for Economics today completing the Nobel Prize announcements here in Stockholm, Sweden. Of course the Economics prize isn’t one of the originals but we’re still going to give it some time today. Three Americans will share the prize. Leonid Hurwicz, Roger B. Myerson, and Eric S. Maskin. Hurwicz is 90 years old continuing this year’s trend of awarding lots of old people before they died. Apparently, the award cannot be given to anyone posthumously.

The economic work that gave these men the prize focused on mechanism design theory which utilizes game theory to explain decision making processes. Game theory is the stuff made famous by John Nash (remember the movie A Beautiful Mind?). Basically it allows you to look at the choices available and see what people, or corporations, will do in given situations. Just about everything can be turned into a game because just about everything requires a choice on some level.

This is the beauty of economics. Everyone assumes it focuses solely on numbers, supply and demand, and how capitalists can get richer. Not at all the case. Economics goes much deeper and helps explain the most mundane and common things in life, like why when there’s more than two people in my kitchen things just don’t get done at a very fast pace. Too many people, not enough space, diseconomies of scale. Economics can be applied everywhere even a tiny apartment kitchen when you’re trying to do the dishes.

Earlier in the day a report came out that a Swede might win the prize. reports that Lena Edlund was the Swede who was tipped for her work regarding “the status of women.” It just wasn’t to be, in fact none of the names that were tipped in this article actually won. So it goes when there is someone who is well-deserving, like Hurwicz, but is just so old that he could die any minute. Have to squeeze that award in sometime.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to the Nobel Prize for Economics lately, it has been dominated by Americans. Americans have won the prize every year since 2000. In 1999 a Canadian won. America’s little brother. Americans may be said to be lagging in the sciences (despite having a Nobel Prize winner in Medicine) but in the social sciences it seems they are pulling away. And so, I ask you to join me in a quick USA! USA! USA! chant today as you go about making decisions and purchases in your local economy.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Even Swedes Love PostSecret

I love PostSecret. I am living in Stockholm, Sweden and even have a Swedish Passport. I feel confident in the title of this post despite it having very little to do with Sweden. But everyone has secrets. Especially the very reserved Swedes. And since PostSecret has received secrets from around the world, chances are at least one has come in from Sweden.

If you haven’t done so already, and you should have, go to (I've even added a link list towards the bottom of the blog titled "I'm a Sucker For..." and you can find the PostSecret link there too). There’s even a PostSecret Community. Every Sunday a new set of secrets is posted. This being Sunday, you get a fresh batch of secrets to start with. It’s perfect really.

The PostSecret blog says that “PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard.” Basically, people mail in their secrets on a postcard. Some are very artistic, some are incredibly sparse, some have heart-wrenching secrets, others are hilarious, some are even creepy. All are poignant.

The secrets bring up different issues, everything from the content of the postcards to the intent of the postcards, even the truth of the postcards. Some people immediately get hung up on whether the secrets are true. I could care less if they are true. Someone took the time and effort to reach out, whether it is true to that person is irrelevant because chances are it’s true for someone else.

PostSecret is an absolutely amazing project. The website is simple. The books are wonderful. Frank Warrens is incredible. Check it out.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sweden Takes a Number

Sweden has eliminated the need for lines. But they are able to get things done without mass chaos. How do they do it you ask? Simple, they take a number. Anywhere you can imagine there might be a line you have to grab a number. The pharmacy, the bank, the tax office, the bakery. Everywhere. If you used to stand in line in any other country and you have come to Sweden just look for the little number thingy. This can be a real killer for people not used to the system.

The ticket dispensers come in a variety of models. You’ve got your classic red one that it small and easy to miss. This one is usually found in the butchers place, maybe the bakers, maybe even the candlestick makers, you know, the smaller places. Probably cheaper for the little guy to get this kind. Other times it is a stand that just has some buttons on it. This is a favorite of the banks. Here the different buttons correspond to different errands you might have at the bank. They tend to be near the door when you walk in. Whatever the dispenser looks like make sure you find it early on in your visit. Otherwise those sneaky Swedes will grab a number before you. Once you find it take a number and sit back and relax. You’ve got some time on your hands.

Too many times I have milled about somewhere in Stockholm in what I thought was a line before realizing that I don’t have a number and suddenly all kinds of people have snuck in before me. Very sneaky. Other times I have grabbed a number at the bank only to realize once my number was called that I should have picked a different number. They give you choices depending on what you need to do. It’s important then to have the knowledge of who does what wherever you go. Being somewhat new to the everyday trappings of bureaucracy here I’m just not quite there yet. Kind of a pain because all of a sudden I’m back where I started. With a little piece of paper telling me that I am a mere 17 numbers away from being helped. WOOOOO!

It’s an interesting system. A pretty good one I think, at least once I get used to it. It basically eliminates the need for a line. Now I can grab my number and sit down in one of the lovely chairs provided for my convenience. Other people can run outside and smoke, remember no smoking indoors here. Depending on where you are, like Skatteverket, the wonderful tax office, you can even go run some other errands. They aren’t exactly the model of efficiency when it comes to getting things done at the tax office, despite their streamlined waiting system.

Along with eliminating the need for a line though it does something very Swedish. It eliminates the possibility of conflict. As we’ve already learned, Swedes fear any sort of conflict. Now no one can cut. No one likes a cutter. Remember in elementary school, there was always the sneaky kid who tried to cut in front of you and play dumb. Ryan was his name, 5th grade at Scott Elementary. No one liked that kid. He was a cutter. Sweden knows all too well the danger of having cutters. The possibility for conflict is just too much when cutting in line is involved and so they have eliminated it. You can’t argue with the number on your paper. Someone tries to jump in front all you have to do is wave your little piece of paper and say “Inte idag din djävel.” Works every time. Throw in a little John Wayne attitude and you’ve taught someone a lesson about cutting in Sweden. It can’t be done.

And it’s all thanks to a small piece of paper with a number on it. Genius really. Welcome to Sweden.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Al Gore Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

Well, still no word if Gerhard Ertl, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry is a fan of Al Gore. But that’s ok, because we did get word that the Nobel Committee is a fan of Mr. Gore. Now granted, the Peace Prize is handled by the Norwegians but Nobel was a Swede and Stockholm, and especially Sweden, is usually associated with the prize so you get my take on the whole thing.

Let me just repeat though. The Nobel Committee is a fan of Al Gore, maybe they like his dreamy, wavy hair, maybe they like the fact that e invented the internet, maybe they like the whole lovable loser persona he has going. Whatever it is though, Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, part of the U.N. was announced to be the joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Gore also won an Academy Award for his movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” He's really raking in the prizes this year. At least he can win something after the whole not being President thing. That must have stung a bit.

My understanding of the Nobel Peace Prize has really taken a hit after this. I was under the impression that peace tended to involve some sort of work for human rights, ending conflict, that sort of thing. I was wrong, of course the committee seemed to understand the confusion this award may have caused and in the press release says that “[t]here may be increased danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states.” Good thing they cleared that up for us. That way we understand the connection between me driving a car and Al Gore bringing peace to the world.

I’m concerned that this might just put the Al Gore fan club over the top. This has added to the speculation that Gore will join the Presidential race in the US in 2008. Of course, the good thing with that is that at least Hillary Clinton might not win (if she does that means there would have been two last names as the President of the US since 1988. Ridiculous). Anyway, one of my favorite, and frightening for that matter, quotes from the Yahoo article about Gore’s win discusses the former Vice President’s life in regards to the presidency. Read and enjoy:

“Kenneth Sherrill, a political scientist at Hunter College in New York said Gore probably enjoys being a public person more than an elected official.

‘He seems happier and liberated in the years since his loss in 2000. Perhaps winning the Nobel and being viewed as a prophet in his own time will be sufficient,’ says Sherrill.”

That’s right. A prophet. Al Gore has just been compared to a prophet. Because he made a movie using the work of numerous scientists. And somehow he’s the prophet. And now he’s been further rewarded for this while all the scientists who work on this issue sit around in hybrids and wallow in their self pity and imagine what they would have done with the money and recognition that accompanies the Nobel Peace Prize.

I’m not a huge fan of Al Gore’s the sky is falling mentality. That being said I don’t think global warming can be ignored. Obviously, the choices we make have an effect on the world around us. In fact, quite a few people don’t completely buy what Gore is selling. And not just the Republican party either. It’s that whole thing that makes some people wonder if this was a political statement rather than a well thought out decision.

Again, from that same Yahoo article, an interesting point is brought up in regards to the decision: “‘Awarding it to Al Gore cannot be seen as anything other than a political statement. Awarding it to the IPCC is well-founded,’ said Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist.

He criticized Gore's film as having ‘some very obvious mistakes, like the argument that we're going to see six meters of sea-level rise,’ he said.

‘They (Nobel committee) have a unique platform in getting people's attention on this issue, and I regret they have used it to make a political statement.’”

Bjorn Lomborg (I’m betting he has some ö’s in his name but we’ll stick with the English version) is a professor at the Copenhagen Business School and has written some books on environmentalism and global warming. None of which I have read. Yet. I have read a few of his articles that can be found at the Washington Post. One of these articles titled “Chill out. Stop fighting over global warming -- here's the smart way to attack it” was published just a few days ago, it’s as if Bjorn knew what was coming. The article is why I believe every non-profit group, every scientist think tank, and anyone who really wants to make a difference in the world needs an economist working with them, or at least a better understanding of economics than most seem to have. Rather than throwing money at the flavor of the day, which if you ask Al Gore is carbon emissions and only carbon emissions, Lomborg suggests a more sustainable, and intelligent, way of fighting global warming. Definitely check out the article because nothing I write will do it justice.

And to leave everyone with something to mull over for a while check out this link titled, very simply, “An Inconvenient Truth: A Tale of Two Houses” and for the more skeptical in the bunch who don’t trust that source here is another take on the exact same issue titled “Glass Houses.” Enjoy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sweden Announces the 2007 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

I never know who the Nobel Prize for Literature award winner is. Ever. It’s always some person I’ve never heard of, and definitely never read for that matter. But this year. This year I thought I was on to something.

A few names kept popping up that I had actually heard of. I’d even read some books by a few of the people mentioned. Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, Mario Vargas Llosa, names I’d actually heard. Granted I’ve only read stuff by Roth and McCarthy but still. It was a start. It was obvious that I’m just very well-read.

Nope. I was wrong. The award went to some 87 year old women from Britain. She has a pretty interesting story, some intrigue from a run-in with the Nobel committee. She never finished school, held all kinds of different jobs, she even has a very international heritage. She’s stood up for racial issues, feminist issues, and written quite a bit. But I’ve still never heard of her.

With her win Doris Lessing became the oldest person to ever win. Yay! I’ve never heard of her, never read anything by her, never even heard of anyone who has read something by her. Maybe she is a glorious writer. Maybe she is just misunderstood and because of it, not famous. Maybe the committee just wanted to award a really old lady something special before she dies. Or maybe they felt bad for being mean to her a long time ago and telling her that they just didn’t like her. I don’t know.

I do know that with this announcement, I go back to my illusions of well-readedness and my book shelf full of books not written by a Nobel Prize winner.

In other exciting Nobel news, another old person won. Gerhard Ertl, who turned 71 on the day of the announcement, won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Mogli has a nice post about this, and clearly has a better understanding of the topic than I do! Ertl works with surface chemistry, which as far as I can tell basically just helps people understand why the o-zone layer is thinning. No word yet if he’s an Al Gore fan.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Swedish Government Takes My Advice

Clearly the Swedish government is reading this blog. My post against the Swedish justice system obviously hit a nerve and there are now calls for a raise in the amount of years a person can spend behind bars for murder. I’m pumped about this. And of course honored that I have such clout in the Swedish government. I think it is an excellent idea. Others don’t agree. They just aren’t reading my posts carefully enough.

I read in the Stockholm Metro (in Swedish I’m afraid) the other day that of the three people they interviewed, all connected to government or the justice system someway, not a single one thought this was a good idea. In fact, one believed that increasing the penalty would actually lead to more murders. The man in question is Börge Hellström (scroll down to page 2 to see his quotes, in Swedish). Now stay with me here because his reasoning was mind boggling. He said that murderers tend to be spiteful and angry people (agreed) and that if they were kept in jail too long they would just be angrier and more vengeful when they finally go out. So when they did get out they would go on am murdering spree of course.

Well the problem with this reasoning is that the man interviewed seems to have forgotten that the idea is to keep these lovely criminals in jail for up to 30 years. That’s a whole lot of time to mellow. And age. And learn from their mistakes and crimes. Let’s say a murderer goes to prison at the age of 30. He stays in jail for his full sentence, which is unlikely here in Sweden but bear with me. By the time he gets out he’s 60 years old. Very seldom do 60 year olds go about killing people no matter how long they have been in jail getting angrier by the year. Sure it happens every now and again, but when was the last time you saw a 60 year old person and actually feared for your life? It’s been awhile.

The Swedes are on the right track though. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I’m going out on a limb though and I’m going to say that nothing will change. When it comes to this sort of thing Sweden tends to be a little slow in reform. There is something to be said for that though, because when the reform is made the Swedish government tends to have most of the country behind them. Nothing wrong with that at all. It’s just sometimes you want to see some hustle. Bureaucracy just gets in the way I suppose. Happens the world over. Even the Swedish Model can’t avoid that.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sweden Announces the 2007 Nobel Prize Winners

It’s time for the Nobel prizes. Well the announcements at least. The big ceremony is here in Stockholm in December. This is Sweden’s time to shine. And they do a damn fine job of it. Slowly they release the names of the Nobel Prize winners for the various awards. It’s a glorious time for the Swedes and just a cool time in general to be scanning the news. You learn all kinds of interesting things and find out that there are a ridiculous number of intelligent people in the world doing all kinds of amazing things. Some people are inspired, like Mogli, others, like me, just sit in awe and read the accomplishments of these people.

The Nobel Prizes have some interesting history behind them. Alfred Nobel, the man whose name headlines the prize, is famous for having invented dynamite. He considered himself a pacifist despite, or maybe because of, his invention of an incredibly deadly and destructive explosive mechanism. So, in his will he decreed that his estate should go to funding the Nobel Prizes. He wanted it for the sciences, literature (as long as the writing was idealistic), and peace. Seems there were quite a few people opposed including his cousins, who wanted the money, but even the Swedish King at the time. The Local gives a wonderful, and short, explanation of the history of the Nobel Prizes. I think it’s very cool and rewards some amazing people every year. Recipients get a pretty decent amount of money and a whole lot of prestige. Since the inception of the prizes a Nobel Prize for Economy has been added and the Nobel Peace Prize is actually awarded in Norway not Sweden. Anyway, now on to the 2007 Nobel Prize winners announced so far.

This week already five people have been awarded a Nobel Prize. Mario R. Capecchi and Oliver Smithies from the United States (USA! USA! USA!), and Sir Martin J. Evans from Great Britain won Nobel Prize for Medicine. They did all kinds of scientific things to mice and their genes and now this technique is being used in biomedicine. Well done, I don’t have the slightest clue how they go about doing this sort of thing so I’m always very impressed.

Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg, from France and Germany respectively, won the Nobel Prize for Physics. Again, all kinds of scientific stuff that I can’t even begin to comprehend, but if you’re on a computer you should love these guys. They are behind the technology that makes it possible to shrink hard drives. That’s why I can sit on my laptop with more Gigabytes on my hard drive than I will ever use and not have to use a wheel barrow to lug my computer around.

I’ll throw in some updates as the week goes on and more prizes are announced. The Nobel Prize for Literature is going to be announced on Thursday. In the meantime, go out and read up on some of these scientists. They do some glorious work that makes life just a little bit better.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Swedish Predators Shirk their Pacifist Background

I told you it was going to happen. The animals are fighting back. A bear attacked and killed an elk hunter. If you remember, a Swedish Elk shot at a hunter recently only to fail and end up dying. The loss of life is never funny, nor something to be taken lightly, but clearly, as I predicted, the animal kingdom took notice and saw the elk as a martyr. While I predicted that it would be the Swedish Elk that attacked first, I underestimated the kinship felt in the forest.

The bear community stood up for its forest brethren. It is obvious that the Swedish Elk holds a higher status in the Swedish forest than even I could predict. I see it as some sort of Bambi complex with everyone willing to stand up and fight for the majestic Swedish Elk.

In all seriousness, bear attacks on people are very rare in Sweden. The article actually says that this is the first attack since 2004 and before that it had been 100 years since an attack. Considering the amount of forested area in Sweden there are very few incidences of predatory animals attacking. Maybe because there just aren’t that many large predators in Sweden. I blame the cold weather. It seems though, that even the wild predatory animals of Sweden are pacifists, just like the Swedes themselves.

Sweden prides itself on its neutrality; of course that neutrality can be discussed because during WWII they allowed the Nazis to cross through the country as well as playing in soccer games against them until it became obvious that the Allied powers were going to win. There is also information coming out that there were Swedes who were spying for the Stasi. Not exactly the behavior you would expect from a neutral, pacifist country.

It’s an interesting attitude here in Sweden. This idea of pacifism. Sometimes it gets taken too far and people forget that it’s ok to stand up against people, when fights break out people look the other way and no one stops to help. People don’t want to get involved, they don’t want to be bothered, and they don’t want to bother others. Head down, don’t look anyone in the eye, shuffle along. Quietly.

When Anna Lindh, the Foreign Minister, was murdered a few years ago she was stabbed over 20 times in her stomach, chest, and arms in an extremely busy shopping center called NK in the middle of Stockholm. That's the capital of Sweden. In one of the largest and busiest shopping centers in Stockholm. No one saw anything. It took two weeks for the man responsible to be arrested. What blows my mind here is that in an incredibly busy shopping center no one stopped, no one saw anything while a woman was stabbed over 20 times. I just don’t believe that there wasn’t anything to be done. Now obviously this is an extreme example but the pacifism is still there.

On the flip side though the US sometimes takes it too far with the American cowboy attitude. In my hometown there is a law cleverly called the “Make my day law.” This law states that if you feel threatened by a person on your property you are allowed to shoot them and not face any legal consequences. I’m not entirely sure of all the details but I believe that at least one warning has to be given before taking further action but still. That’s pretty intense.

I suppose it just depends on your outlook on confrontation and what you value. Some people shirk all responsibility just so they can go about their lives while others take on more responsibility than they deserve and try to take the law into their own hands.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Astute Observations from the Swedish Countryside

I went back to Sigtuna today, this time with DCP, BMW, and ATM. We had a pretty good time and explored some more of the town. Stopped in on a little café called Tant Brun (Aunt Brown) and had some raspberry pie and hot chocolate. This lovely little place was a suggestion from BGC, who has intimate knowledge of Sigtuna having spent some time in school there.

Anyway, as we drove out there, in a Saab of course I mean come on we’re in Sweden, it became abundantly clear that the Swedish countryside is a bit different than Stockholm. Obviously. With that in mind I’d like to enlighten you with just a few observations from drive. Feel free to comment and add your own. Without further ado, Astute Observations from the Swedish Countryside:

· The stereotype of red houses everywhere is very much based on truth. It’s incredible, right before Sigtuna there is an entire community of only red houses. Welcome to Sweden right? I think that the red color has something to do with the mining industry and how cheap it was to use it in the paint. For some reason I feel like this dates back to the Vasa era but I could be way off on that.

· All that tourist information is not kidding around when it describes how well forested Sweden is. I’m constantly waiting for those little Swedish gnomes to come flying out of the forest and attack me. Or at least give me directions and try to sell me something from Eniro.

· The water doesn’t stop just because you drive inland from Stockholm. Stockholm is built on islands, water is expected there. It continues though. Sigtuna sits right next to the water and has a beautiful view.

· Stockholm is a pretty nice smelling city. Pretty decent air considering how big it is. It’s got nothing on the country air though. It had rained this morning and the smell of forest and water and rain and outside is an incredible mix.

· The idyllic idea of a small town really came to life in Sigtuna. BMW kept commenting on how it was just perfect. Of course he was afraid that zombies were going to attack because it was so perfect but, I blame that on too many movies up in the lonely Alaskan wilderness.

· We ate apples directly off a tree that stood in front of a 12th century ruin. You can’t do that in Stockholm. Hell, you can’t do that in a lot of places, especially in the United States.

· There are a surprising number of Americans who visit Sigtuna. Both today and last weekend the place was crawling with English speakers. I’m not really sure why this is but I would venture to say that it has something to do with the fact that this city has been around since 980 AD and the United States, as Americans know it, has only been in existence since 1776. Old stuff seems to draw people in for one reason or another. Or maybe it was just a bunch of people who were trying to get back to their Swedish roots. Maybe that’s why I went back a second time in two weeks.

· It’s fun being able to explore the country. I love having a car that lets me get up and go. The public transportation is great but nothing beats the freedom of having a car and getting out and adventuring a little bit.

Well, there are my Sunday observations from the Swedish countryside. I said they were astute, not profound. Maybe the next adventure will lead to something a bit more profound. Don’t count on it though.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A Day of Culture in Stockholm, Sweden

I really hit the culture today. I went to the Historiska Museet or, as it is so well translated, The Museum of National Antiquities, for another field trip with the class. They have a whole lot of Sweden crammed into that building. It was a good time but it was tough trying to follow the field trip from last week to the actual site of the Vikings. After that I headed over to Kulturhuset with DCP, BMW, ATM. We checked out a weird Japanese photo exhibit by Nobuyoshi Araki and then the Jan Stenmark exhibit which was pretty glorious. Sometimes funny, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes intense, sometimes dark, it was just very good. Completely in Swedish though which was tough for the non-Swedish speakers but we seemed to manage ok.

I’ve complained about some things about living in Stockholm like expensive groceries and the justice system but when it comes down to it, I’m loving living here. It’s amazing what the city has to offer. I don’t know if this is someplace I would want to live the rest of my life but it’s a hell of a ride right now. All this culture made me realize how great it is to live in a big city. I mean I went from a building with prehistoric artifacts in it to another building with Polaroid pictures of cats and lizards. It was incredible. Having so much at your fingertips is an amazing feeling and one which I haven’t really had before considering my past areas of residence. And the fact that Kulturhuset was free just really put the icing on the cake. Because, as my adventures in grocery shopping have demonstrated, I’m kind of cheap.

I’m not sure if cultural activities were considered when rating Stockholm the most livable city in the world but I have been incredibly impressed by what Stockholm has to offer. Enough museums to fill a couple of month’s worth of your time (I think about 80), photo exhibits (both indoor and out), art exhibit (again, both indoor and out), I mean hell, today they even hauled in a bunch of snow and had snowboarders riding rails in the middle of town at Sergels Torg. That’s just an incredible mixture of activities to choose from. If you’re willing to explore a little, it’s hard not to find something to do.

For those of you who haven’t done so yet, check out Kulturhuset right by Sergels Torg. It’s free and has quite a few exhibits right now. If anyone else in the Stockholm area has some ideas for free or inexpensive activities like this I’d love to hear them!

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Snus is Loose in Sweden

Snus is a smokeless tobacco that can kind of be compared to chew. It comes in the form of small teabag like packets and comes in the same sort of can. The beauty of snus is that you don’t have to spit like you do with regular chew. You stick the packet in your upper lip where apparently there are fewer saliva glands and you just don’t need to spit. The benefits of the upper lip dip.

I’ve snused a few times. Nothing that really appeals to me but there have been drunken adventures when a packet of snus has found its way into my upper lip. It happens to the best of us. Well apparently, the idea is now to make it happen to the rest of us. Or at least Americans. The New York Times wrote an article a little while ago about the snus phenomenon and Business 2.0 wrote an article about a year ago on the import of snus to America.

Snus is very much a Swedish phenomenon and apparently it’s been around for about 200 years. That’s a solid amount of time for something to ingrain itself in the social makeup of a country. In fact, the EU has banned it, but it is such a part of Swedish culture that they were able to write a provision that allowed Sweden to still sell snus but enter the European Union anyway. The EU was afraid that it would be marketed to children. Of course for years you could buy cigarettes with a cartoon character for a mascot so who are we trying to kid.

Swedes love their snus. It’s incredible. The Business 2.0 article says that over one million people use snus. This is a country of only about nine million people. That is an insane percentage of adult users in Sweden. You can’t go to a bar without seeing people pulling some snus out, the used packets are found everywhere. They stick to just about anything right after they’ve been used and despite the Swedes proclamation of being environmentally friendly they love to throw their snus packets against anything and everything. They can be found on the ceilings and walls in just about every subway station in Stockholm. It is foul.

The question is whether snus will catch on in the US. The first test markets were Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon two strongholds of hipster culture which I suppose is close to the American equivalent of a Swedish male. Obviously, there will be barriers. A lot of people seem to be attracted to the idea of a big ‘ol dip in their mouth using spitters or just spitting on the ground. I’m not sure what that attraction is but someone must think it’s cool. Snus moves away from that cowboy attitude to a more streamlined approach to getting your tobacco fix. Hide it a little from the public. A very Swedish approach to things.

Some argue that snus is a safer form of tobacco; of course that’s not exactly a safe marketing idea in the US where any health claim will be attacked with abandon when it involves tobacco. According to the New York Times article, snus hasn’t been linked to mouth or lung cancer but for some reason has been tied to pancreatic cancer. So you might not have to have your jaw removed but the pancreas is still going to take a beating. Pick your poison. Interestingly enough, the two big tobacco companies in America, R.J. Reynolds and Phillip Morris USA, are split on the decision to have the FDA test tobacco products such as snus’s claims of being safer.

Another argument is that it keeps people from smoking, but I don’t totally buy that argument. I know all kinds of Swedes who smoke whenever they get the chance but because of the ban on smoking indoors use snus when they are in a bar or at work or anywhere else they can’t get their nicotine fix right away. The second they step outside though they light up. Snus can’t be looked at as a way to stop smoking. My favorite quote from the New York Times article: “Margaretha Haglund, the director of tobacco prevention for the Swedish National Institute of Public Health. ‘I’m not a health fascist,’ she added, ‘but I don’t believe the solution to the tobacco problem lies in a new product from the tobacco industry.’” Well said. When it comes down to it, snus still has a whole lot of nicotine and is pretty addictive. As good old Ellis Reed likes to say “You snus, you lose.”

Whatever the outcome in the US, there is no fear at all that snus will lose its stranglehold on the smokeless tobacco market here in Sweden. I just can’t see the average guy from Stockholm getting rid of his Ettan Snus for a can of Skoal and carrying a spitter around town with him.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Swedish Grocery Store Adventures

I am still without a full-time job. That means I’m cheap. Groceries tend to be a place where I think I can save a lot of money. Usually, this is no problem. In the US I had figured out what kind of cheap foods still tasted good. Not here in Sweden though. Not even close.

Having spent a decent amount of time here before the move I had a pretty good base as to what kind of food I liked. Herrgårds ost (a delicious cheese), Kalles Kaviar (basically caviar in a toothpaste tube… classy), filmjölk (sour thick milk, you can’t wait to try it huh?), and of course Swedish meatballs (they need no explanation). These are staples of any Swede’s fridge, and they are delicious. I love Swedish food; it is just a little expensive. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I’m in Stockholm but still.

Anyway, I need to expand my horizons, and get a little variety in my meals. I also need to save money. That is where it gets tricky. While Stockholm is the most livable city in the world, it is also one of the most expensive. And groceries are no different. I’ve been trying to cook more, trying to get as many food groups into meals as I can, just try to be halfway of an adult, an adu if you will, about my eating habits. But come on, I came to Sweden partly because I needed to get away from the US where I was afraid I’d end up being an adult too quickly.

I love breakfast cereal. With milk, with filmjölk, with yogurt, it doesn’t matter, give me cereal and some sort of relatively runny dairy product and I’m a happy man. And considering that I’m only halfway trying to be an adult I eat a lot of cereal. For two days I had been without cereal so I finally made my way to the grocery store today. I know what kinds of cereal I like but I wanted something cheap. So I got some Choco-crisps. The idea was that they would be delicious chocolaty rice crispies. I was sorely mistaken. They were foul. Not chocolaty at all. In fact, they tasted kind of bitter and coffeey. A horrible mistake on my part. As a wise hotel owner in Australia once told me and DCP, “You get what you pay for love!” She was right. And it is a lesson I will carry with me forever. Whether I take that lesson into account is another thing.

This wasn’t the first time I had been bitten trying to save some money on food. You would think I would learn. Especially since I love delicious food. I just have a hard time bringing myself to pay so much for food. Plus I’m still stuck in the mindset of converting everything to dollars. And even though the dollar is near record lows in comparison to the SEK, food is still cheaper in America. I need to get out of that conversion mentality. Hopefully it will pass soon because it is a killer.

Being an adu, I also struggle in planning my grocery trips ahead. Way too often I find myself hungry without enough food to make something worth eating. So it’s off to the grocery store. This is never a good situation. Suddenly I find myself surrounded by glorious food and I’m damn hungry. Now, as I mentioned, I’m trying to save money. A grocery store on an empty stomach is not a good place to save money. Especially because almost every grocery store has their wall of candy right before checkout. So now, not only did I start out hungry, I’ve now walked through an entire building of temptation only to be faced with enough candy to feed a small army, or at least a group of third graders. It’s just not easy. And so, money gets spent.

But so it goes, and I’m learning every time. Next time I cereal shop maybe I’ll just get the second cheapest brand. It’s always an adventure in the grocery store. Just a series of Welcome to Sweden moments I suppose.

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Swedish Model Gone Awry

I was on the subway today coming back from Stockholm University and heard a Swede complaining about a class he had taken that was just too hard. Another student had complained to a higher-up that there was too much work. Apparently this started a sort of e-mail campaign between all of the students and they went back and forth. Finally, a student apparently decided to throw his two cents in and say that he thought it wasn’t too hard and that everyone else was just not willing to put in the work. Manning up if you will.

The Swede who was relaying this story came with a perfectly Swedish remark, calling this “an asshole response.” His reasoning was that if it is too hard for someone then they should be offered help, not told to work harder. So if just one person complains about something being too hard this Swede believed that everything should be brought down to that level. The lowest common denominator if you will. Dumb everything down until everyone can succeed. Or at least think they can. It’s an incredible mindset and one that I just can’t agree with.

When I overheard this story my reaction was exactly the opposite of the storytellers. Now granted, I wasn’t in the class, hell, I was just eavesdropping so I may have missed some important details but the basic premise remains that Swedes all too often expect their problems to be solved, not through hard work, but by someone helping them. It’s incredibly interesting to me; maybe it’s the stereotypical American ideal of hard work leading to the perfect life and the American dream. I believe in that to some extent. I’d much rather work hard for something than have someone come bail me out when things get a little tricky. It’s a much more satisfying way to live.

I think this all goes back to the Swedish Model, the social welfare state that Sweden has tried to create. While there are obviously definite benefits like free schooling, there are drawbacks in that the people that make up this welfare state too often expect someone to bail them out if things get tough. There has to be a limit to how much help people receive because otherwise people take advantage of the system. Sweden just had to enact tougher checks on one of their programs involving paid leave for parents of sick children because too many parents were lying about their kids being sick and taking advantage of the system. Ridiculous.

Now obviously there are a lot of Swedes who toe the line and only use the assistance offered when they really need it. But at the same time, some don’t. It’s just abuse of a system that is too intent on making sure everything is fair and caters to the whim of anyone who thinks life is just a bit too hard.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Discovering the Land of the Vikings

On Saturday I went traipsing through the forests around Stockholm discovering the lost times of the Vikings. The Viking history class I am taking at Stockholm University took a field trip to areas around Stockholm that were once centers of Viking life. Saturday was wet and cold and miserable. I was soaked, my feet squished in my wet shoes, my jeans were soaked all the way through halfway up to my knees. And I had a blast.

There’s not much left of the Viking time that can actually be seen. It’s tricky that way. Aside from the Rune Stones there aren’t a whole lot of long lasting markers of life. That being said, the Rune Stones are amazing. Incredible to think that they were carved thousands of years ago and still around today. They are painted today so that it is easier to see the inscriptions but historians and archaeologists have found evidence of paint on well preserved Rune Stones that suggests that the entire stone was painted, usually with red and black paint. Those stones would have been incredible to see! After the Rune Stones though, you really have to use your imagination. But when you close your eyes you can see the long house where the Vikings had their parties, you can see the jetties the Vikings used to get their boats into the water that has receded over 100 meters, and you can see the Vikings living in a cold and dark landscape. We made it to quite a few sights around the area. It was amazing. We saw Granby, Orkesta, Åshusby, Sigtuna, Fornsigtuna, and Bro. All classic Viking areas a little bit north of Stockholm.

Granby really worked the imagination. The first stop at Granby was a huge rock covered in Runic inscriptions. Rune stones and rocks are incredibly intricate carvings on large rocks or stones that are raised in an area as a marker often times commemorating others. These things are just beautiful. Most Runic inscriptions are written inside a serpent or snakelike creature and are read from head to tail. Despite the inscriptions being carved inside the serpent it is important to note that this does not mean they were Pagan writings. In fact, many Runic stones have decorative crosses at the top of the stone as well as short prayers carved inside of the serpent. After the rock though, it got tricky. Just a bunch of open space that was at one time Viking buildings. Because so many of the buildings were made of wood it is seldom that much remains. Luckily though imprints can still be found, and outlines of where the building once stood became visible as features were pointed out. It’s almost like the buildings came to life in front of me.

Orkesta is a church with a few Rune stones. Two of these stand outside of the Church and were brought there later but are from the area. They are beautiful and tell a story of raids in England and famous Vikings. It's amazing how the Rune stones end up being like documents that when analyzed tell us history as well as personal messages from thousands of years ago. One of the Rune stones though, is built into a late 12th century church. A literal coming together of Christianity and the Paganism of the Vikings. Of course, by around this time Christianity had started to really take hold in Sweden, but it is interesting nonetheless to see how Christianity and the religion of the Vikings melded together. Christian crosses can be found in Viking graves as well as Thor’s Hammer. Just covering all of the bases I suppose.

After the Runes we moved on to some burial grounds. Vikings tend to bury their dead in mounds. Some of these mounds, like the ones in Gamla Uppsala are huge. Others are just a little bit off the ground and tough to see. In Åshusby there was a huge mound with a rock about as tall as me on the top. I’d say this mound was nearly 20 meters high and was pretty steep. Not the sort of hill that I would want to drag a large rock up to. No one really knows what’s in the hill. Most hills of that size tend to be actual burial mounds but this one has yet to be excavated. Of course that raises the question of its importance but it was definitely impressive to see.

Sigtuna was next on the list and probably my favorite. This became a Viking center and is actually a living, breathing town today with a lot of well preserved old stuff. This town came into being a bit later in the Viking Age so stone churches that started serving the Christian population have managed to stick around. The town actually became a very important religious center and had so many churches that when King Gustav Vasa began reforming he decided that it was unnecessary to have so many churches and ordered that only one be used. That's why there are a few old stone churches that fell into ruin. This is just one of those old towns that you can feel the history in when you walk around. The town plan can still be seen and a house still stands in the exact plot that a Viking house stood in. Most of the plots have been combined to allow for larger buildings but you can still walk down the street and see how the town used to look. It was incredible, plus, because so much was still around it wasn’t necessary to use that imagination as much. There's even an old Viking cemetery here where you can see the small mounds popping up on the hill where the Vikings buried their dead. If you’re ever in the Stockholm area with an extra day to kill and a need for some Viking history then this is definitely a good place to check out.

After Sigtuna we went to Fornsigtuna, basically Old Sigtuna. The imagination needed to kick in again for this one but it was pretty cool. This site was actually a lot easier to see the imprint of old buildings and how those buildings were built on plateaus that eventually led down to the water. It was incredible to see the jetties that were still in place, granted quite a ways from the water now.

Bro (that’s pronounced “broo” not like “he’s my bro,” I am so gangsta by the way) was our last stop. By this time, I weighed a few pounds extra because of all the water soaked into my clothes but it was well worth the stop. The sun was trying to peek out and we got to see a huge Rune stone telling about the building of a bridge (or Bro). The intricacy and size was just amazing. The story told allowed for all of us to once again get a feel for what life was like at that time. Rune stones are amazing documents, they just happen to be written on stone and raised for all to see.

All in all it was an incredible excursion that gave me a chance to be a true history nerd and walk the same path as Vikings had done over a thousand years ago. That’s tough to beat.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Scandinavia Countries vs. Nordic Countries

Random fact for the day. Sweden, Norway, and Denmark are the only Scandinavian countries. Seriously. Finland doesn’t count. Neither does Iceland. It just doesn’t work that way. All are considered Nordic countries though. It’s important to keep this separate.

Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish are all very similar languages. Finnish isn’t. For example, in my Viking history class, my professor offered to accept papers in any Scandinavian language. That means he doesn’t want it in Finnish. If someone turned in a paper in Finnish it would go unread. It is a completely different language group. Mostly there are just a lot of vowels in Finnish. I don’t have the slightest clue what they are saying. At least I can understand Norwegians and even the Danes sometimes. Although they do talk like they have marbles in their mouths. Silly Danes. They are also upset that Stockholm claims to be the capital of Scandinavia. The Danes think it's Copenhagen. A lively debate is sure to ensue. I of course am voting for Sweden, the most livable city in the world.

I know people get confused with all of this. That’s why I felt the need to educate. It’s important to be educated. Of course I also know that some people don’t think Sweden is part of Europe, but those people are clearly not people we want to associate with. I can at least forgive the Scandinavian vs. Nordic mistake. It happens. But come on, Sweden is even a part of the European Union. Europe is in the name, one might even call it a root word for European. Others might make a pee joke. Not me though.

Enjoy your newfound knowledge. Go out and impress someone with it. Maybe you’ll get a raise, or a girlfriend. Most likely someone will just look at you funny but that’s ok. They are just jealous of your amazing knowledge of Northern European countries.