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.