Monday, December 22, 2008

Jultomten Comes Early to Colorado

I am Santa Claus. Or at least Jultomten. And a damn good one at that I might add.

Jultomten is a glorious man. Kind of skinny (depending on the weight of your respective father I suppose), kind of scary, but always there on Christmas Eve with some presents to hand out. Despite our age and our geographical location, Jultomten still finds his way to Colorado. Strangely enough, the old man hasn’t seen him in all the years we’ve lived in Colorado. We always run out of milk on Christmas Eve. A damn shame really. Poor planning.

My Jultomten tends to make a damn lot of noise. Banging on the side of the house, announcing his arrival to everyone inside. He makes his way to the back door and bangs on the door. Loud. Loud enough that there is always a bit of fear that Jultomten might put his hand through the glass. Which might put a damper on the whole spirit. Anyway, my mom always lets him in. There might be something going on between the two, I’m not entirely sure. Since my dad is never around it is highly suspicious.

Jultomten comes in, scares the hell out of every dog we have ever had, complains about how far he has come, how cold it is, and tends to stumble around a bit as if he didn’t have his glasses on. Finally, he sits himself down and asks “Finns det några snälla barn här?” Are there any nice children here? We always answered yes. Regardless of what may have happened in the past year. A head going through the basement wall for example. I mean, come on, there’s no way Jultomten can be checking up on us all year all the way from Sweden right?

So the answer is yes. Which seems to placate Jultomten a bit and he starts digging in his bag. He pulls out a gift, shakes it around a bit, holds it at arms length from his face and tries to read the name. Like I said, Jultomten seems to have misplaced his glasses, so what ends up happening is my mom takes over and reads it for him. And the first present is handed out. This is repeated for each child in the house. Usually the dog, who tends to either be cowering in a corner, or barking hysterically, also gets a present. Then Jultomten takes his leave. He’s got a long way back to Sweden. And it is cold outside.

And away he goes. And it never fails, just a few minutes later, in walks my dad. Having just missed Jultomten for the 24th year in a row. And usually without the milk we so desperately needed. It must be hell getting old. Wandering around town trying to remember what he went out to get while another man is handing out presents to his kids and sharing knowing glances with his wife all while dressed in a big goofy red suit.

Which is the way it goes at my house. But a couple of years ago, when I started having girlfriends that hung around for a while, my old man let me in on a little secret. He wasn’t necessarily going out for milk every Christmas Eve. He was Jultomten! My childhood was built like a house of cards, and this revelation was the annoying little brother who comes by and huffs and puffs and blows the house down.

After the initial shock, my father (Christmas) went on to, basically, threaten me. He told me that if I ever brought a girl home for Christmas that I had to be Jultomten. Either to test her or scare her away. I’m not really sure. Anyway, no girl has been brought home for Christmas. But that doesn’t change the fact that this year I dressed up as Jultomten. Because this year I got roped into helping out with some sort of Swedish-American society.

So I dressed up in the red suit with the white beard, scared a few little kids when I bellowed out “Finns det några snälla barn här?” and handed out presents. I rambled on in Swedish, basically reciting all the same lines that my old man has been reciting for years. All the while, the little ‘uns stared at me with a mixture of confusion, horror, and excitement. They didn’t speak Swedish. Clearly I was speaking some sort of foreign North Pole language. But they didn’t run in terror. Despite a near beard mishap when a little girl hugged me and the beard nearly came off revealing my secret to the world. But I have sneaky fast hands, kept the beard in place and Christmas was saved.

All in all quite the experience. And good practice I suppose. Because a Swedish Christmas celebration is something that everyone can appreciate.

Welcome to the US, and a Swedish Christmas.


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Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Traveling from Sweden to the US

I headed back home. For just a bit. A quick Christmas celebration until heading back to the darkness that is the Swedish winter.

The morning started with where the previous night ended. The two blurring together. I never went to bed. I kept my ass up by eating popcorn, granola in the hopes of finishing off all my milk before I left, and watching late night Swedish TV.

And it was around the 4 in the morning hour when I had to catch the night bus headed into town. I started having epiphanies. Revelations if you will.

Apparently around the 23 hours of sleep deprivation mark, my body decides to shut down. I fumble with simple tasks like getting my passport out. Or stripping myself of all metal before the security check. Or bringing my phone charger with me. Leaving me with a hunk of electronics and a dead battery.

When arriving in London I realized a couple of more things. One being that I entertain myself in strange ways when traveling alone. For example, by mocking the accents of the Brits to myself. “’Ello” became my favorite. Which obviously morphed into “’ello guvnor.” Good times. Does this make me a bad person? Yes. Yes it does.

Always buy salt and vinegar chips in England. They are delicious.

When waiting at my gate for my flight in London, a father and his daughter walked by. The daughter was maybe 8 years old. I was sitting on the floor. Eyelevel with everyone’s butts. And I quickly realized a rule that should govern all fatherhood when it comes to daughters. Little girls should not wear sweat pants with the words “Wild Chick” written across the butt. It’s just not right.

I hate SAS. Seriously.

Letting them rip on a plane is risky business. Especially when listening to an iPod. You just can’t be sure if anyone else can hear. Luckily, as we have already established, I am a bad person.

Never travel with small children.

Canada is a walking stereotype. I stepped off the plane and overheard an Air Canada employee explaining to her friend that her daughter had closed the bedroom window last night. And now it will most likely be frozen shut all winter. I walked into the terminal and was inundated with bad ‘70s design. Not that retro look that the Swedes are sometime able to pull off but bad carpeting and seat covers. While walking through the terminal, the guy in front of me made the following comment: “At least it’s not snowing anymore eh.” Directly to my right was a Tim Horton’s. And a large maple leaf painted onto the wall of the terminal. Welcome to Canada apparently.

But after 26 hours of travel, and enough revelations to put St. Bridget to shame, I made it back to the US. And I couldn’t have been happier.

Welcome to America.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

More Groundbreaking Study in Sweden

Sweden has a habit of making ground breaking discoveries in different areas of sciences. The pacemaker, dynamite, Skype. They do good work.

With these groundbreaking studies come some, well, less than groundbreaking studies. Like studies about breast size and cancer. Or the sagginess of Swedish boobs. All, I’m sure, very important in the little world of that particular researcher, but in the grand scheme of things, not Nobel Prize worthy. But sometimes a study comes out that takes the world by storm. A study that shakes the world to its very core.

And it is in this vein that a new study flows. And it has to do with the flow of alcohol and the munchies. Clearly, Nobel Prize-worthy work. At least if you ask college students who have shelled out money at 3 in the morning trying to get a little food inside of them after a night of drinking.

Most people, after a few drinks, tend to get a bit hungry. Maybe it’s time for some delicious chilinötter (my spell check suggested chilinötter be chili otter, which is close to chili nuts) at the bar or a kebab on the walk home. It satisfies that empty hollow in your gut. Plus it mixes well with all the booze.

Of course, knowing that many people have this problem, a Swedish researcher has set out to find out why. The eternal question. The answer to this question could have far reaching consequences. Perhaps the infamous freshman fifteen will drop a bit as college freshman learn to control their munchies after drinking. Knowledge is power you know.

Anyway, the study was a simple one. Give a bunch of people alcohol and measure their hunger. Give a bunch of people water and measure their hunger. Record the data. Compare.

Turns out though, that the hypothesis of the scientist was proven wrong by the data. Which, to be perfectly honest, I quite like to hear. Not because I like to see other people failure, but because I think you can find a lot of good in the failure of scientific experiments. Having been inundated with a lot of science over the last couple of years, more than I could have ever expected, I have also come to appreciate the different aspects of scientific studies. Like all the studies that fail. But never get published or discussed because they failed. But there is gain to be found in those failures. Even when they only focus on drinking and hunger.

As a side note, the scientist doing the study is a guy. And this is his doctoral dissertation. Which for some reason just didn’t surprise me at all.

Welcome to Sweden. Home of the Nobel Prize. And amazing scholarly research.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Shopping Tips from Sweden

I really dislike shopping. Which is strange, because I quite like giving presents, but the shopping part drives me nuts. And Christmas shopping is the worst. The throngs of people. The whining kids, pretending to be good for Santa, but really just whining. Plus, I’m cheap. Which makes the final part of the transaction in which I have to hand over my money especially rough.

But this weekend, “worst” took on a whole new meaning. Because I went to IKEA. On a Sunday. Eleven days before Christmas. One day after Santa Lucia. Which only serves to prove that I am, in fact, an idiot.

I ventured to IKEA for a couple of different things. Some food products, some candles, some Christmas decorations, and I was in search of a specific present. I had a plan. I know the layout. I know how to avoid following the IKEA path so I can get to where I need to be. I was prepared. I thought.

I was wrong. Nothing could prepare me for the carnage I saw. A kid pouting on one of the beds. Not a parent in sight. Two other kids chasing each other around. The screams of children mixed with the groans of parents as everyone questioned the necessity of procreation. Which was all topped off by an IKEA employee trying to sign me up for the IKEA Family card. All I could think was what good birth control a weekend holiday shopping trip to IKEA is. A family was far from mind.

It was exhausting. I could have turned back. But I fought through. Money to spend. I needed to do my part to get Sweden out of the recession. I made it past the bedrooms. The kitchens. To the knick knacks. This is where the dishes start, the candles, the picture frames. All the small things that IKEA sells can be found on the bottom floor. This is where my plan would be best used.

But it had been a while since I had ventured into IKEA alone. And they had changed the layout. Those bastards. Suddenly, amidst the chaos of running children, frazzled parents, young lovers, and old Swedes, I was overcome by one single thought. Recession my ass. It passed, but seriously, there was a whole lot of money flying through the registers at that place.

I gathered myself, reminded myself that IKEA was cheap and so might make it through a recession with flying colors, and continued on. I still knew a couple of shortcuts. I was going to have to take a chance. So I snuck off to the left and slid through a door to pop out in the picture frame section. I had saved myself a lot of grief. And I was close to where I needed to be.

I sharpened my elbows and did my best impression of Ali in his prime. I was shucking and jiving if you will. I was floating like a butterfly. I was the greatest. Obviously. Finally I emerged unscathed, albeit a bit sweaty, not unlike the champ after the Rumble in the Jungle.

In the end, I didn’t do much in getting Sweden out of its recession. The only thing I ended up walking out of IKEA with was a few Christmas decorations and the food. The candles? The present? Nowhere in sight. So I stumbled out toward the hotdog stand. I had earned my two korvs for 10 SEK. And they were amazing.

I titled this post Shopping Tips from Sweden. Really it should be shopping tip. And the tip is a simple one: never go to IKEA on a weekend so close to Christmas. Ever.

Welcome to Sweden.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Rudity in the Art Museum in Stockholm

Nationalmuseum is the art history museum of Sweden. All kinds of paintings, a few sculptures, some furniture and design stuff; the museum really runs the gamut.

There is currently an exhibition going on called Lura Ögat, Trick the Eye basically. An exhibition which I went to with a couple of friends recently. One a Swede, the other a tweener European/American. And it is well worth it. Lots of cool art that is meant to, yup, trick the eye. It runs until the 11th of January I believe, and I definitely recommend it.

Having walked up the daunting stairs to the top floor where the exhibition was being held, a friend of mine stopped to hold the door open for some people. And by some people I mean nine. And I know there were nine people because I counted them after they had passed through.

Now normally, counting how many people walk through the door isn’t something I do. I don’t walk around with a little clicker in my pocket or keep stats on that sort of thing. But this time I did. And I did it because out of those nine people, not a single one said thank you. In fact, not a single one looked over, nor acknowledged the, what I took to be, friendly and helpful action.

It blew my mind. All of these people were adults. I would have been willing to give a kid a pass. Sometimes they forget their manners. Sometimes they are just excited to get out of a museum. But nine adults passing through a door. One of them should have said thank you.

I’ve noticed this before, mostly because I am a door holder. But usually just one or two people fail to say thank you. Not a huge deal. Kind of rude, but it’s something I can handle. But nine people was just kind of disgusting.

I walked through the door, thanked her, and obviously commented. She had noticed as well. The sad thing was that my friend said that having been in Sweden has made her kind of just accept the rudeness.

So it goes, but instead of wallowing in the rudity (it sounds like a real word at least) of Sweden, the three of us ended up going to get some glögg and pepparkakor. Which is used to celebrate the Christmas season. And also used to make everyone warm and happy.

So Welcome to Sweden. And happy Santa Lucia. And please tell me the rudity was an aberration.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Adding Insult to Tardiness - More Adventures on Stockholm’s Public Transportation

Last night I was out on the town. And by out on the town I went to dinner and grabbed a drink with a friend. I was home before 10. I am a rebel without a cause.

But the ride home on good old SL presented me with a new experience. A very aggravated train conductor. Now, the train conductors in Sweden tend to be heard but not seen. And not even seen unless you are late for the train. They hide in their little compartments at the front and back of each train. They pop out at the stops to make sure no one has a leg stuck in the door. Other than that, you don’t see them. You only hear them if they want to make an announcement.

Usually they stick to the basics. Se upp för dörrarna, dörrarna stängs. The British version being, Mind the Gap. Perhaps they’ll come on to tell you that they are running behind because of leaves on the tracks. Because once again, Mother Nature and her never ending cycle of decay during the autumnal months has caught SL off guard once again. Or maybe it’s December and SL was surprised by the snow. Because living near the Arctic Circle would suggest that snow in December is an anomaly. And sometimes maybe they just want to get something off their chest.

And last night, the train conductor wanted to do just that. An announcement to clear the air. One that seemed to suggest she was at the end of her shift. And her rope for that matter.

Because as we waited a bit longer than usual at a stop, the distant crackling voice of a conductor came over the loudspeakers. Var snäll och släpp dörrarna. Pucko.

The first part isn’t so strange. Kind of polite in that Swedish way. Please let go of the doors. Because the doors can be held open. Which means the train can’t leave. It’s obnoxious when you have somewhere to be. But when you’re in no big hurry, it’s dealable. Which sounds like a word. Kind of.

Anyway, it was that final word that caught my attention. Pucko. Freak. Idiot. It’s also a delicious chocolate milk drink sold here in Sweden. One which another former Coloradoan has adopted down in Lund.

The train conductor said what everyone else was probably thinking. Clearly the person doing this was a delicious chocolate milk drink. Or a freak and idiot. I loved it. It was a beautiful display of passive aggressiveness. Mostly because of the politeness that preceded the insult.

But whoever was holding the door let it go. And we were on our way. And we didn’t get held up at any more stops after that. She did her job. And she did it well.

Welcome to Sweden.



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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Swedishness in Public Transportation

I’ve been feeling talkative lately. I complain a lot about the quiet of the Swedes, especially on Stockholm’s public transportation, but I tend to be a somewhat quiet individual. Quiet by American standards I suppose.

But lately if I hear any English, the first question out of my mouth is: Where are you from? It’s glorious. And I’ve had a whole lot of conversations on trains, on buses, in elevators lately because of it.

And it is because of my newfound disregard for the Swedish custom of silence and personal space that in a 24 hour period I was vividly reminded of that very custom.

I was coming home on the train the other day. It wasn’t horribly late, maybe eight in the evening. I was sitting there. Quietly. Minding my own business. Obviously. When I noticed a guy sitting across the aisle from me. He had just finished eating what looked to be a large and delicious sandwich. I was hungry. He was no longer hungry. Jealousy began to rear its ugly head.

And then it got worse, because he pulled out a Ramlösa. Sparkling water. And it was flavored. Raspberry. I love raspberry.

A quick side note, I used to hate this sparkling water. It’s more club soda I suppose. Anyway, I hated it. Until I moved here. Now I make conscious decisions to buy it. I blame Sweden for this change. It’s everywhere. And can be found in just about any flavor imaginable. You’ll learn to love it once you stay here for a few months. Give it a shot. But don’t give up after that first bottle.

Back to the object of my jealousy though. He pulled out his bottle of raspberry flavored water. It was a glass bottle. Without the twisty cap. I could see his face cloud over. He didn’t have a bottle opener. He was resourceful though. Or thought he was. He pulled out his keys and started going at it. Attempting to do what my little brother can do without thinking. Create a fulcrum with his hand between the key and the bottle cap and pop it open. All within a few seconds. He was not nearly as skilled as my little brother. And kept clicking away. Metal key against metal cap. Metal keys jangling against glass bottle. But the cap was stubborn.

And this is when I spoke up. Because I have a bottle opener on my keychain. In case of emergencies just like this one. I mean, the man had just eaten a delicious sandwich. Chances are he was parched.

So despite my jealousy, I turned to him, said excuse me, got his attention and offered him my bottle opener. I had even taken it out of my pocket and was reaching across to hand it to him. He stared me down. And bluntly said: No. I can do it myself. Like an angry four year old trying to tie his shoes. Fine. Ass. Do it yourself. Which he did. A couple of stops down the line.

I couldn’t decide if this was typical Swedishness, a kind of reaction to someone talking to him on the train, or if maybe he was just pulling some sort of manliness thing and wanted to prove to himself he could open it.

But then the very next day, I found myself at the bus stop. A woman standing next to me had pulled out her phone to make a call. As the other end picked up she said, with some enthusiasm: Hej, det är jag! Hey, it’s me! She was standing right next to me. She was excited to talk to the person, but not overly excited. She wasn’t loud. She wasn’t bothering anyone. Or at least not bother me, and I was standing right next to her. I thought it was perfectly acceptable cell phone etiquette.

I thought wrong. Because standing about 6 feet away from me, that is about two meters for those of you calculating at home, was an old lady. Now I tend to associate old ladies with the word nice. As in: My what a nice old lady. Or: I helped the nice old lady cross the street. This lady was not nice. Because as the woman standing next to me talked on her phone, the old lady barked back: Quiet! You’re too loud, no one wants to hear your conversation! And by barked I mean, yelled in a nasty old lady voice. Haggard after years of barking at people.

That’s when I decided that the two events, the stubborn man and the mean old lady, while different in so many ways, spoke to that underlying desire of Swedes, or at least Stockholmers, to wander around on public transportation in complete silence. Bereft of any and all noise that might intrude in their personal bubble.

Welcome to Sweden.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Escaped Murderers in Stockholm

I’ve written about Sweden’s justice system a few times. Mostly because I find it to be a bit ridiculous. Not in that they don’t provide justice or that it’s a country full of uncontrolled criminals. The thing that gets me is the prison sentences. More specifically prison sentences for violent crimes.

So the news today caught my eye. To say the least. On Wednesday, a convicted murderer escaped in Stockholm. This man has been convicted of murder and attempted murder. And he escaped.

Now I said this news caught my eye. And an escaped murderer will tend to have that effect on people. But there were a few facts to the case that really caught my eye. And they tend to be stereotypically Swedish.

First, this man, convicted of murder and attempted murder was only sentenced to prison for 14 years in 1999. But it gets better. Because, despite being sentenced for 14 years he was eligible for parole this coming July. 2009. He was eligible for parole after ten years. Murder and attempted murder will get you ten years if you’re on your best behavior.

I know I already said this, but it gets better. When I hear of prison escapes I think of Shawshank Redemption. Or maybe some classic Alcatraz movie. You know, well planned escapes that took years to prepare. Maybe a tunnel had to be dug with a spoon. I don’t know. I’ve never escaped from prison. Stockholm’s escaped murderer didn’t have to dig a tunnel with a spoon though. In fact he didn’t have to do anything exciting at all. He just walked away.

He just melted into the crowd and got away. Because he was out running errands in Hötorget. A little shopping square in central Stockholm. Now with Christmas coming up, these little shopping squares tend to be pretty packed. There are large crowds to fight through. People selling glögg and pepparkakor. You need to have sharp elbows. A killer’s mentality if you will.

Which bring us back to our escaped murderer. Who more than most people, has a killer’s mentality. For the record, he was with two police officers acting as his guards. If that makes it any better. It seems that convicted murderers get field trips.

Our main character in this sordid little tale had already had eight field trips. Without incident. Because he had handled himself so well on the previous eight excursions, the police here in Stockholm seem surprised by his escape. Maybe he had been planning this for a while. Lulling his captors into sleep with his good behavior instead of chipping away at a tunnel with a spoon.

Regardless of his master plan, he got away. But don’t worry. They do not consider him dangerous. Because a man convicted of murder and attempted murder and then chose to escape with only about eight months left before parole is not a threat at all.

Welcome to Sweden. Where convicted murderers get field trips.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Hedda Gabler and Stockholms Stadsteater

The other night I went to check out a play at Stockholms Stadsteater. It is right smack dab in the middle of town in Kulturhuset by Sergelstorg. And it considers me a youth still because I am under 25. So a ticket only ran me 100 SEK. Sweden definitely has its benefits.

Anyway, I chose Hedda Gabler for a couple of reasons. Most of them can be blamed on one of my professors from Oregon who introduced me to, your favorite and mine, Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright. Henrik wrote quite a few plays, but the one that grabbed my attention a couple of years ago was Peer Gynt. A glorious tale really. This interest in Ibsen was unknowingly egged on by a second professor at Oregon. Damn that higher education.

But since then I have had in interest in the gruff looking old man. I have bought a few English translations of his plays. One of which sat on my book shelf for quite a while. But I managed to read a bit of his work even as it sat on my shelf. One reason being that I had a girlfriend back in the good old US of A who had Hedda Gabler on her shelf. And I read in the bathroom. And well, sometimes I needed to go. But for various reasons, I never did finish Hedda Gabler. Which may have been for the better. Because I had developed a strong dislike for the girl. Hedda Gabler. Not the old girlfriend.

Anyway, about a month ago I plucked down Ibsen and stated reading the translated plays I had. There were four in the book. And Hedda Gabler happened to be there. I read the play. And while I continued to despise Hedda Gabler as a character I did quite enjoy the play. Which, in my opinion, says a whole hell of a lot about Ibsen as a writer. Because if I can garner such strong feelings of dislike for the title character of a play and still enjoy reading the play. Well, Ibsen did his job.

Anyway, about a week ago I was paging through the fall schedule of plays at Stockholms Stadsteater and saw the Ms. Gabler would be playing. So I snagged a ticket. For 100 SEK. Remember? The benefits of so much money being plugged into cultural events.

The play was really quite good. I continued to dislike Hedda as a character. I mean a lot. But the live performance of the play was excellent. It was a simple set-up. In fact, there was just a long two-sided couch that they rotated to demonstrate different settings. There were only five people in the entire play. Not a single extra to be seen anywhere. No boy in crowd, or maid in background or anything like that. Very barebones. Kind of Scandinavian in its simplicity really. And it worked. Well.

The play presented the surrounding characters in very different ways than how I had read them. This being the first time I had ever read a play and then just a few weeks later seen it performed live, it was an interesting realization. Everyone can experience a work of literature in very different ways.

Just as long as no one differs in their dislike for Ms. Gabler.

Welcome to Sweden.

Monday, December 01, 2008

ride for HOPE – Why They Ride

I’ve written a few different times about my buddy who is riding with his brother from Canada to Argentina. On their bikes. Like pedal bikes. Not a motorcycle bike. It’s damn impressive. And they are raising money for an organization called HOPE. Which, in my opinion, makes it even more impressive. Because I’m a sucker for a good cause.

As of just a couple of days ago the Cook brothers had sat on a bike seat and pedaled their way 5695 km from their starting point in Canada. That many km will get you to Cabo San Lucas. Probably not a bad place to be as December rolls around.

With that in mind, I have done some shameful quoting. And by quoting I mean huge portions of text with quotation marks around it. Mostly because they are excellent writers and do an amazing job of describing their adventure. And how it came to fruition. And why they are doing it. So from their latest blog post Why We Ride:

“The idea was first born more than 4 years ago, as a dream to complete one day. In September of 2007, we decided that this was something that we really needed to do. We began planning; we were going to ride our bikes to Argentina, leaving the following September. Of course, we love traveling and thought that this would be an amazing way to see so much of the world. But we also felt compelled to do our part to help those in the world less fortunate than us. Being raised in Canada, we have been blessed with a future full of endless possibilities; we realize however that the majority of people in the world don’t have this same privilege. Furthermore, we believe that it’s our responsibility as the wealthy of the world to do whatever we can to change this. We wanted to undertake this bicycle journey in order to inspire and encourage those around us, coming from such privileged areas of the world, to do what we can to make a difference.

We knew that we wanted to find an international development agency to raise money for and so we began a detailed search of the many deserving organizations in existence. We finally found HOPE International, based out of New Westminister, BC, and were instantly impressed with the organization. First off, from a financial perspective the organization is outstanding – with only four percent of their income going to administration and advertising costs, they are the best financially managed international development agency that we found. In addition, all of their projects focus on sustainable development in the true sense of the term. All monies being donated are put into locally organized projects, with local labour being used in order to further economic development. From our first contact with HOPE International we have been impressed with their professionalism and dedication to their cause of helping the “poorest of the poor”. We were presented the opportunity to raise money for a project in the Dominican Republic, rebuilding community greenhouses and irrigation systems and we committed to raise $50,000 for this project. Thus, the ride for HOPE was born.”

That’s good stuff. And notice the Canadian way of spelling labor. With a “u.” Silly Canadians. My American spell check didn’t respond nicely to it. Anyway, now you know how this whole idea came about. Why they are doing it. What they are doing it for. But no good explanation of an adventure like the one they find themselves on is complete with a call to action. But Keenan and Jeff do damn good work. And so, the ride for HOPE call to action:

“With Christmas right around the corner, and the evidence of our affluence being displayed in shop windows and down the street, we wanted to remind you all why we're on this adventure. We would like to thank all of you who have already contributed to our HOPE International project, and we'd like to encourage everybody, in this season of giving and of love to consider our ride for HOPE. Our website is set up with a link to donate online at HOPE International's website. It's all set up with a secure server so that you can make a donation with your credit card, right online. You can just select "other" under the dropdown menu, and type "ride for HOPE" in the comment section. This will ensure that the money you donate goes straight to our project (as well as going towards our $50,000 goal).”

Welcome to Sweden. I mean Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. And the ride for HOPE.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Sweden is in a Recession

Sweden is officially in a recession. Not one of those let’s ask the public recessions but an economically defined recession of two quarters of negative growth in GDP. The second and third quarters in Sweden saw GDP fall by 0.1 percent.

That’s not good. Granted it’s not really surprising, but confirmation of a falling Swedish economy right before the Christmas season isn’t really what you want to see.

Basically, people aren’t spending any money. And when people aren’t spending any money, other people aren’t earning any money. And when those people aren’t earning any money, well, it’s a nice little spiral really. Apparently, one of the culprits is the fall in new car sales. Which I’m sure people in Detroit can empathize with.

It will be interesting to see how all of this turns out. Obviously, the financial markets worldwide are a mess right now. For various reasons. And Sweden is obviously not immune. Having been through a similar crisis of their own in the early ‘90s, people expected Sweden to be able to weather the storm, perhaps a bit better than others. These numbers would suggest that isn’t necessarily the case. And so Sweden finds itself in a recession. The first in quite some time.

Recession means negative GDP growth. The economy isn’t growing. In fact, it’s shrinking. It’s the definition of recession. But it also will play a part in the job market. If the economy isn’t growing, companies aren’t hiring. And if people aren’t hiring, people aren’t working. Unemployment will rise. Just a few months ago I read that Swedes in my age group were staring at an unemployment rate of around 15%. Good times. Plus, the layoffs that have already started and are sure to continue.

Some people are going to struggle horribly. Others might profit from this. Or if not profit, at least not feel quite the same pinch. One being low-cost retailers. Like IKEA for example. Which makes the comment by Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, somewhat interesting. He said “det här är en ganska nyttig tillnyktring och ett behövligt reningsbad,” basically, “this is a pretty healthy sobering up and a well-needed cleansing bath.” That was a pretty poor translation but what it boils down to is that Kamprad thinks this will clean up the economy. I believe this man has actually been quoted as saying that recessions are necessary every few years just so that they will rinse out the bad from the economy. And he has a point. Recessions tend to be a natural piece of the economic cycle. And I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that IKEA probably won’t be hurting as much as your high-end retailers.

Anyway, to clean up the economy, like Kamprad hopes this recession will do, governments and economic policy makers have options. There are plenty of economic policies that can be used to try to improve the situation. Cutting interest rates. Injecting capital into the market. Bailing companies out. Some work better than others. Some just won’t work. And some end up in a political quagmire. But Sweden finds itself in a bit of a precarious situation because of its size and reliance on exports. And this size and reliance on exports suddenly ties Sweden to the US and the incoming President.

So despite the excitement surrounding President-elect Obama’s economic team, Sweden will have to wait and see. Many people seem to agree that the team Obama has assembled should do a decent job. For the American economy. What interests me is how this will impact the rest of the world. Mainly because of Obama’s very strong opinions on international trade. And his derision towards it. And it is with this in mind that Sweden could potentially suffer.

Closing down global free trade in order to buoy the American job market, as Obama campaigned to do, could have disastrous effects on countries such as Sweden. According to an article about the effect of Obama’s free trade views on Sweden, exports are equivalent to only a small percentage of America’s GDP. Right around eight percent actually. That’s not the case in Sweden. Exports of goods and services are equivalent to about 50% of GDP. Very simply then - if free trade is shut down by an Obama administration, Sweden is going to feel it.

And with a country that has already officially gone into a recession, shutting down free trade is not going to make it any easier to climb out of that hole. Unfortunately. Of course, when it comes down to it, the President of the United States should do what he believes is best for the country he is running. Not for Sweden. However, hindering global free trade is just stupid. There, I said it. Let’s just hope that someone on Obama’s economic team makes that clear.

Welcome to Sweden. Just another country in a recession.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Swedish Thanksgiving Eulogy to Poseidon

Poseidon passed on yesterday. He was 14 months and 3 days old. That’s just a guess. It was somewhat of an unexpected passing. He had survived six weeks in a bathtub full of tepid fish- poop infested water. I thought he could handle anything. But I was wrong. Because now he is gone.

As I mentioned, it’s been very cold in my apartment lately. And Poseidon is a Beta. A somewhat tropical fish who prefers warmer climates. So he’s been a bit sluggish as of late. Considering I have been walking around in a vest and a beanie inside I can’t really blame him. But every time I walked by he would flare up daring me to challenge him in what was clearly his domain. And every night he would be more than willing to eat. But yesterday morning was different. He wasn’t paying me any attention. I felt his water. It was damn cold. I decided it was time to change it and also move his bowl to the kitchen where it was just a bit warmer.

So I began the process of changing his water. I put Poseidon in the clear measuring cup as I always do. He waited patiently, as he always does. I scrubbed his bowl, rinsed his rocks, cleaned his plastic plant, filled and de-chlorinated the water, being sure to make it a bit warmer. I wanted him to have a comfy return to his bowl. I was careful not to make the water really hot; I know fish can go into shock.

When everything was ready I placed him back into his very full bowl of water. And he freaked out. Maybe the warmer water reinvigorated him. Maybe it was too hot and put him into shock, but Poseidon was tearing around his bowl. And suddenly, he jumped out. Landing with a thud on the counter Poseidon just lay there. There was no flopping about. No fighting for breath. He seemed resigned to his place on the counter.

I quickly scooped him back into the measuring cup and dumped him into his bowl. He sunk to the bottom with a slight flapping of his fins. I tried to rejuvenate him. But it was no use. Poseidon was floating vertically. His head staring down at his bright red rocks. His tail swaying helplessly in the upper echelons of the bowl. I didn’t want to admit the inevitable to myself. I left him like that for the remainder of the day. Hoping. For what… I don’t really know. But Poseidon was dead.

I’m not sure what happened. Maybe he was already dying. Maybe the warm water did send him into shock. Or maybe he broke something when he jumped out of his bowl and landed so violently on the counter. It almost seems that way. I have never seen a fish so resigned to being out of the water. It was as if he had been paralyzed.

Poseidon and I had some good times. Like when I saved him from the aforementioned bathtub after six weeks. Or how every night I would tap his glass and show him the bright yellow fish food container and he would swim eagerly to the top of his bowl awaiting the delicious morsels. He would violently lunge at the food as if he was reliving better days in the wild. But those days are over now. Instead today, my third Thanksgiving in a row away from the US, I am faced with an empty fish bowl where once swam the majestic Beta. Poseidon. God of the sea.

Welcome to Sweden. And farewell to Poseidon.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Freezing in the Dark in Stockholm

Moving to Sweden has been quite the adventure. For all kinds of reasons. And I’ve liked a lot of things. And I’ve complained about a lot of things. And the complaints sometimes might seem to drown out the likes. Maybe because it’s the complaints that seem to add that little extra spice to this adventure. But despite this realization, I’ve got a couple more complaints. Because it’s been a rough last couple of days here in the apartment.

Let me start out by saying that I have no electricity or heating bill. It is included in my rent. For better or worse. And in this case I think it is for worse.

Anyway, as a general rule, I can handle the cold. I usually sleep with the window open no matter the temperature outside. The last couple of days here in Stockholm have seen a lot of snow. Which is not a complaint at all. I love it. Snow is hard to beat in my opinion. But the snow means that it is a bit colder than it was at this time last November. Which is also fine, because last November I complained about the rain. So the snow is a welcome reprieve. I have no complaints. At least not about the weather.

About my apartment I definitely have complaints. Because the last few days the heat hasn’t worked. The heat is centrally controlled through two radiators, one in each of the rooms. Somehow this keeps 40 some square meter of apartment warm. Radiators seem to be the common form of heating throughout Sweden. And they make it work. But in my case, the centrally controlled radiators mean that I have no control. I was warned of this. I received a bit of information when I moved in. One piece that stood out was about the centrally controlled heat. The advice was simple. It told me to put on a sweater if I got cold. Good advice.

But the last few days I’ve been freezing. I thought I was just being a wuss. So I put on my ski vest and my beanie and fought through. After a day of that though I decided to investigate. Because come on, I know I’m close to the Arctic Circle and all but I shouldn’t need to wear a beanie inside. The radiators were ice cold. Dead. Awesome. Turns out that the last few days weren’t really my fault.

Luckily, the maintenance man was running around taking care of the problem. Seems someone must have complained. And this afternoon I had heat again. So things were looking up.

Until dinner time. I had decided it was time to cook myself another delicious meal. This time I was thinking spaghetti and meatballs. Because even I can cook spaghetti and warm up frozen meatballs. So out I went to turn on the lights. And bam. There went the electricity in the kitchen/living room. Which is unfortunate because the kitchen is where I keep my fridge. And my food.

So after some consultation with the old man to figure out these crazy Swedish knob breakers I had managed to switch them out and get electricity to the kitchen, but not to the bathroom and bedroom. At least my food was saved.

I ran to the grocery store in hopes of finding a few new breakers so I didn’t have to shower in the dark. I managed to find them. Behind, what looked to me, like a year’s supply of tampons and maxi pads. And by behind I mean I couldn’t get to them unless I moved the tower of feminine products. Which wouldn’t have been so bad. Except for the woman standing at this tower reading the different packages apparently struggling to decide if she was having a heavy flow day. She was in her late 30s. She’s probably been having her period for maybe 20-25 years. It can’t be that hard, can it?

Anyway, I waited patiently. And by patiently, I mean awkwardly mingled about pretending to look for something else so she didn’t think I was watching her pick out tampons. She finally made her decision. I moved the mountain of maxis and found what I needed. I was going to have electricity. I wasn’t going to sit in the bathroom in darkness. My food wasn’t going to spoil. I was going to be ok.

I bought an already grilled chicken to boot. Because clearly the electricity going out was a sign that I should not be cooking tonight.

Welcome to Sweden.



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Swedish Immigration and Integration Contracts

The immigration issue is up for debate again here in Sweden. I’ve written about this a few times. Most recently, the post about Sweden’s immigration minister Tobias Billström and his open letter in Dagens Nyheter. One of the points brought up by Billström was the idea of Swedishness.
Tobias Billström is a member of the governing party in Sweden at the time, Moderaterna, the Moderates. Moderaterna are considered to be a conservative party here in Sweden. And it is Moderaterna who are now proposing some new immigration reform.

Moderaterna propose that immigrants to Sweden sign a contract. A Swedish integration contract if you will. A signature on the contract will state that the signee is familiar with Swedish laws, customs, mores. Swedishness. The idea, according to Moderaterna, is to make sure that those coming to this country understand what they are getting themselves into. It is a way of making Swedish expectations clear.

As it stands right now, the proposal would not require those seeking asylum in Sweden to sign the contract. It also would most likely not require signature from people coming from EU countries who are working in Sweden. That leaves a lot of questions, because a large number of immigrants to Sweden fall under those two categories.

One of the party members involved in the proposal, Per Schlingmann is paraphrased as saying “att underteckna ett sådant papper ska inte vara ett villkor för att få stanna i Sverige.” Basically, the signing of such a contract should not be a requirement to be allowed to stay in Sweden. Which leaves the contract with absolutely no teeth.

Let me quickly summarize, right now the contract would not need to be signed by asylum seekers or EU members working in Sweden, which make up a large part of all immigrants to Sweden. Of those who should sign the contract, it will not be viewed as a requirement for being allowed to stay in Sweden. So really it’s just a piece of paper.

In 2007, nearly 84,000 people were granted resident permits in Sweden. Of those, about 18,000 were granted permits on the grounds of asylum. Another 19,000 on the grounds of EU citizenship. Nearly half then would not have to sign the contract.

However, in an attempt to have some sort of incentive for paying attention to the contract, Moderaterna have come up with an idea. And it hinges on Sweden’s social welfare system. Of course. They have decided to use economic consequences. Billström has said that after two and a half years, only 20% of immigrants to Sweden are able to support themselves. The rest are living off the state. So economic consequences could be severe. The idea is that if immigrants to Sweden do not follow Swedish customs, Swedish laws, Swedish values, then they will see their social welfare checks decrease.

Of course this brings up plenty of questions as to who will be deciding if people are integrating into that idea of Swedishness. And what Swedishness actually entails. And how in the hell the country is going to keep tabs on the Swedishness of thousands upon thousands of immigrants. Plus, how long do they have to embrace this Swedishness? Is there a grace period? When do they graduate to a point that they will not need to be checked up on? There are plenty of questions.

Obviously, many government officials have opinions about the proposal. The main opposition party, Socialdemokraterna, the Social Democrats, have differing opinions. Some believe the plan hasn’t really been thought through. That it goes against the rights of immigrants because in a country that prides itself on equality, asking immigrants to sign a contract isn’t fair because not everyone is asked to sign a contract. Others within the party actually think that making expectations clear is a good thing and should be considered. Some argue that, while there are obviously problems in integrating immigrants, a contract won’t solve anything. Still others think that it is just plain racist.

I don’t see this as racist. I see it as poorly executed, short-sighted, and without any teeth, but I don’t see it as racist. Expecting certain behavior from people is not racist. Expecting that people follow the laws of your country is not racist. Expecting that people, at the very least, respect your values and customs is not racist.

Obviously, issues exist with the influx of immigrants to Sweden. There is bound to be culture clash. Especially with so many coming from countries that have different values than Sweden. One of the main issues repeatedly brought up in this discussion is the treatment of women in other countries as opposed to Sweden. Sweden prides itself on equality. Other countries marry off their daughters against their will. Or kill them in so called honor killings because they disobeyed their family’s wishes. That doesn’t really jive with the Swedish train of thought. Which is understandable. Moderaterna think that a contract for immigrants will take care of that problem.

There are a few countries that have integration contracts. France and Denmark both require immigrants to sign a contract while Gordon Brown of Great Britain has stated that those who want to become citizens of the UK must sign a contract as well. In the US, there is no signed piece of paper when immigrating. However, in terms of becoming a citizen there is a test to be taken about American history and government. Requirements also include being able to speak English, as well as a swearing in ceremony in which you affirm your allegiance to the United States.

I don’t have an answer to this. Immigration is an incredibly difficult subject. I believe that immigration is absolutely essential to the diversity and continued advancement of a country. However, I also believe that immigration must be legal and controlled. Without controlled immigration, problems are bound to arise. Economic problems, as can be seen in Sweden with only one fifth of immigrants being able to support themselves after two and a half years, and social problems, which can be seen in various walks of life, for example prejudice in the job market. An historical example of course being the US and the NINA signs in shop windows in the northeast just a few generations ago. No Irish Need Apply.

I will say this though, the fact that this issue is being discussed more and more is a good thing. It demonstrates that people realize that immigration reform is necessary. It demonstrates that people are paying attention. And it also demonstrates that people want to make it work. If the discussion could avoid devolving into who is racist and who isn’t, it might go somewhere. And of course if the government could come up with something a bit better than a contract that has no balls.

Welcome to Sweden. Please sign on the dotted line.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Swedish American at Gross-Rosen

There are plenty of things happening in Sweden, but I just really enjoyed my trip to Poland. So you’re stuck with one last Polish post. As I mentioned, I managed to get myself out to a concentration camp. Gross-Rosen just outside the town of Rogoźnica.

It was quite the adventure just getting there. About 65 km southwest of Wroclaw, I needed to take a train. I got my ass up to catch the train leaving at 7:44 in the am. I made it to the train station with about 15 minutes to spare.

I had read that younger Polish people speak English. And older Polish people vehemently deny speaking the Russian that they were forced to learn during the communist era, but can manage. So the lesson was, with young people you can get by with English. With old people, Russian. I do not speak Russian. With that in mind I went up to the window, picking a younger looking girl in hopes that she would speak English. She did not. So I pointed at my paper. She didn't have any idea. Finally she pointed me to a different window.

I walk down to the other window, showing a little bit of hustle because time is running away from me. I wait in line at a younger woman’s window, but am then called to an open window (wo)manned by an older lady. Who didn't speak English. So I pointed. And she didn't know anything about this town. After rifling through a card catalog. Seriously, a card catalog. And the computer she finally finds it. Sells me a ticket at 7:42 am. Writes down the time and “P-2.” Which I assume to mean Platform 2. I run over. Find "Peron 2" and run up on the assumption that P-2 means Peron 2. I ask the conductor if he speaks English. He shakes his head no. I point to my paper then point to my train. Nyet he says. Shit. I had a feeling this was going to happen. Mostly because the sign said the train at Peron 2 was leaving at 7:46 and the sign at Peron 3 was leaving at 7:44, but I just had to trust the Polish ticket seller. But hearing nyet I turned and raced down to Peron 3. There was no train.

I went to the information desk. Which I probably should have done to start. The girl there spoke English. Finally. She told me I had just missed the train. Well no shit. The next one didn't leave for another two hours.

I said no thanks. I was going to take a taxi. I was determined to get to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. I went outside of the station and grabbed a taxi. He did not speak English. Obviously. He also didn't know where Rogoźnica was. Obviously. After about 10 minutes of consulting both a map and a GPS he found it. And away we went. I paid 200 zlotys for this. Which seemed like quite a bit. About 65 dollars. But like I said, I was determined.

I made it to the concentration camp after about an hour of silence. Except for Polish talk radio. And I arrived to emptiness. Not a single soul around. I walked in, no locks, everything was wide open. No employees. Nothing. So I turned around and found a building which happened to be the museum. And was empty. But suddenly a girl appeared. I told her I wanted to come in. I was prepared to pay. Instead she handed me a notebook with the entire museum translated to English. Amazing. But then I asked how much it cost. Nothing. It was free.

So I walked through the museum, constantly reading my notebook that had all the Polish and German text translated to English. It was glorious. And depressing. And amazing. And historical. The stories it told were awful, but at the same time I couldn’t stop reading.

The most memorable, in the most awful way, was the story of a new prisoner who had recently arrived to the camp. I believe he was Hungarian. He did not speak German. He was told to go across the road to the farm house and get some hay. Other prisoners saw this happen but did not speak up. They feared punishment. A group of young boys from the town were standing around watching, snickering, anxiously awaiting the inevitable. The new prisoner went to the guard at the main gate and told him he was running across to the farmer’s place to get some hay. They guard let him pass. And as he passed and had his back turned to him the guard gunned him down. The man was reported as having been killed while trying to escape.

After I had read through my notebook I decided that I would buy something. Maybe a book. I wanted to give them some money. It was empty, having worked at a museum that was empty I felt sorry for them. Plus I kind of wanted to give some sort of monetary support. So I took a look at the books. Not a single one in English. So I passed.

And out the door I went to the actual concentration camp. Gross-Rosen actually started as a work-camp being home to a large rock quarry. It was then upgraded, using that term very loosely, to a concentration camp. Over 100,000 prisoners went through the camp, over 40,000 of them died. If you were put to work in the rock quarry you averaged five weeks. After five weeks you were dead.

Really there wasn't much left of the camp. Only a few buildings were left standing and the rest were just old foundations. Of course one of those buildings was the main building at the entrance. Where I saw, to be blunt, one of the most fucked up things I have ever seen. Above the entrance were the words “ARBEIT MACHT FREI.” In English, “work makes free.”

Surrounded by the beautiful Polish country landscape, forests, groves of trees, the entrance stood in stark contrast. Which really seemed to demarcate the atrocities that took place inside the fences. Because passing through that entrance a prisoner walked under what was some sort of Nazi attempt at humor, or irony, or maybe just evil in those three words.

There were a few memorials; a large cross which, due to my knowledge of the Polish language, I decided was donated by Pope John Paul II, a Pole. Another was a large memorial to all victims of the Holocaust. On it were some plaques which were written in different languages honoring those who died at the hands of the “Nazi barbarians.” Of the languages I could read, all of them used that very term. I think rightfully so, but interesting nonetheless.

But the most powerful memorial was by far the individual memorials. Plaques devoted to individual victims of the Gross-Rosen camp. Powerful because it put an identity to all the victims. Powerful because it became so much more real. And powerful because it was set up right next to the crematorium. Once again differentiating between the evil associated with the crematorium, and the love displayed by each of those memorials.

As I left the camp I decided I was going to get some food. I still wanted to give the museum some money. So I went into the cafe. Which wasn't so much a cafe as a room with a lot of seating and a coffee machine. I decided to get some hot chocolate from the machine. There were no cups. I gave them no money.

I had been at Gross-Rosen for about two and a half hours. I hadn't seen a single other visitor. It was me and the few people who worked there. But as I left the parking lot two men had parked their car and were walking towards the museum. It was a shame. I had hoped to see more people. Because it was well worth the taxi trip out there.

After having left the camp I started walking into town in hopes of finding the train station. Because Rogoźnica wasn't exactly a bustling metropolis where I could just grab a taxi. So I wandered around, and came to the edge of town. So I wandered the other way. And came to the edge of town. I think I hit possibly every edge of town in Rogoźnica. Finally, I found some train tracks and began following them. As I followed the tracks I noticed a freight train being loaded so I walked towards it in hopes of getting some answers. I found some women working in the office. Who didn't speak English. After some pointing and gesturing I discovered that I was in fact in the right place. Unfortunately, the next train wouldn't come for another two hours. So I was stuck in a town with a population of maybe 200 people.

But I found a truck stop restaurant, had some delicious pierogis and wandered around looking at the massive church that towered over the town. I finally made my way back to the train station and got on the train on my way back to Wroclaw. Pleased with my decision to have taken the time to get out to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Swedish American in Poland

I just got back from Poland the other night. I flew down to Wroclaw, Poland for a couple of days. I had never heard of Wroclaw, but was searching through Ryan Air's website and found a ticket. For free. Technically, after a couple of fees it cost me 94 SEK. Roundtrip. That's damn cheap. So away I went.

Like I said, I knew nothing about Wroclaw. And my trip started out with a bit of confusion, as it so often does when I fly places. This time I was on time though. Which was a plus. I went to my gate and waited patiently. Then they announced that they were boarding my gate to Breslau. Well, I'm going to Wroclaw. So I waited, and everyone around me got up and started getting onboard. And then they made another announcement, same city, but this time they threw in the flight number. Which matched mine. I decided to get on. They checked my ticket and allowed me onboard. Turns out that Wroclaw has a few different names. Breslau is the German version if you will. And apparently, Skavsta wanted to confuse us all by announcing Breslau but posting Wroclaw.

I arrived to rain. And cold weather. Which was fine. I was coming to a former communist country so it felt kind of fitting. I had never been to the eastern bloc so this was all very exciting to me in a horribly history nerd sort of way.

And it was all glorious. Old churches at every turn. Some of those majestic ones. Others those stubborn, tired churches that have been through hell. Communist buildings. Wroclaw had it all. And a lot of it was right in Old Town.

Old Town Wroclaw wasn't really that old. Turns out that Breslau, as it was known during WWII, was one of the last cities in Germany to capitulate. By the time Europe was divvied up and Breslau became Polish and Wroclaw 70% of the city was destroyed and 90% of Old Town lay in ruins. Following this, the Polish government thought it more important to rebuild Warsaw. So raw materials, namely bricks, were shipped from Wroclaw to Warsaw. At its height one million bricks were being shipped out of the city to rebuild Warsaw. Somehow Wroclaw survived.

And the town was rebuilt. Including Old Town. Old Town however was not rebuilt to look like it had right before WWII, but instead in an old Baroque style. But the trick is that it's all a façade. The builders stuck with their classic communist buildings. And just made the fronts of the buildings, the façade if you will, look like Old Town. So Old Town, while an incredible homage to the past, was really built after 1945. And now you know.

I went out to a concentration camp, Gross-Rosen, a little ways outside of the city. This involved a train ride. And the train ride was glorious. Not because I particularly like trains but because I got to see the Polish countryside. It reminded me of Skåne. If Skåne had suffered through WWII and communism.

Along with the Nazi history just outside of town, Poland had a bit of communist history. Wroclaw as well. And they displayed that history with a lot of public works of art. One of which is by far the coolest works I have ever seen. At a cross walk on one side is a group of people who are disappearing into the cement. On the other side of the cross walk they are reappearing. Apparently this work of art was put into place on midnight of the night of December 13th, 2005 on the 24th anniversary of martial law being declared in Wroclaw. The people disappearing into the cement are in honor of all of those who disappeared and went underground when martial law was declared.

Another public work of art is the numerous gnome statues that dot Old Town. Seems like a tourist gimmick. And it is. Kind of. But it actually goes back to the Orange Alternative movement in the ‘80s. A group of people who protested communism in nonsensical ways, mostly in hopes of avoiding violence being used against them. One of my favorites was the group singing Stalinist anthems in front of the monkey cage at the zoo. But the gnomes are in tribute of the group dressing as gnomes on International Children’s Day in 1988.

My last day in town was a short one. I had to be out of the hostel at 10. And my flight left at 1. So I got up early again to get the most out of what little time I had left. So I was out the door at 7:30. I had plans of checking out all of the communist buildings. And it was pouring. Which seemed to fit the situation actually. I was soaked through. But I toughed it out and immersed myself in communism. And that's about all the communism I need.

Lots of old cement buildings built in what was called Socialist Realism. Now when I think communist buildings I think cement. Like I mentioned. And I was right. But there was more thought to this than just cement. Like disaster. One housing complex which was used as an example of Socialist Realism was built with very wide streets. In case of fire all the people cramped in the housing could get out. That same complex had lots of trees around. Not for aesthetics but because if the (misinformed) thought that trees would soak up the radiation from a nuclear blast. And finally, the four buildings that made up this complex were built in a way that they could easily be turned into a fortress. It was incredible to see.

Overall I was amazed by Poland. I suppose I went in with some prejudices just because of the whole communism thing. But it was a beautiful town, some great history, and some delicious food. Cheap and delicious. I stuck to classic Polish foods, which turned out to be meat, potatoes, and soup. Which worked out well because I quite like meat, potatoes, and soup. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the food. And Poland in general.



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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Moving to Sweden - Swedish Citizenship Test

I get a lot of questions about moving to Sweden, many focusing on eligibility. Often times I am in absolutely no way qualified to answer these questions. Mostly because I am already a Swedish citizen. The benefits of having been born in this country, giving me Swedish citizenship, to an American mother, giving me American citizenship.

Lucky for me though, Migrationsverket, the Swedish Immigration Board, has come through. They have developed a quick survey to take to help determine whether you are eligible to become a Swedish citizen; here is thelocal.se’s take on it all. Granted, this survey is written in Swedish, and seems to focus on those people who have already moved to Sweden, but still.

So following closely the latest Moving to Sweden post, the library looks as follows:

Moving to Sweden – What to Bring
Moving to Sweden – The Swedish Language
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Place to Live
Moving to Sweden – The Metric System and You
Moving to Sweden – Getting a Cell Phone
Moving to Sweden – Getting from the Airport to Stockholm City
Moving to Sweden – The Weather
Moving to Sweden – Public Holidays
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden – Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden – Making Friends
Moving to Sweden – Cost of Living
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries

And now, Moving to Sweden – Swedish Citizenship Test.

According to Migrationsverket Medborgarskapsguiden or the Swedish Immigration Boards citizenship guide, the survey is made up of five to ten questions. How many questions you get depends on your answers. More specifically, your age and the number of years you have been in Sweden. The idea is that by answering these questions the survey will spit out a suggestion on the best and least expensive way to become a Swedish citizen.

The website does warn that this is just an automated response to a set of questions and is not a promise of citizenship. It also reminds us that each case is investigated individually.

For those of you interested in checking things out I took the test. Numerous times. First by giving my information from my current move, then, in order to get all of the questions, I took it again. And again. I would like to point out that I stuck with being American. Solely because there are a damn lot of countries to choose from and so an endless number of combinations. And, well, I’d like to think I have better things to do than find out if I can move to Sweden if I hail from Burundi. I’m going to go through and chart what I did, as well as give brief translations. So here it goes, as best I can:

Question #1: Are you under 18? 18-20? Over 20 years old?

I answered over 20. Moving on.

Question #2: What country do you currently claim citizenship from?

I scrolled through my options and answered Amerikas Förenta Stater. The United States of America.

Question #3: Do you have a permanent residence permit, known in Swedish as permanent uppehållstillstånd (PUT) or permanent residence right (permanent uppehållsrätt)? This only needs to be answered by those who are not citizens of any of the Nordic countries.

I said no.

Question #4: How long have you been in Sweden?

This question first gives a bunch of scenarios to assist you in answering the question. So I’m going to go through them briefly.

If you sought asylum in Sweden and received a yes on your first attempt then you can start counting your time in Sweden from the day you arrived. If you received a no but then later a yes you start counting from the day you received your yes.

If you sought permission from your home country to move to Sweden and had a permanent residence permit or permanent residence permit to settle when you arrived you can start counting from the day you arrived in Sweden.

If you had a time bound right to study or work in Sweden, for example a one year student visa, you may NOT count that towards your time in Sweden.

If you worked at another country’s embassy or consulate in Sweden you may NOT count that time towards your time in Sweden.

If you lived under an assumed identity other than your own in Sweden you may NOT count that time towards your time in Sweden.

Finally, your choices are: Less than two years? Two years (more than two but less than three)? Three years? Four years? Five to seven years? Eight or more years?

I answered less than two years.

Question #5: Can you verify your identity?

Choose one of the following:
-I can verify my identity with the help of a passport or a national ID card from my home country.

Some small print follows saying that the identification must be government issued, good quality, easy to read, must have a picture of you, not too simple. Basically, don’t come with some fake nonsense.

-I can verify my identity with the help of other forms of ID.

More small print, basically the same thing except now we learn that a drivers license, birth certificate or marriage license aren’t going to cut it.

-I do not have these documents but someone close to me of Swedish citizenry can vouch for me.

More small print telling us that it needs to be a parent, grown child, sibling, or husband/wife if you have lived together for more than two years before moving to Sweden. The person vouching for you must have the necessary documents to verify his or her own identity.

-I cannot verify my identity through any of these choices.

I answered that I could do it using a passport.

Question #6: Have you been convicted of a crime or do you have any debts?

Yes? If yes crime? Or debt?

No.

I answered no.

The survey then summarizes your answers and gives you a response. A plus sign or a minus sign next to the answers that matter. Do you qualify or not?

Turns out, based on the answers I gave, I do not qualify for Swedish citizenship. My big minus was having lived in Sweden for less than two years and not having a residence permit.

Bummer.

Let’s try again.

Question #1: Age?

I answered under 18.

Question #2: Citizenship?

American

Question #3: Residence permit?

No.

And that was the end of the test. Apparently Sweden does not look kindly upon you if you are under 18.

One more time.

Question #1: Age.

18-20 years old.

Question #2: Citizenship?

American

Question #3: Residence permit?

Yes.

Question #4: How long have you been in Sweden?

Five to seven.

Question #5: When did you turn 13?

Before you moved to Sweden? After you moved to Sweden?

Before.

Question #6: Can you verify your identity?

Yes, parent can.

Question #7: Crime or debt?

No

A little playing with this question also tells me that if I had responded yes to having debt it takes me to another question explaining what constitutes debt and asks me again.

If I respond yes to having committed a crime it does the same thing.

I’ll be honest; there is a lot of stuff there to translate. Just use your best judgment, you know if you have debt that is of importance or if you committed a crime.

Shit yes. I’m going to be a citizen.

Last one, because I’m getting antsy. And I have a feeling most people got that glazed over look in their eyes long ago. I don’t blame you. If you’ve made it this far… well done.

Question #1: Age.

Over 20 years old.

Question #2: Citizenship?

American

Question #3: Residence permit?

Yes.

Question #4: How long have you been in Sweden?

Four.

Question #5: Do you have a refugee document or travel documents?

Yes or no?

No.

Question #6: Are you married, in a registered partnership, or sambo with a Swedish citizen?

Yes, we live together but have done that for less than two years.

Yes, we live together and have been registered at the same address for more than two years and my partner is a Swedish citizen by birth.

Yes, we live together and have been registered at the same address for more than two years and my partner has been a Swedish citizen for more than two years.

Yes, we live together and have been registered at the same address for more than two years and my partner has been a Swedish citizen for less than two years.

No.

I said no.

Question #7: Verify identity?

Yes. Passport.

Question #8: Crime or debt?

No.

I’m a citizen.

There you go. I never did get it to spit out ten questions at me. But eight isn’t bad. Hopefully that helps a bit.

Welcome to Sweden. Hopefully.



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Monday, November 17, 2008

Ice Skating in the Shadows of Kings in Stockholm

There are benefits to having the middle of the day free sometimes. Especially when the sun is shining. So today I went ice skating in Kungsträdgården. Because that’s just how I roll. Or glide.

Every winter there is an ice skating rink set up in Kungsträdgården, one of Stockholm’s many parks. This one has statues of two of Sweden’s historical kings. Both named Karl of course. Karl XII and Karl XIII. And, this being Sweden and full of history, there is a story tied to the two statues. Lucky for me the old man knows his Swedish stuff. And lucky for him, I listen to him.

Karl XII is probably second to only Gustav II Adolf as Sweden’s most well-known warrior kings. He led the Swedes through years of battle as King of Sweden from 1697 to 1718. He was an excellent military tactician, leader, and some even say a decent politician. On just about all these accounts there is controversy for various reasons. But, under his rule, Sweden reached its pinnacle of power. And would eventually fall from it under his rule as well.

Karl XII was not a fan of making peace. And so Sweden found itself in a succession of wars, which would eventually lead to the downfall of the Swedish empire. He eventually died in Norway. Under some questionable circumstances. Some say he was killed by the Norwegian side. Others, by the Swedish side. In recent years, after a couple of exhumations, most people are coming around to the idea that he died from a Norwegian bullet. His statue stands on the south end facing the castle and is surrounded by four large decorative pots.

Karl XIII on the other hand, just didn’t do much. He was only King of Sweden from 1809 to 1818. He tended to hand power and decisions over to others; he was a strong believer in the occult and seemed to be intrigued by mysticism. He was also a Freemason for those of you big on the whole mystic conspiracy stuff attached to Freemasonry. In the end though, Karl XIII can be described as simply a weak-willed king. His statue stands on the north end facing and is surrounded by four large lions.

So Kungsträdgården is home to the statue of Karl XII, one of Sweden’s greatest warrior kings, and Karl XIII, one of, well, Sweden’s kings. And now, finally, back to the old man, who told me that the statues demonstrate “ett lejon omgiven av krukor och en kruka omgiven av lejon.” Krukor has a bit of a double entendre meaning both “pot” and “coward,” so: A lion surrounded by cowards and a coward surrounded by lions. I love it.

The ice skating rink in Kungsträdgården surrounds Karl XIII's statue. It’s open from October 30th to the 28th of February. The last couple of years or so I have taken up hockey. But left all of my stuff back in the US, including my skates. So I had to rent skates, but for 40 SEK I got skates for an hour’s worth of skating. Well worth it. And with the sun shining and the cold weather settling in, ice skating in the middle of Stockholm is hard to beat.

Welcome to Sweden, where you can go ice skating in the middle of town, and cowardly kings are taunted long after death.

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