Thursday, January 31, 2008

The NHL Comes to Stockholm

Shit yes. The NHL is opening the 2008-2009 season in Stockholm, Sweden. October 4th and 5th. I live in Stockholm, Sweden. I enjoy the NHL. It’s like they knew. I’m pumped. This came out a few days ago. But the season will open with Ottawa vs. Pittsburgh.

A few years ago when I was doing my study abroad at Uppsala a few of us got together and went to a Toronto Maple Leafs practice that was held before the season here in Stockholm. At Globen. Mats Sundin is a Maple Leaf. He is also a Swede. That’s all it took apparently to bring out a pretty solid crowd. For a practice. I can’t even imagine what a game would be like.

It was quite the international group at Globen. Actually, our group was mostly just some Americans and Canadians. But come on. Our resident Canadian was informing us about all the players who came from his area of Canada. It was a glorious afternoon. And Canadian flags were waving as the ex-pats welcomed their canuck brethren. That's canuck with a lowercase C in this case so as not to be confused with the Vancouver Canucks. Who, as a general rule, suck. I love that about international sporting events though. Even something as benign as a practice brings out the patriotism and the flags.

Let me explain what it means to have Senators and the Penguins open the season. First, and probably most important to the Swedes, it means Daniel Alfredsson. Who is Swedish. And who is having an absolutely spectacular season. Leading the league in points. He also managed to rack up seven points in a game just the other day. That’s not bad. Considering hockey tends to be a relatively low scoring affair. It also means though that Sidney Crosby is coming to Stockholm. He of the baby face. He of the C on his jersey. He of the incredible puck handling skills. He of 20 years of age. He that is just a bit older than my youngest brother. What have you done lately NBDC? Not made millions of dollars and broken records, I’ll tell you that much. Man up huh?

Sidney Crosby scored over 100 points in his rookie campaign. He followed that with 120. He is the future of the NHL. NHL sports marketing executives have wet dreams about his potential. It’s a little frightening. But true. And what better way to spread the gospel that is the NHL but by sending a good looking, charismatic, all-star to Sweden, an already hockey crazed country? There is no better way. Say what you will about the NHL in the US losing fans, the lockout killing them, no one watching on TV. You are wrong. They are studs at making money. And building buzz.

They play outside. They have deals with YouTube. They play overseas. They upgrade the All-Star game. The NHL might not draw the crowds and TV-viewers like the NFL does. But hockey in America is anything but dead.

And, as strange as it may seem, taking hockey games overseas, actually helps the league in the US. It creates buzz. It makes people think. It brings hockey into the conversation. And that’s just good publicity. Plus it allows me to see some good old American professional sports. Hopefully. I need tickets.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Swedish Sports Fill the Void

I love sports. Something about it really sucks me in. The competition. The team. The sweat. The emotion. It’s a beautiful thing. But I have been forced to get used to different sports in Sweden. Surprisingly, Stockholm isn’t a mecca of baseball. Or basketball. Or football. The real kind. But that’s ok. Because, while I don’t have the same options, I still have options. Handball. Bandy. Innebandy. Soccer. Hockey. Skiing. Hell, there’s even a decent amount of curling.

And it’s great. All these new sports. It’s really brought to my attention my lack of international sports knowledge though. I don’t know the rules when it comes to bandy. It looks like a cross between soccer and hockey and I’m pretty sure I’ve got the basics. But there’s no way I could explain the nuances of a bandy play as well as I could explain the idea behind the pick and roll. I don’t know the famous handball players. I don’t even know the famous soccer players.

And that became painfully obvious as I was watching TV4 Sport the other day. Because, as any good marketer will tell you, during sports shows you have a very specific target market. And so the ads tend to be sports related. And the sports ad I saw revealed my ignorance.

A commercial came on. For a betting agency. But it focused on soccer. Because in Sweden it seems that soccer and betting go hand in hand. But my soccer knowledge is limited. I know you can have 11 players on the field at one time. And that soccer players are horrible actors and pretend to be hurt all the time. That’s about it. So the man staring back at me telling me he had won numerous championships, named to the all-world team, all sorts of awards meant nothing to me.

Terry was the name on the back of the jersey. No idea. And then it hit me. This wouldn’t have happened to me in the US. I know famous athletes. I know what they have done. I know that if Derek Jeter was staring back at me telling me these things I would recognize him instantly.

But I’m getting better. I’m learning the Swedish stars. I’m figuring out who the important athletes are. And I’m also realizing just how much national pride the Swedes pin to their international athletes. It makes for some good sporting events. Even if it’s not the Super Bowl.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Swedish Sports TV Placates Me

Who needs the National Football League when you have alpine skiing? Every Saturday and Sunday in Sweden the TV is filled with winter sports. And I love it. I’m a big fan of winter sports. Mostly just because I love to ski. But having lived in the US for so long most of my winter sports watching comes every four years. Aside from the Olympics, winter sports don’t get a whole lot of airtime.

So I don’t know much about the sport from a technical, competitive aspect. Sure we’ve got the X-Games and a few races here and there that show up on NBC but they are few and far between. So being able to watch skiing almost every weekend has been a nice surprise. It allows me to get a sense of what elite skiing is all about. And how the competition side of skiing works rather than just the weekend warrior side.

Which I think is why I appreciate being able to watch it on TV so much. Granted, the Swedish sports announcers leave something to be desired. And make John Madden sound like a well educated, insightful, intelligent man. But still. They know some stuff. And some stuff is better than no stuff. So I listen intently. And learn that leaning a little too early going into a turn can cause you to lose one hundredth of a second. And with as many turns as they make during a regular slalom run that adds up.

I’ve seen men and women eat shit. There’s really no better way to describe it. They just eat shit. It looks like it hurts like hell. And it must. I’ve slid down the mountain before face first. And it hurt. And I wasn’t going over 100 km/h. I’ve seen competitors cry after realizing they lost by three tenths of a second. And watched them cry after winning by three tenths of a second. I’ve watched ridiculous celebrations that always seem to be a bit constrained because of the huge six foot planks attached to their feet. It’s glorious.

So while I miss the NFL. And history being made. I try to console myself with the knowledge that I’ve seen skiers flying down the mountain at 140 km/h in controlled idiocy. I’ve seen skiers slide down the mountain in uncontrolled fear. And I’ve seen it all while sitting in Stockholm, Sweden. Which is pretty cool.

Of course, I’d give anything to be watching the Super Bowl next week in the US with all of my friends. Ski races happen every weekend. A team trying to stay undefeated in the Super Bowl on the biggest sporting scene in the United States? That doesn’t happen every weekend.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Swedish World Perspective

I’m back. I’ve been busy. Well, not really busy. But busier. Spent a lot of time in train stations having missed a few by just a couple of minutes. On one of those waits I wandered into PressByrån and started rifling through the magazines. I really like to read and tend to be drawn to bookstores and magazine racks.

So I snagged up The Economist. Which I actually don’t read but I was feeling adventurous. I flipped through and stumbled upon a short little snippet about the Metro, the free newspaper that I read every morning on the subway and the trouble they were having establishing themselves in the US. It was here that I realized something that bummed me out. And reinforced something about stereotypes. For the most part, they are always based on some grain of truth, how big of a grain is up for debate but there is usually something there.

Metro in the US is thought to be having trouble making a lasting impression for a couple of reasons. One being advertising revenue, the loyalty people have to the newspapers they pay for and other exciting business things. But what caught my eye wasn’t that. It was that Metro tends to focus on international news. And so Americans in New York and Boston didn’t want it.

A free newspaper in Boston was taking a different route and focusing on local news. And doing well. Not the Metro though. Too much international stuff. Bummer. I have, and will continue to, argue that Americans are not nearly as ignorant as they are made out to be. But this wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.

And this is one thing I like about Sweden. People are well informed about what is going on throughout the world. Let’s face it. The US is big so people usually hear about what is going on there. But Swedes are informed about what is going on the world over.

Although one thing that really drives me nuts is the half truths that people take for gospel about the US. Too much TV, too many movies. Leaves a bit to be desired sometimes.

So I have questions (actually only three). Important ones (kind of at least…). Ones that I have no real answers for (but still have opinions about).

Are Swedes so well informed because they are so small? A country the size of California with only nine million people. There is only so much going on in this country. Leaves a lot of room for international news.

Are Americans less informed because they are so big? Less room for international news.

Does it matter?

Whether it matters or not, people take this sort of news and it fits into the stereotype of the ignorant American. Which just isn’t good. Because not everyone is like this. Just like every Swede isn’t afraid to talk on the subway. Just like every Swede isn’t a feminist. While there is some truth to most stereotypes, they just don’t always fit. And before anyone leaves some comment about taking my own advice and that I’m an arrogant American who doesn’t even see that I am doing the same thing. Shut up. I write in generalizations. I know.

Maybe I have been colored by the people I hang out with, my family, my friends. I am a product of my environment. And my environment always seemed to have a pretty good international perspective. People travelled. A lot. People read. A lot. People went on to all sorts of higher education. And so, I have been surrounded by people who have been anything but ignorant in the face of international happenings.

Maybe it’s just the New Yorkers and the Bostonians who don’t want that international news.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Baby Names Give Insight into Sweden

A little while ago a list of the most popular Swedish names for boys and girls was published. And 2007 proved to be a year filled with excitement in the baby naming sphere. The list also brought up some interesting insights in Swedish life.

Swedes like simplicity. This can be seen in just about all aspects of Swedish life. From the pristine apartments with nothing hanging on the walls, to the well simple, well designed products that fill DesignTorget. It also surfaces in names. The longest is William. Or Villyum to really get the pronunciation. The average is five letters. Yup, I counted all of the letters then divided by 10. It’s a slow night. For girls, 4.4. Short names. Simple names.

Sweden is a small country. No new insight gained here I just can’t get enough of this stuff. The most popular boy name showed up 1,009 times, for girls 812. In the entire country. I love seeing the raw numbers for Swedish statistics. They always seem so small to me.

Swedes, stereotypes be damned, do not name their children Sven or Helga in droves like every bad Hollywood stereotype would have you believe.

Swedes like equality. William vs. Vilma. Number one in their respective sexes. Elias and Ella. Two and three. Emma and Emil. Five and nine.

Despite all the movement, Swedes like consistency. None of the most popular names came from anywhere lower than a thirteenth ranking last year. So despite plenty of noise nothing of consequence really happened.

My name isn’t popular.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Swedish Sexism in Advertising Under Attack

Following up on a post I wrote a couple of days ago about the Swedish ban on advertising that targets children I thought I should write a quick post about the current issues surrounding sexism in Swedish advertising.

First, a quick side note. Sweden considers itself a country full of feminists. Good things have come out of this with Sweden having one of the smallest margins in pay scale between the sexes. But sometimes it goes too far. A woman was hired to be the sexual discrimination ombuds(wo)man. Her starting salary was less than her predecessor, who was a man. Clearly this was a sign of rampant sexism in the most ironic of forums. Or seeing as how her predecessor had been at the post for years and this woman lacked the same experience she was started at a lower salary. But that would make too much sense.

Anyway, Sweden tries to fight sexism in all aspects of life. And what better place to fight sexism than in advertising where scantily clad women tout the newest products? Sweden could find no better place and is now thinking of banning sexism in advertising.

The idea is to ban anything that someone might be offended by that can be construed in a sexual way. That leaves a lot of things up to the imagination. As my buddy JRH often says, “I’m offended every day,” but he also says “I don’t give a fuck.” He has managed to combine the two and lives a happy life where offensive actions, words, behaviors roll off of him like the mascot of his alma mater.

Ads displaying H&M’s winter lingerie line were attacked because they featured a super model. Are they sexist? Women wear lingerie. Women buy lingerie. I imagine that women buy lingerie in order to look sexy. Is it sexist to show a woman (who happens to be a super model) dressed in lingerie? And who gets to decide what is offensive? Of course this example brings up deep rooted sociological issues of why this should even be considered sexy.

What about male underwear ads? Personally, I think it is an affront against all men when I see a Hanes advertisement with Michael Jordan prancing around in underwear or asking people “Boxers? Or briefs?”

Or ads in which ripped men are flaunting the newest cologne by Calvin Klein? Or beautiful women showing how easy it is to wash a car in a bikini? As my mother always used to say – “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” (Rumor has it that my mom reads this, so as an aside… she never said that. I lied. I apologize. But you get the idea.)

Honestly, I’ve never seen an ad, with men or women in it, that I have felt was so outlandish and sexist that I thought that there was a problem with sexism in advertising. Most of the time, those ads that are seen to be sexist are so ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh. Or you should. Unfortunately, a symptom of APC (Acute Political Correctness) is being unable to laugh at anything that could be turned into some sort of egregious slight against all of humanity. Or at least one distinct group. Unfortunately, this view often wins out, to the chagrin of people thinking with a clearer mind.

Complete political correctness eliminates everyones differences and takes away what makes life so interesting. People are different. Some people are smarter. Some people are better looking. Some people are more athletic. Some are even women. And some are even men. But political correctness wants to make sure that everyone is the same. Ridiculous.

Ideas of what is offensive are vast, a United States Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, was quoted as saying in response to a case involving a movie that was considered obscene “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . [b]ut I know it when I see it.” Which simply means to me that it is up to the interpretation of the individual.

Banning ads that might be deemed sexist by a neo-feminist, and banning ads that might be deemed sexist by a 93 year old woman, and banning ads that might be deemed as sexist by the common person is going to be a very difficult task. And who wins? Is political correctness so important that something as benign as a super model modeling lingerie could be deemed as sexist? Or an ad touting underwear shows a butt, in underwear, with the tag line “We love bottoms?” That’s not sexist. That’s targeted marketing. An underwear company sure as hell better love bottoms. Otherwise they are in the wrong branch.

The banning of ads that some people might be offended by smacks of Big Brother. Which I always find entertaining because for some reason Big Brother is often interpreted, at least in Eugene, as the conservatives spying down on, and controlling, everything a person does. Yet here it is, in the social welfare state that is Sweden. An attempt to control what the people are exposed to. Maybe a bit extreme. But no more extreme than completely banning something as difficult to define as what may or may not offend an entire country.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Swedish Farwell to the Life

This has really nothing to do with Sweden. Except for the fact that I am here and because of that I am a little behind on some current events that are quintessentially American. Like Sports Illustrated. I subscribe. And it makes its way half way across the world so I can enjoy it. Sometimes a bag of mail must get lost for a while. Unfortunately, that mix up can lead to dire consequences. Which I found out first hand.

Sports Illustrated usually comes one to two weeks later than the publishing date. Which is fine. It’s something I’ve gotten used to. I still read the magazine front to back. Kind of. I start, of course, on the last page with Rick Reilly, then flip to the beginning and make my way through the magazine. Granted, I’m reading stuff that I usually already know about. But the writing is spectacular; seriously, my AP English teacher in high school used the level of writing in Sports Illustrated to showcase journalism that used an advanced vocabulary as opposed to the... well, less advanced vocab that often times showed up in the Tribune. Plus, it makes me feel at home.

Sometimes, the magazines pile up, seeing as how I subscribe to a few different sports magazines and that I already know what happened I don’t feel the same rush to read them before the next one comes. So they pile up in my bathroom. Yup, I’m a bathroom reader.

Just a couple of weeks ago I picked up my issue of Sports Illustrated and turned to the back. And nearly shit myself. Luckily I was on the toilet, but still. You get the idea. Rick Reilly was gone. Instead there was some nonsense titled the “Point After.” The Life was gone. Frantically I searched through the magazine looking for an explanation. What happened? I feel like I would have heard about it had he died. So I felt reasonably certain Reilly was still enjoying life in Boulder. But he was missing. At the beginning of the magazine I found a note from the editor telling me that they were bringing back the “Point After” which had apparently been a staple of the magazine long before Rick Reilly set up camp on the last page of the magazine. Nothing else was mentioned. But it was clearly the end.

I checked the date of the magazine and then the others that I had. A magazine was gone. I knew I hadn’t seen it. The arrival of Sports Illustrated is a pretty big deal. It’s a little piece of home right in my hands. And I knew DCP would have laid it on my computer had she found it before I did. She’s nice like that. But it was nowhere to be found.

Then it came. The missing magazine. Maybe it had been floating around the Atlantic for a couple of weeks. Lost somewhere in Iceland. I don’t know. But it was the bearer of bad news. I turned to the back immediately and saw Reilly staring back at me. Under the title “Giving Up The Life.” And I knew. It was over. I read the article, but it didn’t matter. I knew deep down after seeing the “Point After” in the aforementioned magazine. I had already seen the future. And the future was Reilleyless.

And so this post is a Swedish farewell to Rick Reilly. Six weeks late. You made me laugh. You made me think. You made me a sucker for Nothing But Nets. Hell you even made me cry a few times. I started each and every issue of Sports Illustrated with your column. Thanks.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Swedish Advertising Neglects the Children

Yesterday, as I stood in line at Max waiting for a hamburger made with real Swedish beef, I was struck by a revelation. Much like the Heliga Birgitta, it seemed as if life's very mysteries had been revealed to me. It all started as a woman was ordering two Max Boxes for her kids. And they got a toy. Of course. And then it hit me. I had no idea what kind of toy the kids were going to get. Because I hadn’t seen any ads for toys in Max Boxes, or Happy Meals for that matter.

And then the mysteries of Sweden were revealed to me. I remembered that Sweden has a law against targeted advertising towards children. Granted, I’m not a child, so I don’t exactly fall into that target market anyway, but still. It dawned on me that the lack of advertising directed at children was conspicuous for that very reason, the lack of.

As I stood waiting for my hamburger made with real Swedish beef I started thinking back to the ads McDonalds used to always run in the US advertising the next toy in their Happy Meal. That just doesn’t happen here. Sure they still give away the toys. And I know this for a fact because I am cheap and Happy Meals are an inexpensive way to feed myself when I’m in a pinch. But there aren’t commercials explaining that next week Happy Meals will be giving away Hot Wheels!

Instead, the McDonald’s Happy Meal ads in Sweden focus on their being healthy options like milk, carrots, or apples. Or the newest phenomenon. The option of getting meatballs with your Happy Meal. Swedish meatballs. Again, the style of these ads were clearly directed at adults, a little kid doesn’t care about carrots. They do care about Hot Wheels.

I have yet to see a single ad for a Max Box though. Although they do sell hamburgers made with real Swedish beef. Maybe Max Box has resigned themselves to not even toeing the line with this law, while McDonalds has yet to acquiesce. Maybe they are just hoping for some collateral rub-off when they advertise the Happy Meals even though they do a good job of targeting the parents. I don’t know.

And I also don’t know how I feel about this. A part of me actually worries that it cheats children out of learning how to discern, distinguish, dissect all the ads that people are bombarded with every day. Some would argue that children are just too susceptible to advertising. I think we might be giving copywriters and marketing coordinators too much credit and not giving nearly enough credit to the kids.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sweden Suffer from a Lack of Vitamin D

Sweden is dark. Damn dark during the winter. And it’s been a miserable winter. Not even snow. Just dark, cold rain. They kind that soaks you through the bone and leaves you feeling angry at having to go outside. It’s like Oregon. Except on the same latitude as Alaska. That’s not a good mix.

Well it turns out that this has been an especially miserable winter. And, seeing as how I just finished a big ass book that had me so enraptured that I kept collecting newspapers in my briefcase, I did some catch-up. When I say newspapers I really just mean the free ones that you can get in the subway. But they have news. And are made of paper.

What I found in one of the papers was shocking. Staring back at me from page 13 was a “Mörk start på vintern,” “A Dark Start to the Winter.” They weren’t kidding. Right under this depressing headline was the proof. A city in southern Sweden, Växjö, received 0, as in zero hours of sunlight in the month of December. Now this is actual sunshine. Not the hours that the sun is up. Just the hours that a person can walk outside and soak up some vitamin d. Zero hours. They average 23. The article that accompanies these numbers actually admitted though that of the 744 hours of potential sunlight, Växjö got 22 minutes. Hence the 0 when looking at hours.

Luleå, which is up north usually averages five hours of sunlight in the month of December. They got one. Of course that’s not even that much of a drop for those crazy northerners. It must take a special person to live up there. I am clearly not special enough.

Stockholm got a solid 25 hours. WOOOO! Over a day of sunshine in one month. This is down from the average of 33. The big winner is those lucky bastards in Borlänge who got 62 hours of sunshine. I can’t even imagine. Think of how tan they must be.

I wrote in this blog about the misery that is a Swedish November. And I stand by that statement. But December didn’t really come riding in on a gallant steed to save the day. Instead it kind of waddled in like a fatty Al Gore trying to save the world, making a lot of noise but not really doing all that much.

On a plus note though, every day sees just a little bit extra daylight. Now if we could lose the rain.

Here’s to hoping for some snow.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Olof Palme Consorts with the CIA

Olof Palme, the famous Prime Minister of Sweden, who’s assassination in Stockholm remains unsolved today, has been revealed to have consorted with the CIA. It seems that this wasn’t big news in the Swedish military intelligence circles. However, I did not know. So it is news to me. And will thus be expounded upon in the most in depth, critical, and of course, profound way imaginable.

I am always amazed when I read about the focus on Sweden around this era. I suppose, geographically, it makes perfect sense considering the proximity to the Soviet Union. And politically, because of the left leaningness of Sweden in general. But being such a small country I always have assumed that Sweden flew under the radar. I was wrong as it has been coming out that there has been all kinds of underground work being done for both the right and the left during this era.

When news like a future Prime Minister of Sweden was working with the CIA it boggles my mind. Now granted, he wasn’t a spy. He just helped out now and then. In fact, it seems someone from the CIA decided against direct recruitment of Palme because they felt he would be insulted. Of course he did help out the Swedish military intelligence as well. So he might not have been a spy, but he wasn’t shy about offering his opinion to the military intelligence of various countries.

What I find so interesting, considering the standing of the US in international opinion the last few years, is the mention of the inspiration that America gave to Palme. At a time when the US is often seen as being quite conservative (the 1950s), a young social democrat living in Sweden was inspired by the American way of life and American politics. Despite what must have been some serious disagreements in political philosophy Palme found something inspirational and good about the US. Which is why Olof Palme has today become my favorite assassinated Swedish Prime Minister.

Goes to show how times have changed though. The US doesn’t seem to wake much inspiration in your average burgeoning international politician these days. Or maybe it does and it’s just not the right thing to say. I don’t know. But either way, it’s too bad.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Oompa Loompas Attack Sweden

It’s important to follow the speed limit in residential areas. Little kids are around. We don’t want to run over them. This seems like something most people can agree on. It seems the Swedes want to hammer this point home. So they’ve developed an ad campaign that really tugs on those heart strings.

“Jag vill bli stor,” literally, “I want to become big”, or if translated for meaning “I want to grow up.” Makes sense. Running over kids could kill them, which would seriously hinder their chances of growing up. Cute little tag line right? Someone probably spent a lot of time on it. Emotional, yet poignant. Well done. The ad then has a child with a speed limit sign photo-shopped onto their face with the tagline right next to them.

Despite Sweden being famous for design, and actually having some pretty good commercials, it seems someone really dropped the ball as the ad campaign continued to develop. Instead of using children they have found jaundiced Oompa Loompas to model. It’s frightening. I like kids. But I’d be tempted to run one of these things down. While Oompa Loompas are hilarious in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they should not be roaming the streets of Stockholm.

I just have to believe that someone could have done something a little bit better. Ad campaigns like this that make me realize just how far off companies can be sometimes. This isn’t good. Someone tried to get too fancy. And it didn’t work.

I just noticed this ad today. I had heard it mentioned a week or so ago but had yet to see one in person. So it was kind of exciting actually. Excitement though was followed by disappointment and disgust. And fair enough, I noticed. But I noticed it because it was ridiculous, not because it meant anything to me. And I didn’t slow down.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Swedish Särskrivning is a Cultural Faux Pas

Särskrivning. Not sär skrivning. The act of spelling two words as one instead of two. Some see this as akin to kicking puppies. And no one likes that. Now I’ve never kicked a puppy, but I’m sure I’ve been a särskrivare before. But come on. It’s just a couple of words. People write into the newspaper complaining about the downfall of Swedish education. There is even a Swedish Facebook group against it.

Ofcoursethisresultsinverylongwordsthatmakeitarealpainintheassfornon-nativespeakerstodealwith. But so it goes. Personally, I’m amazed at the emotions that this issue raises. Discussions are had about this, people get into heated arguments about it. Tempers flare. Emotions are revealed that most people never knew Swedes had. All because of grammar.

Särskrivning makes it easier to read texts without a string of big words. And who decided it was a good idea to smush two words together? And for those us, like me, who managed to avoid Swedish grammar, how do you know when to smush words together? The only rule I’ve ever seen was a teacher who wrote a letter to the editor in the newspaper and said that when in doubt write them together.

It just seems like it would be easier to always write them separate. Is there a Swedish literary department who keeps track of these rules? Are new words constantly being added to the dictionary because two words are combined? Why does English still have so many more words than Swedish if Swedes can combine everything into a legitimate word? So many questions. So few answers. There has to be a Swede out there who has command of this. I need your help. Comment.

The särskrivning phenomenon says a lot about the Swedish way of life. The Swedish people in general I think. This blog, being very much a serious cultural and anthropological study of the many nuances of Sweden, never fails to tackle new theories about what makes a Swede a Swede. And I believe this plays an integral role in the development of the Swedish psyche.

Clearly, the dark and massive amounts of space in this country (I just read that only 10% of Sweden is cultivated) give people a lot of time to think. Maybe too much time. Holding the Nobel Prize for Literature gives Swedes everywhere a sense of literary vanity. Maybe too much vanity. Despite their claims to modernity, Swedes love tradition, and so new, single words are frightening. Sweden has very few big issue problems. The US has Iraq, Sweden has grammar. I love it.

Welcome to Sweden. Again.

I'm just going to let this one speak for itself.

Court gives thumbs up to anal massage technique


And Welcome to Sweden.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Young Swedish Boys Rejoice

Well the Swedish feminists did it. They won. They finally are allowed to bathe topless at an indoor swimming pool. It took months of protests and failed action but finally they won.

And 13 year old boys throughout Sweden have taken a sudden interest in swimming.

A feminist group called Bara Bröst has been campaigning to bare their breasts at indoor swimming halls. In a lovely double entendre (I took French in high school), Bara Bröst means not only Bare Breasts, but also, Just Breasts. Which strangely enough sounds quite sexist to me. Since I don’t have breasts. They are more like well defined pecs.

Anyway, the group, which has a whopping 40 members in a country that prides itself on liberalism and feminism, has been staging protests in various cities throughout Sweden, like Stockholm and Uppsala, where a few women go into a swimming pool and swim topless until someone kicks them out. And they have always been kicked out. Until they reached Sundsvall. As the article states, there they are “used to naked people. Nobody cares.” Except for 13 year old boys.

In November, it seemed as if the group may be left out naked in the cold. The sexual equality ombudsman had ruled that it was not sexual discrimination to require women to bathe with tops on. The group then decided that obviously if women had to bathe with tops on that men should also. And swimming wear companies from the early 1900s rejoiced as they dusted off their full body swimming suit designs and winked smugly at each other as if they knew it was just a matter of time.

Luckily, for companies such as Speedo, and middle schools boys, the group did not give up. They fought on. Valiantly I might add. And they won. And now, women in Sundsvall can bathe topless if they so choose. While some might take this for a victory for women throughout Sweden, I see it as a shrewd marketing ploy by the Sundsvall Tourism board. I mean, who has actually been to Sundsvall? Not me. But now…

Welcome to Sweden.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

H&M, IKEA, and Divorce in Sweden

Well, my theory was wrong. I found the article about Swedish relationships and the sociological impacts that are so tied to the Swedish way of life. From The Local of course. And my theory was wrong. Apparently when you add in the dissolution of relationships such as sambo the rate including the divorce rate slaughters any other western country. Divorce rates alone in Sweden, according to the article are 55% as opposed to 46% in the US and just 10% in Italy.

While my idea about the sambos being helpful was wrong it does seem that there is a direct relationship between the religious fervor of a country and their divorce rate. I mean come on. The Pope hangs out in Rome. Of course there’s only a 10% divorce rate. And Swedes don’t go to church. 55%. It all fits.

Apparently, the Swedes have not found a way to avoid marriage but still stay committed. Goes to show the Swedes are fallible I suppose. Despite their worldwide reputation for design. And efficiency. Take the do it yourself, cheap, but designy IKEA, or the fashionable, inexpensive H&M. Their quest for modernity doesn’t always lead to favorable results though.

The article argues that the H&M and IKEA culture in Sweden is actually one of the reasons for the high divorce rate. The reason being that people are looking for a quick, easy, but half way fashionable fix. Some people might be reminded of Vegas. Of course, deep down Vegas is just a bunch of sad looking people trying to look fancy and make their fortune with the pull of a handle or the deal of a card. And maybe that’s what you see here in Sweden: A bunch of people trying to look fancy without ever really pulling it off, all the while hoping that they can rise above the classless social welfare state.

Along those same lines the article states that Swedes are incredibly individualistic. Makes sense. A lifetime of always being classed together, never being allowed to be better than anyone else, might leave you with some deep psychological yearnings to be an individual. And what better way to be an individual than to shop at the exact same store as all of Sweden and buy the exact same clothes as everyone else in Stockholm. But it’s individualistic because those clothes will be out of fashion in a week. And so each day brings a new individual who is on the cusp of fashion.

With this individualism though comes the need for constant improvement. Which can be good. Sometimes. There’s a lot to be said about self-improvement. Just today, I used a few big Swedish words when I was talking to the old man on the phone. Expanding my everyday Swedish vocabulary. Self-improvement right there. But there is a limit. And the need to be constantly seeking individualism in a relationship can lead to problems. Because improvements in an individualistic relationship sound like they just end up being the search for an upgrade. A girl who is just a little prettier. A guy who is just a bit more intelligent. A partner who is just a little bit… better.

At the same time though this constant search for improvement may be the catalyst behind the evolution of the sam- and särbo culture. So maybe this is just the first step towards the ultimate relationship. Or maybe this is just one of those little blips in evolution like Lucy. I’m not sure either way. But I’m still giving my vote of confidence to the idea.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Swedish Sambo

DCP is was my sambo. It’s an interesting concept here in Sweden that has its own term attached to it. If you’re living with your girlfriend or boyfriend but aren’t married you are sambo. Sam being short for samman, together, and bo being short for boende, accommodation. So you live together. Makes sense right?

There is also särbo. Separate living. The Swedes have it all. These are people who might be in a relationship but don’t necessarily live together. The term gives a little bit more seriousness than to your average high school couple though.

The fact that Swedes give terms to these different styles of a relationship is very interesting to me. Some people even forego marriage and instead live as sambo, deciding never to take that plunge, while others, as DCP’s father may say, practice catch and release sambo living, and switch it up every year or so.

This is something that you just don’t see categorized to the same extent in the US. It just seems so different to me. Granted, couples throughout the United States live together before being married, some live together without ever marrying in the first place, and others have incredibly committed and serious relationships without ever living together. But given the discussions in the US about the sanctity of marriage and all that goes with what some would call the perfect holy union I just don’t see these relationships being acknowledged so openly as to give them official names. Hell, some people still have a problem with couples living together before they are married, to say nothing about giving this living together a specific name. And that’s too bad.

Personally, I’m all for it. Obviously. But I think it’s a good idea to test things out. Some people just can’t live together. Happens with roommates in college all the time, happens with relationships too. So why not give it a shot? The prevailing attitude in the US against living together often seems to be religious based. So that excludes me for sure. And maybe that’s why the Swedes have such little problem with living in sin outside of marriage. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, Sweden isn’t exactly a bastion of religious fervor.

Of course, all this being said, Sweden is considered to be the divorce capital of the world. So either this whole sambo thing just doesn’t work. Or there is something else at work here. Maybe the numbers are skewed because there are so many people in sambo relationships that work out so well they never feel the need to marry and thus never move on to divorce. Seeing as marriage tends to be a very important first step towards getting divorced.

I actually read a very interesting article about the Swedish divorce phenomenon and the sociological aspects as related to the Swedish way of life. I’m going to try to dig that up and write a post on that in the next day or two.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Self-Aware Swede

Swedes are quite self-aware. DCP and I have had plenty of conversations with Swedish people about the non-smiling nature and reservedness (sounds like a real word right?) of the Swedish people. Especially here in Stockholm.

No one smiles or says hello when out and about, or on public transportation. Or on elevators. Granted elevators are just a really awkward experience usually. Do you strike up a conversation with someone who might get off in three floors? Or do you stare straight ahead at the wall in the tiny 6x6 foot moving box? Anyway, it’s a noticeable phenomenon. And something most Swedes seem to realize.

In fact, sometime in the fall a woman even tried to explain this in Swedish in an opinion piece in one of the free newspapers. Her reasoning was that Swedes are just so relaxed that it would take too much effort to smile and say hello and that would only make them tired and stressed. It was an awful article. But interesting because it furthered the idea that they realize there aren’t that many smiles for strangers.

What is so interesting is that so many Swedes I have discussed this with seem to think it is too bad and that they would like to see more smiles and hellos. They realize they are hard to come by. Yet no one seems to make any effort to change it.

DCP swears that you can see looks of shock as Swedes pull away from you if you give a smile or a hello on the train. It’s as if they think you’re crazy. Or drunk. Or maybe just American. But it is amazing. And really kind of sad.

So in the last few days I’ve started nodding and smiling at random people as I pass them on public transportation. It’s a little thing. But it makes me feel like I have some sort of personal connection with someone on my 90 minute commute to work. Aside from one older man I have had no response whatsoever. But one is better than none.

And so maybe I’ll even flash a smile next time. Or strike up a conversation with someone on the train. I might scare them. But maybe they’ll go to work and tell everyone about the nice young man with the strange accent that talked to them on the train. Or maybe they’ll avoid the train at all costs in order to get away from the crazies who ride it. We’ll see.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The New Year in Stockholm, Sweden

After about a week long hiatus I’m back. It was an involuntary silence. One forced by our lack of internet. And so I have spent my time being social with other people. Including New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s Eve started with DCP, MER, and I waiting in line in wartime communist Russia to get into the liquor store to get our ration of vodka. There was a guard outside the liquor store letting people in a few at a time because there were too many people in the store. He wasn’t checking ID’s or anything really useful. Just making sure the store didn’t get trampled.

After we got our vodka and I bitched and moaned about having my freedom to buy liquor at 2 in the afternoon impeached we headed off to our festivities. It started off with dinner with my cousins, a delicious roast and a whole lot of potatoes. And dessert. And copious amounts of wine. My cousin made sure our glasses were always full.

After that a cab was called. At 11 on New Year’s Eve. We were told they would be there in 10 minutes. We went down after about 5 and the cab was already waiting. Apparently Swedish efficiency may be nonexistent in the liquor store. But I’ll be damned if the taxis aren’t worthy of calling themselves Swedish.

Fireworks were exploding everywhere and at one point our cab driver was so entranced she actually stopped to watch. Which I obviously thought was glorious. So I gave her a tip afterwards. Because seriously, she probably wanted to be out drinking and watching fireworks instead of driving. And so I placated her with money.

We then went to a great apartment in southern Stockholm on the top floor of an apartment building looking out over all of Stockholm. And fireworks were everywhere. So life was good. And then the clock struck midnight. Except we didn’t know it because there was no countdown. NO COUNTDOWN. The lack of Dick Clark has never been more pronounced. Luckily DCP Americaned up, and from the depths of her soul counted down for us. No one joined in. And MER and I just laughed and laughed. The Swedes ignored her.

It came out later after having looked at a Swedish culture book that Swedes ignore people they don’t like or anything that might be construed as weird. And so the Swedes ignored her hoping she might go away just as the Australian echidna curled up hoping DCP would stop staring at it. But just like the echidna, DCP ignored all outward signs and continued on.

After finally deciding at 4 in the morning that it was time to make our way home we started the journey. Luckily we got on the wrong bus and ended up walking for 45 minutes (walking long distances seems to be a common occurrence for my New Year’s Eve celebrations). In the driving rain. Drunk and tired. And two hours later in the early hours of 2008 we fell into bed.

So Happy New Year.