Friday, February 29, 2008

A Swedish Milk Shortage

I go through a lot of milk. It is delicious. Unfortunately, I seem to go through it too quickly here in Sweden. Not because I have increased my milk consumption. If anything it has probably decreased, which is a shame. Because milk is pretty good. But I digress.

I go through milk seemingly so quickly because it comes in small packages. The largest I have yet to find at any of the normal grocery stores is 1.5 liters. That’s less than half a gallon for those of you scoring at home. That doesn’t last long with as much milk as I put on my cereal every morning.

I just want a big jug of milk that will last a while. But I can’t have it. And it makes me wonder. How do large families survive? I have two brothers. We dominated gallons of milk in our prime. My poor mom would buy enough gallons to fill a small bathtub full of milk. What if we had stayed in Sweden? Surely we would have brittle bones, skinny shoulders, and little muscle mass. Much like most Swedish men actually. I kid, I kid. Kind of. Swedish men are skinny.

Anyway, the logical solution would be to buy two at a time. Maybe three. But they don’t last as long. I don’t know if the pasteurization process is different or what the deal is, but they just don’t last. And for all the deliciousness of milk there’s not much worse than a sour liter of milk. And so I make numerous trips to the grocery store.

This is obviously a conspiracy. Because I am unable to just buy a gallon of milk. There are just so many delicious things in grocery stores. And who am I to pass up a deal? I blame my mother for this by the way. Bargains have no chance against a woman with three boys, two fridges, and two freezers. Damn you NBC, damn you.

But in all seriousness, this is something I have really struggled to get used to. The large grocery trips are just not as common. There is more planning involved. More quick trips for just a couple of items. And I don’t think I really like it. I much prefer the one fell swoop approach to grocery shopping. But so it goes.

Welcome to Sweden. And Swedish grocery stores.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Swedish Swede in America - Forsberg Returns to Colorado

Peter Forsberg is going back to Colorado. And I peed myself a little bit when I found out. Seriously. Number 21 is back in Denver. And life is good. Even if I am in Stockholm not able to see one of the greatest hockey players of all time pull that beautiful jersey back over his head.

The signing has been taking a beating in the hockey world. Except for in Sweden where everyone is just pumped to see him back in the NHL. Forsberg’s been hurt for years. His foot. Rumor has it he’s not anymore. But there’s still a bit of a risk. A five million dollar risk. But to borrow a tried and true sporting phrase – the upside is huge.

People are bitching and moaning that he took the easy way out. That by going to Colorado he wasn’t taking any risks. The idea being that by going to Colorado, a team that is on the cusp of the playoffs, he might not have to play as many games since they might not even make the playoffs. Even if they do make the playoffs, by playing in Colorado, he’s not expected to perform as well just because he’s back in Denver. He’s already cemented his legacy.

Bullshit. If anything he needs to perform. He will enter the Hall of Fame as an Av. To go back there and play like a chump is a disgrace. His two years in Philadelphia? No one will remember if he mans up and plays like the Forsberg of just a few years ago. But if he can’t even finish the season? Then everyone will look back at those years after having left Colorado the first time as the beginning of the end. Had he gone to any other team, there would have been fewer expectations. They don’t know how he used to be. But I do. Colorado does.

A magician. The things he could do with the puck were amazing. He had vision unmatched by anyone. He would put pucks in places that a puck had no business being. He would find teammates that didn’t even know they were open. It was a thing of beauty. And it’s Colorado Avalanche fans that remember that. The rest of the hockey world remembers years of injury in Philadelphia. Shortsighted. And stupid. Because Forsberg’s back in the Rockies.

Peter Forsberg will lead the Avalanche deep into the playoffs. And I just peed myself a little. Again.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Swedish Condoms in My Mail Slot

Well it’s official. I am allowed to have sex. Stockholm’s government said so. As long as it is safe sex. They even sent me a condom in the mail. KungFu Condom for those of you wondering. Which I’m sure is a wonderful brand despite the obvious sexual jokes that can be had at the expense of the KungFu name.

I must say, I was not expecting a condom in the mail. I didn’t really examine the envelope too closely so noticed only that it came from Stockholms Läns Landsting. The government basically. I figured it was some sort of tax document, maybe a year-end report of some sort. I don’t know. Not a condom though. And so, as I tore open the envelope, just excited to have some mail, I was greeted with a large 23+ staring back at me. Confused, I unfolded the letter. And there it was. HIYAH. KUNGFU. Staring right back at me. I chuckled to myself. Then read up on why in the hell the government was sending me condoms.

Luckily, along with the condom, I received a little pamphlet with some information. Why I received the condom. What websites I should check out. What phone number I should call. Where I can go to get treatment. For whatever issues need treatment. It seems that since I am 23+ I am no longer able to check out the youth clinic. Too bad. I never once made my way there. But now I can go to a grown-up clinic. While I appreciate the mailing, my thoughts drifted. And probably not to what they wanted me to think about. But instead my old sex ed classes in the US.

I remember the first one. Fourth grade. Good times. The PE teacher was teaching it. And everyone loved him so it went well. But he lectured us beforehand that we were all expected to be mature. No snickering. No laughing. Maturity was key. And then he saw Nathan. Head down. Face in his hands. And he snapped at him about his maturity level. Turns out Nathan had a bloody nose. Poor bastard. He wasn’t being immature. He was bleeding. And that was my intro to sex ed. Which was followed by sex education in all kinds of science classes and then a few health classes up until about 10th grade. At which point the benefits of condoms and other birth control had been hammered home. But never once did I receive a condom in the mail from our local government. I just don’t see this happening in the US all that often.

While I consider myself conservative, and am a registered Republican, I have some problems with the social issues so often associated with the Republican party. More specifically - sex. Abstinence only education is just ridiculous. Not teaching someone about birth control is asinine and kind of mean really. It’s akin to handing someone a loaded shotgun and refusing to tell them about the safety. (The shotgun being the penis, the safety being the condom. See what I did there?) It’s just not a good idea. Luckily, I managed to get real sex ed, but some US school districts focus on abstinence only. Despite the blatant sexual promiscuity that is celebrated in the media. TV. Movies. Books. Online. While I have never taken any sort of sexual education course in Sweden, the attitude towards sex is a bit more… open. AS evidenced by condoms being sent in the mail.

I like this idea. Just a heads-up to the recipient. A quick reminder if you will. Although, who knows what kind of beating the condom took in the mail. But still. It caught my attention. And made me think. Mostly about the differences between sexual attitudes in the US as opposed to Sweden. But I was still thinking about sex. Which I’m sure is what the Swedish government wants me doing.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Swedish Movie Experience

Went to a movie the other night in Stockholm. Juno*. Pretty good actually. It was the first movie I had gone to here in Sweden in quite a while. And I love it. Movies in Sweden are much more of an event.

Tickets are purchased just like any other movie theater. But in front of the ticket booth is a screen showing just how many tickets are still available. Causes a bit of panic an excitement as you watch the movie you want to see slowly sell out. It also gives you the opportunity to select a plan B. We had a Plan A, B, and C. And settled on Plan B.

Not only does the screen tell you just how many tickets are left, it also shows the price. And in this country that abhors Capitalism (that’s Capitalism with a big “C”), the law of supply and demand rules. Each movie is priced differently. From what I can gather it is based solely on the number of seats available in the theater in which the movie is showing. And the popularity of the movie. Supply and demand. Very interesting actually. So the less popular movies that have a shit load of seats cost less than the popular movies showing in a smaller theater. Juno cost us a solid 85 crowns but only offered about 75 seats. Sweeney Todd would have cost 65 crowns but offered well over 150 seats.

After a quick economics lesson the tickets were purchased. And you receive a specific seat number. None of this first come, first served free seating nonsense. You have a seat that you are expected to sit in. Much like the Super Bowl. I love it. Makes it seem much more fancy. Like an experience. Which is really what I’m looking for. A fancy experience. So I go see movies about high school kids getting pregnant and arranging private adoptions. Fancy experiences indeed.

*Juno managed to win some sort of Oscar after I wrote this. Clearly, this is a sign that I have impeccable taste in films.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Stockholm, Sweden Gets Connected

I am not a fan of Stockholm’s public transportation, SL. I just don’t like them. Anyone reading this blog on a semi-regular basis is probably well aware of that fact and has tired of my incessant ranting. Fair enough. That being said though, SL did something I just couldn’t help but notice. In a good way.

SL has begun testing wireless internet connections on a bus route that stretches about 70 km. That’s impressive. And cool. And free. Yup, completely free. Which, having once “borrowed” internet is something I love to hear.

They are looking to possibly implement this on all aspects of SL. Which would be amazing since I spend at least 36 minutes of my day on the pendeltåg. Not that I’m counting or anything. And apparently it is supposed to stay free. While I am a bit skeptical of this because of the way SL seems to enjoy raising ticket prices I’m going to take a leap of faith. I am going to believe what SL says. Free internet for everyone! As long as you pay to get on the train. Or bus. Or subway.

I must say I am impressed by the connectivity of the Nordic countries. I believe that Finland is often referred to as being the cell phone capital of the world in regards to cell phones per capita. Someone needs to check me on that because while I am fairly confident I try to avoid being a liar. And now Sweden, or Stockholm at least, is trying to offer free internet on public transportation. That’s pretty cool.

Welcome to Sweden. The land of connected public transportation.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sweden’s Dirty Little Secret

Bög. It translates as fag (as I’ve mentioned before, the Brits call cigarettes fags. Brits are silly.). But it has none of the same negative connotations. In fact, the word is used in advertising. In the newspaper. On TV. In everyday conversation. And no one bats an eyelash and looks at you like a prejudiced asshole. Like in Eugene.

What caught my eye was a billboard for a company that went to other places of businesses and taught them about equality. And proper hiring practices. And how to get along with everybody. And, of course, how to sing kum ba ya. The billboard told me that they would bring a bög to my place of work. Obviously, I did a double take. It’s not every day in the US that advertising like this makes its way onto billboards in the middle of town. So I stopped. I re-read. I read for sarcasm. For irony. I was critical. And it wasn’t there. They were just using the word because the negative connotations that accompany fag in the US don’t accompany bög in Sweden.

My world has been turned upside down. I don’t know what to do. I thought Sweden was so sensitive to the differences of others. I thought that they avoided at all costs categorizing people. I thought they were the epitome of political correctness. I was wrong.

Maybe this is just a sign of their immense capacity for acceptance. Maybe they are so advanced that words like bög don’t mean anything bad. Or maybe they just dropped the ball on this one. Because I just don’t see this flying in the US. The use of the word though raises an interesting question. Is the political correctness and liberal way of lifestyle that is so celebrated her in Sweden a lot of empty talk?

Sweden does a lot. They are at the forefront of the green movement. For better or worse. They are leaders in sexual equality. For better or worse. They are, by most accounts, a very liberal society. For better or worse. But Sweden has a dirty little secret. A secret that has woven itself into their northern European sociocultural landscape for hundreds of years.

Isolation. Little immigration. Little emigration for that matter. It all adds up to a very homogenous society. One which is used to things being done a certain way. The Swedish way. And one which is used to a certain look. The Swedish look. Until now. So those that are different are noticed.

They are denied taxis in Stockholm. As an Asian gentleman DCP spoke to encountered, as he was flat-out denied, while the French group that came right after him was accepted.

They are denied jobs, as a study a while back found that names with Arabic connotations, despite the exact same resume as a Swedish sounding name were denied interviews. Time and time again.

They are referred to with racial slurs. As evidenced by the high ranking public servant who was recently forced to resign because of her word choice.

They live in certain communities in Sweden. Segregated. Cut off by Swedish society. By choice? Depends on who you ask.

They are blamed for the rising street violence in Göteborg. In Stockholm. In Sweden.

They are the referred to as “they.” As in “look what THEY are doing to this area” or “THEY always vandalize the elevators,” as the old stinky man in our building said once.

So while I have had plenty of people tell me how racist the US is and how segregated the country continues to be, they seem to be blind to what is going on in their own country. Interestingly enough, there seem to be historical similarities to what the US has gone through. The Chinese emigration to California when the railroads were being built. The Irish emigration to the north-east when NINA signs were placed alongside job announcements. No Irish Need Apply. As new groups of people came to the United States, racism appeared. Change is frightening. Differences can be scary. And so what better way than to hate the very people you see as differ from you?

It’s happening here. A prejudice that is aimed at the newcomers. The others. The have-nots. The immigrants. The Chinese. The Irish. The Mexicans. The Iraqis. How you label them doesn’t matter. It exists.

It’s not a blatant racism here. It’s quiet. The kind that is muttered under the breath. The kind that can be swept under a little bit. Like hiring Lars over Mohammed. Or never going to Rinkeby. Or using THEM as an excuse for the problems in YOUR society.

The interesting thing will be to see how this all plays out. The US was able to integrate. For the most part. The melting pot that is America. But it is an ever changing recipe. And so as new groups are represented, racism rears its head once more. By no means to I intend to suggest that the US is free from racism. It’s not. It happens.

And so, those in glass houses should not throw stones. But how will Sweden, which for hundreds of years has been dominated by fair haired, fair skinned people living in semi-isolation, handle it? Just as the US has done with the countless groups of immigrants who have made their way to the United States, Sweden will manage. It’s just a matter of time. But as long as Swedes continue to walk around with a self assured sense of superiority, a sense of liberal self-righteousness, then the undercurrents of racism will continue.

Despite the liberalness of the country there is an air of racism. It is Sweden’s dirty little secret.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sexy Historical Swedes

Swedes were fashionable in the Viking Ages. See? Stereotypes are based on some grain of truth. Even if that truth started nearly a thousand years ago. Swedish stereotypes really have a lasting power unseen by other stereotypes I think.

A new archaeological study has found that women during the Viking Age, such as in the town of Birka, dressed somewhat provocatively. It seems they were proud of their breasts. And showed them off. Much to the chagrin of the Church which was finding its way into Swedish society around 1000 or 1100.

Apparently looking at various artifacts has shown that buckles which were once thought to be worn at the collarbone, to hold clothes up, probably weren’t. Leaving the possibility that instead of the back being shown off, the breasts were.

The Church wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of women showing off their boobs. Something to do with the prudish nature of Christianity. Despite the numerous artistic renderings of the Virgin Mary with Jesus at her breast. Or the sensual overtones found in so many religious writings, visions, paintings, and every other form of biblical media. But that doesn’t count because that was Jesus. He is the son of God.

What I find interesting is not the religious prohibition of showing off breasts. That is to be expected when looking at the history of Christianity. Or most religions for that matter. What is interesting to me, being a history nerd, is that people can extrapolate so much from just a couple of buckles found in a grave. Blows my mind. Makes me wonder how accurate it is though also. Because there are always people who will argue. So some might say that the clothing was meant to accentuate the breasts, while others might say it was open in the back, and others will say that it all just moved around after thousands of years.

I don’t know. I do know that Swedes do not lack in prudishness when it comes to showing off breasts. The summer months near just about any body of water in Sweden will lend credence to that. So I’m going to say that clearly this pride in Swedish boobs goes way back to the Viking Age.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Random Swedish Thoughts

Let me start off by saying I realize that I am not using random in the exact way it is meant to be used. Because apparently some people enjoy correcting grammar and word choice while being unable to understand sarcasm in written form. So there. And here comes some random thoughts while in the lovely Stockholm, Sweden area.

I refuse to have a fat child. Fat kids stop being cute at about age three. After that is kind of sad. Especially when said fat child is stuffed into a basketball jersey of a local team and trying to sweep the court. Without shoes. Like an overweight penguin.

Warm weather winters suck. Two degrees, that’s Celsius because we’re in Europe, is just not what is to be expected when I can be in the Arctic Circle in less than two hours. Warmest winter in 250 years. And of course people are clamoring to use this as proof of global warming. I’m just more concerned that I may not be able to use the sled DCP gave me for Christmas. Because I am selfish. And am only concerned with large scale issues when they impact my ability to entertain myself.

I have hit a Swedish plateau. I don’t think it’s getting any better, despite my every day usage. I still feel like I have the vocabulary of a slightly above average Swedish 10-year old. That is to say I can hold a conversation. I cannot, however, expound on the virtues of the business model that governs the major professional sports in the US. Which is unfortunate in that Swedish sports need help. And my tongue still manages to feel fat sometimes. Especially when I try to say “organization.” Which I actually find myself needing to say quite a bit at work. I should probably take some sort of grammar and vocab class. I probably won’t. Instead relying on watching the occasional TV and reading my free newspapers every morning. I’m adopting the osmosis approach. So along with selfish, I might also be lazy.

Professional basketball in Sweden is kind of sad. Like the fat child. I was at a game in Stockholm tonight. Conservatively, and I am not kidding, there may have been 250 people there.

Public transportation makes my pants dirty. Quick. I am not usually one to change my pants all that often. Two weeks with a pair of jeans is not out of the question. If they don’t look dirty, they aren’t dirty. Riding public transportation however has left me changing my pants a lot more often than I would have liked. Just a whole lot of grime that gets collected on my pants. Especially when I wear khakis to work.

As mentioned, it is possible that I am selfish and lazy. It follows that I might also be a bad person. I have been stealing internet. Not so much stealing really. Internet is included in the rent. However, I neglected to pay the start-up fee of 350 SEK. About 50 US dollars. Neglected makes it seem as if I forgot. I did not. It seems the longer we’ve stayed in this apartment the more people have graduated. As evidence I submit to you the dwindling number of unsecured networks available. Luckily, my tried and true, bongo, lived on. Then one fine Sunday afternoon, it all came crashing down. Like Sputnik. In the middle of my internet usage a password was put on the network. And I was left shit out of luck.

Which explains my silence on the blog to some extent. Because while I have done some posting, most has been from work. And I feel guilty doing too much from work. I probably should not due to various issues including near monthly delays in my paycheck, drastic changes in my job description, and other contract issues. Good times. However, my conscience gets the best of me and I keep my internet usage to a minimum. I blame my parents. For the conscience part.

The trains. I hate them. I’m tired of being late because of something I have absolutely no control over. Just the other day I was over an hour late. Because of sabotage. Sabotage. Sounds intense doesn’t it? Turns out it was just some kids who had busted up a couple of the signals. But the conductor said sabotage. As if that made it ok to be so late. It didn’t. I complain about this a lot. And will continue to do so until I can drive my ass to work every day again.

The sun is a beautiful thing. My mood lightens. I feel healthier when I go outside and have to squint a bit because of the brightness. I walk to the train every morning and it’s not dark anymore. Sweden is glorious in the sun. Less glorious in the grey.

And this is a great website. Soapbox Land.

I’m in Sweden. Living. Working. Yup. I’m 23.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Valentine's Day in Sweden

Valentine’s Day has come and gone. It was a bit different being in Sweden as opposed to the US for this holiday. Not quite the same really. In fact dinner consisted of a pizza from the local gas station/pizza place. Yup, that’s how I roll romantic. And it was nice.

While the Swedes celebrate Valentine’s Day it is not nearly as commercial of an enterprise as back home. I didn’t feel bombarded with reminders to buy chocolates, roses, teddy bears, and every other imaginable romantic symbol that might convince DCP that I’m a pretty good guy. I didn’t see ads reminding me that diamonds are clearly the best way to show my love. I didn’t even see any of those ridiculous singing telegrams. Which was a relief.

The holiday just doesn’t do much for me. Seems like an excuse to blow some money. And don’t get me wrong. I’m all for a little capitalism, but come on. If I followed the blueprint laid out for the perfect Valentine’s Day I would have spent half of my yearly income. Which either doesn’t reflect well on my income, or reflects very poorly on what the commercials are trying to convince me to do.

I wonder how the holiday has evolved though. Is it being Americanized? Is it becoming a bigger deal? Like Halloween, slowly making its way into line-up of holidays. I have nothing to really compare it to having not spent many Valentine’s Days in Sweden. What I did see was a relaxed Valentine’s Day. There wasn’t much to it. Maybe that’s why I liked it. Simple.

It seems like a lot of holidays here in Sweden are like that. Just kind of simple. Except for Christmas. Which permeates all walks of life. From clothes, to baked goods, to the frozen foods section. It was amazing. And even more exhausting than an American Christmas.

So Welcome to Sweden. A land of simple holidays. Kind of.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Swedish Cigarettes are Killing Me

Smoking Kills. Every time you buy a pack of cigarettes in Sweden you are reminded of this pretty obvious fact. The warning takes up nearly half of the packaging. It’s incredible. And hilarious. And scary. But most of all, it doesn’t seem to have any effect what-so-ever. I’m not what you would describe as a smoker; in fact, it grosses me out quite a bit what with the stink and the yellow teeth and nasty finger tips and all. But hey, whatever floats your boat. I’m in the minority here though.

It seems everyone smokes in this country. Or at least in Stockholm. Young parents. Old ladies. Middle-aged men. Young girls. The 12 year old gang of boys running around outside the apartment. In their defense they have gotten real good at blowing smoke circles. But it’s hard not to walk through town without taking a face-full of the blue stuff. And, because I hold my breath like a four year old little kid exposed to it every time I walk by a smoker in the process of, it gets exhausting.

But here’s what I don’t understand. In a country that prides itself on a healthy lifestyle, on taking care of your body and the environment, how they smoke with such abandon remains a mystery. Tobacco is not an easy crop on the soil. That’s not good for the environment. Just ask Al. Tobacco, nicotine, smoke, tar are not easy on your body. That’s not good for you. But here they are walking around Stockholm sucking on cigarettes.

What’s even more interesting is the indoor smoking ban. Clearly, an effort is being made. No smoking inside. Huge warning labels on the packaging. Commercials. Literature. Campaigns. But it doesn’t seem to be making a dent. Cigarettes (the Brits call them fags. Silly Brits.) are addicting.

I should know. I am a former consumer of cigarettes. I used to go through a couple of packs a week. Nothing serious. But, then there was an incident. I lit up and it happened. My cigarette melted all over me. Yup. Chocolate. I was 10. They were delicious. But clearly not good for my wellbeing. I was a mess. But I quit cold-turkey. Haven’t had a chocolate cigarette in 13 years and 147 days.

Not a day goes by that I don’t give myself a quick pat on the back. I’m a better person for quitting. And you can quit too. Because I’m tired of having to hold my breath every time I walk by your stinky ass.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Stockholm’s High School Recruiting Drive

As I was driving to IKEA yesterday a radio ad came on for the English language gymnasium here in Stockholm. Basically, it’s a high school where English is the language of instruction. The ad was singing the praises of learning English and the impact it would have on your future. And that’s when it hit me. This was like your classic American university recruiting ad. But this wasn’t America. And it was for high school.

High school is a big deal here in Sweden. And it’s time for students to make a decision as to what high school they want to attend. It’s kind of like picking a college. Except the Swedes make 14 –year olds do it.

I had a hard enough time picking a college. I can’t imagine having to also pick a high school. And of course they play up your future. Because this high school will lead to a better future. Or that high school will give you those opportunities.

It seems that when you enter high school you choose a line of study. Very specific. And you continue through with it. None of this liberal arts education that allows you to sample a little bit of everything.

There’s the whole idea of “jack of all trades, master of none,” so by focusing on just one subject, I suppose that is a positive. But what happens when you decide you don’t like your line of study? I didn’t know what I wanted to do in high school. Hell, I didn’t even know what I wanted to do in college. And I still don’t know what I want to do. But I have a whole lot of different subjects under my belt, and had plenty to choose from. I never felt like I had pigeonholed myself with something I had to do for the rest of my life. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have only studied one thing and to realize that’s not at all what you want to do in life.

I suppose when the government is paying for everyone to go to school, they want to make sure that the people they are educating are experts. Or maybe they just don’t want to employ all of those extra people. Seems easier to just put all the IT people in one school. All the social sciences people in another. Probably saving all sorts of overhead there. See… I studied business.

Of course, when someone has gone through three years of physics and suddenly decides that math really sucks when they started replacing all of the numbers with Greek letters, it’s going to get expensive. Now that person wants to study sociology. You know, that major that all of the athletes studied in college. D’s get degrees. Which, strangely enough, as a tutor employed by the university, is a term that is frowned upon. Anyway, now our future sociologist has to start all over. And that is definitely expensive for the government.

To expect high school students, who are more concerned with getting a girlfriend than learning the quadratic equation, to be thinking so far ahead that they need to choose a high school that will relate to their future employment is just ridiculous. And kind of mean even.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

American Election Thoughts from Sweden

Super Tuesday has come and gone. While Americans were voting the Swedes were eating huge amounts of semlas. Apparently it was official semla day. A semla is a delicious baked good with lots of whipped cream and some almond paste like thing. So in a bit of a twist, it was the Swedes, who pride themselves on political involvement, who sat idly by and shoved their faces full of fattiness while Americans went out and voted.

But I digress. Super Tuesday got quite a bit of pres here. And with that press I began to notice just how much weight American politics carries around the world. Because regardless of your views towards the US, the country is a major player in world politics. And so, with an election like the one that looms in November there have been plenty of opinions.

And everyone assumes a Democrat will win. Which one, no one knows. But the majority of press here is focused on the Democrats. In fact, I was speaking with one of DCPs friends. A French girl who studies political science. She didn’t even know that the Republicans also had primary elections. She’s not dumb. It was just never discussed. Her view of American politics focused solely on the Democrats. That’s what international universities teach.

It’s also what the newspapers report. Very little has been written about the Republicans. It will be interesting to see what happens now that McCain has emerged as the frontrunner with Romney dropping out. I’m going to throw it out there and say even less now that the only real race for the nomination is on the Democratic side. We’ll see.

What I find so interesting about this whole situation is the lack of journalistic balance. That lack of balanced reporting is one reason, I believe, that the world was so shocked when Bush was re-elected. It came as a surprise to Swedes. I remember. I was here after the election. Of course, when the Swedish press focuses only on the Democrats, a Republican win would come as a surprise. Rather than giving a good idea of the pulse of American politics, reporting here gives a good idea of the pulse of Swedish views on how American politics should be. Which doesn’t work. The Swedes aren’t voting.

I’ve also realized that no matter how conservative the government here in Sweden might consider itself. It’s not. The current Prime Minister decided to throw his weight, whatever that might be worth, behind Obama. So here is a government, that a majority of people in Sweden are disgusted with because of their conservative leanings, backing a Democrat in the American elections.

It will be interesting to see what happens. November is getting closer. And it could be historic.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Stockholm to Helsinki. Welcome to Suomi.

Just got back from Helsinki. Lovely Finland. Suomi. DCP and I took a nice little Viking Line cruise over. Two nights onboard and one day in Helsinki. It was… interesting.

Quite the adventure really. The trip over was relatively uneventful. Friday night, lots of drunk people, gambling, just general rabblerousing if you will. A few important observations as we made our way across the Baltic from Stockholm.

The mullet is still in style in Finland. Also known as hockey-hair. Why you ask? There is nothing I can say that will give an acceptable explanation. Aside from the fact that it brings a smile to my face every time I see one.

Being drunk at 3 in the afternoon is not a problem. Here, after hours spent internally debating the moral and social acceptance of this I have decided that Vegas rules apply to cruise ships. And that in Vegas, drinking is heavily encouraged at 3 in the afternoon and so is perfectly acceptable.

Fat people do exist in the Nordic countries. They apparently travel between Finland and Sweden.

When we finally made it to Finland, I had managed to be completely overrun by a lovely head cold. One that dammed me up, dried me out, and made me float. And then we stepped off the boat. Into February in Helsinki, Finland. And it was cold. And windy. And bitter. And we had seven hours in town so damn it we were going to see the sights. We did alright, saw some churches, a temple built into the rocks, saw the 1952 Olympic venue, and walked the streets of Helsinki. It seemed like a city that was old. Almost downtrodden. A city that still relied on its peasant roots. As I said though, I was there for seven hours and had a head cold. Life wasn’t all that good.

It was gray, and dreary. And the mullets were not confined to the boat. And public drunkenness at all hours of a Saturday was quite common. But I enjoyed my time there. Despite the circumstances. Seven hours isn’t a lot of time in one place, so we did what any self-respecting tourist who wants to sample the local culture would do.

We sampled the local fast food joint. Hessburger I believe it was called. The picture was so foul, I almost went somewhere else. But DCP convinced me that this was a cultural experience. And so I stuck it out. I ordered a hamburger with an onion ring and enough mayonnaise to make Costco proud. And it was gross. But it was cultural.

By the way, Helsinki is expensive. They wanted nearly 10 Euros for a kebab meal. Which is actually what drove us to Hessburger.

While trekking back to the boat we stopped at a kioski. Yup, I learned some Finnish while abroad. I politely, in Swedish, asked if I could buy a stamp. She said yes, I then continued, in Swedish, to ask for one to the US. At this point the woman told me, in German, that she did not speak German. Flustered. Confused. Even a little scared. I switched to English, bought my stamp, and left. I still don’t know what happened exactly.

On the way back I learned the difference between Americans and the Finns working aboard Viking Line. We had decided to forego the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we had been eating on the boat because we are thrifty (read cheap). So we plopped ourselves at one of the fine dining establishments on board. I ordered a chicken soup and some ribs. DCP had a salad. Very lady-like. I on the other hand gorged myself.

The soup was glorious. The ribs. Decent. But it was a lot. So I very carefully separated the ribs from the bones and the soggy fries from the non-soggy and asked the waitress for a box. Her response? Vaaaa? Whaaaat? I explained that I would like a box to take my food back with me. There was a lot left. She then asked me incredulously if I wanted all of this. I, being a silly American, said yes. I watched her walk away. I watched her actually have to ask where the take away boxes were kept. And I watched her dump my entire plate into the box.

I, of course, was curious as to what had happened. So when she returned with my box, I opened it. Yup, the whole plate was in there. Bones and all. Silly Finnish lady. No wonder she looked at me like an idiot. She thought I was going to go back and suck on some bones apparently. I didn’t. But the remaining ribs made for a delicious breakfast.

After dinner we found ourselves in a storm. And I have a new respect for the Baltic Sea. We were in a huge cruise boat. And were tossed around like my old rubber ducky in the bath. Tossed so much that we were two hours late coming into Stockholm. It was intense. Luckily, we would have had to sink for me to wake up. Which we didn’t. So I slept right through it. DCP did not. But we made it. No worse for the wear. And with yet another world capital notched onto our well travelled belts.

Our good friend Smek This is a Finn living in Stockholm and can probably explain the nuances of Finnish culture much better than I can. So stop by and throw him a question. Perhaps you’re also curious as to the Finnish love for mayonnaise on hamburgers.

Kiitos and hei sitten.