Monday, June 30, 2008

Flying to the USA from Arlanda, Stockholm

I made it back to the USA for a while.

I’ve decided that flying is a miserable experience. I’m not afraid of flying. I just don’t like it. The average flight sees me stress out because I tend to be late to the airport. Despite the glorious infrastructure between Arlanda and Stockholm Central I manage to show up sweating, hustling along, and impatiently waiting as I get checked in with just a few minutes to spare. And I hate standing in line because I feel like I’m a piece of cattle being moved through the gates to be branded. So even before I’m at the gate I tend to be slightly annoyed with the experience. Then I sit patiently, usually reading (in fact the amount of reading I get done is one of the few benefits to flying). Then of course it is time to board. Which is always an experience. Because you never know who you’re going to get to sit by.

Because once again, just like last time, I ended up next to a rather large girl with bad breath. Seeing as how this has happened the last two times I’ve flown to the US I thought it might be me. I seemed to be the common denominator in this equation of bad breath. So I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth. Mouthwashed even. Did the breath check into the hand. I was so fresh and so clean. And I came back to my seat. Only to find the girl had her face pointed right at me, dead to the world, her mouth hanging halfway open and breathing her death breath on me. It was somewhat of a relief to know that it wasn’t me. But that relief passed because the girl was able to sleep for about eight hours constantly exhaling death towards me. The funny thing was that when we landed she decided to put some gum in. I just wanted to scream at her that perhaps she could have done that when we took off instead of when we landed. But I’m much too nice for that. So instead I just bad mouth (see what I did there?) her anonymously on my blog.

Not only that but I had a sick person right in front of me. So sick that he even felt it necessary to tell the stewardesses that he had been vomiting, diarrheaing, and generally being on the brink of death right before getting on the plane. He just wanted them to know in case something happened. Awesome. And in front of him was a woman who was also sick. Coughing the whole time. And to top it off two old people got sick on the plane. One so bad that they had an ambulance waiting for the guy when we landed. Like I said, getting to your seat is always an experience.

I just hate the whole process. And I’ve also decided that airports are probably the worst first impressions of a country. No one wants to be there. Everyone is tired and haggard looking. Most people who are sitting around are annoyed because they have been waiting. It just doesn’t seem to be a good way to introduce someone to a country. Something needs to be done. Airports should hire happy, beautiful, smiling people to be sitting around as you disembark. I think it would put everyone in a better mood as they are delayed at O’Hare for three hours.

But either way. Here I am. In the US once again. So posting might be shoddy for a while. Consider it my Swedish vacation. Nothing happens in that country during the month of July anyway.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Childcare in Sweden

I have a habit of reading magazines cover to cover. Which is fine. Except it usually leads to a bit of a backlog. Especially with magazines that come every week. Like BusinessWeek. Or Newsweek.

So the other day I was reading through an old Newsweek from a couple of months ago (I told you there was a backlog). I stumbled upon a really short little blurb about an uproar in New York over a mom who let her elementary school-aged child ride public transportation alone. This brought up questions about parental responsibility and all of that good stuff. And all I could think about was the way child care in Sweden is looked upon.

There are little kids everywhere on public transportation. Riding the trains, the subways, the buses. And I don’t blink an eye. Aside from the random really young kid it doesn’t seem that strange to me. If anything I appreciate it. Shows a little faith in the community. Shows a little faith in the kid. Shows a little faith in public transportation (which might be ill placed considering my experience with SL).

But in the US it seems that if the kid isn’t with the parent at all times it is paramount to neglect. Which is ridiculous. In Sweden it seems that people are a bit more trusting when it comes to kids. Which makes sense. Because when it comes down to it, the chances of your kid being abused, assaulted, kidnapped, or anything else just really aren’t that good. Sure it would be hell if it happened, but just looking at the numbers… it probably won’t happen. And plus, it must be exhausting to live that way. Constantly worried. Constantly in fear of what the worst case scenario might be.

Hell, in Stockholm during the summer months you can walk by restaurants and see strollers outside of the restaurant with little kids in them just sleeping away. And no one is stealing these kids away. It’s a very different attitude. And one which I think the Swedes have going for them. In fact, it seems like Scandinavia is big on this thing.

I seem to remember quite a while ago a woman was arrested for child abuse for leaving her baby outside a restaurant in New York. The woman was Danish. Now granted, when you’re in a different country you should probably pay some attention to the local customs. When in Rome and all that good stuff. But regardless, I think it demonstrates just how different the attitudes to what constitutes good childcare can be.

I’m all for leaving the kids outside. Or letting them ride the train on their own. It builds character. Plus, if the kid is a little shit you can get some peace and quiet. The Swedes figured that out.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Stockholm’s Worst Street Performer

I found myself wandering around Stockholm today with a friend in search of princess cake. The most delicious cake ever. And it was surprisingly difficult to find in the Södermalm area. But we were not to be denied. And so we wandered into Gamla Stan. Because if there’s one place you can find princess cake it is in the ultimate tourist destination.

And the first place we walked into did in fact have some. But only one piece. And that just wasn’t going to cut it. So on we went. Into Järntorget. And there we found ourselves two delicious pieces of cake. And sat outside despite the wind. All in all a lovely little afternoon adventure. Little did we know that it was going to improve dramatically.

Because right before us a street performer was setting up. Taking his sweet time. He even stopped in the middle of his set-up to smoke a cigarette. And keep in mind he’s a street performer. It’s not like he has a whole lot that needs to be set-up. That’s kind of the thing with street performers. They can ply their trade anywhere there is a street.

Anyway, finally he managed to get himself ready. He even donned a lovely red and black little costume. He looked like he belonged on a checkerboard. Instead he was on a small fold-out bench in the middle of Gamla Stan. And he started talking. In English. He knew his target market was tourists at least. Good work. Unfortunately, it kind of went downhill from there.

Somehow he managed to convince about 10 or 15 people to stop and stare at him. Seeing as how he wasn’t really doing anything no one came too close. Finally, he lit a torch. And laid it on the ground. Then he picked up two knives and threw them in the air and caught them. He did not juggle them. He threw them up and caught them with the same hand he used to toss them. This drew a few curious people closer. Mostly kids. Young boys to be exact. Who are drawn to knives and fire.

At this point everything went to hell. He began by saying that he wouldn’t perform unless there were enough people who were watching because otherwise it just wasn’t fun and he didn’t like doing it. Because apparently street performing is for the performers enjoyment, not the audience. Silly me. Surprisingly, his threatening tactics didn’t really go home here in peace loving Stockholm. But he then promised to do a couple of tricks to attract a few more people. He even promised a sexy fire show. A good idea really.

But once again, his ego got the best of him. And he demanded that people move in closer. Everyone was still a bit skeptical and staying a few feet back. Possibly because of his threatening nature and the fact that he had fire and knives at his disposal. No one moved. He repeated his demand and a mom and little boy moved closer with a middle aged fellow moving in after them. And that’s it. No one else moved. And that’s when he decided he’d had enough. He said that he only performed for people he liked and since no one was moving in closer and no one was gathering around to watch him he didn’t like them. So he stopped.

Seriously. He packed up his knives and fire. And walked away. It was incredible. Obviously, what little crowd he had dispersed. I couldn’t believe it. A street performer basically was striking because of working conditions. Now having never performed on a street before in any capacity I don’t really know the ins and outs of the business. But on a windy day, with day light waning and the dinner hour approaching, I’m just not sure if the Eric Cartman “You can’t come” technique was really the right marketing strategy.

My friend threw out the idea that, this being Sweden (you know the Swedish welfare state and the Swedish model and all), perhaps he was on the city payroll and didn’t really have to rely on the tips of his audience, thereby allowing him to not have to perform on the street. Despite being a street performer. This seems like a breach of contract and job description. But anyway, this is all conjecture.

We decided to wander on because it was getting windy and cold and sitting watching a street performer pout, while unique, wasn’t really holding my attention any longer. So we moved on and decided we would circle Gamla Stan and return to see if he had decided to plow through.

He did. This time he had an even smaller crowd. Seven people max. All kids. All up close, so at least that part of his demand was met. Apparently he had decided to get over himself. Or maybe he realized that it was about five in the evening and he had to bring in a little income for the day. Whatever the reason for his unwillingness to perform on the street, he was by far the worst street performer I had ever seen.

Welcome to Sweden.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Stockholm in the News – Courtesy of Travis

Faithful reader Travis, who always jumps in on the sports discussions sent me a couple of links about a week and a half ago. Being the timely person that I am, I am just now writing about those links. Because they were solid links. Not because I felt guilty for taking so damn long to respond. And I’m all for some Swedish news that makes its way across the ocean.

And to start the news: Traveler’s Digest. This must be a rough job. Because someone got to write about the cities with the most beautiful women in the world. Seeing as how I am willfully unemployed right now, if anyone has a job opening along these lines, I can start. This evening.

Anyway, to be perfectly honest, the article is kind of lame. But still. Stockholm topped the list. Followed by Copenhagen in second place. Clearly, Scandinavia is the place to be for beautiful women.

Moving on to some other news with a bit more meat on the bone. Because Travis did send the aforementioned beautiful women link as Stockholm making its way into the “news.”

Stockholm found its way onto the rankings for most livable cities in 2007 in the world ranking by Mercer. I fact they came in at a respectable 20th place. Not quite as good as the Reader’s Digest ranking of number one that I wrote about a while ago. But not too shabby. And in all fairness, the Mercer survey probably carries a bit more weight. Reader’s Digest focused on environmental aspects. Mercer focused on 39 different criteria ranging from, as the intro on their survey says: “political stability, currency-exchange regulations, political and media censorship, school quality, housing, the environment and public safety.”

Of course, that being said, this survey is meant to rank the quality of life for expats. Not your average everyday 24 year old. And a quick side note. My understanding is that an expat in Sweden is actually referring to a specific term which does not include just anyone who leaves their country to move to a different country. Although, it is generally used interchangeably. Let’s use a quick example of a large multinational American company. General Electric for example. GE decides to send Fred to Stockholm to work in their finance division. Fred agrees and comes over for a few years (usually it seems to be between two and five years) with his family. He is being paid a salary by GE. He gets to live in a fancy house in Danderyd or Stocksund, paid for by GE. He probably has been given access to at least one car. And Fred even manages to pay only American taxes. Because he is an expat. GE will pay the difference in taxes, which in Stockholm could be substantial. Basically, being an expat is being able to live the good life. Anyway, I’m sure that this varies from country to country and even company to company, but there’s a little bit of what I’ve gathered from expats.

Back to the rankings. Germany and Switzerland managed to do good work both coming in with three cities in the top 10. The US doesn’t show up until numbers 27 and 29 with Honolulu and San Francisco respectively. Between numbers 44 and 68 though, the US really starts popping up.

I’ll be honest; having taken a look at the rankings I was a bit surprised that the Scandinavian countries didn’t make their way higher. Copenhagen was the highest at 11th place. Oslo at 26th. Norway is one of the richest countries in the world and is generally considered to be at the forefront of these livability studies, that being said being in the top half of a study like this is probably no small feat considering the number of beautiful cities around the world. So well done Scandinavia. And well done Stockholm. And well done Travis for sending this stuff to me.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sweden-Russia (Sverige-Ryssland) Euro 2008

First off, there is nothing better in all of international sports than the beginning of the game when the crowd stands and sings their respective national anthems along with their teams. Nothing. I will not argue this point. It is fact.

Anyway, Sweden played Russia last night. And by that I mean Sweden showed up for the game. And that’s about it. Because they got slaughtered. Even I could see that. Russia was like the little brother who suddenly realizes that they aren’t as little as they used to be and can actually hang in there when playing sports. While the big brother bitches about being fouled, little brother just keeps playing. And winning. This seems especially apt considering that Sweden was one of the oldest teams in the tournament, if not the oldest, and Russia was one of the youngest, if not the youngest.

While I applauded the Swedes for their ability to man up and not bitch and moan when playing against Spain (aside from the 90+2nd minute) last night they chapped my ass. So much falling down. Mouths flapping. Arms waving. Bitching about calls and non-calls. Just play.

Sweden was absolutely dominated for the first 35 minutes. Then they decided to pick it up in the last 10+1 minutes of the first half. Unfortunately, not enough to actually get that goal they needed to bring it back to a tie game. The second half didn’t get any better. There was hope from the Swedish announcers that maybe those closing 11 minutes would give the team something to build on. They were wrong.

It was pretty obvious that the Swedes just didn’t have it in them. And instead of seeing a desperation towards the end of the game I saw resignation. And that’s something you never want to see in your national team. Sweden, as a country, was ready for a victory. Weren’t all that many people that actually thought Sweden would lose this game. A tie maybe. But not a 2-0 loss.

The general consensus was that if Ibrahimovic played, then Sweden would win. Because one man makes a team in a sport with 11 guys on each side of the ball. He’s been battling a knee injury and had been taken out the previous two games immediately after having scored. He was not so lucky this time. Instead, Sweden showed that they are old, have very little offense to speak of, and what offense they do have relies on Ibrahimovic. No way to compete for a championship against the best that Europe has to offer.

Of course now people are calling for the coach’s head. And maybe Lagerbäck deserves some of the criticism. But it seemed obvious that Sweden just wasn’t as good and at least Lagerbäck had the balls to admit that. Whether that is the fault of the coach, or just a lack of talent on the Swedish side I couldn’t say. But if Sweden hopes to make any noise in the next tournament something has to change.

That being said, having watched most of three games involving the Swedish national soccer team I have adopted a favorite player. Some might assume it’s one of the big three, Larsson, Ibrahimovic, or Ljungberg. Those people would assume wrong. My favorite player is a defenseman. Olof Mellberg. Have you seen that beard? It’s a thing of Scandinavian beauty. Unfortunately, the game was not a thing of Scandinavian beauty.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Internal Battles in Stockholm

I’ve been waging a nice little internal battle for a while now. It’s a fun little game really. But today it’s over. The beauty of internal battles is that you’re always a winner. Technically I suppose you’re always a loser to, but we’re going half-full today. So today I’m a winner.

Because I am willfully unemployed. I quit my job. Strangely enough, Dagens Nyheter had a little blurb in the Ekonomi section saying that nearly 8 out of 10 Swedes (77%) are content with their jobs. That is an increase from 74% in 2005 according to Arbetsmiljöverket (basically they check up on the business milieu). They did not ask me. Which is why I quit. For various reasons I suppose. But the big one very simply being that I wasn’t getting paid on time. In fact, my current pay check is three weeks late and counting. Good times really. But now it’s done. I think. Assuming I finally get the paychecks that I have coming.

But, sadly enough, that was a risk I was willing to take. Take that for what it’s worth. Right now, I still feel kind of like a scumbag for having quit though. I’ve never quit quit a job before. I mean I’ve quit because I was leaving for college, or graduating from college, or moving to Sweden, but never because the job was miserable and I wasn’t getting paid. It was a new experience. One of many since having moved to Stockholm.

Tomorrow morning though, when I wake up and realize it’s all over I think the sun will be shining just a little bit brighter. And that’s a pretty damn good feeling.

On the other hand I am now unemployed. So if anyone has some sweet marketing, communications, or history jobs out there… sign me up.

In other news. Sweden plays Russia tonight. A tie gets them to the next round. Considering there’s been a lively soccer discussion on this post (probably due to my crack journalism and ability to break down the nuances of the game of soccer due to my inherent love and respect for the game) I’ll probably whip some sort of response out tomorrow. Since I’ll have plenty of time on my hands. Yeah woooo!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sweden-Spain (Sverige-Spanien) Euro 2008

The game started at 17:45 on Saturday the 14th of June. The final whistle blew at 19:51. That’s two hours and six minutes. And I won’t lie to you. I didn’t watch all of it. I just couldn’t do it. I know its Euro 2008. Or Euro ’08. Or whatever the hell it’s called. But I couldn’t do it.

The average baseball game is about two hours and fifty-one minutes. That’s from the first pitch to the last out. The average hockey game lasts about two hours and nineteen minutes. From the drop of the puck to the final horn. The average basketball game lasts about two hours and thirty minutes. From the tip to the final whistle. And I gladly sit through them. But two hours and six minutes of soccer I couldn’t do. So I missed parts of the first half. But sat through the entire second half.

In the end Sweden lost. At the 90+2 minute mark. Because of the extra time allotted at the end of the game. The announcers had been singing the praises of Sweden’s ability to fight and stay in the game. Basically the announcers were pumped about the potential tie. While we are talking about the announcers I was a little weirded out when one of the guys commented on the nice smile of Markus Rosenberg. Fair enough. Not really sure that the second half of a Sweden-Spain game in the European Championships is the time to be bringing that up. But, it being soccer, there was a bit of dead time.

What I saw was though was Sweden getting dominated and just being downright lucky to have not been down by that extra goal well before the 90+2 mark. They got away with a push in the back in the box that should have resulted in a penalty kick at the end of the first half. And still there is controversy. And Sweden is pissed because the play that led to Spain’s winning goal was thought to have been a foul. At least worthy of a free kick. Had there been a free kick, the reasoning goes, then Spain wouldn’t have kept the ball and David Villa wouldn’t have scored.

A quick tangent. I have written plenty of times about the amount of flopping, faked injuries, and general nonsense that I see in soccer games. I must give credit though. Last night, Sweden manned up. I saw very few flops, very few rolling around in agony only to pop right back up a few seconds later. I did see the goalie take a knee/thigh to his head and pop back up. Spain on the other hand, was less impressive. And I write that only because there was a Spaniard, I believe Carlos Marchena, who chapped my ass. And no one likes a chapped ass. The aforementioned Rosenberg was knocked down by our man Carlos a couple of times. Whether they were worthy of a free kick I’ll leave to the soccer aficionados, but Rosenberg went down. He didn’t roll. He didn’t act like a little bitch. But he didn’t pop right back up like nothing happened either. And Carlos decided that he had had enough and began motioning for Rosenberg to get up. Numerous times. In an aggressive manner. Not very befitting of Spaniard really. Considering his team had been trying to draw fouls all game by taking dives. But I digress.

This non-call is one of those few instances in sports where a decision, in this case to not blow the whistle, has a direct impact on the game. But considering the fact that Spain was clearly the better team, that Sweden got away with some non-calls, and that the second half was completely dominated by the Spaniards, Sweden shouldn’t have won. Or even tied really. When it comes down to it, the (much) better team won. Sweden needs to accept their fate.

Which is a very important game against Russia. Because a loss means they are going home. A win means they are going on. And actually a tie does too if I’m not mistaken. We’ll see what happens.

Welcome to Sweden, where even and American like me can write Euro ’08 commentary.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

An Afternoon on Riddarholmen, Stockholm

I wandered around Riddarholmen this afternoon. Which didn’t really take long. It’s a tiny little island. But quite nice. And it can’t be missed due to the church that stands in the middle with its unique black tower slicing through the cityscape of Stockholm. The pictures are from a little while ago when ACC was here. Because the weather was less than stellar today.

After having wandered around the little island for a little bit I went inside the church. Riddarholmskyrkan. Which isn’t technically a church anymore. More of a museum. I managed to come in just as a tour was starting so I tagged along. Turns out it hasn’t been a church since 1807 when the population of the island shrunk so much they couldn’t fill the pews and ever since then they have been charging people to come in to look (30SEK for an adult, 10SEK for a student or kids). And in case you were wondering, according to the lovely guide, there is only one person actually living on the island today. He’s over 90. Well done sir. Well done.

So the church is a museum not because it’s an amazing piece of architecture, although it is pretty impressive and dates to around the late 13th century, but because a ridiculous number of Swedish royalty is buried there. Starting with Magnus Ladulås, the King who commissioned the building and was buried there in 1290. Between 1634 and 1950 only one Swedish royal is missing from the tombs. Queen Kristina.

A quick side note on Queen Kristina. Or Christina. She converted to Catholicism. And abdicated from the throne. She was the daughter of Gustav II Adolf, the Lion of the North, the king who led the Protestant Swedes against the Catholics and died at Lützen. So her conversion to Catholicism wasn’t exactly smiled upon. She was plagued by rumors about lesbianism or even being a man. Her body was even exhumed in 1965 to check to see if she might have been packing a little extra than the average woman. She is also given credit for the death of Rene Descartes. She was a big fan of the arts and philosophy and all those things that Sweden was apparently lacking in the 1600s. So she brought Descartes to Stockholm. Where he froze. Caught pneumonia and died. Kristina was an interesting character all in all. She managed to get herself buried in Rome at St. Peter’s with all of the popes so she must have done something right.

Anyway, the church was impressive. A spire that towers over the island. Which actually replaced the original after a fire ravaged the church. Stockholm suffered from some serious fire problems back in the day. This one started when a bolt of lightning struck the existing tower and led to a fire that took over two days to put out. Once inside the church though I was met by large burial tombs, sarcophagi, plus the coat of arms of hundreds of member of the Order of the Seraphim, which is Sweden’s highest order. Since 1974 it can only be conferred on Royalty or heads of state. And it’s only up for trade. So that means the G-Dub won’t be receiving it from Sweden because the US has no order or title to give in return. Which is a shame because I’m pretty sure Sweden would be pumped to hand that over to him otherwise. A quick scan of the walls will show some other interesting names though. But your name isn’t placed in the church until you die. Until then your coat of arms is in the castle.

Which is fitting considering the living Royalty hangs out in the castle and the dead in Riddarholmskyrkan. Even the semi royal can be found in the church. An illegitimate son managed to get himself buried there. And his coat of arms? Glorious. A combination of the Royal bundle (there is a word for this but I’m drawing a blank) of wheat, a cod (a nod to the last name of the Kings mistress) and a red line through it all to demonstrate the illegitimacy. Lest anyone forget, he has been labeled illegitimate for all eternity. Good times in medieval Sweden. Wouldn’t want anyone to forget where they came from now would we. The thing about this is that it doesn’t seem to have been a very well kept secret. Which I suppose wasn’t that strange back in the day for royalty. But the kid ended up getting a royal education and managed to make something out of himself considering he was the bastard child of the King of Sweden. He did get buried in Riddarholmskyrkan.

I would definitely suggest taking a quick trip out there. And the next few weekends you can even catch a concert in the church at 13.00. I believe its Gregorian chants up next week. Personally, I can’t think of a much better way to spend my midsummer than listening to Gregorian chants in a 13th century church.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Major League Baseball in Stockholm

I’m not sure how I forgot to mention this. But I went to that conference. It was a two-dayer. And even though it only took about 45 minutes to drive home I decided to stay the night. Plus, who am I to turn down a free hotel room? No one. That’s who.

So as the evening wore on I found myself in my room watching TV. And it was amazing. This TV had 15 channels. My TV has 10 channels. That’s a nice little increase of 50%. And that 50% made all the difference.

Because suddenly I was watching Fox Sports Northwest. And the Mariners were on. Now, I, as a general rule, dislike the American League. The first thing that comes to mind is the designated hitter. And as a general rule, I don’t like the Mariners. For no other reason than that shitty ass stadium they used to play in. The Kingdome? But no matter. It was baseball.

So instead of watching more of Euro08 I sat my ass down and watched the Mariners pull off a win. Because who are we kidding, there’s been soccer on every night for about a week now. And I’ve watched at least some of it every night. And it’s just not doing it for me. Plus, baseball isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence in Sweden.

Granted it was a little delayed. And the game had already been played the day before. But I was happy. They even had the sports ticker on the bottom so I got to see all of the other scores, the exciting news in the American sports world. It was wonderful.

But having watched the game I decided that baseball is America’s soccer. Because it seems like the rest of the world just doesn’t get it. Like so many Americans just don’t get soccer. Or at least not to the extent that the rest of the world does. So as Stan (not Kyle) once said in South Park "I get it, Token! I finally get it: I don't get it." So there it is. I don’t get soccer. But I get it because Sweden doesn’t get baseball.

Welcome to Sweden. Where the mysteries of soccer can be explained by South Park.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Driving in Stockholm, Sweden

I like to drive. It was reaffirmed today as I was returning from a conference I was at. It was nice to get in my beat up old Saab and drive for 45 minutes. My antennae is being dumb (please see, Saab: beat up, above) so I just stuck my headphones in and listened to my iPod. And life was good.

It’s a beautiful thing being able to drive. To escape. To get into your car without having to sharpen your elbows for the crowds in Central Station. To sit by yourself and not next to the smelly guy on the train. To avoid the stifling heat that is the pendeltåg. Or to leave when you want to and not have to wait for damn near an hour because of a tidigare signalfel.

That being said, Sweden is doing its damndest to make driving hell. Which I was reminded of as I drove through Stockholm. Somehow, I managed to get tolled twice as I drove through town. Usually once you get in that’s it. But not for me. I was forced through one of the few double toll areas. And once I got there, I of course, at some point had to go back. So I was tolled four times. Granted, I was driving at the non-peak hours so it only ends up being 40 SEK but still. That would really put a damper on my day if I had to make that drive on a regular basis.

Following this I filled my tank and washed my car. I’ve been trying to wash my car on a more regular basis because my washer fluid tank has a gaping hole in it (along with other exciting maladies so if you know a good mechanic in southern Stockholm I’m all ears). Anyway, first I filled up my tank. A cool 850 crowns. For those of you wondering, the dollar is right around 6.1 SEK today. Let’s do the math. 850 divided by 6.1 equals 139.34. That’s dollars. To fill up a Saab 9000 gas tank with about 60 liters of gas. I paid 13.89 SEK/liter. That’s a lot of money. And since I always get my pay check on time it’s no big deal at all (and by on time I mean three weeks late so if you know of a good job I’m also all ears).

Following my fill-up it was time to wash the car. 120 SEK for the cheapest car wash at Statoil. Again, some quick math – about 20 dollars. And all I got was a car wash and a bit of wax. But whatever. It cleaned my windshield and gave me that nice wax coating I needed so I can put off not having any washer fluid tank for a little bit longer.

But even after all this, I got into my car, turned the iPod on and drove on. On my time. When I wanted to. Where I wanted to. Which turned out to be home strangely enough. But despite dropping over $150 today I’m considering driving to work tomorrow. It’s the American way really.

Welcome to Sweden, where if you swallow your pride and open your wallet, you can still live like an American.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Strange Morning with Swedish Boobs in Stockholm

Today was definitely one of the weirdest mornings of my life here in Stockholm. Maybe just of my life in general.

The day started out fine. Showered. Ate breakfast. Brushed my teeth. Managed to dress myself in a halfway professional manner for my less than professional job. I left the apartment at a relatively normal time. I live a few floors up so took the elevator down. And for a couple of floors everything was normal. Until the elevator stopped, at which point a girl got on. And said hello, which in and of itself could qualify as pretty strange here in Stockholm. But anyway. She was kind of punky, hipster looking. Skinny. Dark-dyed hair. She had on a grey hangy wife beater shirt. Kind of one of the styles that seems to be popping up in this summer weather. Under that she seemed to have some sort of bikini top. Now, in general I don’t stare indiscriminately at girls' chests. But something was amiss here. And being the astute and observant fellow that I am, I looked.

Instead of that bikini top acting as some sort of bra it acted more as a shelf. Because her left boob was hanging out. As all of this was registering she decided to take the weirdness up a notch. She asked me where she was. I responded. She thanked me. She then took out her phone and tried to make a phone call but was discouraged to find that since we were in the elevator it didn't quite work. Now mind you this all happened pretty quickly. Of course I was trying to figure out exactly how in the hell to handle this situation. It’s not exactly like telling someone they have a little broccoli in their teeth.

But the elevator ride continued. We rode down a couple of more floors and stopped once more. At which point she got off. And another guy got in. Whose eyes immediately found the left boob. He looked at me, I kind of smiled and chuckled and so did he. We shared a moment if you will. The girl then got back on and mumbled something about it not being easy and that she probably shouldn't get off there. I agreed.

So we made it to the bottom floor and she got off. I started to pull away in hopes of just getting out of there, because come on, her boob was hanging out. She walked fast though. But I have long legs. So as we got outside I pulled away a little bit. She was a sneaky one however and caught up and asked me how to get to a train or subway station. So I pointed her in the direction of the train station and started walking. She came with me. Keep in mind her left boob was still hanging out. At this point I had just made my decision that I was going to keep my mouth shut. Walk quickly, eyes straight ahead and delve deep into my Swedishness. That is to say avoid at all costs any sort of situation that could be the least bit awkward. And plus I kind of hoped that the cold of the outdoors might tip her off that something just wasn’t right. Of course that doesn’t solve plumber’s crack…

Finally, as we crossed the street she must have checked herself and the next time I looked at her, her boob was covered. Good times indeed. Anyway, we walked to the station with me giving directions every now and again but mostly just walking in an awkward silence. Because her boob had been hanging out for a few minutes. After a few minutes of walking in silence a light went off in her, what I assume to be, foggy head. “Oh I know where we are, my mom works right across the street.” You are kidding me. So now she’s trying to make small talk. At this point my mind is just blown. I respond and we continue walking. Somehow still together. I’m telling you, this girl walked quickly. We got to the train station. She pulled ahead on the escalator and I just let her go. No thank you or even a good bye. I mean clearly we had shared something special, but I was nothing to her.

The weird thing is she didn't reek of booze. She must have been drunk though. I hope. She was surprisingly chipper so early in the morning considering her boob was hanging out and she didn’t know where she was.

Throughout the day I’ve been reliving this in my head. Each time I have to remind myself that this actually happened. These are the things I will never forget when I leave Sweden. Stadshuset? Moderna museet? Djurgården? They’ve got nothing on the girl in the elevator with her left boob hanging out.

So welcome to Sweden. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I wanted to.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Swedish Food that Americans Fear

For years I thought I was halfway normal. I never lied to myself and thought that I was completely normal. But halfway normal at least.

Until I went to college. Because suddenly I was thrown into a large group of people who weren’t used to the things I ate. Because it turns out that most of my friends back home had kind of just accepted me. Or at least the things I ate. My new friends weren’t nearly as accepting. Judgmental really. And they say Eugene is so open-minded. Hippiecriticals.

Anyway, it turns out that it is somewhat strange to eat toast with butter, cheese, and ham in the mornings. I had no idea. Why would something so delicious be weird I ask you? No one could give me a straight answer. But if that’s weird I just don’t want to be normal.

Ketchup on spaghetti. Delicious. And very Swedish. Even makes its way into commercials. But try to put ketchup on spaghetti in the US and people will look at you like you’re slaughtering puppies at the dinner table. Because American dinner habits are so refined. And despite the fact that ketchup and spaghetti sauce aren’t that different really. When it comes down to it they are both smushed tomatoes.

And finally, Kalles Kaviar. Caviar in a tube. A toothpaste tube. It’s glorious. And delicious. Like bringing the fanciness of caviar to the masses. When you think about it that is really quite Swedish. I suppose I knew this one was weird. And it is kind of weird. I’m not going to argue about this one. In fact, since being here I’ve realized that Swedes love all kinds of things in tubes. Cheese. Mustard. Caviar. Basically anything you might want to put on some sort of grain based product, bread for example, can be found in a tube.

The thing that always blew my mind is that for years I had no idea this was thought to be strange. Just one of those little things that I got from being stuck somewhere between American and Swedish. I just went about my business, eating my foods, and enjoying my life. I suppose that’s the way to do it though. Living in a little bubble where everything I do is seen as normal. The key is obviously to never go to college. Or at least to Eugene.

By the way, Romania and France just played to a 0-0 tie. Over 90 minutes of thrilling goal-less soccer that ended without a winner. They were the first two teams from the group of death. Luckily, the game lived up to its billing and I nearly died of boredom.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Sweden’s National Day in Stockholm

June 6th is Sweden’s national day. The equivalent of the 4th of July in the US. Except for the whole independence thing. And fireworks. And rodeos. And hotdog eating contests. And all of that all-American stuff. Actually, this whole 6th of June thing is kind of new to Swedes. It was just recently that it became an official red day. In fact, I believe it replaced one more of those Easter related holidays that Swedes are so fond of, Pingst, or as all English speakers know it as, the ever popular Whitsunday. Seven weeks after Easter of course.

But instead of rodeos, fireworks, and hotdog eating contests what makes the news in Sweden on the 6th of June is neo-Nazis trying to hijack it and turn it into some perverted display of the need for Swedish purity. Swedish nationalism at its best really. After they started paying homage to Hitler police stepped in. Turns out that over 100 were arrested for racial agitation.

So while some people just were pumped to have a day off from work, some beautiful weather, maybe a trip to Skansen to see the Swedish royal family, others took the time to light cars on fire and fight with the anti-facists. Good times all around really.

On a happy note though, over 50,000 yellow and blue balloons were released near Stockholm’s castle. And I’m sure that pleased the neo-Nazis and anti-facists, because nearly everyone loves balloons. The green party may not have been too thrilled but come on; Sweden makes concessions to them every other day of the year.

I, in a thrilling display of activity on my day off, sat my ass inside all day and read and watched Friday Night Lights. You know, to celebrate being a Swedish national.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Stockholm, Sweden 367 Days Later

I have been in Sweden for one full calendar year and one day.

And last week a good friend was here visiting. So ACC and I spent a lot of time in town. He struggled with bike paths for those of you wondering. He was nearly hit at least three times. I took a couple days off from work (seeing as how they still don’t pay me on time, one for seven in fact, I didn’t feel all that guilty) and was a tourist with him all around Stockholm.

I did things I have never done in the city before. Like climb the tower of Stadshuset. Which offered an amazing view of the city in every direction. And only cost 20 SEK.

We went into numerous churches. Considering the secular nature of Sweden, and Stockholm, there are a lot of beautiful churches. So we went in. And I reveled in the silence. And took in the art work. And threw in a few coins to light a candle. And marveled at the aging beauty of a building. And didn’t find God. But that’s ok.

We went kayaking around the city. Which I highly recommend. Kayaking was also relatively inexpensive and offered an hour of entertainment just sliding gently through the water and taking in the sights from a completely different angle. And for the record, it is “Kayahk” not “Kayak” with the hard "a" in case you want to pronounce it. The friendly young man working at the counter was quick to correct me.

We even took the ultimate touristy thing and took a boat tour around the city. Under the Bridges of Stockholm. Cute name huh? It was pretty impressive. Got to see a lot, and the headphones were pretty informative. Covering everything from the founding of the city and the man generally credited with it, Birger Jarl, to the Social Democrats nearly uninterrupted hold of governmental power.

All in all it was a great week. And the weather was glorious. And it was nice having a friend around.

So one year and one day later here I am in the apartment again. Trying to figure out my next move. It seems the last couple of years since school ended have seen me constantly contemplating my next move. But for the mean time here I am in Stockholm. One year and two days from now… I have no idea. But I hope it’s an adventure that teaches me just as much as this one has.