Friday, November 28, 2008

Sweden is in a Recession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Sweden. Just another country in a recession.

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden for free enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Swedish Thanksgiving Eulogy to Poseidon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Sweden. And farewell to Poseidon.

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden for free enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Freezing in the Dark in Stockholm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Sweden.

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden for free enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Swedish Immigration and Integration Contracts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Sweden. Please sign on the dotted line.

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden for free enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Swedish American at Gross-Rosen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden for free enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Swedish American in Poland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden for free enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Moving to Sweden - Swedish Citizenship Test

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

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

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

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

And now, Moving to Sweden – Swedish Citizenship Test.

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

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

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

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

I answered over 20. Moving on.

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

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

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

I said no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I answered less than two years.

Question #5: Can you verify your identity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I answered that I could do it using a passport.

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

Yes? If yes crime? Or debt?


I answered no.

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

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


Let’s try again.

Question #1: Age?

I answered under 18.

Question #2: Citizenship?


Question #3: Residence permit?


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

One more time.

Question #1: Age.

18-20 years old.

Question #2: Citizenship?


Question #3: Residence permit?


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

Five to seven.

Question #5: When did you turn 13?

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


Question #6: Can you verify your identity?

Yes, parent can.

Question #7: Crime or debt?


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

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

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

Shit yes. I’m going to be a citizen.

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

Question #1: Age.

Over 20 years old.

Question #2: Citizenship?


Question #3: Residence permit?


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


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

Yes or no?


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

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

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

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

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


I said no.

Question #7: Verify identity?

Yes. Passport.

Question #8: Crime or debt?


I’m a citizen.

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

Welcome to Sweden. Hopefully.

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden for free enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ice Skating in the Shadows of Kings in Stockholm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden for free enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Road Adventures in Sweden

The last 24 hours or so have been less than stellar. Mostly because I am an idiot. But also because I am the world’s strongest man. And right now as I look out the window I can see snow on the ground. I tell you this not because I think people are really interested in my view, but because as a general rule snow makes me very happy. And also because it makes me feel just a bit less like an idiot.

Sweden makes you change your tires during the summer and winter. Winter or studded tires during the winter and normal tires during the summer. The idea is that studded or winter tires will keep people on the road. Of course, each winter it seems that a debate comes up about studded tires because they tear up the road which isn’t good for the road or the environment. Fair enough. Either way I just have regular winter tires. By December 1st I need to have those things on.

So this weekend I drove down to Skåne where my tires are kept because I have very little space and a very helpful family. By the time I got to Skåne and began taking off my tires I realized that about six months ago I was clearly the strongest man in the world. That strength seemed to have left me though. I have managed to change quite a few tires. Especially since moving here to Sweden. Once with near disastrous results, but for the most part I have done well. But I have never had to work as hard as I did last night to get the damn bolts loose on all four of my tires. It was ridiculous. I was yelling in the garage. Swearing. Grunting. Sweating. Slipping on oil and water. I was pissed.

Finally, I decided I just wasn’t going to be able to do this without some help. So I scared up a long hollow steel pipe, which I put on my tire iron to give me a little leverage. And the whole process began again. It was ridiculous. I was yelling in the garage. Swearing. Grunting. Sweating. Slipping on oil and water. I was pissed. But finally each bolt gave way. And I was able to change my tires.

I learned a valuable lesson. Being the strongest man in the world carries with it some sense of responsibility. Don’t tighten the tire bolts so tight that you can’t get them off.

The rest of the evening passed without incident. Probably because I was spent and had nothing to give to even begin to create an incident.

But this morning the real fun began. I found myself up and about early in the morning. I started driving very early, without any breakfast in fact. I drove around a bit hoping to find someplace that was open at 7am on a Sunday. I was disappointed to remember that I was in Sweden and Sunday mornings aren’t exactly the best time to be looking for open businesses. But I was not to be deterred. So I took the back way while heading to E-4. Now this is a drive I have made plenty of times. I have made it in the dead of winter in the dark and I have made it in the middle of the summer with the sun beating down. But today was different. Because somehow I decided to throw caution to the wind, ignore past experience, and get onto E-6. Which is not where I need to be. I know that. I have always known that. But there I was. So I turned around having wasted about half an hour. And all the gas that half an hour entails.

Finally on E-4 I saw a sign for Burger King. I was still without breakfast. I pulled over. Burger King would not open until 10. Damn it. I stopped in at the gas station and bought a cinnamon roll instead.

And then I continued on. As I drove through Småland I noticed that my gas was getting low. No problem. I was nearing Jönköping where I could get gas and something to eat. Then my gas light came on. No problem. I was 60 km away from Jönköping, the gas light meant I had about 10 liters of gas left. I know this because I checked my manual. Which happens to be in French. Lucky for me the number 10 is still the number 10 in French, and liter is still liter. So I figured it out. Ten liters of gas in my old tired car means about 100 km of driving. I was going to make it without any problems. I was wrong. Turns out that half hour of wasted gas was going to bite me in the ass.

My car started sputtering about 10 km outside of Jönköping. The check engine light came on. Shit. I started pulling over and in the process downshifted despite driving an automatic. That seemed to do it. I was back in business. So I kept driving. It couldn’t be my gas. I should still have about five liters left. Plenty to get me to town. I am an idiot. So I drove past two more gas stations on the outskirts of town.

And the car started sputtering again. This time downshifting did nothing. Except slow me down. Which wasn’t good because I had a ways to coast if I was going to get where I needed to be. I managed to coast off to an exit and pull over. Emergency lights on and out I got. And I started walking. Because while I am an idiot. And I am stubborn. I have limits. I was out of gas. I had to be. The alternative was so much worse that I had convinced myself that I was out of gas.

I really did not want to spend my Sunday in Sweden’s Bible belt so I kept walking. I followed some signs to E-4 N. Because had I been driving that’s where I would have gone. And I know there are gas stations along the road. So I kept walking. I called my brothers in hopes that they would be awake early on a Saturday night/Sunday morning and answer. CBCC did. He started checking maps and searching for gas stations in my area. And I kept walking.

Now I mentioned that I can see snow on the ground here in Stockholm. Well, it was raining near Jönköping. As I walked the rain stopped. Instead I was assaulted by pea sized hail. And the wind was relentless. But I trudged on. All the while CBCC was trying to find me on a map and search for gas stations in the area.

Finally though, there it was. Flapping in the wind. The flags of OK Q8. A gas station. Shit yes. I was going to make it. I thanked my brother, told him if I needed to I would call him back. As I approached the gas station my heart sank. There was construction. Two front-loaders blocked my view of the gas station. No worries. Maybe they still had a few pumps open. As I got closer I realized it didn’t matter. It was an unmanned gas station. I didn’t have a gas can with me. I needed a manned gas station if I was going to make this work.

So I kept walking. I could see more gas station flags flying up ahead. Three more in sight. I was feeling good. I shouldn’t have been. All three were also unmanned. At this point I decided I’d had enough. Instead of walking further I turned around. I had seen a hardware store that had just opened for the day. I walked in and headed for the gardening section hoping to find a gas can near the lawn mowers. I did. For 459 SEK. For a four liter gas can. That’s over $50. I turned around and walked away. I went and found someone who worked there and asked if they sold cheap gas cans. She said no. And directed me back towards the expensive gas can. I went back to it. I stood in front of it. But I couldn’t bring myself to spend that kind of money. I turned around and started to walk out when genius struck me. As we have already established, I am an idiot. But sometimes strokes of genius surprise even me. I bought a watering can. It was big, thick, black plastic. I figured it could handle being a gasoline container. And it only cost 169 SEK.

So out into the cold I go with my big black watering can. And I fill it with seven liters of gasoline at one of the unmanned gas stations. And I start walking back. Over a mile I walked with seven liters of gas. Seven liters of gas is surprisingly heavy over the course of a mile. I made it to my car though without any problems. Aside from some gas sloshing onto me, but that was a small price to pay.

I started the slow process of filling my gas tank with a watering can full of gas. By the time it was all said and done I probably managed to get about five of the seven liters into my car. I was ready to start my car. So I turned the key. And it didn’t start. Shit. Damn it. Shit. I got out. Lifted the hood. And checked my engine like it told me to. All the hoses were in place, battery looked good and had water, all my fluids were fine.

I tried to start my car again. Nothing. This time I decided that I would try to start my car and give it a little gas in the process. I turned the key and put a bit of pressure on the accelerator. And the car roared to life. And by roared I mean coughed, sputtered, and then settled into a dull moan. But it was alive. My gas light was off. Meaning one of two things. Either I had at least five liters of gas left in the tank or that my gas light/manual is a liar. My check engine light was still on though. Oh well. I had checked the engine. It was still there.

I got in the car and drove to the nearest gas station. I now had a full tank of gas and a glowing check engine light. I was ready to make the three hour drive from Jönköping to Stockholm. I started driving, all the while warily eyeing that check engine light that was taunting me. After about 50 km it turned off. And I drove on with a sense of relief. Because despite me being an idiot, I was going to get home.

And then it started snowing. Which clearly redeemed me, my decision to change to my winter tires this weekend was the right one.

Welcome to Sweden. Where even idiots can get lucky.

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden for free enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Moving to Sweden – The Weather

It’s time again for a Moving to Sweden Post. The library of Moving to Sweden posts has been growing slowly. We’ve covered the following topics:
Moving to Sweden – What to Bring
Moving to Sweden – The Swedish Language
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Place to Live
Moving to Sweden – The Metric System and You
Moving to Sweden – Getting a Cell Phone
Moving to Sweden – Getting from the Airport to Stockholm City
Moving to Sweden – Swedish Citizenship Test
Moving to Sweden – Public Holidays
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden – Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden – Making Friends
Moving to Sweden – Cost of Living
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries

With the weather and daylight changing drastically in Sweden at this time of year I thought this to be an appropriate topic. The following installment will focus on just that. The Swedish weather.

So, Moving to Sweden – The Weather.

Sweden is known for its desire to be lagom. Just right. Not too good, not too bad. Not too hot, not too cold. It’s like the third bowl of porridge that Goldilocks finds.

And when it comes to average temperature in Stockholm it is just that. Not too hot, not too cold. But be forewarned. You will not find tropical heat waves here. It has something to do with being so close to the Arctic Circle. Strangely enough, the closer you get to it, the colder it gets.

That being said, you won’t find those freezing temperatures you might expect. Stockholm has a bit of a special weather because of where it is located. Stockholm is built on a series of islands. It is surrounded by the Baltic Sea as well as Lake Mälaren. It also sits smack dab in the path of the Gulf Stream. This means it has a bit of a milder climate compared to other cities you might find at similar latitudes.

Milder temperatures mean less snow than you might expect. Stockholm gets some snow, but it is not covered in snow throughout the winter like many cities in northern Sweden are. So no, polar bears do not roam the streets of Stockholm during the winter. Sorry to disappoint.

Stockholm is a humid city though. So even though the temperatures might not be as cold as you expected, and there might not be a whole lot of snow on the ground, you’re still going to feel cold. It’s that humid, wet, biting cold that penetrates your flimsy winter coat. There’s a nice little saying here in Sweden: Det finns inget dåligt väder bara dåliga kläder. Basically, there is no bad weather only bad clothing. While you might argue, you will learn quickly that you need good winter clothes to fight back that penetrating winter cold.

Sweden is a country that has four distinct seasons. You will learn to love them all in a special way. The winter because of the hope of snow. The spring because of the hope of warmth and the coming daylight. The summer because of the daylight and warmth. And finally, the fall, because of the last remaining vestiges of daylight before the winter sets in.

You’ll notice that daylight plays a big role in the Swedish seasons despite not necessarily being considered weather. And despite their desire to be lagom, Swedes just can’t control the daylight. So Stockholm is a city of extremes in that sense. Because during the middle of the summer there is official daylight of about 18 hours. And really, it doesn’t ever get completely dark. There tends to be a bit of a haze of light long after the sun has set. The winter is a different story.

It’s dark. Really dark. In the dead of winter you can expect about six hours of daylight. As you watch the sun move across the horizon you’ll notice it never moves too high up in the sky. Once again, this is thanks to the latitude here in Stockholm.

The weather is a great topic of conversation. Especially around the time things start changing. Like the end of daylight savings. That gives you at least a few weeks to discuss how the sudden darkness came as a surprise to you. Despite it happening every winter. Or during that first stretch of rainy summer weather, you can complain about the lack of warm weather and pine for Mallorca. Once you have the weather and daylight figured out you’ll be able to strike up a conversation with just about anyone. You know; if this wasn’t Sweden and people talked to strangers.

Below you’ll find the average highs and lows as well as the average precipitation for each month in Stockholm, Sweden. This comes directly from your friend and mine, You can even find some fancy temperature graph from And I even put in the metric readings. Because I’m just that kind of guy.

Welcome to Sweden. And the land of lagom temperatures and extreme hours of daylight.

Average High: 30ºF (-1°C)
Average Low: 23ºF (-5°C)
Precipitation: 1.50 in. (38.1 mm)

Average High: 30ºF (-1°C)
Average Low: 22ºF (-6°C)
Precipitation: 1.10 in. (27.9 mm)

Average High: 37ºF (3°C)
Average Low: 27ºF (-3°C)
Precipitation: 1.00 in. (25.4 mm)

Average High: 47ºF (8°C)
Average Low: 34ºF (1°C)
Precipitation: 1.20 in. (30.5 mm)

Average High: 60ºF (16°C)
Average Low: 43ºF (6°C)
Precipitation: 1.20 in. (30.5 mm)

Average High: 69ºF (21°C)
Average Low: 52ºF (11°C)
Precipitation: 1.80 in. (45.7 mm)

Average High: 71ºF (22°C)
Average Low: 56ºF (13°C)
Precipitation: 2.80 in. (71.1 mm)

Average High: 68ºF (20°C)
Average Low: 54ºF (12°C)
Precipitation: 2.60 in. (66.0 mm)

Average High: 59ºF (15°C)
Average Low: 48ºF (9°C)
Precipitation: 2.20 in. (55.9 mm)

Average High: 49ºF (9°C)
Average Low: 41ºF (5°C)
Precipitation: 2.00 in. (50.8 mm)

Average High: 40ºF (4°C)
Average Low: 33ºF (1°C)
Precipitation: 2.10 in. (53.3 mm)

Average High: 34ºF (1°C)
Average Low: 26ºF (-3°C)
Precipitation: 1.80 in. (45.7 mm)

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden for free enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Swedish Broccoli and My Cooking Skills

As a general rule I consider myself a relatively capable 24 year old guy. I can dress myself. I can clean my apartment. I can buy groceries. I can do my laundry. None of this at a level that I would consider exceptional, but I manage. Sometimes I wonder though.

Like this evening. I decided I needed some veggies in me. I’ve been enjoying some fine cuisine the last few nights. Ramen. Frozen pizza. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a bowl of cereal. It’s the dinner of champions really. So tonight I was going to go all out. Veggies. And some frozen pyttipanna. Because when I mean all out really I mean I wanted some vitamins, not that I was actually going to cook. And even though pyttipanna is basically a classic Swedish dish made of leftover potatoes, onion, and the meat of your choice, and usually served with an egg, I stick with the frozen stuff.

So I scoured my fridge. Which wasn’t that hard because there’s just not a whole lot in there. But there was some broccoli. About a week ago I actually did cook and needed some broccoli. I needed two things of broccoli. Flowers of broccoli? Bouquets of broccoli? Heads of broccoli? Whatever, I needed two, but ended up with three. Because it was a buy two get a third free. And I like free things.

This left me with one (we’re going with) bouquet of broccoli left. And it sat in my fridge. Patiently waiting. Getting tired as the days passed. So today I decided I was going to go for it. I was going to have broccoli with my pyttipanna. So I chopped it up. And I did a damn good job of chopping it. Except now I needed to cook it. I didn’t want to eat it raw. Mostly because I didn’t have any ranch dressing and everyone knows raw broccoli just isn’t worth eating without ranch dressing.

Then I thought I would steam it. One of my buddies in college used to always steam vegetables. But he had a steamer. I do not. Then I thought I might just throw the broccoli into my pyttipanna. But who are we kidding… that sounds kind of gross.

So I fried my broccoli. I threw some oil in a pan, and started frying my broccoli. Then I covered it in cheese. And it was awful. I ate half of it and then couldn’t do it anymore. I threw the rest away. Which pains me. Because I hate throwing away food. But what pains me even more is the glob of broccoli and cheese that is sitting in my gut like I ate a damn baseball.

Welcome to Sweden.

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden for free enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Monday, November 10, 2008

Swedish-American Exchange Rates and Homesickness

The other day I found myself in a conversation about exchange rates. With a bunch of English speaking foreigners. Mostly Americans. And everyone knew where the exchange rate was. For those of you wondering, according to my fancy little widget on Vista, one dollar is equal to 7.88 SEK.

This group of English speakers knew the exchange rates. Even the Brits knew where it was. And I mean down to the hundredths. The interesting thing was that everyone had a different exchange rate to quote. Was it at 7.88 SEK to the dollar? Or 7.84? Or maybe 7.91? As a general rule everyone was within one tenth of a point, but for the most part everyone had a different number. And it made me think.

I realized that I was just like them. Because not only did I have my own number to throw out, but when I heard someone throw out a number that didn’t match with mine I was disconcerted. A quick increase in heart rate, a quick flush of blood to the head, I was ready to argue my point. About the exchange rate. A fluid number that can change throughout the day. That’s when I realized I was in too deep.

I have no need for the exchange rate. Not unless I am heading out of the country. Seeing it change every day has absolutely no bearing on my financial standing. I am not pulling money from the US. I am using money saved and earned here in Sweden. The exchange rate is really only interesting if I’m going to be exchanging money. Or, to some people, as an economic health indicator. But despite my being well aware of this, I still check the rate. Every day really. I wouldn’t say obsessively, but there it is when I turn my computer on.

I don’t smoke. But this reminds me of those smokers who know it is bad for them, want to quit, but keep smoking. All rational thought gets put on the back burner because of some deep seated habit. Or addiction. It’s frightening.

Your favorite and mine, Nobel Laureate economist Gary Becker might refer to it as rational addiction. Basically, that many of those addictive choices we make today are based on what we perceive to be happening in the future. So, my addiction, if you will, is based on my future plan of at some point leaving this country for the US. Maybe a stretch. But an interesting stretch.

And I am not alone. All of these people, who raised my ire because they dared to quote an exchange rate that did not match my own, have been in Sweden a lot longer than I have. All of them have jobs in Sweden which pay them in Swedish crowns. All of them could, in theory, give a damn about the exchange rate. But they watch that thing like Wall Street watches the Dow. That is to say with a certain amount of trepidation that it is going to tank.

I don’t think it’s because of any sort of national pride. I don’t think it’s because they all fancy themselves big believers in the worth of the dollar being an economic indicator. I really do think it’s because they all harbor some sort of desire, whether explicit or not, to one day return home. Wherever that may be. A sort of latent homesickness that manifests itself in watching the exchange rate. The dollar.

So how long does it take before a person stops watching the exchange rate? How long before the person accepts that they are, indeed, planning on staying long enough that the exchange rate is really of no use? Because I’m not there yet. And I suppose as long as I plan on leaving, at some point in the future, I might never get there.

Welcome to Sweden. Where how much one dollar is worth in Swedish kronor is a hot topic of conversation.

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden for free enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Nattbussen in Stockholm

Weekend nights sometimes end in a special transportation adventure. Nattbussen. The night bus. I try to avoid it. But sometimes it can’t be helped. Last night was one of those unavoidable times. Because the train just doesn’t go at 3:30 in the morning.

While those people who live smack dab in the middle of town, or at least near a subway line, can take the subway all night on the weekends, those of us who live away from the subway line have choices to make. Catch the last train early in the evening, or wait for the night bus.

It’s not an easy decision. For a variety of reasons. The main one being that the night bus just sucks. I tried coming up with something creative there but it just needs to be said. The night bus sucks.

It’s a collection of drunkards. Which is to be expected in the pre-dawn hours of a Sunday morning. But you never know what kind of drunkards you are going to get. It could be the sleepy drunkards. The ones who nod off and suddenly end up leaning their head on your shoulder. It’s cozy.

It could be the obsessive drunkards. The ones who sit and pick at the foam from the seat in front of them. The farther back in the bus you go the more destroyed each seat back becomes. Apparently even obsessive drunks understand that the bus driver just can’t possibly see what they are doing that far back.

It could even be the loud drunkards, the ones who after having been quiet and Swedish all week feel the need to scream, yell, and be obnoxious. These are the enjoyable ones. Because suddenly Swedes will talk to you. Sometimes they’ll feed you their life philosophy. Other times they’ll tell you about their night. And once they told me shame on me for being American. It’s a crapshoot really.

You’ll also encounter all kinds of fluids. Bodily and otherwise. Because you have an entire busload of drunk people. Do not wear sandals on the night bus.

To get drunk people tend to drink alcohol. It’s just the way it works. So there’s a good chance you are going to be putting your feet down in some beer. Booze isn’t really allowed on the bus, but people tend to just hide their beer in the coat pockets. Or, since everyone brings their own alcohol with them to parties, have a bag in which the beer is transported. And even though people are heading home, the ride takes a while. So why not crack open another beer? Over the course of a night in which hundreds of people make this trip, it’s just a matter of time before the floor is awash in beer as it slowly coagulates and gives off that unmistakable aroma.

People are also spitting on the floors. It’s that step right before you vomit. You start spitting a lot. We’ve all been there. Unfortunately, the last place you want to be is on the night bus when you are caught by the pre-vomit spits. But it’s bound to happen. Someone is going to vomit. And if they don’t vomit while you are on the bus, chances are someone vomited before you stepped on the bus. A lot of it might have to do with the way the bus drivers drive. They seem to take a perverse pleasure in making the ride as wild as possible. If you don’t cut over the curb at least twice causing the whole back end of the bus to jiggle like a fat person jumping rope the bus driver just hasn’t been doing his job.

Anyway, always check your seat before sitting down. Blindly plopping your drunk ass down on the seat can end in disaster. Even stepping blindly can end in disaster. Like I said, sandals aren’t recommended.

You might even get to change busses. For some reason. No explanation. You just get off the bus with everyone else. Like a herd of cows in a drunken stupor. And then you get onto the bus waiting for you. And wait. And wait. Because it takes time to empty a bus full of inebriated Swedes and move them to the next bus. Plus, someone passed out. Which is a bad idea.

Because, no matter what happens, if you are riding the bus alone, stay awake. No one knows where you’re going. No one is going to wake you up. And the night bus goes a long ways. Falling asleep can result in you wandering around in the dead of night trying to find your way home. And it gets cold in Sweden at night.

The night bus does give you time to think. Ponder life’s many mysteries. Like why the hell you have to live so far away. Or why its 8 degrees at 3:40 in the morning in November and you’re just a few hours from the Arctic Circle. Or why you had that last beer. Or if it’s possible to run off the bus at the next stop so you can pee and make it back before the bus leaves. (It’s not.)

And then, when you’re starting to get lost in your own thoughts and maybe even enjoying the ride a bit, the girl four rows behind you vomits. While the group of guys in front of you starts heckling the two recently turned 18 year old guys who look like they haven’t started shaving yet. And then a half full can of Falcon rolls to your feet splashing beer on your jeans. And that’s when you remember. The night bus sucks.

Welcome to Sweden. And the night bus in the greater Stockholm area.

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden for free enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The United States Elects Barack Obama as President

The election is over. Finally. It’s been a long night. When I finally couldn’t take it anymore the clock said 4:35. According to SVT Obama led in the Electoral College 207-135. And I went to bed. My eyes were starting to burn from staring at the TV, computer, and texting my little brother back home for news from the scene.

I set my alarm this morning for 10 because I needed to know. And when I woke up CNN told me that history had been made. Technically history would have been made regardless of which candidate won due to McCain’s age and his running mate’s gender, but that’s not the history people were interested in making. So Obama won. CNN gives Obama 338 Electoral College votes to McCain’s 163. The popular vote 52% to 47%. I wouldn’t classify it as a landslide, but the Democrats did what they needed to do.

So on January 20th, George W. Bush will leave office, handing over the White House to Barack Obama. And 8 years of Republican rule will come to an end. The Democrats will take over with control of the White House, seeing as Obama won. The Senate, because as it stands right now CNN gives 56 seats to the Democrats, 50 seats to the Republicans, with 4 still undecided. And the House of Representatives with CNN giving 251 seats to the Democrats, 173 to the Republicans, and 11 still undecided. Should a Supreme Court justice die or decide to step down, Obama will have the opportunity to appoint a Justice, potentially giving the Democrats control of every single branch of the government.

My home state of Colorado, long a bastion of Red, has turned Blue. Very blue. It went to Obama. The Senate race went to a Democrat. The House race for my district also went to a Democrat. But to be honest, in that race I’m pumped it went to a Democrat. Because the incumbent Republican should have been booted from office long ago. And while I might consider myself a Republican, I am well aware that even Republicans can really suck sometimes. And the incumbent sucked. So now no one can tell me that a white male Republican won’t ever vote for a female Democrat. Because I did.

In one of the more interesting ballot issues in Colorado right now is the vote to end Affirmative Action. As it stands right now with 87% of precincts reporting, the measure is tied 50-50. For some reason I would find it very fitting if the country elected a black man to the highest office in the country, and Colorado ended Affirmative Action all in one fell swoop.

Some other political thoughts I’ve been playing with: Politically active and engaged people should never live in Hawaii. By the time Hawaii comes around the election tends to be over. And that must be frustrating as all hell. What incentive do they have to vote at that point? Actually voting and incentives are an interesting little applied economics question. One that the good men from Freakonomics have tackled in a piece titled “Why Vote?

Results shouldn’t be released until everyone has voted. As I have repeatedly mentioned, I am a huge nerd. But this was something I was thinking about in bed the night before the election. It was also something my old man brought up on Election Day. I’m just going to go out on a limb and say it: great minds think alike.

Anyway, this would solve Hawaii’s problems. Let’s say all the polls closed at 7 pm in their respective time zones. They don’t. I know, but work with me here. If every state in the Eastern Time Zone closed at 7 pm and one candidate swept those states, that candidate would have 193 Electoral College votes. And that’s only counting the states that are entirely in the Eastern Time Zone. If we throw in the states that still have a majority of their land mass in the Eastern Time zone we are up to 256 Electoral College votes. It takes 270 to win. That’s not all that exciting for those politically inclined who find themselves on Pacific Standard Time. Or even Mountain Standard Time. And don’t forget the aforementioned poor bastards in Hawaii. By simply not releasing the results until all the votes are cast, the feeling of disenfranchisement that the western part of the US might experience in landslide victories could be eliminated. And as this guy notes, it would also allow the media to really play up one big moment. The release of the results. That’s high drama. That’s good election TV.

And good election TV is something I could have gone for last night. My first real election from abroad was a good one. I’m glad I kept my ass awake for as long as I did, even though it didn’t really matter in the long run. I’m glad everything seems to have gone pretty smoothly, no need for recounts or courts. I’m also glad it’s over though.

I’d like to end by noting that over the last two years, Obama has been hailed for his speeches and his ability to speak to the nation. And he’s good. But McCain’s speech conceding the race and congratulating Obama is by far one of the best speeches I have heard in a long time.

“Americans never quit. We never surrender.

We never hide from history. We make history.”

And last night the United States of America made history.

For those of you interested, here is the Swedish media’s take on things:
Obama höll tacktal till nationen
Storseger för Barack Obama
Visionären Obama tackade folket
Historisk seger för Barack Obama
Valnatten: från de första rösterna till den historiska segraren
President – ett mardrömsuppdrag
Karismatisk segrare med ovanlig bakgrund
Världens ledare gratulerar Obama
Vinsten – yes he could

Welcome to Sweden.

To subscribe to A Swedish American in Sweden for free enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner