Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Train Adventures in Skåne

Usually, when I head down to southern Sweden to visit the family, I end up with a broken down car. Or I run out of gas because I am an idiot. One or the other. This time, I drove down in a blinding snowstorm. I made it, the heat worked; I didn’t run out of gas. All in all, quite the success really.

This time was different though. I had planned ahead. I was going to leave my car with my family, who was then going to drive it up a few days later. I was taking the train home to Stockholm. X-2000. The thing screams along on the rails and gets me to Stockholm after only a few hours. It’s amazing. Quick. Comfortable. Usually more expensive than driving though unless you plan ahead. And as mentioned before, I did just that.

I started my journey at 5:30 in evening from Helsingborg station. I was heading to Hässleholm, about an hour by train, at which point I would change over from the regional train I was on to the X-2000. I wasn’t horribly thrilled with the connection because Hässleholm train station can best be described as a few walls, a few stairs, and a roof, no more, no less, and I was going to have to sit there for about half an hour.

The train arrived three minutes later than planned. You might ask why I noticed a three minute delay. It’s because, like any good traveler, immediately after stepping off the train I checked to see which platform I was leaving from and to make sure everything was on time. The display told me that my train was three minutes late in arriving. Unfortunately, it also told me that my next train would be leaving at 20:55. That’s one hour and 58 minutes later than expected. My half hour had nearly quadrupled. Awesome.

I’m big. This means that once 6:30 rolls around, it starts to be about time for dinner. I headed over to the local kebab shop and enjoyed a pile of tubed meat shaved onto a plate. Delicious really. I ate while watching what was apparently the owners’ choice of TV. Top Model. It seemed fitting that I was watching damn near anorexic women strut around on TV while filling myself with meat.

Having finished my meal I headed back to Hässleholm’s train station. I sat down. I stood up. I browsed through magazines. I contemplated purchasing candy. I sat down again. I stood up. I wandered around. I purchased candy. I sat down. I ate candy. I checked the departure board.

Damn it. 21:40. Awesome, an extra 45 minutes. I pulled out my computer. I attempted to get internet. No luck. I typed a bit. I attempted to learn German. No luck. I stood up. I sat down. I stood up. I eavesdropped on everyone calling friends and family to tell them they were late. I checked the departure board again. 22:15. Yes. What’s another 35 minutes? Unfortunately, my expected arrival time in Stockholm was originally 22:35.

At this point people started to lose it. Angry phone calls were made; one woman in particular caught my eye. She made several phone calls. All seemed to be to friends and family. At least one was to her father. After the initial shock of being horribly delayed, she loudly proclaimed that she had to work the next day. For 12 hours. She also mentioned that she was so angry she could hardly talk anymore. Strangely enough, after ending that conversation she made another phone call. And repeated the exact same thoughts. After the fourth phone call, she was still so angry she could hardly talk. Yet continued to do so. There is something to be said for her ability to fight through the inability to speak and do just that.

I thought it was funny. Mostly because it was a hell of a lot more fun than trying to learn German. It became even better when the phone calls stopped. Not because they stopped, but because 10 minutes after they stopped she turned to the woman sitting next to her and began to bitch and moan. This time about the fact that her phone was dead. And she had an SMS ticket. Had she really not been able to talk, she at least would have still had access to her train ticket. Bummer.

Finally, the departure board was updated again, this time to 23:13, then 23:20. Around that time, the train showed up and I made my way back to Stockholm. Promises were made by SJ. They would refund my ticket. They would call me. They might even pay for my taxi, it was all a haze. Three and a half hours later I was in a taxi on my way home. Tired and dreading the day ahead. I was right to do so, turns out three hours of sleep, a full day’s work, and three beers with friends that evening along with Stockholm’s icy streets results in me taking a spill and catching myself with my elbows. Grace is not one of my strong points. Like I said: I’m big.

Welcome to Sweden. And train adventures in Skåne.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Stockholm Student Housing Midget-ages

I was cleaning up my e-mails the other day. Usually it can take me months to respond to people. I’d like to say that it is because I am so busy I just don’t have time, but really I’m just horribly self-absorbed. This means I have e-mails from years ago. And I found a good one.

Anyway, way back in my unemployed, bored out of my mind, why did I move to Sweden days, I was considering going back to school. Swedish school is cheap. Seeing as how I had never really paid taxes at that point, it was essentially free. I like learning and reading. Clearly school was the place to be.

So I started looking into it. First, I was told that because I had never been to high school in Sweden, I would need to prove my Swedish skills. Fine, I produced my university transcripts stating that I had, in fact, taken a couple of Swedish courses. Please note that this was all done in Swedish. Of course. Tyvärr. Rules are rules and I would have to prove the equivalent of high school Swedish. Rather than take the courses though, I could take a test. Spectacular I thought. I had missed the test. It was only given twice a year. Fine.

My English skills are pretty good though so I thought I’d look for graduate programs in English. I checked things out, did some research, even sent an e-mail or two asking about the possibility. I did not reveal my grades, I did not reveal any sort of test score, I revealed nothing. They had nothing that would immediately make them think, “Wow, we do not want this guy at our school.” I just asked about the possibility of studying at Stockholm University. I received the following from an advisor at Stockholm University: “Unfortunately Stockholm University does not offer any scholarships and there is also a shortage of student accommodations in Stockholm.”

That one statement reveals a lot about Sweden, especially in Stockholm. It suggests first off, that despite the assumption that school is free in Sweden, it is not. Not even close. Turns out living in Stockholm isn’t exactly cheap. And speaking of living. You won’t, at least not under any good looking roof. A shortage is an understatement. A midget-age would be more appropriate. Having to wait in line for over a year just in hopes of living 45 minutes away from school isn’t a shortage. That’s a midget-age. Or dwarf-age. I’m not up on the proper politically correct term.

There is something to be said for honesty. There is also something to be said though for not crushing the dreams of someone wanting to learn. And my dreams were crushed. Instead, I find myself working full time pretending to be an adult. It’s exhausting.

Welcome to Sweden. And Stockholm student housing midget-ages.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Saab – A Eulogy

I'm not very good at this. Writing eulogies. It isn’t easy, saying goodbye to someone. Someone you grew up with. Someone who saw and heard and did so many things with you. It’s even harder because I don’t know whether you’re dead or just missing in action. Maybe you’ll come raging out of the jungle someday down the road, but until then, goodbye Saab.

I remember the first time we met. You didn’t have a transmission. I wasn’t old enough to drive. It was a match made in heaven. So $1000 later I was the proud owner of a Saab 9000 Turbo. 1989. I still don’t know how to define your color. Red? Bronze? Purple? Maroon? Pink? Burgundy? Brown? I think you might have just been the color awesome. You won’t find that color in the rainbow.

We went through a lot. We broke down in several different states. California, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming. Like the time we were pulled over for speeding in Wyoming by a State Trooper. We were heading back from Oregon after freshman year. You were filled with two dorm rooms’ worth of stuff. You didn’t start after he had given us the ticket and left us behind. It was late and Wyoming doesn’t even have enough people to rightfully deserve a representative in the US House of Representatives, we were kind of stuck.

Luckily, the friendly State Trooper turned back around. Is there a problem, he asked. Nope. Just hanging out on the interstate in the middle of the night. Yes there is a problem. First, you gave me a ticket. Now my car won’t start. It was the battery. I knew you well enough. State Trooper tried to argue with me. I respectfully disagreed and asked him if he had any jumper cables in his Wyoming issued State Trooper Dodge Durango. Nope. Of course not. Why would anyone need essential emergency equipment in an emergency vehicle?

I headed into the trunk. Digging through my recently packed memories trying to find jumper cables. The state of Wyoming may not be smart enough to equip people with jumper cables, but I sure as hell didn’t go anywhere without them. The State Trooper pulled around and we got started. Less than a minute later you were up and running. I gave the State Trooper a smug smile, an, "I told you so, never doubt me," smile. It didn’t make up for the ticket but it was all I had.

We had good times too though. Like the time in Nebraska when you decided your turbo would kick in. It was a straight shot between Colorado and Nebraska. Nowhere to turn. Nothing to see. Just openness. And nothingness. All of a sudden we were going 140. Miles per hour. That was a bit fast. You were shaking worse than I do after night terrors. So we slowed it down, but you proved something that day. You still had it.

It was tough giving you up, but it was time. I had grown up. You had grown old. My friends were tired of pushing you. At least I didn’t have to drive very often. No one trusted you. I probably owe people gas money. I saw you around town a few times after that, you always brought a smile to my face.

But I kept it in the family with my next car. You were a manual. And you were purchased sight unseen with the help of the old man. I didn’t even know how to drive a manual. Another match made in heaven. At least your color could be defined. Green. 1995. Saab 900.

I learned to drive you on the 1200 mile trek to Oregon. I killed your poor engine more times than I care to admit. Mamma was worried that I'd kill both the old man and myself stalling the engine somewhere on Laramie Pass. I didn't. We made it. Several curse words and strings of obscenities that even I didn't know I knew later, I could drive a manual transmission.

We had some good times too. Never 140 mph good times, but you were less prone to breaking down. Except for those few times. Like in north Portland on Killingsworth Street. An aptly named street for one of the roughest neighborhoods in Portland. Your clutch died. At that point I had learned how to drive you at least. The nice old man who stopped to tow us was dressed in camo pants and an Army ball cap. I thanked him after he got us to safety. No problem, I’m a soldier, I just keep soldiering on. And soldier on he did. So did we.

A few months later we ended up on the side of I-5 as a firetruck raced towards us. I was sitting in you reading the Revelations of Saint Bridget of Sweden. It seemed appropriate at the time. Turns out our gas tank had been punctured and we were pissing gasoline all over the road. The state of Oregon doesn’t appreciate that. They couldn’t really do much. Turns out firemen are trained to fight fires, not leaking gas tanks. So we waited for a tow truck. Not the first time, and not the last time either.

But we made it home, we always did. About a year later, we were spinning out on I-25 while driving home in a blizzard on Christmas Eve. This time we didn’t need a tow truck. You righted yourself nicely and we drove home. It took us several hours to drive from Boulder to Greeley that time, but it gave us a chance to bond over our near miss. That was the last real excitement we had together. I was moving to Sweden. Your home. But you couldn’t come along.

Instead, I found a replacement. A 1993 Saab 9000. Blue. You’ve given me more material for this blog than could have been hoped for. We’ve waited in the cold for a car to come by so I could use my ever present jumper cables. We’ve run out of gas in the Swedish Bible Belt, and now, you’ve had to put up with me sliding my way into the driver’s seat from the passenger’s side. The lock is frozen so your door won’t open. There’s moisture in the car so I need to scrape both the outside and the inside when I drive anywhere. But I wouldn’t want any other brand of car.

Now, that choice is dying. Of course, since I have yet to find a model younger than 1995, we might still have a good 15 years together, but it just won’t be the same. It won’t ever be the same. I’m still holding out hope, but I know. We all know.

Welcome to Sweden. And the slow, inevitable death of an icon.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More Signs I’ve Been in Sweden too Long

I have these moments. I’ve had them before, and I continue to have them. Moments where I realize that my time here in Sweden has forever scarred me. Not necessarily a bad scar, but those kinds of scars that girls ask you about that makes you sound like the epitome of man. Like the time you were out chopping wood to build a log cabin while wearing flannel shirts and chewing on toothpicks. You know, just as an example.

My ears perk up when I heard a diesel truck right outside of my apartment. This frightens me. I have never owned a truck. Let alone a diesel. I know very little about cars. All I have learned is simply because I am too cheap to ever buy a nice car and instead buy cars that are nearly as old as I am. Despite once again having a car that is nearly as old as I am, but one that is currently working. I decided to walk to the grocery store.

I walked to the store for one reason, and one reason only. I saw the sun. For the last week I had been living on cereal, milk, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They work well for breakfast and dinner. After a week of it, something needed to change. I was in line for a big trip to the grocery store. But when I looked out the window I saw the sun. I couldn’t resist. Despite knowing how difficult it would be to carry enough food to restock my apartment, I walked to the grocery store. I even walked right past my parked car on the way there. I needed the vitamin D. I needed the sun. On the way back I needed a break. I stopped for a couple of minutes and ate some of the candy I bought. It was Saturday after all. Today, with the muffled crunch of snow under my shoes, I’m pleased with my decision.

I took my ear phones out on the bus the other day just because I somehow managed to hear English through my podcast. I didn’t talk to them. I just sat and soaked up the language. This makes me kind of creepy. I know. It also made me realize how sensitive I have become to language. English floats above the everyday Swedish because it is so rare. The same thing happens when I find myself in foreign countries and hear Swedish. I have spoken with other people about this. It seems that no matter where you are, the languages you are comfortable with rise above the din of everything else. This never ceases to amaze me.

And finally, the real kicker? I take cloth bags to the grocery store. This is mostly because I am too cheap to play the 1.5 SEK for the plastic bag, but still. I actually own two cloth bags for the sole purpose of grocery shopping. Of course, they are incredibly masculine. Especially the baby seal on the one of them.

Welcome to Sweden. And baby seals.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

H1N1 Vaccines and Swedish Healthcare

Just like over half the country, I took advantage of the social welfare system here in Sweden and received a completely free (you know, if you don’t count all of the taxes I pay) H1N1 vaccine. It was a very Swedish experience.

I made sure to take a look at my friendly neighborhood Vårdcentral. They had the vaccine, gave opening times, and even said there were drop in times. So I dropped in. Only to find out that drop in times were limited. To a few hours once a week.

Luckily, those few hours were the very next day. Drop-ins started at two in the afternoon. I was there at one. I was there at one because, in true Swedish fashion, I was supposed to take a number. The ubiquitous Swedish nummerlapp was being used in full force. I grabbed my number, filled in my health information, and wandered around for an hour. Heading back at two on the dot. I know how Sweden works.

Promptly at two, they began calling out numbers to be inoculated. Because I am just so very Swedish know and know how the system works, my number was very close to the front. I was sitting pretty. By sitting I mean standing at the back of a throng of people.

Despite the number system, there was a massive group of people waiting impatiently to get their vaccine. All of them crammed around the door to the poking room. The poor old lady yelling out the numbers was overwhelmed. And confused.

The numbers had rolled over (I was number 980 in case you were wondering) to the zeroes. There were well over a hundred people waiting which led to confusion. Because when the old lady yelled out number 74, two people came forward. Oh the humanity. Luckily, after much discussion, it was decided that the old lady should yell out all three numbers to avoid any future confusion. With just a few more numbers in front of me, I was glad that we had figured that out. I didn’t want to fight for my vaccine.

I was called into the poking room with three other people. My nurse took my health information and read my personnummer to me. She did not ask for any sort of ID. She didn’t ask me to recite it to make sure they made sense. She read it back to me. Luckily, it was actually my number and they weren’t shooting anyone else up. She also asked if I was allergic to eggs. I am not.

She then cracked a joke. Something about not wanting the disease but wanting the vaccine. I nodded, without acknowledging her joke, because it just wasn’t funny. I didn’t want to encourage her.

Then as swiftly as she made her bad joke, she poked me full of H1N1 vaccine. And the only thing I noticed was that she wasn’t wearing gloves.

I headed back to work and made it a couple of hours before I started making bad jokes while oinking. Or nöff-ing as the Swedish pigs say. I’m sure they were much appreciated by my co-workers.

In the following days, I felt nothing. I did not get sick. I did not get a fever. I did not die. The only side effect was that it felt like someone had poked a needle into my arm. Because someone had. All in all, I felt good that I was getting a little use out of my tax crowns.

Welcome to Sweden. And mass vaccinations.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Energy Drinks and Age Limits – Self-Imposed Swedish Regulation

I avoid caffeine like blind people avoid silent films. It does mean things to me. My eyelids twitch. My gut dances. My heart jumps rope. It basically becomes field day for my organs and appendages. It isn’t fun. On a different note, I am not a teenager anymore. I left those awkward teen years behind me several years ago. These two things are actually related.

I was at ICA, you know, your friendly neighborhood grocery store here in Sweden, purchasing what was to become my dinner. Two microwave calzone-like-ish things filled with taco-like-ish meat. I topped my grocery bag (which I of course brought to the store myself) with some potato chips and 1.5 liters of milk. Why yes, as a matter of fact, I do live alone. Is it that obvious?

What I purchased though isn’t nearly as interesting as the little sign on the cash register. I glanced at it, thinking it was the typical, if you look young and want to buy cigarettes or snus, be ready to show ID. I don’t buy either so wasn’t all that concerned. But something caught my eye. Fifteen. They were checking ID on 15 year olds. Not because they are allowed to buy tobacco. They aren’t. But because they might want to buy energy drinks.

ICA is checking ID for energy drink sales. If you are under the age of 15, you can’t buy a Red Bull. Because I don’t drink caffeine, please see above for reasons I don’t like feeling like I was sucker punched by Manny Pacquiao, and because I am no longer a teenager (I told you they were related. Never doubt me.) I haven’t been keeping up on the energy drink debate.

A quick search for “energidryck” on confirms my lack of interest in the subject. Turns out there has been a debate going on about this. A couple of months ago, 7-Eleven and Pressbyrån, decided to implement the 15 year old age limit. Since then, ICA seems to have followed suit along with a couple of other grocery store chains.

Just recently, a survey of 700 school nurses reported that about 80% wanted an age limit. And many of them wanted the age limit to be 18. The age of consent in this country is 15. Meaning that some nurses believe drinking an energy drink could be potentially more dangerous than having sex. I suppose putting a condom on a can of Red Bull might not have the desired effect, but I just don’t really understand the line of reasoning there.

What really gets me is the self-imposed legislation on caffeinated beverages. You can overdose on caffeine in plenty of different ways. A couple shots of espresso will do you in in no time. But Wayne’s Coffee doesn’t have a little sign on the cash register asking people to show their ID before buying an espresso. Here in Sweden though, companies are actively discouraging people from purchasing a product because they are unable to monitor their intake on their own. Kind of like Systembolaget.

It turns out this discussion is being had in the US also. Which is just as ridiculous as having it here. But here’s an idea, let kids overdose on caffeine. At some point, you kind of just have to accept your fate when you continue to drink highly caffeinated drinks after breaking out into a cold sweat with serious heart palpitations and anxiety attacks. Legislation can’t fix stupid.

Welcome to Sweden.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Art of Farting and Swedish Advertising

The Swedes have been doing good work lately. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve been using the subway more than usual and so am subjected to the different advertising campaigns like light therapy through billboards.

Either way, I managed to laugh at an ad campaign. Again. This ad campaign was first brought to my attention by Tod. Although at the time I hadn’t seen it. Then, just the other day, I was riding the subway to Odenplan. And there it was. Staring back at me. Taunting me. Speaking to me. Like an old friend.

An old man, who bears an uncanny resemblance to my dentist back in the US of A if he had completely white hair, seems to be very pleased with himself. As he should be. He is on the cover of a book titled The Art of Farting. As someone who finds flatulence hilarious, even at the age of 25, this made my day. When fart jokes stop making my day, a part of me will have died. The fun part.
Other classic titles advertised are Herregud, jag var ju bara ung och naiv (Dear God, I was Just Young and Naive) written by Judas Iscariot and of course the Kokbok för militanta köttätare (Cookbook for Militant Meat Eaters). I found these to be hilarious. For various reasons.
One, as mentioned above, I still think farts are funny. Advertising campaigns that use farts are immediately winners in my eyes.

Two, I love eating meat and feel fairly confident that if people can be militant about their vegetarianism than people should also be allowed to be militant about their meateatingism.

Three, I like witty word play. And witty word play that is borderline sacrilegious? Even better.

Swedes are often stereotyped as being very dry people. Devoid of humor one might even say. I think it has to do with the stereotypical reserved nature. And also crappy Swedish comedies on TV. But then they come with advertisements like this and I can’t help but be impressed by the creativity and humor.

In case you were wondering, the ads are for an online book store. They claim to have over two million titles. They also claim that those titles they don’t have, probably don’t exist. Like a book written by Judas.

Welcome to Sweden. And the art of farting. And advertising.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Sunlight for 2.43% of the Month of November

Technically the sun set today before three in the afternoon. I say technically because while the sun might technically be up, it doesn’t mean I saw it. Not because I spend the majority of my day inside staring at a computer screen, but because clouds managed to hide it. Almost for the entire month of November. I am not immune to hyperbole, but I am serious. The sun was absent for nearly the entire month of November.

Turns out the average amount of November sunlight in Sweden is 54 hours. That’s not a whole lot considering there are 30 days. However, it is more than two full days of sunlight. This month though was well below average. Depending on your sources, I was privy to 17.5 hours of sunlight, or 14 hours of sunlight. Either way, that is less than 24 hours of sunlight. That is less than one full day of sunlight.

The month of November has a total of 720 hours in it. Let’s be generous and say that there was actually 17.5 hours of sunlight. That means there were 1050 minutes of sunlight. That means an average of 35 minutes of sunlight every day. Only 2.43% of the month of November saw sunlight. Which means Stockholmers were without sun for 97.57% of the month. 97.57%.

Let’s put that into perspective. 97.57% is an A+ in nearly all measures of grading scales. 98% is the rate of effectiveness if you were to use a condom perfectly. 97.2% of Argentineans over the age of 15 can read and write. 98% of Antarctica is ice. And 97.57% of the population masturbates. The other 2.43% are liars. That’s not true; I stole that from my high school history teacher. But you get the idea.

I wrote a couple of posts this month about homesickness and about creative Swedish winter advertising. Clearly my subconscious was at work wanting to either go home to Colorado and at sunlight that numbers in the days not hours, or sit in front of a billboard giving off artificial light. Instead my skin is more pale than usual, at least the skin that can be seen through my hair. My golden locks are darker than ever. And I am seriously questioning the mental stability of anyone who willingly moves to Sweden. Myself included. Did I mention that the sun shone for less than 18 hours over the course of 30 days?

Welcome to Sweden. But not really.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Murderous Swedish Moose

Over two years ago I wrote a post titled Beware the Swedish Elk. A Swedish Elk, or a moose to Americans, was wounded by a hunter. Not dead, the hunter approached the moose and somehow the moose managed to fire off a shot with the hunter’s rifle. It missed and the moose died. I wrote then that:

“In the fight for equality, seldom is the first fight the deciding fight, or the last for that matter. I expect Swedish Elk attacks to rise this hunting season, and as time goes on lives will be lost, Swedish Elk will be revered as heroes and martyrs within the forests of Sweden and no hunter will be safe. And so, to all of you who plan on shooting an elk, I can only say one thing: Beware the Swedish Elk.”

Two years later, my predictions are proving to be right. Feel free to refer to me as Hairy Nostraswedus. News reports are coming out that a murder case from September of 2008 is about to have a break through. A 63 year old woman was found dead near a lake. The husband was immediately arrested and spent 10 days in prison as well as being suspected for over five months.

Today though, it turns out his wife was murdered by a moose. Murdered. By a moose. The woman was attacked and killed by a moose. At least, the moose saliva and hair found on the body would suggest that. The Swedish police will hold a press conference on Tuesday to confirm the rumors. And their own incompetence of course. Because who are we kidding, regardless of the circumstances, to figure out one year later that a woman suspected to have been murdered by her husband was actually killed by a moose... that’s just embarrassing for Sweden’s finest.

Had they only read my predictions, this poor man would have been allowed to mourn his wife rather than be suspected of murder. Just one year after the initial attack by the Swedish moose against the armed hunter, the revolution continues. It seems that the moose of Sweden have risen up and taken back the forests. Unfortunately, innocent lives were lost in the beginning of the revolution as unarmed older woman have now been killed. The moose claim collateral damage, but all I see are war crimes.

As the Swedish moose run free, I encourage all able bodied Swedes to join the droves of hunters, take up arms, and hunt the moose. Protect our mormors and farmors! I will not stand idly by as little old Swedish ladies are killed by moose.

Welcome to Sweden. Beware the murderous moose. Seriously.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holidays That Don’t Exist in Sweden - Thanksgiving

The holiday season is coming up. Although in the US, it starts a little early. Because the US celebrates holidays that don’t get celebrated in Sweden. Like Thanksgiving.

Because I am an American abroad, I try to recognize as many holidays as possible. Although, there is a difference between recognition and outright ignorance. And yes, I know, I am a pretentious asshole, but there are few things that bother me more than Americans asking if Swedes celebrate Thanksgiving.

No. They don’t. Sweden does not celebrate Thanksgiving. Think back to elementary school, Thanksgiving celebrated the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Pilgrims were religious separatists from England in the 1600s. It’s a simplified history but regardless, it gets the story across. Nowhere does Sweden come into the picture. They didn’t leave from Sweden. They didn’t go via Sweden. They weren’t Swedish. Sweden was busy with their own age of greatness and not really all that concerned with a small group of religious zealots trying to cross the Atlantic.

Strangely enough, they could still care less. The average Swede might be aware of Thanksgiving, but that is about it. They will not celebrate it. They will not have Thursday and Friday off from work. They will not eat themselves stupid on turkey and potatoes (although they probably should). That will be left to the American ex-pats in the country. They might even invite a few Swedes along for the ride. If there is a Thanksgiving celebration in Sweden, there is an American close by.

Instead, Swedes will go about their business, happily spending their paycheck from the 25th. Waiting for their holiday season to start. Sweden doesn’t really get started until the 13th of December when blonde girls dress up in white and walk around with live candles on their head. Of course, just in case there should be an accident, small boys walk behind her dressed in white robes with conical white hats on their heads while carrying star wands. December 13th is Santa Lucia. Duh.

Welcome to Sweden. And the holiday season.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Looking for Swedish Porn

I should have known better. I should have known that writing the words “Swedish” and “porn” in the same post would cause create a stir.

I am a huge nerd. I use Google Analytics on this blog. Mostly because I like to play with that sort of stuff and now actually have a job in which I use it. Really it keeps me entertained. It also allows me to see what brings people to my blog. Other than my wittiness of course.

Turns out my post about Child Porn in Sweden gave Google some ideas. The wrong ideas, but ideas none the less. Now people looking for Sweden porn or Swedish porn are clicking on Welcome to Sweden. Most are horribly disappointed to find that this Hairy Swede was not exactly the kind of hairy Swede they were looking for. I’ll let that one sink in for a bit...

And a little bit longer...

And that’s enough of that. Gross.

It’s not the people that leave immediately though that confuse me. It’s the ones who stick around for a bit. Maybe read a post or two. What exactly is going through their minds?

“Well here I am, typing one handed hoping to see some naked Swedish girls, but yeah, I think I will read about how dark it is in Sweden right now. Or oooh... let’s read about immigration issues in Sweden. That’s almost as good as naked buxom blonde girls. Almost.”

I’d like to think it’s my amazing titles. Catchy little numbers like: A Swedish Thanksgiving Eulogy to Poseidon or maybe the classic Swedish Death. And Poop. Or maybe my use of the word “glorious” draws them in.

Really I think they just aren’t committed. Committed to finding Swedish porn. So here’s a tip based solely on my knowledge of the Swedish language. And nothing else. Obviously. Svensk is Swedish for Swedish. The Swedish word for porn is porr. Gentlemen (and I use that term so very loosely), good luck. Now move along...

Welcome to Sweden. Where everyone needs a helping hand. Especially those typing one handed.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Critiquing Swenglish Critiques

Somehow I stumbled upon this little gem of a clip. Because apparently I am unable to write things now without help of various forms of media. Some people would argue that this adds something to the blog. A je ne sais quoi if you will. Those people are pretentious jerks who just want to show off their four years of high school French. No one likes those people.

No one likes people who try to show off their English skills by disparaging others, all the while butchering the language they purport to know either.

As a general rule, I don’t watch reality shows. They bother me. Because despite their claims of reality, I end up just being disgusted with people and can’t handle them, which actually might be too close to reality for my taste. Not since Joe Millionaire freshman year of college have I watched a reality show. Then Idol 2009 started in Sweden. And I watched one episode. Then a second. Then remembered why I don’t watch reality shows and stopped watching. I’m stubborn.
Yesterday I ended up seeing a clip with the headline “Till och med en sjuåring klarar det.” Even a seven year old can do it. Well, I like to reaffirm that I am better than a seven year old. So I clicked on through. And I learned something yesterday, I am not better than a seven year old. At least not according to the Swedish Idol judge.

I am not better than a seven year old because I am unable to mime perfectly someone singing a song in a different language. Apparently Swedish school children are incredibly advanced and capable of doing such things. Which was news to me because in the past week I have heard two different Swedes attempt to pronounce unique correctly. It came out as eunuch. Unique and eunuch are two very different things. Although, come to think of a eunuch would be very unique to me.

The critique came after one of the contestants, a non-native Swedish speaker, and non-native-English speaker was said to have butchered the pronunciation of the English language. I didn’t see the performance. Remember, I gave up on reality shows nearly eight years ago. Fine.

But it was here mixing of the languages that just somehow put it over the top for me. Because I speak English flawlessly. And despite what 50 Cent might have you believe it is in fact, “the” not “da.” Our demeaning judge seems confused by all this as she peppers her Swenglish with a misplaced “flawless” (“Kan de lära sig det flawless på engelska...”) as well as the classic “da.” While da might work for my homies back in the hood, most native English speakers capable of enunciating know that a more acceptable version is “the.” T-h. Like “Thufferin Thuccotash,” which is almost the same thing.

And there you have it. The low point of Welcome to Sweden. I have just spent several hundred words of your time critiquing a critique of the Swedish version of American Idol.

Welcome to Sweden. May I suggest reading something better? Try 1000 Awesome Things. I’m partial to #638. Or perhaps some economics from a Harvard professor. Or maybe even some quick hits at Letters to Ira Glass.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Light Therapy in Stockholm

There are times I really question my move to Sweden. Those times are called November. The worst month in Sweden. Ever. November is followed closely by February, but February has the benefit of days getting longer, not shorter.

I was reminded of the overall worthlessness that is November the other day on my way to a hockey game. Sitting on the train staring dumbly out the window I saw a man with his eyes closed, head tilted up, standing in front of a billboard. This is not normal behavior. Even in Sweden in November.

My eyes moved from the man to the billboard. Clearly this must be the greatest billboard ever. And it turns out it was.

Skandia, an insurance and online banking company, has billboards throughout Stockholm that are backlit stating “Lite ljusterapi i höstmörkret. Ett enkelt sätt att motverka lättare depressioner.” Horribly translated: A little light therapy in the autumn darkness. An easy way to combat mild depression.

First, this is awesome. It’s taking advantage of the season. It’s funny. And apparently it works, or at least the light therapy part works, no idea if Skandia has sold any extra car insurance policies lately.

Second, this is awful. Who wants to live in a country where people feel the need to stand in front of an advertisement to get light therapy because there is so little daylight? Me. I apparently want to do that. Because here I am.

Welcome to Sweden. You have been warned.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hot Sauce and Homesickness in Sweden

Recently I received a mysterious package. Not like someone left it on my doorstep, ran away, and it turned out to be a baby mysterious, but a package that I wasn’t expecting. I of course tore into it immediately like a kid at Christmas. And by kid I mean myself last year at Christmas.

Turns out it was hundreds of small packages of Cholula. One of the greatest tasting hot sauces on the mass market today. If anyone works for Cholula, or knows anyone who does, I can be convinced to work for you. Seriously. I love you.

But I digress. The sender turned out to be my father. So I duly thanked the old man for his gracious gifts. As the honorable man that he is, he admitted that he was in fact the sender, but was not responsible for the gift itself. Apparently I have friends in high places. Or at least friends willing to walk into restaurants and take hundreds of packets of Cholula, pack them, and attempt to ship them to Sweden.

The attempted shipping was what went wrong. Which is where my dad came into play. With the help of his trusty green card, he was able to navigate the tricky customs situation between Sweden and the US. Actually, I think he just slapped a label on it and drove to the post office. But that’s almost the same thing.

Since then I’ve been smothering my food in Cholula. Rice and beans. Meat. Potatoes. Pyttipanna. Spaghetti. It’s been amazing. I’ve even attempted to recreate what I like to call Red Sea Goldfish. Goldfish crackers mixed with lots of hot sauce and eaten with a spoon. I’ve substituted cheese tortilla chips for the Goldfish, it’s not quite the same but it will do.

Moving to Sweden and having lived here now for over two years, it’s amazing how homesickness can manifest itself. Sometimes it’s missing the big things, like family and friends. Sometimes it’s missing the little things, like Cholula and smothering cheesy snacks with hot sauce. Either way, when one or the other shows up on your door step, it’s a good day.

Welcome to Sweden. And Cholula.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Simple Swedish – Lesson One from Patrick Hansson and Ola Lustig

I have written about the Swedish language a few different times. How I think you should learn Swedish. How it makes me laugh. And how good Swedes are at English, and just how annoying that can be.

I have never posted a video about the Swedish language. But now I have. Because this made me smile and nod in agreement. At the ridiculousness of the language. At the false friends. At the rules that you just need to know. And at slut. Of course.

If you have any interest in the Swedish language, watch this. If you’re learning Swedish you’ll chuckle. You’ll see the judging Swedish look as you mispronounce å, ä, and ö. If you don’t speak Swedish and just don’t have any desire to. Well, you’re not alone. It’s not exactly a popular language what with the nine million people in the country. But it does mean that you aren’t nearly as cool as you could be. Watch it anyway. If only for the slut jokes. Because come on, that stuff is comedic gold.

There’s talk of a second episode. I’m hoping they’ll talk about river horses, tooth meat, and breast warts next time. And if they do, I’ll claim all the credit. If they don’t, they also aren’t nearly as cool as they could be.

Welcome to Sweden. And Simple Swedish.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Child Porn in Sweden

I am in awe of The Local. It is such a great idea in its simplicity. Essentially they take news stories and just translate them and regurgitate them for all of the non-Swedish speakers. When I first moved here it was my Bible. My Koran. My Torah. (I’m very PC you know). Lately though, I just haven’t been that inclined to read The Local.

The last few days though I saw some things about the Swedish justice system that caught my eye. I bitch and moan about the Swedish justice system a lot. Life in prison doesn’t really mean life. Convicted murderers get furloughs and kill someone while away. Two to three millions pictures of child porn will only get you six months in prison. And so I needed to find in English, what I had been seeing in Swedish. I was not to be disappointed.

On November 2nd it was reported that Sweden would be overhauling their child pornography laws (Sweden to tighten child pornography laws). Just looking at child pornography will be illegal as opposed to the current law stating that you have to possess it. The government is even hoping to change the definition of child pornography. Any pictures of children under 18 will be considered child porn. Which seemed strange to me considering the age of consent in Sweden is 15, but I digress.

On November 3rd it was reported that a camp counselor accused of filming children naked in 2007 would not be punished for being a pervert (No penalty for man who filmed naked children). He managed to escape by fleeing to Thailand. Since then he has been hanging out waiting for the statute of limitations to run out all the while working as a school teacher in a different country. Awesome. But wait. It gets better. While doing all of this, and knowing that he could no longer be charged, the man requested that his video equipment be returned to him. You know, the video equipment that he had been using to film camp-goers in the sauna.

While I’m all for banning child porn, I’m concerned by the proposed laws for a couple of reasons. First, banning the viewing of something is a very slippery slope. There’s obviously the whole free speech argument, but I’m mostly concerned that some sicko will get away with this because he argues that he “accidentally” stumbled across some child porn. It just seems too vague to be effective.

The definition of child porn is also concerning. Mostly because of the fact that my mom was just explaining sexting to me. Yup. My mom explained sexting. “It’s what the kids are doing these days” were her words. Apparently some kid back home has now been labeled a sex offender for passing along a naked picture of a girl he went to school with. A girl who was under 18. Thus, child porn. He should be labeled an idiot but not a sex offender.

Then there’s the camp counselor. Who is now a teacher. And got all his video equipment back. There are just so many things wrong with that story. But what really gets me, aside from him getting his video equipment back (did I mention he got his damn video equipment back?) is the fact that the statue of limitations ran out after less than three years. He videotaped kids in the sauna while working as a camp counselor. He fled to Thailand, where Swedes go every year for vacation. H is now working as a teacher. And they can’t do anything about it.

If Sweden really wants to do something for child porn, increase the statute of limitations and snag this guy the second he gets anywhere near a country that will extradite him. And drop his video camera in the toilet.

Welcome to Sweden. And child pornography laws.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween in Sweden

Yesterday was Halloween. It was even a Red Day on the calendar. Not really because of the Halloween celebration as most Americans know it, but because of All Saints Day. In a ridiculously secular country like Sweden, it makes perfect sense that the day be seen as a public holiday. You know, to go to church.

Swedes claim that they don’t celebrate Halloween. But that is changing. Not the claims, but the celebrating part. As I wandered around town yesterday in a fit of classic Swedish book buying (Bränt Barn by Stig Dagerman and Utvandrarna by Vilhelm Moberg) there was a large Ghost hanging between the buildings on Drottninggatan. There was a line at least 100 people deep waiting to get into the one big costume shop in Stockholm, and there were Halloween signs being advertised in shops throughout town. Halloween is coming to Sweden.

Traditionally, All Saints Day is meant to be a day to celebrate the dead and to decorate the graves of family members. A day of remembrance really. This is the third one I’ve been around for and I still haven’t been able to get myself out to Skogskyrkogården to see the display. Apparently it is impressive.

Instead, I chose to celebrate Halloween by dressing up like a zebra. Obviously. Essentially this entailed me wearing white pants, a white shirt and covering myself with strips of black duct tape. To top it all off, I also have come into ownership of a zebra print bandanna, which I wore with a strange sense of satisfaction.

It is quite the effort to cover oneself in black duct tape. I went through two rolls of the stuff, managed to remove a patch of hair from my belly, and wrap the tape so tight that I was unable to remove my shirt. My future does not lie in costume design.

Especially considering the number of times I had to explain that I was, in fact, a zebra and not a prisoner. Or a mental patient. Prisoners and mental patients do not have patterned stripes meant to confuse and camouflage them from their prey. Zebras, and I, do. Duh.

Because I was heading over to my cousins for the Halloween party, I had to take some public transportation. And by had to, I mean I am too cheap to pay for a taxi. So away I went, dressed like a zebra wearing a jacket. This being Sweden, people stared but said nothing. So I sat alone, people avoiding me as if I had the H1N1 virus, until four guys climbed in. They gravitated towards me. Probably because they were also in costume. A soldier, a heavy metal rocker, a soccer player, and a douche bag. Either that or he got lost on his way to Stureplan.

Suddenly, I felt at ease. My stripes were doing their job. No one knew who to stare openly at. Should they admire the hair of the ‘80s heavy metal rocker? Should they salute the Swedish soldier? Or should they bask in the glory of the zebra? Most chose to look away awkwardly while trying to steal alternating glances of all five of us. It’s the Swedish way.

After several stops and countless awkward glances, I arrived at my destination. I bounded off the train like a zebra in the savannah, looking over my shoulder, with my alcohol and bag of candy clambering at my side as I fled from the surprised Stockholmers behind me. That’s not true. Although it did cross my mind.

Welcome to Sweden. And Halloween in Stockholm.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Saabs to Skåne, Busses to Stockholm

On Saturday I left my apartment around 8:30 in the morning to drive down and visit my family in southern Sweden. I had hoped to leave Friday afternoon but got stuck at work. Seeing as how I have no heat my car, I wasn’t too excited about driving down late at night. It tends to get cold.

So Saturday morning I bundle up. Hoodie, hat, gloves and a jacket just in case and I am ready to go. Immediately, I am cold and have to pee. Because despite being 25, I still am not responsible enough to pee before I leave the house to drive for five hours.

As I’m driving, I’m listening to my iPod. Because along with not having any heat, my radio doesn’t work. All the while I am shivering. I’m pretty sure driving for five hours was the best workout I’ve had in quite some time. My traps were sore the next day. It was quite the workout.

But I made it through the drive without incident, which, considering my history of running out of gas, having my battery die, or nearly losing a tire, seemed like a small victory. While I was visiting my family, I changed to the winter tires as required by law here in good old Sweden.

Since my winter tires had been sitting unused for a few months, I decided I would go to the gas station and put a little air in them. So I got into my car. And turned the key. And the car started. And the car died. And my sore traps sagged.

I am not good with cars. The only things I know how to fix have been forced upon me because I buy old run down cars. I can change a muffler for example and am capable of using enough duct tape to get a 1989 Saab 9000 to drive me home. But I cannot open the hood and look in and figure out what is wrong. It doesn’t help that my manual is written in French. I’m surprisingly ok with all of this until my car dies. At which point I am surprisingly angry at myself.

This time was worse. For a variety of reasons. One being that I had scheduled an appointment to get the heat fixed with my local mechanic, local meaning Stockholm, on Monday morning. My car died on Saturday. Suddenly, I was faced with the possibility that what should have been a relatively simple fix of the heating system would result in me just junking the car.

So after some phone calls to my old man in the US (who, by the way, has received phone calls from me about car trouble from various corner of the globe, including Australia) I was able to get the car started. Kind of. If I kept the RPMs revving high enough I could go places. Of course, that makes stop signs and roundabouts troublesome.

With ample use of my emergency lights, I was able to get my car to a mechanic. Of course, mechanics are closed on the weekend so I left it out front with a little note saying please steal me so I can get insurance money (that’s not true... I do not endorse insurance fraud). Turns out, that very night the mechanic was the victim of a little vandalism and several cars were broken into. Mine was not amongst them.

Instead of driving home at a leisurely pace on Sunday afternoon, I was sitting on a cramped bus for over seven hours. In silence. In the dark. The clocks had changed the night before so suddenly the sun was setting around 4:15 in the afternoon. And I was sitting on a bus in total silence, wondering how much I would have to pay to have a functioning car.

The call came Monday morning. I prepared for the worst. I had eaten some yogurt in advance just in case. The mechanic had taken a look, it wasn’t a big deal, parts and labor to get the car running, the heat working, and even the radio playing, would be less than $500. I let out an awkward relieved laugh. You know the one. Kind of high pitched while exhaling.

So I have a working car again. Kind of. Because it is parked nearly 600 km away from home. Looks like I have another bus ride in my future.

Welcome to Sweden. Where driving down South might result in a bus ride back North.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Five Things I’ve Learned Since Moving to Sweden

The move to Sweden was a big deal for me. I had lived away from home all through college, but it’s just college. And it was just Oregon. Moving to Sweden was different. Sweden was a ways away. I was going without a job. Without knowing many people. Without any set plan.

I jokingly tell people this has been my existential quarter-life crisis. Which I suppose is quite true. The beauty is I’ve managed to learn a few things along the way. Which is much better than my upcoming midlife crisis where I intend to make poor choices with women half my age and possibly buy a boat. Or I’ll just go skiing in New Zealand.

Until then though, I’ve got to live with lessons thus far learned.

I can’t make Swedish pancakes to save my life. Seriously. Early on in the move, I bought the proper fixins for Swedish pancakes; I even have a Swedish cook book so I don’t make any conversion mistakes. Swedish pancakes are supposed to be thin, kind of mottled, and delicious. Mine end up thick, kind of burned, and tasting like cement. Needless to say, I still have most of the fixins for Swedish pancakes.

Allemansrätten is probably the coolest right ever. Much better than that whole free speech thing in the US. That I can go essentially anywhere I want and camp as long as I don’t destroy anything, show respect to nature and whatever lucky landowner gets to have me on their property is something that still boggles my mind. And something that more people need to understand.

Swedish girls just aren’t as good looking as the stereotype will have you believe. Blonde big breasted Swedish women are not running up to me on the street. That being said, and this is a discussion I have had with plenty of friends, most productively with my little brother when he was studying here, the average Swedish woman is better looking than the average American woman. Probably because the average American woman is five feet three inches and 163 pounds. That is squat. And no one likes squat. The average Swedish woman? Five feet five inches and 142 pounds. That is less squat. It might also be demeaning and sexist, but I’m just not that into squat girls.

Never, ever, ever, leave spaghetti boiling, run to take a shower, then run out naked as you hear the spaghetti boiling everywhere. It’s just a bad idea. At least that’s what I’ve heard.

Sometimes you need to leave to find out where you belong. In the US, I have always been the Swedish guy. In Sweden, I have always been the American guy. This is confusing on a base level. Especially considering that I spent the majority of my life in the US. It is also, I’m convinced, the reason I am so intrigued by Swedishness. So in leaving the US, I was hoping to figure out where I belonged. After two and a half years in Sweden, I realize very clearly that I am an American. And I am quite pleased with that.

Welcome to Sweden. And my life lessons.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Yoghurt and Swedish Health Care

I have become my father. I’ve already got the thinning hair and cul de sacs. I’ve got the abnormally long arms. I’ve got the skinny calves. I’ve got the poor eyesight. Ladies, I am single.

I’ve also been indoctrinated by the man. Because in the last few days I have espoused the virtues of yoghurt. Yoghurt. Fermented milk. I have carried on two separate conversations about a dairy product. Did I mention I was single ladies?

My father is under the impression that yoghurt cures all ills. Upset stomach? Yoghurt. Herniated disc? Yoghurt. Blood clots? Yoghurt. Syphilis? Yoghurt. For years I have made fun of him. Much as I am doing now. He takes it because he knows I am awesome. And because in the end, despite being well over 50, he can still beat me in arm wrestling. Clearly the only way to measure a father.

Apparently, repetition leads to some sort of belief. Something to keep in mind if you intend on starting a cult. This weekend I explained to someone how helpful yogurt is with digestion. This was followed by me explaining (in a separate conversation) that a little yoghurt will probably help beat back the oncoming cold a friend was fighting.

I have no scientific evidence to back this up. But by saying it with a sense of authority, I was able to convince both parties that they should be eating more yoghurt, since yoghurt is delicious, it is pretty good advice regardless.

Since moving to Sweden, I have been inundated with yoghurt choices. The dairy section of your average Swedish grocery store has enough yoghurt to cure cancer, maybe even breast cancer. (Which reminds me, feel free to support my friend’s boobies for breast cancer awareness.) I’d like to think that the availability of yoghurt in this country, coupled with my father’s voice ringing in my head, has led me to champion yoghurt as a cure-all. Really I just think it is a Swedish supplement to health care.

Take heed Obama, it’s no coincidence that there is more yoghurt in Swedish dairy sections than American and that the US health care system is currently in disarray. It’s no coincidence that since moving to Sweden, I eat more yoghurt than ever before, yet don’t have cancer. Or syphilis. Turns out the old man knew what he was talking about.

Welcome to Sweden. And yoghurt health care.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Service in Stockholm

It’s time, once again, for a complaint about customer service in Stockholm. Because it just isn’t fun if I don’t kick the already beaten dead horse that is Swedish customer service. Then spit on it.

I had made plans to get things done today. Errands if you will. Unfortunately the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. As I fit into one of the aforementioned categories my plan did just that.

First, because I have the grace of a sumo wrestler on ice skates, I fell into the water a couple of months ago taking my cell phone with me. I have since been using an old cell phone that I had lying around. It has decided no longer to allow me to accept phone calls and send or receive SMS’. Sometimes I’m allowed to call people.

I decided it was then time to get a new phone. Or at least try to repair what damage I had done to my previous phones. I wanted to test a new battery in my old phone and possibly find out what was wrong with my current phone. So into The PhoneHouse I went. And approximately three minutes later I walked out.

The conversation started with me explaining that my phone was water damaged, but when plugged into the wall without the battery, it turned on and seemed to be in some working order. I needed to test a battery. The proud representative of The Phone House began by leaning on the wall behind him, it had probably been a long day what with them having been open for a solid three hours. Maybe my hairiness intimidated him (I later checked my breath and body odor and confirmed that I smelled delicious so it wasn’t that). He told me that they didn’t have any batteries to test. He told me that the phone probably wouldn’t work anyway. Then he told me that my phone was water damaged. Yes, I know. I already told you that. In fact, I was there when it became water damaged. Good thing he could confirm it for me. He is an expert after all. So I pressed him for his expert advice. Go online he told me. He didn’t try to sell me a new phone. He didn’t try to offer any solution as to where to find a battery. Go online. So I left. You know, so I could get online.

Next on the list was getting the heat in my car fixed. Winter is coming and I do not intend on driving around all winter dressed in my ski gear like last winter. This was going to take a phone call to set up an appointment.

I had a phone number. I had a service center near me picked out. I was ready to go. I called (my phone was allowing phone calls to go out between the hours of 14 – 16:30 today, strangely those are about the same opening hours of most businesses in Sweden on a Saturday.). The phone rang and rang and nothing happened. Until finally the automated recording came on. I was expecting a “thanks for calling, we’ll be right with you” message. Instead I was given a “lots of people are calling right now, please call again soon.” And then I was hung up on. By a machine.

I called again. And was hung up on by a machine. So I called again. And was hung up on by a machine. I waited ten minutes and called again. And was hung up on by a machine. I think we can all see the pattern here. For over an hour I called. For over an hour, they were too busy and a machine hung up on me. Then my phone stopped allowing phone calls out.

Now I am sitting here without a working cell phone, a car that has no heat, and a hatred for service in this country that rivals only my hatred for whole tomatoes.

Welcome to Sweden. Where I yearn for customer service.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Swedish Swine Flu Public Service Announcement

Moving to Sweden means there will always be something that pops up that you didn’t think about. Like a global flu pandemic for example. It will get you every time. Luckily, the swine flu vaccinations began yesterday in southern Sweden. Apparently it is the largest vaccination program in Swedish history. Which I suppose makes sense because the Swedish population, as a general rule, has increased throughout history. Weird how that works.

One of those benefits of living in a country with the second highest tax burden in the world is trying to use the programs which I am funding. And I am funding health care. Of course, considering I am the picture of health what with my stationary bike riding next to men with moobs and all, I don’t use health care. In fact, in all the time I have lived here, I’ve only managed to use the Swedish health care system once. But I think I’m going to use it again.

After months of morbidly waiting for the flu to run rampant hoping that my genes are strong enough to withstand the onslaught, I’m thinking it’s probably not that big of a deal. But I love my fellow-man so am now considering getting vaccinated. Plus, I love free things. After speaking with my biologist friend and reading one newspaper article (I am easily swayed) I’ve been informed that if 50% of the population is vaccinated, it’s good. It’s not until the 70-80% rate that the vaccination really start making a difference.

The swine flu, or H1N1 so I don’t hurt any pig farmers’ feelings, is alive and well in Stockholm. But so is the vaccine. This being Sweden, the vaccine is being offered free of charge. The vaccine is being phased in. This still being Sweden, the phase-in is referred to by weeks.

We’re in Week 42 which obviously means it is time to vaccinate the at-risk group. Pregnant women for example which excludes me. This is followed by a week (Week 43) of even more pregnant women. Considering the population growth of Sweden is just over 0.15% there sure are a lot of pregnant women to vaccinate. Week 44 is the public health workers like nurses and doctors. I am still excluded. Finally, in Week 45, the general public, your standard Svensson if you will, can be vaccinated.

When I say the general public I really mean the general public. Everyone. Even non-citizens who just happen to be staying in Stockholm for a solid amount of time can be vaccinated. My understanding is that this includes everyone from refugees to students. Exchange students throughout Stockholm can thank me and my taxes by buying me a beer.

If you’re looking for a clinic near you (and by near you I mean near me as in the Stockholm area), click here for VårdGuiden’s search page. On the right click on “Vaccination svininfluensan,” that being Swedish for the swine flu vaccination. I know, I know, it’s a good thing I was here to translate that one for you. When you click on it, you should see it pop up in the “Vad?” field. Under “Vad?” is “Var?” click and find your city and you should be good to go. Or just use Google translate.

Welcome to Sweden. And my attempts at avoiding the swine flu.

For information on vaccinations in Stockholm in Swedish: När, var och varför ska jag vaccinera mig?
For information on vaccinations in Stockholm in English: Swine influenza

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Barack Obama Wins 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009. The announcement was made at about 11 am here in Sweden. And I am stunned. Not in that good way stunned, but that the Peace Prize would award it to a man who has been in office for less than a year. And done nothing of note. Keep in mind all nominations for this award must be submitted before the first of February. Obama was inaugurated on the 20th of January. The audacity of the nomination is mindboggling.

According to the announcement by the Nobel committee he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

There was also talk of it being because of his goal for a nuclear free world, the American acknowledgement of the climate issue, and strengthening democracy and human rights.

So a man who essentially burst onto the scene just a couple of years ago and began serving as President in January has now done enough to warrant a Peace Prize. For what exactly? The flowery language used by the committee suggests they really aren’t sure either.

He now finds himself in the same company as notable winners such as Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama and the Red Cross. And in the same company of less notable winners such as Al Gore. Considering that Al Gore won just two years ago, it is amazing how little he has been able to accomplish with that Nobel Prize backing him.

That the committee would allow themselves to be so colored by the hype of Obamania is mind boggling to me. By awarding such a respected prize to someone who has done so little, it cheapens the entire award.

I would love to see Obama earn this award. I would love to see the US take a leading position in the world on moral issues again, like human rights and democracy, and become that beacon on the hill. But with wars in several different areas of the world, a floundering economy, bitter partisan infighting at home, it is hard for me to see how the man in charge of the US at this time has earned this award.

Americans have been cleaning up this year in the Nobel Prizes. I love it. But I don’t love awards being handed out as if it were a popularity contest.

Welcome to Sweden. Where at least the Norwegians have to take the blame for this award.

For reactions (in Swedish) check out the following:
Fredspriset till Barack Obama (Dagens Nyheter)
Barack Obama får Nobels fredspris (Svenska Dagbladet)
Barack Obama får fredspriset (Aftonbladet)
Barack Obama får Nobels fredspris 2009 (Expressen)

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Monday, October 05, 2009

An Open Letter to the Bald Guy at SATS

Dear Bald Guy,

You know who you are. You of the slicked back comb over. You of the man boobs. Moobs if you will. You of the mesh tank top showing off your moobs.

I don’t drink very often. I’m not very good at it. So 10 days away from home in a perpetual state of drunkenness including Oktoberfest did not treat me well. I am getting over a cold. I am dehydrated. My liver hurts. Plus, it is cold and getting dark. I’m not necessarily in the best of moods.

In an attempt to rid my body of the damage I have done to it, I went to the gym. I didn’t want to. I wanted to go home and sleep. Or at least read my book (A Prayer for Owen Meany, in case you were wondering). I went to the gym though. This chiseled physique takes a lot of work. And by chiseled I mean doughy. And I by work I mean, milk and cereal.

So I sat on a stationary bike hoping to sweat beer. And I did. I pedaled and sweat. It was glorious. Then you came by. You caught my eye. Because you were sporting a slicked back comb over and a mesh tank-top. And I laughed to myself.

Then you sat on the stationary bike next to me. And I laughed again. Hoping that you didn’t hear me. It’s not nice to laugh at people, I know. But come on. A mesh tank-top? With moobs? I struggle with fashion, but even I know that’s just not right unless you happen to be a twenty year old girl hoping for a dollar bill shoved down your g-string in Las Vegas. The descending darkness and imposing cold would suggest we are far from Las Vegas. And your comb over and moobs would suggest you are far from being a twenty year old stripper.

On a normal day I would have been disgusted. Would have ranted about the ridiculous nature of Swedish fashion. Would have suggested that, while mesh may cool you down, a cut-off t-shirt, un-see-through of course, would have sufficed (that was a lot of hyphens). But not today. Today, you improved my day. You brought a smile to my tired face. And while I may have been laughing at you, I’m sure deep down you were laughing too. So really we were laughing together.

Hairy Swede

P.S. Welcome to Sweden. Where moobs do not equal mesh.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Swedes Abroad

I’ve been away from Sweden. Traveling the world if you will. Mostly, just drinking heavily because I was at Oktoberfest. Drinking does not lend itself to writing, and so, I took a self-imposed vacation.

Oktoberfest is, quite simply, ridiculous. It is a living stereotype of excess and debauchery. I saw an Australian chug two liters of beer in approximately 30 seconds and promptly throw up. I saw another man hold a glass filled with a liter of beer by his teeth and chug it in less than 10 seconds. Look mom, no hands! I saw enough men in lederhosen to last me a lifetime. I also saw a Swedish flag. Constantly. And overwhelmingly.

Swedes are not known for their nationalism. At least as long as they are inside the Swedish border. Pride in ones nation is often seen as a negative, something more appropriate for a red neck republican from Georgia than a refined Stockholmer. Of course, the flag days, the blue and yellow that dominated so much of Swedish society, doesn’t count as nationalism. Blue and yellow are just nice colors.

But get Swedes outside of their borders and the pride runs thick. Suddenly, Sweden is the greatest nation. Suddenly, Swedish colors are worn with pride. Suddenly, Swedish flags are waved wildly. I have yet to understand this.

While at Oktoberfest, three Swedes sat down next to me. Not because they knew I was Swedish. I do not exactly scream “Swede” by my appearance. My clothes are just a tad too big. My body type is just a tad too large. I’m just a tad too American.

Often times, Swedes are easy to pick out in a crowd. They immediately made their presence felt by trying to get Australian Joe kicked out. He had made a toast a little too heartily and some beer spilled over the glass. He was drunk and working on his 6th liter of beer by around 2 in the afternoon. The fact that he could even lift his glass was a feat in my opinion. But rules are meant to be followed, and the Swedes clearly didn’t appreciate the overt drunkenness of Australian Joe. Because Oktoberfest is clearly not the place for wanton drunkenness. So the waitress was called and Joe was made to take a walk.

Of course, this didn’t enamor them in the eyes of their fellow tablemates. Neither did the flag. The constant, and obnoxious really, waving of the Swedish flag. At first, I thought maybe they were trying to wave someone else down. One of those corny tourist guide moves where the flag is used to identify the group. Twenty minutes later, despite my somewhat inebriated state, I had ruled this out. For some reason, these men felt compelled to show the Löwenbrau tent that they were Swedish.

This seems to be a common occurrence. Swedes abroad love their country. Swedes in Sweden are slow to praise it. I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen it with Swedes in the US. I’ve seen it with Swedes in the UK. And now I’ve seen it with Swedes in Germany.

I like pride in ones nation. I think, to an extent, it is a good thing. It builds a sense of community and gives citizens something to belong to. Something to work for. Something to serve. There’s nothing wrong with some pride as long as it comes with a healthy dose of realism.

I suppose it is because of this that I struggle with the Swedish pride. It is obviously there. I’ve lived here long enough and seen too much of it not to recognize that Swedes like Sweden. Even think it is a wonderful place to be, especially in comparison to other countries. As they should. But why it is not displayed in Sweden escapes me.

Maybe they feel so confident in their country that when inside the borders there is just no need to make a display of their pride. Or maybe Swedes have a horrible inferiority complex and need to demonstrate their nationalism to others while abroad. Or maybe they were just drunk. Either way, I’d like to see more Swedish flag stickers on the back of Saabs.

Welcome to Oktoberfest. And Swedes abroad.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

TV-Fees in Sweden

It’s that time of the month. Bill paying time. There are those things that just have to be paid. Like rent. Then there are the things that I choose to pay. Like parking. Then there are the things that I have decided to pay late. Like the TV-avgift.

Since moving to Sweden in June of 2007 I have never paid the mandatory fee levied by the state to watch TV. Actually, not even watch TV, you have to pay if you have anything that can pick up a TV signal. I’m paying to watch five worthless TV channels (which some people may describe as spewing government propaganda, but not me of course), listen to 45 radio stations, and access radio and TV on the internet. And I’m paying 2076 SEK to do it.

Because I am cheaper than a Tijuana hooker, I made a choice to not pay for cable here in Sweden. In fact, for a large portion of college we didn’t pay for cable TV, or use heat for that matter which was rough in an old house with single pane windows, but damned if we didn’t save at least $10 a month.

Anyway, I knew about the TV fee here in Sweden. I had seen the commercials thanking the good citizens of Karlstad, Umeå, and Ystad for paying their TV fees. They never thanked me. Probably because I never paid. I never really understood how, and I sure wasn’t going to seek out another bill to pay. Especially when I first moved to this country and was living off savings and a part time job. So I didn’t pay.

Then I made a temporary move. One night there was a knock at my door. Mormons I thought. Mormons would have been so much better. It was the TV-avgift guy wanting to collect. I was living a little under the radar, meaning that I wasn’t really on the lease at the place I was staying. The benefits of rent control and a housing shortage here in Stockholm. So I managed to fumble my way through me being an American and just visiting and not really understanding what he wanted. So I lied. First I felt bad, then I felt pretty Swedish, simply because I had avoided the TV-avgift.

Then I moved again, this time a little more legally. A letter arrived at my door all the way from Kiruna. They wanted my money. They assumed that I had a TV. The letter got lost a bit in the move and eventually surfaced a month or two late. I went to Catholic Church a couple of times with friends back when I was younger, and apparently the guilt part of the religion stayed with me. So I sent in the form saying that, yes, I did have a TV, and that, yes, I would pay the fee. Although I had a choice. I could pay the 2076 SEK in one lump sum or break it up into four easy payments of 519 SEK.

I kicked my business degree into action and remembered that if I paid in four different payments and there was no interest to be paid; technically I could make the other money work for me. So I chose four different payments. And am currently making the rest of the money work for me by purchasing large quantities of beer. Lundquist College of Business, preparing the business leaders of tomorrow, today.

Anyway, I was chatting up the old man the other day and mentioned the annoyance of paying money for state run channels that I just really don’t want to watch. And he admitted something. He had never paid the TV-avgift. Clearly, he has earned that Swedish passport. I was jealous, think of all the money he has saved over the years. Here I am, a sucker, paying to watch quality programming like Melodifestivalen. But the invoice has already come. Two of them actually, because thanks to Skatteverket, they know when I moved in and they don’t want to miss out on collecting on those few months it took me to send in my form.

Of course the due date has also come. And gone. And I haven’t paid. I’m going to pay, it’s that guilt thing. But I decided to protest a bit. Hold off until I get the reminder. Maybe even watch some SVT so I feel like I get my money’s worth.

Welcome to Sweden. And my passive protest against state run television.

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