Saturday, January 31, 2009

(Heart)Breaking Swedish Sports News

As I do every morning, I woke up and did some internetting. Taking the time to inform myself of the happenings in the world. Which is obviously why ESPN is one of the first places I go for news. No one ever said it had to be news of actual consequence.

But this morning I woke up to some headline making sports news from Sweden. Big news. Sad news.

First, Ingemar Johansson died. He was the former heavyweight champion of the world. And by far the greatest boxer to ever come out of Sweden. My old man has told me that he remembers Johansson and what a star he was. And I have never known him to be a boxing fan, which I think speaks to just how big of a deal his beating Floyd Patterson in 1959 really was. He knocked him out in New York. And not just New York, but Yankee Stadium. In front of tens of thousands of people. In front of millions of listeners in Sweden glued to their radios in the middle of the night.

Boxing and more specifically the championship fight, appear in the movie, Mitt Liv som Hund (My Life as a Dog),with the movie ending as the radio broadcasts the fight. This was an iconic sports moment in Swedish history. One that resulted in Ingemar Johansson becoming the Associated Press’ Male Athlete of the Year. No small feat by a man from a country as small as Sweden in 1959.

I never saw him box live. Obviously. He was much too old for me. That being said, I have seen plenty of old film. And the man did good work. His shock of chest hair standing out in the black and white film as he towers over Floyd Patterson. His devastating right hook that the American journalists named “Thor’s Hammer.” He was a hell of a fighter. But the pinnacle of his career was, by any measure, his win over Patterson. He actually ended up losing twice to Patterson after his initial victory. In the fifth round in the second fight and in the sixth in the rubber match. He retired just a few years after beating Patterson at Yankee Stadium.

So a Swedish sports legend died yesterday. And another Swedish sports legend managed to find himself in the news as well.

Depending on your allegiance and perspective, this is either great news, or terrible news. I tend towards the latter. Peter Forsberg will not be returning to the NHL this year. He has signed a contract to play in Elitserien with his former team, MODO, in his home town of Örnsköldsvik. He has also ruled out playing with the Swedish National team, Tre Kronor, in the LG Games this coming week.

He says that his foot feels better than it did last year when he went to play in Colorado. Not 100% but better. The idea is to test his foot at a bit of a higher level with MODO by practicing with the team during the break afforded by the National Team coming together to play. He plans on debuting on February 12. He has not committed to the World Cup of hockey.

I, of course, am bummed. I still hold out hope that a few weeks in Sweden will allow him to work out the kinks. To allow his foot to get used to the grind of a relatively high level of hockey. To allow me to catch a game. But what I really want to see his Forsberg go back to the Avalanche right before the playoffs. I want to see the kind of return in which he missed an entire season and came back to play in 20 playoff games and score 27 points. That’s the stuff of legend. It is also the stuff of about seven years ago. But I just can’t quite let him go. Not yet.

Welcome to Sweden. And Swedish sports legends.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Swedish Bus Routine

I have fallen into a bit of a routine here in Sweden. A Swedish routine. And I didn’t even realize it until this morning.

I found myself waiting around for the bus. And by waiting around I mean standing in line. A very orderly line. I turned back in line and saw at least 20 people doing the exact same thing. Headphones in. Heads tucked in newspapers. Not a word being spoken. But probably the nicest line I’ve been in since at least elementary school where lining up properly before lunch resulted in beating the other classes to the cafeteria.

As everyone stands in line, engrossed by their newspaper or iPods, they also look in the direction of the buses arrival. As if watching will somehow make the bus come faster. When the bus finally pulls up, there is a brief rustling of papers, a slight fuss as everyone prepares to climb on. And then the bus driver does something that never ceases to amaze me. He pulls a bus that has damn near the same area as my apartment centimeters away from the curb. He does not hit the curb. That could kill someone. He doesn’t leave a large gap between the steps and the curb. That could lead to catastrophe for the old ladies who I inevitably find myself standing behind. He pulls within inches of the curb. As if it was the easiest thing in the world. I struggle to pull the Saab into a parking spot without scraping the car next to me.

Sweden has by far the most orderly public transportation crowd I have ever seen. I think it has something to do with the ubiquitous line-up system you find in banks throughout the country. Take a number and wait. It has become such a habit to properly wait your turn in the exact order of arrival that it has extended to public transportation. And this morning was no different.

It’s all very fair. There’s no jockeying for position as the bus pulls up. You’ve already staked claim to your position. Just stand quietly and accept your lot in life.

It was amazing. Amazing that everyone quietly lines up to climb onto the bus. And I did it too. Amazing that no one speaks. And neither was I. Amazing that the bus driver can command the bus like he does. And I can’t.

For some reason it all seemed very Swedish. The line. The silence. The snow. The slowly spreading daylight. It was the epitome of a Swedish winter morning during the commuter rush. I soaked it all up. It was glorious, in a strange sort of way.

I couldn’t help but chuckle heartily. To myself obviously though. There were people around. And this is Sweden.

So, Welcome to Sweden.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Acute Swedishness... I Think

I bore witness to an acute act of Swedishness. Or blatant racism. I can’t decide which.

I was sitting on the train on my way home the other night. It wasn’t horribly late, 6:30ish maybe. I had missed the rush hour traffic, because it was a Friday. And rush hour in Sweden on a Friday starts around 3.

Anyway, there were a few seats available on the train. Not a lot, but enough for me not to have to fight for one. Sitting in a pod of four seats by himself was a middle-aged man. I actually wouldn’t have paid much attention to his age except for the fact that his age didn’t match his appearance. He had somewhat spiky hair. An earring. And a dragon ring on his right hand. But he was at least 35, maybe 40. It just didn’t fit. So I took notice.

I made my way over and sat down. Diagonally from him. When you enter this country they actually give you a rulebook. One of the rules being if you are sitting down next to someone always put as much space as possible between you and the other person. So I did.

However, two other people, who obviously knew each other were following right behind me. So I scooted in so that they could sit across from each other. A third guy, who seemed to know one of the two other gentlemen wandered by. In one of those happy to see you moments they noticed each other and exchanged a brief greeting in a different language. One which I decided was Swahili. Based on my very, very, very limited knowledge of the language. Tangential at best. Anyway, all three gentlemen were black.

The third man was on the phone though so continued with his conversation while the other two men sat down. At which point the dragon ring wearing middle-aged man got up. In a bit of a huff. And then he went and sat on the floor. The floor of the train. No one had asked him for his seat. No one had shown any interest in his seat. He just got up and went and sat on the floor of the train. The floor. Not another seat. He didn’t go stand. He sat on the floor. Like a four year old pouting because he didn’t get any lördagsgodis.

I looked to the guy to my left and gave a little shrug. I was still trying to process it all. It was all so sudden. Who actually gets up out of their seat to instead sit on the floor? Either a Swede or a racist. Because I decided that either this was just blatant racism, and he didn’t want to sit next to a black man, or, it was blatant Swedishness. He didn’t want to sit next to anyone, black, white, brown, blue with red spots. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. I’d like to think it was just acute Swedishness. But either way, it was quite an experience to be witness to.

Welcome to Sweden.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Same-Sex Marriage in Sweden

Sweden looks to be closing in on allowing same-sex marriages. Surprisingly, the country does not currently allow for it. They allow for civil unions. They allow for childen. They do not allow for marriage. There are a handful of countries that do: Holland, Belgium, Spain, Canada, Norway, and South Africa. Yes, South Africa has gender neutral marriage laws. And I learned something new today.

But now Sweden wants in on that. The Moderates have split with the Christian Democrats and come out in favor of same-sex marriages. There’s still a bit of discussion going on, about when. May of this year or January of next year? About how those who are already in a registered civil union will be handled. Do they go straight to a married couple? Do they have a marriage ceremony that is acknowledged by the government?

So questions still need to be answered. But really, it’s about time. Because it’s just kind of ridiculous to be legislating that sort of thing. Whatever floats your boat really. And if same-sex marriage floats yours then go for it. Especially under the assumption that it is biological and you know, Satan didn’t convince you to do it. That whole not allowing people to get married based on the color of their skin, one of those biological conditions, didn’t turn out all that well.

This is one of those things that has always annoyed me about the Republican Party in the US. So many claim to be proponents of small government and yet they want to legislate what goes on in the bedroom. Or not even in the bedroom, but who you can and cannot love and spend your life with. It’s hypocritical as all hell. Of course, hypocrisy runs deep in just about any political party so it’s to be expected. But still.

Plus, to be perfectly crass, I think there’s money to be made here. Marriage is a big business. And right now there are a whole lot of couples that wouldn’t mind getting married that can’t. We are on the brink of a marriage boom. Governments want you to spend. Keynesian economics calls for money to be pumped into the system. I can think of no event that the average citizen can take part in that is more expensive than a wedding. Maybe that’s why Moderaterna are going for this. They see an opportunity to help the flailing Swedish economy.

Welcome to Sweden.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Peter Forsberg Skates in the Shadow of Obama

There is a new President of the United States. Yes we can. Hope. Change. The buzz words of a marketer’s wet dream culminated in the inauguration today of Barack Obama. But the world did not stop for Obama.

And big news came out of Sweden. Peter Forsberg is back on the ice. He's getting old. He's 35 now. He's had multiple surgeries. He's haggard and tired. His time on the ice didn’t even go as well as he had hoped. And reading that he was back on the ice still made me all giddy inside. Like a little school girl really. Simply because he has said he wants to play for the Avalanche if he heads back to the NHL. And, because when it comes down to it, Peter Forsberg is by far the most exciting athlete I have ever seen live.

Right now he's skating with MODO, his old hockey team, up north in Örnsköldsvik. And there's obviously something in the water there. Or at least the ice. Because not only does Peter Forsberg hail from there, but so do the Sedin twins as well as Markus Näslund. That's not a bad line-up of hockey players. But Peter Forsberg leads the group.

I’m not sure how this will go. He’s struggled with his feet for years. To be perfectly honest, I think he might be done. Like a jilted lover taking back the girlfriend just one more time, I am skeptical. But I’ll take him back. And that’s the beauty of sports, that glimmer of hope and optimism. Plus, I still remember as a little kid saving up my allowance so I could buy a plaque autographed by the man himself. I would venture to say I have a slight man crush. You know, except for the ridiculous Stockholmers haircut coupled with the northern Swedish accent that just don't jive all that well together.

As much as I would like to see him skate off into the sunset as one of the greatest players ever, I can’t give up on him just yet. And that’s because when he’s healthy, he is still an amazing talent that sees things on the ice no one else sees. Who draws two defenders with him everywhere he goes and is still able to make the pass. Who is a dominant force. When he’s on the ice. As of late though, that hasn’t been all that often. But I continue to hope. This might be the last time before I turn on him though. Of course, I think I said that last year also.

So while today may have been a day focusing on hope of a different kind, I have pinned my hopes on the aging feet of Peter Forsberg.

Welcome to Sweden. Where hope and change ring true as Peter Forsberg prepares for one more comeback.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Indie Pop and Old Age in Stockholm

I found myself at a concert this past weekend at Debaser. A bar that has a lot of live music. It’s a nice place. Basically under Slussen. Nice outdoor area during the summer which I have frequented once or twice. But I had never been there to see a show. Until Saturday night. Marching Band was who I was there to see. Indie pop. Not really my style of music, I tend to stick to rock or country, but it was good. And they were quite entertaining. I enjoyed myself.

But as I looked around I felt very old. I’m 24. Very seldom do I feel very old. But I was surrounded by girls and boys. I don’t know what the age limit was at this place, they didn’t check my ID. Because I’m old. There was no way that the age limit was over 20. I’m guessing 18. And if it wasn’t a bar I would have guessed younger. Or maybe it’s just really easy to get into bars if you’re underage. I don’t know.

I do know that there were some young ‘uns around. My buddy, who is probably pushing 6’5” and me, pushing 6’3”, towered over the crowd. And it’s not like we were in Asia. Swedes tend to be relatively tall. It was because everyone was so very young. Of course, the benefit being that there was never any problem seeing the stage. Ever.

The downside being that I left the bar feeling very old. Grasping at my ephemeral youth as it passed me by. It didn’t help that I left at midnight because I was so damn tired and just wanted to get home, but was dreading the trip that was sure to take me at least 45 minutes because of the train schedule. It’s not easy. I leave bars at midnight. I have developed a wicked set of cul de sacs. My hip hurts. Still. I’m like an old man. Soon I’ll be left with nothing but my boyish charm.

Welcome to Sweden. Where being 24 makes you feel old.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Pea Soup and Pancakes in Sweden

Yesterday was Thursday. Which can mean only one thing. Pea soup and pancakes. Obviously.

Sweden does good work when it comes to lunch. Most restaurants offer “Dagens Lunch” or “Dagens Rätt.” Lunch of the day. Usually it consists of bread, salad, a drink, and whatever the main meal is. And for a reasonable price. Around $10 depending on the exchange rate. It dates back quite a while as an affordable meal for the working force. Socialism at its best.

Anyway, I quite like dagens lunch. It tends to be delicious and is affordable enough that I can still convince myself that I’m being thrifty. And yesterday, I went in for dagens lunch. Luckily, I knew exactly what I was going to be eating. Because it was Thursday.

Thursday’s dagens lunch is always pea soup and pancakes. Quite the combination. Like peanut butter and jelly. Malone and Stockton. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

Anyway. Pea soup, for those of you wondering, looks like green baby diarrhea. It is, despite the coloring, quite delicious. Just a bunch of mushed up peas with some ham thrown in for good measure. And usually eaten with a big dollop of mustard thrown in the mix. The pancakes are of the classic Swedish variety. Thin. Both sides slightly marbled from the pan. They are glorious. And usually eaten with large dollops of jelly and whipped cream.

For reasons absolutely unbeknownst to me, pea soup and pancakes are a Thursday staple in Sweden. I’ve asked around. No one has yet given me a reason that I truly believe. Mostly because every answer I have received has started with the person admitting that it’s a good question. And then they throw out their theory. I’ve heard everything from it being towards the end of the week so restaurants needed a cheap alternative because cash flow was getting low. I’ve heard that somewhere along the line, fancy hotels, which usually had set menus, adopted this meal and so it stuck. I’ve even heard that the military is behind it all because of their need to feed all those young men who were in on mandatory military service a few decades ago. I don’t know.

I do know though that my lunch was delicious.

Welcome to Sweden. Where pea soup and pancakes are a Thursday tradition.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

On Swedishness: A Case Study

I had a Swedish episode today. It struck me, in passing I suppose. It’s not that I felt like I had surrendered my status of a tweener. But sometimes I find myself doing very Swedish things. Like today when I walked outside at lunch.

The sun was shining. I mean really shining. Not a cloud in the sky. And the Swedish winter sky is impressive, you know, during that small window of daylight. Something about the sun never getting too high over the horizon makes for some glaring blue colors.

So walking outside was a bit of a shock to the system. The pupils shrunk. The skin soaked up the vitamin D. And I froze. I stopped right outside the door. Closed my eyes, and threw my face up to the sun. It was ridiculous. And I realized just how ridiculous it was almost immediately. Not quick enough to stop myself, but still, I felt very much like a Swede.

Later in the day, on my way home I felt less like a Swede. I was hungry. So hungry that I stopped to buy a 10 SEK hotdog from Pressbyrån. That, in and of itself, tends to be a bad idea. But it was late, and I really was hungry. I ate my salty, greasy, and strangely delicious hotdog on the way to the train. Suddenly, I realized that I was going to miss the train if I continued at my current pace. So I devoured the remaining bites of hotdog and started to run.

Now, as a general rule, it’s never a good idea to run immediately after having eaten. It’s even less of a good idea after having devoured a large compressed tube of pig intestines smothered in ketchup and mustard. So with the remains of Babe sloshing around in my gut, I sprinted to the train. For some reason, sprinting to the train with a bunch of hotdog in my stomach all because I didn’t want to wait an extra 15 minutes just didn’t seem very Swedish. I don’t know why.

But I made it. Damn right. I felt like death. Babe was pissed off in my belly. I had developed a blister from running in dress shoes. But I made it. I wouldn’t have to wait an extra 15 minutes for the train. Life was good.

Welcome to Sweden.

By the way, the title of this post will be the title of my doctoral dissertation somewhere down the line.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Three Useless Facts about Stockholm’s Public Transportation

It has been an exciting last few days in terms of public transportation epiphanies. All of which are completely useless. And one of which is more of a damning critique of my maturity level than anything else.

I ride a lot of public transportation. Trains. Buses. Subways. I really try to hit them all. For no other reason than I’m just way too cheap to pay for gas on a regular basis in this country.

But over the weekend I noticed something that I had overlooked. I have lived here for about a year and a half and still new things grab me every now and again. I was waiting for the subway, and as I was waiting another subway pulled up. It was heading to a different line so I wanted nothing to do with it. But then I glanced upwards. Not really up, just upwards. The subway car had a name. I thought I was mistaken. Maybe it was just this one car. Someone got a little creative. So I kept watching as every separate car went by. They all had names. At least all of the new subway cars. Those rickety old ones are shown no love.

I loved it though, they were very Swedish names. As if SL had just gone to the calendar and pulled off all the namnsdag names. Because in Sweden every day has a name or two attached to it. I don’t know why. But I loved that each subway car was given a name. And thought for some reason that it seemed very Swedish.

That’s one. The next one is that some of the buses are Mercedes’. I even took a picture. Which was somewhat blurry, despite the promised smooth ride of the Mercedes, the disdain of all bus drivers for any semblance of a quiet and smooth ride won out.

That’s two. And finally, the damning critique of my maturity level. On the way home this evening the sign that usually tells which station is coming up froze. And it didn’t freeze on Stockholm Central for example. It froze on “End Station.” Slutstation in Swedish. I actually laughed out loud. Which probably frightened nearly every Swede who was riding on the train with me. But I was ok with it.

Welcome to Sweden. Where Slutstation is always the final destination.

On a side-note, the above picture was initially titled "Stockholm SL Slutstation." Blogger would not let me upload it. It is now called "Stockholm SL Slustation." Apparently Blogger and google just don't like slutstations.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Swedish Laundry Room

An exciting Saturday night last night. In an attempt to catch up on laundry I spent an eventful evening in the basement in the laundry room. And who doesn’t want to be in the laundry room on a Saturday night?

Anyway, living in an apartment has introduced me to the world of communal laundry. At college I managed to live in the same house for three years, and always with a working washer and dryer. Life was good. I did laundry when I wanted to and only had to fight with a few other people. And I knew them all so if someone forgot their clothes in the dryer it wasn’t hard to figure out which room to dump the clothes in.

That doesn’t quite work here. Now I have to book a time. I have to plan ahead. I have to haul everything down to the basement. I need to clean the lint filter. Which apparently leads to a whole lot of laundry room fights here in Sweden. Like the woman who was locked in the laundry room by her neighbor. Or maybe the laundry room feuds in Lund.

Anyway, I manage to do my laundry, without any feuds, on a halfway regular basis. I haven’t had to resort to dirty undershirts or turning my boxers inside out. I’ve been down to my last pair, but I always seem to come through in the clutch.

And last night was one of those clutch moments. Clothes were scarce and it was time. So I made my way down to the laundry room at about 7 in the evening. This was a process that should have taken max two hours. I was still folding laundry at 10:30.

I planned on doing two loads of laundry. I headed down to the laundry room and found a Swede down there studying away while doing his laundry. The laundry room is an excellent place to study so it made sense. I gave a quick nod and then turned to the task at hand. I was feeling industrious so I sorted my clothes. Whites and colors. I threw them into the washing machine and went on my merry way, once again giving a nod to my friendly neighbor laundry-doer.

I came down about 40 minutes later to find that my whites came out smelling so fresh and so clean clean. The colors came out not so fresh and not so clean. In fact, they came out mostly dry with just a splash of water along with the laundry detergent clumped nicely over my shirts. Turns out the machine had stopped working almost immediately. Awesome.

The Studying Swede was still down there. He removed his headphones and began talking to me. And I’ll be honest, I was caught off guard. Was he going to accuse me of not cleaning out the lint filter? Of spilling laundry detergent on the machine? Of stealing his time? I have come to expect absolute silence in the laundry room so I expected the worst.

I was wrong. He was making small talk. He had said that the machines had been having problems and that one of his had stopped working as well. He even mentioned that the guy before him had told him that one of the machines left his clothes stinky. Which is never good for a washing machine. I was disappointed but didn’t really have many choices. I could just stick my clothes back in and hope that I wasn’t stealing someone else’s time, or I could wait.

But before that I had to get my whites dry. Luckily there are two dryers and two drying cabinets in the laundry room. Plenty of space for drying clothes. But I was wrong. Both dryers were in use. One of the drying cabinets was full, and the final drying cabinet was being loaded up by the Studying Swede. However, the Studying Swede apparently empathized with me. Because he offered to share the drying cabinet with me. I jumped at the chance. I just don’t have enough room to lay out a load of wet laundry in my apartment to dry. So we shared a drying cabinet. Clearly, we became best friends.

Now I had to figure out what to do with my partially wet, laundry detergent-covered coloreds. Luckily, on a Saturday night, there aren’t so many people who want to be doing laundry. Which is strange really. So I was able to book another time immediately. And I was able to get my clothes started again. This time I stood around until I was sure that the clothes were completely immersed in water and the machine was spinning. I had learned a valuable lesson. One being never to wait until Saturday night to do laundry. It’s just not much fun. Another being to stick around until the laundry machine is working as it should. And finally, and maybe the most important lesson of all, empathizing over faulty washing machines is obviously the best way to start conversations with Swedes.

Welcome to Sweden.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Ice Skating and Ankle Wounds in Stockholm

It’s been cold. I might have mentioned that when I was standing outside in -10 degree Celsius trying to jump my car. And I complained about the cold. But, I quite like it. This is what winter is supposed to be like. Especially in Sweden.

Last winter was pretty warm. Rainy. Lame really. This winter is different. Cold and snowy. And because of that I was able to do something I haven’t been able to do since I was a little kid at Allen Park. I went ice skating. Outside. On a natural body of water. Well a frozen natural body of water. And it was glorious. Cold. Snowy. Choppy. But glorious.

I actually left my ice skates back in the US. I wasn’t expecting too many ice skating opportunities. Luckily, my cousin had an extra pair. Unfortunately, my cousin is a girl. Not unfortunately because she’s a girl, but because she has girl feet. And I borrowed her skates.

As a general rule, I have a hell of a time getting ice skates tied properly. It’s probably the most exhausting part of hockey. Or just regular ice skating. It kills me. I manage to work up a nice sweaty lather before I’ve even make my way onto the ice. I have resorted to having other people tie them for me. My brother does good work for example. So this was going to be no small feat (see what I did there?).

I managed to squeeze my size 13 (that’s a solid 47 for all the Europeans out there) feet into the skates. I even managed to get them laced up. Kind of. Because of my foot being smushed into the skates I had to make a choice. Trade-offs. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Sacrifices. All that good stuff. I sacrificed my ankles. I let the skates hang loosely. I could stand and skate in them that way. That’s what I had come to do. Had I tied them properly I don’t think I could have gone 10 meters without feet that might remind you of a small rural Asian girl whose feet had been broken and bound.

I knew my ankles were going to be angry with me. A few trips around the lake though and my feet were suffering, not only were my toes feeling claustrophobic, but the skates had begun to rub against my ankles. I fought through the pain. Which was stupid. Because now my jeans are sticking to a bloody wound days after the incident. The sad thing is that I already have scars on my ankles from a similar incident. Albert Einstein is often quoted as having defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I’d like to defend myself by saying I did not expect different results. Hence, not insane. I’m just stupid. But it was worth it.

So go outside this weekend. Before it warms up. Go ice skating, but bring your own skates. It’s beautiful. Hard to beat skating around with a bunch of Swedes in the freezing weather as the sun skims, and finally dips below, the horizon giving off that eerie, yet gorgeous, winter sunset hue. Unfortunately I forgot my camera. So instead of a picture of a lovely Swedish sunset, you get a picture of my nasty ankle.

Welcome to Sweden. Where ankle flesh wounds are just part of the territory.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

I am an Idiot. And Sweden is Cold.

Have you ever tried to jump a car in Sweden? In -10 degree Celsius weather? In January? Knowing that the heat doesn’t work in your car? I have. Just a few hours ago. And it sucked. A lot.

Let me explain what happens in case you were really curious.

First, you’re going to start cussing. Cursing. Swearing. In any language you find comfortable. I preferred to switch between both Swedish and English. You will be mostly be cursing yourself. Because you are an idiot. And know that you have a crap battery that can’t handle the cold.

Next, you will sit calmly in your car and think. Will you try to lure someone into the parking garage? Will you write a note to your neighbor asking for help? Or will you push the car out of the garage into traffic.

I chose the latter. Which was difficult. Because I have to do some maneuvering to get out of the garage that makes it a little tricky when the car is working. Doing that alone, in neutral was less than exciting.

When you finally get the car outside, after having to fight through a slight uphill battle at the garage door, you will be assaulted by the cold weather. And you will once again curse all the choices you ever made that led you to this point. Again, in the language of your choosing of course.

Finally, you will get close to traffic. At which point you have more choices. Do you run into traffic to try to flag someone down? Do you wait patiently? Remember, this is Sweden. And you are wearing a bright orange beanie and bright orange gloves. Which may or may not scare off the average Swede because of the bright colors.

I chose to wait patiently for a while. I was embracing my Swedishness.

When you lose feeling in your fingers you will get back into your car. You will throw it in neutral and move it a bit closer to the traffic if only to get some blood flowing in your extremities. You will begin to approach every passing car. And finally a lovely girl will stop. And you will be ecstatic. And cold. But mostly ecstatic. She will get out and tell you she has no idea what to do. Luckily, you’ve done this before. A lot. Because you buy cheap cars. You will pull out your jumper cables, fumble about in the below freezing weather. Watch your finger tips go from bright red to a dull white. You will finally attach them to the respective batteries, and fire up the one working car. You will run, literally run, the three feet to your car and turn the key. And quietly do a little jig in the driver’s seat as your car coughs to life.

You will thank the girl profusely. You will ask her to marry you. You will promise her your first born child. You will be forever grateful. Until you realize she lives in your building. That’s just awkward. Come on now. You will both part ways, each happy in a different way.

And now you know what it’s like to jump a car in Sweden. In -10 degree Celsius weather. In January. Knowing that the heat doesn’t work in your car.

The lesson here is a simple one. And one that I learned a couple of years ago from the wise Australian lady in the middle of nowhere on the road to Brisbane. She was right. She told me, and my girlfriend at the time, “You get what you pay for love.” Little did she know how right she was. The hotel room we chose instead of her more expensive hotel room was armed with a can of Raid. For good reason. Cockroaches came out when the lights went out. And that’s not some sexual joke. Insects. La Cucaracha. Cockroaches.

Welcome to Sweden. Where the wise words of Australian women ring true.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Travel Adventures from the US to Sweden

After a brief Christmas hiatus in the US I am back. But not before a bit of travel adventure. As usual. Because who wants an uneventful flight? Not this guy.

I should have known when I my alarm woke me up at 4:45 in the morning. And I remembered a dream. Which in and of itself is quite rare for me. However, this was no ordinary dream. Because I was being given an alias. Maybe I was running from someone. Maybe I was going undercover. I don’t know. I do know that either my subconscious is just not very creative, or I’m just weird. Because my name? Hershey Pants. Which resulted in my subconscious dream me rolling on the ground laughing at the obvious connotations. In case you were wondering, no, I did not poop myself. Come on now.

So a strange start to the morning. But I made it to the airport in time. I got on the plane in time. Everything was going smoothly. Hell, I even got to sit next to a pretty girl. Unfortunately, said pretty girl smelled a bit of booze at 8:30 in the morning and started the flight by asking me if I had a barf bag in my seat pocket. She wasn’t feeling well. Awesome. She kind of passed out. I was ok with that. I quietly read my book and left her alone. Then she woke up. And promptly asked me if I could get up. She ran to the bathroom, or in Canadian, “washroom.” She came back looking haggard and freshly puked out. She was. She told the flight attendant she had the flu. Awesome. Again.

She passed out again. I continued reading. She woke up once more and asked me to get up. It was round two. She ran to the back. Threw up. Returned to her seat. She looked a bit better now. And was a bit more talkative. It was this talkativeness that saw her confide in me. She had been on vacation. She had been out drinking in Phoenix until two in the morning. Her flight left at 5:30. She didn’t have the flu. She was drunk. Or hung over. Or she might have gone through both phases as we sat there. Which made me so very happy.

Luckily, we arrived in Calgary early. About a half hour early. I breezed through customs. I went to claim my luggage. One of my bags came right away. The other was a bit slower. So I waited. And waited. And finally heard an announcement, all bags from Denver have arrived. Which was clearly a lie. Because I was missing a bag. And not the bag that I wouldn’t really have minded losing. I went through the claims process. No big deal. I couldn’t really do anything about it. The bags were checked all the way through to Stockholm so I wasn’t too horribly worried.

I continued on to get my boarding pass. But, clearly the world was laughing at Hershey Pants. I was told that while I was confirmed to Stockholm, I didn’t have a seat assignment. And the flight was overbooked. And there were plenty of people who had missed connections due to bad weather in Toronto. I was told I would probably make it on the flight. With a caveat. I might have to spend the night in Calgary. O Canada.

I called my old man to bitch and moan. Because at some point I think I need to accept that flying might not be for me. What with the adventures that I usually have. But, the old man, having flown more than any man should, had advice. I went to the customer service and started rattling off cities and airports I was willing to fly to in order to get to Stockholm. Frankfurt. Copenhagen. Helsinki. Oslo. Nothing doing though. I was told to wait. Sorry.

I ended up getting on the flight. They called me up to the gate with about 20 minutes to spare before takeoff. The flight went as any transatlantic flight does. Slowly. Broken up by food service. Intermittent sleep. Movies. Reading. Music. Anything to make the time go by.

But I arrived in London. My first point of business was an easy one. I wanted to find my luggage. I went to customer service at SAS in hopes of getting some information about my bag. I was told that SAS at London Heathrow Airport, one of the largest and busiest airports in the world, did not have a baggage tracking system.

Fine. I killed time. Ate a classic English breakfast. Bacon. Sausage. Blood pudding. Eggs. Mushrooms. Felt like shit for a bit afterwards but made it through. Finally, after about four hours in London, I boarded my final flight.

I arrived in Stockholm, no worse for the wear. Although still sans bag. Turns out my bag was in London. Probably at the same time I was. Just hanging out. At first I was incredibly annoyed by all of this. But then, as I was walking to the train, and then to my apartment, I felt quite blessed not to be dragging an extra bag with me.

Welcome to Sweden. Here I am. Back again. 30 hours after leaving Colorado.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Sweden’s Education Rank Falls

Sweden has long prided itself on its educational ranking. As it should. It has had a pretty solid reputation over the years. But it turns out that those rankings have been falling. For the last 12 years actually.

Sweden’s fall in the math and science rankings is one of the worst of the 35 countries included in the study.

Of course, there are differing opinions as to why this is happening. Some are blaming it on immigration. The idea there being that the increase in immigration, and especially refugee immigrants, has left teachers and the school system unprepared to handle the influx. I don’t know. Possible I suppose.

Another reason, and one that I believe plays a bigger role than immigration, is Sweden’s educational system overall. And what the Newsweek article refers to as a “lax education philosophy.”

Let me first explain that I never went to high school in Sweden. Or any sort of primary education. I can’t speak from a Swedish experience. I can however speak from a secondary educational experience. Because I have taken university classes here in Sweden. Classes in which retests were the norm. Not because it was hard, but because people would come in, read the test, and walk out. They knew that the retest would be similar and now they knew what to study. Pissed me off to no end. Mostly because I worked my ass off and studied and passed everything in the first go ‘round. But I couldn’t go back and improve my grades if I had wanted to.

Anyway, that lax education philosophy refers to the lack of grading. Students in elementary school don’t receive grades. The article says most don’t get graded until 8th grade. Jan Björklund, the education minister, has implemented a plan that will start grading 10 year olds. Sixth graders, by 2011. Which has been met with all sorts of criticism. Because we wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings you know. God forbid someone realize that they aren’t as good as someone else at something.

People are different. And some people are good at some things while others aren’t. Some people are more athletic. Some people are better looking. And some people are smarter. That means that some people are less athletic, ugly, and stupid. Which is unfortunate for them. But let’s not piss on their legs and tell them it’s raining. It does no one any good. Instead let them realize they aren’t good at math while realizing that they are good at historical research. Or that they can’t play basketball worth a damn but can shoot a target from 20 meters after having cross country skied 5 km.

Sweden’s idea that everyone is equal only leads to a false sense of security that does not match the real world. The real world makes judgments. For better or worse. To keep students from being graded until they are teenagers does nothing but create a group of coddled young people ill prepared for any sort of negative feedback that may come their way.

Obviously, grading sixth graders alone isn’t enough to halt the plummeting rankings. But, in my opinion, it can’t hurt. Grades make for accountability. They force people to look at areas they need to improve on. They act as indicators of where you are, where you should be, and even where you are going. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Welcome to Sweden. And a fall in the maths and sciences.

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