Monday, June 29, 2009

The Benefits of Privatization in Sweden

Some things seem obvious to me. And then I realize that what is obvious to me is most definitely not obvious to the average Swede. So much of that has to do with having grown up in the US. Maybe a little has to do with me being somewhat conservative and somewhat stubborn. Some might argue that those two are one and the same. Those people would be wrong though. Because I am always right.

The current Swedish administration, Moderaterna, the Moderates, are one of the more conservative parties in Sweden. During their run they have begun selling off certain previously state-owned assets (as a quick aside, privatization has been going on under all kinds of administrations since about the 1980s). The reaction to this seems to have been a mixed bag. Plenty of people don’t really mind. And plenty of people are quite opposed to this. I don’t mind at all, for whatever that is worth.

A recent study looked into the profitability of companies that were once state-run and then privatized. The results, to someone who grew up in the US and studied business, weren’t all that surprising. These companies became more profitable when they were privatized.

As I said, this seemed obvious to me. Privatization, in my mind, always seems to be a better idea in terms of profitability than the government running things. There is so much more incentive to succeed. And people respond to incentives. Especially monetary ones. In the end I would just prefer not having the government running businesses.

What caught my eye about this study was not so much the opportunity to claim that privatization is good or that government owned organizations are bad or even the article itself. Instead it was a subsequent article. “Increase state bank ownership: Left Party.”

So, a study comes out saying that privatization is beneficial in terms of profitability and competition and the Left Party says that the banks should go in the opposite direction and be bought up by the state. Lars Ohly is stating that the current economic crisis is the result of an “unregulated capitalist market.” Despite the obvious fact that the markets are far from being unregulated. In the face of evidence the Left Party stands pat. I suppose there is something to be said for that.

It seems that the average Swede doesn’t really mind the government owned enterprises. It is a system that they have grown accustomed to. A system that they believe in. But it is a system that I just can’t support wholeheartedly. Even if I am living in Sweden.

Welcome to Sweden. Where privatization works.

Subscribe to a Swedish American in Sweden

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Stockholm Arlanda is the Worst Airport in the World

I have a shortlist of airports that I hate. London Heathrow. Chicago O’Hare. Stockholm Arlanda. But my last trip through Arlanda cut that short list down a bit. I now have a winner in the airports I hate list.

Stockholm Arlanda. The worst airport in the world.

I have traveled a decent amount now. I have hit enough airports to make a relatively comprehensive comparison of airports. And Stockholm Arlanda is awful.

The airport is in constant disarray. They say they are improving it and to excuse the construction. Unfortunately, this has been going on for years now and all they’ve managed to do is create a shopping area which is constantly understaffed and low on stock.

The customer service is bad. Even by Swedish standards. And while the customer service can be contributed to the actual companies, like SAS known as the worst airline in the world, or US Airlines, the latest in bad experiences with airlines at Stockholm Arlanda, Arlanda still houses them all under one roof. And so it will take the blame.

The food is overprices and lacking in options. I was delayed and wandering around trying to find something to eat. I gave up after realizing that the one place that actually offered something other than a dry sandwich didn’t have anyone working at it. Despite being lit up and pretending to be open.

Even the security guards leave something to be desired.

Having recently traveled through Stockholm Arlanda, I was reminded just how bad it was.

I found myself in line moving at an average speed of one foot per minute. So I had plenty of time to watch the world go by. I watched a man abandon his bag and cart in the middle of the walkway and come to the line and talk to the woman behind me. They knew each other. He was a talkative fellow. The bag continued to sit in the middle of the walkway. Unattended. You know, just how they warn you to never leave a bag in an airport.

Two security guards came strolling by. One of them stopped. He seemed to remember that taking care of such things was probably part of his job description. His partner, however, was less interested. He exchanged a few words with our concerned security guard. Pointed to a woman standing about 50 feet away, and convinced his concerned partner that the woman owned the bag and there was nothing to worry about.

Now, I knew that the man behind me owned the bag. I was not concerned. Not for that bag at least. Of course, the complete lack of action by two men hired to take care of things like that was a bit concerning.

But not nearly as concerning as the complete lack of any sort of customer service by US Airways.

I arrived to the airport on time. Which is not always easy for me. I made my way to the US Airways counter only to notice a line that stretched at least 100 feet long. And a counter that was staffed by four women and one man. All representing US Airways to the best of their abilities. Unfortunately, their best just wasn’t good enough.

My flight was leaving at one in the afternoon. I began standing in line at about 11:20. By 12 I had moved maybe, maybe, 30 feet. By 12:15 I was inside the US Airways ropes. Of course, most flights close check-in 45 minutes before take-off. An at this point it was lunch time. So despite the long line. Despite the worried faces of scores of passengers. Despite the lack of information. Two of the US Airways employees left their counters. God forbid the paying customer actually receive any form of service.

By 12:30, I was nearing the counter and managed to find an Arlanda employee. The flight had been delayed. No worries. Everyone would make the flight. Of course there had been no announcement. The flight board still showed a take-off time of 13:00. I patiently made my way through line. By 12:45, nearly 90 minutes after I first plopped my ass into line, I was checked-in. The man checked my bags, and handed me my boarding pass.

He said nothing. He did not apologize. He did not explain the situation. Hell, he didn’t even tell me the flight was delayed. I had to ask him what time the flight was leaving. He didn’t know. He guessed maybe two or three hours later than planned. Awesome.

That means I had a few hours to kill. I spent my time trying to find exciting things to buy from the tax-free shop. Which resulted in lots of candy and some booze. You can’t really go wrong with candy and alcohol.

A couple of hours later I made my way to my gate. And waited. The flight was supposed to leave at 15:30. And I waited. Arlanda doesn’t really let you in to your gate. They have these sorts of holding room. So you go through passport control and are put in a holding room. You can see your gate but the door to the gate is locked. So you wait.

And the time kept ticking. At a quarter past three they allowed us into the gate area. Remember the flight was supposed to leave at 15:30. Now, I have never worked for an airline. Or an airport. But I do know that it is damn near impossible to completely board a large trans-Atlantic flight in 15 minutes. Luckily, we didn’t have to worry. Because when we made our way into the gate area we waited some more. With no announcement whatsoever.

By 16:00 I was on the plane. I don’t even know what time we actually left Arlanda. It didn’t matter at that point. The airport had done it again. It had defeated me. Sucked the very life out of me and left me deflated. Angry. Sad even.

I still don’t know what the delay was for.

Welcome to Sweden. And Stockholm Arlanda.

Subscribe to a Swedish American in Sweden

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Purple Shorts and a Purple Tie are not OK

I am not a fashionable person. I am sitting here writing this in a t-shirt I have owned since I worked as a janitor in high school. That’s about eight years ago. My shorts are stained. Personally, I’m impressed that my socks match.

Living in Sweden has made me a bit more fashionable though. For example, I own a yellow shirt now. Considering it isn’t blue, black, white, or grey, this is a big step for me.

All that being said, even I know that some fashion choices aren’t ok. A fashion faux pas if you will. And the other night night, something caught my eye. At first glance, I was convinced it might be the Grimace. But I was wrong.

I looked closely and instead of a large fat purple blob creature that loves McDonald’s hamburgers, it was a regular Swede. About my age. About my height and build. Short dark hair, conspicuous because of its lack of product. A decent size guy over all. For some reason, the fact that he was somewhat tall made what he was wearing look even more ridiculous.

My initial reaction to a purple creature wasn’t too far off. The guy was wearing purple shorts. Which, in and of itself, is just ridiculous. But it got better. Or worse, depending on your point of view. Because along with his purple shorts was a matching purple tie.

My old man never taught me much about fashion, but he taught me when to wear a tie. And while never explicitly stated, it was implied that a tie should never be worn with purple shorts. It’s a good lesson really.

The evening continued and I was transfixed by the purple man. It was like watching a train wreck. Here was as guy who was over 6 feet tall, wearing a purple tie to match his purple shorts while dancing around. He looked like a he should have just stepped out of a miniature car and started making balloon animals with a group of clowns. Instead he was dancing. With a girl. Who, by the way, was wearing bright red shorts. But no red tie to match.

That’s when I realized it. I will never be European. At least not that kind of European. I have an EU passport. I speak a European language. But European fashion escapes me. Despite my yellow shirt.

Welcome to Sweden. And purple pants.

To receive A Swedish American in Sweden in your inbox enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Revisiting a Strange Morning with Swedish Boobs

Last week I was asked about my time in Sweden. Why I was here. What I liked and didn’t like. Why I started writing this blog.

I began by explaining all of the differences in Swedish society that I didn’t realize until I made the move. Then I started recounting some of the ridiculous things that had happened to me while living here. Unfortunately, one of those things might be seen as somewhat inappropriate. Maybe not inappropriate, but the story does not always lend itself to many situations.

So instead, I cut myself off, making myself seem borderline creepy, but sparing my audience any undue embarrassment. It was the ultimate sacrifice really. I’m basically a verbal martyr.

I didn’t really think much of it until last night. And since then, I haven’t been able to keep boobs off my mind. One boob to be exact. The left boob. I don’t have some sort of strange left boob fetish. But I was in a reflective mood. And who doesn’t like reflecting on boobs? Swedish boobs at that.

Just over a year ago, I was on the elevator when a girl walked in with her left boob hanging out. I did not know said girl. She did not know me. But I will never forget her.

Because of the imprint she left, I decided to re-post my Swedish elevator boob experience. Kind of lazy, I know. Although, I just wrote a rather lengthy introduction. Anyway, without further ado, A Strange Morning with Swedish Boobs in Stockholm

From June 10th, 2008:
Today was definitely one of the weirdest mornings of my life here in Stockholm. Maybe just of my life in general.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subscribe to a Swedish American in Sweden

Monday, June 22, 2009

Regular Furloughs during Life in Prison – Murder Ensues

A man who was convicted for murder and sentenced to life in prison was recently hanging out on Kungsholmen. You may find it strange that a man supposedly imprisoned for life was hanging out on the very island which I ran around twice in a row to complete a solid half marathon. Let me remind you though, this is Sweden.

The Swedish justice system has a very interesting take on life in prison. And crime in general. They believe that everyone can be saved. That there are no bad people. That we will all one day sit around the camp fire and sing Kumbaya and hold hands.

Then a man who is serving life in prison is hanging out on his regular furlough and murders someone. Furlough is the fancy word that The Local used to report this story. An interesting little tidbit, look for synonyms of furlough in Microsoft Word and you’ll see that vacation pops up. Awesome. Because murderers definitely need vacations. Hell, the average Swedish worker gets about five weeks of it. The average murderer should get a piece of that pie too.

I do not like the Swedish justice system. Things like this happen just enough to make me think twice about the effectiveness. Like the guy downloading over two million pictures of child pornography for nearly twenty years who received only six months in prison. Or the convicted murderer who escaped while on a field trip during the busy Christmas shopping period.

But this one might take the cake. Because a convicted murderer sentenced to life in prison, killed another person while on vacation.

Surprisingly, it gets better. Because our convicted murdered had been on such good behavior, Gunnar Brodin recommended that life be shortened to 21 years. He had already spent 13 years in prison. Which is a pretty solid amount of time to spend in prison, but it is a lot less than life. Our good friend, Gunnar Brodin, whoo recommended the prisoner have his sentence shortened and be allowed out on field trips, says he won’t take any responsibility for what happened. Apparently, the prisoner had been going out on regular furloughs for a few years now. Awesome.

Mr. Brodin (just pretend you’re reading the Financial Times with the Mr. in front of his name) did however, admit that allowing the murderer our on the streets was “a poor decision.” In other news, puppies are cute, grass is green, and the Red Wings suck. No shit Mr. Brodin.

I don’t even know where to begin. It is just asinine to allow this sort of thing to happen. Fine, you want to treat the criminal and rehabilitate him. Fine. But do not allow this person to wander around Stockholm, uninhibited, until you are damn sure he really is rehabilitated. Because, just guessing, just thinking he is, is not ok.

Welcome to Sweden. Where Mr. Brodin is a head prosecutor making decisions with the support of the Swedish justice system.

To receive A Swedish American in Sweden in your inbox enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Week Thus Far in Stockholm, Sweden

I got pooped on. By a bird luckily, but still, I was pooped on. I heard the splat. I feared the worst. But it hit my backpack. Brown and nasty. Which was surprising, because I thought bird poop was always white. Turns out the white poop had landed on my black jacket just inches from my neck.

It rained. And rained. And rained some more. It rained so much that I bought a cartoon covered umbrella. I cursed the Swedish summers. I complained to friends and family. I was basically a bipedal Eeyore. It was bad. And then the sun came out. All was forgiven. When the winters consist of 17 hours of darkness, sunlight becomes very important.

I was completely ignored by a cashier. She looked right at me. I said hello and began putting my groceries on the conveyor belt. Then a man came out of nowhere. She had already begun helping him and he had forgotten something. So obviously, this being Sweden, she was unable to speak to anyone else. The sad thing is that being ignored by cashiers when speaking directly to them is more common than I would like to think.

That being said, I was also pleasantly surprised by the customer service of one store. The people at Galleri Elde Art Stockholm were friendly, helpful, and even managed to have what I had ordered ready and waiting for me when I came in just before closing. And the sad thing here is that, so much of this should be a normal part of good customer service, but I was damn near ready to give the old man and the girl at the cashier a hug because stuff like that seems so rare sometimes in Stockholm. But it happened. And I couldn’t have been happier.

And soon I will be heading off to get drunk and dance around a phallic green pole while singing about small frogs. Oh Swedish Midsommar, how I love you so.

Welcome to Sweden.

Monday, June 15, 2009

God Probably Doesn’t Exist in Sweden

There is an ad campaign going on in Stockholm right now. Gud finns nog inte. God probably doesn’t exist. They are blue and yellow squares. One square being a blue and yellow cross and a play on the Swedish flag. One a blue and yellow star of David. One a blue and yellow crescent. Typing this, I realize I have no idea which of these religious symbols are considered proper nouns and deserve capitalized letters. So none of them get them. Because I’m politically correct like that.

Sweden is a confused society when it comes to religion. It’s here, but not really. The Swedes happily take various Christian holidays off from work and treat them as public holidays. Like the Day of the Ascension. I had never even heard of this day until I moved here. And found out I didn’t have to go to work because instead I should be celebrating the day Jesus headed up to heaven.

Of course, start a conversation with the average Swede and they will deny any belief in God. They might admit to some sense of spirituality, believing in “something” and give you some new age nonsense about the sun or nature, but to name it God would be sacrilegious. See what I did there?

Plenty of conversation about the US will bring up the religious aspects of the country and “God Bless the USA.” Abortion. Gay marriage. Anything that could be related, no matter how peripherally, to religion, will come up.

Keep in mind though that until just recently, 2000 to be exact, Sweden still had an official state church. In 2008, about 73% of Swedes were still members of the Church, that’s almost seven million people. This has been decreasing slowly, but steadily since 1972, and maybe further back but those are the Swedish Church statistics I could find. In a half-hearted search I couldn’t manage to find how many people actually go to church. Well I found a ballpark number on Wikipedia, but I’ll be damned if I start referencing Wikipedia, even if this is just a blog.

The God probably doesn’t exist campaign, states that over seven million Swedes aren’t religious. Now we’re playing with semantics here. Believing in God. Being religious. And of course, I feel fairly confident that of those seven million Swedish church members, plenty aren’t believers. That’s fine. But let’s do some quick math here. Seven million church members plus seven million non-religious people does not nine million Swedes make. Somewhere along the line, the numbers don’t match up.

Sweden is known to be an incredibly secular society. Which I think is why I find this ad campaign to be so very interesting. In a society that actually prides itself on its lack of religion, the need for an ad campaign like this seems like overkill. Or a waste of money. Then I started reading the website. And about the campaign. The last line hit the nail on the head. The group behind the campaign, the Humanists, want new members.

The God probably doesn’t exist website starts you off with a test. Which I took. I was impressed by the horribly loaded questions that don’t actually do much good for starting a reasonable discussion. This was especially noticeable when I answered a question “wrong” in the eyes of the Humanists. Depending on your point of view I either passed or failed. But the Humanists seem to think that I should join them. Take that for what you will.

Of course, a group that wants you to join in their beliefs, wants you to donate to them, wants you to become a member might remind you of an already existing entity. Like a church for example. I doubt the Humanists would want me to mention that.

I am not a religious person at all. I mean at all. But I have no problem with people believing in something. Belief is good. Faith is good. That being said, I don't want you knocking on my door trying to sell me your particular God. Whether it be a particular savior, or knowledge and secularism. It's the extremism that bothers me.

And hypocrisy. Hypocrisy also bothers me.

Welcome to Sweden. Where God probably doesn’t exist.

To receive A Swedish American in Sweden in your inbox enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bamse Umbrellas and the Swedish Summer

I have managed to get through two Swedish winters. It hasn’t always been pretty but I’m still here. The winters are dark. And the darkness is suffocating. When I first came to Sweden, the darkness was a common topic of conversation. When you wake up in the dark, go to work in the dark, and come home in the dark, darkness is an exhausting part of your everyday life. And so I bitched and moaned.

In those many conversations, I was reminded by others of the beautiful Swedish summers. The warm, but not too hot days. The chance to swim in the countless lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water. The daylight that lasts well into night. It sounded almost too good to be true. But last summer, as promised, I enjoyed warm, but not too hot days. Swimming in lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water. And daylight that lasted well into night. It was glorious.

This summer though, I feel like I have been deceived. I was led to believe that every Swedish summer was a Nordic paradise. But that is not the case. Because today, for the first time in my entire life, I bought an umbrella. I lived for four years in Eugene, Oregon, where the only shower many hippies get are the daily rain showers during the winter months. I never felt the need to buy an umbrella.

Now I own an umbrella. A Bamse umbrella, because Bamse is awesome and I just couldn’t handle all of the black, soulless umbrellas wandering around town. Clearly, the Swedes need me to brighten their day. Few things are as entertaining as seeing a large hairy man walking around Stockholm with a Bamse umbrella.

It feels like October. Windy, mid 40 to mid 50 degree weather, rain. Luckily, midsummer is this coming week so I know it is, in fact, June and the time when Swedes everywhere dance around a phallic pole and drink themselves stupid hoping to use their own phallic pole. I can only hope that the weather has improved by then. Because, from midsummer on, the days are just getting shorter…

Welcome to Sweden. And the Swedish summer.

To receive A Swedish American in Sweden in your inbox enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Monday, June 08, 2009

EU Elections in Sweden

I voted in the EU elections yesterday. Along with 18 other EU countries. And about that same number of individual voters. This makes it two major elections for me in the past year. Seven months since the US Presidential elections and now, the EU elections. The benefits of having dual citizenship.

The process was an easy one. There were no lines. There were hardly any people. In fact, I was the only one voting at the time. It was a bit different than an American election though. Starting with walking through the doors.

Standing in front of the doors, creating a gauntlet, were volunteers from four different parties handing out their ballots. I was amazed. And I did not like it at all. I felt that by the time I show up to vote, I need to be left alone to do that rather than being accosted by campaigners trying to get me to vote for their party.

Being the sneaky person that I am, I grabbed ballots from all of them so as not to tip my hand. Once inside, I chose the ballot that I actually wanted and went behind the green triangular curtain to make my choice.

The voting process involved choosing one ballot from a group of ballots advertising the different parties. You are then allowed to choose one person from that one ballot. At which point you stuff your envelope and seal it up. The one ballot one vote means you are essentially voting for a party. The individual voting is called a personröst. You’re voting for that specific person. Otherwise you’re just voting for the party and the party will allocate your vote to whichever candidate they prefer.

I chose a specific person. Because I like to be in control and didn’t want someone else allocating my vote. Having cast my vote, I went to the two lovely volunteers sitting at the desk with their binder full of personal identification numbers and handed over my ballot.

They checked my ID and personnummer and I had officially voted. I didn’t get any “I Voted” stickers like for the US elections though. It was all very simple. So simple, that the lack of people in the voting location was disappointing.

As mentioned, I was alone while I voted. Three other people walked in as I was walking out. Now, one voting locale does not an election make. But the turnout was not impressive. I had read the reports beforehand that turnout was expected to be low some showing that nearly 25% of the Swedish population didn’t even know there was an election going on. That’s not good. Still I was surprised though when faced with the reality of the no-shows.

Looking at the turnout results from the latest elections the EU had a rousing 45.6% of about 342 million eligible voters in 2004. The US is estimated to be around 61.7% of about 215 million eligible voters in 2008. Country by country in national elections, for example the US vs. Sweden, Sweden dominates. By a lot. Impressively so. But EU vs. US, the US actually came out ahead. This election was no different.

With pre-voting having ended on Saturday, only about 12% of eligible voters in Sweden had voted. In the end, only 42.5% of the voting population came out to vote. The Pirate Party made headlines by snagging a seat in the EU parliament. Some people are fired up because they think the party is only about file sharing. Which isn’t completely true. They want freedom of internet basically. Of course, they have no policies when it comes to any other issue. And they are proud of it.

Sweden, luckily, didn’t see the Swedish Democrats, the far-right party, grab a seat. Plenty of other countries did. From the UK to Hungary. That’s the problem when there is such low turnout. A loud minority with extremist ideas can do some damage.

As an American, having always heard that Europeans are so good at voting and that the US has such horrible turnout, I was disappointed to see the results of this election.

I spoke with a few Swedes who hadn’t voted. The excuse I often heard was one that I have heard in the US. The EU parliament seems too far away. It doesn’t really represent the people. There is just too much of a disconnect. Kind of like Washington DC.

I don’t really buy it. I enjoy voting. I think it’s important. I completely blame my AP government teacher from senior year in high school for that. So I voted. Unfortunately more Swedish citizens didn’t. And that doesn’t bode well for an EU that hopes to represent the European population.

Welcome to Sweden. Where voter turnout doesn’t always live up to its reputation.

Subscribe to a Swedish American in Sweden

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Two Years in Stockholm and Memories of the Ghetto

Yesterday was the two year anniversary of my landing in Stockholm, Sweden. I’ve managed to survive a whole lot of days in this country. So obviously I celebrated in what I thought to be an appropriate American fashion.

I went to a movie. An American one of course. Followed by standing outside of Stadion listening to Bruce Springsteen. I am cheap and didn’t have tickets. Luckily, playing in the 1912 Olympic stadium allows for the sound to carry. It was glorious. Dancing in the Dark seemed an appropriate song to be hearing as darkness tried to envelope the city around 11 in the evening.

When I made my way home I found myself attempting thoughtful reflection. Of course, thoughtful reflection doesn’t always work well for someone like me. Instead I reminisced about the misery that was my first move to an apartment in Sweden.

I knew maybe three people in Stockholm when I moved here. I had no job. I had no car. I wasn’t able to move into my apartment for about ten days after having moved here. I have had Swedes tell me I was brave to move here considering those circumstances. Having lived here for two years now, I understand that when Swedes say “modig” or “brave,” they actually mean “you are a complete idiot, why the hell would you do something like that.” Swedes tend to be very polite passive people. Luckily I had an uncle with an apartment.

In the ten days between landing in Stockholm and being able to move into my apartment I began the ever exciting task of buying furniture at IKEA for a new apartment. I stockpiled a few chairs and a table at my uncles place and patiently awaited my move-in date.

Because I had agreed to renting the apartment before moving to Sweden I had not seen it. As we all know, I am an idiot. I had ten days to go explore my new surroundings. Find out exactly where I was living. Find out how to get there. I did not do that. Because that would show some sort of foresight and logical thinking.

When move-in day rolled around, I didn’t really know where I was going. But I knew that I wanted to make the move as painless as possible. So, in what I thought was a good idea, I packed a backpack and a suitcase to take with me. In my bags I was carrying some clothes and a couple of pieces of flat packed IKEA furniture. I headed for the pendeltåg. The commuter train that I learned to hate over the coming months. I was not living in the middle of the city. By any means.

It was the middle of June and surprisingly warm. I found my way to the train without any problems. I got on the train going the right way. I did not find a seat. I had a lot of luggage so there just wasn’t room for me. I studied the different stops so I would know which stop was immediately prior to mine. This would allow me to prepare. I was thinking ahead. And that’s when it happened.

The train stopped. Not at a train stop, which would make sense, but in the middle of the tracks. I’m not an expert on trains, but being stranded in between stations on train tracks just doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. I stayed calm and sat down on my bags.

Time passed slowly on the train. Slowly and silently. This was my first experience with the deathly silence that is Swedish public transportation. There were no announcements as the sun beat down on a train full of quietly seething Swedes.

Finally, after about ten minutes, the conductor came on and babbled something about not worrying, just a problem with the signals up ahead and we would soon be on our way. Turns out, he was a liar. We sat there for 30-45 minutes. I give such a big range, because my memory says 45 minutes but I fear that the two years have just made me bitter.

Suddenly, if suddenly can be used to describe such a long wait, the train started moving. At this point, the suffocating heat of a stranded train has left my shirt stuck to my sweaty back and my forehead running with little rivulets of sweat as I finally arrived at my stop and stepped off the train. As an aside, the girls couldn’t keep their eyes off of me. It was obviously my boyish good looks.

As I mentioned, I had never been out to my apartment. I didn’t know where to go. I had an address and an idea. Some would think that a map would have been a good idea. Those people would be right. Unfortunately, I was not one of them. So I wandered around carrying a backpack and a large suitcase which I had stuffed two flat-packed chairs into. I turned right out of the train station. After struggling with my bags and wiping sweat out of my eyes I realized I wasn’t going to find the street I was looking for.

I backtracked, this time going left out of the station. And did not find my apartment or the street I was looking for. So I backtracked again, this time to the station in hopes of some sort of sign from God. Instead, I found a sign from SL. Which is almost the same thing.

Turns out, I needed to turn left out of the station. So I headed back to where I had just come from. By this time, my shirt was not only sticking to my sweaty back but also my sweaty belly. The rivulets had become a deluge. I was hot.

I wandered in amongst a large collection of high-rise apartments. From the open window of one of the apartments I heard Coolio singing Gangsta's Paradise. I saw people all around me in traditional Middle Eastern garb. I didn’t hear a word of Swedish. It was such a change in scenery from the middle of Stockholm. It surprised me. Not a good surprise. Not a bad surprise. Instead it gave me a look at Sweden that very seldom is mentioned.

Suddenly, the realization hit me. I was in the Swedish ghetto. Euphemistically known here in Sweden as “the suburbs.” The area is essentially social welfare housing speckled with some student housing. I was trying to find the student housing.

As my desperation grew, and I looked more and more like I went swimming with all of my clothes on, I realized I still hadn’t found the damn street that my apartment building was supposed to be on. By this point, I was just angry. I had wandered into what is, not so euphemistically, known as a jumbo cluster fuck. There were streets with no names. There were streets that lasted one block. There were towering apartment buildings without addresses.

My apartment was on the 12th floor. Suddenly, it hit me, these buildings were big, but they weren’t 12 stories big. So I started counting the number of floors on each building as I passed it. None had 12 stories. Except for one. But it had small balconies. I knew enough to know that I didn’t have a balcony. I kept walking. Kept sweating. Kept cursing my decision to carry two IKEA chairs in a large bag. All the while counting the number of stories in each building.

Suddenly, I saw one building in front of me. No balconies. Over 12 stories. Ugly as sin. Then another. Then a third. I walked to the front of the first building, because somehow, in my wandering, I had managed to sneak up on the buildings from behind.

There it was. A student housing sign. Then a street sign. Then building numbers. The key worked and I made my way inside. Up to the 12th floor where I immediately dumped my backpack and bag on the floor, peeled off my shirt and shoved my face under the kitchen faucet.

I was home. A home which did me well for nearly a year and a half. I have since moved from “the suburbs.” I do not miss them. But it was always an adventure.

Welcome to Sweden. And reminiscing.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Bikes, Ladies Shorts, and a Good Cause

Sometimes I need a little kick in the ass. And the other day I got it by way of an e-mail from an old friend. So this post won’t necessarily be a funny one. (They usually aren’t.) Or about the differences in Swedish vs. American culture. (It’s usually just nitpicking.) Or even a scathing critique of the worthlessness that is Stockholm’s public transportation. (Which really does suck.) Instead it’s one of those good old calls to action. For a good cause though. So bear with me.

We met in Sweden while studying abroad in Uppsala. Keenan suffered from some insomnia at one point during the winter and somehow decided it would be a good idea to ride his bike from Uppsala to Gävle. In the middle of the night. In the middle of the Swedish winter. With that in mind, what he has been doing since then seems downright normal.

Keenan and his brother Jeff have been on their bikes for over 13,884 km. From Canada they have managed to cycle down to central Peru. In just over nine months they have biked one continent and are well on their way to riding through another. My ass gets tired just thinking about it. Luckily, Keenan has managed to wear ladies biking shorts for most of the time. Large for those of you wondering.

Riding a bike from Canada to Argentina with ladies shorts on is no small task. And the brothers are raising money along the way for an organization called HOPE. Which, despite recent events, has no ties to Obama as far as I can tell.

The money goes to rebuilding communities in the Dominican Republic focusing on community greenhouses and irrigation systems. The goal is 50,000 dollars. Canadian I think. And for the Swedes, that is 50.000. Notice the period. With just a few months left, they are hovering around 15,000 dollars. A nice chunk of change, and something that will most definitely make a difference for the organization they are supporting. But it’s a long ways away.

If you want to donate, according to their blog, “HOPE's donation page can be found here - just select 'other' on the drop-down menu, and write "ride for HOPE", or "Keenan and Jeff's ride for HOPE" on the comments section to make sure that the money goes towards this project in the Dominican.”

Not everyone will be able to donate money. Or even want to. But you can do something. Even if it is just sending a friend the link to a Ride for HOPE ( Or read their post as to why in the hell they thought it would be smart to ride their bikes tens of thousands of kilometers: Why We’re Still Riding. Send their links to other people on Twitter. Facebook. Digg their stuff. The internet is an amazing thing. And theirs is an amazing story. It’s a match made in heaven. Or central Peru.

Welcome to North and South American bike riding.

Follow Ride for HOPE by entering your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner