Monday, September 21, 2009
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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Thursday, September 17, 2009
Well, actually the results were in months ago, but I asked for a recount. Turns out there was evidence of massive fraud. And by evidence I mean obvious fabrications which I concocted on the fly. Over 100% of the voting population in certain constituencies were represented. Now math was never my strong point, but you can’t technically have more than 100%.
As we had already determined long ago I am, and in turn this blog is, awesome. May I remind you that I was asked to leave the country by several kind contributors to the comments section? And don’t forget that I was accused of sniffing glue as well as not being very smart but good with words. That’s like a friend telling you that the blind date he just set you up with “has a good personality” or that the greeter at Walmart is “a good man. He tries hard.” It just doesn’t help the self esteem.
Here are the results of the Top 100 Language Blogs 2009. Feel free to scroll around looking for my blog. Keep scrolling. Seriously. Keep scrolling. Just a little bit more. And one more time. There you go. 92nd place. I know you should never start a sentence with a number without writing it out, but I don’t even know how to spell 92nd. That’s how far down the polls I was. 92nd. Out of 100.
Now I think we can all agree that these results were highly suspicious. I had obviously stumbled upon massive voter fraud here in Sweden. How could this very blog, this blog that brings you so much joy and insight into Sweden, not be listed amongst the best language blogs of 2009? I know what you’re thinking, it is impossible. And I agree.
Which is why I requested a recount. I wanted to see ink stained space bars. I wanted to see "I voted!" stickers. I wanted voter registration cards. But I was denied. My quest to protest, to start a movement championing my cause, represented by the color orange, obviously the best color in the world, died in its infancy. Struck down by the higher powers that be. I couldn’t handle the shadows. Always lurking. The strange clicks in the night. I feel fairly confident that the moldy smell in my apartment was an attempt by the opposition to silence me. And it worked. I’m still 92nd out of 100.
Alright, I lied. I didn’t request a recount. But lying is acceptable when discussing voter fraud. Just ask Hamid Karzai. Or Abdullah Abdullah.
You may remember that I was listed first on the ballots. The beauty of that simple “A” at the front of the blog. But clearly it wasn’t enough. A friend told me that little old Sweden just couldn’t compete with the big boys. Like English or Japanese language blogs. Of course, since I write in English it didn’t really make me feel any better.
In the end I must take responsibility for the loss. My campaign promises fell hollow. My misuse of commas emerged. In the end, so many others were able to blog about a language in a way that educated people. Unwrapped the mystery that is a foreign language. I don’t do that.
So after months of self reflection, I can only say this:
"Words never quit. They never surrender.They never hide from history. Words make history."
Welcome to Sweden. And my concession speech, with a little help from John McCain.
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Monday, September 14, 2009
That being said, the news in Sweden today was somewhat disturbing. Sex sells. Kind of. Sex is being sold and a large percentage of people between the age of 16 and 25 think that is quite ok. A new study, reported in all kinds of media outlets, shows that 1.7% of Swedes between the age of 16 and 25 have sold sex online. That’s about 20,000 people. And 43% think that is quite alright. Of course, the country already allows for the selling of sex by prostitutes. It’s the buying of the sex that is illegal. Interestingly enough, it is the men in this age range who are more likely to be paid for sex.
I am in the age range of people who think this is ok. Granted, at the far end of the range. At 25 I’m basically an old man. But I don’t think it is ok to sell sex over the internet. Or to accept payment for sex. Nor have I been offered money for sex. Which I’m pretty ok with.
I know I have been shaped by the sexual attitudes of the US. I think it is an extreme that is unfortunate and very much based on the religious background of the US. It’s something I don’t necessarily agree with, especially when it leads to a fear of sex and the stigma that follows. But I understand it, if only because it’s the sexual culture that I grew up with.
In Sweden though, I wonder if the opposite is true, if the openness leads to a destigmatization that allows for sex to be sold by young adults online. And not just allows for it, but accepts it as if sex is something that should be on par with buying a bag of chips at Pressbyrån. Or online. Yes, I’d like the new Dan Brown book, The Lost Symbol, and a blow job please. For 100 SEK... well as long as shipping is free.
Social media has contributed with the availability of pictures and information that was once meant for friends, not Facebook friends. Cell phone cameras have contributed with sexting and pictures of things that were once meant for that awkward first experience in high school. Or maybe it is middle school now. It’s as if my generation has grown so accustomed to openness that it has become blind to any repercussions. Blind to the sex trade that they themselves are suddenly taking part in. Because that is exactly what this is, a new age sex trade.
I suppose from an entrepreneurial standpoint this is cutting out the middle man. Cutting out the pimp. It’s just good business. But I don’t want it to be a business. Everything has a price. Economically, everyone and everything can be bought. It’s just a matter of how much. But I don’t want sex to be a commodity. But if sex is allowed to be so open that there is no mystery behind it, no sense of meaning, then it will become just that. And when 43% of 16-25 year olds think that payment being exchanged for sex is ok, well, then sex is becoming a sellable good. And Sweden has 20,000 new prostitutes.
Welcome to Sweden. And web 2.0’s sex trade.
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Manliness is a tricky thing. Gender issues in general tend to throw some people off. And that’s fine. Sometimes it’s political, sometimes it’s emotional. I consider myself a man because I have a beard, chew on toothpicks, and wear flannel. Unfortunately, that describes some of those farm girls just outside of Greeley. This is where the confusion comes in.
But in Sweden, manliness is confused by other things. Like breast feeding. And Chlamydia. (On a side note, Microsoft Word automatically capitalizes Chlamydia, which for some reason made me laugh.)
Turns out that Swedish guys who get Chlamydia see it as manly, as some sort of rite of passage. Because who doesn’t want a burning sensation while peeing, weird discharge from the penis, and maybe even some swollen testicles? I am MAN!
Turns out it’s not just Chlamydia stricken Swedish guys who cling to a sense of manliness. A man just a bit older than me does the same. With a two year old son. Now that his two year old son is past breast feeding stage, this guy thinks he missed out on something. The bond of baby and breast. So he wants to be able to breast feed the next time he pops out a kid. And by he I obviously mean his wife. Because while gender might be tricky sometimes, in the end, the whole biology thing comes into play and some people just can’t have a baby.
But he is determined to get as close as possible. He thinks it is perfectly ok for him to whip out a breast pump in the middle of class so that he can stimulate his nipples into maybe, possibly, giving milk. Is androgyny something we should strive for? I don’t think so. It’s ok that men and women are different. I want men and women to be different. Biologically, we are different. Is it a nuanced view or argument? No. But I'm surprisingly ok with that.
This comes after a story a while back saying that Swedish men had lost some of their masculinity.
The Swedish stereotype in the US is of a male population that is tall, broadchested, maybe blonde with a red beard. This is based on the belief that all of Sweden was once populated by marauding Vikings. Which we all know wasn’t true. An incredibly small percentage of the population of what is now Sweden was Viking Vikings, the rest tended to farm and trade. But that stereotype seems to be undergoing a change. A change to a confused manliness. On the one hand public perception is that the metro culture is taking over, men attempting pump their nipples to stimulate breast feeding feed this stereotype. Then there are the men who think sexual diseases are a sign of manliness.
I don’t know how to define manliness. I suppose it is something that each individual needs to decide for himself. Or herself. Because I’m politically correct. I do know that manliness is not getting Chlamydia. Or pumping my nipples in the middle of a class.
Welcome to Sweden. And manliness.
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Sunday, September 06, 2009
Over the course of the semester in Uppsala we had a lot of fun. We did some stupid things, we did some smart things, and we even did some cultural things. We definitely formed a friendship that has withstood quite a few years and a lot of distance, and the fact that I am very slow in responding to e-mails.
I remember Keenan suffering from some insomnia during our time in Uppsala. Most people did at some point, and I still do. I completely blame the extremes of dark and light. One morning we woke up to hear a fantastic story from Keenan. He couldn’t sleep, which came as no surprise. What did come as a surprise was his bike ride. Keenan had ridden his bike from the Flogsta student housing in Uppsala to Gävle. If you were to take E4, the main highway, it’s about 110 km and would take you just over an hour to drive there. Keenan rode that stretch on a bike, in the middle of the night.
That ride was a harbinger of things to come. A couple years later Keenan came to visit a group of us living in Oregon. He was trying to recruit people for a crazy idea, a bike ride from Canada to Argentina. He even came bearing a CD trying to convince me to ride along with them. While flattered, my body is not made for riding a bike over two continents. Plus, I’ll be honest, I was skeptical of the ride actually happening. Apparently, I had forgotten a couple of things, specifically the kind of person Keenan is, and the fact that he rode his bike from Uppsala to Gävle in the middle of the night because he couldn’t sleep. As a general rule, never write anyone off who has done something like that.
Just over a year ago, Keenan left his hometown in Canada and headed off with his brother Jeff. They had put together a website, a plan to raise money for a charity, and a couple of bikes. Over 18,000 kilometers later and just a few days ago, Keenan and Jeff crossed the Argentinean border. I am left shaking my head at their adventures in bewilderment. I have gone on for nearly two years on this blog about my adventures in Sweden. An adventure that has taken place in one country where I already speak the language and have citizenship. I suppose adventure is always relative, but what these two guys have done is a true adventure. The kind of thing that makes me proud of my amazing friends, of the kindness of their hearts, and of the strength of their characters, as well as their legs at this point.
If you haven’t already, please head over to their blog ride for HOPE - canada to argentina by bicycle and leave them a comment, or join their Facebook group at Keenan and Jeff’s - ride for HOPE. If you’re really feeling engaged, donate a little bit of money, even if it is just a Loonie. See what I did there?
Welcome to Argentina guys.
Saturday, September 05, 2009
But no more, now I take subways and trains everywhere I go. And while they have their moments, listening to others moan about their hometown public transportation I was feeling pretty good. Especially after an incident the other day.
I was late. Well, on the brink of being late. It’s a brink I spend a lot of my time on for some reason. I blame the internet. As a general rule I don’t run for trains and busses anymore. In fact, it’s been several months since I ran a half marathon and I haven’t taken a single hurried step since then. And it feels amazing. But, as I said, I was late. And not for work but for drinks with a couple of buddies. So there was something at stake.
I saw the bus pull up to the stop just behind me. I was never going to make it. So instead I hit the crosswalk button knowing that it would turn the light red buying me time to run to the next stop. Turns out I am still slow. And that red lights are short. As I was running, I noticed the bus pull over at the stop ahead. YES! Someone would be getting off, buying me even more time. But I was still a good 50 meters away (I am damn near European with the usage of the metric system by the way).
With my head down and my hairy little legs churning, I was on my way. I glanced up. No one was getting off the bus. First, a moment of happiness. Clearly there was an old person working their way down the stairs. Ess-ell, the Nordic God of public transportation, was on my side.
I continued on. The bus getting bigger. My legs getting weaker. I made it. Only to see the bus driver laughing at me. Turns out he enjoyed watching a large hairy guy struggle to make the bus. He stopped and waited for me. Clearly the nicest bus driver ever. Much better than Lee who always threatened to take us back to elementary school when we were too loud.
So thank you kind bus driver. You made my day. And from the deep belly laugh you had going when I stepped on, I hope I made yours.
Welcome to Sweden. And public transportation’s cuddly side.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
I have a habit of writing about my travel. Because usually something happens. Like me missing a train in Poland. Or evil Mikael from SAS causing hell before heading to Spain. Or even the stinky girl on the plane ride home. But this trip was easy. Ryanair easy.
So instead of lamenting my inability to handle airports, I decided to share some pictures. Most people share pictures of themselves. Or the scenery. Or the sights. Those people are missing the point. It is much more entertaining to share the ridiculous signs that a country has to offer.
Let me first start this off by saying that I consider myself to be a relatively nice person. Just today I let a pregnant lady step in front of me in line while getting on the bus. I’m basically a chivalrous gentleman. But sometimes I have my moments. Don’t judge me.
I laugh at inappropriate things. I’m surprisingly ok with that. Like when I burst out laughing at the port-o-potty nearly smack dab in the middle of Vienna. It’s important that toilet access be given to everyone. Men, women, children, and of course, the handicapped. Which I think is why I appreciated this port-o-potty so very much.
Now the benefits of speaking a very Germanic language is that despite my lack of German skills, I can figure out certain words. They tend to be words that I have no business knowing. Like prisoner of war for example. But that’s what makes German language signs so very fun. Which is why I’d like to give you this gem of a sign from a church in Vienna. Focus on the last line.
Screaming is uncool. I’m pretty sure God mentioned that somewhere in the commandments.
An Austrian friend of mine has said that the subway in Stockholm is damn near raucous compared to Vienna. Having ridden around on the subway a fair bit for a few days, I am clearly in a position to make blanket generalizations. It was quiet, but I didn’t notice it either being more or less quiet. I might just be morphing in a Swede more than I am willing to admit. But then, I saw this sign.
Finally, the proof I needed to convince me that it isn’t just Swedes that are deathly silent on the train.
Welcome (back) to Sweden. And signs from abroad.
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