Monday, October 26, 2009

Saabs to Skåne, Busses to Stockholm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delivered by FeedBurner

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Five Things I’ve Learned Since Moving to Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Sweden. And my life lessons.

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

Delivered by FeedBurner

Monday, October 19, 2009

Yoghurt and Swedish Health Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Sweden. And yoghurt health care.

Subscribe to a Swedish American in Sweden

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Service in Stockholm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Sweden. Where I yearn for customer service.

Subscribe to a Swedish American in Sweden

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Swedish Swine Flu Public Service Announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delivered by FeedBurner

Friday, October 09, 2009

Barack Obama Wins 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subscribe to a Swedish American in Sweden

Monday, October 05, 2009

An Open Letter to the Bald Guy at SATS

Dear Bald Guy,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hairy Swede

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

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Swedes Abroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Oktoberfest. And Swedes abroad.

Subscribe to a Swedish American in Sweden