Monday, December 06, 2010

The End of Novembeard and Things I Have Learned

I participated in what is cleverly referred to as Novembeard. That is to say, I did not shave for the month of November. I’m pretty hairy and haven’t had trouble growing a beard since I was about 15. So an entire of month of no shaving or trimming got pretty hairy. See what I did there?

I suffered heavily from what I like to refer to as cheek creep. It’s when the stray beard hair starts moving up your cheek a little bit. Not so much that you end up looking like a werewolf, but enough that you can sometimes catch a glimpse of them when you look down your nose at someone. Which I obviously do quite often. I was forced to amend the rules of Novembeard and did a clean-up of the non-beard areas. When it finally came time to shave, I couldn’t have been harrier. I mean happier. See, again? I am witty. It was quite a process with several different levels being used on my beard trimmer, but finally I was clean shaven again. Of course, my sink looked as if I had just shaved a small squirrel in it, but I digress.

This is about lessons learned since being back.

Lesson one. Never, ever drink an entire liter of water right before you have to stand in front of a class and teach for an hour. You will start to dance. A lot.

Lesson two. Never, ever eat an entire can of Campbell’s Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup without adding the extra can of water. It is condensed. Which I’m pretty sure translates as full of enough sodium to send your body into shock. Plus, it doesn’t taste very good.

Lesson three. Always watch what you say in front of a class. They look like they’re not paying attention, but the second you say something that may be construed as sexual, they are paying attention. The twittering will alert you to your mishap.

Lesson four. Never, ever ask for an explanation of what you just said. You can’t unhear some things and you still have to give these people grades.

Lesson five. I am old. Seriously. The cul-de-sacs set me apart from the 30,000 undergrads here, which is really underscored when you see an attractive girl walking towards you only to realize that when she passes you by, she’s probably not even legally allowed to drink. See, even my eye sight is failing me.

Lesson six. When going for a run in the dark, don't assume that unidentified mass in front of you is a leaf waiting to be crunched by your foot. I love crunching leaves. It entertains me and allows for those giant monster fantasies we all had as children stomping through the sand box and crushing civilizations under our feet. No? No one else? Just me… Anyway, that “leaf” you think you’re going to crunch? It might be dog poop. And by might I mean will.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And lessons learned.

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Friday, December 03, 2010

Thanksgiving in the USA. Finally.

Just over one week ago, I spent my first Thanksgiving in the US since 2005. That’s a long time to go without family and football.

The first Thanksgiving abroad was spent at a little restaurant on the east coast of Australia. I had duck. I figured I needed some sort of bird in me. It was delicious.

Then followed three Thanksgivings in a row in Sweden. One resulted in a homemade Thanksgiving dinner after scouring several grocery stores in Stockholm for turkey. It was also delicious.

The next found me sitting at an American sports bar in Stockholm watching football and eating a turkey sandwich. I just didn’t have it in me to try to do anything. I think the sandwich was named after Larry Bird. I was able to consume quite a bit of bird that day. It was not delicious.

But even I have limits and decided that I felt a little too pathetic to sit alone at a bar on Thanksgiving. I was much too distraught by the death of a special little guy. Poseidon. Still missed even today.

My last Thanksgiving was spent with good friends and a whole lot of food in Stockholm. I spent most of my time doling out wine trying to get everyone good and liquored up. Because no Thanksgiving is complete without copious amounts of alcohol. Duh.

This Thanksgiving though, I was back in the US of A. I was thrown immediately into the Thanksgiving tradition of running a 5K Turkey Trot. And I trotted my way to the finish line without vomiting. It’s the little things really.

I followed that with lots of food. In fact, I weighed myself before dinner at 202.4 American pounds. Just a couple of hours later I weighed in at 206.8 pounds. That’s 2.4 pounds of America right in my belly. Feel free to chant U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! as you read this.

Since I made my way back to the great Midwest, I have gone for a run every day. For a couple of reasons. One being the fact that that 5K nearly killed me. The other being the fact that I was able to put on 2.4 pounds in just one sitting.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And an American Thanksgiving. Finally.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Religion in Swedish-America

The stereotypical Swedish-American is old. Has never been to Sweden. Claims Swedish ancestry through a long lost generation. And is Lutheran. Really Lutheran. There is a God with a capital G. There is plenty of religion in the US so maybe a Lutheran pocket isn’t all that strange.

But I still get tripped up by it all. The other day I saw three college aged kids sit down at a restaurant. They were big. Football player big (no word on their claimed European ancestry). They all had their food in hand; two of them took their hats off, elbows up on the table, folded hands, and bowed heads. They were praying. Or saying grace. I’m not really familiar with the parlance.

In three years in Sweden I never once saw someone bow their heads in prayer at a meal. In fact, I only saw heads bowed four times in my time there. Three times at weddings and once at a Christmas service in a small church in southern Sweden. It was so rare that I can count them all. On one hand.

I don’t walk into churches here for that very reason. In Europe I ducked in because I loved the buildings. The history. The architecture. The art. Here I feel like I might be recruited if I were to wander in.

Strangely enough, the buses right now are covered in an ad campaign that felt vaguely familiar. An ad campaign that I never would have expected in the US, especially considering the scene I stumbled upon above. An organization promoting atheism and freedom from religion has paid for 13ish different ads all introducing a local atheist and espousing the virtues of not believing in God. Like sleeping in on Sunday.

I expected uproar. Old people attacking the buses with crucifixes. Or at least poorly worded placards explaining the well-known fact that all non-Christians are going to hell. Duh. There has been nothing. At least nothing of note.

Maybe it is fitting that, despite the Swedish-American stereotype, a place that has a high Scandinavian-American population would entertain such an ad campaign. Maybe it’s a changing of the guard. Maybe it’s a slow process. Maybe it’s completely a publicity ploy and those 13 ads are the only 13 people in the area who support the cause. Or maybe the stereotype still is true and it just so happens that because they are old, they are dying and unable to work up the vitriol needed to protest.

Regardless, I was surprised. Both by the display of religion after three years without it. And also by the display of non-religion because of my own held stereotypes. Confusing isn’t it?

Welcome to Swedish-America. And religious tolerance. Or something like it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Getting Used to America

Sometimes it really hits me that I’m in the US now. Certain things are obvious, like all the English being spoken around me (you’ll be happy to know that I no longer feel schizophrenic and am able to shut out all of the English conversations not involving me). Certain things are still taking some getting used to. Certain things took absolutely no getting used to and resulted in me quietly muttering U-S-A! U-S-A! to myself.

First, what resulted in me chanting to myself? Beer prices. Low, low beer prices. I bought a Guinness the other night during happy hour at a local bar. I paid two dollars and fifty cents. $2.50. 2.50 USD. With the current exchange rate that is about 17 SEK. When happy hour ended, with me still there, I paid five dollars. $5.00. 5.00 USD. With the exchange rate that is about 34 SEK. I was excited every time I found a beer for less than 45 SEK in Stockholm. And that was just your classic storstark. God forbid I go out on a limb and order something worth drinking. And so, beer for two dollars and fifty cents results in a U-S-A! U-S-A! chant. Obviously.

And the still getting used to. Marriage. Everyone is married. I am surrounded by married people. And they are my age. Colleagues are married. Friends are married. Cousins are married. Ex-girlfriends are dropping like flies.

I kind of forgot about that in Sweden. It seemed like people weren’t getting married until after the 30 mark. They might have been going together (as my mother would say. Going where you might ask? No one knows.) for years and years. They might have been living together for years and years. They might have had children together for years and years, but they weren’t married. They were sambo. There’s a difference. Not here. Here they are married.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And still adjusting.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Swenglish Pronunciation

I was constantly amazed at English in Sweden. The Swedes have it down to an art. They are damn good at it. They speak it well and they speak it fluently. But regardless of their level of fluency, it is not their native language. And sometimes I couldn’t help but notice.

Let me preface this by saying that I am well aware that my Swedish is by no means perfect. It’s good, but I made plenty of mistakes. And continue to do so. My pronunciation is good, but by no means perfect. I say things and occasionally realize that had I should have shortened the vowel. It happens. Doesn’t mean that it isn’t funny though.

And so, long after having left the country (and safe from the reach of the Swedes), a short list of words that made me laugh:

Unique became eunuch. Which are two very different things. One means well, one of a kind. The other means, well, none of a kind. See what I did there? None, because the man has been castrated. I am hilarious.

Cheap became sheep. At first, I found this cute and endearing. Mostly because I like sheep. Then Tele2 came out with an entire marketing campaign focusing on the play on words. And I learned to hate it.

Three became tree. It’s a tricky sound. The ‘th’ sounds. Kind of like the ‘sk’ or ‘sj’ sound in Swedish twists the tongues of Americans everywhere. I suppose it is only fair.

Skeptic became septic. When I think of septic I think of septic tanks. And poop. Of course I have the mindset of a five year old boy. When I think of skeptic I think of conspiracy theorists. Of course, they also have the mindset of a five year old boy so maybe these two aren’t that far off after all.

And, maybe my favorite, bear in mind became beer in mind. Bear in mind that if you make it to happy hour you may end up with a beer in mind. Which is a hell of a lot better than a bear. Although, both could result in a few dead brain cells.

What did I miss?

Welcome to Swedish-America. And Swenglish pronunciation.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bad Clothing in Swedish-America

There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. You’ll hear it from the day you land in Sweden until the day you take off. Especially if you come during the winter. It has been branded into my cattle-like brain and has followed me here to Swedish-America. And the other day I had bad clothing.

It was raining. Like really raining. Animals were pairing up and looking for boats to board. I on the other hand, decided that this was the perfect time for a walk. I thought to myself, it has been raining all day, it’ll let up. But, just as with the stock market, past results do not guarantee future returns. So out I went. And despite having a glorious Bamse umbrella, I chose to walk over five miles without it.

Channeling my ever-optimistic father, I assumed the rain would stop. So I trudged on. Channeling my ever-optimistic father, I stopped under a tree, assuming the rain would stop. Channeling my ever-pessimistic mother, I began cursing and just kept walking. By the time I arrived at my destination, my jacket was soaked through. My shirt was soaked through. My undershirt was soaked through. My chest hair was soaked through. Even my boxers were wet.

Luckily, there’s nothing a couple of friends and some beer won’t solve. And by that I mean that the best thing about being wet is getting dry. Unfortunately, walking five miles one way means you need to walk five miles the other way. And so I did. At this point, I realized that not only was my chest hair soaked, but my shoes had turned wet, then dry, then hard. And during that time I had developed severe blisters on my heels and the bottom of my feet. But my heels were worse. So, instead of calling for a taxi like any normal person would do, I took my shoes off. At least that way my heels might stop bleeding.

They did. Of course, if you were reading carefully you will remember that I had already developed blisters on the bottom of my feet as well. By the time I made it home, at a much slower pace than my usual gait, my feet were bleeding, my clothes were wet, and I was angry.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And no bad weather. But lots of bad clothing.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Swedish Elections in the US

Well that was disappointing. Twenty seats disappointing. Five point seven percent disappointing. Sverigedemokraterna disappointing. Because suddenly, an extreme rightwing party will be sitting in Stockholm.

Because I am a nerd, and have a strange affinity for watching election results from foreign countries, I turned on my computer, got myself a projector, surrounded myself with a few other Swedophiles, and watched the election results live. From the US.

I did a lot of head shaking. I shook my head at the fact that an anti-immigration party could gain so much support. I shook my head at the awkward position that all the other parties find themselves in with no clear majority. I even shook my head at the reaction of Lars Ohly trying to blame Sverigedemokraternas support on a social infection carried from mainland Europe.

It came as no surprise that SD grabbed some seats. It came as a surprise though that they grabbed so many. The results suggest some serious underlying issues in Swedish society. Fearing the other. Whatever the other may be. Clearly, immigration is an issue that must be dealt with in Sweden. It probably should have been dealt with long ago, but wasn’t. At least not satisfactorily if you judge by the election results. Now there is no excuse.

Unfortunately, I fear that comments like Ohly’s will do nothing to resolve the issue. Instead of confronting the problem as something Swedish, because it is. It is Swedish when Swedish people are voting in a Swedish election for a Swedish party that wants to preserve Swedishness at the expense of non-Swedes. Ohly wants to blame Europe. He wants to blame the others. He wants to blame the non-Swedes. It’s time to step up and realize that blaming the other only sows more distrust. More stereotypes. More hatred.

I’ve written about immigration in Sweden a lot. I think it is a broken system that must be fixed. I do not think this is fixing anything. I think this is a sad referendum on the state of Swedish politics. Even if I am only in Swedish-America.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And Swedish election results.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Public Transportation in Swedish-America

This past week I was on the bus here in good old Swedish-America. I knew I was in Swedish-America and not Sweden for a couple of reasons. One, there were two kids in the back of the bus rapping. Loudly. And two, the bus driver was yelling at said kids. Loudly.

As I sat there, in the crossfire, listening to my the B.S. Report, I realized how some things are just so very different than what I grew used to (yet still complained about) in Sweden.

Public transportation is miserable everywhere I have decided. It is less miserable in some places, but as a general rule, where public transportation goes, misery follows. I do not like it.

In Sweden, I rode in silence. People seldom spoke. People barely looked at each other. People most definitely did not rap loudly. To be honest, I could care less if you rap loudly. I think it’s rude, but I’ve got my iPod in and have grown quite adept at ignoring noise. And who are we kidding, rap is just noise.

So there I sat, hearing just a bit of background noise when the bark came from the front of the bus. Shut up back there. Watch your mouth back there. Stop swearing back there. It was a furious few second of vitriol directed towards our budding Tupac. It seemed that the real problem was not so much the noise, but the language. These kids dared to swear. Shit.

As I have written before, I’m not a huge proponent of swearing. I think it is in poor taste when done in very public places. Public transportation, by definition, is public. But, I’ve been known to drop the occasional damn it. Fuck. Shit. Bitch. It happens, so I tend to get over it.

The bus driver did not. Because she followed with a classic line that made me hate her just a little bit. If you don’t stop, I will call the cops. I actually laughed out loud at this point. So now I’m the weird guy that laughs out loud while listening to an iPod. Oh well.

First, I had no idea that swearing was illegal. Second, I can’t imagine the police wanting to take the time and energy to respond to a call about two kids swearing on a bus. And third, really? Really? You’re going to stop the bus, with other passengers on it, call the police because of some foul language, and make us wait for the police to respond? Because of foul language?

I assume the Wu Tang Clan (I’m really running out of rapping references here…) in the back was thinking the same thing. Because they did not stop rapping. Although, instead of rapping about bitches and hoes, they switched to ice cream. Vanilla and chocolate. A deeper social commentary really.

As I finally stepped off the bus, I realized that in three years of riding public transportation in Sweden, nothing along those lines had ever happened. After one month riding public transportation in the US, there it was.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And rapping at the back of the bus.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

That’ll Teach You, Sweden

Yesterday, I did something in the US to prove a point to Sweden. Surprisingly, Sweden was unaware of my actions. For good reason really, it is a point that is only meaningful to me. And to anyone ever stranded and ignored on the side of the road.

I am looking for new shoes. I bought a pair that I was quite pleased with back in March. I threw them away in June. They tore at the seams and couldn’t handle the slush that was the Swedish spring. Since then I have been using my old beat up tennies. They work well, but they are haggard. And to be honest, I really need a new pair of semi-nice shoes that can be worn with jeans in my new everyday life. It’s because I’m so European and stylish.

I have yet to find them. So yesterday, I went in search of some brown shoes. I stumbled upon a pair I really liked. And realized suddenly that they were the exact same pair I bought back in March. And so I left the store.

Stranded in the parking lot, sitting in an old blue Toyota of sorts was a young man with a dirty moustache. I mean just dirty. Blonde, stringy, with slight curls on the end. The kind of moustache my little brother would be proud of. It was not the moustache that drew me to him though, it was the Toyota. With the hood up. The telltale sign of trouble.

In the last three years I spent way too much time in parking lots, on the sides of roads, in below freezing temperatures, in rain and hail, looking for help with my car. I was turned down when I asked people for help. I was ignored when I asked people for help. I was in Sweden when I asked people for help.

So I asked him if he needed help. I stared at his moustache in amazement as he explained that his battery was dead. He didn’t have any jumper cables but his brother was on the way. Have no fear kind mustachioed one, I have jumper cables. See the above paragraph for why I always carry jumper cables with me. In my car I mean. I don’t actually walk around with them. Although, with my luck with any sort of motorized vehicle, it might not be a bad idea.

A quick attaching of the red and black cables and the Toyota roared to life. He thanked me profusely. Pulled away, and then stopped and yelled one last thank you as his moustache reverberated from the sound waves.

And I realized that I helped him solely because I was so seldom helped. I am not always the most outgoing person. I am more awkward than I care to be. I avoid conflict and potentially new situations. And I essentially just described myself as being Swedish. Except for the part where I helped someone jump their car.

That was mean.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And car trouble.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Interviews in Sweden

I have a lot of time on my hands right now. That means I’m cleaning out really old e-mails from my inbox. And I stumbled upon this gem. It’s an e-mail sent to my mom, dad, and aunt immediately after a job interview in Sweden for a marketing position at a company focusing on green products.

Names have been altered to protect the innocent. Enjoy.

“Well, I had my interview. It was supposed to start at 10:00. I was done and out of their office at 10:04.

This country never ceases to amaze me. For better or worse. So let me explain.

The interview was supposed to start at 10, but due to the public transportation connection I had the option of being 15 minutes early or 2 minutes early. This being fall, the trains tend to be delayed. Because of leaves. Seriously. Every autumn the leaves fall. But apparently, Stockholm's public transportation has yet to figure out a solution. Anyway, I opted to show up 15 minutes early.

I went in and was offered some coffee. I asked for water instead. By 9:50 I was in the interview with the two women I had interviews with previously, one being French, the other being Swedish, and the CEO of the company, another Swedish woman.

The CEO had not seen my CV. Luckily, I listened to all that nonsense they fed us in business school and had an extra one with me and handed it to her. So I went over the exact same stuff I had already covered in the first interview, except this time in Swedish. Which went well, probably because I already knew how to answer the questions seeing as how I had done it just a couple of weeks earlier in English.

While I thought it a bit strange that the CEO of a company of only 11 employees hadn't seen my CV, the interview got stranger. Solely because I am an American. Having covered my education and a bit of my experience we moved on to some personal information. Like really personal that didn't seem to have much bearing on my ability to do the job or not.

Did I have siblings? Was I the oldest? What do my siblings do? Where do my parents live? What do my parents do? Pappa works in jordbruk, by the way. I left out the chemicals part. Do I have a family here in Sweden? This meaning, very obviously, whether I had a girlfriend/sambo/wife and children. Where do I live?

Of course, in the first interview I was asked how old I was.

Never before have I been asked these questions in a job interview. And from my American perspective, a couple of them seem borderline illegal. But here? No problem.

I was asked again why I applied for the job. Once again, I responded that I was very interested in the marketing aspect, the international aspect, and the small-business aspect. It was the CEO that had asked this question and she was obviously fishing for the environmental spin to things. In fact, at first I only responded with the international and marketing part, but she delved deeper. And asked me again for more reasons. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't give it to her. So I gave her the small-business thing.

For a second I considered going the environmental route. Espousing the teachings of the great Al Gore, railing against big oil, damning the use of pesticides and all that could potentially harm the environment. Then I remembered that I hate Al Gore, big oil is one of the few stocks that I have picked that actually made money, and pesticides are responsible for all economic success in the family household. Whether that plays a big role in me being offered the job or not I don't know, but I didn't want to go down that road.

Anyway, following the personal information the two women I had interview with earlier each asked me one more question. And that was it. The whole thing took 14 minutes.

The whole time I was thinking that more questions were going to be coming my way. Questions about my experience. Actual examples of things I had accomplished. Maybe a list of references. Nothing.

The funny thing is that all the while I was answering my questions I was looking at each of the three women, not just the one who asked the question. From the overall body language and other non-verbal cues, the two women I had interviewed with previously loved me. It's probably my boyish charms and good looks. Plus I gave a little spritz of cologne before I left the house for good measure. Unfortunately, the CEO was not wooed by me. Honestly, my first reaction was of an old disillusioned man-hating hippie (if I get a job offer and accept it, I will deny any knowledge of the aforementioned description). She seemed distracted, annoyed, cold, and distant. Which may explain the incredibly short interview. Fourteen minutes short.

It's down to me and one other candidate. They have yet to interview the other candidate a second time so we'll see how it goes. Now I just get to wait. To be honest though, I felt much more confident after the first interview than I do right now. But as I said before, this country never ceases to amaze me. Hell, I might get a call tomorrow asking me to start on Monday. Of course, it seems equally as likely that I won't get any call at all. It's a crapshoot at this point. But if you know of any sports jobs back home... I'm all ears.”

I ended up getting the job. And held it until I quit to move out of the country.

Welcome (back) to Sweden. And job interviews.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Healthcare in the US

I have never bought healthcare insurance. Ever. I was horribly spoiled and my parents kept me on their plan as long as they could. Then I moved to Sweden. As we all know, you don’t pay for healthcare in Sweden. Or something like that.

The difference is that instead of every month money being deducted from my paycheck in the US and going directly to pay for my healthcare, money is deducted from my paycheck in Sweden and goes indirectly to pay for my healthcare. That "in" makes all the difference.

Of course, since leaving Sweden, I find myself suddenly being forced into American adulthood. And that means healthcare. And it also means several different plans to choose from. It means a 97 page PDF file. It means a second PDF file of equal length.

It also means that instead of me living my life blissfully unaware of what my healthcare benefits are and just assuming someone will pick up the tab, I have to pay attention. It means that every month I will see a small deduction that goes straight to healthcare insurance.

I forgot just how little attention needed to be paid in Sweden. How unengaged I was. Suddenly I was thrust into the world of co-pays and deductibles. Poring over hundreds of pages of information. Asking colleagues. Exploring websites. Looking up words. It’s been exhausting. After several hours, I’m well on my way to being covered. And it feels good.

I’m not even going to pretend what the new healthcare plan set forth by the US government will mean. I haven’t been paying attention. That’s what happens after three years abroad. I lose interest and I lose touch. There’s no better way to get that back than to be filling out healthcare forms less than two months after landing in the country.

Strangely enough, I’m excited about this. I like being in control. Knowing what I am getting for the money I am paying. Knowing who to see, where to go, what to pay. It’s liberating in its control over me. I’m a sucker for structure.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And healthcare.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Wheelchairs and Walmart

Today, I learned how much my time is worth. And apparently, it is not much. I just spent over an hour waiting at the local Walmart as they installed my new car battery. I did this because the service was free and had I chosen to install it myself, I would have to pay an extra five dollar battery recycling fee. Because obviously I love the environment and was not going to recycle the battery, I decided that my time was worth about five dollars. Plus labor.

That decision resulted in me not buying the battery and taking it home. Which I could have done. It resulted in me not installing the battery by myself. Which I am more than capable of. It resulted in me sitting in front of a TV near the auto care center listening to my iPod as a Roseanne Arnold movie was playing. Which I struggled with.

Luckily, I enjoy Walmart. It makes me feel good about myself. Mostly because I walk around with an air of superiority. It’s hard not to considering the overrepresentation of cut off jean shorts, jorts if you will, at Walmart. Everyone knows that the number of jorts you own has an inverse relationship with your intelligence.

But despite my need for constant self-assurance, an hour at Walmart is a long time. There are only so many low priced goods and services to go around. Of course, there are plenty of entertaining people to go around. And I was fortunate enough to end up right next to one. A kindly looking old lady in a wheelchair.

Most days, kindly old ladies in wheelchairs don’t catch my attention. But this was Walmart. Always remember to inspect everyone closely for anything that might entertain you. And I did. And this kindly old lady was actually pushing herself around in her wheelchair. With her legs. Obviously. Now, I know that there are a wide variety of possibilities as to why her legs worked but she felt the need to be in a wheelchair. But come on.

I watched, transfixed, as her legs, riddled with varicose veins, motored the wheelchair around. At one point she even got stuck on a little carpeting. Her powerful legs though just backed up and tried again. Successfully, I might add.

It’s not nice to make fun of people in wheelchairs.

Moving on. This same lady was asked to sign her name before handing her car over for an oil change. That it was her car is important. Because her next words were frightening. I don’t see well. Where do I sign? She had her glasses on. She could not see where to sign her name. Yet she had just brought HER car to have the oil changed.

Again, I know there are reasons she may have struggled to see where to sign her name. Perhaps she was farsighted. Or perhaps she really was blind as a bat. Over the course of that one glorious hour, she told two different mechanics that she didn’t see well. She also told me that she didn’t see well.

She told me this because she had ordered me to move her shopping cart over to the checkout counter. I stood there confused, not realizing she was talking to me until she began apologizing. You see, she doesn’t see well. She went on to explain that she thought I was her grandson. She couldn’t see the details, only that we were both tall. Just a few minutes later, she was swiping her credit card, having just paid to have the oil in her car changed. As in, she owns a car which I assume she drives.

So we have here a woman, with seemingly full functioning legs, sitting in a wheelchair, unable to distinguish between her grandson, who we assume she loves and knows quite well, and me, having some routine maintenance done on a car she owns. Awesome. I can only hope that her grandson was driving today. I made sure to get into my car and leave before I could find out how well her eyes worked on the road.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And Walmart.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Swedishness in America

In my last few weeks in Sweden, I was answering a lot of questions about why I was moving back. Three years of being in the country had apparently had an impact on me. And it was in these last few weeks that I started hearing more and more about my identity through the eyes of others.

I became a sort of sideshow for some of the members of my Swedish family that I only saw sporadically while in the country. I was reminded over and over about the improvement of my Swedish. To the extent that I began questioning my own fluency. At one point I answered the phone only to be met by laughter and a comment explaining that laughter. I sounded Swedish. Apparently, me sounding Swedish was hilarious.

A good friend of mine, who happens to be Swedish, asked me why I was moving back. I explained the whole, time for something different, time to be near the family, time to be near old friends. For some reason that wasn’t enough. And so I explained that final part that has always gnawed at me. I feel more American. I don’t feel completely at ease in Sweden as I do in the US. I don’t see myself as Swedish (unless I decide to use that Swedishness to my advantage like when negotiating at a bazaar in Istanbul during a time when the US State Department suggested Americans not travel to the country).

His response surprised me. Even after three years in the country it surprised me. Because apparently, he didn’t view me as American at all. I was Swedish. Of course, the part of me that loves the sweet smell of freedom that assaults your nostrils at your local Walmart was disgusted by the comment. But I kept that part quiet.

Later, in a quintessentially Swedish conversation about the weather, I was once again called out for being Swedish. Mostly because I said that when the sun was shining during the Swedish summer, it was important to passa på. Essentially to take advantage. The sunshine is fleeting in Sweden so you damn well should take advantage. Again, laughter follows. The comment was just a little too Swedish.

But maybe, most shocking of all, I was called out by my very own parents. They felt it necessary to point out that I had become a tad European. This may have owed to my awesomely tight pants. Or baby blue collared shirt. Or really fast sunglasses. Or maybe it just so happens that they hate freedom. My father is not an American citizen and my mother does not like to eat lamb. You be the judge.

In the end though, it seems I am probably more Swedish than I care to admit. I suppose after several years in the country that shouldn’t come as a surprise. But it does. To me at least. Maybe moving to Swedish-America will be the halfway house I need.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And my de-Swedishanization.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Accents in Swedish-America

I don’t have much of an accent. I’m from Colorado. I don’t have a southern drawl. I don’t have that obnoxious northeastern inability to enunciate. I speak a relatively clean American English. Which is why I was so very confused when speaking on the phone to my local cable provider.

I do have a habit of mumbling while speaking on the phone. Mostly because I hate it. But mumbling does not equal an accent. The lady on the other end would apparently disagree.

I explained that I needed to set up internet and that I had just moved here. She asked if I had moved from overseas. I was taken aback, because, technically I had. She went on to explain that I had an English accent. As in British. As in God Save the Queen. I explained that I was actually from the United States. As in American. As in God Bless America. She continued to shove her foot into her mouth when she explained that her mother was Irish. As in born there. As in speaks with an Irish accent.

This made it so much worse. Her own mother has an accent, and one that is much closer to Great Britain than the United States.

To be perfectly honest, an inability to distinguish between an American and British accent is concerning. Almost as concerning as an inability to recognize that Swedish is not, in fact, English with a Swedish accent. Let’s just say the linguistic knowledge of my new surroundings is lacking.

This was not the only time in the past few days that my new home has struggled with accents.

My father has been living in this country for 20 some years. Hell he has lived in the US longer than I have and he doesn’t even have citizenship. Silly alien. He also does not have an accent. In fact, if his name was John Smith rather than BGC, you would have no idea he was Swedish. Aside from his Viking-like constitution. Obviously.

So when I was recently told by a Wisconsinite that my father had an accent, I was taken aback. Mostly because the whole time I was listening to him speak, I was hearing a Midwest stereotype come out of his mouth. I was waiting for him to break out a wheel of cheese and start gnawing on it.

The guilty party in this sordid tale knew my old man’s story before he actually met him. Knew he was Swedish. It’s almost as if he was hoping to hear an accent. Drumming it up in his mind before he had met him. Trying to validate the stereotype he had created.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And linguistic adventures.

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Monday, August 09, 2010

Of Beds and Men

I am an idiot. I have started off a whole lot of posts that way. But, if you’ve been keeping tabs on me, I think you’ll agree. If not, feel free to laugh at my expense:

I have stabbed myself in the back of my neck with a toothpick. In my sleep.

I have electrocuted myself after shaving.

I have locked myself out of the laundry room, and consequently my apartment, during one of the coldest Swedish winters in recent memory. As I said, I am an idiot.

But the fun thing about idiocy is that it translates well into all languages, and follows you to all countries. And by you, I mean me.

It also turns out that idiocy is an inherited trait.

I just made my move from the comforts of mountains, Colorado, and family, to a flatness that can best be described as Midwestian. I drove past enough corn and soy beans to make me hate vegetarians. I saw asphalt blend into horizon blend into nothingness. But I made it. And I even dragged my old man out with me. This alone does not make him an idiot. It is questionable behavior subjecting oneself to 14 hours of driving through middle America but it is not idiocy in its purest form.

Idiocy in its purest form is arriving at my destination in the great state of Wisconsin, unloading a very packed Saab (obviously), and promptly getting back into the car. Who doesn’t want to drive a bit more after having spent several hours cursing vegetables? Idiocy is knowing that the subsequent drive will result in at least three, possibly four, more hours of mileage. Idiocy is driving to IKEA.

After having moved away from Sweden, I clearly need to surround myself with more Swedishness. And so, my life has now been furnished by IKEA. This probably says more about my fear of change (I am a Republican after all) than it does my idiocy. Depending on your political ideas I suppose that is debatable. But I digress.

It wasn’t until we arrived at IKEA that the idiocy really shone through. The whole point was to get me a bed. I was bedless and darkness was fast approaching. While I enjoy camping, I do not enjoy sleeping on a floor indoors. I’m spoiled like that.

We wandered around, picking up a few necessities along the way. Then we arrived at the beds. I hate buying beds. Mostly because I usually hate lying in beds. They hurt my back. And when testing a bed, I can never lie there long enough to see if it will hurt my back. It is essentially a crap shoot. Or a shit show. Either way there is some sort of scatological description involved.

My dad and I started looking at beds. It was a build-your-own bed buffet. And it was exhausting. That may have had something to do with the driving. And the unpacking. And the more driving. But the different variations were overwhelming to say the least. After about an hour of trying to decipher the code that is IKEA beds, we had a mattress and bed base. The bed base even came with a bed frame. We were ready to go. Which was good because the store kept announcing to us that it was closing in half an hour. Fifteen minutes. Ten minutes.

We made our way downstairs to pick up the pieces of the bed. And that’s when the idiocy came to fruition. We found the mattress. We found the bed base. We did not find the bed frame. It turns out that the bed base did not actually include the bed frame. Which was unfortunate because the store had just announced that it was closing in five minutes. A quick scramble ensued involving an IKEA employee, frantic questions about the lack of bed frame, an explanation that the bed base did not come with the bed frame. His words said “sorry,” his eyes said “idiots.”

Luckily, IKEA is almost idiot-proof. There was a large bed frame on the end of the aisle. An endcap display if you will. And it was the right size. And it was relatively cheap. And so we grabbed it. And ran. The store had long ago announced that it was closed.

So my father and I went to the cashier. I stood in line. My father ran to the food section and bought four 50 cent hotdogs. They were delicious.

Several hours later than expected, we headed out. We called my mom. You know, to report on what we had done. You know when you do something stupid and your parents aren’t really mad, just disappointed? My mom wasn’t mad, she was just disappointed. As I explained our predicament, and the money spent, she just sighed. Finally, “that’s why you don’t buy a bed from IKEA.” It was reminiscent of the time my dad and I bought bananas at the grocery store for a price which we thought was spectacular. It was not. We were chided for our inability to buy bananas, much like we were chided for our inability to buy a bed.

But a couple of days later, the bed is put together, everything fits in my room, and my back isn’t sore. Well, not too sore at least.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And my transatlantic idiocy.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Three Swedish Years and Lessons Learned

I struggled to write this post. Usually when I can’t think of anything to write, I just don’t. It’s easier that way. But I feel like this one needed to be written. It should be reflective and thoughtful. Maybe it should bring a tear to your eye. Or to mine. But mostly it was hastily written and became more of a stream of consciousness post. Which is funny, because I hate that style of writing, once mocking it in an essay in high school after having read As I Lay Dying. But so it goes.

I’m back in the US now. And I’m scared shitless. There isn’t a part of me that isn’t scared. I’m horribly nervous. All of me. And those two feelings are pretty overpowering right about now.

I was in Sweden for over three years. My first year was pretty miserable mixed with a whole lot of good. But hardly a day went by that I didn’t want to leave. Couldn’t figure out why I was there. Couldn’t figure out why I was putting so many relationships into that situation. Then it got worse. For a lot of reasons. Many of them my own doing. Many of them still my own doing.

I ran home to my mamma and pappa. That’s what they are there for I think. And I moped around Greeley for six weeks. Miserably moped. And they put up with me because somewhere in my birth certificate it says that they have to. And when it came time to leave, I damn near lost it when my ticket said I had to fly back to an empty apartment in a crappy part of the Stockholm suburbs with no job and few friends. It wouldn’t have been the first time I lost it in that first year. Life was not good. In my own privileged world. Which is unfortunate, because despite bitching and moaning quite a bit, despite being a grass is always greener kind of person, it is very seldom that life isn’t good for me.

But then I managed to scrape together a life in Stockholm. It took a while, but it happened. I made friends. Suddenly, I didn’t spend entire weekends at home watching Friday Night Lights. I found a job I enjoyed. And that paid me when I was supposed to be paid. I found that I was more than capable of being an adult. Except for trying to cook for myself. It was a strange revelation. But one that I suppose was necessary. I have moments when I still struggle being an adult. It’s an exhausting process.

Stranger still was that once I made the realization that I had a life in Sweden. That I had friends. That I had a responsible, good paying job. That I was half an adult. Well, I decided to run away and move back to the US. I decided that the job I liked wasn’t something that I was going to like years from now. I decided that despite having a life in Sweden, I didn’t want to spend my life in Sweden. I decided I had people I cared about more than I sometimes admit here in the US.

All those questions I had that first year, were answered really by the third. I moved to test myself. To be horribly selfish and do things on my own. But I couldn’t quite let go of home, in more ways than one. And that’s what I learned by year three. That I didn’t need to. That I didn’t want to. That I shouldn’t have to. I learned what I might want to do for the rest of my life, and I learned what I definitely don’t want to do for the rest of my life. I learned enough to know that it was time to leave. And some things are worth moving for. And so I did.

And now I’m struggling again with trying to acclimate. Trying to realize that this isn’t just a run home to mamma and pappa. That this is more permanent. That I have chosen a new career path that has so very little to do with what I have done in the past. That I may end up being in my 30s with experience and education that no one cares about and find myself horribly unemployed. This has resulted in me walking around with a knot in my stomach and eating and drinking enough yogurt to have cultivated a burgeoning civilization in my gut.

So in just a few weeks, I’ll be migrating east. East of Greeley, Colorado to the great Midwest. And by great I mean expansive, not necessarily better than good. And so I will find myself in what can best be described as Scandinavian America. But that doesn’t have much of a ring to it, so instead in an ethnocentric sort of way I will be a Swedish American in Swedish-America.

Welcome to the US. And a Swedish American moving to Swedish-America.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Adventures in Middle America

I have a blister on my hand from the steering wheel. My right ass cheek is still numb. My elbow is angry and my back is screaming. This is the result of driving about 2500 miles over the course of four days. That’s over 4000 kilometers.

I had never driven east of McCook, Nebraska until Sunday. In fact, I’ve been to more countries than I have states. I don’t really spend much time east of the Rocky Mountain states. It’s safer that way. The mountains make me happy and for some reason calm me down. Which I’ve needed a lot of lately. So driving east into a bunch of flat nothingness kind of stressed me out.

But away I went. I had things to do and people to see. 2500 miles later I have realized just how Scandinavian Middle America is. I passed signs for a Danish windmill and Danish museum. I passed signs for Little Norway. I passed signs for Gothenburg, Nebraska. I drove on Sorensen Parkway and Kronshage Drive. I saw enough Scandinavian names as dentists, doctors, and real estate agents to make me forget where I was. Despite all of this, it had a distinctive Americanness to it all. And not the good kind of Americanness like a root beer float, but the bad kind of stereotypical Americanness.

A woman told me she thought Swedish was just English with a Swedish accent. I cracked a bad joke about that only being the Swedish Chef from the Muppets. She didn’t laugh. Not because the joke was so bad, but because she was serious. She actually didn’t know Swedish was a different language. First I felt bad because it seemed like I was making fun of her when I cracked my joke, then I realized that she probably deserved it.

Welcome to the US. And Scandinavian-America.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Weather Never Changes in Hell…

…This Church is Prayer Conditioned.

Let that one sink in for a little bit. This is my new life.

Despite the heat in Greeley lately, and despite some people probably describing Greeley as hell, I cannot make a claim to this tag line. Instead, a local Baptist church is to blame. I pass this sign on the way to my old man’s office and I think it is making me angrier every time I pass it. The first time, my brother pointed it out and I laughed. Now, when I drive by, I shake my head in disgust.

On a good day, I might be described as agnostic. But that’s when I’m feeling generous, because when it comes down to it, I don’t believe in God. Or god. Obviously, that clouds my judgment. Part of my disgust with the sign is the pretentious all-knowing undertones. You know, basically the same style I use in my writing. But who are we kidding, the pretentiousness is nothing compared to the ridiculous of the statement itself. Not the weather never changing in hell, but the prayer conditioned.

My brother claims that puns are the lowest form of comedy. My brother makes this claim when I utter a pun of my own. My brother is right. I’m not sure what the church is trying to accomplish. I’d like to think there aren’t actually people who go around worrying that hell will be too hot. I’d like to think there aren’t actually people who go around thinking that prayer conditioned is funny. I’d also like to think that churches not need to stoop to the lowest form of comedy to get people through their doors.

I think I’m wrong. I guess I forgot just what an influence religion has on everyday life here. Especially in Greeley. I could care less if you believe in God. That’s your prerogative. Your belief. Your faith. But don’t be an ass about it. And don’t make bad jokes about it.

Welcome to the US. And bad church signs.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sweden and the US Make an Eye Exchange

A few days ago I managed to rip my left contact. Which wouldn’t be a big deal if I had some extras lying around. I don’t. Or if it hadn’t been in my eye at the time. It was. Or if I had been able to get the other half out. I wasn’t. Unfortunately, it was a big deal.

After over ten years of wearing contacts, I have trained myself to shove my finger in my eye and not flinch. Evolutionarily speaking, probably not a good idea for the future protection of my eyes. For my eye sight though? Spectacular. That skill allowed me to root around in my eye ball trying to find the other half of my contact. I did not find it though. So I moved to plan B. My mother.

She washed her hand. I sat down, threw my eye open, and she began rooting around in my eyeball. To no avail. Finally, still hurting from jet lag and at this point just really grumpy, having a floating piece of contact lens in your eyeball will do that to you, I went to bed. With the contact lens still in place. Awesome.

I had no problem falling asleep. I did have a problem staying asleep though. And so, I woke up early and decided that instead of getting up I would pop open my computer and try to catch up on e-mails. Which I did. But my grumpiness returned as I realized that I still had a piece of contact in my eye. About an hour later I’d had enough of e-mails and headed to the shower. And then, sweet release. The contact popped out. It looked like a small puss filled larva. It was disgusting. And amazing. And my eye hurt like hell. So glasses it was. Well glasses it was because I didn’t have any other contacts.

Which has proven to be a bit of a problem for me. I don’t have the actual prescription for my contacts. Instead I have the packaging from the contacts I have been using. You know, the one with the prescription written directly on it. I went to my eye doctor, I went to an online distributor, I went to a retailer. All said I had to have the actual prescription. No one explained why. I just thought they wanted me to pay for a new eye exam. Finally, several days after the search began, I was informed that it was required by law. That means that contact lenses are considered to be some sort of controlled substance. Which is ridiculous.

I wasn’t planning on ingesting my contacts. I wasn’t planning on injecting them. Or snorting them. Or smoking them. Glad to see the American public is being protected from those evil substances. Like contact lenses.

But fine, I e-mailed my eye doctor in Sweden because of the time difference. And received no response for two days. So I called on the third. They actually don’t check their e-mail. Which is an excellent service to have then. But they were happy to help and would fax me the prescription. But it didn’t show up. An e-mail did though last night (apparently they have learned how to use that newfangled electronic mail). They can’t fax it. Instead, snail mail it is. And so, my contact prescription is crossing the Atlantic. Still days away.

Welcome to the US. And Swedish-American eye exchange.

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Welcome to America

I’m writing this at an airport in Newark, New Jersey right now. And I am overwhelmed. I don’t know what I was expecting when I finally moved, but I don’t know if it was this.

I’m tired, my eyes burn, and I just ate the last of my lösgodis. Followed by my shoving down half a bag of Cheez-Its. It seemed like a fitting way to enter the United States.

But I am not overwhelmed by the travel. I’ve done enough of that to know the feeling. And just so everyone knows, I made it through Arlanda and flew with SAS without incident. Well played. It only took three years.

It’s everything that is going on around me. It’s the conversations that I keep picking up on. Throughout my time in Sweden, I developed an uncanny ability to pick out English speakers. So much so that I could hear them over the din of my iPod on the subway. Unfortunately, this ability is now akin to being schizophrenic. I keep hearing voices, and they are all talking to me.

It’s the friendliness of the people. Within ten minutes, my boyish charm and awesome laptop with the Colorado sticker on it attracted two different people to me. One older man, and one not older woman both of whom felt I was a good source of information. And I was.

It’s the stereotypes. Like the girl behind me on her cellphone for the last 45 minutes being the reason that people hate America. Or the girl lying on the floor laughing at the announcement being made in German for a Lufthansa flight. Or the woman across the terminal who just happened to be overweight and a good candidate to be a participant in the World Championship Porcupine Race explain she would be out of town because she was going on vacation. In Nebraska.

But most of all, it’s this strange desire to explain to everyone what I’ve done. Why I’m here. That I’m not just traveling, but moving. It’s horribly egocentric. And annoying. And pompous. And pretentious. And all things I have been accused of before. It’s also something I was expecting. Turns out this desire is fairly common for people returning home after an extended experience abroad. For that very reason, it was an experience. For the person involved. Unfortunately, it was not an experience for the people involved. And unless you are capable of telling a good story, which I am not, explaining that you once saw a girls boob in the elevator in Sweden while chuckling and constantly retracing your steps so you don’t leave anything out, kind of loses its appeal. And I think that’s it. Retelling all those old stories means I’m just retracing my steps.

Welcome to America. And overwhelmtion. And making up words.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Midsummer Sailing

Despite coming from a long line of superior seamen (I think we all see what I did there), I am not what can be described as an accomplished sailor. I have managed to fall in the water and be on a boat that ran aground. So it may seem strange to you that my last Midsummer in Sweden, I chose to go sailing in Denmark. It may seem even stranger that this sailing expedition was actually an amateur sailing race hosted by a sailing club in Helsingør. The key word being amateur. When I finally got back to Stockholm, my decision seemed strange to me too.

The sailing started off well enough. The sun was shining as we sailed the boat from Landskrona to Helsingborg. We managed to get our nautical maps with us, the GPS and depth meter were all working, all in all, a good start. Of course, no sailing trip with me involved would be complete without forgetting something. We chose to forget the battens (I had to look that word up in English. I suddenly have learned lots of new sailing vocabulary words that I have no idea how to translate into English). It worked though. We made it home safe and sound. We did not run aground. I did not get wet.

Friday, we set off early to be ready for the race. We piddled around between Helsingborg with scores of other boats as we waited for the start. Ten minutes before the start we noticed one of the battens was loose. We attempted to lower the sail and save the batten. To no avail. It fell out and sunk to the bottom of the sea. Just a few minutes later, my cousin’s hat, which he had spoken so highly of, also fell into the sea. Not a good omen for the trip to come. But we sailed on.

For several hours we sailed without incident. The sun was shining. Sailing was fun. Sails were changed. Dinner came and went. I went below deck to sleep a while. While asleep, the electricity went out. Completely. Which meant we were sailing without GPS. It also meant that our engine would not start. Of course, if you start your engine, you are immediately disqualified from the race, so that wasn’t a problem. Of bigger concern was the GPS. For obvious reasons. But we sailed on.

I awoke to no GPS but a shining sun on Midsummers Day. Good times. The other three members of our ramshackle crew went to bed. My cousin, her boyfriend, and I stayed awake and carried on. We decided to change sails to a spinnaker. Essentially a big ass sail that balloons out and is supposed to give you a whole lot of speed. This being a race, speed was essential. So we changed sails. No problems at all. For about 45 minutes we were chugging right along.

At this point, I think it is important to note that the boat we were sailing in was 40.7 feet long and said to be uncapsizable in just about all conditions unless you find yourself out in the middle of the Atlantic. And despite not having any GPS we had not gone that far off course.

I can, in fact, confirm that the boat was uncapsizable. Because were sure as hell tried. The three of us attempted a jibe. Basically we wanted to turn. Except jibing with a spinnaker in high winds with three people, one of whom, me, knows not a damn thing about sailing is not a good idea. That’s because the sail will be ripped from your cousin’s hand, catch the wind, and attempt to drive the boat into the water at a 90 degree angle. The ropes will be ripped from your hands, leaving blisters on the tips of your fingers. The rudder man will be helpless because the rudder itself will be out of the water and turning a rudder in the wind doesn’t do anything. Your other cousin will come running up the stairs, knife in hand, ready to cut the sail loose. He will take stock of the situation, release several ropes, which will suddenly turn into formidable whips capable of decapitating a man, and eventually get the sail into the water, thus allowing us control of the boat. And that is exactly what happened. It’s not a good idea. No one and no thing fell in. So we sailed on.

I went to bed a little while later. Excitement is exhausting. I awoke when I realized we were not moving. At all. Awesome. I went upstairs only to see that we had run aground. Straight into a sandbank right under a large bridge. Awesome. There were attempts made to free us without starting the engine. We didn’t want to be disqualified you know. They failed. Then attempts were made to start the engine. Of course, as mentioned above, the engine would not start. And so we sat there. For quite a while. Eventually, an anchor was thrown in and my cousins began heave-hoing our way to freedom. And by freedom I mean off the damn sandbank. With no engine, we sailed into the nearest port, Stubbekøbing. That’s actually Danish for Time to Stop Sailing Port. Or something like that.

And we did just that. A phone call was made and we had withdrawn from the race. The next phone call was to an electrician, who came out to us within about 10 minutes. Now my Danish is less than stellar, but it turns out that we had just managed to flip a switch somewhere along the way to the wrong side. This resulted in the batteries running down. So basically, we forgot to press the on button. Awesome. Then the friendly Dane began to babble on about the race. And suggesting that we continue. We hadn’t started our engine (for obvious reasons) and so we had not cheated. So another phone call was made and we were back in the race. And so we sailed on.

Late Saturday night, or early Sunday morning, I don’t know the time because I spent my shift on deck shining a flashlight at the compass due to the compass backlight being broken, it was just my cousin and I awake. We were clipping right along, no problems for several hours, heading straight for the lighthouse with the red light that was supposed to be on that particular compass degree. We were feeling good. Until suddenly we noticed that red light was gaining on us. And we weren’t going that fast. And it was getting bigger. Turns out it was a boat. We had been sailing on a collision course with this boat for hours. Just following the red light. The boat turned to the right. We turned to the left. Which was unfortunate because that means we essentially turned into another collision course. We turned further left. The boat this time also turned to its left and disaster was avoided. As the boat whipped by, I could have probably hit the broadside of their ship with a baseball. That ship was moving so quickly, that within about ten minutes, it had disappeared over the horizon. With everyone intact, my heart beating furiously and adrenaline coursing through my very tired veins I decided it was time for some chocolate. So I settled into my position of shining a flashlight on the compass and ate some Marabou. And we sailed on.

Several hours later I went to bed thinking we would cross the finish line right about the time I was waking up. But again I awoke to the ship not moving. My immediate reaction, because I can apparently be conditioned into thinking things, was that we had run aground. Again. I went upstairs. We had not run aground, but instead found ourselves in a pocket with no wind. Which was unfortunate because, judging from the boats closer to the coast, there was wind to be had. So there we sat. Kronborg jutting out from Helsingør was in sight. The finish line was in sight. But we did not sail on. We couldn’t.

Since we had come this far without an engine, we sure as hell weren’t going to use it. Of course, we were assuming we could get the engine started despite the GPS blinking on and off due to a very tired battery. So we waited. And I ate. Because that’s what I do when I’m bored and there is food around. It’s a damn good thing I am not bored very often or I would be a very fat man.

Finally, a few gusts of wind came by and we were able to get moving. We sailed past the finish line 49 hours and 36 minutes after having left. And we tried to start the engine. Which, of course, did not start. The battery was dead. So instead of sailing into Helsingør's port, we headed over to the Swedish side and Helsingborg. At this point, sailing into a harbor without an engine was old hat to us and we glided right in. The crowds at the café stood and applauded as we gracefully touched down, men asked for our autographs, women threw their bras at us, life was good. Or I was suffering from a lack of sleep. I don’t remember.

Having unloaded the boat, loaded the car, unloaded the car, eaten dinner, and driven up to Stockholm, I was in bed by two in the morning on Monday.

But we made it. No one was hurt. No one fell overboard. No sails were damaged. No boats were damaged. Maybe most importantly, no relationships were damaged. It was a success. Or a failure. Or a successful failure. I suppose it depends on your definition.

Welcome to Sweden. And my likely retirement from amateur Danish sailing.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

My Welcome to Sweden Moment

I moved here on June 5th of 2007. But those first few days in Sweden were spent trying to get my feet under me, and by feet, I mean trying to sleep with the damn sun up at 10 in the evening while I was horribly jetlagged. I was staying at my uncle’s apartment until I got the keys to my apartment and all of the papers signed and squared away.

So it wasn’t until a few days later that I really started to live live in Stockholm. Because up until me moving into my apartment, it felt more like I had just been visiting again.

My first apartment was out in Flemingsberg. Which isn’t always considered to be the nicest part of town. Or even considered to be part of Stockholm. But it’s close enough. Living out in Flempan means you need to take the pendeltåg in and out of town.

My time in Flemingsberg instilled in me a deep hatred for the commuter train that exists still to this day. And it all started that first day.

As we all know, seeing as how I stabbed myself in the nape of my neck with a toothpick while asleep, I am an idiot. And so it was that I decided to go out to Flemingsberg for the first time while dragging with me two suitcases. Some people might go out and do a little reconnaissance. Check things out. Find where they were going. Not me. I was unemployed and had no friends. It’s not like I had all the time in the world to travel back and forth between the city and Flempan.

So I made my way onto a packed commuter train right around rush hour on a very sunny summer evening. We made it a few stops without incident. And then we made it a couple more. And then we had an incident. We stopped. In the middle of the tracks. Not moving forward or backwards. Awesome.

Eventually, the kind conductor came on to let us know that, yes we had stopped, no we were not imagining the failure to move forward, and he did not know how long it would take before we started moving again. Awesome.

We sat there for over half an hour. Which wouldn’t be so bad. You know, if it hadn’t been summer time. And rush hour. And if I wouldn't have been hauling two suitcases. And if I wasn’t such a hairy sweaty guy. But I am. And it was. Awful.

Finally, we lurched to a start again and I made it to Flemingsberg. At which point I immediately began walking in the wrong direction. Because I am incapable of reading maps correctly. I realized my mistake pretty quickly and headed back. And started hiking. And hiking. I walked through a group of apartments, heading in the right direction. As I walked, someone above me was blasting Gangsta's Paradise through their windows. Yes.

Having wandered around for 15 minutes and not having found my apartment I came to the realization that I was living on the 12th floor. And so, if I counted the floors on the buildings I would be able to start crossing off potential dwellings as my own. So I did. I would stop in a central place, suitcases in tow, and do a 360 as I counted floors. I slowly moved my way forward, finally coming to some orange and purple buildings slightly reminiscent of rainbow ejaculate.

I started counting. Twelve floors, thirteen floors, fourteen floors. YES! They had more than 12 floors. I stumbled around the buildings in search of a building number. Found it. I kept stumbling in hopes of a street sign. Found it. I checked the key. I was in. Up I went, to a very empty apartment and dumped my stuff, promptly stripping to my boxers while opening all the windows. I told you I was sweaty.

A walk that should have taken about ten minutes, took nearly an hour. A train ride that should have taken 18 minutes, took nearly 45. This was my welcome to Sweden moment.

And so… Welcome to Sweden. And Gangsta's Paradise.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

18 Bottles of Wine on the Wall

Sweden has a population of about nine million people. It has an area of 450,295 square kilometers. That’s just a little bit larger than California.

Systembolaget is the state run monopolized liquor store in the country. There are 413 stores in the entire country. Trust me, I went to their website and counted every damn one listed.

Of those 413 stores, and for those nine million people, in that area of 450,295 square kilometers, there are only 18 bottles of a specific wine I was looking to purchase as a gift for an upcoming wedding I will be attending. Those 18 bottles were kept in one store. In Malmö. As close to Copenhagen, Denmark, as you can pretty much get while still in Sweden.

Because they are the state run monopoly and my only option when satisfying my gift giving needs, they are supposed to help out with the different types of alcohol listed on their website. So I got in touch with Systembolaget to see how I go about ordering alcohol. Sent a quick e-mail to their customer service referencing my local store, the name, price, and article number of the product and asked about the process. Turns out, it is necessary to get in contact with your local store. They then request an internal transfer of the products at which point they are delivered to my neighborhood liquor store. There is no central ordering service. Which was unfortunate since I live in Stockholm.

As luck would have it though, I was not in Stockholm. In fact, I was down south in Helsingborg. Pretty close to Malmö. Rather than having the alcohol delivered just a few minutes walk from my home, I would have to drive my ass to the liquor store and then drag that alcohol with me several hundred kilometers. But that’s exactly what I did.

I have nobody to blame but myself. I could have chosen a different wine. But I did not. I could have gone ahead and requested the internal transfer. But I did not. Of course, I could have also moved to a country that doesn’t have such strict liquor laws allowing me only choice for all my alcoholic needs. But I did not.

Welcome to Sweden. And only 16 bottles of wine left.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Wedding Traditions in Sweden

My cousin just got married here in Sweden. It was quite a nice ceremony and a glorious dinner and party afterwards. All in all, a lot of fun. I haven’t been to a whole lot of weddings, but they seem to be getting more and more frequent, apparently I’m at that age.

This was the second one I’ve been to in Sweden though and so the different traditions didn’t seem to foreign. Despite that, one tradition did stand out. Not because it is something I would have paid any attention, but solely because I have been paying way too much attention to the news.

In Sweden, the bride and groom walk down the aisle, to the altar, at the same time. Together. It is quite nice really and is supposed to speak to equal roles both parties play in the marriage. I quite like it.

In the US, the bride is usually walked down the aisle by her father. It is usually referred to as the bride being given away by her father. Some people believe this speaks to some sort of ownership of the woman and is, in fact, sexist. And it very well may be if too much stock is given to the idea that a father can give away his daughter. That being said, it can also be seen as a display of love and affection as the bride walks down the aisle with a man who has (hopefully) played a very important part in her life.

Honestly, I prefer the idea of walking down side by side, but maybe that’s just the Swedish part of me. What I don’t prefer, is the ridiculous discussion being had in Sweden right now as the royal wedding approaches. Crown Princess Victoria has expressed interest in walking down the aisle with her father. And people have been outraged. Both the church and feminist groups think it goes against Swedish tradition and harkens back to sexist views of selling a daughter into marriage.

The church can think whatever the hell it wants to think. In Sweden it is a fringe institution with dwindling membership and very little to offer. The feminist groups on the other hand, boggle my mind. Because suddenly, a woman, who has chosen herself to be walked down the aisle by her father, is being attacked for following sexist traditions.

The feminists seem to have missed the forest for the trees. They have given power to symbols that are not even prevalent in Sweden and lost track of the fact that the woman has made her own decision to walk down the aisle with her father.

As far as I’m concerned, equality is not conforming to ideas of equality set forth by feminist groups with a clear agenda, but instead making independent choices and decisions and having the opportunity to act out those choices and decisions. You know, like on your wedding day.

Of course, in a country where feminists felt it necessary to change Herr Gårman to Fru Gårman, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Welcome to Sweden. And extreme feminism. Again.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Pick-Up Lines in Stockholm

As I mentioned earlier, while bitching and moaning about Americans, my younger brother is in town. We’ve gone out once or twice since he’s been here. A few days ago, we were out drinking one night, nothing too horribly exciting.

We had found another group of non-Swedes (a few girls and a few guys) that we were talking with. They were all taking a few days to explore Stockholm.

Nice enough people really. I happened to be talking to an Irish girl when suddenly another guy tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was Irish. It’s got to be the bright orange beard. He was Swedish. I responded in Swedish, that no, I was not, but this girl was. And pawned her off on him. That’s just the kind of wingman I am. Even for people I don’t know.

Turns out, he was not appreciative of the girl being pawned off on him. Turns out he was gay. And turns out, asking if I was Irish, was his pick-up line. This was revealed to me later, by my loving brother, who had encouraged the whole situation.

CBCC had been asked if he knew me. He kindly said, yes, of course he did. We were brothers, perhaps he should talk to me. So the guy did just that. I guess he needed an ice breaker. Personally, I would have preferred being asked if it hurt. You know, when I fell from heaven. But instead, my orange beard was just too hypnotizing and he worked with what I gave him. Which was not much considering I immediately, and unknowingly, shot him down before turning back to the rest of the group and letting the gay man talk to the Irish girl.

Despite my hairy Village People chest, I’m not gay, and apparently, I have no sense whatsoever of people who are. I live my life oblivious to most things, and gay men trying to hit on me is one of them. In the end though, I’m just pumped someone tried to pick me up in a bar. It’s the little things really.

Welcome to Sweden. And bad pick-up lines.

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Beginning of the End

I have lived abroad for 1099 days. That is three years and a couple of days. I arrived in Stockholm on June 5th, 2007. That means I just passed my three year anniversary of living abroad the other day. It felt good. I think.

I think, because my time in Sweden is coming to an end. I will be moving back to the US on June 30th, 2010. I’ve quit my job. I’ve been travelling. I’ve been taking full advantage of all that Sweden and Europe has to offer in these closing weeks. And it feels good. I think.

I think, because I’ve been here for three years and I have a good life here. Good friends. Good job. Good everything. But I think because it is time to go home. Staying longer I run the risk of settling here. As much as I enjoy Sweden, I am American. I don’t want to settle here. And I tend to be a grass is always greener on the other side. It just happens that this time the other side is across the Atlantic.

The US is home. Even if in the last three years I have spent less than 10 weeks in the United States. Even if I am moving to a state I have never been to. To a city I have never been to. To a place where I don’t know a soul. I suppose home is relative.

The blog will continue until I leave. It will continue again in the US. I’m not sure exactly how. Or why. But the closer I get to my date of departure, the more worried I am about the culture shock I will encounter in the US. I have grown accustomed to my life here. There are plenty of things I don’t like about Sweden, but plenty of things I do. There are plenty of things I don’t like about the US, but plenty of things I do.

I’ll probably bitch and moan about the US like I’ve done about Sweden. Because that is just kind of what I do. I’ll probably still end up stabbing myself in the neck with toothpicks while I sleep or electrocute myself in the bathroom. Because that is just kind of what I do.

I am excited about what is coming. I’m nervous as it gets closer. I am excited about what I am moving to. I’m nervous about what I am moving from. It’s time though. Time to go home.

Welcome to Sweden. And my last few weeks.

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Toothpicks and Self-Mutilation

As a general rule I struggle. Sometimes more than others and the other night was one of those evenings. Because I stabbed myself with a toothpick. In the nape of my neck. In the middle of the night. In my sleep.

I chew toothpicks on a regular basis. I even carry them in my wallet. Oral hygiene is very important to me, especially because I hate flossing. Toothpicks do damn fine work in keeping my pearly whites free from debris. And my gums healthy. Obviously.

I do a lot of things with toothpicks in my mouth. Eat. Drink. Hell, I have even kissed the occasional girl with a toothpick in my mouth. All that action (the toothpick action, not the kissing) makes for some soggy toothpicks. Seeing as how I love the environment, I don’t want trees being felled just so I can chew on things. So I reuse my toothpicks. To do this though, after having thoroughly chewed and soaked through a toothpick, I tend to put it behind my ear. Where it stays until it has dried out and is ready to be chewed on again. Some people may think that disgusting. But those people hate the environment and club baby seals in their spare time.

Sometimes I forget to remove said toothpick from behind my ear. But when getting ready for bed, taking my shirt off tends to rip the toothpick from my ear and all problems are solved. Notice the use of the word tend. Tends to. Not always. Like the other night.

I woke up in the middle of the night with a toothpick sticking out of the back of my neck. I had to reach around and physically pull it out of my neck. I gently placed the toothpick on my bedside table (I might want to reuse it you know) and as I turned over to go back to sleep, I knocked the toothpick from the table. I remember all of this.

In the morning, I still remembered all of this. But it was hazy. I usually don’t remember my dreams unless I have a night terror and despite the horror of having a toothpick sticking out of your neck, this was no night terror. So I was confused. Until I looked beside my bedside table. There was the toothpick. Somewhat bent and clearly guilty.

I immediately picked it up and chewed the hell out of it to prove a point. That’s not true. That would be like autocannibalism. Gross. Instead, I threw the toothpick away and started in on a new one. The toothpicks will not scare me. They will not deter me. I will win.

Welcome to Sweden. And stories that have nothing to do with Sweden.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Latex and Swedish Fashion

As anyone who knows me can tell you, I don’t do fashion. At all. Of course that doesn’t stop me from noticing the ridiculous fashion trends that hit Stockholm. I’ve written about going metro in Stockholm, Viking fashion, men in purple shorts, and men in tights. It’s an exhaustive list of fashion writing that displays my vast knowledge of the subject.

There is of course the classic uniform that I have written about before and plenty of you have commented about. It’s the long striped shirt, the black tights, maybe a pair of Converse sneakers. Pretty standard really. Every once and a while a variation will pop up that catches my attention.

Like latex. Because lately, I’ve been wandering through town only to stumble upon gaggles of girls wearing the uniform with latex tights instead. It’s like Batman and Catwoman tried to mate, only to find out that certain species, like cats and bats, should not have sex. Because when it comes to latex, it seems that it is never the girls you want to see in painted on clothes walking around town.

Let me preface this all by saying, I am not what can be called an attractive man. I am big and bulky and covered in hair. As a child I had enough acne to make a leper feel good about himself. That’s why seeing a pimple on my face a few days ago was not a huge surprise. What was a surprise was this morning when I realized that pimple was in fact an ingrown beard hair. Like I said, not attractive. I probably shouldn’t make fun of unattractive people. That being said, I don’t wear latex. And neither should they.

No one wants to see your thigh dimples. No one wants to see what looks to be a ham hock shoved down the back of your pants. And no one wants to see the camel toe. Especially when those three things are accentuated by black shiny plastic material. Of course, the way the uniform is worn does not help matters.

When wearing the uniform, many girls decide that pants are unnecessary if the shirt is long enough to cover their vagina. This is their first mistake (see thigh dimples above). Because they are wearing latex. Their second mistake is forgetting that their ass is hanging out from the back. And is very visible in all of its less than flattering glory (see ham hock above). Because they are wearing latex.

Walking behind the latex uniform can be strangely hypnotizing. Like watching footage of the BP oil spill. Black waves lapping back and forth with no end in sight. It’s a frightening environmental threat. The latex pants, not the BP oil spill.

It could be that latex is unforgiving, and that it doesn’t matter who is wearing the latex. Or it could just be that the latex appeals to a certain group of people. Who happen to be the wrong group of people. Regardless, it’s time to leave the latex at home.

Welcome to Sweden. And latex uniforms.

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