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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Friday, May 28, 2010

An Over-Served American

My younger brother is in town, with one of the more glorious beards I have seen in some time. He’s even been staying with me. Because he’s been staying with me, we’ve been trying to get out and about, clearly being out and about is better than being stuck in my tiny little apartment. Especially considering he managed to pop the air-mattress and instead has been getting to know the quality that is IKEA futons.

Being out and about though puts me in contact with new people. And I am a judgmental and impatient person. It happens. I go with my gut and make snap decisions on people very quickly. As a general rule I don’t really change my mind after that first impression which I’m pretty sure makes me a bad person. Interestingly enough, I have a habit of saying awkward things while chewing on my foot so I am actually quite thankful that people aren’t nearly as judgmental of me as I am of them. Again, I’m pretty sure this makes me a bad person.

Last night was no different as we ended up being stereotypical tourists and grabbed a drink in Gamla Stan. There was plenty of English being spoken at the surrounding tables and we ended up sliding on over to another table making friends. Which is when I realized I didn’t really want to make friends.

Because I was met with one of those stereotypes that I try to avoid dealing with. The American stereotype. Brash. Obnoxious. Oozing better-than-you-ness. I admit, I am more than capable of those qualities. However, I work my ass off when abroad to not exhibit those qualities. I work my ass off to not give people a reason to dislike America based on the actions of one person. I know it doesn’t make a big difference, but I like being American, and I want others to feel the same way. Fulfilling those negative stereotypes does not help. And he wasn’t helping.

Outside he began yelling for lighters at random passersby then freely admitted to doing so only to be “loud and obnoxious.” Notice the quotes. They are there for a reason.

At one point in our limited conversation, his better-than-you-ness really came shining through with his discussion about working for a well-known company. Which turned out was not well-known. And was run by his mother. That was about enough for me. Luckily, it seemed enough for him to as he stole a cigarette from an unguarded pack and immediately ran out the bar.

I know that booze can turn normally good people into assholes. I know that one too many stor starks will lower the inhibitions and raise the volume level. I know that. The difference is that as an American those actions become very visible. Maybe more so to me, because three years of living here has made me very sensitive to that visibility. But you’re not helping. You are not helping.

Welcome to Sweden. And an over-served American.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Run-Ins with the Swedish Police

I’ve had a decent amount of adventures in my various cars. It all started when I was 15 and managed to run into the tennis coach’s car. I was in a suburban. I won. Or lost I suppose.

Anyway, despite my adventures, I’ve only been pulled over three times in over ten years of driving. Twice in the US and once in Sweden.

The first time I was heading out to some of Weld County’s finest county roads in search of a haggard baseball cap. I had lost it while riding in a buddy’s jeep. He decided not to stop so I could get it because of the hopes of hooking up with some girl. I wasn’t all that interested in who he was going to make out with so went home to get my own car. I wanted my hat back. On the way, I was pulled over for having a broken headlight. As luck would have it, that very headlight had just broken that very day. Luckily for me, I was able to convince the police officer of that and drove away with a warning to get the light fixed and a citation for not driving with my up to date insurance card which was later waived when I produced the up to date card. All in all, not bad.

The second time was in Wyoming on my way back from Oregon after my freshman year. Driving way too fast. Wyoming in the middle of the night lends itself to driving fast though. It also lends itself to state troopers hiding on the side of the road and waiting for idiots like me to fly by. Again, luck played a part and two semi-trucks in front of me forced me to slow down. A lot. So I was pulled over for going 12 miles per hour over the speed limit.

I pulled over with two dorm rooms worth of stuff in the Saab and a very tired car battery. I turned the car off and waited. The state trooper from Green River sauntered up and proceeded with his business. It took a while. All the while, all the crap in my car had turned one of back interior lights on. Draining my battery in the process. The state trooper gave me a ticket for speeding and left. I tried to turn my car on. To no avail. The battery was shot.

The trooper did however swing back around and stop by, asking if everything was ok. I said no. My battery was dead. And he argued with me. His reasoning being that because my headlights were coming on, the battery was not dead. I respectfully disagreed and explained that I had been driving this car for nearly four years and the battery was most definitely not strong enough to start the car. Did he have any jumper cables I could borrow? No. Despite being a state trooper in the desolate wasteland that is the interstates of Wyoming, and despite driving around in a Dodge Durango, the state of Wyoming does not equip their state troopers with jumper cables. Awesome.

I had my own. I knew better than to drive without jumper cables. Unfortunately, with two dorm rooms worth of junk in my car, it was going to take me unpacking the trunk to get to them. But I did. And lo and behold, a quick jump, and my car was working again. Turns out it was my battery. Who knew.

The third time was in Sweden. I was horribly lost. I had been driving around looking for streets that might seem familiar. Back and forth. All for naught. I made a quick U-turn and saw myself staring back at a car that pulled up right in front of me. At first, I was very confused. And then the blue lights turned on. Wonderful. It was an unmarked police car. The plain clothes officer walked up to me, produced a badge, and asked me what I was doing. I was lost. Ok. Have you been drinking? I had a 3.5% beer with my meal. Ok. Well, that shouldn’t be a problem but we are going to have you blow anyway.

At this point I was kind of excited. I’ve never had to blow for a breathalyzer before and my one 3.5% beer several hours before wasn’t exactly a worry. So the officer returned to the car and attempted to find his breathalyzer. And did not. His partner started looking. And he did not find it. After a few more minutes of searching, they gave up.

The original officer returned to my car and asked me where I was going. I explained. Follow me. And so I did. He led me to the street, waved me forward and told me just to make my next right and I would be good to go. And he was right.

So three stops, one ticket, one jump, and one police escort. My police adventures haven’t always been the usual.

Welcome to Sweden. And friendly police officers.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Swedish Spring and Travels

Summer (or at least late spring) has finally come to Stockholm. Last weekend we had a classic long Swedish weekend. Thursday was the Day of the Ascension. My favorite religious holiday of course. Mostly because I had never heard about it until moving here. That meant that Wednesday was a half day. And Friday, being a klämdag, ended up being a day off. So I headed to Skåne to go sailing.

It was cold and miserable. Eight degrees cold in the middle of May. Driving rain that froze me to the core. Plus, I went through three different coats because all of them had lost their ability to keep water out. We even ran aground at one point. Couple that with my last attempt at sailing when I fell in the water and ruined my phone and camera, my experiences as a sailor are not good ones. Strangely enough I still enjoyed myself. Probably because despite being wet and cold, this time I wasn’t wet and cold after having fallen in. It’s the little things really.

I returned to Stockholm Sunday night only to find out that it was 20 some degrees here and sunny all weekend. Fine Stockholm, you proved your point. After having complained that many of the trees were missing leaves, Stockholm wanted to prove a point. And it did.

Monday morning I headed to Italy. It was sunny and warm and I managed to get myself sunburned with very little effort. My poor pale skin doesn’t really know how to handle sunlight anymore. The red tightness in my ever expanding forehead though was worth it.

I have been to Italy three times, and each time I go, I like the people more and more. The first time I left Italy disgusted by how rude they had been to me, the blatant sexist attitudes, and just an overall lack of manners. Of course that trip was marred by a couple of extreme incidents, one being in Assisi. Which is why everyone needs to travel to the same country multiple times. Since that trip I returned to Rome, and then Milan and Turin and was amazed by just how friendly and helpful everyone was. The fact that the sun was shining and trees and flowers could be found everywhere I looked probably helped my mood.

Returning to Stockholm, I was nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Not because I was flying into Arlanda (I wasn’t, I know better than that. Skavsta is the way to go.) but because I hadn’t checked the weather or news in days and the way the spring had been going I wouldn’t have been surprised to land in snow. I didn’t. The sun has been shining, the flowers are blooming, and life has returned to Stockholm again.

Welcome to Sweden. And spring. Finally.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Swedish Viking Fashion

It’s been a while since I discussed Swedish fashion here. It might have something to do with the fact that I wear the same white hoodie damn near every time I go out. And because describing that hoodie as white would suggest that the grayish tinge it has picked up is only temporary.

What it comes down to is me not really understanding. Which is funny, because several American friends back home have told me I have begun dressing very European. But this weekend was just a bit much for me.

I found myself at a concert Saturday night. An electro hip hop sort of thing that I’m sure the group (band?) would say transcends genres. Whatever it was, the synthesizer broke halfway through leading to an awkward pause in the middle with me thinking that perhaps they needed some sort of acoustic guitar to kill the time. Or a banjo. Considering the music, it might not have been a surprise that I felt a bit out of place from a fashion sense.

There were enough oversized black rimmed glasses to make Steve Urkel jealous. There were leather tights that looked like Batman would have had trouble getting into them. There were so many pirate striped shirts that I was reminded of my days building Legos. It was incredible.

After the Swedish electro hip hop I headed over to Gamla Stan and a bar that was featuring some country music. I had missed the live act but was greeted by several classics being played by the DJ. The dichotomy of the Swedish electro hip hop crowd and the Swedish country music crowd was impressive.

Instead of the electro hipster look, it was the country hipster look. A sort of hybrid between your classic flannel wearing cowboy and the ironic Swedish hipster. It looked exhausting and I was just glad that my tinged hoodie could transcend fashion. Much like Swedish electro hip hop.

But the night was not over. Because leaving the bar, a Viking walked right past me. He was wearing the long cloak, the tunic, he even looked to be wearing some leather shoes. It was amazing. And I stared. Probably creepily, but it was 1:30 in the morning and the guy was wandering around Stockholm in Viking garb. I thought my night was over though as I headed to my bus station. I was wrong. Because as I climbed aboard, I was met by the very same Viking. Despite not getting a good look at this face the first time, I feel fairly confident that not too many Vikings were out on the town. Clearly though, the tunic and cloak are back in style.

Welcome to Sweden. And Viking fashion.

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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Baseball in Sweden

Yesterday was the home opener for the Sundbyberg Heat, Stockholm’s very own professional baseball team. Or baseboll as it is so lovingly known here in Sweden. And in an homage to the great Ernie Banks, a double header was in the cards.

Despite it being May 7th, the temperature hovered right around five degrees Celsius. That’s a solid 41 degrees Fahrenheit. And it rained. Not a light, spring rain, but that miserable biting rain that soaks you to your very soul. All in all, not exactly the kind of spring weather I usually associate with opening day baseball.

Neither did the Swedes, judging by the sparse crowd. Now estimating the number of people in large crowds can be difficult. Luckily, that wasn’t a problem yesterday and so, with my superior math skills, I placed the estimated crowd at about 20. Five of whom were all under the age of about six. But it was a raucous crowd of 20.

The game was out of hand pretty quick with Sundbyberg jumping out to what would prove to be an insurmountable lead. It may have had something to do with the fact that Eskilstuna’s pitcher looked to be throwing what can best be described as volleyballs.

I’ll be honest; I didn’t stay for both games. Hell, I didn’t even stay for the full first game. I have limits. And those limits kick in right around the 14-0 mark. And when the temperature is just above freezing. And when the rain isn’t letting up. And when there have already been seven errors between the two teams in the bottom of the 5th.
Sundbyberg ended up winning both games, the first 14-0 in only seven innings helping them to move up to the .500 mark in Elitserien Baseboll standings. Their next home game will be May 29th against Göteborg, currently even with Sundbyberg at .500.

Despite the weather, and the less than competitive game, it was a lot of fun. It was good to see a bit of baseball being played, even though it is painfully obvious that the sport has a ways to go before making it into the national discussion. But the grass was green, the ball was white, and the hot dogs delicious. And that’s all that mattered.

Welcome to Sweden. And baseboll.

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Tax Time in Sweden

I filed my Swedish taxes the other day. It took me just long enough to type 18 numbers into my cell phone and hit send. The deadline was May 3rd, and my tax declaration forms have been on the floor of my apartment for several weeks.

Now normally, tax papers shouldn’t be strewn across the floor. But I was going paperless this year. You know, except for the papers on my floor. The Swedish tax system, despite the ridiculous amounts of money they take from me every year, is pretty damn good at taking that money. All that practice I suppose.

All of that practice has led to some serious efficiency. Like being able to declare by phone. Or online. Or by SMS (or text, depending on which country you might find yourself in). Last year, I declared online. This year though, I was going even more high tech. I was using my cell phone. Which, considering the quality of my cell phone, might be considered incredibly low tech, but I digress.

The government sent me a nice little form with plenty of information already filled in, like my income for example. They also sent a booklet to read through in case I needed to make any changes due to big life changing events. Like selling a house. I didn’t have any of those big life changing events, and so I went through my forms, saw that no changes had to be made, and I was good to go.

I consulted the handy booklet to go through my choices. Because I had no changes to make, filing by cell phone was a legitimate option. And come on, probably the best option. All I had to do was plug in my personnummer and a little code that they provided me and send it off to Skatteverket. Then I sat back and waited for my confirmation text.

In a country of nine million, Skatteverket was preparing me for disappointment. The booklet warned me that if lots of people were filing taxes at the same time, I may have to wait up to ten minutes for my confirmation text. The horror. Apparently though, 10:00 in the evening on a weekday is not a popular time to be consulting tax documents and so just a few seconds after having hit send, I received my confirmation: Din deklaration har nu kommit in till Skatteverket.

It doesn’t get much easier than that. Which might be the point. That little anti-tax troll that sits on my shoulder says that the Swedish government makes declaring easy because then no one thinks too hard about just how much money disappears to the Swedish tax system. The troll on my other shoulder says that in a country where the police send text messages, this is just a damn good way to make life a little bit better.

Welcome to Sweden. And filing taxes.

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