Friday, August 19, 2011


A few years ago (and it frightens me that I still remember what I wrote nearly three years ago and can dig it up and link to it but whatever), I wrote about childcare in Sweden. Not because I actually have children, but because it’s a pretty popular topic. People the world over comment on the parental leave, the daycare, the child allowance all provided by those high taxes that Swedes pay.

In that post, I mentioned in passing about a Danish woman who ran into some legal trouble in the US for leaving her child in a stroller while she went into some sort of business establishment. Eventually, the whole thing settled down and she managed to even get some money out of the whole thing. Well played Danish woman, well played. Now a Swedish woman is in the exact same situation in Massachusetts. She left her kid outside in the stroller and spent gasp, 10 minutes in a restaurant. By the time she came out, she was facing charges of neglect. Bummer.

This is the ultimate kulturkrock. A culture crash of the kind that leads to serious problems and demonstrates a lack of understanding on so many levels. From both parties. I think this is a ridiculous overreaction by the Americans. I also think it is a little ridiculous that the Swedish mother in question wasn’t savvy enough to realize that this sort of thing doesn’t necessarily fly in the US. Silly, but you might want to pay some attention to what is socially acceptable in different cultures. I don’t eat bacon while wearing shorts and a tank top when I visit mosques in Istanbul.

All that being said, I sometimes forget just how Swedish I have become. Aside from the lack of cultural awareness, I see nothing wrong with this. Leave the kid to sleep outside. Don’t drag a huge stroller inside a crowded, or even empty, café or restaurant. Hell, some places in Stockholm have signs posted forbidding strollers from entering the building. It’s smart really. And I know, what if the child is kidnapped? It’s the big bad United States of America where nothing is safe…

There’s no need to be paranoid. That’s all it is, unwarranted paranoia. The statistics of kidnappings from the US Justice Department bear this out. Very seldom is a child just grabbed by a random stranger. Very, very seldom. Too often I hear the, well Sweden is just so safe so that this is completely acceptable. I believe it has less to do with actual safety and more to do with perceived safety. Yes, there are some places in the US you don’t want to be late at night. Of course, the serial rapist who was victimizing Flemingsberg while I lived there would suggests that there are some places in Sweden as well. Overall though, it seems my views on childcare for the hypothetical child that I don’t have, have suddenly been very much influenced by my Swedishness.

Welcome to the US. And kulturkrock.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

(Not) Breaking the Law, Breaking the Law

I love stereotypes. I like to play with them. I like to joke about them. Sometimes I even like to live up to them. One stereotype that has always kind of surprised me is the Swedish law-abiding citizen. Usually this stereotype plays itself out in an everyday example. Cross walks. Apparently, Swedes never cross against red. Which is a damn dirty lie.

I learned earlier this summer that this same stereotype carries over to other countries in Scandinavia. Namely, Denmark. I found myself on a tiny little back street in a tiny little town with a tiny little American man with Danish ancestry. As I walked across the street against a very red light, he hustled slowly behind me. And yes, he hustled slowly. You know exactly what I mean. Because as he hustled slowly, he called out to my heels, you know, this is illegal. My cousin told me that he knew someone who once got a ticket for doing this late at night. Aah. Well in that case, we should always believe the “a friend of a friend of a friend told me once that” story. Those are always credible sources. I called out that I liked my chances of not getting a ticket. Lo and behold, I was not ticketed.

I tell you this story to demonstrate that this stereotype is alive and well in at least two Scandinavian countries. But last Sunday, I found myself staring at the stereotype come to life. I was back in Sweden. One last time before heading back to the US. I had a lovely meal with my family, but before seeing them, I tried getting a bit of shopping done. And by shopping, I mean candy buying.

I wandered into an ICA and found my candy of choice. And I paid. I was slow to pack up because I was too cheap to buy a plastic bag so it was necessary to shove everything into pockets and the (free) produce bags they offer. I managed, but in the meantime I watched a scene play out in front of me that I’m still not sure I witnessed.

A mother and two sons came up to the counter, maybe five and seven years old. They had a few things to purchase and two winning scratch-off lottery tickets. The mother was holding one ticket, the older son the other. The cute little kid held out his scratch ticket to the woman behind the counter. She looked at him then looked at the mother. I can’t accept this. You must be 18 years old to play the lottery. Ha ha I thought. Very cute. Cracking a little joke on a Sunday afternoon. What a friendly Swede. But I think we all know where this is going. I wouldn’t be writing about this if this was where the story ended. The mother chuckled a bit, I assume because she had a similar reaction to mine. The cashier did not chuckle. Stone-faced.

As the cashier continued to stare blankly at the mother, not reaching for the ticket, the mother simply asked, are you serious. Yes. Yes she was serious. The mother, quick thinking as she was, grabbed the ticket from the son then attempted to give it to the cashier. Again, the cashier made no move to reach for the ticket. She looked at the mother and said that once the child had touched the ticket, she was not allowed to accept it. You know, because you have to be 18 to play the lottery.

The poor little boy watched in confusion and eventually tried to explain that it wasn’t really him that was playing the lottery. He didn’t actually buy it. He was just holding it. Farmor bought it. Farmor is way older than 18. Surely she should be allowed to play the lottery. The cashier was unmoved. I don’t make the rules she said.

It was a mind-boggling display of following the letter of the law. The child clearly had not purchased the ticket. The mother had clearly just handed the child the ticket to hold as they waited in line. There was nothing sinister about it. Yet still, the cashier would not budge. While I'm sure there was a hint of, I'm working, I have to do this, it did not shine through at all. Instead she seemed to revel a bit in the ability to fall back on the excuse that someone else was making these rules. She was just the poor soldier following orders.

Finally, in exasperation, the mother asked if she would at least accept the second lottery ticket, the one that she was holding. She did. Of course, for all we know, that ticket may have been null and void. At some point, a child under the age of 18 may have possibly, maybe, accidentally touched the ticket. And you know, children under the age of 18 aren’t allowed to play the lottery in Sweden.

Welcome to Sweden. And law-abiding citizens.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

IKEA. In Colorado.

Just a few weeks ago, a brand new IKEA opened in Colorado. This was big news. Such big news that while I was home for a few days this summer, several companies were using IKEA in their marketing. As in, we are located just three blocks away from IKEA. Of course, IKEA was yet to have actually opened, but a large blue and yellow box is hard to miss.

I took great interest in this. And by great, I mean I paid attention when my parents told me that people had camped out two nights before so that they could be the first to get into IKEA. You see, the first 30 people in would receive an IKEA couch. Yay.

Let me first say that I love IKEA. In a slightly creepy way. I furnished damn near my entire apartment in the US with IKEA products. It’s cheap, it looks halfway decent, and it’s cheap. But it’s cheap. And that seems to have been lost on many people in the US.

I have owned an IKEA couch. It was, without a doubt, the worst couch I have ever owned. Granted, it wasn’t the top of the line model, but let’s be honest, nothing is top of the line when it comes from IKEA. There are very few things I would sleep in a large asphalt parking lot for two days for. A couch from IKEA is not one of them. In fact, it shouldn’t be one of them for anyone.

You see, IKEA stuff is made with cheap materials so that it can be sold cheaply in flat packed boxes and put together with one magical tool. These are not handmade works of art. They just aren’t. Swedes know this.

Swedes know that IKEA allows you to get bored and redecorate your entire kitchen every other year without having to take out a second mortgage. Americans don’t seem to understand this. Yes, there are pieces of IKEA furniture that last for decades. I believe some old bookshelves/cupboard thingies that once sat in the basement of my parents’ home were from IKEA. But the vast majority of furniture from the blue and yellow giant lasts a couple of years. IKEA furniture is not handed down from one generation to the next. It is not a point of contention in last wills and testaments. It is sorted at the dump or thrown onto That’s it.

A few years ago, I found a short article claiming that IKEA and H&M played a role in the high rate of divorce in Sweden. Because Swedes were used to changing their interior decorating and their wardrobe for next to nothing, they were also used to changing their partners. It was the kind of pseudo-psychology that appeals to people like me. I can read a poorly written article that probably misrepresents actual psychological research and refer to it in conversation with friends about the recent study I just read about blah blah blah. But regardless of the correlation or causation between divorce and IKEA usage, the fact remains that these giants of Swedish design are designed to be tossed aside for the next great Swedish design. It’s genius really. But it’s something that seems to have been lost in the cultural translation from IKEA Sweden to IKEA US.

What does all this mean? Nothing. Except for that when the next IKEA opens in the US, don’t camp outside. And anyway, they sell stuff online.

Welcome to the US. And cultural translation problems.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Really Sweden, Really?

I miss Europe. And I’m still here. But the other day was rough. I went to Sweden for the afternoon with a group of fellow Danish learners. I was mostly looking forward to being able to speak a language without having to think. And mumble.

I arrived to a street filled with European football fans dressed in the local colors surrounding at least 10 police vans. We were told that there was a derby match about to happen. And at one in the afternoon, the Swedes were apparently properly liquored up. Because suddenly, sirens erupted, riot police charged, gas canisters were detonated (whether they were tear gas or not, I don’t know), and a throng of football fans spread out into the streets in all directions at a drunken sprint. It was like nothing I had ever seen. I once saw the beginnings of a riot at the University of Oregon several years ago, I’ve seen several large-scale demonstrations, but I have never seen riot police in action. It was intense. Because I am a responsible young man, I walked away. It was not a good first impression for several of the people who had never been to Sweden before.

Next, we headed to the old town. Because every proper European city has one. Obviously. On the way down a large set of stairs, a lighter came flying through the air and whipped against my hand. I looked up to see a pudgy, middle-aged man in a white shirt with a drunken, albeit sheepish, look on his face. My arms flew into the air in the international what the hell was that gesture. My words then flew into the air in the Swedish vad fan var det gesture. His response was one of the most disgusting things I have heard in Sweden in quite some time. Ursäkta, det var inte meningen. Jag missade negern bakom dig. As if that somehow makes it ok. Some Swedes will argue that the word neger means negro and is acceptable. To be perfectly honest, that’s bullshit. It’s a word that should not be used. Ever. I just looked at the guy, shook my head, and walked away. I didn’t know what to do. It just kind of hurt to hear.

At this point, my brow is furrowed and I’m not exactly happy to be at the head of a gaggle of foreigners trying to show off a country that I quite like and a city that holds a whole lot of amazing memories. So off we went to a medieval church. Because if there’s one thing that can cheer me up it’s a medieval church. Instead I saw three men, penises in hand, urinating on the walls surrounding the church grounds. Awesome.

After three strikes, the skies opened above us and rain started pissing down. You know, just for good measure. Needless to say, it wasn’t the most successful day trip to Sweden.

Welcome to Sweden. And drunkenness, hooliganism, racism, and public urination.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Using Your Inside Voice

The other day I wrote that Americans should use their inside voice when abroad. It was meant to be a smart ass comment that was halfway funny. Mostly because it is a stereotype that lives on and sometimes is based on a kernel of truth. However, I thought I should explain what I meant also, not because I received any scathing e-mails, but because behind the smartass comment there was something I meant. Surprisingly, there usually is.

Americans tend to be loud when abroad. Not overly so, but loud enough. It’s not just that though. Lots of people are loud. Lots of people make fools of themselves. Lots of people call attention to themselves. That’s not reserved just for Americans. I’ve seen countless languages do things that would make their mothers cringe. Or at least make my mother cringe.

But other languages can get away with things on a different level. It does not give them a license to act an ass, but it does give them license to say things that may be rude. Part of the reason an inside voice is so useful for an American is the simple fact that those Americans tend to be speaking English. And a vast population abroad speaks English. And when a vast international population speaks English, those little comments you make that you think you can get away with because you are abroad. Gross, it stinks here. Look at that person. Do I really have to eat that? Why don’t they do it this way? Those comments are understood. By a lot of people.

So whether they are loud or not, they are heard. Is it fair? Probably not. The group of Finnish guys may be saying the exact same things. I don’t know. I don’t speak Finnish. Chances are that you don’t either. And neither does the vast majority of the population.

While in Istanbul, I ran across a group of Americans. Probably a few years younger than me. I did not talk to them. They were standing outside a large Turkish bathhouse. They were talking. Someone in the group I was with made a comment about the stereotypically loud Americans. They weren’t. Not in my opinion. They were no louder than the other groups of tourists right outside of the bathhouse. The difference was they were in the middle of the classic tourist bitch session. We’ve all been there. I’ve seen Swedes do it in Mumbai, I’ve seen Canadians do it in Sweden, I’ve seen Americans do it all over. It’s a great way to blow off some steam when the homesickness hits. The difference between Swedes doing it in Mumbai and Americans doing it in Istanbul is that there aren’t a whole lot of Swedish speakers in Mumbai. There are a whole lot of English speakers in Istanbul. So all those rude comments were understood. Loud and clear. Minus the loud.

It’s frustrating to see this happen, it’s frustrating to see stereotypes beget stereotypes. Some of them deserved, I won’t deny that. Some are not. But when traveling abroad, it helps to be aware of those stereotypes. Because that inside voice may not break down the loud American stereotype, but it sure as hell will help. Even if your inside voice is understood by your surroundings as well.

Welcome to Europe. And inside voices.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I Miss You Europe

I miss you Europe. And I’m still here. And I’ll be here for another four weeks. I have plenty to look forward to when going back to the US, but I miss you already.

I miss learning bits and pieces of new languages. Because there is no better way to make a foreign friend than comparing swear words.

I miss meeting people from different countries. Because here people are actually from that country. For the record, you are not from Sweden if your great-great-grandfather moved to the US from Skåne in the 1800s. You’re just not.

I miss people speaking at least two different languages. Because your four years of B-work French in high school doesn’t count ten years after the fact. It just doesn’t.

I miss being able to jump on a plane and exploring a new country. Because Poland or Greece or Turkey or Italy are right there. And paying next to nothing to do it.

I miss five to six weeks of paid vacation. Because I’m on vacation right now. But it sure as hell isn’t paid.

I miss taking my shoes off when I walk into someone’s house. Because it’s just gross not to.

I miss laughing at the skinny guy in skinny jeans and a skinny t-shirt. Because you look ridiculous. Even if it is fashionable.

I miss boobs on TV. Because they’re just nipples. We all have them.

I miss being able to pick out the American tourist from a mile away. Because you wear tennis shoes everywhere. And are carrying a water bottle. And just a tip, use your inside voice.

I miss naked kids on the beach. Because when you’re three years old (or even 27 years old), there are few things better than running naked into the ocean.

I miss laughing at European stereotypes. Because Germans wearing socks with sandals is just funny.

I miss the history. Because as much as I love American history, there’s nothing like a medieval church.

I miss the museums. Because all those years of colonialism sure made for one hell of a museum collection.

I miss bitching and moaning about you. Because even though I love you, sometimes you need to get over yourself. I know. So does, the US.

I miss working my ass off to understand you. Because I hate the Ugly American. And I hate being the Ugly American even more. So be able to identify more than three countries. Read a newspaper. The international section is a good place to start.

I miss my adventure. Because you were the best adventure I’ve had so far.

I miss running away to hide only to realize I found so much. Because nothing can compare to crossing an ocean. For friendship. For education. For work. For love.

I miss you Europe. And I’m still here.

Welcome to S(candinavia). I think I’ll leave. Probably.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes and Swedish Stereotypes

Sometimes I forget about Scandinavian stereotypes. And sometimes I forget that there is often a basis for those stereotypes. And sometimes it takes a bunch of international student trying to learn a Scandinavian language to point those differences out.

I am somewhere between red-headed and blonde-headed. I do not have blue eyes. I am half-way tall. I am pushing 200 pounds. I have broad-ish shoulders. In short, I can look the Swedish part if needed, although I may be a bit broad overall to be completely convincing. But this isn’t meant to be some sort of weird personal ad, although, ladies, I do enjoy a sad country song. You know, because I’m sensitive.

The point is that a certain look is expected from Swedes, and Scandinavians in general. That look is tall. Blonde or red-headed. Blue eyes. And little kids are expected to be either well-dressed or running around naked with their blonde hair and blue eyes.

So when I found myself in front of a delicious Danish ice cream shop teeming with small children none of this was in my mind. At all. I Was focused on my rapidly melting ice cream and the copious amounts of whipped cream and strawberry jam running down the sides.

What I saw in front of me was background noise. Just a bunch of Danes and Swedes enjoying ice cream and sunlight. As anyone should really. Until one of the several eastern Europeans I was with decided to chime in. About the children. In a good way. But it was a simple comment. Look at all the blonde hair! And the blue eyes! And so I did.

And he was right. They all had blonde hair. And they all had blue eyes. Every. Single. Child. While there were a couple of siblings in the group, not all of them were related. The numerous pairs of harried parents gave that away in a heartbeat.

Today at the beach, in one of those rare summer days when the sun is warm, the water is warm, and the ice cream is cold, there were little kids nakedly running around on the beach. And they were all blonde. Again. Every. Single. Child.

I don’t remember being two years old and running around in Sweden, but I’ve seen pictures. And I fit the bill. I was blonde blonde. Cute too. I don’t know what happened. It all went downhill from about the age of six. When my family moved to the US. Coincidence? Maybe.

But it’s quite the image when walking through town, or sitting on a beach, or riding a train, and realizing that all those kids running around really are blonde. Really are blue-eyed. Really are fitting every Swedish stereotype. It isn’t always that way. It doesn’t always stay that way. But next time you’re out enjoying the Swedish (or in my case, Danish) sun, look around. You may find yourself surrounded by living stereotypes.

Welcome to S(candinavia). And blonde hair and blue eyes.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Swedish Beer Drinking

Every time I go to Sweden I learn something. Sometimes it is useful. Like how to integrate into society by sharp intakes of breath as an affirmative response. Or staring at the sun. Or sitting in complete silence on public transportation. Other times it is not at all useful. Or useful in a different way. Like drinking Swedish beer.

A quick run-down of Swedish beer though. The big brands are not good. Falcon. Pripps. Norrlands. They are your classic stor stark version at the bars. Expensive and not worth the money. But more important is the different classes of beer. Lätt, folk, stark. This is where it can get tricky.

Lättöl is beer with 2.25% alcohol content or less. It is considered to be alcohol-free and so anyone can legally buy this. In theory. In reality, many stores won’t allow anyone under the age of 18 to buy anything that could be confused with beer.

Folköl is the stuff you buy in the grocery stores when you remember you’re stuck in a country that stops selling actual alcohol at three in the afternoon on a Saturday. It’s also the stuff that has an alcohol content between 2.25% and 3.5%. Usually it is 3.5%. Technically and in reality you have to be 18 or older to buy folköl.

Finally, the strong stuff. Starköl. This is any beer with an alcohol content of 3.5% or more. Because this is Sweden and the general population obviously can’t be trusted with alcohol, starköl is only available at Systembolaget or at bars and restaurants with the proper licensing. Of course, you need to be 20 to buy starköl at Systemet, but only 18 at a bar. I don’t know why. Probably because, again, the average Swede can’t be trusted with alcohol and so the impetus falls on the bars, restaurants, and thus the bartenders to police every individual’s alcohol intake. Or something like that.

Never mind that though, now we know how beer works in this country. It will get you damn drunk when out drinking because that starköl is just that, stark. Strong. And just the other day I was well on my way to a night of drunkenness that my liver would have regretted in the morning. You know that perfect state of drunkenness? The one where you are charming, smart, funny, and not really drunk? It’s a façade. You’re probably stupid drunk by that point. But right before that point, that’s when actual good ideas can smack you across the face. And I was smacked across the face by just such an idea as I walked myself to the bar to buy the next round. I was getting too drunk. But social convention suggests that I need to return with a beer in hand. I’m in Sweden! Folköl! Lättöl! They’re both available!

I ambled my way to the bar at this point with a new found sense of purpose. And self-confidence. I ordered starköls for my friends and a folköl for myself. Not only was it less alcohol, it was less money. A win-win for any thrifty (that’s a nice way of admitting to being cheap by the way) university student. More importantly though, as the night dragged on, instead of pouring several strong beers down my gullet, I switched to lighter and lighter beer.

Let’s be honest, I was drunk by the end of the night. This is just a relative way of avoiding different degrees of drunkenness. But I was not stupid drunk. And in the morning I was not hurting nearly as bad as I have in the past after nights out with the same group of guys. After thinking it over, I couldn’t help but wish that I could find similar options in the US. Of course, I’m not willing to accept Systemet back home. I have some limits.

Welcome to Sweden. And degrees of drunkenness.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Getting Old. And Danish.

I’ve decided to try to learn Danish. Mostly because I am an idiot. My Swedish isn’t even that impressive. I can trick people for a decent amount of time, but sooner or later I slip up and suddenly I sound like a five year old unable to decide between en or ett. So what better way to mess that up even more than to learn another Scandinavian language? And one that sounds like there may be a handful of potatoes shoved down the throat of its speakers.

But here I am. In Denmark. Trying to learn Danish. And I feel old. I’m 27. I’m losing my hair on my head and growing hair everywhere else. I have a bad hip. I am nearly blind without my contacts in. If I drink for more than one night in a row I feel like I was trampled by a small herd of elephants. It’s not a pretty sight really. But my boyish charm usually makes up for the outward appearance. But suddenly I am taking classes with a bunch of people that are no older than 21. Most of whom are still teenagers. Some of whom are still in high school. And I feel old. The 18 year old British kid referring to me as “old man” doesn’t help.

The other day a 19 year old British girl (damn those British) asked me how old I was. I answered. Truthfully. She responded by saying that she was surprised and that’s he thought I was only 22. Max. I couldn’t decide if I should be happy that I was mistaken for that age, or sad that I even considered taking that as a compliment. Despite the loss of hair and bad hip, there may be no more definite sign of old age than feeling complimented by someone mistaking you for a younger person. And here I was doing just that.

Worst of all though is not the age difference, it is the inability to make my mouth, tongue, and head do what the Danish language wants me to do. I feel like it’s stuck in Swedish. Which is enough of a challenge what with the sju sjösjuka sjömän sköttes av sju skönsjungande sjuksköterskor på det sjunkande skeppet Shanghai and the Knut knöt en knut bakom knuten, och när Knut hade knutit knuten så var knuten knuten.

I have never really learned a language. I took four years of French in high school, but that was a while ago and I could only just get by in France. Because I speak Swedish and English well, it is assumed that I am good at languages. People tend to forget that I got those for free. I didn’t have to learn Swedish. Or English. They came with my mom speaking English to me and my dad speaking Swedish. Essentially, I cheated. So suddenly I find myself struggling to make glottal stops. And remembering that Danes love apocope. Or tongue tapping certain letters. It’s exhausting. And a challenge. And a great way to spend the summer.

It also gives me a newfound appreciation for the multi-lingual friends I have made over the years in Europe. And a newfound appreciation for all those students who put up with my teaching this summer. And for my mom and her willingness (and badass-ness) in learning Swedish damn near 30 years ago.

Welcome to Denmark. And rødgrød med fløde.

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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Swedish Sailing and Insanity

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again expecting different results. By that definition, I am insane. Considering I just wrote a post about having multiple personalities, this may not come as much of a surprise. This past weekend though confirmed that. I am insane.

I went sailing. Again. Two years ago I went sailing and came back with two very expensive paper weights that were once a camera and cell phone after falling into the water. One year ago I was somehow convinced to join a sailing race. And ended up in what can best be described as a disaster including running aground, having no electricity and thus no GPS, and broaching the boat.

I vowed to not sail again. Which is where the insanity comes in. I found myself on a sail boat in the same damn race this past weekend. And I am alive. And that’s all that counts.

This time we really did have to pull out of the race. Strangely enough we found ourselves making the exact same call last year in the exact same Danish harbor town – Stubbekøbing. A lovely little place really and now my third most visited city in Denmark after Copenhagen and Helsingør.

But like I said, we had to quit. For a variety of reasons. The first being that we somehow managed to hit a marker in the middle of the ocean. Well not really the ocean, but a large sea. We were aiming for a west marker on the compass point. We just couldn’t see it. Not too strange really, it was the middle of the night and at two in the morning, it is somewhat dark, even here. As we got closer and closer to where it should have been a long winded discussion broke out about where in the hell the marker was. It was supposed to be lit. Nine flashes of light. Nothing. So we sailed on. And suddenly, BAM! We found it. It was not lit up. It was not supposed to be lit up. Not all markers are lit. The map tells us which ones are and are not supposed to be lit up. This one was not supposed to be lit up. Somehow we had missed that fact. We did not however miss the marker. I haven’t decided yet if this is an incredible work of navigation to be able to aim for a marker in the middle of the water that is maybe a meter wide and hit it, or just a stunningly embarrassing navigational feat. I’ll let you decide. Either way, the boat was hurting. So much so that the railing in the front was useless. Which was a bummer because that’s where I was doing most of my work. And without railing in the middle of a boiling sea, even strapped in and wearing a life jacket, well I may be insane, but I’m not stupid. There is a fine line. I toe it quite often, sometimes I cross it. Not usually when it could result in me taking a very cold and dark dive into the water while being dragged along by a boat doing ten knots.

After all this though, I went to bed. And woke up as we headed into port. Because while I was asleep, a large gust of wind grabbed the jib (that’s fock for the Swedish speakers. I had to look that one up in English) and ripped it nearly in half. Around the same time another gust of wind grabbed the mainsail and pushed us to one side in the process shearing the bolts holding the mainsheet in place clean off. Awesome.

To port we went. As I said, it was the same port as last year. At least we’re consistently bad. A discussion ensued about whether we should try to make some repairs or whether we should quit. Looking at the crew, it was decided that we should quit. Probably the smartest decision we made. At around this time, a lovely little storm was brewing. No worries we thought, we were going to turn the motor on and glide on home. It would only take us 14 hours.

It did only take us about 14 hours. Of course, we managed to run into one of the worts storms Copenhagen has seen in years. And when I say years I mean hundreds of them. The newspaper the next day said the rain that fell was the worst in 400 to 500 years. Four hundred to five hundred. That’s a lot of years. Hell, Sweden was still a world power 400 to 500 years ago. More rain fell in just a couple of hours than usually does in three or four months.

The sea was boiling. I never understood what that meant until this weekend. All of those literary descriptions meant nothing to me. Boiling? I thought it was just windy and wave-y. I was wrong. The rain was so powerful that the water falling from the skies was pushing the waves back down from the depths from which they originated. It was bubbling, but there were no whitecaps. The rain was too strong. Every description of a boiling sea that I have ever read suddenly made sense to me. In case you were wondering, boiling is an apt description. Just trust me.

The rain was accompanied by one of the most impressive lightning storms I have ever been a part of or seen. And I come from Colorado. Those Rocky Mountains do lightning right. One hit so close that I swear to you it sounded like someone fired a gun in the cabin of the boat. Everything was visible. Everything. I have never seen such light at such an ungodly hour of the night. It was eerie. And amazing. And frightening. It’s something I’m glad I was a part of and something I never want to be a part of again.

But we made it. Finally. No one was seriously hurt (we did have a smashed thumb). Everyone was still friends. And we all made it.

Welcome to Sweden. And my retirement from amateur sailing. For real this time.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Split Personalities in Sweden

I have a split personality. Not the kind that talks to you. Or the kind that convinces you that there are unicorns in your closet. But the kind that comes with speaking two languages at a relatively advanced level.

The more time I spend in this country as an adult, and the more time I spend in the US as an adult, the more I realize that straddling the two countries, sliding into my Swedish persona while in Europe and my American persona while in the US isn’t as hard as it once was. Because no matter what anyone tells you, if you speak two languages relatively well, you most likely have two different personalities. Eventually, hopefully, they meld into some sort of super personality making you incredibly successful, irresistible to attractive women, and even more awesome than you already are. Or something like that.

Chances are though, instead of being that super person you will find yourself sitting around at dinner parties thinking of all the witty remarks you’d like to make. And don’t. Or wanting to join in on that discussion about politics. But by the time you think of how to say what you want to say, the conversation has moved to discussing people’s least favorite punctuation mark. Mine is the comma. You may have noticed. I don’t use them. Mostly because I don’t really know how to use them properly. And I hate them. Stay focused.

It’s a frustrating realization though. Not the comma usage, but the split personalities. Mostly because it takes such time. And if you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of time going back and forth between two cultures. It sounds like a good idea. It is a good idea. But it leads to frustration.

This hit me the other day after having been back in Sweden for a while. I have two very distinct group of friends. I have English-speaking friends and I have Swedish-speaking friends. I have a few that cross over for whatever reason, but I find myself, even in Sweden, floating back and forth between my English personality and my Swedish personality.

I’m getting better at melding the two. The more time I stay here, the more I learn about the country the culture, and the language, the more comfortable I am cracking jokes. Discussing politics. Even making fun of people. I’m a horrible person, I know. But doing all those little things that form a personality worth knowing. Or not. I’ll leave that up to other people to decide.

Those split personalities though are the thing I watch other people deal with. And discuss. And eventually meld. It’s hard as hell. It’s fun as hell too, though. Because all those little things suddenly are worth so much more. Like the first time you crack a joke and people laugh. In a different language. Or the first time you can actually hold your own in a discussion about complicated issues that you care about. In a different language. Or the first time you can make fun of the guy wearing a bright green polo with the collar popped and red jeans. In a different language. It’s a wonderful feeling. And it’s what makes going abroad so amazing. And what makes learning a different language so worth it.

Welcome to Sweden. And multiple identities.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fika: A Definition. Kind of.

Recently, I found myself doing some inadvertent code-switching. It happens. I get confused and all of a sudden my English is littered with Swedish words that few people understand and my Swedish is littered with English words which most people understand. It says a bit about the linguistic differences in the two countries. Of course, it also says that there are only about ten million people in the world who speak Swedish and so littering your English with Swedish is probably a bit pretentious. Even if it is inadvertent, but I digress. This isn’t about my inability to control my language skills. It’s about fika. The Swedish word that I found myself using.

It resulted in a very understandable, wait, what does fika mean? So what does fika mean?

Fika is an amazing Swedish phenomenon. It’s kind of like English tea. It’s become a cultural mainstay which tends to include coffee and perhaps a delicious baked good. And everyone does it. Everyone. Hell, even I suggest the occasional fika, and I most definitely do not drink coffee (although I have been trying to teach myself to be a grown-up and drink tea. Always ordering hot chocolate when I find myself in a fika situation has made me self-conscious about my inability to act like an adult). It can be used as an excuse to get out of work. It can be used as an excuse to catch up with friends. It can be used as a job interview, a date, a break-up. It’s quite versatile. As is the word. It is both noun and verb:
Det blir ingen fika idag. That’s the noun form for the grammar nerds amongst us.
Jag har suttit och fikat i flera timmar nu. That’s the verb in the supine form for those of you scoring at home.

And to further this fascinating linguistic lesson, according to Nationalencyklopedin it turns out that the word originated from some sort of slang language in which the word for coffee (kaffe became kaffi) was rearranged a bit, leaving us with fika. Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Welcome to Sweden. Anyone up for a fika?

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Celebrity Spotting in Sweden

I had a celebrity sighting the other day. I’m not very good at celebrities. Not in the US, and especially not in Sweden. But I enjoy Filip och Fredrik, despite never remembering which is which. They entertain me. Which is really all I ask from people. I’m a simple man. But I saw one of them. The short one. At a café. I did not speak to him; I did not even acknowledge his existence. Essentially, I delved into my inner-Swede. And I was not alone.

Living in the places that I have back in the US doesn’t make for a lot of celebrity sightings. Unless you count the local cow baron millionaire back in Greeley. But I don’t. The closest thing to celebrity in most of the places I have lived were the athletes. And by athletes, I mean student athletes. And it just weirds me out to get too excited about 18-20 year olds who play a game. Even though I do love those games.

Some people though tend to get a bit excited. Not just about athletes, but about celebrity. There’s the classic 13 year old screaming girl. The sneaky autograph hound. The apologetic, I’m your biggest fan. The creepy old man. The creepy old woman. Then there’s the take a glance but ignore. Which is where I come in. And apparently a large number of Swedes in my vicinity at the time.

Not a single person approached him. It was a busy café. In the middle of one of those beautiful Stockholm summer days that convinces tourists that they should move here (always visit in November before you decide to move here. Always. Just trust me.). Part of me was shocked. This is a man who is relatively ubiquitous on TV. But not a single soul said a word. It was quite refreshing really. Mostly because my image of celebrities out on the town tends to be a mob of the 13 year old screaming girl type.

Maybe my reaction to this has something to do with Sweden being small. Or about the US being overly obsessed with celebrity. Maybe it is because he’s a small man and he blended in with his surroundings. Maybe it’s because no one else thinks he’s funny. Or maybe, just maybe, people saw that he was out enjoying a lovely Stockholm summer day and left him the hell alone. I hope so.

Welcome to Sweden. And reticence.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

E-Mails from Kenya

I don’t check the e-mail that comes to this blog all that often anymore. Mostly because I don’t write on this blog all that often anymore. For a while, I was responding to every e-mail I got (albeit sometimes several months late). I was even responding to every comment. Now? Well, I’m just kind of lazy. I’m not going to lie to you. But now and then I log on in to my e-mail account and give a quick scroll down the list. My goal this summer is to actually do some catching up and try to respond. So if you sent me an e-mail last June and didn’t get a response, hang tight. It’s coming. Probably.

All that being said, I do enjoy the occasional e-mail. Some more than others. A while back I received an e-mail from Kenya. I do not know anyone in Kenya. I have a couple of friends who have done field-work in Kenya. I have other friends who have visited. I’ve spoken to people from Kenya, but I know no one living in the country. Which is why e-mails from Kenya are confusing. I’ve included it below (replacing the original name with a pseudonym) because it made me smile. And I hope it makes you smile too.

“How are you there in AWESOMELY BOLD from Kenya and i saw you work through internet.keep up.the purpose of writing this email is requesting whether you can offer me small grant to help me uplift my living conditions because here in Kenya poverty levels are very high and no jobs for us the a little help will move me far and i will appreciate so much.please consider my my send through western union money transfer.THANK YOU.”

I’m not even really sure where to begin with this. This is not your classic Nigerian Prince scheme; it is just a straight out request for money. I quite appreciate the ballsy-ness (I might have just made that word up, but you get the idea). I quite appreciate the brief explanation, or grant application if you will. The assumed generosity on my part. The politeness.

What AWESOMLY BOLD failed to take into account is that I am a student again. And according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the money I pull in every month for being a teaching assistant puts me just under the poverty line. Awesome. Please consider this my own grant application. If any of you have money to burn, feel free to uplift my living conditions. Hell, I’ll even accept credit cards.

Now a quick note. I’ve been sitting on this e-mail for quite a while. Mostly because I didn’t really feel comfortable putting an e-mail someone sent me out on this blog. Some sort of trust or privacy thing maybe. Maybe because I am a smartass and knew I would crack a joke about me being poor, when “poor” is really relative. Maybe because despite it all, I am damn well aware what being unemployed is like and what it can do to you. I don’t really know. I don’t want people worrying about what they write to me, mostly because I don’t worry about what I write to them. In the end though I couldn’t resist. Every time I re-read this, I shake my head and smile.

I kid, I kid, may I suggest instead donating to some of the following organizations
Susan G. Komen for the Cure
American Cancer Society
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
United Way

Or if you really were convinced by AWESOMELY BOLD’s grant application, let me know. I’m sure we can figure something out.

Welcome to Sweden. And grant applications?

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The US to Sweden – Travel Rules

I’ve made the trip from the US to Sweden and back a few times now. I’m starting to get good at it. Not great, but good. I am in Sweden now; I wouldn’t want to get too cocky. All those trips though have made me kind of sensitive to the things that go on around me. And so, because this is the internet after all and there is no better place to rant about things that no one asked you about, I present to you a few travel rules. Feel free to leave your suggestions below.
  1. Leave your cowboy hat at home. This isn’t Texas. You aren’t Wyatt Earp. And you are only validating stereotypes. You don’t need to leave your American-ness at home. You do need to leave your cowboy hat at home. Don’t think you can check it either. It will not travel well. Just leave it be.
  2. Brush your teeth. Take a shower. Wear deodorant. This isn’t necessarily Swedish or American, it’s just polite. While I might find foul smelling things entertaining in short bursts, being stuck in a flying metal tube with your smell is not entertaining. At all.
  3. Leave your bible at home. Or at least in your bag. I get it, you’re religious. Fine. I’m not. And neither are the Swedes. So when you walk off that plane clutching your bible as if it is God’s gift to the written word (see what I did there?) you aren’t fitting in.
  4. Wear comfortable clothes. I know the Swedes look as if they just stepped off the latest fashion runway and I just told you to leave your bible and cowboy hat at home so you would fit in, but let’s be honest, you’re going to be on a cramped airplane for several hours, don’t get dressed up. Comfort is style.
  5. Do not complain about the locals before you arrive. The locals are on the plane with you. They speak English. In fact, use some of that time on the plane to maybe talk to a local. Or at least try to learn the word for hello (hej pronounced like hay) or thank you (tack pronounced kind of like tack but with a soft ah sound for the a).
  6. The US is not number one. It’s pretty great, and I moved back for a reason, but it’s not number one. Or maybe it is. But whatever it is number one in your shirt is unnecessary.
  7. Use your inside voice. You are inside. In fact, you are inside a very confined space.
  8. And finally, if you really are the stereotypically fat American just buy two seats. I know. This makes me a bad person. But I think we both know that you will be more comfortable and so will I. While I enjoy the warmth of a snuggling person next to me as much as the next guy, your uggghhhh spilling over the arm rest does not count.
Welcome to Sweden. And rules to live by.

P.S. Don’t wear fanny packs. Ever. No matter who you are or where you’re going.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Welcome (Back) to Sweden

I’m back in Sweden. For about a month, with essentially no plans, aside from a couple freelance jobs and maybe some research. It’s a glorious feeling and I have been met with sunshine, warm weather, and probably too much alcohol for my jetlagged liver to handle.

It’s strange being back. Like coming home, but not. I can slide into the Swedish way of life much easier than I thought. I can sit in silence on the subway. I can avoid eye contact on the street. I can sit on a bench with my eyes closed and my head tilted to the sun. Hell, I can even throw on a halfway tight shirt and pretend that I’m not horribly uncomfortable (that being said, I cannot put on a pair of red pants. I just can’t.).

Since being back though, I’ve been inundated with feelings of familiarity. With friends, family, and the city in general. I have realized that my Swedishness sat deeper than I maybe cared to admit when I left this country a year ago. Turns out I’m surprisingly ok with that.

Of course, being ok with that has also resulted in me ingesting nearly 300 grams of extra-salted butter in a week. Which I’m not sure whether I should be proud of or be ashamed of. Either way, it was a delicious week. It has also resulted in me buying way too much filmjölk and Kalaspuffar. Which was also delicious but resulted in that distinct sugar puff scented urine. Just a lovely way to end your morning pee. It has resulted in me spending times wandering around the city. Wandering into and out of museums. Bookstores. Cafes. Bars. But most importantly, it has resulted in me visiting old friends and family. And there is really nothing I’d rather be doing this summer.

Welcome to Sweden. Again.
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Monday, May 30, 2011

Wet Ankles at IKEA

I love IKEA. Against my better judgment. I’ve noticed there seems to be something lost in translation here though. People seem genuinely surprised that IKEA is not exactly built for quality. It’s nice stuff. It’s decent stuff. It will last a little while, but let’s be honest, it is built with the hopes that you will switch out your entire household in a couple of years. And it works.

Despite the transient quality of IKEA, I spend way too much time there. Which is probably how I ended up at an IKEA just outside of Chicago about a week ago. This time though, I was there for food. Kalles Kaviar and sil to be exact. Maybe some Bilar.

But, because I seem to attract grossness (an actual word by the way), my trip to IKEA was no ordinary trip. Because while I was at IKEA, I was peed on. Seriously.

I went to the bathroom before leaving the store. I needed to pee. It happens. There were three urinals, a common enough set-up really. But there are unspoken urinal rules that should be followed. I found myself in the gray zone. There was a man on the left and a man on the right leaving the middle one open. Now, normally, taking the middle urinal is completely acceptable in this case. But the man on the left was finishing up. Zipping up even. I hesitated for a second, considered waiting just a little bit and allowing him to leave and me to slide in. In retrospect, I wish I had. But I thought it would be awkward. So to the middle stall I went.

To my left was a very old man. Old old. We did not speak while I began peeing. While speaking at the urinal can sometimes be viewed as acceptable, for example, after several beers, maybe at a sports bar, talking at the urinals in the IKEA bathroom is not acceptable. So I kept my mouth shut. In retrospect, I kind of wish I had. Again. Because, as I stood there I felt a slight spray on my left leg.

Now, having a penis includes some responsibility. Like ensuring that you are peeing where you need to. Sometimes you miss. It’s understandable. So I looked down to make sure that I was not, in fact, peeing on myself. I was not. I looked at the urinal to see if there was any way the urinal could be leaking water. It was not. There was only one explanation to be had. The man to my left was spraying my leg with urine. I assume he had prostate problems. Remember, he was old old. This does not excuse it, but gross. He finished up, and walked away. The spray stopped. Now I’m not always the sharpest tool in the shed, and logical conclusions sometimes elude me, but I feel fairly confident in putting two and two together and getting old man urine on my leg.

Finally, I finished up myself. A couple quick shakes, and away to the sink I went. And, for the first time in my life, I washed not just my hands, but also my ankle.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And golden showers.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

Sexy Swedish SEALS

I haven’t been writing much. That’s really not new to anyone who checks back every now and again. I’ve been stuck with the writing. Real stuck. Turns out being a student is a lot of work. Turns out it involves a lot of reading. A lot of writing. Turns out being a teacher and being a student is even more work.

Every single day I stand in front of a class and blabber at them. It’s a performance every damn time. And I have nailed it. And I have bombed it. I have stood their scrambling when everything goes wrong. I have stood their frustrated with their frustration. I have dealt with things that I never expected. At times I have felt woefully unprepared for the extracurricular of being a teacher. Some things they don’t tell you about. Like the psychology that goes into it all. But I’ve gotten by, and it has by far been the best part of being in school again. In fact, not only did I get by, I got through it. The first year of school is over. Papers are submitted. Grades are submitted. Summer looms.

And this summer actually means I’m heading back to Sweden. As far as I’m concerned, it means one important thing for my continued sanity. I’m going to start writing again. I can’t wait.

In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with this in the wake of the SEAL actions in Pakistan. Books that somehow have managed to create a time traveling SEAL who ends up in the Viking Age. What could be better you ask? The fact that they are romance novels. Duh. Who could forget such classics like Dark Viking? Or The Viking Takes a Knight? Or maybe The Viking's Captive? From Sandra Hill, who apparently claims to trace her genealogy back to a 10th century Viking named Rolf, these books are instant classics. Or something like that. This is why I love the internet. And America. Just a disgusting display of ridiculousness.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And Viking-SEAL harlequin novels.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Molestation in Mumbai

I recently returned from a trip to India. I’ve been digging myself out from under emails, work, and a lingering cold since then. Despite this, I would do it all over again. Except for one part.

I don’t sleep well. I wake myself up screaming. I walk around in a daze. Of course, this is essentially what my sleeping habits have been like since starting graduate school so it may not be related, but nonetheless. I’ve been pushing this down since it happened. I was molested. While in India. By a mustachioed overweight Indian man. Actually that’s not true, well, the pushing it down part. I’ve been telling everyone I know about this since it happened.

While in Mumbai, I, along with a few of the guys I was with, thought it a good idea to ride the commuter train from the central train station in Mumbai to the station nearest our hotel. It was a relatively quick ride, about half an hour, and a ridiculously cheap ride, about seven rupees.

So the four of us braved the crowd and somehow managed to get a seat. We found ourselves next to an Indian architect with impeccable English. He chatted us up, helped us with the culture of the train, and gave us an ominous warning. Make sure you get a seat, if you do not get a seat, you will be molested. We only had a couple of days left in Mumbai and didn’t think much about it. We should have.

The next day, two of us decided to run into Mumbai during some down time in our schedule. We took the train. And it was glorious. Hardly a soul in the car so away we went. It was a simple and uneventful trip into town. Even town itself was simple and uneventful. The trip back however, was not simple, nor was it uneventful.

We were not so luck as to get seats on the ride back. We had to fight the crowds and found a corner that we made our own. And that corner kept shrinking as more and more people crammed their way in. I am a tall person, and I am even taller in India. In fact, I tower over people. Because of this, my junk, by nature of my height, is just a little bit closer to hands than it usually would be. Keep this in mind. I mean, not too much in mind, that’s gross, but the general idea is important.

This time we were not so lucky to have found a fluent English speaker. Although, we did find someone with a good command of numbers, which was perfect because we were able to determine how many stops we had to travel before we got off. Essential information really.

Suddenly though, my traveling companion, who was also smushed against our helpful new friend moved away. Awkwardly. I was confused; then suddenly I felt a hand against my penis. Because of the aforementioned height, I assumed this is what I have since dubbed awkward tough. There is good touch, which needs no explanation, there is awkward touch, that touch when people are smashed together and hands end up in places you didn’t mean them to, and then there is bad touch. The kind we all learned to say no to back in elementary school. Like I said, we were all very crowded; I thought to myself, awkward touch and thought no more about it. Until I felt a grope. There should be no groping with awkward touch.

I looked down, hoping, expecting really, to see a back of a hand to ensure that it was just awkward touch. What I saw was no back of hand; it was palm out in the midst of a grope hand. And so, because I am not familiar with the proper response to a man being groped on a crowded train by another man, I turned away. In hindsight, perhaps turning away was a risky move, but apparently he wasn’t an ass man because the groping stopped.

Luckily, only one stop separated me and freedom from molestation. As I pushed my way off, I averted my eyes in shame while passing the perpetrator. Hiking back to the hotel, the truth came out, my buddy turned to me and said, quite matter of factly, you know that guy you were talking to? He was groping me. My response? ME TOOOO!!!!

Welcome to Mumbai. And mustachioed molestation.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

How's it Going?

For three years I listened to the stereotype that American relationships are shallow. The evidence? Greetings. Like “how’s it going?” Clearly, because the person asking the question doesn’t care about the answer, the question is shallow, thus the entire relationship is shallow, thus all American relationships are shallow. Ipso facto, case in point, if then, told ya so, hah!

But while back at home I realized just how ridiculous it can sound. I was on the phone with a buddy of mine, who just one day later would relate a story as way of introducing me as to how I once ate a piece of bread soaked in food coloring for a dollar in 8th grade. My teeth turned food coloring brown. I told everyone not to worry. A swig of Coke and my pearly whites were pearly white again. You may ask, how does an 8th grader stupid enough to eat a piece of bread soaked in food coloring for a dollar know that Coke will clean his teeth? You would be right in asking that. The answer? Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. An amazing tome filled with useful knowledge. The point of this was not to get you to buy Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader (although you should) but to show that I clearly have known said friend for quite some time. Our relationship is not shallow.

That’s why the greeting was so ridiculous. It went something along these lines:
What’s up?
Not much, how’s it going?
Not bad.

At this point, the questions were actually repeated in full form with the intent of actually asking and actually listening.
What are you doing?
How are you?
What have you been up to?

That’s when I realized just how shallow it actually does sound. There was no intent of being shallow; it was just taking the place of the formal hello. But to the uninitiated, or someone who may not have English as a near native language, that nuance may be lost.

Even when speaking with people you don’t know, salespeople at a store for example, I find myself saying how’s it going. Not because I know them, or care to know them necessarily, but as a replacement to hello.

Looking back though, I found this happening to an extent in Swedish too. Not as widespread by any means, but the use of "läget" as a greeting amongst friends was quite common in the circles I found myself frequenting. There was no real need for an answer; the meat of the conversation came later anyway. I never once saw it as shallow. Probably because it fit so well into my English way of speaking. I suppose not picking up on that nuance could be said for someone just learning the Swedish language. I had my English language skills to fall back on, so it never seemed strange to ask a question and not necessarily need an answer.

I’d like to think I solved the mystery of this American stereotype. Probably not, but I do think this plays a big role. It just took me three years in Sweden and six months in the US to figure out. No problem right?

Welcome to Swedish-America. How’s it going? No, really, how are you?

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Get(ting) Fuzzy

I went to the eye doctor a couple of days ago. It hadn’t been that long since my last trip, but my left eye only has one contact left, and it just so happens that contact is being used. By my left eye. At the rate I rip contacts; it was time to get a new box of them. Taking advantage of my glorious health insurance, I figured I would get an exam done as well.

Eye exams are always a bit of an adventure for me. Not the fun kind either. But I’ve got the routine down. Bring contacts. Bring glasses. Bring prescription and contact brand. Bring sunglasses in case of dilation. I actually walked in with my manly computer case filled with eye care products.

For some reason, the people behind the counter who are the first line of defense before I see the doctor, never actually believe my inability to see without assistance. And so they ask me to take out my contacts. And so I put on my glasses. And so they ask to see my glasses. And so I am blind. Fuzziness descends on me. Which is all fine and good if they allowed me to sit in one place and not move until my glasses were returned to me. Instead, having removed my only means of sight, they ask me to perform mundane tasks. Like tell them the brand name of my prescription. Or maybe fill out some paper work.

Because I have become more Swedish than I care to admit, I begrudgingly, but silently, attempt these tasks. Blindly. Apparently, when holding a box of contacts three inches from your face, the optometry gate keeper will take pity on you and return your glasses. Or it just so happened that she was done with them and never realized that their office had become so very fuzzy.

For those of you wondering, my eyesight has, in fact, continued to deteriorate. My contacts have, in fact, become even stronger. And every eye doctors I see has, in fact, laughed awkwardly when I ask about the continued decline of my eye sight while telling me not to worry. But a steady decline in eyesight for the past 20 years is cause for concern as far as I’m concerned (see what I did there?).

Welcome to Swedish-America. And my continued descent into fuzziness.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Winter in Swedish-America

It wouldn’t be winter if I wasn’t having car trouble. You know, because when the temperatures fall below freezing, I want to be spending my time trying to get a car to work.

It started a couple of weeks ago around 11:30. At night. The temperatures had decided to fall below zero. That’s zero Fahrenheit. At this point I had managed to clothe myself in some glorious bright orange sweat pants as I was brushing my teeth. For about 15 minutes, an alarm had been going off outside. Somewhere. I think we all know where this is going. It’s going to be my car. And so, after 15 minutes of a screaming car alarm, I decided to throw some clothes on and investigate. It was my car. Of course.

Everything I know about cars, I have learned because I buy old cars and at some point, something goes wrong. And a screaming car alarm at midnight at zero degrees is something going wrong. While in Sweden, I owned a Saab. A Saab that had been imported from France. With a manual written in French. I do not speak French. I tell you this because despite the hour and the temperature, I was surprisingly excited to be able to read the manual. It was in English. It’s the little things really.

The manual told me to hold a button for a few second and the alarm would shut off. I did. It did. I went inside and commenced in brushing my teeth. Only to hear my alarm scream again. Awesome.

Because I am an impatient person, I decided the best course of action would be to remove the battery. Completely. Without a battery, there would be no power source. Without a power source, the alarm could not scream. It was perfect logic really. Except Saab is smarter than me. Not much to brag about really, but a fact nonetheless. Having removed the battery I was somewhat surprised to hear the alarm still yelling.

There is no way I could sleep with that noise. Not to mention that I have neighbors. Granted, I have delved into my Swedishness and not actually talked to them, but still, there is really no need for others to have to suffer through a night of car alarms. So back to the manual. The English manual.

I needed to find the fuse. Because the fuse for the alarm was not in the main fuse box. Because that would just be silly. Instead, it was the fuse the size of a ladybug hidden in the dark recesses of the engine compartment. I have fat fumbly fingers. They are of no use. When the temperature is zero, they are essentially frozen sausages. The whole opposable thumb thing? Worthless at those temperatures. Trying to pull a ladybug from an engine with frozen sausages is not easy. Finally, after a string of words that my mother would be ashamed of, I removed the fuse. And the alarm stopped. Sweet release.

A part of me was pleased that the alarm is so extensive that my battery could be stolen, and still the alarm would work. That part of me was yelled down by the fact that my alarm was angrily reminding me of its ability that late at night.

Since then, I have been driving around with no working alarm. I’m not worried. Pretty sure not too many people are interested in stealing a Saab station wagon with 170,000 miles on it. And a spare tire.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And my annual car trouble.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Wall-to-Wall Carpet and the United States

I live by myself. After four years in college with roommates, I was of the opinion that roommates were a good thing. They helped pay rent. They put food in the fridge that you could surreptitiously steal. They gave you someone to talk to so you didn’t talk to yourself. All good things really.

Then I moved to Sweden and after a while became a horribly selfish person that lived in an apartment the size of a large bathroom and talked to himself. Something needs to break the silence right? And admit it, talking to yourself is awesome. You always agree. You’re always right. Granted, you should never do it around others, turns out people look at you funny. Who knew?

So when I moved to the great Midwest, I did not look for a roommate. I found an apartment three times the size of the one I had in Stockholm for less money. I had room to move. Of course, I could no longer sit on my couch and cook all at the same time, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

The problem is I have carpeting. Wall-to-wall carpeting. Something that I never realized was so ubiquitous in this country until three years in Sweden. There I could get away with a broom and a dust pan. Everything was some sort of hard floor. Whether it was wood or nasty linoleum, a broom would suffice. Here, carpet is everywhere. While it is quite nice on my feet, it causes a cleaning problem. One which can only be solved with a vacuum cleaner. A dust sucker if you will.

I have been in my apartment for well over four months. I did not own a vacuum cleaner until about a week ago. You do the math. I have never been more excited to vacuum. Ever. I had begun to use my feet as vacuum cleaners, walking barefoot to let whatever nastiness may have accumulated on the floor to stick to my feet. Did I mention that I was single? Seriously, I’m a catch. I would then stand over the trash can and wipe my feet off. It was strangely satisfying, but not at all effective.

Technology is amazing, and an old vacuum cleaner donated by my parents made its way to the great Midwest. Finally. Since, I have vacuumed twice in hopes of fighting through the accumulation of gunk. It’s working. Slowly, but surely. And I am assimilating to the carpeted ways of the US.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And the single life.

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