Monday, August 27, 2012

After Sweat

I am a relatively large man, tall and just under 200 pounds. Not as large as my brother, but a large man nonetheless. I am also a hairy and sweaty man. (Thanks, I know, I am attractive). Every now and again I get it into my head that I should go for a run. I hate running, but it seems to be a good way to pretend to be active.

The other day, I did just that. It was hot. And humid. And three in the afternoon. Not exactly the ideal time to run. But along with being large, I’m somewhat dumb and stubborn. So damn it, I was going to run despite the conditions. And run I did. Or try to. I made it a solid 2.5 miles and was gassed. And sweaty. Real sweaty.

I came home, took a very cold ten minute shower, dressed, and hurried off to a presentation that I was attending. Before leaving I downed some water – you know, because water is the body’s temperature regulator or some nonsense like that. I was feeling good. Not too hot. Not too sweaty. I arrived at the room where the presentation was being held and stepped inside.

Shit. So hot. No windows open. So hot. Sun pouring in. So hot. I took a seat towards the back hoping that no one would sit near me. And that’s when it started. Eftersvett. After sweat. It can be used as a verb too, as in Jag eftersvettas. It’s a glorious Swedish word that describes that phenomenon of sweat pouring down your forehead nearly an hour after you’ve stopped exercising. Nearly half an hour after you’ve taken your shower.

The next 40 minutes consisted of me trying to discreetly lift my undershirt to my head and wipe all the sweat away, while not soaking the people next to me as it dripped off my head. It was disgusting. The three people sitting next to me probably assumed I was going through withdrawals. I even had to awkwardly put my hands to the side so they wouldn’t rest on my khaki-colored shorts because my dripping wet forearms had also soaked my pants. (Seriously, I know, I am super hot).

Finally, mercifully, the presentation ended at around the same time as my eftersvettning ended. I walked out of there with two arm-sized sweat stains on the legs of my shorts, a soaked collar, and the classic sweaty-back design on my t-shirt. Eftersvett had struck again. And won. Once I peeled my sweaty shirt from my sweaty back, all I could think of was that I wish there was a term for this in English.

Welcome to Sweden. And Swedish words that should exist in English.


             There is only one place that I have truly considered home throughout my lifetime. I have lived in several different places, but I know that home will always be the house in which I spent my childhood. It is strange, now that I have finally moved further than an hour away, I find myself referring to "home" more and more often. Although, the further and further I get, the more ambiguous it becomes. When you're in the same city, it refers to the specific house; when you're outside of the city it refers to the city itself; when you're out of the state, it refers to the state. Now, though, being out of the country, I find "home" to mean the United States. I find this strange simply because I have always had an inkling that there was Swedish-ness (as my brother so eloquently refers to it) in me. That is to say, having been born in Sweden to a Swedish father, but being raised in the US, I had always been confused as to where I could honestly say I came from. Now however, it has been made painstakingly clear that I am American.
                In America I was unique in that I was born elsewhere and came to the states, and I could speak another language. This was what caused me trouble. I knew very few people that were in the same situation as me, and I didn't know what that meant for my origins. In Sweden, however, everyone is from somewhere else, or is bilingual, and being from somewhere usually means that they were born and raised there, as opposed to "three generations past, my family moved here from [country]." I am no longer confused about my origins. And this confuses me. I am certainly proud of my Swedish heritage, but as of right now, the extent of my Swedish-ness simply lies in my language skills, and my citizenship. The certainty of my American-ness is slowly creeping into my head, and I am realizing that America is where my roots are and where my heart goes when thinking of "home."
                The real confusion comes when I realize that I haven't quite started missing home as much as I should. Maybe I'm still riding the excitement of the move. Of course I miss the people, and that's what home really is all about, but my mind hasn't quite grasped the concept and I am not there yet. My mind does wander to home and the people there, but it wanders more to my future in Sweden and the things that I have to look forward to. The fulfillment of a dream that I have long nurtured seems to hold more weight than that of the friendships that I am putting on hold, but I know that every single one of the people that I grew close to at home will always be those to whom I can turn. The comfort that I find in the security of my past no doubt allows to me look upon the uncertainty of my future with unwavering confidence, despite my fears and trepidations.
                I don't miss home more than I do because I haven't really left it yet. My friends and family at home are helping me get through any troubles that I am having, whether they know it or not, and home is all about keeping people close to you that can help you when you need it. I will always have someone to bring me "home."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Socialism, bro. Can't become a millionaire.

“Socialism, bro. Can't become a millionaire.” That was his response. Incredibly nuanced, simple, straightforward, well-researched, I’m sure.

I was walking to work a while back when the tall kid in a group of guys in front of me muttered that sentence. Being a graduate student and also teaching at the university means I am surrounded by a whole lot of young(er) people. And it means I overhear a whole lot of things I don’t necessarily want to overhear (late night drunken revelry is usually rehashed loudly on cell phones the morning after). Now, everyone says stupid things. It happens. We all know I’ve done it. Especially because I am even more stupid than most and recorded plenty of those thoughts in writing on a blog for people to refer back to. Sometimes those stupid things are overheard and posted on blogs by other people though. It’s essentially the idea behind

So when this group of guys started discussing Scandinavia, my ears perked up just a bit. Discussing Scandinavia in the Midwestern United States is not all that uncommon. There’s been a whole lot of immigration to that area since the middle of the 1800s and that immigration has left its mark. It’s a mark that is filled with interesting questions of identity and culture and what it means to be Scandinavian. But this kid in front of me wanted to go big. He wanted to move to Scandinavia. Somewhere. Finland, Norway, Sweden. I’m quietly cheering this turn of events and damn near ready to try to recruit him to taking some Swedish classes. That’s when his buddy spoke up. Some buddies are the kinds of buddies who support you when you have plans for an adventure. They’re the ones you keep around since you met them in third grade. They’re the ones you call a few days before the Rose Bowl and convince them to drive 17 hours to California on New Year’s day. This guy was not one of them. This guy was the buddy who cheats off your test and blames you when he gets caught. This guy was the buddy who takes the last sour gummy worm without offering you the orange half, even though he knows you love the orange half. He sucks. He should not be your friend.

He’s also the guy though that knows everything. Knowing everything can be problematic because sooner or later, you’re not going to know anything because you stopped listening long ago to anyone who might have something interesting to say. It often results in comments like, “Socialism, bro. Can't become a millionaire.” Which, surprisingly, isn’t true.

I think the tax rate in Sweden is too high. I thought that when I moved there, I thought that when I worked there, I think that now. That being said, it’s asinine to argue that just because the tax rate is high, that there are no millionaires (not  to mention how asinine it is to shoot down an idea because of your chances of becoming a millionaire. Here’s a secret, that’s hard no matter what country you’re in.).

I’m not a socialist. I know, surprising. My political beliefs have changed quite a bit over the course of five years, but I am far from being a socialist. But I cringe at the way the word is used in the United States when referring to Sweden and Scandinavia. Scandinavian societies have socialist aspects. Absolutely. In fact, Sweden can best be described as a social democracy. But even the United States has some of those socialist aspects – the United States Post Office for example. Scandinavian societies tend to have a bit more of those aspects, but both are mixed market economies that depend heavily on capitalism.

Turns out that through 2011, there are 61,100 people in Sweden who are considered to be millionaires. Ten are considered to be billionaires. Forbes magazine and Capgemini do annual reports on this sort of thing using US dollars to measure the number of millionaires and billionaires. There are way more in the United States, obviously, but also as a percentage of the population. Over three million (less than one percent of the population), but that number has decreased recently. However, the number of millionaires in Sweden is actually increasing, since 2009, they are in the top 10 of countries that are seeing a percentage increase of millionaires.

Now whether this is a good thing or is slowly eroding the social makeup of Sweden’s prized social democracy is up for debate, but if you don’t want to move to Sweden, fine. Just don’t blame it on your chances of becoming a millionaire.

Welcome to Swedish America. And “socialism, bro.”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Second Swedish-American in Sweden

                I am the younger brother of the Hairy Swede, and I have followed in his footsteps. I have recently moved to Sweden and I will be contributing to this blog in order to chronicle my time here and keep my friends and family updated.
                Of the Swedish-American family that I grew up in, I am the least Swedish. I was not old enough to remember Life Before America when we moved; I have spent less time here than the others; I am further removed from my family  in terms of age; I have lived the majority of my life and experienced just about all that I know from an American cultural standpoint. I decided to ignore the horror stories of my brothers and venture forth to experience Sweden on my own.
                There will of course be differences: my predecessor, the original Hairy Swede we all know and love, lived in Stockholm as a young professional. I will be living in southern Sweden as a student. I'm also a very different person. Hairy Swede has actually called me a redneck, on multiple occasions, to which I have taken great offense, given my extreme class. The point is, though, that different people, living in different parts of the country, while coming from essentially the same background, will have very different ideas and perspectives on the experiences which we are sharing, yet which define us as individuals finding our places in the world.
                As some may know, we grew up in the same household, which was inundated with both Swedish and American traditions. Being the youngest and arguably least Swedish, I feel that I have a grasp of this Americanized bastard Swedish tradition. However, to experience the real thing will change me, just as it changed my older brother. He began his journey with a wider range of background information to guide him, and still his world was forever changed and his ideals were ultimately challenged and perhaps strengthened. I do not have the same background, perspectives, or beliefs that he has. The one thing we share is the adventure. My journey will mirror his in myriad ways, but ultimately, the choice to live lies within us, and we have both made this choice, and so have both chosen to change.
                I arrived in Sweden yesterday, and since then I have gone through several changes already. When I left America, I was extremely nervous. When I got here, I started to realize that there was no reason for my nerves to get in the way. I made a decision to do this, and I have the tools at my disposal to do it. I will do this, and I know that no matter what, it will change me, and that change will come from me. Walking along the beach last night, I wondered why I didn't miss this place more than I had, and I decided that the adventure that I'm beginning will affect me only insofar as I allow it. I decided that I will allow myself to change because I know that I am being true to the person that I have always hoped to be and to my past self. The memories that are evoked when I walk down the streets here are strong and vivid. To stay true to my memory is something that I feel must be done in order to make this an experience that I enjoy, rather than to expect something that will never happen and have a terrible experience. The smell, the temperature, the food, everything here reminds me of some amazing times from my childhood, and it is these memories that I have to honor in order to truly love this place. I have always wanted to spend some time here aside from the vacation time we typically take. Instead, I have taken the plunge and will immerse myself in a dream that I've had since I was a kid and I will let myself be taken in by it in order to experience life. And in the end, life is all an experience to be had. I will have an experience here. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A New Adventure

It’s been almost five years since I started writing this blog. And almost one since I wrote anything last. I moved from Sweden two years ago. A lot has happened since then. Some of it worth writing down, some of it not. Most of it unrelated to Swedish stuff, hence the silence.

I’m back in Sweden now, albeit just for a few days. Visiting friends. Visiting family. Just visiting. It’s nice to be back. It reminds me of everything I left and had. Some of those memories are amazing. And some memories I can’t shake despite trying my damndest. I suppose spending three years here and building a life here does that to you.

I look back at some of the things I wrote (and there’s a lot of words written here…) and like to see who I was and who I have become. Some of the things I wrote, I don’t agree with at all anymore. Five years of living does that to you apparently. Some of the things I wrote I still agree with wholeheartedly. Some of the things I wrote, I wrote to get a rise out of people. Some of the things I wrote, I wrote because I needed to bitch and moan, and it is strangely cathartic for me to bitch and moan in writing. All of it I wrote from an American perspective. That’s what I brought with me. This was never meant to be a critical look at Swedish society by a Swede. It was meant to follow the good and bad of moving to a new country through the eyes of an American who just happened to have a Swedish background. There were bound to be problems and frustrations. There were bound to be viewpoints that clashed with what many Swedes believe. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It made me who I am today. For better or worse.

But every time I come back, I miss this place. I am reminded of everything that has changed. Friends who are married and having children (not necessarily in that order). Friends who are moving away from Sweden. Friends who are moving elsewhere in Sweden. New careers, new apartments, just new. But I am also reminded of everything that has not changed. The silence on the subway. Being ignored in stores. There is something calming about all of that. Both that which has changed and that which has remained the same.

Maybe someday I’ll move back. But not yet. Instead, my youngest brother just moved to Sweden. He will be working on his master's degree here for the next two years. He is moving alone (I’d like to think he learned from my mistakes and isn’t dragging a girl with him, but I think he’s just smarter than me).

He will begin writing just as I did. In fact, he’ll be writing on this blog as the Throwing Swede. There’s a good chance he won’t agree with some of the things I said. There’s a good chance he will experience plenty of the culture shock that I did. Regardless though, it will be something new. He’ll of course bring his own American perspective, just as I did. Because when it comes down to it, despite our backgrounds, we were raised in the US and what we experience here in Sweden will always be clouded, to some extent, by our American perspectives.

With my brother writing, I will be trying to write once a week from the US. Hopefully the pressure of having someone else to work with will force my hand (or my typing fingers at least). We’ll see. Regardless, I hope you stay with the blog and follow my brother’s journey. I hope you continue to comment (good and bad), agree and disagree, and most importantly read.

Welcome to Sweden. And a new adventure.