Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Every Man's Right

Every Man's Right

The true Swedish spirit can be understood by taking a look at 'Every Man's Right' – the Swedish version of 'It's a free country.' Every Man's Right has been used as everything from a sale's gimmick by German travel companies selling Swedish charter trips to an excuse from my neighbor to allow her daughter to pitch a little tent right below my bedroom window for over a week, because she didn't like the way the tent looked in her backyard.

According to the Swedish constitution (Did I even know there was such a thing?) everyone in Sweden is entitled to Every Man's Right – that is the right to explore nature, to sleep outdoors, and to eat wild berries and things wherever one my find them irregardless of who own's the land. This may sound frivolous at first, but remember that in the US I am pretty sure we have the right to shoot those who trespass against us first, and ask questions later. So a little roaming is a bit of a luxury, is it not?

There are a few exceptions – from what I can ascertain (from my battle with the neighbor mentioned above)

  1. The tent you are pitching must be a certain distance from houses/living accommodations
  2. You can only pick what is reasonable for you to eat as an individual

There is a rumor that German travel companies sell 'Every Man's Right licenses – but you don't need them. The rights are good for everyone.

Another real perk about Sweden is that Heart-worm is pretty non-existent here. Although with globalization I expect it will be here shortly, there isn't a great risk of eating wild berries and other goodies. So you can enjoy them all the more. But it would really suck to be the first known case of Heart-worm caught in Sweden.

Oh and sticking with our gender perspective, I should probably be calling this Every Man and Woman's Right.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Swedish Fashion - Women's Edition - Why?

OK, so I had planned another subject for today, but then I stumbled upon these beauties while 'inbetween days' sale shopping, and I couldn't resist. (note: These in-between day sales - after Christmas but before New Years - are shocking in their sheer lack of savings - stores advertise 20% off things like Christmas stockings and ornaments - electronic shops raise their prices and then advertise - 15% off the hiked prices)

I do realize that fashion horrors can be a global phenomenon and not just a Swedish one. And unlike some of my other fashion finds - I have not actually seen these on any living, breathing Swedes, yet.

But this is an example a la Vera Moda.

Vera Moda is a shop you can find at any mall in Sweden, in most medium size and large cities. They sell women's fashion – target audience women from the age of 15-72 – trendy but not particularly expensive. I admit that I occasionally will find an item or two of clothing at Vera Moda. I don't know if that is a vote for or against them.

If you could imagine a poorly named fashion item, say, a pair of pants, which would tempt you by its surprising honesty – I think you would be hard pressed to find a fashion item as aptly named as the pair of pants I would like to present to you as exhibit A. 

Lump Antifit Bling Pants – before you click on the picture, take a moment and imagine this in your mind's eye.

Were they as horrible as you imagined? Better? A relief?

Would the sale price entice you?

Only in Sweden? Or for the fashion handicapped everywhere?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Travel Tips Take 1

I've got a few 'budget' travel tips for Sweden as a guest blogger today at 

Still got a full house - will be back tomorrow - hope my next round of guests don't get snowed in on the east coast!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Swedish Celebrities: Carola

Now my Christmas guests have arrived – so I won't be able to update quite as often these next few days – but I hope you bear with me!

For my Christmas version of Swedish celebrities I have selected Carola, because they often show quite an inspiring commercial for her collection of Christmas songs this time of year.

WARNING: I am going to write this without consulting Wikipedia, because it is late, I'm tired and I have a house full of guests. What that means is – you will need to do your own second-rate fact checking (because we all know how reliable Wikipedia is anyway).

Carola is the Swedish Eurovision princess. No one can belt a ballad quite like her. Wherever she goes someone follows her with a giant wind machine that gives her an almost ethereal glow.

From what I have gleaned, Carola sprung to fame as a teenager when she took Eurovision by storm and I think, took home the prize. (Please realize that this was long before the 'Eastern European Eurovision Conspiracy' took over – more on that later). I think Carola even went so far as to win Eurovision maybe twice? Which really makes her quite impressive.

The surprising thing about Carola is that she is a very devout Christian. She is one of the few Swedes that, if ever awarded an award, might accept it with an 'I'd like to thank the lord God for this Best Ballad Belter Award and of course, all my fans,' a sentiment that leaves many a Swede rather stumped.

A few years ago Carola made a grand Eurovision comeback. To fully exploit Eurovision to the extreme, the Swedish competition starts months in advance with 16 different songs competing for the Swedish spot (and no, I haven't decided if I will suffer through them for the sake of this blog). The announcement was made that Carola would compete amongst the 16 top songs. I said to my Swede and any other Swede who would listen 'Why are they doing this stupid sing off? We all know Carola will represent!' They responded 'Oh no, Carola is totally irrelavent these days. No one will vote for her, just wait and see.' And I waited. And Carola showed up, with her giant wind machine. And she won.

And to my surprise she took Sweden a lot further than most other groups in the finals. Because while I understand a little about the Swedish mentality, the European one remains a mystery. So kudos to Carola. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Have a Kalle Anka Jul!

One of the most Swedish of traditions is the infamous Kalle Anka or Donald Duck TV program at 3 pm Christmas Eve. When I used to come to Sweden as a kid, I was convinced Kalle Anke was some form of parental trickery. The equivalent of having Grandma take us to the movies on Christmas Eve, to get our crazy energy out of the house so the parents could make all the Christmas preparations. It wasn't until I attended my first Swedish Christmas with my husband that I realized that pretty much every household sits down to watch Kalle Anke on Christmas Eve. Parents and kids included.

Kalle Anke – as Donald is known in Swedish – is an ensamble of Disney cartoons from early days – to current films – with a somewhat Christmas theme. There are some standards – Donald, Mickey and Goofy going on vacation in a motor home or Donald duck going bird hunting – and then there are some rotating ones – Beauty and the Beast, or The Princess and the Frog. Every year someone notices small clips have been cut, and we theorize that it has to do with changing Swedish attitudes on violence or gender roles (because we have heard about the horrors of Donald Duck's gender roles), but really I think it is just a time issue. Kalle Anke is always only one hour long.

What can I say, we still have a few years left where we don't have to arrive at the Christmas Eve party by 3 pm to catch Kalle. Our LO hasn't learned about the Kalle Anke tradition yet. And this is a good thing. Because the BEST time to hit the road on Christmas eve is 2:45pm. The highways are empty. The roads are clear. There is no Christmas traffic. It's pretty much just us immigrants out there. And as much as they try to tell you - there really aren't THAT many of us.

The Swede's family live about an hour away, and we often stumble in just in time to catch the modern additions to Kalle Anke, the ones everyone complains about anyway – while we sip our Glogg. I have visions of convincing the Swedish fam that you can record the Kalle Anke and watch it one hour later, to continue this traffic friendly tradition, but I don't see that happening. Because Kalle Anke is to be watched at 3 pm. Punkt slut. (and no that's nothing about a punk slut, that means 'period or full stop' as the Brits say).

Friday, December 17, 2010

5 Vegetarian Dishes for a Very Merry Vegetarian Swedish Julbord

Having spent many years celebrating Swedish Christmas with loved ones, I feel like I finally have found a pretty good spread for my vegetarian Swedish smorgasbord. Traditionally Swedes have almost no veggies on the Christmas spread – except for a brown cabbage dish which doesn't exactly dance on the plate.

I'm not a big fan of fake meats – so what you will see here are just veggie swap outs – flavourwise they are nothing to really write home about – but they look the part. Maybe try one or two for your vegetarian loved ones.

1. Baked Swede – A substitute ham – The centerpiece of the Swedish Christmas table is the ham. OK, so Tofurkey has scared off many a meateater from vegetarian substitutes. Instead of ham, I prepare a breaded swede or rotebega. In the past I have boiled my swede in a vegetable boullion. This year I might bake it instead, since the flavours are better. Then I baste it in egg with a click of mustard, and then roll it in bread crumbs. This slices up nicely and looks a bit like ham. It doesn't taste anything like ham though.

2. Vegetarian Swedish meatballs – OK, so this is a bit of a shake-up. If you like fake meat products, just buy a box. I make mine from scratch with chickpeas, breadcrumbs and an egg – for consistancy. I flavour it with traditional Swedish meatball spices like nutmeg – and a Swedish allspice we have at home. I used a basic falafel recipe and changed the spices.

3. Eggplant 'herring' – I pickle some eggplant to mimic herring. One of the common herrings is mustard herring. To mimic this I take a few tablespoons of mustard, a dash of white wine vinegar, 2 dashes of canola oil, half a cup of cream, salt and pepper. I use this to cover small strips of eggplant that I have steamed in my steamer. (I cut the eggplant to about the same width as herring). Place in glass jar and let chill in the refrigerator.

4. Jonssons Temptation -without the temptation – traditionally this is a potato casserole with some anchovis mixed in. I serve just a plain potato casserole as this dish. Any respectable recipe will do

5. Rice cereal – this is one of those few vegetraian dishes on the menu – I have seen it served as a starter or a dessert. In my home we cheat and use rice flakes that you can find in Swedish stores. This takes about 15 minutes to prepare. Here is a basic recipe if you cannot find the flakes

Traditionally you hide an almond in the cereal – and the one who finds the almond is the next person to get married (or to get a little prize). The cereal is served with cinnamon and butter on top, and some people pour milk or fruit soup (another Swedish specialty) on top.

So Enjoy! And hope you have a very happy and perhaps a touch of the vegetarian, Swedish Christmas smorgasbord (or julbord as we say here!)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Things overheard from the Swedish Church

Truth is, I spend very little time in church. And by very little, I mean I think I can count the number of times I have been in a church for a service in my lifetime on my two hands. This makes me a little uncomfortable making sweeping generalizations about the Swedish church. So I have decided to focus this more on individual strange things I have occasionally heard while either in a church in Sweden, or from a priest in Sweden.

This fall, I took a music and movement class at the local church with my LO. It was a nice little class where we sang lots of Swedish songs and did some silly dances. There was very little religion, the occasional mention of God, and that is about it. The class is led by the church's cantor – her responsibility is the church's music program. She has a lovely soprano voice which the kids seem to love.

One of our cantor's favorite themes is – surprise surprise – gender equality. It began innocently, but surprisingly, enough with the instructions that we should sing one of the psalms about God the Mother, instead of God the father. OK, I thought. Great. I have always wondered if gender equality & the church could work something out like this – so I was happy to sing about God the Mother.

Then Christmas rolled around, and last week she rolled out the Christmas songs. And, well, I was even more surprised when we sang a lovely song about the birth of Jesus in which verse number one had the line 'And Mary stood with God's son in her arms' and then we sang it again with 'And Mary stood with God's daughter in her arms.' I had to hold back a giggle, but I admit I did smile. And all of the women in the group (Because despite it's gender equality theme – fathers seem to avoid this class like the plague- even though they get generous paternity leave and are commonly at swimming classes, theatre classes, photo classes, etc.) we smiled at each other with a 'wow, look how progressive we are' glint in our eyes.

And then at the very end, our cantor/leader sat down at the piano and announced 'Now we will sing a song from Kalle Anka/Donald Duck' (this is the cartoon EVERYONE in Sweden watches at Christmas) 'Although I KNOW Donald Duck is a terrible example of gender roles, and it is a terrible thing to watch,' she continued. I laughed out loud, and every mother in the room wrinkled their nose. One Mom turned to us and whispered 'But what did Donald do? I don't get it?”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Studying in Sweden – Native vs. Foreigner

OK – so one of the perks of living in Sweden (or up until this year even not living in Sweden) has been free access to University education. Swedish schools have offered Bachelors and Masters courses free of charge to students from around the world.

Why? Because up until this year, universities in Sweden got paid per passing student, per course, irregardless of whether the student ever had or would be a tax-paying resident of Sweden. This means it was in the universities 'best interest to recruit as many students as possible, to continue getting more and more funding each year. And so, yes, foreign students were a cash cow.

But as of 2011, this cash cow will dry up. Foreign students will have to pay their own way. And that, my friends, changes everything. Each school is working on setting up their own fees starting at around 100,000 sek per year, but no one knows just what to expect. How many foreign students will want to pay for education in Sweden? And what will that mean for the quality of the courses offered by the Swedish schools, will it increase with a new price tag? How many of these English Masters will weather the storm?

Applications are usually due for foreigners in January. It will be a good litmus test for next fall. This could mean good news to open up more spots for Swedes, but as the economy picks up, fewer Swedes will enroll in graduate school.

Part of my reason for asking this is a personal one. I'm debating applying for a Masters for the fall. But I wonder if there will be any left!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Better late than never – Celebrating St. Lucia

Yesterday was Dec. 13th, also known as Santa Lucia here in Sweden. It is a festival of lights, of sorts, and a real cozy experience if you have the chance to check it out.

For being exceedingly non-religious, most Swedish holidays still do link back to the church. And St. Lucia is one of the few for which many an average Swede can tell you a little bit about why you celebrate this day (compared to, say, the Pentecost, which tends to get a lot of blank stares but is also on the list of Swedish holidays)

Lucia is an Italian saint, but Sweden has adopted her and has taken good care of her. The story, according to some, goes that Lucia took a vow of chastity – and due to her unwillingness to marry a whole series of unfortunate events ensued – ending with her torture and her ability to withstand an enormous amount of pain before her death.

But the story has really very little to do with the celebration of this day in Sweden. See, Lucia is the only time the Swedes have anything slightly resembling a beauty contest on a large scale. Girls in each town compete for several weeks to be crowned St. Lucia. The runners up are her 'followers' and the girls parade through the town singing Lucia and Christmas songs. As in the US, there is a pretext to make this about other things than beauty – singing ability, charity, or just pure popularity are some of the common guises. But in the end, despite her Italian origins, Lucia is often portrayed as a nice Swedish blonde girl of about 17. To distinguish her from her lower ranked cohorts, she wears a red sash and a crown of candles (often electric) on her head.

But there is something warm and comforting about sitting in the Swedish darkness, listening to a bunch of kids sing by candlelight.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My, what a big lens you have!

In many cultures, if you want to show off your prowess, or make up for some that might be lacking, the quickest way to do this is to buy a flashy car. This strategy does not, however, work very well in Sweden. This is not just because flashy cars will send you back to the poor house. Did you know Sweden has a 25% VAT (that's value added tax for you Americans, and it's a lot like sales tax)? It's also because flashy cars go against the Jantelaw (more on this later) or the belief that you shouldn't think you are better than anyone else. 

So, what does your average Swede do to show off without showing off? Goes out and buys the biggest and most expensive lens they can find for their fancy DSLR camera.

I'm not kidding. Just go to any parade, wedding, or large event in Sweden and marvel at the sheer number of fancy cameras with gigantic lenses. I enjoy photography and I love taking pictures. I have a pretty nice camera with a couple of years under its belt. I look just like a teenager driving around in a little Pinto compared to the Ferarri's I'm surrounded by.

I do admit, I see these giant lenses hanging around men's necks, more often than women's. The women seem to prefer the handy 55mm. Last summer I even saw several kids running around the beach with fancy mid-sized lenses on their Nikons. So it's best to start them early!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Very Swedish Christmas – Those crazy Lussecats

As I mentioned earlier – Swedish Christmas is full of baking goodness. And one of my absolute favorite foods from this season is the Lussekatt. It's tricky to translate this word, Lussekatt, but it is loosely – Lussecats. These are also known as saffron buns, as there is a pinch of saffron in the dough to give it its beautiful yellow hue.

(This is a picture of our first batch from today - as you can see I have showed great restraint by only eating 2)

Every year Lussekatter hit the shelves a little bit earlier, and Swedes tend to complain that the advance sale of Lussekatter diminishes their 'Christmas specialness.' I however have to restrain myself from doing the Balki Bartakamus dance of joy the first time I spy these delicious rolls for sale each year. Although, I admit, I don't think I would love them quite so much if they were available year round.

Lussekatter are my idea of the perfect food because they are carbohydratey goodness, with just a pinch of sweet. And I've always been a lover of great breads over sweets.

Every year there is much ado about the price of saffron around Christmas because everyone is out to bake the Lussekatter. Saffron is expensive because it is the little yellow dust collected from the pistons of some flowers. This process, apparently, has not been perfected by machine, and must be done by hand. This year I went bargain hunting and got 2 packets of saffron for 25 sek at Overskottsbolaget. If you decide to buy from the former Swedish monopoly Apotek (as I'm sure you have caught on how
much this Swedish shop annoys me), it will set you back 40 sek.

We just use the recipe for Lussekatter from the back of the yeast for sweet dough, nothing fancy. I've translated it below and have given a basic substitute for the ingredient that is tough to find in the US.

Theres rolls are worth the trouble, and even if you don't have a Swedish husband patient enough to shape them in the traditional Lussekatt form, you can always just make round rolls – the taste is the same! My Swede disappeared after our first batch of Lussecats were in the oven – leaving me to fight with batch number two. I persevered, although the results weren't as pretty. But hey, I don't have 30 years of experience making these cats.

(This is a picture of the traditional Lussekatter shape - this is after their second rising period - before they were glazed and raisined)

12 grams yeast (sweet)
5 dl milk
17 dl flour
100g butter (room temp)
250 kesella (If outside of Sweden substitute with an egg for best results – you can experiment with greek yogurt if you are feeling brave)
1.5 dl sugar
.5 teasp salt
1 gr saffron

1 egg

  1. preheat oven to 225 C
  2. Mix yeast into flour
  3. Add salt, sugar, kesella, saffron
  4. Add lukewarm milk (40 C)
  5. Mix together until you get an even dough
  6. Let rise for 30 minutes
  7. Place dough on lightly floured table and shape into 35 Lussekatter
  8. Place on baking sheet covered with baking paper
  9. Let rise 45 minutes
  10. brush lussekatter with whisked egg and place one raisin in each end.
  11. Bake in the center of the oven for 5-7 minutes

Enjoy the saffron goodness!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Swedish parenting tip - the Christmas Edition - Do you want to play with fire, little boy?

One of the many differences between parenting styles in the US and Sweden is the attitude towards danger and dangerous things. In the US, the idea tends to be to prevent access to dangerous things, or safety proof things to such an extreme that all risk is taken away. I am reminded of a scene in Jamie Oliver's food revolution where kids are prohibited from using dull knives at the lunch table, because children shouldn't have access to knives.

The Swedish approach is the opposite – teach children from an early age how to handle dangerous things, and they will treat them with respect. Thus, many Swedish kids learn how to use a knife to carve, and they learn how to play with fire.

Christmas season is candle season. Sweden is pitch black in the winter, from top to toe. While I'm sure things are much worse further north (did you know Stockholm is located in middle Sweden? There is still about half a country north of it), it is dark here from about 4pm to 9 am. Candles are necessary if you want to have any natural light. Candles are simply a part of the Swedish Christmas spirit.

Today my kid and I went to the Swedish institution known as 'the open preschool.' I'll write about it in more detail later, but it's a place for those of us on parental leave to bring our kids for more organized activities. So there we were, singing some nice little Swedish Christmas songs (which includes some strange version of 'in a cottage in the woods' but with Santa Claus rescuing the little bunny from the hunter) when the Pre-school teacher lit a sparkler that she had hung from the ceiling. Sparks flew and of course all of the little ones were completely mesmorized.

I felt like I was fresh off the boat. I don't think I have seen too many fireworks inside American preschools. One of the kids cried 'again! Again!' and, well, she repeated the whole thing again. It didn't seem too dangerous – some sparks flew, but nothing too big. Nothing caught fire.

Over the past few years I have seen kids under 10 engage in some pretty strange activities during school hours: making candles from scratch with huge vats of hot melted wax, very young kids lighting their own tea candles to brighten the morning darkness, carrying lit candles during St. Lucia parades. Each of these activities makes the American in me go 'but wait, something bad can happen!' but when I try to think of an example of that bad, I am left at a blank.

So, I guess I will just be grateful that my kids will grow up feeling comfortable with fire and knives. And hope they don't burn the house down in the process.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Swedish Fashion - Men's edition- 35+

OK, so last week we took a look at the uniform of the Swedish woman, so what about her male counterpart? Well, unlike female fashion, male fashion does seem to fit into two age groups. I will put the line at 35 years old, but I do suspect this could be shifted a little closer to 30.

The Swedish male faces quite a dilemma when it comes to the fashion front. Unlike much of the rest of the world, the suit is frowned upon in Swedish male fashion. It is considered stodgy, old-fashioned, and way to formal. So what does the Swedsih male wear to appear professional, serious, but still approachable and 'non-hierarchical'?

The answer that the Swedish working world seems to have arrived at is: jeans and a v-neck sweater or a polo shirt.

(A Ralph Laren ad that captures the typical Swedish look)

Yes, this simple attire can be seen on most male office workers – from engineer, to CEO.

The trick is simple, in winter, men should sport a comfortable pair of jeans, not too tight, not too baggy. And they should wear a warm v-neck sweater sweater with a logo on the chest. In the summer, a polo shirt will do. Ideally these sweaters should be red, green, blue, or yellow. If you are working in a University environment, black would also be acceptable.

These sweaters or shirts should be brand name. The most acceptable are Ralph Lauren Polo and Gant. Lacoste is also common in the spring/summer season. However, I would suspect that as long as your shirt had an logo of sorts on the chest, no one would question you too much. If they do, just tell them that you had it tailor made for you on a trip to Thailand.  

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

On a Serious Note: The crime of rape in Sweden

Sweden is making international headlines once again, but in a very strange manner. You have to live under a rock to have missed the ongoing battle to arrest and extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to Sweden on the charge of rape. Personally, I don't want to make this blog too much about political leanings and current events, but this touches upon an issue I have always struggled with in Swedish law. That is the charge of rape in the Swedish system.

Also, please note, I am not a lawyer and have not played one on TV. Most of this analysis is from reading the paper on a regular basis for years, and having read the actual law on the books with my layman's interpretation. If this subject intrests you, I encourage you to do your own digging.

The definition of rape, or våldtäkt, is exceedingly antiquated, in my humble opinion. In order to be charged with rape the victim had to have been forced into a sexual situation due to extreme violence or threat of violence/crime. There was no recognition under the law that the act of commiting a sexual act on someone who wasn't a willing partner was violence in and of itself. Also, in some cases, the victim had to explain why, if there was limited violence, they didn't fight back. If their reason was not substantial, the case could be downgraded to Sexual Assault. However, an exception is may be made if the victim cannot fight back because they have been drugged, are asleep, or passed out.

And then lets look at the statistics. According to Amnesty International over 3,500 rapes were reported in 2007. 450 cases were persued by the prosecuter. The rest were closed. But it gets worse.

Because Swedish courts have an incredibly hard time (understandably so) with he said/she said (or whatever assemblage of pronouns you might need here). The supreme court has repeatedly overturned cases in which anyone has been jailed on the power of testimony, only. And as of 2009 has stated that they will repeatedly do so.

Of those 450 rape cases that went to court in 2007. 216 people were convicted. That is 216 convictions in 3,500 reported rapes.

Here is a highly controversial example from several years ago: A young girl, 13, spends an afternoon drinking with some older men (I believe early 20's). She gets very drunk and they all have sex with her. They are charged with statuatory rape. They are freed because they say the girl told them she was 15 (the legal age) and they cannot prove that the men knew she was 13 years old. The only people there were the men and the girl. No one can prove they knew her age.

And what happens to those convicted folk? The maximum jail sentence is 4 years. Unless there is evidence of extreme violence, in which case it can be elevated to 10 years. Want to take a guess how many times that has happened?

So this is why this whole Assange thing has got me scratching my head. Are they SO sure they can actually get this guy for rape? Given all of the difficulties they have getting John Doe convicted of rape? Was he really so reckless? Because if not, that would mean some pretty crazy things are going on. Author and 'I swear the US hates me so much they won't let me in' spokesman Jan Guillou was on TV last night saying that even he felt this was too crazy to be a conspiracy theory. And if he says so, that only makes me scratch my head even more.

What is going on here? For more information please see the Amnesty web site – their report 'Case Closed' on rape in Scandinavia.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Swedish Celebrities: Thomas Di Leva

So you might be wondering how I got from ABBA to Thomas Di Leva, but Di Leva represents a big step in my integrating into Sweden process. He is the first very Swedish celebrity that I recognized on TV. Now, I know, if you know anything about Thomas Di Leva, you know this is no great feat. Di Leva looks like a magician from the 80's and wears skirts and dresses everywhere he goes. But I was pretty happy with myself, since I am am still terrible at recognizing famous Swedes. Dancing With the Stars in Sweden looks like 'Random People learning to Dance' to me.

So what does Thomas Di Leva do and why is he famous? That is a pretty good question. Usually after recognizing Di Leva on the screeen, I prompty change the channel. I am pretty sure he is a singer of some sort. And that he has a rather long career. I cannot name a single song he wrote/sings – but I am sure that I have heard one now and then on P1-4 (God bless Swedish national radio) on a road trip. I will venture a guess and say that he probably makes some New Agey kind of music of sorts. I guess this not just based on his outfits, but also due to the few times that I have heard him speak it usually involves 'soul, beauty, soul, zen, fluffy clouds, guru, blah.'

If you are in Sweden at the moment, you can catch Di Leva in one of the many 'Keep Swedish Celebrities Famous' TV shows– Så Mycket Bättre on Channel 4. If you don't know much about Swedish music this show is a bit like watching paint dry – but if you are making an honest effort to assimilate, oops I mean integrate, then this show cannot be missed. From the little that I have watched, they seem to take a handful of Swedish artists from diverse genres and have them sing each other's music. After watching it you can say to your Swedish colleagues things like 'I really loved Di Leva's interpretation of Petter's bastardization of Cornelius' 'Old, Smelly Shoes' didn't you?' (disclaimer: now I am just showing off what little I think I know about Swedish music – I have no idea if this moment in TV history has or will happen and I'm not even sure that 'trasiga skor' was initially a Cornelis song – but what the hey).   

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Very Swedish Christmas - The Christmas Present of the Year!

OK, this is an interesting Swedish phenomenon, but every year the media announces THE CHRISTMAS PRESENT OF THE YEAR. I'm never very sure who decides the Christmas Present of the year, and many years they are very off base, but you can usually take the selection as indication of spending moods of the population, the economy, and trends.

Take last year, for example. Last year's present of the year was the very strange plastic 'bed of nails.' People weren't expected to spend too much on Christmas presents when the economy was still a little uncertain, but they were expected to spend 80-100 dollars on a plastic bed of nails to lie on to relieve their stress about the poor economy. These were all over the place, so much so that the New York Times did a write up on the phenomenon. I told my husband he would be in big trouble if I found a plastic bed of nails under the tree.

Here is a list of Christmas presents of years past

2008: An Experience
2007: A GPS
2006: An audiobook
2005: A poker set
2004: A flatscreen TV
2003: A hat
2002: A cookbook
2001: A tool
2000: A dvd player
1999: Books (the bible in particular)
1998: Computer games
1997: Electronic pets
1996: An internet package
1995: A CD
1994: A cell phone
1993: perfume
1992: A videogame
1991: a CD player
1990: a Wok
1989: A video camera
1988: A bread machine

And 2010! The Christmas Present of the year is the Surfplatta.

One woman told me 'I don't know why the Surfplatta is the Christas present of the year, I mean, how much surfing can we do in Sweden, anyway?' I pointed out that it probably shouldn't be used for that kind of surfing and I think she was a little embarassed.

I'm all teched out at the moment – with my new Mac everything but an Ipad – so I will say, no thank you to this one. Haven't gotten X-mas present of the year yet, maybe next year it will be something more my speed.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Very Swedish Christmas: The Gingerbread Edition

Ok, so I usually try to avoid the subject of Swedish food, not just because, as Bill Bryson wrote 'Eating in Sweden is really just a series of heartbreaks,” and he wasn't too far off. If the food doesn't depress you, chances are the bill will crush you. But also because I am a vegetarian, and this means I abstain from most of the Swedish classics. No herring, no herring, and no herring.

But baked goods I can do. And occasionally I try to do them myself. It's Christmas and that means Gingerbread, Lussekatter, and Glogg. Three things I can partake in – although I'm not a huge Glogg fan.

Many Swedish women get crazy ambitious at Christmas. As much as Swedes are all 'yay equlity' there is nothing like Christmas to bring out some old-fashioned gender roles. The many Swedish women I know end up not only baking all December long, but also making Christmas chocolate, hanging the Christmas curtains, and stimulating an economic recovery of enourmous preportions by buying all of the menfolk in their lives the Christmas Present of the year -the Surfplatta (read: Ipad – more on this weird present tradition soon).

Well, I am not quite so ambitious. And I am not trying to recreate a Swedish Christmas of yore. But I am home on leave at the moment. And these leads me to bake more often than usual. So I whipped together a lovely batch of Gingerbread cookies. But no, I am not Ingrid Svensson, so I did not just throw together a gingerbread house that was an exact replica of my own house, the local church, or a NYC skyscraper. In fact, I will not be baking a gingerbread house at all. Thank you very much. And these I just used a regular drinking glass to cut.

I modified a recipe (use at your own risk) to kind of Americanize these Swedish cookies by adding brown sugar (NOT BROWN FARIN!) if you don't have it, you can just use white sugar instead:
Please note: This makes a LOT of cookies!

300 grams of butter (room temp)
4 dl of sugar
1 dl brown sugar
1 dl light syrup
1 package of pepparkaka kryddor
1 tablespoon of Ginger
1 tbs baking soda
2 dl water
15 dl flour

  1. Preset your oven to 225 C
  2. Cream the butter, sugar (brown and white) and syrup in one large bowl.
  3. Add the pepparkaka kryddor and the water, mix well.
  4. Slowly add the flour, while kneading the mixture with your hands. When the dough becomes thick, remove from bowl and knead on a baking tray.
  5. Wrap the dough in foil and let it rest in the refrigerator for 12 hours – 1 day.
  6. Remove dough from fridge and roll it out in small sections – until it is a thin, even layer.
  7. Use cookie cutter to cut figures and place figures on baking tray.
  8. Cookies take 4-5 minutes to bake.
  9. Let cookies cool – they can be frozen or stored in a sealed container for apprx. 1 month.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Swedish rules: Drugs are bad, Mkay?

I feel a cold coming on, and thus am reminded of one of the biggest contrasts between Sweden & the US – over-the-counter medication – or even presecription meds if we get down to it.

So just what can you do in Sweden when you feel a pain in your throat, or a headache and stuffy nose? You run out to your recently demonoploized pharmacy or now – as of this summer – your local grocery store (hallelujah) and pick up echinacea or the mysterious liquid Kan Jang. Or you can stock up on nasal spray if you are really desparate.

If you have a fever, your options widen a bit – there is tylanol (paracetamol), ibuprofan, and a few others to choose from.

But if it is a decongestant you need, you are basically screwed.

Now don't get me wrong, I love a good herbal remedy, in the beginning stages of illness I am more than willing to give it a go. But when I am miserable, and sick, echinacea just doesn't always cut it.

One of the few things I still buy every trip to the US is a huge supply of Nyquil. Because the only thing that comes close is a doctors prescription for a cough syrup based on morphine. We call it Uncle Sven's Cough Syrup around here.

In general, Swedes are a lot slower to take meds than in the US, where you pop a pill at first sneeze. I know an elderly couple that moved here and had their number of prescriptions halved. They say they have never felt better. Instead, Swedes tend to take a day or two off of work, stay in bed, and recover.

Now you can argue this from two perspectives – that this is an example of socialist mentality trying to deny meds to keep down health care costs – or that this is an example of an out of control capitalist society selling more products than people need, just to make a buck.

I am somewhere in the middle on this one. I have been over prescribed antibiotics in the US, which gave me some health issues in and of itself. But, damn, sometimes I miss being able to find a painkiller with a protective stomach coating, and a decent decongestant.

Oh, and a quick internet search shows that the mysterious Kan Jang is another echinacea concoction.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Swedish Fashion - Women's Edition -Everyone else is wearing it and you will, too!

OK I am a bit hesitant to say much about Swedish fashion – mostly because the Swedes are considered a rather fashionable folk – and I am far from being a fashionista. But since I have to live and breathe Swedish fashion daily, I am going to weigh in on the subject.

In someways Sweden seems it might be the ideal place for the non-fashionista. Mostly because, when something is fashionable in Sweden, it is ALL you find here. From the high-end shops, to the racks of H&M, there is no avoiding the trends of the season, if you choose to do any shopping that season.

It goes so far that if you are invited to an event which requires fancy-dress, and dresses are not in style that month, you might be able to find 3 dresses in your size to choose between, in the whole town. And none of them will be simple and black. Thank god for the internet.

And it does not matter your age – everyone wears the trend of the moment, irregardless of its age inappropriateness. Let's take one of last season's looks, the 'Whoops I forgot my pants' look which consisted of a pair of leggings and an extra large men's shirt. Not only would you find this look at your local high school, you could also find it on your 20 something receptionist, your 40 year old project manager, and your 65 year old grandmother.

And let's be frank here, there are very few people that manage to pull off this look successfully. I know. I tried. Because 'Whoops I forgot my pants' is a deceptively easy look for the new mother who doesn't fit into their pre-pregnancy jeans. And I say deceptively easy because you feel great until you see the photographic evidence.

So, if you love trends -Sweden is the place for you. If you are trying to create 'your own look,' it might take a bit more leg work. I've learned over the years that when I like a season's trend to stock up, because there might not be anything I like for awhile. This year there seem to be a lot of flower prints ala when I was 16, and some pretty scary stone-washed jeans. Looks like my wallet will be getting a break this spring. Thank god I fit into those old jeans again.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Parental tip: There will be Välling

If you have an infant in Sweden – chances are you have heard of the miraculous Swedish baby food also known as Välling. From around the age of 6 months and above, välling becomes the cornerstone of the Swedish baby's diet.

In the US we are taught that babies receive most of their nutrition until the age of 1 from either breastmilk or formula. But in Sweden, most of the old school nurses (who you meet with instead of peds) will tell you that none of that is really necessary. All a baby needs is a complete diet and lots and lots of välling.

Swedish parents swear by it as well. It is probably one of the things Swedish ex-pats miss the most when living abroad – since Välling does not seem to exist anywhere outside of Scandinavia.

So what is Välling? And why is it the liquid of the vikings?

Surprisingly, Välling does not fulfill many of the standard Swedish rules. Which shows just how important it is, since Swedes are willing to overlook these rules. 1) It is factory produced – you cannot make Välling yourself, you have to buy the processed form. 2) It is a WHITE product – not a dark, GI favorable food (although you can now find fiber enriched välling as well).

According to the nurse we see, Välling is a cereal – similar to feeding your child oatmeal. The main difference is that it is often wheat based. It is slightly thicker than formula, and fed to babies in bottles, often before bedtime. There is also quite a bit of palm oil and canola in most of the forms of välling. Most are also fortified, to supply all of the minerals needed in a balanced diet. And they contain powdered milk.

If we conduct a completely unscientific study and look at Swedes vs. Americans, despite the strange ingredients it appears Välling as a child does not leave you with a lifetime risk for obesity, and other illnesses. There was one study that seemed to show it can give some increase risk for gluten intolerance.

Personally, we haven't tried Välling in our house – but if we don't get some sleep around here soon, that might change.