Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What? You want to get off the train? But I'm getting on here!

I wrote earlier about Swedes systematic line forming – with the help of numbers. Organizing lines tends to be quite quick and cutting is avoided using this wise system.

However, a problem occurs with impromptu lines – even though they are easily anticipated lines.

One great example of this is what occurs pretty much every time a train stops at a major train station. As the train pulls in, the people on the platform head for the door. They create a giant mass that encircles every door and push to position themselves so as to be one of the first to enter the train.

Then, the strangest thing happens. The doors to the train open, and, surprise of all surprises, people want to get off the train. The ring of awaiting passengers looks perplexed. Do they move to the side to let these passengers off, and risk losing their prime position for boarding the train?

Often the person closest to the line of fire, the one who risks being trampled in the ensuing melee, the one directly opposite the door, will back down and move to the left or right. This leaves a tiny opening for the passengers aboard the train to push through the crowd.

The remaining people, refusing to move and give up there space in the line, roll their eyes, look at the ground, and grunt with annoyance, at the people that have decided to get off at the stop they have been spending the last minute trying to leave.

The doors to the train are often wide enough for two rows of passengers to exit or enter. When the line of people exiting the train trickles down to only one passenger wide, those passengers who have been waiting on the 'correct' side, will push their way on to the train while others continue to disembark. This creates a lot of dirty looks from those getting on and off the train. Some might even mumble under their breath. But rarely will it go so far that anyone has to talk to each other.

Despite the fact that most train travellers in Sweden take the train on a daily basis, they still seem utterly surprised by the fact that there are often passengers that want to get off the train.

So if you want to be like the Swedes, as soon as the train arrives, push your way as close as possible to the door and then refuse to move anywhere but onto the train. But if you just want to keep the peace, it is often easiest to wait until the crowd has subsided and board the train. The conductor will not leave until all the passengers have boarded the train. The only thing you risk is losing a seat, and if there are many people trying to exit the trian, chances are you will still get one!

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Very Swedish Christmas - The first of advent

A Very Swedish Christmas – The first of Advent

December in Sweden is quite fantastic. Christmas gets everyone out of the November dumps and into a much cheerier mindset – if you can manage to overlook the shopping chaos. And given the reports of a booming and fully recovered economy- it will be true shopping chaos again this year.

Although many Christmas trees and decorations are set up before the start of Advent, it is the first of Advent which is the official starting line for the Christmas season. All the houses get out their advent candles, electric candalabras, stars in the windows – and now more often than ever before, outdoor lighting displays (although not as gregarious as the US).

Given that we now only get about 6-7 hours of sunlight per day, the extra lighting is almost a necessity.

For the kiddies – there is the advent calander tv-show and a small present per day. For the grownups it means the start of the Christmas Smorgasbord, the beginning of the Glogg, and the first gingerbread of the season. There are many traditions that remain truly Swedish, and I will try to touch on many of them here during the next month.

But the first of Advent is celebrated by a tree lighting ceremony in many city centres – a Christmas market (smaller than many of the German traditional markets – and thanks to Swedish policy – without the booze). It is also one of the biggest days of church attendance during the year – often more people go to church for the start of Advent than on Christmas eve.

Here it really does feel like Christmas – we've got half a foot of snow on the ground, it's below freezing out, and it is absolutely breathtaking. But I'm still not ready to bet on a white Christmas.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Swedish Celebrities: ABBA

OK, so they are the obvious choice. But ABBA is a national pride. And are as Swedish as apple pie (which Swedes will tell you is 100% Swedish).

Benny, Bjorn, Anni-Frid, and Agnetha have all paid king's ransoms to the Swedish government in taxes over the last few decades – and they are one of the few groups who haven't reunited to go on one last 'rake it all in' tour. They have only been spotted together briefly. The reluctance to reunite may be linked to their former marital status – and the fact that half of their profits would go directly to the Swedish state.

While ABBA is a mainstay at many gay clubs throughout the English speaking countries – here in Sweden you can still hear the ABBA classics blasted at nightclubs aimed at the under 25 and any sexual orientation set. Not to mention it often gets dragged out at private parties after midnite and a couple of rounds of drinks. This behaviour reached a peak after the release of Mama Mia – the movie. That midsummer was an ABBA fest extroadinaire.

And Swedes of most ages still have at least one ABBA CD in their collection – or on the ipod. Not to mention they know every word to Dancing Queen and sing Happy New Year proudly, every new year.

ABBA also represents a great Swedish victory at Eurovision songcontest – this Euopean dinosaur has no American equivalent – although it probably should. The Swedish foursome won Eurovision with their hit Waterloo. Sweden is still trying to figure out the magic formula to win Eurovision this decade, and are exceedingly proud of their former Eurovision champions.

Every year at Eurovision time we are treated to images of ABBA taking the stage and winning the hearts and minds of first Europe and then the world.

I had a friend who used to say 'There is a reason why the USA gave us blues music and Sweden gave us ABBA.” And I think that is a pretty fair statement on the situation.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Swedish Politics 101 - The Moderates

For the last four years, the Moderates have been at the helm of the Swedish government. And not so long ago, they won the Swedish public's vote of approval for another term. So who are they and what do they want?

The Moderates are led by current prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. And they are about as right wing as you get in Sweden – politcally. So if we compare to the American model, the Moderates are the Republicans of Swedish government. Except that, in Sweden, even the Moderates fall far left of any American party.

Although I am pretty sure in his own head, Reinfeldt would like to be able to see himself as a Swedish Ronald Reagan, in truth, Barak Obama looks more like Reagan than Reinfeldt. Basically, the Moderates seem to support some type of less interfering, smaller government, lower taxes, less spending, etc. The problem is, this is Sweden.

But let's take a look at some of the policies the Moderates have passed in the last four years. It should give you a sense of where they stand. 

  • Sold the government owned portion of Absolut vodka (quite a controversial move – as Absolut is a cash cow for the Swedish government)
  • Demonopolized Apoteket – the nationally controlled pharmacy in Sweden
  • No more property tax – only a max payment of 6,000 sek per year to the county (depending on value of home) (Yes, New Jersey, there is no property tax in Sweden!)
  • Reduced unemployment benefits (so now several states in the US offer better unemployment)
  • Reduced sick leave benefits – limited time on sick leave

The list goes on, but I think the above indicates a bit about what the party is about anyway. 

And not to make things TOO confusing, but here in Sweden the right wing is represented by the blue color, and the left wing by the red. Remember the Commies are the reds.

Oh, and did you notice that bit about no property tax – and still getting all those crazy socialist benefits?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Parenting tip #3 - Babies sleep better in the cold

Back when I lived in NYC there was the famous story of the Danish couple who left their baby in a stroller outside some restaurant. The couple was arrested for child abuse and the child taken away. In the days that followed the couple claimed that this was a common Danish tradition and they leave their child outside in Copenhagen. So why not NYC? 

To which all of us New Yorkers answered, 'well because it's NYC stupid.'

OK, This blog is not about  Denmark, but this behaviour is really common here in Sweden. Even in the midst of snow fall, and freezing temperatures, countless people leave their babies outside while napping. Why? Because, babies sleep better in the cold.

If you walk around my neighborhood – a bunch of hideous newly built houses (more on that later) with tons of young families - you will probably see a good 20 -30 SUV strollers parked outside in the snow. And if you don't have a house, you can always let your baby sleep out on the balcony. Seriously.

Despite this trend of leaving your baby outside – I cannot say that I have heard of a single babynapping in the years I have lived here. There have been freak accidents. There was a baby who was smothered to death by a cat in Sweden. A bunch of hooligans flipped over a baby into the snow in Finland, but the Mom found the baby shortly thereafter and everyone was fine. And if we go back to the Danes, a bicycle was stolen with a baby-carrying device attached to it. There was a baby sleeping in this device. The bicycle thief realized this a few blocks later and abandoned the bike. Baby was returned safely.

This might be enough to stop you from every letting your baby sleep outside – but when you think of how many babies are doing this around here – and how few accidents you read about – it seems pretty safe. I mean, bad things can happen anywhere, right?

I can tell you my little one is a horrible sleeper. But I haven't yet resorted to sticking him out in the snow and hoping it will help. Maybe I should try it one of these days?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Take a number!

OK, so Swedes hate standing in line. Which I totally understand. But since it is impossible to get rid of lines all together, and still get anything done, they have found away around this. They instead insist you take a number and wait until your number is called.

They do this everywhere. At the bakery, at the bank, at the train station, at Cervera to buy Royal Copenhagen stuff, at the cheese shop. You take your little number and wait. This can often be a useful solution. If the weather is nice and the sign is big enough, you can wait outside until your number is called. Or you can browse around, until it is your turn.

The trouble is when you don't realize the store has a number system. You wait and push your way up to the counter. That is when the sales person refuses to speak with you, and just points to the number sign on the wall. Then you have to search frantically for the number dispensing machine, which can be hard to find.

Occasionally there is solidarity in numbers. Someone decides they don't need their number, so they pass it on instead of throwing it away. Someone accidently takes two numbers, and passes one on to the next shopper. It is one of the few times I have seen Swedes who don't have to interact with each other, volunteer to interact with each other.

It used to be that Systembolaget – the Swedish socialist alcohol monopoly – used the number system to dispense all of the alcohol in the country. It was quite a way to spend a Friday evening. They kept all of the booze behind the counter. You filled in a little slip with your order, and they picked the alcohol for you from their warehouse. These days the Systembolaget is still a socialist alcohol monopoly, but they have instead filled their stores with good old fashioned capitalist shelves. They allow you to pick your booze yourself, in the glory of flourescent watt lighting, and wait in a regular line to purchase it.

Before heading to the counter, check for ticket dispensing machines and a screen displaying numbers.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Swenglish tip #2 - Fika

When I first heard the term fika, I was in love. Mostly because I had confused the words fika and ficka. One is pronounsed 'feeka' and the other is pronounced 'ficka'

A fika, or feeka, is a Swedish national pasttime – the coffeebreak. Ficka is a pocket. For a long time I thought that it was a beautiful metaphor – the coffeebreak as a pocket of time, a break in the day where you can sit around cozily and do nothing productive.

It turns out it wasn't a metaphor – but fika is a great tradition nonetheless. Many foreigners end up adapting the word into English - 'Shall we fika?' works well.

To fika can be a challenge for Americans. It goes against our instincts of multitasking with a giant latte in hand. To fika you must grab a cup of coffee from either the communal pot – or the coffee shop. And depending on where you are you grab a corresponding pastry or half of a roll with a slice of cheese. There will often be a piece of cucumber or pepper on your roll.

Then you and your colleagues or friends sit around and discuss topics like 'the eastern European conspiracy to win Eurovision,' the unfairness of the football games that got Sweden thrown out of what ever championship is currently being played, or political strife in any other country but Sweden.

The truth is, in Sweden, you MUST fika. I tried to avoid it. It drove me crazy when I would show up at the office, look at the pile of things to do on my desk, turn to my colleagues and we would all go 'agh SOO much work to do!' and then they would go off and sit around drinking coffee and talking crap for 30 minutes. And they would shoot me the worst looks while I tried to start working right away.

So to keep the peace, I do both the 9am fika and the 3pm fika. And I highly recommend you do the same.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dinner is Served Dinner is Served Dinner is Served

'Dinner is Served.' 'Dinner is Served.' 'Dinner is Served'

OK I will admit. This Swedish rule took me ages to figure out. Mostly because I always managed to chicken out and get really nevous anytime I was put in this social situation. It wasn't until a friend explained to me that this seemed to be a new, evolving Swedish thing that I caught on.

The scene:

You are at a dinner/lunch party. You are socializing over a drink while the hostess/host is getting the food set out on a buffet table. The guests are mingling and making small talk.

The hostess/host walks into the area where everyone is socialisng and announces “Dinner is served.”

All the guests pretend this never happened and pick up their small talk where they left off.

After many nervous glances the host/hostess will clear their throat and announce again 'Dinner is served.' After this announcement, several guests might glance and smile politely at the hostess before returning to their small talk. This might calm the host/hostess' nerves, since they now see that their guests have heard their announcement. But then, no one moves towards the food. Everyone stays put.

According to my Swedish source, several years ago, it used to be on the second announcement of 'Dinner is served' that people began to migrate. But now, to do so, will make you first and last in the buffet line.

Because it is only when the host/hostess comes out the third time and announces 'Dinner is served' that he/she gets a true reaction from the guests. 'Ooooh, I am hungry' 'That buffet table looks wonderful' a line begins to form. And people begin to load their plates.

I will admit that in my first years in Sweden I was often the first person at the buffet table because I took the first announcement to mean 'Dinner is served.' And also because the hostess/host usually begins to look very nervous and unsure. They try to make eye contact with the various guests – and nothing. At this point I would slowly walk towards buffet table and wait for others to follow. That did not happen. Even the kids at the party, who I would normally try to shoo in front of me, did not come near the buffet table.

When I host, neither me nor the Swede have any tolerance for this shenaningans. If no one goes to the buffet table, we will serve ourselves, sit down and wait for our guests to wrap up their small talk. Not great hosting, but hey 'Dinner is served.'

It is polite to wait for the third invite before eating at a party

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Swedish Politics 101 - The Social Democrats

Despite not being the party currently in power, I am going to start my look at Swedish government with the Social Democrats because they ilustrate all that is Sweden.

As a foreigner it can be easy to confuse the Social Democrats with the Sweden Democrats (at least for this foreigner) due to name alone. This is a very dangerous mistake. The Sweden Democrats are a highly controversial, anti-immigrant party, that we will take a look at later.

The Social Democrats have been the leading party in Sweden for much of the last century. And given that each party elects their own party head, and that party head goes on to become prime minister when the party wins, I've always felt slightly ill at ease with the democratic process here in Sweden. That said, for the first time in memorable history, Social Demokraterna, also known as S (NOT SD), have lost 2 major elections in a row, so kudos to democracy.

When Americans go on and on about the terrible dangers of Socialism, it is usually the image of the Social Democrats that comes up. I find this terribly confusing because when I studied Socialism in school it was all 'the government & the people own and oversee production.' But now everyone is more afraid of government sponsored healthcare and bailouts of financial giants. It is confusing. Espcially since in Sweden we even have a privately owned mail delivary service.

The Social Democrats frequently run on the promise that they 'will raise taxes' (this is in fact what one S representative told me in the town square before election) but that we will see this tax money in increased benefits for all. They were offering higher unemployment payments, longer sick-leave, and more money to the schools (in my town anyway)last election cycle. It would cost me a couple of percent of my income.

Usualy this tactic works for S. I usually joke that the Moderates (the right wing party) are the check and balance system for the S political domination (yes I am that much fun to have at parties). That is, S goes around raising taxes, spending a boatload of money on social programs, increasing spending every year, and then once every 12-18 years the right wing comes in, chops away at this severely. Annoys everyone. And gives the S room to come back and raises taxes and spending. In perfect symbiosis. Until this last election which shocked the pants off of everyone. (well anyone who wasn't really reading the news too much).

Sweden is also one of those confusing multi-party parliments. This means that despite the fact that S were considered the losers of last election (and indeed they were) they were the party that received the most votes (by a historically low .5%). They didn't win power because their coalition was still behind the right-wing coalition.

Confusing, I know. So this week in the news S booted their leader, Mona Sahlin and will soon nominate a new party leader. This is an exciting time for S as they will be deciding a new way to try to spend tax money to appeal to a wider audience.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Swedish myth #1 - There is no bad weather, only bad clothing

One of Swedes' favorite topic of conversation is, undoubtedly, the weather. Good, bad, or indifferent opening small talk is usually about what is going on outside.

Given that the weather in Sweden is not the greatest, Swedes have adopted a rather optimistic tag line to describe the best way to deal with the Swedish climate 'Där finns ingen dålig väder, bara dålig kläder' which translates to 'there is no bad weather, only bad clothing.

All I can say is, 'They Lie!' Or as my Mother used to say "Just because everyone says it, doesn't make it so."

Seriously. There is some terrible weather. And a lot of that terrible weather seems to be in Sweden.

There is some great clothing as well. And terrible weather seems to be a great excuse to jack up the price on some pretty great 'all-weather gear.' Fjällraven will outfit you in hardcore rain gear, winter jackets, and backpacks for several thousand dollars, if you are so inclined. But even with all of your fancy outdoor gear on, chances are you will still hate the weather.

I mean, let us turn the phrase around. 'There is no good weather, only good clothing.' That doesn't even makes sense. Because every Swede and their mother will tell you that despite all of its terrible weather, Sweden has some fantastic weather, usually during it's mythical summers, or for three days in April.

This phrase does not reassure me when I sit around wondering why I didn't move to Italy, or California. Places where the weather is often great. Swedes will tell you this is patently untrue - the weather in these places is often, the worst of the worst, too hot. When the weather is too hot, no amount of Fjallraven gear can help you.

I was thinking about this as I was trudging around town today in slushy rain/snow with  my giant SUV stroller. The phrase should be 'there is no bad weather, there are only bad strollers," because while the water seeped up my pant leg, my winter coat got damp and heavy, and my hair went to hell and never came back, my SUV stroller kept on trucking.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Parenting Rule #2 Gender Bender

Parenting Rule #2 – Gender bender

You may have heard a bit about the fabulous gender equality that exists here in Sweden. And for the most part that is true. And it is great. (yes this is vastly simplified – more on the subject later). So, how do you dress your newborn/infant to reflect your fabulous 'I see no gender' mentality? It is a battleground.

Personally I am all for dressing kids in rather androgynous clothing. I hate pink, so don't buy until they ask specifically for it. I go for the middle ground – greens, reds, yellows, oranges – and hope for the best. If someone says 'oh what a cute little girl' about my son, I correct them and am not offended. Vice versa if they say the same about my daughter. Let's face it, for the first year it can be hard to tell, right?

But yes, I admit I have some gender goggles on. My first day at the 'open forskola' (a preschool that parents & kids go to together) I ran into plenty of little Eliases dressed in purple and pink. There were several Lovisa's in navy sweats and truck sweatshirts. And I stopped using any pronouns after the first five minutes because I kept getting it all wrong. And did I mention these were all first babies? I mean I understand if they had some hand me down 'gender specific' clothing – I totally get that.

In a way I was surprised at my reaction. I consider myself a feminist – and as I said – don't make an effort to dress my kids 'girly' or 'tough guy.' But I also don't make an effort to dress them in the opposite gender wear either.

I think it has to do with the fact that despite all the talk – there is huge gender stereotyping in Swedish clothing. Once my kids were older than 6 months it got progressively harder to find androgynous stuff. Sure, there is Polern and Pyret – but for those days that you don't want to spend 50$ on a pair of leggings they will outgrow in 2 months – what then? Maybe this is the parents rebelling a little from the trappings of the clothing companies?

A few months ago there was a story in the paper about a Mom who took it one step further. She didn't tell anyone the gender of her child – dressed them in androgynous clothing, and used a made up Swedish pronoun -kind of like calling your child 'Sho' in stead of He or She (Hen FYI). Way too exhausting for me.

So Parenting tip #2 avoid using 'He/she (and probably also sho)' when meeting babies for the first time – and think carefully about what social message your child's wardrobe is sending

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Swedish dilemma #1 - Choosing your battle

After living here for many years, I have to say one of the things I admire most about the Swedes is their ability to take a cause seriously. I don't think I have met any Swede's lately who 'pooh-pooh' climate change, pollution, or the value of slow food. And not only do folks not insult it, they often make active steps in their lives to illustrate that they take these causes seriously.

Yay! You might be thinking. And I don't blame you.

But what ends up happening is a whole boat load of ethical dilemmas EVERY time you go to the supermarket.

Example #1 Bananas: My kids eat a lot of them. And I enjoy them as well. A Swede even made that supercontroversial Banana movie that you might have heard got them in trouble with Chiquita.

But every time I go to buy bananas I'm faced with a moral choice. I can buy the Ethical bananas which promise a fair wage to their employees. Or I can buy the organic banana, which promises fewer chemicals will be ingested by my kids. Or I can buy the regular old banana which promises it will be 1 dollar cheaper than the other two.

Example #2 My oatmeal: Every morning I have oatmeal for breakfast. I love it. But I switch my oatmeal a lot because I never know which one is the best to buy. Take the oatmeal I ate this morning. It is plain oatmeal. It has a symbol on it stating that it is a healthy choice (this is a green keyhole in Sweden). This particular oatmeal has been locally produced. I can read that this particular bag of oatmeal contributed 1.3 kg CO2 into our atmosphere. I can go online and track how my oatmeal was produced, where it came from, where it was processed etc.
I alternate this oatmeal with another brand which is organic. That brand promises me fewer pesticides – but is not as good for the environment when it comes to CO2.
Then there is the third sort – it is neither organic nor climate friendly, but it promises me extra fiber in my diet – which could be healthiest for me in the long run. It also tastes really good. It also has the keyhole to health sign.
Choice is nice, but confusing.

Example #3 Eggs: Stick with me here. This is the last one. I realize in the US you have a lot of eggs to choose from as well. Sweden is very big on happy chickens because it was the pet cause of literary hero Astrid Lindgren. In order to assess my eggs I need to check the stamp on the side of the eggs and match it with the code on the top of the box (this could be because I tend to shop at the bargain grocery store)
Code 1 means – free range indoor chickens, Code 2 means free range indoor with access to outdoors. Code 3 means outdoor free range chickens. There is also a letter E or F, one means Organic, the other is not. It is a time consuming process. I want to make sure I have happy chicken organic eggs.

Now I just read on Sweden.se (http://blogs.sweden.se/sustainability/2010/11/15/a-swedish-fashion-company-trying-to-show-it-all/) that a clothing store is trying to document all information so we can make better informed decisions about the clothes we buy. I think that is a great idea. I would love to see where my money is going and what my clothes are being sprayed with. But I am a little frightened of needing to make conscious decisions between child labour and known carcinogens.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Swenglish lesson# 1: Lagom

Swedes will be sure to tell you about this wonderful word 'Lagom' as you begin to learn Swedish. Lagom, they claim, is untranslatable. It is the essence of Swedish. No word in English comes close to grasp the beauty that is Lagom.

OK. So for starters – what is Lagom? To be honest this can be difficult to pin down. My Swedish better half and I argue about it now and then. Lagom to me means 'a middle amount which is not too much or not too little'. Think Goldilocks and the three bears – Lagom is like baby bear.

If the American dream is 'you too can have it all' the Swedish dream is 'you too can be Lagom.'

Thus, I occasionally will exclaim 'goddamn I hate lagom – lets bust it up and go for the gold' In which case my husband rolls his eyes because a) I don't usually talk like that and b) he insists my lagom is just bigger, thus I cannot escape Lagom. So according to my hubby, Pappa bear's bed is lagom for Pappa bear and Mamma bear's bed is Lagom for Mamma bear.

Total Crap I say. Because here is one of the Lagom myths they spread around Sweden. I think it backs up my argument. But maybe the Swedes are on to something. Maybe Lagom is something special to Swedish. I have to say, I think English can get by without it.

The story of Lagom.

Lagom is an old viking tradition. Back in the day the vikings would fill up one giant beer glass and set it on the table. Each strong viking male would take a swig of the beer and pass it on to his compadre. The idea was that there should be enough beer to last an entire round of the table. Each viking should have his lagom share. If the beer ran out, one of the Vikings had drunk too much. If there was beer left over, one of the vikings had not drunk enough. But, since Vikings are the archetypical Swedes, more often than not, they drank just lagom.

But then they sailed to America. And they each got their own beer mugs.

Monday, November 15, 2010

One 'Big Strong' Please

Beer. I like it. Dark beers, white beers, Christmas beers, ale and lager. I like beer.

Here in Sweden the tradition is to order beer by the size and strength. This pains me at times. You don't tend to ask what is on tap, or what type of beer it is, you only care that it is 'big and strong'

En Stor Stark, Tack!

And let me tell you, En Stor Stark ain't cheap either – even during the 'happy hour specials'- a big and strong will set you back at least 40-50 SEK (which at today's exchange rate is at least 6 dollars). That's kind of pricey for a glass of no-name beer.

Now you don't have to order the 'Big and strong,' if it is lunch time many Swedes opt for the 'small and light.' Don't be fooled. By light they don't mean low in calories, they mean low in alcohol. I think it's something like 2% alcohol.

Now, before I moved to Sweden, naïve me paid little to no attention to the percentage of alcohol in a beer. However, I have learned that the jump from 3.5% to 4.0% is highly significant to someone, somewhere. It is the deciding factor as to where I can buy my beer and why they want to charge me a 40% higher price.

And while I have never done it, this interesting way of ordering beer does mean that in theory you can order 'A small medium' or even 'a large medium' without illiciting any strange looks.

Rule #3: If you want real beer, skip the Stor Stark

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Swedish parenting rule #1: The bigger the stroller the better

In Sweden the approach to parenting infants and toddlers is quite different from the US. There is a lot less emphasis on the 'stuff' and a lot more emphasis on time spent with the baby. Many of my Swedish friends, when having kids, didn't run out and buy a house, or a bigger apartment. They stuck around in their one bedroom apartments. 'Babies don't take up a lot of space' they kept insisting. 'They don't need space, but what about all their stuff' I countered. This got a lot of strange looks – 'what stuff?' They asked. And these babies are now a bit older, and they seem to be doing OK.

However, the one thing all of my friends did do was go out and by a crazy stroller. I mean a giant SUV of a contraption. None of them folded down to conveniently fit in a car with the push of one hand. Instead they seemed to be built to take up the most space possible. And they all came with a $1000 price tag.

I used to laugh at these contraptions, until I took my friend's daughter out for a walk in an umbrella stroller in February. Let me tell you, little strollers and cobblestone streets do NOT mix. I was terrified that my friend's child would end up catapulting into the street with every single bump.

So when it was time for me to buy a stroller, what can I say, I followed the masses and bought the absolute biggest stroller you ever did see. And you know what? I love it. I was out with my kids in the middle of blizzards, after blizzards, off-road, - my stroller is like a Jeep Wrangler. Those $1000 were the only big ticket item my kids got and man – it is worth every penny (or ore!)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Whatever you do – DON'T HONK!

Do you want to know a surefire way to scare away your newly found Swedish friends? Honk the horn next time you take them for a spin in your Volvo. Nothing will make them duck and cringe like a good New York 'HONK' at someone who cuts you off. But it doesn't even take that, if you so much as 'tootle' the car in front of you to let them know the light has turned green during their cell phone discussion – chances are your Swedish friends will find 1001 excuses to never to get in a vehicle with you again.

I have to admit I have a hard time laying off the horn. But I have found myself faced with horrifiedly angry drivers shooting me 'poison dart eyes' when I have tried to point out that it was a good time to take that left hand turn.

So now I feel truly Swedish – last week on the way to work I sat behind a car stopped at a green light for at least a minute – and I didn't touch the horn.

(Side note – I have been told that this rule applies even more strongly to Swedish women than men – who might occasionally use a horn if a moose crosses the road. Yes, I have seen a moose cross the road.)

Rule #2 – Your car horn is for decoration only.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Excuse me - No I'm not from around here

Excuse me is an American staple. Walking down the street, at the grocery store, trying to find a spot on the subway 'excuse me' is another way of saying 'Sorry, I realize I'm invading your personal space, but I don't really have a choice in the matter.' Excuse me is also an art form of emphasis. If you enunciate the 'cuse' you may feel a little put out. If you emphasize the 'me' you probably feel the other party is in the wrong, but they are too rude to say 'excuse me' so you feel you must remind them.

So when I moved to Sweden, of course Excuse me was one of the first terms I wanted to learn in Swedish. It turns out the phrase is 'Ursäkta mig' (pronounced Urshekta may). The first chance I got was at the grocery store - I wanted to grab a carton of milk, and needed to lean close to an older woman. 'Urshekta may' I said, as I reached about 6 inches to her right. She turned around and glared at me, grabbed a milk in a flash, and was out of there.

And this scene has repeated itself probably a hundred times since. You'd think I would learn, but it turns out 'excuse me' is a tough habit to break. It is so ingrained in me, that I often mumble it before I even know what I am saying. I have only really gotten one true reaction other than the one above. 

I was standing in the grocery store with my SUV stroller (more on these later) and suddenly found myself in a traffic jam. One woman was walking down the aisle behind me, another was going to be trying to walk in front of my stroller any second. The stroller was huge & had no place to go. I tried to duck and cover. The woman behind me approached first and slipped past the stroller. The woman in front got this crazy idea to plow through the display case to my left, walking behind the giant cardboard cutout of a pizza and some precariously stacked boxes of tomato sauce. 

'Urshekta May, Urshekta' I aplologized as I tried to maneuver my stroller out of there.

She stopped dead in her tracks, looked at me, and responded 'Goodness, urshekta may! I don't know why I am in such a rush. What am I doing?' She smiled and continued on her way. (and yes, that interaction happened years later when my Swedish had improved from a bit more than an urshekta may)

 Rule #1 There is no excuse me, just plow on through.