Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On Meeting Santa Claus - A Swedish Christmas Tradition

I used to be jealous of Swedish kids - who wouldn't be? They get to meet Santa. Every year, they get their presents one day early, and they get them hand delivered. What could be better? I mean, sure it made sense to my five year old self, Santa makes his early stops in the North, before heading out to us poor children who live far away, but I was still a bit, well, jealous.

(Note: I mean American jealous, not Swedish jealous - and yes, I think there is a difference).

But for all of the envy I had as a kid, I never got to experience Swedish Santa Trauma - which is really a right of passage for most Swedish toddlers.

Because really, a weird guy with a long beard, dressed in red - he wants to give you a hug. And what do most kids do? Scream. Cry. Go nuts.

A report back from most of my mom friends shows that about 75% of the two year olds in our social circle  had a nervous breakdown upon meeting Santa. There were tears and screams.

Our little Swede showed his Santa fears early - and thus we worked a lot to disway him. We talked about tomta. Looked at tomta. He met Tomta at day care.

So when the day arrived? I am proud to report no tears were shed and no screams were uttered.

Instead Little Swede looked skeptical, but gladly accepted his gifts. He refused to hug Santa, or even say good-bye, but he did give him a little side-eye now and then.

And our Santa? He was great. His beard almost looked authentic as he trudged in from the rainy outdoors.

All in all a merry Christmas. I have a feeling next year meeting Santa will be a much different experience for the Little Swede.

I think we will be adopting our SILs tradition of telling the story that the Christmas goat brings presents that arrive at the house at other times as well, since we had a more traditional American Christmas the morning of Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas - God Jul - Don't You Forget About Me

Merry Christmas. Here in our house we are full of rice porridge and Swedish not-meat balls. It's been a great holiday. Everything worked out despite my not planning much of anything. I need to remember that. It is good.

I have a lot of blog posts planned for this week and next year (ack!)

For now I can only report that the first TV show Little Swede seemed remotely interested in was Kalle Anka.

So I actually watched the whole thing this year.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, you can check out this article. I found out more about Kalle Anka from that article than I think I ever needed to know. Made for interesting side chat as we went through all of the memorized dialogue.

God Jul!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Preschool Lucia: A Whole Lot of Swedish Fabulousness

This has to be one of my favorite days of the Swedish calender. Santa Lucia - the story of some, I think (I'm not going to look it up) Italian? saint, who met with some violence - I think that is what the red ribbon symbolizes anyway, and she really loved candles.

At least that is what you might ascertain if you saw the Swedish Lucia celebration - but probably you would just think Lucia is a cute young blonde girl who loves to sing.

Anyways, meaning be damned,  it is a beautiful Swedish tradition - that really maximizes the need for coziness at this dark dark time of year.

But if you have little kids? It really is all about the cute.

St. Lucia means little kids on parade - singing and doing those silly hand gestures. It's awesome.

Little Swede was TERRIFIED of all things Lucia, they told us at his pre-school a few weeks ago.

So bring in Operation Save St. Lucia Parade here at our house

We watched countless other St. Lucia day care parades on Youtube.

We sang songs all day long - thanks to the Barnkammaren Silverboken.

An example of dinnertime discussion: "What does Vingesus mean exactly?"

"Vingesus? That's not a word, vingesus!"

"Oh really? Because it's in Barnkammare boken."

Oh Vingsus

Yes, älskling I mean Vingesus

The kicker is all I remember is that vingsus is something about fluttering wings, don't know if I have that right anyway.

(Why is pronunciation SO frustrating sometimes)

Anyways, the St. Lucia parade was a success! Little Swede, in a tomta/santa suit which we had to practice wearing for at least a week - led the way and sat down in his place no problem. He then stared out into the audience for about 5 minutes before shouting 'PAPPA!' when he finally spotted us. Then he continued staring.

The preschool teachers did a great job of singing. There was a little bit of everything. Some kids ran immediately to their parents crying. One little girl repeatedly fell off of the bench they were standing on and landed on some kids below. (She was promptly wooshed up and replaced on the bench - no tears shed).

One kid emphatically did all of the hand gestures.

The rest just kind of watched us.

It was classic.

Afterwards there were saffron rolls and rice porridge - what more could you want?

I love Lucia!

(Here is a pre-school lucia just for grins)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Jag är inte en lat mask or this is not an apology

Jag har inte försvunnit, jag lova er. Nej. Jag är fortfarande här. Och jag kommer skriva mer ganska snart.

(See that there? That's me sucking up to my Swedish readers, by trying to post a little in Swedish, something I've been terrible at lately)

Jag har fullt upp denna veckan med skolan, jobb, julkaos och med att försöka övertala The Swede att vi kan vänta med att köpa en ny soffa tills efter jul.

This post I am going to whine about how busy my life is, but really I am very excited about how my work has really taken off in the direction I was dreaming it would. So my busy busy is good busy.

In other news, The Swede wants to buy a couch. This week. I think I may have convinced him to wait until January, but last I left him he was measuring the walls in the living room.

1. I do not do IKEA in December. It doesnt have to be IKEA, but I found one there I might be able to live with.
2. Swedish sofas are super unfriendly. Either they expect you to have legs at least two meters long or they are stuffed with what feels like soggy dish rags. They are hard and not cozy at all.
3. I dream of a dark brown sofa, but I have too many light furred pets. (Yes, Swedish meow is still around, but the final verdict is still not in). But I still have the urge to just buy a nice brown sofa. And then I remember what happened to the last area rug I owned.
4. I really wish I could just import a sofa from the US without it being all crazy insane expensive, but I don't see that happening.

Does anyone have a sofa to recommend? My brother-in-law actually imported a sofa to Sweden from the US, but all attempts we have made to bribe him for it have been for nought.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Swedish Christmas failure – not as integrated as I think I am....

It's Christmas season, and while I LOVE LOVE LOVE the lights, the spirit and the idea of Christmas, I do not like the work involved. I have, in the past, said that the best thing about not being Swedish is not having to get all wrapped up in the Swedish Christmas madness, and I stand by that statement. But now that Little Swede is getting bigger, there is a different type of pressure.

Today is Dec. 2, advent is upon us, and here are the many ways I accept that I will fail this Christmas.

  1. JULPYNT fail – we have an attic full of Christmas stars, Christmas candles, outdoor lights (I know its not very Swedish, but our courtyard always does a lot of outdoor lights) and more. And we still have an attic full of them. Hope to get them down this weekend – hope!
  2. Advent Calender frustrations – I decided it was time to get Little Swede an advent calender. I hit Panduro – a great store for crafts for the non-crafty. I picked up an advent calender made of wood, with 24 pull out drawers. The idea is you should paint your advent calender and decorate it in the Christmas spirit. I bought some number stickers. That is the extent of my craftiness. The saleswoman tried to show me an array of glitter glues and paints. Not going to happen. I accept that which I cannot change. I had planned to buy an advent calender for DH and I as well, and thought the Triss advent calender would be fun. Then I saw it cost 600 SEK. 600 SEK? For some lotto scratch offs? Seriously? I better friggin win 500 SEK if I spend that kind of money. There better be some kind of win guarantee. Because if I don't win for 600 SEK I won't just be my disappointed self like when I play megaball for 1 dollar and lose, I will be pissed. I did NOT buy the damn Triss advent calender.
  3. I have not baked anything yet. This time last year I had baked Lussekatter, kanelbullar and other Christmas yummies. Last year I was still on parental leave. This year? Not so much. I have bought quite a few this year already. Yum.

So as you can see, I am not very good at putting on a traditional Swedish Christmas. And I am 100% OK with that. I am happy to attend Swedish Christmas. I love spending time with family. But I am not going to be making chocolate, no gingerbread house design, and I refuse to set foot in IKEA for the entire month of December.

Hope you are all getting into the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa spirit however you see fit!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Saving Hugo- When Swedish and American Healthcare systems get it right, together

One of the questions I still get asked, on both sides of the pond, is 'But what is the healthcare like, really.' And I am pretty sure that what they really want to hear is 'Yeah, it pretty much just sucks over there, you guys have it so much better, here.'

In truth I am kind of on the fence on this one. There are things I love about both systems, and I will say that I never, in the US, had to beg, lie and threaten to get a doctor's appointment and I never, in Sweden, received a 5 figure bill (in dollars) on a pre-approved procedure. But I have had such experiences in the opposite countries, and they sucked.

But my healthcare experiences are not the point here. This is a story that illustrates how both systems have great things to offer and they can actually help each other, without bucket loads of prohibitive bureaucracy.

Now please excuse my summary to follow, I am not an expert here, I'm just summarizing some of what I read. If you really want to know more, I suggest you go and read the websites, mostly in Swedish, but Google translate helps.

So there is this little baby named Hugo – you can read about him here if you understand Swedish. He was born with a horrible disease, whose name I am not going to even try to spell, because the spelling of it is probably the least horrible thing about it, but is nightmare in and of itself. It is a disease known as EB.There are, apparently, several kinds of EB, and the kind Hugo has is terminal. Most babies with EB of this kind die before they turn 1. EB means there is something wrong with these children's skin, if it is touched it forms blisters. This happens not just on the surface but in their throats, mouths and ears. It is a terrible disease for which there is no cure.

There is, however, one hospital in the US, which started running experimental bone-marrow transplants on children suffering from various forms of EB. Most of these patients were in pain and had short life expectancies. There have only been about 20 patients thus far. Some have seen great success, better skin quality and improved quality of life, some have died during the process – which is also painful and difficult. But the fact is that this bone marrow transplant is the only window of hope for these families.

Which brings us to Hugo's parents, who began a campaign last month to get their son this bone marrow transplant treatment under the Swedish healthcare system. They got some publicity through Expressen and suddenly things started moving. Almost immediately they met with teams of doctors in Sweden who specialized in this sort of thing. And in a few short weeks, they managed to get approval for their young child to go through this process.

I cannot say how impressed I am by the Swedish healthcare system that they were able to get this procedure approved so quickly and so efficiently that it might actually benefit Hugo and his family. Even more importantly, it makes it so much easier for other families in this situation to be able to step up and ask for this treatment if need be.

To me this represents the best of the American and Swedish systems, and I am so happy to see them collaborating in such a positive light. I wish the best to the families involved and hope this can be the miracle they need.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Happy Swedish Thanksgiving

This weekend we continued our Ameriswedish tradition of Thanksgiving whenever the hell we feel like it.

It was a success, as usual. I love spending the day with The Swede's big family. Lots of people around the table, lots of loud conversation. Laughing. Talking. It is a pleasure. Every time.

A few things I noticed this year:

It is really great to have a hands on guy around the house. At my folks house the guys always disappeared to go watch football (I'm guessing that was the sport given the time of year) and my Mom was left to stress out like crazy around the house. This made me loathe Thanksgiving, since I always had to do 99 things I hated.

But not in my house! In my house I've got the pies, Swede has got the turkey. I get the salads and the Swede bakes the rolls. We both clean in shifts. There is a flow that makes me feel like I earn extra grown-up points every time we manage to pull the whole shebang off.

But most of all, our TG dinners tend to go off without a fight. It is great. Maybe its because we don't celebrate it ON actual Thanksgiving. What do I know?

All I know if I am satiated with pecan pie, red wine and lots of scrumptions broccoli salad (Hey, I'm vegetarian, remember?)

Although on Thanksgiving we do serve Turkey. And for some reason the Swedes seem to shy away from the on the table carving a la American TV. But hey, we gotta Swedify something right?

In furry pet news - our girl is home, but it is still touch and go, and while I am cautiously optimistic, a lot depends on these next few days.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Swedish Furbaby Sadness

So I had big plans this week (don't I always?) of having a little 'best of' Surviving in Sweden. I thought I'd dig out my most controversial posts - like that time I ranted about check-out lines at the Swedish grocery store. I thought I would also point out that I am aware of the fact that my Swedish post a week promise died in the water (I have a good excuse for this, but now is not the time or place - perhaps I will do it in Swedish soon)

But we've had a tough week here in the Surviving household - and most of it has been trauma related to friends and family on a large scale level. But that doesn't mean we aren't terribly miserable at the fact that our first Swedish furbaby, our little Meow, suddenly lost use of her back legs and tail on Sunday afternoon for no apparent reason.

We are very sad. Swedish furbaby 1 is at the animal hospital and we are hoping and wishing that she will make a full recovery and gain usage of her limbs back - something the vet said is a possibility. But also trying to figure out what we are going to do in case things don't work out.

Sad sad sad.

BUT since this blog is about Sweden and not the sadness of my poor and most loveable snuggable Meow, I need to take a moment to say THANK YOU for awesome Swedish pet insurance. Our little Meow is an indoor kitty who has been spayed (yes, I am SO American - I've spayed both my cat and dog) and because of those two things,  for the price of about 40-70 dollars per year (its increased over the 8 years) we've had insurance coverage for her.

In the past, Meow has had some strange health issues and we have had to claim quite a bit (but not anywhere close to our cap) from the insurance and they have come through for us every time - and no raised cost and no raised deductible (other than the normal annual changes).

I am very happy that we could, knowing this is going to get expensive, check our cat into the hospital for observation without going into a total panic about expenses. This is going to be expensive. But after everything, I estimate that insurance should cover about 60% (they don't cover the tax and only pay out 80% of expenses).

So what I am saying is - if you are in Sweden and have a fur baby - look into pet insurance, we use Agria. It's inexpensive and has been a real peace of mind for us.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Happy Blogoversary to ME! Surviving in Sweden Q & A

I cannot believe it's been a year since I started this blog. I cannot believe I've actually managed to keep it going.

I started this blog as a bit of an experiment, something to get me back to writing.

I only told about 3 people close to me that I had this blog - I wanted to see what would happen building an audience 'in the wild'

And here I still am. Surprised and happy to find that not only do people read, but they also have been amazing at commenting, sharing, agreeing, disagreeing and basically making this little experiment a great learning process for me.

I've appreciated all of the feedback I've gotten and all of the great comments. I am so happy to have gotten to know and read such amazing blogs from Swedes around the world, from all types of foreigners in Sweden, and people considering moving to Sweden.

I joined the Blogher group, you might see their ads on this page, mostly because I have really enjoyed a bunch of blogs in their network and am happy to be a part. But I decided against doing any sort of sponsored posts because it never really seemed to suit the style of writing I like to use here. And really, I'm not a saleswoman. Thus, this blog hasn't made me as rich as Blondinbella, but that was never my goal.

I would say 90,000 page views in that this little experiment has well surpassed my expectations, and most of all is fun, so I hope to continue for a bit longer....

To celebrate my first year, I thought I would address some of the questions that people asked Mother Google that led them to find my blog. Hope they help!

Can you be happy in Sweden climate?

Oooh, this is a good question. Especially in November I ask myself why anyone these days lives in Sweden climate. But at the end of the day, I would say, yes.... you can. But I admit the darkness of winter is harder for me than the climate.

Swedish where find if word is ett or en?

This is a very good question. One I do not have the answer to, and am unsure if an answer exists. And what about stolen words like CV? Is it en CV or ett CV? It boggles the mind.

Do Swedes hate Sweden?

I don't think so, maybe some do? Do Americans hate America? Or should the question be do Real Americans hate Real America? Hate is such a strong word - I think Swedes are pretty proud of their country.

Do Swedish people use shampoo? Do Swedish people bathe? Do Americans shower too much?

I seem to get a LOT of questions about bathing habits across the cultures. I do not know why. In my experience Swedes and Americans have similar hygeine habits. Swedish women shave their armpits and everyone uses shampoo. I am a little puzzled why the older generation of Swedes seems determined to rid the world of bathtubs. I would not survive a Swedish winter without one. So maybe the answer to 'Do Swedish people bathe?' is 'Not so much, they prefer the shower?' I don't know....

What does 'suga min kuk' mean?

This would very much depend on the context the phrase was used. Either this person wants to get to know you a little better, or does not like you at all.

I love a Swede, what to do?

Ahh, I know this dilemma. But thankfully Swedes are good people to love. Good luck on your adventure. I recommend coming to Sweden!

What do you think of the girl's name Sweden?

Do you mean you want to name your daughter Sweden? I don't think you really want to know what I think....

Can I pick and eat my Swede early?

I hope you are talking about the root vegetable Swede and not the Swede growing in your womb or living in your house. If this is the case, I have no idea.... If it isn't, I will have to report you to the authorities.

What to do if I touched someone else's chewing gum?

Run around the room screaming? Or more practically, I suggest washing your hands.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

5 Reasons Why My Swedish Day Care Would Be Shut Down By American Child Services (And why I don't care)

It has taken me a little while to adjust to Swedish day care life, but don't get me wrong here, despite the things I might mention here, I love it. It is a good system where kids really get to explore, learn and be exposed to a lot of germs.

  1. Kids eat fruit straight from the tree (and the ground): There are a few fresh fruit trees growing in the outdoor play area. Lots of apples fall onto the ground, into puddles, wherever. I have seen countless kids just grab an apple from the ground and pop it into their mouths. This means the kids are exposed to all kinds of dirt AND they eat actual apple skins without choking.
  2. Popcorn Fridays: We found out one of Little Swedes favorite moments at daycare is popcorn Friday. This is when all the kids get a bag of popcorn to chomp on. The Swede and I wondered if he had ever had popcorn before and realized, no he hadn't. I did a quick internet search and found out that not only is popcorn considered a huge choking hazard, it isn't recommended for the under 3's because it can be easily inhaled. Little Swede is walking on the wild side.
  3. Petting Zoo Dangers: I went with Little Swede and his class to the petting zoo where we saw sheep, chicken, horses, etc. Then we all sat down and had a cookie. There was no Purell in sight. I admit, although not a clean freak, this kind of creeped me out a bit. But lesson learned, we were all healthy and fine afterwards. (Swedes are pretty diligent about Salmonella outbreaks).
  4. Outlets uncovered: I don't know if American daycares are really stringent about this, I just know that ever since Little Swede could move his fingers, he was trying to poke them in outlets. So seeing all of the uncovered outlets at day care made me a little nervous. But so far, so good.
  5. Diaper disposal: Again, don't know how the American daycares work, but here they have one giant bin for all of the towels from washing your hands and all of the dirty diapers. It is also the type of bin that is just the height that Little Swede can reach his hand in and grab things. Now, he isn't out looking for diapers, but does enjoy reaching up to see what is around. I didn't invest in one of those silly over the top diaper disposal systems for home use, because we just take our garbage out daily, but for day care use? Ah well, they will learn!

BUT, despite all of these horrors, the kids have a grand old time. And aside from the class biter, there have been no (knock-on wood) major accidents, and my kid has learned a lot. So YAY for Swedish day care and breaking out of the Super Safety Mode!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween - That Tacky American Export

OK, so here it is, Halloween again. And, well, all of our trick-or-treaters came last night. And I gave them a ton of candy.

I LOVE Halloween. What can I say? And thankfully my Swedish family threw what has to be the best Halloween party I have ever been to, so who am I to complain?

Ahhh, but complain I will, so here are a few things I would like to say to the Swedish people about Halloween.

1) The date is October 31st. Always. Seriously, it is a celebration of All Hallows Eve, which is the night before All Saints Day. As a country who celebrates more Eves than I ever knew existed, you should be able to get this Eve business. This creates a bit of confusion in Sweden since the government moved All Saints Day to a random Sunday each month (this is the part I would object to if I were religious, but I'm not, so who cares). The question arises – do I celebrate on American Eve or Swedish Eve? I say go American, lets just stick with the 31st. That way I don't get Trick-or-treaters every night for a week.
2) This is not time to start to get all health conscious. Seriously, Halloween is about candy. If you don't have any, say 'Sorry' and close the door. If I want an apple I would go to the store, not trick or treating. See, I would argue that most of us Americans know that unhealthy food makes us fat. Most people do not 'supersize' their McDonald's meal because they think it will give them 'supersize vitamins.' Let us have one day when we can enjoy candy guilt free. And then let us spend the rest of the year eating just as poorly and feeling guilty about it. (This isn't me, I eat quite well, but you get the point.)

3) Previously I wrote about Swedes seem to LOVE mischievous kids (like the Max books). This apparently applies on all other nights but Halloween. On Halloween, that trickery is terrible terrible nonsense performed when kids don't get any candy. For the life of me I cannot remember a single trick I pulled on anyone. We sprayed some doorbells with shaving cream to warn other trick-or-treaters that there was no candy to be had, but that is about it.

4) Swedes get a free pass for unwrapped goods. Americans, we get a little hyper about the unwrapped Halloween candy, but seriously, I think the kids here are just happy for any little bit they get. No pillow cases half full with Snickers and Cracker Jacks in Sweden. If you forced people to give wrapped candy, these kids would have nothing.
5) RELAX – it is a holiday! HAVE FUN. 

6) Ignore all of the above? – Halloween was cancelled in my home town this year – why? The snowstorm downed too many power lines and so everyone is supposed to stay indoors. And thanks to crazy Stranger Danger fears – in many places they are now doing trunk-or-treat, so kids just go from car to car in a parking lot, rather then actually going to visit their neighbors. Meh.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Can you save me from a new form of Swedish social awkwardness?

OK, I know I usually try to point out silly and strange small cultural differences between Americans and Swedes, but now I need your help.

I could take the time to figure this one out on my own, but this has happened to me 3 times in the last 2 months and is a bit socially awkward. So I thought maybe I would rush through the social adaptation phase and ask you guys, mostly to save myself from more embarrassment.

My question is:

What are these Swedes thinking when they open the door?

It happens like this. I ring the doorbell. A young Swede (this has mostly happened with Swedes in their mid to late twenties) answers the door. I say 'Hi' and as they open the door to let me in, they reach out and lean towards me.

Instinct tells me 'handshake!' (Two of these occurrences were in business situations and one with a new aquaintance) So I reach out my hand.

The Swede reaches out, too high for a hand shake and a little too close for my comfort.

But then my brain tells me 'hug?' and I reach out for a casual and super awkward hug.

I will admit, I am not a hugger even in the most congenial bunch of Americans. I drink a lot of coffee and I am self conscious about my breath. (although I chew a lot of gum). And really, if I want to get that close to you, you would know it.

But seriously, everything I can read from these situations tells me the Swedes are not reaching for a hug either.

I tried to watch this acquaintance greet other people at the door. It was followed by a strange pat on the shoulder. Is this a thing? I don't want to awkward hug any more business contacts. I'm fine with a handshake.

Myself when I open the door I tend to lean back and make a welcoming gesture with my free hand.

I am grateful that in most business interactions I get to meet my clients at the reception, where no doors are opened and I can initiate a handshake without all of the awkwardness.

Maybe these are just weird Swedes?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I love the smell of socialism in the morning!

Ahhh, socialism. If you want to scare a bunch of Americans on Halloween, don't sneak up behind them and yell 'BOO!' sneak up behind them and yell 'SOCIALISM!' It will scare them witless.

When I was in the US this summer a New York Post columnist (I know, I know) wrote about how you could smell the socialism in the air in Europe and it would bring about the downfall of the old continent.

But see, here is what I don't get. Socialism this and socialism that, but seriously, what is socialism?

I used to think of socialism as communism's poorer cousin. A bit like a bunch of communists got cold feet going whole hog so they settled for socialism. The image I have of socialism, from my old days at American public school, is a country that controls the production of goods within its borders. It is also a state that controls the flood of goods in and out of its borders. The theory, as I understood it, was that government would own and run the businesses and the people would work there.

Anyway I learned that a long time ago, and, well I can't even remember what I ate for dinner yesterday so definitions of socialism I am fuzzy on.

But that said, I do spend a lot of time wondering if it really is Socialism that Americans are so afraid of, and why don't Swedes see themselves as socialist?

When I talk to Swedes about this being a socialist nation they often look at me a bit confused. This is probably because if you look around, capitalism is also thriving. The Swedish government has sold off their shares of Absolut, Telia and other previously state-owned businesses. You cannot find a parking place at the shopping mall on a Saturday because people are out fueling the economy.

Is socialism just social welfare? Living in Sweden, as I have written before, I pay a lot of tax. But I also get a LOT of benefits. Little Swede's daycare? Oh, you would crack up if I told you how much it cost. That is because it is subsidized, heavily, by the state. We get a monthly child stipend. And of course the 'free' health care, and that Masters program I am doing? It costs nothing out of pocket.

Are Americans really just afraid of someone else getting something for nothing?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Swedish Stairs Will Be The Death Of Me

My little Swedish family and I moved to the ultimate Svensson dream home a few years ago. It is a little row house, as Swedish as Swedish can be. In many other places (read: the USA) this type of row house might be viewed as more tenement style living, very boxy, bland and boring and probably not in the best part of town. But here it is a rare find as it is a rental, is large, and is conveniently located.

It also has a killer staircase.

Swedish staircases are by nature more roundy and twisty. They also tend to have free standing individual steps, which means you can see down to the ground between each step. Not only does this make me queasy as I have an extreme fear of heights, it also freaks the crap out of our dog, who will only go down/upstairs when commanded to do so.

I live in fear of the day Little Swede will have to navigate these stairs on his own. Hell I lived in fear those early weeks when he was a teeny tiny thing that I was responsible for carrying up and down those stairs.

The staircase is also the only place I can really honestly say 'God I miss carpeting.' Because on a staircase, a carpet means traction. And really, traction on a staircase, is pretty essential.

I say this because I am the klutz who stupidly sprained her ankle while running up the stairs to get my crying child due to lack of traction. My Swedish staircase left me stuck on the sofa for two weeks, not being able to carry Little Swede. So yes, there is a bit of resentment there.

From an architectural standpoint I would say Swedish staircases are certainly a bit more practical, as they take up less space, and also visually quite pleasing. I, however, have always been one of those silly individuals who prefers comfort and ease over design and beauty (and it totally shows in my wardrobe).

I guess a compromise might be to carpet the stairs that we have. But God, what would the neighbors say?  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

If You Sprinkle When You Tinkle: Strange Swedish Signage

In the course of the many multiple and strange jobs I have had since arriving in Sweden, I have found myself in the professional offices of many a large and rather well-known global Swedish company. I'm not going to name names, but chances are you would recognize the name if you are from Sweden, and probably even if you are from the US.

I also admit that I have spent zero time in any large American companies on American soil. None. So my usual mode of comparison is off here. I'm just making an observation. I will have to leave it to everyone else to give their own personal insight into American companies toilets.

Yes, toilets. Because I have used them in many of these fine establishments I have visited and I continue to be amazed at the strange Swedish signage that intrudes into the most private of actions that might take place at the workplace.

Over the years I have seen signs that I would roughly translate as:

"See that brush over there? Please use it if you make a stinky." (this next to a picture of a little boy with his diaper hanging down)

"Please leave the toilet in the condition you would like to find it."

"Here are some toilet wipes, please use them!"

"For the sake of the environment, please only use one paper towel."

"When washing your hands, please note these areas where germs tend to congregate."

See, before I started reading these signs, I was under the false impression that professional people automatically used the toilet professionally. But NO. Apparently professional people take 10 paper towels after leaving their stinkies all over the place. Apparently the bathroom at Swedish companies is the equivalent to the laundry room in Swedish apartment buildings (here there are signs GALORE - and I once made someone cry when I spoke to them instead of wrote it on a sign).

Friday, October 7, 2011

Congratulations Tomas Tranströmer, Sorry once again Ms Lindgren

I was very excited to see a Swede win the big Nobel Prize in literature this year, and it reminds me how I dedicated myself to reading more Swedish books this year and mostly those have only been text books. (Despite arming myself with great recommendations, what can I say, I got lazy - you might notice a trend here)

But poetry in Swedish, sounds interesting and intriguing. Tomas Transtromer (or who I always misread as Transformer) I will give you a test drive. I do that with most of the Nobel Prize winners and usually it is at least an interesting read (although VS Naipul, I still don't get you, at all - must be my lady parts which inhibit me from understanding your greatness).

Mostly I am greatful that a Swede won this year because I hope it will mean fewer of the following conversations with certain Swedes I know.

"Why did SoandSo BigUNKNOWNwriter win. Who the hell ever reads books by that guy/gal. You know who deserves this prize? I mean really deserves this prize? Astrid Lindgren. Now there is a good writer."

"Astrid Lindgren is dead."

"Yes, but they had years to award it to her when she was alive and didn't. So they should award it to her now. She is a great writer. Have you ever READ SoandSo's work?"


"Yes, but you read a lot, so it's not weird that you might have read them. But what about us normal people."

"I think the point is to draw attention to the talent of a well deserving writer so more 'normal' people might give them a try. Especially if they write in a language other than English.'

"Maybe, but Astrid Lindgren deserves this prize more than any of them."

"Maybe so, but they don't award the Nobel Prize posthumously."

This will continue until I either leave the room, acknowledge that no one deserves this prize more than Astrid, or distract them with my poor knowledge of actual Astrid Lindgren books and films which leads to a long recounting of many favorite stories over too much alcohol.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Word to the wise: don't text and bike

In most of the Swedish cities I have lived in or visitede there are elaborate bike trail systems. This is great. This means that I can get from my house to the park without ever seeing a car. Yay. But it also gives bikers (and by this I mean cyclists or bicyclers and not 'bikers') a false sense of security.

How moving forward on two wheels without a helmet while holding your phone in one hand and trying to push a series of letters while glancing at a tiny screen makes sense to anyone anywhere ever, is beyond me.

Mostly sometimes I wish these people would just drop their phone. It would be an expensive mistake that hopefully they would never repeat. But I do get worried they might hit a small child or a moving vehicle and cause themselves severe damage.

And while I am whinging about bicyclists (who in reality are doing so much good for our society), am I the only one who thinks it is mad to bike with headphones on? I love listening to music, but if I can't hear the traffic I don't have a real sense of what is around me. So I'm constantly nagging The Swede to quit biking with his headphones on.

Just in case you didn't catch on, I'm a nervous biker. And even more so now that I have one of those friggin scary kid-carrier-seats attached to the back.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Which Came First, the Cereal or the Milk: nitpicking and the Swedish Breakfast

I've had a lot of serious things running around my head lately in regards to Sweden and where I fit in here, but my head is heavy and I need a light-hearted break. And thus, thoughts from my breakfast table.

So which do you put first? Does it matter? Does anyone care?

I ask because this morning I found myself pouring yougurt into Little Swede's bowl, followed by the cereal.

OK, so it was yogurt and not milk (I don't think I've mentioned the awesome Swedish tradition of selling yogurt in large Tetra Pak cartons so it lasts for ages, is perfect to make smoothies, and much less wasteful than a cup of yogurt).

But growing up in the US I was always a cereal and then milk girl. I used to find it odd when I came to Sweden and my friends did the opposite, milk and then cereal. The Swede here also is a milk then cereal kinda guy. I feel like I can't accurately guage how much cereal I take that way. Plus it is just wacky. Also they use that nasty 'Sour milk.' (I have grown to appreciate Fil, but not one-hundred percent love it).

Now I find myself doing it.

What does it all mean? No, I hope it doesn't mean I've run out of things to write about.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Studying in Sweden: Surviving Group Work

So as I have mentioned here on this blog before, I am back in school, starting a part-time Masters while also running a business and being a full-time Mom (Whatever that means, since I don't know too many part-time Moms – even if your child is somewhere else, you are still the Mom right? Little Swede does go to daycare FWIW)

Anyways, studying in Sweden means Groupwork, and as much as part of the reason I chose my program was because of its advertised lack of groupwork (and I actually wasn't the only one to do so), there was still a little groupwork to get us started.

I find groupwork to be a struggle. But it is true that Swedish groupwork is a pretty good testing ground for working in Swedish groups in 'the real world', it doesn't make it any less frustrating.

So here are my tips for survival – and this time I am not going to apologize for my opinion, because seriously, it is my opinion and that is what it is worth. Please note that this list is made from experiences in courses that I have taken in the past and does not reflect on my current groupwork experience! (Although they are oblivious to this blog anyway).

  1. Be careful about grabbing the reins: A great deal of time in your group will be spent hemming and hawing because no one wants to really take the leading role. There will be a lot of 'So, what shall we do?' 'I don't know, what do you think?' 'I don't know, how about you.' This does not mean that nobody in the group has an opinion. It just means they don't want to lead or be first. As someone who in the working world has to lead groups, I find this very difficult to deal with. Mostly because it means a project that should take 1 hour will not take less than 3. I often weigh the options, if I take the lead it means I usually means I will do 70% of the work, but in about 30% of the time. Sometimes I will do this and other times not.
  2. Ignore the fact that one person always does nothing or worse, cheats: There will always be someone in the group who does not pull their own weight, mostly by never showing up to any group meetings. This makes my American blood boil because this person will be receiving the same grade I do, when I bust my ass. In discussing it with my groupmates 100% of the time no one thinks it is a good idea to report this lack of participation to the teacher. Not even when one group member submited three pages of directly plagiarized work and I was forced to rewrite it or submit a piece of work with my name on it that had been plagiarized or had a 3 page gap in it could I get the group to report this person to the teacher. I admit, in every case I chickened out of reporting it myself, mostly because we are usually 5 people in the group and I wanted some back-up.
  3. Compromise, compromise, compromise – this means just say yes: When I did a group paper in the US it was a crazy experience. We argued, debated, went back and forth and in the end had a nice solid paper we could all agree on. It wasn't pretty, but we all started as strangers and left as friends. In Sweden, I find it hard to debate with my groupmates without becoming 'overbearing.' The thing is they back down right away. And seriously, I may think I am right, but I am not always right. Discussion and debate is a valuable learning tool. But instead it is all, OK, let's see how we can add that' or a quick change of subject. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I Tweet, Or Will Try To

So i am trying to make friends with twitter again. Even though it makes be feel old and totally antisocial media I've found a few things I really like on there. So when I was debating taking on Facebook or twitter for this, twitter won. No way I could handle both at the same time. I'm way to wordy and procrastinaty for so many short updates. If you are on twitter or have any thing you would recommend I follow, give a shout. Right now I feel like if a twit tweets in the forest and nobody hears it... But not really because ive only got like 4 tweets. Check me out under survivinginswed.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Swedish Children's Literature: Max

I realize that it is probably criminal to discuss the topic of Swedish children's literature and not to begin with Astrid Lindgren. I love Ms. Lindgren and will tackle that topic when I can give it the time and the attention it deserves. But my kid isn't quite at the Astrid Lindgren stage of development yet, so I have to stick to somewhat simpler pastures.

And so I have chosen Max. When Little Swede was born he received a few of these Max books as gifts. And since then has gotten a few more.  And slowly I began to see that the world of children's literature is somewhat different in Sweden than it is in the US. There is no poetry here. There is no 'let's learn about something' hiding in the background.

No. Max is a naughty little boy. Although the word naughty doesn't really work because he is 'busig' which is a fabulous Swedish word which means both positive and negative things.

In the books that we have Max does things like hit a duck in the face, try to sit his big dog on a tiny potty, take toys from his friends, and an assortment of not nice things to his rather large dog (this dog thing is the bit that worries me, since we have a rather large dog and I don't want Little Swede getting any ideas).

For the most part there are no real consequences for Max's bad behavior. In one instance I think he does get hit by another kid. In another one the dog kind of growls at him. But for the most part, Max gets what he wants, which is his pacifier, a cookie, a ball or a car.

The Max books are written by Barbro Lindgren and concluded with a book for grownups, which is written in a similar style, but includes Max getting married, growing old and dying.

It seems, despite his naughty nature, Max grows up to be a good little Swede. Which is really the point isn't it? Get out all the 'busig' when you are young, so you can follow the rules and understand them when you are old? Or am I missing it?

Ah well, here is a picture of Max dumping his potty on his dog's head. I hope Little Swede doesn't feel too inspired. At least the texts says 'Doggy sad.'

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Kan man vara sig själv på ett annat språk? Or Who am I when I speak Swedish?

Det finns mycket som hänger ihop med språket. När jag pratar engelska vet jag vilkna ord jag ska använda med en viss publik. Jag kan vara sarkastiskt. Jag kan skämta. Jag kan använda ord som har subtila nyanser. Jag låter som jag är utbildad, som jag är kanske någon som man kan lita på. Jag förstår hur mitt ordval kan ge information om mig själv.

When you really begin to learn a language, you begin to notice just how much goes with it. When I speak or even write in English for that matter, I know how to use it. I can play with words. I can be sarcastic and funny without thinking too much about it. I can use big fancy words or simple explanations. I sound like now and then I open a book.

Men när jag prata svenska känns det fortfarande som jag är lite handikappad. Att jag kan prata men kanske inte alltid kommunicera. Jag har svårt för subtila undertoner. Många kanske tycker att jag är väldigt självsäkert när jag prata. Men jag tycker att jag har inte så stora möjlighet att variera mitt språk, så det låter kanske bara självsäker för att jag kan inte tona ner det så lätt.

Often times when I am speaking Swedish I feel like I am stuck in the fifth grade. Left back a year or two because I am just very slow. I can get out my sentences and people understand me, but I am not really being me. I notice, particularly in job interviews, that the feedback I get is you seem very self assured and ambitious, which isnt really what we are looking for. I sometimes think that is because I dont really have the skills to vary my language and tone yet. When I speak English with people, my nonverbal communication is caught up, but when I speak Swedish, my nonverbal communication is very rigid and not very soft.

Jag har mycket respekt för folk som är i ett fast förhållande med någon som prata har ett modersmål som dem inte kan förstå. I vårt hus är det lyxigt att båda jag och min man kan prata våra egna språk och bli förstod.

Much respect to those who are living in relationships where they always need to speak a foreign language with their partner. I find it very comforting that I can relax and speak my own language and have my Swede understand me. And that he can do the same. But I guess maybe thats why my Swedish skills a bit lagged behind. If I had to speak it all the time, it might be a different story!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Becoming Swedish

Are you a Swedish citizen yet?

It's a question I get asked a lot. And because I spend way to much time thinking about these things, the answer is 'No, I'm not'.

Depending on when you ask me and my mood, the answer varies.

1) I travel too much. I don't want to surrender my passport for an unknown amount of time and thus be landlocked.

2) Migrationsverket has thus far lost my paperwork every single time I have sent them something. I do not want them to lose my passport too.

3) I just don't feel Swedish yet, I'd feel like a fake.

The truth is probably a combination of all three. Words cannot describe my dislike for Migrationsverket - and if you have never had to deal with them, count yourself as lucky. 

But this whole being Swedish thing, it is something that I struggle with. I mean, why would I want to be a Swedish citizen if I didn't want to be a Swede. And why wouldn't I want to be a Swede, if I like them so friggin much? (which I do).

One of the things about the Sweden Democrats (a Swedish political party considered to be racist) that infuriates me is also something I think that they are sadly correct about in the state of today's Swedish society. The Sweden Democrats describe a Swede as 'anyone who considers themselves to be Swedish and who would be considered by others to be Swedish.' And there in lies the rub. Who is considered to be Swedish by others and why? Is that particular club too exclusive? Would they have me? Do they want someone who speaks Swedish? Someone who is white? Someone who is blonde?

I know. I don't take too much to heart what SD have to say about much of anything. But this feeling I get from so many Swedes around me. The sentences that begin with 'You know that guy from work, he's Swedish, but not Swedish Swedish, I mean he was born here, but his parents are African, I think.' (You may think that sounds strange, but I have heard that or something similar from co-workers, clients, family members etc.) I realize that this is a Swedish dance for saying 'You know that black guy who works with us?' but it makes me feel like I will never be 'Swedish' enough.

Anyways, now that I am raising a little Swede, who will always be viewed as a 'true Swede' thanks to his blue eyes and blonde hair, it makes me wonder - do I belong to this club now? Is it time to sign up? I don't really mind the outsider status, but I don't think becoming a Swede officially will change that status.

Achhh, I guess I just think about it way too much. I would hate to not be able to vote in the next big election. I think that might be the deciding factor.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Nu Även På Svenska (Now in Swedish!)

Hejsan allihopa,

Jag har tagit en ganska stor beslut att jag ska skriva lite på svenska, förhoppningsvis en gång per vecka, här på bloggen.

Translation: I am going to make the ambitious move to try to post once a week in Swedish here.

Anledning är att jag har börjat gå i skolan igen och därför behöver att skriva lite mer. Just nu kan jag tala svenska utan hinder, men skriva? Usch, nej tack!

Translation: I hate writing in Swedish and it terrifies me. But I am taking a class this semester where I need to write graduate level papers, in Swedish. So I need to practice. Sorry.

Tanken är att jag ska omorganisera bloggen lite, snart, så att det bli lättare att hitta runt. Jag tänkte svenska blogginlägg skulle har egen kategori som jag ska länka till i huvudbloggen. Men, jag pluggar, jobba, starta eget och försöka spendera lite tid med familjen då och då. Så frågan är bara NÄR jag gör det här ambitiös projekt.

Translation: My brilliant plan is to reorganize this blog sometime soon. And then I will try to keep the Swedish posts a bit separate, linking them with only a small snippet in main blog, so that all non-Swedish speakers can easily jump over them. The only problem is that I always plan to do way to many things and always end up watching the newest episode of True Blood instead of any of them. So it might take awhile. But the thought counts, no?

Jag är så jätteglad att jag har lärt mig att känna så många olika sorts människor genom den här bloggen och jag uppskatter alla kommentar och mejl mer än jag kan säga. Jag hoppas att några svenskar  som läsa det här blogg bli inte livsrädd och försvinna när dem läsa min dålig svenska. Om ni vill kommentera på min dålig stavning, ordval, grammatik, etc gör det! Snälla! Eller bara skriva vad ni vill. Men jag menar bara att det är OK att rätta mig om ni vill. Eller inte.

Translation: This is the part where I let my Swedish audience know that if they decide to rip my Swedish to shreds I will mostly greatly appreciate it - after I get annoyed with myself for making the same mistake for the 80th time. But also that they don't have to feel obliged to correct my Swedish either. I just hope I don't scare them - and you - away.

That said - I won't be doing a running translation in all of my Swedish posts. Or maybe I will, I don't know. It's kind of fun for me. But if you are curious - there is always Google Translate. Or just ask.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Yes, You Can Eat That - Mushroom Hunting in Sweden

“Some of my friends are going mushroom hunting this weekend, want to come?” The Swede innocently asked me probably too many years ago than I am willing to admit.

“I don't want to die.” Or something equally dramatic was probaby my answer.

I spent my childhood going on the occasional woodland romp or park excursion, but mostly I did New Jersey Girl Scouts, which means arts and crafts, baking and the occasional tenting in our fearful leader's backyard. (I hated it and quit early once I realized I would never sell enough cookies to win that goddamn rainbow hangy thing).

One rule was universal. Every Mom in the neighborhood and every scout leader repeated it. Do NOT eat ANYTHING you find growing outside. This PARTICULARLY means mushrooms. Mushrooms will KILL you. But berries, too. While they might not always KILL you they will make you very very very sick.

Cut to Sweden. I was out orienteering with my 7 year old niece. (She was guiding me through the woods). She bends down and goes 'Here have a blueberry!' and my first instinct is 'NOOOOO'. But I am learning, really. I tried it. And ate quite a few. They were good. I hope I won't be the first case of Heartworm in Sweden.

But back to the mushrooms.

First The Swede tells me, don't worry, we will only be picking chanterelles, they are easy to spot. Promise. And they are because they are very distinctive looking. But then he also notices these other mushrooms. The ones they call 'fake chanterelles,' or Trattchanterelles. I am worried about the name. Really? Fakes? That sounds poisonous. I think I will stick with the real deal.

We wandered the woods for awhile. Staring at the ground. Finding the occasional small gathering. And then, something magical happened. Once you see the mushrooms? You really see the mushrooms. They are everywhere. And OF COURSE you can see which is which. It's as obvious as telling the difference between two people sitting on a bus. They are both people, but they are not the same.

And so when we got all of our mushrooms home, I ate them, fake ones and all. I ate them despite the fact that I really don't like mushrooms (mostly because I feel they have the consistency of chewing on your own tongue).

Now we go out regularly to pick mushrooms. Now we have trained our dog to hunt chanterelles. Now I can tell a blueberry from a fake blueberry. I can spot a raspberry and vinberries. I know. To your average Swede that's a 'So what.' But for a Jersey girl? It feels like a big step!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Is It American Customer Service Or Is It Me?

We made it safely back just before the hurricane, thankfully.

I haven't lived in the states for a long time. So obviously a thing or two has changed. And then when I start to ponder these things too much I get stuck on the question: How much has changed vs. how much have I changed?

Let's take customer service for example. This, for my first three years here, was most likely the reason you might have heard me exclaim "In My Country . . ."

Swedish customer service drove me crazy. Even if I was the only person in a store I felt like I still had hunt down a sales person. And then there are the times I tried to make a suggestion or two like: If you are going to borrow the American idea of a wedding registry, you should also have the gifts shipped to the bridal party. That is how a wedding registry works. To my more politely asked form of this request I received the response 'That's stupid.'

In my country the response might have been (circa 2004) 'I'm just a sales clerk, but if you go into our webpage you can leave your suggestion there.' and after I left 'did you hear that stupid idea that crazy lady had.'

I don't know what has gotten into the water in the most mall dense area of the world, aka New Jersey, but I kept being shocked by how rude people were. One time we stood in front of this cashier in what we thought was the line, made eyes contact and everything, but not until we put our things down did she point out a long line on the other side of the desk.

And I had to hunt down salespeople as well. There was mysteriously always someone to greet me, but then they just up and disappeared or were totally all about gossiping with their co-workers.

I have come to enjoy the brute honest of Swedish customer service. When we had a problem with an airlines a while back the customer service Swedish rep responded in authentic horror at our situation. She couldn't do anything to help us, but sometimes it is nice that someone acknowledges that the company  f'd up. The American customer reps are so scripted it is worse than watching Days Of Our Lives.

So is it me? Do you see a decline in customer service in the US?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Absolute Best and Most Fantastically Superlative-Filled Blogpost Ever

After a week in the US it is clear to me that this is where the Best Beer in the Whole Entire Universe comes from, and it can kick Probably The Best Beer In the World's ass, even if it's f'n close to water, as the old Budweiser joke goes.

I have definitely been living in Sweden for too long because all of these superlatives (those -est words and phrases using most: most expensive) start to make my ears bleed after awhile. I get it. We want the best and we don't want to pay for it. We want the best and we want to pay garage sale prices for it. But the quest for the best seems an exhausting and futile battle to me.

See, no matter what, if I buy a new phone this week, even if I buy the bestest most super-duper model ever 1) a better one will come out next week and 2) do I really need my phone to double as a nail-file, a life-saving water raft and a penguin detector? (although if they make a phone like that I might just have to buy it).

Advertising in the US is no small-potatoes. I still remember sitting in the car listening to how if a husband really didn't want his wife to leave him this Valentine's day he should probably buy her a new fur coat. I told The Swede that buying a fur coat for me as a Valentine's day gift was a pretty surefire way to start a pretty big argument on the home front (not the best gift idea for your vegetarian wife).

Not only is it advertising, but magazines are on an endless quest to figure out what is the best and why. Everything from food to furniture. And yet, we still end up with boundless crap. How much research is the right amount of research to put in before buying a blu-ray, a mountain bike or even just dinner?

 I mean, I love to do the research, so I really am curious. I cannot tell you how much time it takes me to figure out if I want to try new New York restaurant A or B. I need to figure out what the best is, even if it is just the best for me. (And I am pretty sure at the moment the best for me is fancy schmancy vegan Japanese restaurant  Kajitsu). 

So see, you will probably find a more superlative filled blogpost out there. But the title got your attention didn't it. And that seems to be the point, doesn't it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Gossip girl - is it a cultural thing?

So I've been stateside for a little over a week and all is good. But one thing that always catches me by surprise is the gossipy way tha people interact with each other here. Now it may just be where I live (New Jersey is not really known for being high-brow), but everywhere I go it seems that everyone is talking about everyone else.

Yesterday at the swim club I sat next to a man and a woman, mid 30s, who were blaming a mother for her child's drug addiction. The reason? She worked outside the home. Oh, and she bossed her husband around a lot. She just refused to accept her role as a wife. This conversation went on for about 30 minutes, and my jaw just got lower and lower.

Finally I started singing a little song to LO about'get that woman, back in the kitchen, back where she belongs.' They shut up pretty quickly after that.

And so it goes, out at restaurants, with friends, it's just gossip, gossip, gossip. And I'd like to say that most of it is not mean-spirited, but a lot of it is. A lot of it is pointing out where others have gone wrong. Oh and it is best if it is dramatic.

Now it night just be my Swedish friends and family, but the level of gossiping in Sweden is much more muted. Even if people are interested, they pretend to be only mildly so. In cafes I don't hear so much about other people's drug addictions, failed diets and infidelities. It may come across as bait superficial, but I find the gossiping even more so.

I always feel like so much more happens to people in Jersey, but maybe it's just that we make more noise about what's happening?

PS I'm writing this on my phone, so please forgive the mistakes

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A stateside sojourn

So I decided to tke a last minute trip across the Atlantic. I will be writing A bit more about it soon. But right now I am engaged in my favorite 'you can't do that in Sweden' activity. I've got the Sunday New York Times spread out around me, I've got a bagel and cream cheese in front of me, and a pot of piping hot brown coffee flavored water.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Swedish Celebrities: Alexander Skarsgård

It's been awhile since I tackled the subject of Swedish celebrities, but since I am trying desperately to catch up with True Blood, I have been seeing quite a bit of a certain Swedish celebrity I felt might be a good subject of today's post.

Alexander Skarsgard

Before I started watching True Blood, I have to admit, Alex was off my very small celebrity radar (which pretty much still consists almost completely of anyone who ever appeared on Twin Peaks). But then one day the character of Eric started speaking Swedish - and so began my interest in Mr. Skarsgard.

I am not totally oblivious. I do know Papa Skarsgard is a famous Swedish actor. I do recognize him. And I do recognize that when the camera pans toward one angle of Alex's face he is seemingly an exact copy of his father (do cameras pan a face? I didn't go to film school).

But I am happy to hear a little Swedish on mainstream American cable TV and I am happy to see some Swedish acting going on as well. I am also happy that Alex rocks the American accent as well as he does. Apparently I am a bit of a stickler on this since I am the only person who finds Dominic West's accent on The Wire to be in the same category as Kevin Costner.

I did a little research on Alex (and by research I mean a quick google search) and discovered that one of his first major roles was in one of my first 'favorite' Swedish TV shows 'Vita Logner.' I would watch Vita Logner to perfect and fine-tune my Swedish skills. (Vita Logner was probably a favorite because I couldn't understand anything that was going on - it was one of a few Swedish soap operas that ran almost a decade ago-more British style soap than American, but heavy on the drama) I think Alex was on the show before my time, and I cannot say that his role was so memorable that I carry it with me to this very day, but I was happy to find we shared this connection.

I also enjoy reading about how the Swedish media portray Alex vs. the American media. Swedish media likes to portray him as a good old-fashioned Swedish boy just yearning for the day he can return home. They publish pictures of him looking typically Swedish boy charming. (Well sometimes anyways, I tried to find a picture to prove my theory but came up short  - but my gut tells me this is true so what the hey). American media likes to publish things about how dashingly handsome he is and how is totally cool with going naked.

Ah well, enough media analysis. Enough celebrity gossip - I'm afraid I'm just not very good at it. Here are some video clips and pics of Alexander Skarsgard. Enjoy.

Perhaps with this clip you will understand the appeal of Vita Logner. Where did all the Swedish soap operas go anyway?

 An American media take on Alexander Skarsgar courtesy of Rolling Stone

The only photo I could find to represent the so-called Swedish media take, from alexanderskansgardnews.net

Monday, August 1, 2011

It's August, and Everything Is Rotten in the State of Sweden or Swedish Old Wives Tales

I don't know if this is just my Swedish family or it is a thing. I did a preliminary google on it, but came up short. This is often due to my craptastic Swedish spelling.

But today is the first day of August - or what my Swede often refers to as 'Rotten Month.' 'Don't leave that out, it's Rotten Month,' he will proclaim as soon as I finish serving dinner. And the hot food he usually refuses to put in the fridge for risk of ruining everything else in the fridge is thrown in immediately.

I get the logic behind Rotten Month if it is an old wives' tale. August is frequently one of the warmest months and thus more food goes bad. But see, The Swede, who tends to be quite scientific and sensible, repeats this rotten mantra even when temperatures dip well into the teens in Celsius, or the 60s in Fahrenheit (as often occurs in Sweden). I point out that it was actually warmer in July and we were, while not careless, were not August careful with our food and no stomach bugs were caught.

The temperature, says the Swede, is irrelevant. It is August - it is Rotten Month - we must be prepared. So today is the first day of Rotten Month. The Swede missed dinner, but I dutifully refrigerated it for him. I don't mind doing so on days like today when it is indeed hot and humid.

So is this just my silly Swede? Is this a thing? Is there a good story behind it?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Allsång På Skansen, Lotta På Liseborg, Sommarkrysset and Other Forms of Swedish Torture

It's summer time – (Sommartider Hej, Hej Sommartider) – and it is the time of year in most countries where bad TV reigns. There are reruns and summer reality shows (So You Think You Can Dance is excluded from this category, because it is just plain awesome). But Swedish summer TV is a special form of painful. It remains that one nugget of Swedish culture that is a complete mystery to me.

I realize that all Swedes don't LOVE Allsång På Skansen, Lotta and Sommarkrysset - three similar yet separate Swedish TV shows - but the audience is always made up of such a diverse bunch that I always end up scratching my head. There are the old folks with blue hair. There are the young kids in Crocs (Foppatofflor). There are teenagers who sing along. There are folks in their twenties, who should be at a bar or nightclub. There are a wide variety of parents.

This is probably the most Swedish bunch you will see in Sweden, because I think the amount of immigrants who might frequent this type of event are negligible. Because seriously, we don't get it. Really.

The artists are an assortment of folks singing harmless pop songs. There is folksy commentary. For the life of me I cannot think of an American equivalent. Think of American Bandstand, but with boybands and country music.

This summer we travelled a bit with some Swedish family, so I have seen a great deal of these shows.

I had the pleasure of learning about what a Jedward was (I apologize now if you decide to find out for yourself). I also saw a bunch of Swedish 'country singers' as I tried to bury my nose deeper in a book.

Sure, Måns Zelmerlof is easy on the eyes, but none of this show is easy on the ears or your tastebuds.

Seriously if you want a crash course in Swedish culture, look no further. You will totally understand the whole Abba thing like you never have before.

  Per Gessle gets a free pass, because he gave the world Roxette. But here is a taste of him on Allsang pa Skansen

Typical coversong fare on Lotta Pa Liseborg - You are warned!
Jedward on Sommarkryssat - Great Moments in TV history

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Swedish History - (or prehistory) - More Than Just The Vikings!

So if you read this blog now and then, you might have noticed that we are on the road a LOT this summer. Exploring beach towns, historical sites, Swedish cities and more.

It's been fun.

I admit though, that I am a total history buff. Or prehistory buff. I love all things archaeological, old and historical.

Mostly when people think Sweden they think Vikings. They think big ships and helmets. Hell, my High School Football team was called the Vikings and our mascot had a blond wig and a horned helmet.

Sadly in my travels I have found that while Sweden has a rich rich history, there hasn't been quite a fabulous way of marketing this great history in an uber tourist friendly package.

 It is true, many of Sweden's archaeological finds are far more subtle than say, those found in Greece, or the Middle East. There are no huge buildings of marble.

Most of the constructions and remains include hefty and incredible graves that involve wandering far off the beaten path. Or reconstructed villages with archery activities and people dressed in 'I think this was in my text-book' reconstructed clothing. Most of these places are staffed by local volunteers or the unemployed.

Mostly, I enjoyed this 'rugged' wandering into the middle of nowhere, following signs that promised Runestones and rock carvings. But sometimes it was a bit confusing. Sometimes there were several signs offering up information, and they didn't always agree.

And don't get me wrong, there are some GREAT tourist friendly sites out there. I will post about a few that I have visited and loved. But I still think that there are a few of us history/archaeology buffs out there that might allow for more.

Anyways, I finally got to take The Swede to one of my favorite spots in Sweden, Tanumshede. There we got to spend the day trying to analyze art from almost 3000 years ago. I love it. Who took the time to carve these? Why? What do they mean?

In Tanum and it's surroundings there are countless rock carvings from Sweden's Bronze Age. They remain a pretty big mystery, but there are certainly many theories as to why they might be there. If you are in the neighborhood it is well worth a visit. And the neighboring Vitlycke Museum is free to the public.

These pictures aren't the best, but I tried to capture some of my favorite bits of the giant carving outside the museum.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Farbror and Other Swedish Dilemmas

In Swedish, the names for family members have a tendency to be ver sensible. Grandma is either Farmor - father's mother or Mormor - mother's mother. No play on names, no Granny and Nonny. It's all very sensible.

The other titles continue in this fashion, there is Farbror and Morbror for uncles. And systerdotter for nieces. Great.

But lately ive been struggling with what to call the in-laws. See Little Swede has two farbror and they have two wives. So what do we call the wives? My American brother's wife is we call his aunt.

My Swedish family says calling these women Tant is out. They say we should say farsyster. Father's sister. I'm fine with this. But the swedes I work with always point out that when I talk about my nieces, I'm talking really about my husband's nieces. I admit, this bothers mea bit since I've known these girls their whole lives.

So what do you call married ins in your family in Swedish? Or do you not call them at all?

Ps. This post is coming from my phone, my only Internet at the moment. Bear withthemistakes please, ill fix them as soon as I can login for reals.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

There Are No Pedophiles In Sweden – Or More Likely, Who Cares?

This summer, on my Ultimate Swedish Roadtrip, we've been hitting the beach. We've been hitting the beach on the 'West Side' in Bohus and south, we've been hitting the 'East Side' in Osterlen and then heading north. At the end of all this, I could write you quite a treatise on Swedish beachside towns.

But one of the things that I still sometimes makes my jaw drop a bit, beachside - but also makes me smile, because I think it is how it should be - all of those naked little kids running along the water's edge. And there are a lot of them. Little boys and little girls, diapers' stripped off, digging in the dirt.

The kids are little ones of about one, to bigger kids of about four or five.

When the girls get a little older, they run around in just a pair of bikini bottoms, no tops. Climibing in rocks, digging in the sand, kids being kids.

My first thought was, I admit, very American. 'What about all of the pedophiles?'

And then, I realized, it wasn't really a big deal at all. There was nothing here that could be exploited, the kids were just having a great time. Even if there were pedophiles lurking in the bushes, these kids were with their parents, playing and safe. They were getting a chance to be a kid and not have to worry about anything. And so, I watched as my Swede carried away my naked LO.

I watched them take a dip in the sea. And when I was done appreciating it, I also learned what a complete PITA it is to get rid of sand from all of those normally covered up areas.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Best Concert in Sweden – Hands Down – Soundtrack of Our Lives

Before we headed off on our roadtrip this summer, The Swede and I made some attempts to try to plan our wedding anniversary. With kid in tow, and on the road, it would be tricky. But we would be swinging by some friends of ours and checking out their new cottage on the way, maybe we could manage to finagle a babysitter as well?

When we checked with said friends, not only did they 'yay' on the babysitter idea, they also suggested we check out this place: Slussens Pensionat.

So we did. What can I say but Thank you Thank you Thank you! A quick trip to the website left me scratching my head – Soundtrack of Our Lives were playing? At this little inn? Could that be right? Well if so, it would be totally sold out the week before, right? So I sent off an email and got a quick response. “Nope, we still have some good tables left for that night.”

What? OK. So it wasn't cheap, but it was our big night out, so we booked the tickets.

And it was the greatest concert I've been to in Sweden. In fact, I would go so far as to say it definitely makes my top 5 concerts of all time, and during my college years I made it my mission to go to as many concerts as humanly possible.

Before I went, my knowledge of Soundtrack of Our Lives was pretty limited. If you haven't heard of them, check them out. I'd heard a few of their hit songs, I think we have one of their albums on CD somewhere. I've enjoyed their stuff, but never really gotten to into it. A BIG regret, can I say.

Anyway, the band was tight. The crowd started off as a nice cozy little dinner crowd, and then somewhere during the course of the four hour long show, things went a little nutty. There was actually no stage, so eventually the crowd and the band merged together as one. At the end, no one was sitting down – it was my first Swedish concert where everyone got out of their seats. And no, you couldn't really blame the booze. It was too friggin expensive for a large majority of us to consume too much.

I have a new favorite guitarist. And maybe a slight crush on the keyboardist who looked like that indie guy from Criminal Minds totally jamming out. But most of all I had fun. A lot of fun. I danced, I clapped. I laughed and smiled.

It was fun. I am a fan.

Thank you babysitting friends, Thank you Slussens Pensionat and Thank You Soundtrack of our Lives

Apparently they do these gigs at least once a year. If you have a chance - check them out!

(You can check out some of the footage from older shows on their website here)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Swedish Butter - Probably The Best Stuff On Earth

Ah Swedish butter, how I have forgotten that it is true manna of the gods.

Growing up, Swedish butter was something we dreamed about. Seriously. In my house, my mother was always on a diet despite weighing all of 100 pounds. This meant mysterious American foods like 'Butter Buds' and 'Pam' which had 'All the flavor of butter' but none of the fat - or so they claimed.

The trips we took to Sweden were filled with Bregott's Extra Salted butter - because the extra salt meant you didn't have to refrigerate the butter. At our Swedish family's house they kept a tub of butter on the counter. And the father in that family? He heaped about a a centimeter high layer of butter on every slice of bread he ate. So when in Sweden I could butter my sandwiches 'The Swedish Way.' (This was second  only to when I got to get sugar cereals on my birthday - and by sugar I mean Honey nut Cheerios, not Cookie Crisp).

Since moving to Sweden, I've managed to wean myself from the Extra Salty to the Organic, but I still stick to Bregotts.

Except on this road trip. When some friends of ours, who joined us for a leg of the trip, were made responsible for refrigerated perishables. Turns out they are Swedish margarine lovers.  I guess someone has to eat Swedish margarine.

The first day I thought, 'This won't be so bad, it's just a few days.' But man, after the second day of margarine open-faced smorgas for breakfast, I was jonesing for some Bregotts.

I ended up getting a small container to tide me over. I don't know if there is anything quite like it in the States, since my exposure to real butter was pretty limited.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On the Radio - oh oh - On the Swedish Radio....

As I mentioned before, we are on a road trip! And it is amazing. Who knew Sweden had so many beach towns. And what do they all do in the winter?

But while we are driving, we listen to a lot of radio. A lot of Swedish radio. And I can say it has made the journey very very interesting.

There are a few Swedish national stations - you can find them at http://www.swedishradio.se/

These stations are like NPR - interesting stories, informative, not too much of a political slant but a suggestion of one. The stories are a bit like This American Life (download it now from Itunes if you aren't listening to it already - Ira Glass is a modern day radio hero).

Today we listened to a great discussion on what is 'Being Swedish.' The other day we heard a similar discussion about multiculturalism in Sweden and what it means. But there are all kinds of discussions on these stations.

One highlight is the Summer Speakers - Swedish Celebrities host their own one hour show, complete with music and storytelling. Listening to Ingmar Bergman's hour is still one of my most memorable moments of Swedish radio.

That said, what always drives me crazy is the music. It is meant to appeal to a very broad audience, and it just feels like it always misses the mark. The stories are so interesting that we don't want to change the station during the songs (this of course doesn't apply to the Summer Speakers most of the time), but I just wish they would keep it a little more focused -like all rap, or all showtunes, because mixing the two confuses the hell out of me.

Anyways, back to relaxing - have you heard anything interesting on Swedish radio? If you have a good link, let me know.

(Posted during a 5 minute interent borrowing time at a friend's house. Please forgive any errors)