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.