Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Learning Swedish - fun Swedish words

One of the questions amongst the infamous questions James Lipton always asks Hollywood celebs in his bastardization of Proust's Questionnaire is 'What is your favorite word_.' Of course this can only be asked with the overdramatization and English accent in which Lipton excels.

Myself, I love words that roll of the tongue in a fun and pleasing way - the meaning I am less amused by. My favorite words are the ones that are fun to say.

My ideas are a bit along the lines of the mismatched history of 'cellar door' even though cellar door is not my favorite selection of words in English (check out Donnie Darko if you haven't heard of this phenomenon - or check it out if you haven't seen it yet - or just do an internet search and then check out Donnie Darko)

My favorite Swedish word?   ömsesidig - pronounced Ohmseseedee (g) (it is my understanding that the final g kind of dances off your tongue at the end)

For me, ömsesidig (despite its confusing spelling) is a word that rolls off the tongue in a most pleasing manner.

It also means something positive - mutual - unlike one of my favorite English words - perturbation which feels almost as uncomfortable as it is.

If you have a favorite word in English or Swedish - what is it? And why?

ETA: For some reason my unedited version was posted here - so I've touched this up. Sorry! Oh, and The Swede says omsesidig starts with an ö.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Grocery Shopping in Sweden: Please, Cashier, let me do your job for you.

OK full disclosure before this post:

  1. The Swede claims I made this whole thing up 
  2. I worked briefly as a cashier at a grocery store while in high school, so I am speaking from experience
  3. This is one of those little 'Swedish' things that drives me insane

It took me years to figure out why it is that the Swedish little sticks you use to separate your groceries from the next-person-in-line's all have text that reads 'Please place the barcode so that it faces you.' But after a rude comment from a Systembolaget cashier I figured it out, and my life has never been the same.

Basically what Swedish grocery stores and Systembolaget would like you to do is to place all of your items so that the barcode is facing outwards towards you, so that the machine can scan it. The idea behind this is a kind one – it can be tiring to a cashier to lift and rotate all of the goods to scan the bar code. But the result is one that sometimes makes my blood boil.

Here is a typical scenario for me (note: The Swede claims never to have experienced such a happening): I choose the grocery line which appears it might be the fastest. But then the person in front of me, with a cart half full of groceries, turns out to be the considerate type. By this I mean they pull out every item from their cart, examine it, find the barcode and place it in a row one item wide, on the belt. Needless to say, this takes FOREVER. The cashier has usually caught up to them by the time they are one-third of the way through their cart. And the customer places and the cashier scans, as slow as molasses, one item at a time.

When I worked as a cashier, from experience, you know where the bar codes are. You just twist and zoom and it's over. You are on to the next customer. It is quick and efficient because you don't have to study each object.

I know I am being selfish in demanding speedy service over the health consequences for my cashier. But I don't really understand why I need to do their job for them? I mean isn't that why they are there? If you don't want to become obsolete with all the new technology, don't you have to do something? I mean here in Sweden no one bags your groceries, and if no one even scans your groceries, what is the point?

So, no I don't line up my groceries, not even at Systembologet (but there it is more passive-agressive principles). And I really wish more people took a stand with me (and maybe the cashiers could have a monthly massage like they do at other companies or something?)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Happy Waffle Day!

                                                         (photo from I Heart It)

Today is one of my favorite Swedish random holidays. Well it's not so random, it is the annunciation – the day Mary was probably pretty shocked to find out she was pregnant with the Lord's baby. Swedes celebrate by eating waffles. Yay for waffles! (According to folklore this has to do with how varfrudagen and waffledagen sound so similar)

On great thing about this holiday is that the free waffles are everywhere. Even at the grocery store and sometimes the town centre.

But my absolute favorite thing about this holiday is that we whip out our Vasterbotten Cheese waffles which are AMAZING. Sure we could make these waffles any old day of the year. But it is fun to save them for waffle day.

I admit that the first 5 years I lived here I spent pining for goods I couldn't find here. Now I wonder what I would do if I couldn't have regular access to Vasterbotten cheese and Crème Fraiche.

Here is the recipe – they are rich, but yummy!

Waffles with sharp cheese

100 gr butter
4.5 dl of flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
2 eggs
4 dl milk
1 dl shredded cheese (I use vasterbotten but you can use any sharp cheese)

Melt the butter. Let it cool slightly. Add your remaining ingredients. Let the mixture rest for 30 minutes. Prepare in a waffle iron – preferably Swedish style giving you lovely heart shaped waffles.

Enjoy the results with a little crème fraiche.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

When Languages Collide: Learning Swedish and Speaking Swenglish

Learning another language as an adult is never easy – it's frustrating, nonsensical and a bit like discovering a new, dumber, slower side of yourself. Suddenly the person who you've always been is gone, and they've been replaced by someone who has a hard time stringing a simple sentence together.

I want to write a little bit about language on this blog – both non-natives speaking Swedish and Swedes speaking English – so I thought I would start by hanging my self out there before I start making fun of or pointing out other peoples mistakes.

There are 2 memorable 'early speaker' mistakes I've made that I will never forget.

  1. I was watching a friend's kid and took him to a soccer game. At the time I must have been about 22. The kid was 7. One woman, as we were leaving, after several strange looks asked me 'Ar du hans mamma?'
'Nej', I answered proudly 'Jag är hans barnmorska.'

Let me explain: Barnvakt – is the word for babysitter, barnmorska – is the word for midwife.
I was so happy that I had understood the question and answered in Swedish it took me about 1 minute before I realized that my answer made no sense what so ever. By that point I was almost to my car. I'm sure she wondered about that for awhile, too.

    1. A member of my husband's Swedish family called me up after I'd only been in Sweden a year or so and we were chatting in Swedish on the phone for awhile. After about ten minutes he says something that I interpret to be 'Oh and me and my girlfriend got married this weekend at city hall.' Now remember, I don't speak great Swedish after only a year and this is on the phone. Also, we speak to this family member regularly and I am friends with his girlfriend – I should have known they were getting married, so I am super unsure.
'Gratis?' I say – not sure if I have understood this correctly.

'No, it wasn't 'gratis' he says, it actually costs money to get married at the town hall and we went out for a really expensive dinner.

Let me explain: One of the things that still stumps me in Swedish is the double consonants. There are two words in Swedish – Gratis (pronounced 'Gratis' meaning free) and Grattis (pronounced grat-tis meaning 'Congratulations). I still screw this one up in various forms – flyta vs flytta etc.

I had to have the Swede call the relative and double check that A) They really had gotten married and B) He wasn't totally insulted

The best thing about both of these mistakes? I remember them clear as day and I learned a lot from them! Making mistakes when learning a language = positive!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Swedish Car Seats: Continued

After posting about Swedish carseats yesterday, I came across this discussion from the NYtimes that happened pretty much the same time - with many people voicing their opinions very loudly about how terrible and unpractical it is to impose the new two year rearfacing carseat philosophy.

Motherlode - AAP recommendation

The article mentions Swedish car seats, so I thought I would post a little more information about them since I think they rock!

Here is a great video put out by an insurance company on the safety of Swedish carseats and rearfacing until 4-5 years old - notice how the older girls legs are not curled up, due to the difference in positioning of the carseat:

Many companies have developed car seats especially for Sweden -

I posted the one we have the Acta Graco, but there is also Britax and a few other models.

One of Sweden's aims is to eliminate all traffic deaths and have 0 traffic deaths for one year (and preferably more after that). You may think that sounds silly - but the idea as a goal has really been amazing to watch in practice. Last year only approx. 280 people lost their lives in traffic, all year, in the entire country.

In 2009 NO children with a rearfacing carseat died in Sweden (please remember that it is a recommendation not a law that children ride rearfacing until 4-5 so not all families do so).

There may be a lot of other reasons for the above statistics, but I don't think the carseats hurt.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Swedish Parenting: Rear facing Until You Can Drive

Another one of the things you learn when you have kids in Sweden is that rearfacing car seats are really the ONLY way to travel for any child until the age of 4 or preferably 5. In fact if you spend a lot of time here you may start to wonder why cars aren't all built with only the driver sitting forward facing and everyone else facing backward (sorry driver, but someone has to take one for the team).

There is, in actuality, no Swedish law that says that children HAVE to face backwards, it is only strongly recommended. That said, if your kids are forward facing before the age of at least a large 3, you will be subject to many 'how could you' stares.

 Swedish carseats, I think, are the safest in the world. They are built to carry a children rearfacing until they weigh 55 pounds and they are raised to give more leg room.

In the US Little Swede has a rearfacing carseat that looks like a Barka Lounger - complete with beer/bottle holders on each side. The Swedish model is without such luxuries, but hopefully will keep him safer.

It does surprise me that in a society that is, as the US, so safety conscious towards children, that this safety step has been all but ignored. I've heard lots of reasons: no leg room, kid can't see anything, can't watch the DVD player - but it seems odd to me that in a society when people are happy to lock up their kids rather than allow them to play outdoors due to stranger anxiety, this one concrete thing you can do to help your child is ignored.

The AAP now recommends rearfacing car seats until the age of 2, but as it isn't the law, many people seem to ignore this.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Eurovision 2011: The Winner Takes It All - but I'm not quite sure why

OK, I'm late to the party. I know. But give me credit, I suffered through more Melodifestivalen this year than ever before. And what do I have to show for it? Not too much.

But I figure some of you outside of Sweden must be chomping at the bit to find out who won Melodifestival and who will be representing Sweden this year at Eurovision when they lose in terrible defeat due to the Eastern European Conspiracy.

The winner is

Erik Saade Popular!

I don't know how to pronounce his last name, so I am going with Sade like the singer, not like the Marquis. But I'm probably wrong.

Why this song might just stand a chance:

1) Erik sings that 'He will be popular' 78 times in this song (you can count if you want, this is just my random guesstimate) - perhaps the power of repetition will fool the audience into thinking he actually is popular.

2) Erik appeals to a wide audience - young teenage girls, since he has a cute boyish look and is singing about seducing a young girl who is so shallow she will only love him if he is popular, and gay men - there is an odd moment in the dance sequence in which one of the male dancers feels him up. That was my favorite part of the whole routine because it was quite unexpected!

Why this song probably doesn't stand a chance

1) The Eastern European voting conspiracy
2) The song is really bad
3) The dancing is like a bad Backstreet Boys video from 15 years ago
4) Anyone that desperate for popularity doesn't stand a chance

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Swedish Hygiene - So Fresh and So Clean

Last year DH and I were back in the States visiting a local zoo. 'Ooh Look, we can feed the birds!' I pointed to some wooden poles with little containers attached to them where kids and grown-ups were sticking their hands out.

But when we got closer I knew this was a 'You're not in Sweden any more moment.'

There was no birdfood - this was the Purell Antibacterial hand sanitizer stand. What these kids were doing was sanitizing their hands. I was disappointed. I wanted to feed the birds.

And this is how it goes - in the States - the sanitizer is king.

Here the Sanitizer is 'poison,' gross, a destroyer of all things good in the world (ie. leading to the proliferation of bad bad bacteria as opposed to the good stuff) and perhaps most damning of all - it is completely unnecessary.

Sure there are moments when I wish I have a little hand sanitizer on me. You know when you realize that thing you just touched was someone else's chewing gum. Or if I'm changing a diaper on the fly. To that end I have a small bottle of cleaning alcohol that I rinse over my hands and let air dry.

But Purell hasn't caught on here. And the human race endures. There must be something to that good old fashioned soap and water trick. Which is what most people use.

A few years back some kids were hospitalized for eating the hand sanitizer from a portopotty (or bajamaja as they say in Sweden). There was a rumor going around that hand sanitizer was made of GHB and would get you high. Not so true. Mostly it made them puke.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Swedish news: All the latest at 6 and 10

I admit it, one thing I don't miss for a minute from the US is the 24 hour news cycle. I find it silly, over the top, careless and one of the reasons why the US is so split down the middle at the moment.

Sure I can subscribe to CNN or BBC via my local Cable network. But I don't. Because I don't like them.

But there has to be some kind of middle ground, Sweden. Don't you think? Today a nuclear power plant exploded in Japan. This is the day after that terrible earthquake rocked the country. Today on Swedish TV?  Skiing and gameshows.

On a Danish TV station we get there is on-going news coverage of the situation in Japan. They have cancelled all of their regularly scheduled programming.

In Sweden? It's still on the set news hours (I'm only guessing it's 6 and 10 because I get most of my news from the 'net anyway).

Sure, in the US they interrupt the regularly scheduled broadcast because Obama has the hiccups, but this? This might necessitate a rather longer interruption in programming, no?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Swedish food: The open face sandwich or Smörgås

As it says at the top of this blog, it's the little things in a new country that can be the most jarring. This little thing isn't very distracting to me, or annoying, or a major improvement, I just find it one of those little quirky differences.

Most English speakers know the word smörgås because of Smörgåsbords -crazy buffets usually associated with cruiseships or sometimes used to metaphorically describe a wide assortment of things.

The word Smörgås is the Swedish word for sandwich, but it literally translates to 'buttergoose,' which leads to embarrassing escapades where I dance around my kitchen singing a terrible rendition of Wyclef Jean's Bubblegoose (but in all seriousness, was there ever a good rendition of this song) such as 'you can be at a party cutting loose and you can be snacking on a buttergoose' as my child eats a sandwich (yay for free therapy when he gets older).

But the thing about the Swedish Smörgås is that it is eaten open faced. You take a slice of bread, put some cheese, pickles, butter on top, and eat it (I skip the deli meat since I'm vegetarian). There are advantages to this technique. I find Swedish sandwiches less dry, because the filling to bread ratio is more aligned. But on the other hand it makes for some pretty messy fingers.

That said, for me the Danes take the cake in weird Scandinavian Sandwich eating rituals. When I was at a conference with several Danes - we were all in our early twenties. I watched in amusement as the Danes all neatly ate their sandwiches with knife and fork. I could not bring myself to conform - hell I was in Sweden, not Denmark.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Socialism Will Be the Death of Economic Growth - SHHHH Don't tell Sweden!

If you believe what the American media, or at least the loudest bunch of people screaming in the US at the moment, socialism is the death of all that is good in our beautiful capitalistic world of free love or wait, that was free commerce.

And while I don't want to make this blog too political, the news from the Swedish business world this week sings a slightly different tune. I think this must be because someone forgot to tell the Swedes how terrible Socialism is for the market or something.

According to this article not only is the Swedish economy recovering from the latest financial downward spiral, it is growing by leaps and bounds, 5.5% growth for 2010. New jobs are everywhere. Companies are seeing a huge upswing in sales. The crown is strong. The economy is growing. 

All this despite the strong unions in this country, the high taxes, the five week vacations.

What could it be? A deal with the devil? (We already know that God Hates Sweden). Why do Swedes bother to go to work at all? When they could be lying at home on the sofa being cared for by their Nanny State?

 Things like this continue to frustrate a certain side of American politics, but not too much, because they never actually read about these things because FoxNews doesn't write about them.

OK, political rant over. And while I am highly skeptical of a sustainable growth in perpetuity - and the crazy amount of loans my generation is being saddled with due to the extortionist prices of housing - I am glad that things seem to be going well for Sweden.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Piss Christ and Cornflakes: Swedish attitudes towards nudity and boundries

I'm pretty sure that there have been many books written on the subject of differing attitudes towards sex in Scandinavia versus the US. The differences are abounding, and striking. Just walk into your local Swedish bathing hall. In the beginning I felt a bit like Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist. 'Here we see the elder Swede preening in the Sauna habitat.'

But one of the things that still manages to strike me are the shocking sexual images they often print in the morning newspapers. I'm not talking about your typical British Page 6 girl, or whatever page they keep the boobies on these days. Whenever a shocking art exhibit comes to town, several of the pictures are published in the paper.

I don't consider myself a prude person. I often go and visit these art exhibits, and even if I don't always enjoy them (I'm not a big fan of art for shock value) I do like to see an exhibit that seems so powerful it pushes people to violence or vengence.

Sometimes, however, I am a bit put off by seeing these images while I am eating my bowl of cornflakes in the morning. Not to mention, I mean, yes I am actually going to say it 'Think of the children.' Should these shocking images be considered so 'normal' that they are placed where children are bound to see them?

I couldn't find the article of a more recent example that triggered these thoughts, but the exhibit of Andres Serrano and his infamous Piss Christ made the rounds of Sweden a few years back. And not only did Piss Christ land on my breakfast table, but a picture of a 70 year old woman kissing a young man's penis did as well. I am not putting this photo up here, but you can follow the link to a similar Swedish morning newspaper, with the NSFW photo, here.

I also spend a lot of time wondering what happens when art considered 'shock art' becomes so innocous that it can end up as a part of the daily newspaper. What does this mean for artists like Serrano?

And just for the record I do have a similar 'sick to my stomach' response to really gory war photos, and dead animal photos as well. But I do think there is a social value to showing true images of war – when you are engaged in war- in the media. The shock art, I'm not so sure of.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Swedish Classic Design: Kånken

                                                                            photo from fjallraven

One of my absolute favorite little classic Swedish things, which still remains super Swedish for me, is the Kånken bag.

Kånken is designed and sold by Swedish outdoor company Fjällraven. They are known for their high quality (read: high priced) outdoor gear, that any Swedish hiker or outdoorsy wannabe wears year round.

I remember Kånken from my childhood, I had my first when I was about 8. And it used to be if you spotted Kånken on the streets of NYC you knew, 'There goes a Swede!'

So a few weeks ago The Swede and I went to see the 'not-so-new' Sophia Coppola movie, Somewhere. And although I loved the movie and couldn't wait to discuss it, the first thing out of mouth was 'Did you see? Did you see she had a Kånken?”

Because the little girl in the movie carries a yellow Kånken wherever she goes.

                           Somewhere Trailer Still and Promo Photo from

I created some wonderful Swedish backstory for her in my head. It was entirely plausible that the character had a Swedish mother, but it was never mentioned.

Oh well. I was also pleasantly amused that not only can you now order Kånken from J. Crew, but they are also significantly CHEAPER than buying your Kånken in Sweden. I know, the crown is high right now. But the last time I bought a Kånken here it was 600 SEK. So even with a higher crown, thatäs a pretty damn good price, J Crew.

Guess I know where I will be buying my next Kånken!