Monday, May 30, 2011

Swedish Vacation: The best weather in Sweden is always in A) June B) July C) August D) All of the Above

Aggh, sorry, things have been CRAZY this week, away for work and then busy busy busy.

I hope someone is still out there!

I promise this week I will be around a bit more.

So things that have been on my mind lately? Picking the perfect vacation week.

Most of the people I work with have a serious vacation week picking strategy. There is the collegue who always goes away in the middle of June, because he believes the weather is always the best (not so much last year, sad to say). Then there are the few collegues who battle endlessly to get the perfect chunk of weeks in July, and the ones who swear by August.

All of them are convinced that they have the solution to finding the perfect three weeks of the best Swedish weather known to man.

My personal strategy? I prefer to take my vacation during the cold and rainy months – work a bit in the summer, when everything is calmer and quieter, and hit the beach after work. I'll take a week here or there if there is space, but I don't really care to duke it out with my colleagues of their prefered vacation strategy.

I do think, for the most part, that Swedish summers are beautiful. So I don't understand why everyone seems to leave during the summer. The beach community we tend to hang out at, the locals usually run away for the summer, and a young party crowd takes over. I don't get why you would want beachfront property and then leave it during the peak season. But hey, I cannot afford beach front property, so what do I know?

Are there any vacation weeks you swear by? I'm still just grateful to get such amazing long vacations (5 weeks!), I'll take it whenever I can get it!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Overheard at the Swedish Church – or more reasons for God to hate Sweden

So it's about an hour until the Rapture, but I'm pretty sure there aren't going to be too many floaters here in Sweden. (if you haven't heard – look here).

As I wrote earlier, I don't spend a lot of time in church, or to be more honest I don't spend any time in church, unless it is a special occasion. But recently, I attended a family member's confirmation – and it was quite the experience.

Part of this church confirmation's program was to write and put on a skit demonstrating an important tenet of Christianity. The group chose The Ten Commandments and acted out each commandment to illustrate what we shouldn't be doing.

But at one point the reverend stopped and said 'This next part is a little controversial, but we agreed that children should have the freedom to express themselves.'

The Commandment? Don't take the Lord's name in vain.

The sketch? Two teenage boys who said something along the lines of 'Goddamn it, what the hell is this shit? This is some screwed up shit, God I've never seen anything this Goddamn shitty.'

And then, God steps onto the stage and says 'I really don't like it when you use my name like that.'

'Oh Sorry.” Say the boys. God hugs them.

Now, as a non-believer, I was embarrassed to hear this kind of language used in a church. I may use language like that a lot in my daily life, but I guess it just made me feel a bit sad. Like the Swedish church is trying so hard to be hip, they are willing to sacrifice their own beliefs.

But maybe it's just because, having grown up with the Religious Right in the US – I always have a hard time knowing where I stand with the Swedish church. See I know the RR just wants to save my soul, and they will do anything in their power to rescue me. OK – that's sweet of them, but I'm not interested.

The Swedish church? They just want me to hang out, have some coffee, maybe a cinnamon roll – but really, if it's not my community, I don't really get it.

Anyways, I hope everyone has a great apocalypse.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Music to get you through the day

It's been a long day – and I've still got 20 things left on my to do list. So I'm relaxing for five minutes listening to some good Swedish music – and watching Stellan Skarsgard. This video has a bit of a Twin Peaks feel to it, for me. I like it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

You know you've been away from Sweden too long … Top Chef Version

OK, I've written here before about my weakness for Top Chef and cooking reality TV shows. I've also written about my struggle to fully appreciate Swedish cuisine. So, it was only time before I addressed the fact that Top Chef Masters (a reality TV show where celebrity chefs compete against each other in a series of cook-offs) has had not one but TWO Swedish chefs.

Part of me wonders if Swedish restaurant life doesn't suffer because all the great chefs move to New York. But that's another story.

One of the Chefs who is a constant guest on Top Chef and competitor in the Masters version is Nils Noren. During his competition Nils was always on time with his dishes – despite the famously crazy deadlines the show sets.

At one point Nils commented something along the lines of (sorry, I'm too lazy to go thru the old episodes to find the exact quote) “This is because I am Swedish. In Sweden everything is always on time. If you want to take a train, in Stockholm, it is always on time.”

To this I say? “Nils, you have been living in New York too long.”

And for all the dissing I give Swedish cooking, I will also point out that Marcus Samuelsson, another Swedish Chef, won Top Chef Masters last year. Maybe I should check out his restaurant the next time I am in New York.

My favorite Swedish chef is still:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bilingual Family Fun

I never imagined that I would one day speak another language fluently (I certainly studied a bunch of languages, but never to true fluency), but here I am living in a Swedish/English speaking family.

Having a different 'mother tongue' than your family has a lot of frustrating moments, but a lot of funny ones as well. In our household we are lucky, we both speak and understand the other's native language at a very high funtional level – which means that we can each speak whatever language we feel like. This has made us very LAZY with language – something we are trying to mend due to the prescence of a new language learner in our midst – but it is not easy.

My Swede speaks amazing English, and sometimes when he makes a mistake it catches me by surprise, because I don't expect it. I, on the other hand, still make a bunch of Swedish mistakes, and they can also bring the laughs.

Take, for example, the discussion we ended up having last night. My Swede was trying to put LO to bed and he had a loaf of bread baking in the oven. (Yes, my Swede is awesome).

Trying not to disrupt our almost sleeping child, The Swede says “Please take the bread out of the oven at sharp.”

I am confused. “Huh?”


“I don't understand,” I stagewhisper upstairs.

“At eight o'clock, take it out at eight!” He whispers loudly and I hear LO stirring.

I cannot remember the last time I gave the phrase 8 o'clock sharp that much thought, but all of a sudden I was thinking about when we use sharp, and why and how with time. And that is what rocks about having a bilingual relationship. You suddenly get a whole new perspective on the words you use.

If you say sharp, you need to give a specific time that it needs to be completed by, otherwise sharp has no meaning. But I did have a nagging sense of self-doubt and double checked on the internets. Because after living abroad for ten years, sometimes I wonder what constructions in English are real, and what just exists in my head.

Has bilinguilism affected your family in any fun and amusing ways?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Eurovision 2011: And the Winner is...... Azerbaijan

Congrats Azerbaijan on being next year's host of this insane maddness. Did I watch Eurovision? No, not really. I had it on in the background with the sound down, and then watched the voting. Here is my take.

There was a brief period there where I was actually a bit worried Sweden might win. I say worried because I couldn't imagine having to listen to that song 'Popular' for another year. I really hoped it would go to that special circle of hell where they play Songs of Eurovisions past to torture those who tortured others.

But then they interviewed Eric Saade, since he was the leader, about how he felt about being in the lead. And he was awesome. Either the boy has the personality of a wet rag – or he has an awesome sense of humor – because for awhile there I was hoping we would get to listen to a whole year of 'stupid things Eric Saade said.' (Example: Annoying German Hostess: What would you do if you won? Eric: “I would sing my song again.” AGH: How do you feel right now? Eric: I have to pee. Side note: it didn't go exactly like that, but kinda)

So I rooted for Eric to really win, for about 5 minutes. And then he promptly lost. But really, coming in second place at Eurovision is a bit like coming in second place in Idol, you get a lot of attention and cheers, and your country doesn't have to put on a giant international shindig in a year's time.

Oh, and Italy? Second Place? What's up with that? That guy did a lot of mumbling and I had the feeling he had no idea what he was singing about. But I only watched a 30 second clip on YouTube.

But I am truly happy for Azerbaijan. This puts them on the map (something I couldn't find them on – because I am terrible at geography) and lets us all learn a little something about Azerbaijan – like how to spell it, or that it is an independent Turkish state. Who knew?

But good job Eric, you made us proud, or something.

The Great Blogger Debacle

You might have noticed the strange case of disappearing posts and comments over the last few days. It seems there was an update of Blogger software that went wrong somewhere - and thus I have been unable to log in here and do much for the last few days.

I apologize! I am particularly annoyed that it came in the midst of the fun discussion about my renting cars in Europe and if my small car purchasing has to do with my inability to parallel park (although I believe on a purely Freudian level it probably has).

Blogger has said they will make an effort to restore all posts and comments as much as possible. But I don't want anyone to get the idea that I am censoring comments around here - or deleting things after the fact.

Anyways I hope you all have great Eurovision parties or avoiding Eurovision parties - and I hope Sweden, or Bosnia -Herzegovina (That guy lived in Landskrona for a few years) - take home some honor or something.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Eurovision 2011: Will Eric Saade Be Popular?

It may be that I run in the wrong circles, but things seem to be oddly quiet given that tonight Sweden will take the stage in Eurovision 2011 to try to secure a spot in the finals.

I admit, I haven't been paying much attention. As I mentioned before, any fun I had laughing/watching Eurovision was destroyed when they made it into a three day final event and a 10 week long countrywide auditon.

But in previous years, I remember newspapers and television being flooded with information about how The Ark was the most popular group at Eurovision in years (before they placed embarassingly in the 20's) and how everyone LOVED that opera singer, but not really. But how do they feel about Eric? Not a clue.

This could be in Saade's favor. From what I read in the paper, the first semi-finals knocked out favorite Norwegian singer, whose name escapes me. Maybe, due to the lack of publicity, Sweden will qualify for the finals?

I wouldn't place any bets, especially since everytime I here the song I think it is worse than I thought it was, but maybe Eric will catch a break?

It would be nice to see Sweden do well. At least then we don't have to listen to the 'Eastern European Conspiracy' sore-loser talk about how Sweden only loses because Eastern European countries only vote for each other and don't vote for Sweden. Even though the Scandinavian countries seem to routinely vote for each other, but suffer from the fact that there are fewer of them than the Eastern countries – there is little talk of a Scandinavian conspiracy. (Or maybe that is the reason for Sweden's earlier successes? -I will pretend like I can raise one eyebrow here, but I can't do that in RL either).

Either way, I will hold my thumbs and cross my fingers for Sweden tonight. But I probably won't watch much of the event.

Heja Sverige!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Five signs you have been living in Sweden too long

  1. You go on vacation in another European country, you rent a 'compact car' and marvel over how big it is.
  2. It takes you thirty seconds to realize that the strange person you pass on the sidewalk who is talking to some random person on the street, is actually trying to talk to you– and not the person behind you.
  3. You pay 9 dollars (60 SEK) for a crappy beer and don't bat an eye.
  4. Every time you enter a shop, you make sure there isn't a machine where you have to take a number and wait your turn.
  5. Every discussion you have with an acquaintance begins with an in-depth analysis of the weather – and you really mean it – this weather is truly horrible or absolutely fabulous.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Swedish fashion: Men's edition – Fun Swedish Fashion Faux Pas

OK, it's been awhile since I blogged about Swedish men's fashion for many reasons. 1) Because my own personal Swedish Man said I might want to think twice about blogging about something I obviously had no clue about (like that has ever stopped me before!) 2) Because way too many people find this blog by searching for Swedish Men's Fashion and to them I apologize deeply. The Swede is right, this is not my area of expertise.

BUT - I am taking another dip in the Swedish Male Fashion pool because it is summer – and summer brings out my favorite Swedish male fashion Faux Pas of all time. I don't mean this in a mocking way. When I see things like this it makes me smile. And that is a good thing. I much prefer this Faux Pas to the current stupid male fashion trend of tucking a brightly colored fabric swatch in the pocket of your blazer (haha, do people still call them blazers?) which you are wearing with ripped jeans and a pink shirt. That makes me laugh in a 'God, I-thought-I-got-to-miss-out on-How-To- Succeed-In-Business-Without-Even-Trying Fashion' kind of way.

During the winter the Socks in Clogs or Socks in Sandals can be seen in hospitals or doctor's offices throughout the land, because health personnel check their shoes at the door and slip on their ergonomically comfy shoes over their winter socks.

But in summer, the socks in sandals come out to play. Or socks and shorts – which are also fun.

A few side notes:

  1. I realize that this phenomenon isn't a Swedish one alone, but it is pretty common here – I think because there are so few beautiful days, people get surprised and don't know how to dress :)
  2. I feel bad picking on Swedish men's fashion, because typically I think they are far more fashionable than American men. But, since I am not a huge fan of fashion, sometimes that makes me pick on them even more.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Studying in Sweden: Can I work and study?

I have gotten a few emails this spring with questions from wannabe students – interested in coming to study in Sweden, but curious about job opportunities. I thought I would post my reply here – in case anyone else was interested. Please note though: I am certainly not an expert in this matter, I can only speak from my own experience as I moved here as a student many many years ago. I realize some things might have changed.

ETA: The info about fees and required income is for students from outside the EU - but the amount can still be seen as a good guideline for any students. (Thanks for pointing this out - AAH). 

Question: I was accepted to a Masters program in Sweden – how easy is it to find a job? Can I easily work while I study?

My take:

You will read on countless ex-pat-in-Sweden websites that getting a job in Sweden is like winning the lottery. There is a lot of negativity out there, but I will weigh in on the slightly more positive side.

Don't come to Sweden counting on having a job to survive. I know they make you send in proof of income up to around 7,000 SEK per month to get a study visa. That would be a wise place to start.

Calculate basic living cost per month that would get you rent (3,000 SEK or more), food (1500 SEK or more), and a few nights out a month (500 SEK or more) yes, a few nights out a month are pretty essential if you are a study abroad student).

(ETA: Swedish students typically take a grant and student loan for living expenses of about 8,500 SEK per month)

Any money you might earn would be above and beyond this and allow you to travel, explore and experience.

Getting a job in Sweden as a student was a lot different than getting a job in the US during my college days. I have been working since I was about 12 years old – and pretty much could always get a job the same day I started looking: waiting tables, retail, horse-farm stuff. Just standard student side-jobs that helped pay the bills.

In Sweden it was harder. It took a little more time. I was a student here for a year. During that time I worked as a babysitter and a waitress. I didn't find a job in a day; it took about a month. There were very few hours and the working conditions weren't great. But they were jobs. I think I made, on average, about 5-6,000 SEK after tax, per month.

I also spoke some Swedish, which helped. If you don't speak Swedish, you can try dog-walking or babysitting for international families. Depending on where you live you can make 100 SEK per hour and with the new RUT deduction, you can find firms that will hire you to do this type of work, so that you can pay taxes and do everything above board.

I know it is a bit trickier now that Swedish universities charge an entrance fee. But you are throwing away your money if you cannot afford to live while you study. Make sure you have some savings before you take the plunge, or a reasonably sized grant.

Finding a job in Sweden as a student isn't impossible, but it takes time, and the jobs aren't great. If you are looking for jobs in your field while you study, you will probably have better luck with finding an unpaid internship than a paid position. This can help on your CV and with later job prospects, but won't help with the bills.

Good luck!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Swedish food: The Smörgåstårta or The Sandwich Cake

                                                      (image from

It's spring – almost summer – and that means time for Swedes to whip out one of the few foolproof alternatives to herring as a celebratory meal – The Sandwich Cake.

Sandwich cakes look magnificent. They are beautifully crafted with seafood on top. They are colorful and artistic.

For years I have looked on in envy – since there are very few vegetarian sandwich cake options available at celebrations.

But then, about five years ago, my Swedish family decided I was worthy. And they crafted a Sandwich Cake just for me. And thus, these days, I have rather mixed feelings about the Sandwich Cake.
Here is my Sandwich Cake Pluses & Minuses list:


1. I have never met a carbohydrate I didn't like. I admit it, I can live without candy, I can live without chocolate, but I am afraid I might turn to violence if I went on a carb-free diet.

2. They are beautiful – really – I love the craftsmanship put into the sandwich cake.

3. You can use Sandwich Cake to bribe your local police force – one of my favorite weird Swedish news stories: A young trombonist got his trombone stolen. He managed to track it and the thief down and he contacted the police. The policeman said he was very busy at the moment, but might be able to make time to get the trombone in exchange for a Sandwich Cake. The young man bought the cake, got the trombone back, and then got the cop arrested for bribery. The trombonist is one of my personal heros.

4. In theory you can really make any sandwich into a sandwich cake – the sky is the limit! This means there has to be some really good sandwich cakes out there. I just haven't met them yet.


1. Sandwich cake tends to contain a lot of mayonnaise, egg salad, cheese, creme fraiche and seafood or at least one of these items. They are often served during warm events and left outside for long periods of time. Every year there are at least five stories of widespread food poisoning due to sandwich cake at a party. Eat with caution.

2. I'm not a huge fan of white bread, unless it is thick and chewy – Sandwich cake tends to be made with Wonderbread like bread and covered in things like I mentioned above – mayonnaise, egg, cream cheese – it feels like a heart attack waiting to happen. I get that you can make these with whole wheat bread, I just haven't had that version yet.

3. Very few Sandwich cakes are vegetarian – but what can you do?

Feeling eager? Here is a link to a meaty recipe for Sandwich Cake and one for Vegetarian (in Swedish - try google translate). My Swedish family buys these giant slices of bread just for this type of thing, but I'm sure you could just paste together some regular bread slices. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sweden: Number 1 Place to Be a Kid, Number 4 Place to Be a Mom

There has never been any doubt in my mind that Sweden is a great place to start a family, and Save The Children's latest study only confirms that.

Although I am a little weary of the quanitification of children's well-being – I love the freedom, care and ability to 'just be a kid' that seems to be an essential part of Swedish childhood. That and the access to quality health care without the stress of worrying about being hit by strange bills, quality daycare, schools (although I'm still not 100% sold on the Swedish approach to education), and University education.

As for being a Mom – well what can you say – I'm still enoying several days a week of maternity leave.

Back in the US when people would start talking about Family Values I would usually check out because I figured the conversation would segway into religion and traditional values – something that isn't too high on my priority list. But living in Sweden has really shown me the importance of Swedish Family Values – and that is TIME with your FAMILY!

I think if Save the Children also had a 'Best Place to Be a Dad' Sweden would at least make the Top 5, if not the top spot.

Sadly the US fell into the 30s in both categories. (ETA UK was in the teens)

Check out the study here.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fun Swedish Names!

One of the big challenges when having a baby in a multicultural family is choosing names that aren't too hard to pronounce, don't have strange foreign meanings, and both parties seem to like.

In Sweden they have this crazy rule that you actually have to have your child's name approved by the government before it is official. While this might be good for preventing children ending up with urban legand names like Female or Shithead, the Swedish government has been a stickler, surprisingly, for things like 'gender appropriate' names (No girls named Michael or Billy – No boys named Sue).

That means fun Swedish names are not all that crazy, but they are still fun.

I still don't know why whenever I mention to a Swede my age that Kai is one of my all-time favorite Swedish male names, I get a giggle or a funny look. Whatever. Kai is an awesome name. But sadly it was not given the seal of approval by my Swede and thus there are no little Kais in our family.

My favorite baffling Swedish name is one of the few girls names on the list:

Lillemor – This name means 'Little Mother.' Now I realize it is a rather old-fashioned and outdated name that hasn't become popular again amongst all of the new little Signes and Beas and Ingas (yes, we know some baby Ingas) – but I cannot imagine anyone looking down at their brand new little baby girl and thinking 'I shall call her Little Mother.'

Other names I enjoy:

Björn: means Bear – not unheard of in the states, I met a few Björns there. My favorite moment in My Sweet Sixteen is where the boy named Björn insists on being called Bezhourn.

Knut: This means knot. I like it a lot. A boy named knot.

Karl: This means man. A strange name for a little baby – but Man? Why not? I really like the nickname for Karl – Kalle.

I know a lot of English names have fun and crazy meanings, but mostly the meanings are derived from other languages. The fun with these names is also that they are the words you use in every day language. If you have a knot in your shoelace you have a Knut in your shoelace.

It's a bit like Stone Phillips or Rock Hudson.

I'm sure there are more fun Swedish names. But I can't think of them at the moment. What are your favorites?  

Monday, May 2, 2011

Drinking in Sweden – It's a Numbers Game

Do you know how much alcohol is in the beer that you drink? If you do – you probably are in Sweden (or perhaps Utah?). Or you really pay a lot of attention to your beer.

I like beer – a nice Corona or Weissbeer in the summer or something dark and rich in the autumn or winter. When I lived in the States I would often grab a six-pack during my weekly grocery store trip and keep it in the fridge for the week, having the occasional beer or offering it to guests.

But since moving to Sweden, I've needed to give a LOT more thought to my beer purchases – more than I really feel I should need. See, at first I just grabbed a six-pack from the grocery store. Until one of my Swedish friends commented 'Oh, that's not beer.' That was news to me, because it looked like beer and tasted like beer. But no. This was 'near-beer.' This beer had only 3.5% alcohol in it.

OK. So all of a sudden I started paying a lot more attention to how much alcohol was in the beer I liked. Most had about 4.5% occasionally one or two had 5.5%.

But I did start wondering about how much everything cost – did I want the biggest bang for my buck? Did I want flavor? Did I want the inconvenience of having to deal with Systembolaget? Did I want the calories?

All I really wanted was a nice six-pack. Which is how I found myself last week nursing a 3.2% Corona in my backyard. Because I couldn't be bothered to head to the liqour store on the other side of town. Because I just wanted a nice beer in the sunshine.

As someone who enjoys the occasional drink – but doesn't like being drunk – I find the hardest thing about the Swedish alcohol bearacracy is the amount of time I have to spend thinking and figuring out how/when to get my alcohol. It feels like I am underage again trying to figure out how to get some Boones.

And I will admit that in researching this article I was surprised to find that most American Light beers only have a tiny fraction more alcohol than Swedish 3.5% beer. And that 4 states in the US have similarly bizarre alcohol laws – selling low-point beer (3.2%).