Friday, April 27, 2012

Surviving the sauna in Sweden

Swedish sauna, the only place where sauna is taken more seriously is Finland, but Swedes take their sauna pretty seriously. And for an outsider it can be a pretty scary experience.

Being in a Swedish sauna is like being naked in an elevator. There are very few places where you feel comfortable resting your eyes. No body says anything, unless they have to. And everyone is nude.

You can encounter the Swedish sauna in many places, at bath houses (which are intended for families, get your mind out of the gutter), by the sea - where you are encouraged to dive in naked in the freezing cold water after your sauna, or at your friend's house.

In most swimming halls there are male and female saunas, but often even 'family saunas' for mixed gender. Kids come and go together into the sauna. There is no talk of the 'danger' of the pedophile hiding in the corner, everything is out in the open.

If you are braving a public sauna, you might be thinking - ah ha, I will just wear my swimsuit into the sauna. No. You won't. Or if you try, you might be chastised. There are often signs and aggressive old women who tell you 'Get naked or else.' Apparently wearing a bathing suit in a sauna is unhygienic. Less hygienic then a lot of naked bits on hot wood.

You are, however, supposed to bring a towel. Most people lie on their towel, naked. Me, being a prudish American, tightly bundle myself up in a towel. Please, we didn't even get naked to change for gym class in my school. I don't do nudity around strangers well. Even worse around people I kinda sorta know.

I always feel a bit like I am wandering around my own episode of Discovery Planet. 'Look at the females, lounging about in the warmth...'

I must admit I am a terrible saunaer. I know you are supposed to run directly to some cold water or something when you come out of the sauna, but I never make it. My heart rate drops and I usually end up having to lie down on the floor until I get blood flow back to my brain again. Hence the main reason why I don't sauna too much in public anymore.

If you are going for a true Swedish experience, you will have to try the sauna. And there you will learn that people come in all shapes and sizes. And that sweating amongst naked strangers is a special feeling.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Swedish music highlights

I've been listening to a bit more Swedish music lately and here are a few songs that have really stuck in my mind.... If you haven't hear them yet:

First Aid Kit

Christian Kjellvander

Veronica Maggio always manages to make me smile

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Three reasons Swedes LOVE Systembolaget and why they are wrong

OK. Since I have probably already alienated 80% of my readers with my personal sob story, I am now out to alienate the rest by going after that strange phenomenon known as Systembolaget. When people talk and complain about Sweden and socialism and all of its horrors, the only thing that comes to my mind is Systembolaget. Systembolaget is the government controlled liquor store and also the only place you can buy alcohol in Sweden. It is godawful. It should be scrapped. It should be long gone. But for some reason Swedes seem to LOVE it. Here is my rebuttal of all of the common arguments as to why Systembolaget is AWESOME. Because it isn’t. Hate me if you must.

1) Systembolaget has the best assortment of alcohol EVER – If you ever start dissing on Systembolaget, you will hear this one. Systembolaget has every kind of alcohol imaginable. The rest of Europe is totally jealous of all the kinds of things you can buy at Systembolaget because they cannot buy these things in their countries. 

Obviously, you don’t buy a lot of beer. Systembolaget carries every single kind of Swedish beer ever made, but only like 8 different international beers of any given kind. It is miserable. Yes, you can order it. But who orders a few beers a week in advance, just to enjoy? My local New Jersey grocery store has a more international assortment of beer than my local Systemet. And how does the rest of the world survive? In the places I lived there were all kinds of specialty stores – the high end wine store, the cheapy 40 malt liquor shop, the beer hobbyist. And you know what? If what I wanted wasn’t there? I could order it there, too. Imagine that! As for most of the people who argue that Systembolaget has the best assortment ever, dig a little deeper. I have found most of these people still import their own wine and beer from other countries and avoid Systemet whenever possible. WHY?????

2) Systembolaget keeps alcoholism to a minimum – Sweden has a long tradition of alcoholism and Systembolaget keeps those numbers down.

This give you a sense that Systembolaget keeps track of the alcohol you consume or limits it in any way. It doesn’t. The only thing they can do is not sell you stuff when you are very drunk. One of the symptoms of alcoholism is ‘you constantly think about alcohol, where you can get it, and how you can get it.’ Since moving to Sweden, I can tell you I think a lot more about alcohol, because I can’t just run down to the corner store and pick up a six pack when I need one. I need to think about when I can get it and how I am going to get there. I overbuy for parties, keep some in storage, because I find going to Systembolaget to be a real pain. Also, I am one of those people that believes alcoholism is a disease, you can’t stop people who want to drink. They will find a way.

3) Systembolaget makes drinking safer – Because they are the sole provider of alcohol and they are very strict about checking drinking age, systembolaget makes drinking safer.

Yeah right. When was the last time you saw adults sitting around drinking moonshine in the US?  I have never seen it. And in my eyes, moonshine is pretty dangerous stuff. Done wrong it can lead to blindness and disease. But in Sweden, I have seen everyone from teenagers to 60 year old men drink this stuff. Why? Because a bottle of vodka will set you back 30 dollars for a cheap bottle. To me, this is dangerous and stupid.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

And Now Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Thank you for joining me on my sojourn of sorrow. While things are tough, I have been spending a lot of time watching crappy TV shows. Most of you have probably seen Allt för Sverige by now, but if you haven't you should! It is a bit in Swedish, but mostly English. The premise is absurd (The contestants compete to find out about their Swedish heritage) - I couldn't imagine anyone being like 'Haha you lose, you don't get to know about your family' Spoiler alert - everyone gets to learn about their family.

I wish I could tell you 'I don't usually watch reality TV because it is crap, but I made an exception for this' but that would be a lie. I love Project Runway and have watched way too many seasons of ANTM to be proud of. So Allt för Sverige was an easy sell for me.

Check out the first episode here.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Stupid, Crazy and Grateful – Part 2 of a sad story

As I said before, this and my last post are not in my usual Surviving in Sweden vein. They are highly personal and depressing. They are also a bit graphic. This is part two of the story of my miscarriage. There are some cultural observations here, but mostly this post is for me – not my regular readers. It is a way for me to process what happened.

The Day after finding we were no longer pregnant


It was a tragedy of a morning, which went a bit like this:

The Swede – Have you seen Little Swede’s socks?

Me: (bursts into tears) I don’t know!

The Swede – Would you like a cup of tea?

Me: (bursts into tears) I don’t know!

We sit down to breakfast and the Swede bursts into tears.

This is when I should have canceled my trip. But I didn’t.


I got on the train to go on my business trip at 9:45 Sunday morning. I just didn’t want to cancel. I was so excited about this project. I got up at 7:00 and worked until I left. This was so I didn’t have to think about the ticking time bomb in my uterus. I was afraid it would go off at any time, but I hoped it would wait until our appointment on Tuesday.

Grateful for an ‘untypical’ Swede

I tried to do some work on the train. I read through my material, set about planning the agenda. The girl sitting next to me started asking me questions. Turns out she was a Masters student in my field. She had a thick Swedish dialect I couldn’t place and spoke a mile a minute. I maybe caught every 3 word she said, but I was just happy to have someone to listen to and focus on. She rattled on for about two hours. When it appeared she might stop, I coaxed her on. I have never been so grateful for such a talkative person.

But the highlight? The man across from us who leaned over and asked if I was from Blekinge because it sounded like I had a Blengingske accent. Score for being able to speak awesome Swedish in a crisis. Usually I get Gotland, so this was a compliment!


When I arrived, my brother and sister in law were waiting. I threw my miscarriage story at them as soon as I saw them. I hadn’t told anyone. They hadn’t known I was pregnant. The Swede swore he had told them. My crazy side started to come out. The one that keeps talking even after the brain has shut down. I am so glad my brother and sister in law are such good people.


We spent the night having a nice family night with family games and a great dinner. I cannot say how grateful I was for the distraction.

Somewhere in the afternoon the bleeding stopped. I am so grateful I had the ultrasound the night before and knew what to expect. If I hadn’t, I might have thought everything was OK. And what came next would have been even more traumatic.


I went to bed at about 10:30. At 3:30 it started. Me, the ultimate ‘hold on while I Google that’ had never bothered to Google what an 11 week miscarriage might look like until 3:30 in the morning. In the middle of one. I tried to be as quiet as a mouse.

 And then it went down. Me. Alone. So much blood.


I thought I would have some warning cramps, I thought it would hurt. I am grateful there was no pain.

I am grateful I didn’t pass out – there was so much blood at once.

I am grateful for technology. And that when I sent The Swede a text message at 4 am I got an answer right away.

I am grateful for the blood, so I couldn’t see anything when I thought ‘I wonder if that was . .’


It was over by 5, but I couldn’t know that. I was too busy reading war stories on the internet. I was too afraid it might happen again. All of that blood. At work. On the train. I hadn’t felt any pain. Could it really be over?

I canceled my work appointment.


I am grateful that when I told my Brother in Law what happened he said all of the perfect things to say, all while apologizing for not really knowing what to say.

I am grateful that my sister in law helped me get back to the train station to catch an early train home.

I am grateful that I made the trip without any more trauma. And I am astounded that my later train was canceled and I got my money back for that trip, too.


I got home at 4:30 the next day. 12 hours after the worst of my experience.

I fell to pieces.


I am grateful I had a safe place to fall.

I am grateful for the family that was waiting for me.