Showing posts with label Swedish rules. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Swedish rules. Show all posts

Monday, April 18, 2011

Swedish Rules: The Sun is Out! Take Off All Your Clothes!



There is no doubt about it – spring in Sweden is a wonderful time of year. After months of darkness, dampness, and cold, Sweden errupts in green. The clouds clear the sky. And we are reminded that there is indeed still a sun at the center of our universe.

And let me tell you – I think even the newest Swede on the block runs out of the house to celebrate.

I get that this time of year, you want to spend as much time outdoors as possible. I do, too.

But already, I can tell you, my neighbors are out sunbathing in their skivvies.

Maybe it hit 70 degrees today – tops. But probably more like 65. After work I spent the day walking around in a nice lightweight long sleeve shirt and a pair of pants. It was comfortable. I could even roll up my sleeves after awhile. But I didn't decide to dig out my bathingsuit from the storage box in the attic.

But the people living two buildings down from me? They were using the age old trick of lying around in your bathing suit next to a well-positioned wall, to limit the wind. It's ambitious. It's brave. And to me, it is still one of those crazy 'assimilation into Swedish culture' steps I am not willing to take.

Many of my Swedish friends say crazy things this time of year like 'We don't need sunscreen, the sun isn't that strong up north.”

Whatever. I turn into a lobster if I use anything less than SPF 50 practically anywhere in the world in June. So I'm not taking any chances. I'll be that super-pale woman on the beach come June (if we manage to have any beach weather days in June) and I'll be OK with that.  

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.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Swedish Rules – Mood lighting – or Who turned out the lights?



One of my current guests asked me today about the dim lighting in our house, and I realized just how acclimated to Sweden I have become.

Here in Sweden, natural light is king. Which is great for me, because typically I love natural light. I love candles and big windows and sunshine. What can be wrong with that? Well, where we live, especially this time of year, the sun shines for maybe one day a week. That makes for an awful lot of really really gray days.

With big open windows and a lot of natural light, I sometimes feel the grayness is seeping through and chipping away at my soul. Some days, I shut the blinds, turn up my fake lights, and dance around the house to some Grateful Dead to create an image of summer and green and blue skies.

If I don't have to look at the gray skies, maybe they just aren't there.

Last year at around this time, I was working out of a new office with a new set of colleagues. I walked into the kitchen for my coffeebreak (or fika). Three colleagues sat around a tiny table with one tea light in the center. The windows were letting in light, but it was gray gray gray, and it was December.

Without thinking, I switched on the light and went to get myself a glass of water.

Loud coughing from the table.

And then “Can you turn off the light, these fluorescent bulbs are terrible.”

Thus, I sat in the dark for that entire winter. Or I sat in my office, with the light on.

Because they might be terrible, but if I sat in the gray for too long, I would just doze off.

I mean, as I said before, if I lived in California, say, I'd be all about natural light all the time. But living in Sweden, I'll take my fluorescent sun lamp imitator any February day.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Oh the times – they are a changin . . . Or The Swedes just love Ingvar Kamprad



Ingvar Kamprad, in case you don't live in Sweden, is the founder of Swedish behemoth IKEA. In the forests of Almhult, Sweden, Kamprad build his cheap furniture haven. The IKEA empire is one of the most recognizable Swedish companies in the world and Kamprad's reputation as a 'duktig svensson' or Good Swede, is almost impeccable (although there is that Nazi rumor that just doesn't go away).

There are some really big myths that surround Kamprad and the IKEA Swedish ideal. I don't know how true they are, but here goes: Kamprad drove the same Volvo for a decade, and only bought a new one when the old one died. If you drive a nice car and work at IKEA you have to park it far way from the entrance, so no one thinks it is an employee's car. Kamprad didn't give his children much of the IKEA money because they need to learn the value of the crown.

So as you can see, Kamprad is a model of the good and frugal Swede.

Except according to a news story out this week, good and frugal Kamprad also has a couple billion crowns stuffed away in a secret fund run out of Lichtenstein. In fact according to the report, Kamprad has gone out of his way to avoid and move around money to avoid paying taxes in Sweden.

ACK! This would be a perfect Swedish style scandal – rich man, robbing the poor of their tax money – get out your claws. Someone try to hold those Social Democrats back. It's time for a public lashing of the worst kind.

BUT from what I've been picking up on my radar the opposite has happened. People are asking 'What is the big deal?' and saying things like 'of course, who wouldn't do that?' People are saying things like 'Well, he's worked hard for it, he's given Sweden a great name internationally, he deserves it.'

What? Is the Folkhemmet (The idea of the paternal Swedish government taking care of it's people) losing steam?

Do the Swedes just love IKEA that much?

Or is it the result of 5 years of Moderates in power?  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Do Swedes shower less than Americans?

OK, so I realize that the answer to the above question is 'No' or at least I am willing to make one of my usual broad assumptions that the answer is still 'No'. But I am trying to find a reason why the shampoo and conditioner bottles in this country are so miniscule.

In the past, I admit, shampoo has been something I stocked up on at Costco, because it was cheaper and a lot more convenient to fly back with 1 or 2 giant bottles of shampoo. And then we ended up bringing shampoo back for Swedish family members, because if you think it is rough for a family of two, imagine a family of 5, with three teenage girls, trying to keep everyone in shampoo for a week. That's a lot of little tiny bottles of shampoo.

But ever since the luggage restrictions have gotten stricter, shampoo and peanut butter were the easiest sacrifices to make. So, this weekend I found myself trying to find a decent size bottle of shampoo and it was a great big fail. I bypassed the grocery store and pharmacy and even tried Overskottsbolaget – but no. The largest I could find was still 8 oz of shampoo.

Even if I skip the Costco bottle and just go to CVS the average bottle of American shampoo is often double as big as the average Swedish one. The Costco bottle is 5 times as big.

I don't look at the price tags too much anymore (just too depressing) so I'd gladly pay more for a larger bottle, so I don't have to frantically try to get the bottom dregs of shampoo out of the bottle on such a frequent basis.

Come to think of it, this happens a lot with packaging of random household goods that families tend to need a lot of. And bigger packaging would be a hell of a lot more convenient. I'm not talking giant muffins here (tho that would be nice, too) I am talking larger cartons of milk – that would be great for families, too.

In Swedish they have a saying about something being an 'i-land problem' or a 'first world problem.' I do recognize that this very much falls into that category.  

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rustle – Fidget – Rustle AKA I am getting off at the next bus stop

Earlier I blogged a little about Every Man's Right – the right everyone in Sweden has to enjoy the Swedish landscape and its trappings. But I often believe that another 'Right' that Every Man has in Sweden is the right to never actually speak or be spoken to by another human being unless they choose to do so.

This right to silence is practiced religiously on the main mode of transportation in many cities – the city bus. Buses are, in most countries, bound by their own style of communication. I know Grayhound is a world unto itself. Swedish buses are no exception.

Let's say you are on a city bus. It's a packed bus and you are seated closest to the window. Sitting next to you is a stranger with whom you do not wish to speak. You want to get off at the next stop, but someone has already pushed to STOP button. How do you indicate to your fellow passenger that you need them to move?

The easiest situation is if you have just been shopping. Then you take your bags and you rustle them loudly. Or you pick up your bags and place them on your lap – ideally rustling them a bit. At this point your neighbor will probably shift their legs towards the aisle to indicate that they are aware you would like to get off at the next stop. When the bus pulls in, they will stand up and let you out. All without saying a word.

If you don't have any shopping bags – this trick works equally well with a backpack, purse or briefcase. If you don't have any of the above, but you have a sweater, gloves or anything else that can be fiddled with – do this instead.

Only as a last resort might you say 'excuse me' or 'urshekta may.' Often times you will find that this person is also a foreigner.

So, if someone next to you on the bus starts fidgeting madly with a bag, but not accomplishing something, now you know why.

Also, please note that you might confuse passengers on the occasion that you actually rifle through your bag for another reason – like finding something. I have actually had to say a few times 'Oh, sorry, no I'm not getting off here,” because I can never manage to find my damn phone in my bag.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Swedes sure do love MasterKock!

Sometimes as a scholar, an anthropologist or even as an overly generalizing blogger you make some silly and strange comparisons. You stretch a little to get your facts to line up better, your statistics to make sense, and to gain a little clarity. (Not that I would ever do ANY of the above in any scholarly work, of course)

So this is a stretch, but bear with me here. Because I notice lately there has been an absolute abundance of Masterchef on Swedish TV. You may think 'how odd you would notice such a thing.' Which is odd, I admit. It's just that this time last year, I was nursing a little one around the clock – and thus spending a lot of time on the sofa – and let me tell you, there was practically nothing but Masterchef – the English version. I watched episode after episode of this strange TV show (no, there was nothing else on thanks for asking, and yes I also read like 4 books a week during this time, so no I wasn't better off reading a book). I would often lose track and realize during the last five minutes of an episode that I had indeed watched this episode the day before. And while I realize this is a sad commentary on my state of mind it was indeed the state of things.

This week I had the flu. And thanks to my helpful Swede, I spent most of the week on the sofa – reunited with my long lost love – British Masterchef. 

Now one of the fateful flaws of this odd TV show is the fact that they switch the contestants so often that you lose track of their backstory and stop caring about anyone at all. (I know this because I am obsessed with other cooking reality TV shows like Top Chef). So last night after watching what seemed like 8 hours of Masterchef in a row, but was probably only 2, I was surprised to find that the American Masterchef was playing on yet another channel. Well, leave it to my people to solve what I felt was the tragic flaw of Masterchef, by uniting one giant cast, but then shooting themselves in the foot by making Gordon Ramsey the judge. Seriously, how does he even have time for this stuff?

And then, drumroll please, I saw the ad for the upcoming version of Swedish MasterKock! Starting next week, with that weird Swedish actor guy, Per Morberg, who has a cooking show, as the judge.

Which brings me to the main point of this post – which if you made it this far – thank you! And that is Kock/Cook remains  the most dangerous word for me to say in Swedish – because it just feels wrong at all costs. If I say it correctly and say 'Du ar en bra kock' – or you are a good cook, it sounds funny. If I say 'Du ar en bra cook' it sounds right to my ears, but makes any good Swede giggle, as I've just told them they are a good cock. So be careful out there – and as you can tell – my cold hasn't quite left me yet.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Eve – Swedish Style – The environmentally friendly gloves come off




Let's face it – the Swedes take climate change a lot more seriously than your average American and they are willing to make a lot of sacrifices for it. They know how much carbon is used to create their fast food hamburger at MAX. A few of my friends received Carbon Credits as their company Christmas present one year – the same carbon credit program that was raked over the coals in the American media. They pay eight dollars for one gallon of gas, yes EIGHT DOLLARS per gallon. (ETA - A little hazy in my NYE lack of sleep - I originally put down 4 dollars per gallon, that would indeed be a bargain here)

But New Year's Eve – it is an eve of debauchary – of drinking, of partying, and of throwing environmental caution to the wind. I've already blogged about Sweden's slightly different attitude towards the danger of fire – but what about fireworks?

New Year's Eve explodes with fireworks – in Sweden – it is a DIY display of extraordinary excess. It has led my Swede to shrug at many a July 4th celebration, as sub par. Last night from about 10 pm to 1 am our little neighborhood sounded like it was under attack. A wide assortment of rockets, small fireworks and other explosives peppered the sky.

I have to admit, being that close to that much gun powder, makes me a little nervous. I usually watch a few go off and then head indoors. I am much more impressed by the Japanese Lanterns that people are starting to use a little more often. I prefer my fireworks done by professionals, with firemen on hand.

(On a side note, I also surprised to learn that fireworks are a great sleeping aide for a LO who hates sleep.)

But the thing that surprises me the most about the NYE explosive madness of Sweden is just how bad it is for the environment. Maybe it's because Alfred Nobel invented dynamite? Or maybe because just like how calories don't count on Christmas Eve, carbon doesn't count on New Years? One 'green' article here suggests that the amount of fireworks set off on July 4th in the US is equal to the emission of 12,000 cars annually. While the Swedes probably set off fewer fireworks nationally than the US each year, even if it's only 2,000 cars annually, that's a lot of cars for one night of celebration.


So why all the hush hush about the fireworks?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Every Man's Right

Every Man's Right

The true Swedish spirit can be understood by taking a look at 'Every Man's Right' – the Swedish version of 'It's a free country.' Every Man's Right has been used as everything from a sale's gimmick by German travel companies selling Swedish charter trips to an excuse from my neighbor to allow her daughter to pitch a little tent right below my bedroom window for over a week, because she didn't like the way the tent looked in her backyard.

According to the Swedish constitution (Did I even know there was such a thing?) everyone in Sweden is entitled to Every Man's Right – that is the right to explore nature, to sleep outdoors, and to eat wild berries and things wherever one my find them irregardless of who own's the land. This may sound frivolous at first, but remember that in the US I am pretty sure we have the right to shoot those who trespass against us first, and ask questions later. So a little roaming is a bit of a luxury, is it not?

There are a few exceptions – from what I can ascertain (from my battle with the neighbor mentioned above)

  1. The tent you are pitching must be a certain distance from houses/living accommodations
  2. You can only pick what is reasonable for you to eat as an individual

There is a rumor that German travel companies sell 'Every Man's Right licenses – but you don't need them. The rights are good for everyone.

Another real perk about Sweden is that Heart-worm is pretty non-existent here. Although with globalization I expect it will be here shortly, there isn't a great risk of eating wild berries and other goodies. So you can enjoy them all the more. But it would really suck to be the first known case of Heart-worm caught in Sweden.

Oh and sticking with our gender perspective, I should probably be calling this Every Man and Woman's Right.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My, what a big lens you have!

In many cultures, if you want to show off your prowess, or make up for some that might be lacking, the quickest way to do this is to buy a flashy car. This strategy does not, however, work very well in Sweden. This is not just because flashy cars will send you back to the poor house. Did you know Sweden has a 25% VAT (that's value added tax for you Americans, and it's a lot like sales tax)? It's also because flashy cars go against the Jantelaw (more on this later) or the belief that you shouldn't think you are better than anyone else. 

So, what does your average Swede do to show off without showing off? Goes out and buys the biggest and most expensive lens they can find for their fancy DSLR camera.

I'm not kidding. Just go to any parade, wedding, or large event in Sweden and marvel at the sheer number of fancy cameras with gigantic lenses. I enjoy photography and I love taking pictures. I have a pretty nice camera with a couple of years under its belt. I look just like a teenager driving around in a little Pinto compared to the Ferarri's I'm surrounded by.

I do admit, I see these giant lenses hanging around men's necks, more often than women's. The women seem to prefer the handy 55mm. Last summer I even saw several kids running around the beach with fancy mid-sized lenses on their Nikons. So it's best to start them early!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

On a Serious Note: The crime of rape in Sweden

Sweden is making international headlines once again, but in a very strange manner. You have to live under a rock to have missed the ongoing battle to arrest and extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to Sweden on the charge of rape. Personally, I don't want to make this blog too much about political leanings and current events, but this touches upon an issue I have always struggled with in Swedish law. That is the charge of rape in the Swedish system.

Also, please note, I am not a lawyer and have not played one on TV. Most of this analysis is from reading the paper on a regular basis for years, and having read the actual law on the books with my layman's interpretation. If this subject intrests you, I encourage you to do your own digging.

The definition of rape, or våldtäkt, is exceedingly antiquated, in my humble opinion. In order to be charged with rape the victim had to have been forced into a sexual situation due to extreme violence or threat of violence/crime. There was no recognition under the law that the act of commiting a sexual act on someone who wasn't a willing partner was violence in and of itself. Also, in some cases, the victim had to explain why, if there was limited violence, they didn't fight back. If their reason was not substantial, the case could be downgraded to Sexual Assault. However, an exception is may be made if the victim cannot fight back because they have been drugged, are asleep, or passed out.

And then lets look at the statistics. According to Amnesty International over 3,500 rapes were reported in 2007. 450 cases were persued by the prosecuter. The rest were closed. But it gets worse.

Because Swedish courts have an incredibly hard time (understandably so) with he said/she said (or whatever assemblage of pronouns you might need here). The supreme court has repeatedly overturned cases in which anyone has been jailed on the power of testimony, only. And as of 2009 has stated that they will repeatedly do so.

Of those 450 rape cases that went to court in 2007. 216 people were convicted. That is 216 convictions in 3,500 reported rapes.

Here is a highly controversial example from several years ago: A young girl, 13, spends an afternoon drinking with some older men (I believe early 20's). She gets very drunk and they all have sex with her. They are charged with statuatory rape. They are freed because they say the girl told them she was 15 (the legal age) and they cannot prove that the men knew she was 13 years old. The only people there were the men and the girl. No one can prove they knew her age.

And what happens to those convicted folk? The maximum jail sentence is 4 years. Unless there is evidence of extreme violence, in which case it can be elevated to 10 years. Want to take a guess how many times that has happened?

So this is why this whole Assange thing has got me scratching my head. Are they SO sure they can actually get this guy for rape? Given all of the difficulties they have getting John Doe convicted of rape? Was he really so reckless? Because if not, that would mean some pretty crazy things are going on. Author and 'I swear the US hates me so much they won't let me in' spokesman Jan Guillou was on TV last night saying that even he felt this was too crazy to be a conspiracy theory. And if he says so, that only makes me scratch my head even more.

What is going on here? For more information please see the Amnesty web site – their report 'Case Closed' on rape in Scandinavia.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Swedish rules: Drugs are bad, Mkay?



I feel a cold coming on, and thus am reminded of one of the biggest contrasts between Sweden & the US – over-the-counter medication – or even presecription meds if we get down to it.

So just what can you do in Sweden when you feel a pain in your throat, or a headache and stuffy nose? You run out to your recently demonoploized pharmacy or now – as of this summer – your local grocery store (hallelujah) and pick up echinacea or the mysterious liquid Kan Jang. Or you can stock up on nasal spray if you are really desparate.

If you have a fever, your options widen a bit – there is tylanol (paracetamol), ibuprofan, and a few others to choose from.

But if it is a decongestant you need, you are basically screwed.

Now don't get me wrong, I love a good herbal remedy, in the beginning stages of illness I am more than willing to give it a go. But when I am miserable, and sick, echinacea just doesn't always cut it.

One of the few things I still buy every trip to the US is a huge supply of Nyquil. Because the only thing that comes close is a doctors prescription for a cough syrup based on morphine. We call it Uncle Sven's Cough Syrup around here.

In general, Swedes are a lot slower to take meds than in the US, where you pop a pill at first sneeze. I know an elderly couple that moved here and had their number of prescriptions halved. They say they have never felt better. Instead, Swedes tend to take a day or two off of work, stay in bed, and recover.

Now you can argue this from two perspectives – that this is an example of socialist mentality trying to deny meds to keep down health care costs – or that this is an example of an out of control capitalist society selling more products than people need, just to make a buck.

I am somewhere in the middle on this one. I have been over prescribed antibiotics in the US, which gave me some health issues in and of itself. But, damn, sometimes I miss being able to find a painkiller with a protective stomach coating, and a decent decongestant.

Oh, and a quick internet search shows that the mysterious Kan Jang is another echinacea concoction.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Swedish Fashion - Women's Edition -Everyone else is wearing it and you will, too!



OK I am a bit hesitant to say much about Swedish fashion – mostly because the Swedes are considered a rather fashionable folk – and I am far from being a fashionista. But since I have to live and breathe Swedish fashion daily, I am going to weigh in on the subject.

In someways Sweden seems it might be the ideal place for the non-fashionista. Mostly because, when something is fashionable in Sweden, it is ALL you find here. From the high-end shops, to the racks of H&M, there is no avoiding the trends of the season, if you choose to do any shopping that season.

It goes so far that if you are invited to an event which requires fancy-dress, and dresses are not in style that month, you might be able to find 3 dresses in your size to choose between, in the whole town. And none of them will be simple and black. Thank god for the internet.

And it does not matter your age – everyone wears the trend of the moment, irregardless of its age inappropriateness. Let's take one of last season's looks, the 'Whoops I forgot my pants' look which consisted of a pair of leggings and an extra large men's shirt. Not only would you find this look at your local high school, you could also find it on your 20 something receptionist, your 40 year old project manager, and your 65 year old grandmother.

And let's be frank here, there are very few people that manage to pull off this look successfully. I know. I tried. Because 'Whoops I forgot my pants' is a deceptively easy look for the new mother who doesn't fit into their pre-pregnancy jeans. And I say deceptively easy because you feel great until you see the photographic evidence.

So, if you love trends -Sweden is the place for you. If you are trying to create 'your own look,' it might take a bit more leg work. I've learned over the years that when I like a season's trend to stock up, because there might not be anything I like for awhile. This year there seem to be a lot of flower prints ala when I was 16, and some pretty scary stone-washed jeans. Looks like my wallet will be getting a break this spring. Thank god I fit into those old jeans again.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What? You want to get off the train? But I'm getting on here!


I wrote earlier about Swedes systematic line forming – with the help of numbers. Organizing lines tends to be quite quick and cutting is avoided using this wise system.

However, a problem occurs with impromptu lines – even though they are easily anticipated lines.

One great example of this is what occurs pretty much every time a train stops at a major train station. As the train pulls in, the people on the platform head for the door. They create a giant mass that encircles every door and push to position themselves so as to be one of the first to enter the train.

Then, the strangest thing happens. The doors to the train open, and, surprise of all surprises, people want to get off the train. The ring of awaiting passengers looks perplexed. Do they move to the side to let these passengers off, and risk losing their prime position for boarding the train?

Often the person closest to the line of fire, the one who risks being trampled in the ensuing melee, the one directly opposite the door, will back down and move to the left or right. This leaves a tiny opening for the passengers aboard the train to push through the crowd.

The remaining people, refusing to move and give up there space in the line, roll their eyes, look at the ground, and grunt with annoyance, at the people that have decided to get off at the stop they have been spending the last minute trying to leave.

The doors to the train are often wide enough for two rows of passengers to exit or enter. When the line of people exiting the train trickles down to only one passenger wide, those passengers who have been waiting on the 'correct' side, will push their way on to the train while others continue to disembark. This creates a lot of dirty looks from those getting on and off the train. Some might even mumble under their breath. But rarely will it go so far that anyone has to talk to each other.

Despite the fact that most train travellers in Sweden take the train on a daily basis, they still seem utterly surprised by the fact that there are often passengers that want to get off the train.

So if you want to be like the Swedes, as soon as the train arrives, push your way as close as possible to the door and then refuse to move anywhere but onto the train. But if you just want to keep the peace, it is often easiest to wait until the crowd has subsided and board the train. The conductor will not leave until all the passengers have boarded the train. The only thing you risk is losing a seat, and if there are many people trying to exit the trian, chances are you will still get one!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Take a number!

OK, so Swedes hate standing in line. Which I totally understand. But since it is impossible to get rid of lines all together, and still get anything done, they have found away around this. They instead insist you take a number and wait until your number is called.

They do this everywhere. At the bakery, at the bank, at the train station, at Cervera to buy Royal Copenhagen stuff, at the cheese shop. You take your little number and wait. This can often be a useful solution. If the weather is nice and the sign is big enough, you can wait outside until your number is called. Or you can browse around, until it is your turn.

The trouble is when you don't realize the store has a number system. You wait and push your way up to the counter. That is when the sales person refuses to speak with you, and just points to the number sign on the wall. Then you have to search frantically for the number dispensing machine, which can be hard to find.

Occasionally there is solidarity in numbers. Someone decides they don't need their number, so they pass it on instead of throwing it away. Someone accidently takes two numbers, and passes one on to the next shopper. It is one of the few times I have seen Swedes who don't have to interact with each other, volunteer to interact with each other.

It used to be that Systembolaget – the Swedish socialist alcohol monopoly – used the number system to dispense all of the alcohol in the country. It was quite a way to spend a Friday evening. They kept all of the booze behind the counter. You filled in a little slip with your order, and they picked the alcohol for you from their warehouse. These days the Systembolaget is still a socialist alcohol monopoly, but they have instead filled their stores with good old fashioned capitalist shelves. They allow you to pick your booze yourself, in the glory of flourescent watt lighting, and wait in a regular line to purchase it.

Before heading to the counter, check for ticket dispensing machines and a screen displaying numbers.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dinner is Served Dinner is Served Dinner is Served

'Dinner is Served.' 'Dinner is Served.' 'Dinner is Served'

OK I will admit. This Swedish rule took me ages to figure out. Mostly because I always managed to chicken out and get really nevous anytime I was put in this social situation. It wasn't until a friend explained to me that this seemed to be a new, evolving Swedish thing that I caught on.

The scene:

You are at a dinner/lunch party. You are socializing over a drink while the hostess/host is getting the food set out on a buffet table. The guests are mingling and making small talk.

The hostess/host walks into the area where everyone is socialisng and announces “Dinner is served.”

All the guests pretend this never happened and pick up their small talk where they left off.

After many nervous glances the host/hostess will clear their throat and announce again 'Dinner is served.' After this announcement, several guests might glance and smile politely at the hostess before returning to their small talk. This might calm the host/hostess' nerves, since they now see that their guests have heard their announcement. But then, no one moves towards the food. Everyone stays put.

According to my Swedish source, several years ago, it used to be on the second announcement of 'Dinner is served' that people began to migrate. But now, to do so, will make you first and last in the buffet line.

Because it is only when the host/hostess comes out the third time and announces 'Dinner is served' that he/she gets a true reaction from the guests. 'Ooooh, I am hungry' 'That buffet table looks wonderful' a line begins to form. And people begin to load their plates.

I will admit that in my first years in Sweden I was often the first person at the buffet table because I took the first announcement to mean 'Dinner is served.' And also because the hostess/host usually begins to look very nervous and unsure. They try to make eye contact with the various guests – and nothing. At this point I would slowly walk towards buffet table and wait for others to follow. That did not happen. Even the kids at the party, who I would normally try to shoo in front of me, did not come near the buffet table.

When I host, neither me nor the Swede have any tolerance for this shenaningans. If no one goes to the buffet table, we will serve ourselves, sit down and wait for our guests to wrap up their small talk. Not great hosting, but hey 'Dinner is served.'

It is polite to wait for the third invite before eating at a party

Monday, November 15, 2010

One 'Big Strong' Please

Beer. I like it. Dark beers, white beers, Christmas beers, ale and lager. I like beer.

Here in Sweden the tradition is to order beer by the size and strength. This pains me at times. You don't tend to ask what is on tap, or what type of beer it is, you only care that it is 'big and strong'

En Stor Stark, Tack!

And let me tell you, En Stor Stark ain't cheap either – even during the 'happy hour specials'- a big and strong will set you back at least 40-50 SEK (which at today's exchange rate is at least 6 dollars). That's kind of pricey for a glass of no-name beer.

Now you don't have to order the 'Big and strong,' if it is lunch time many Swedes opt for the 'small and light.' Don't be fooled. By light they don't mean low in calories, they mean low in alcohol. I think it's something like 2% alcohol.

Now, before I moved to Sweden, naïve me paid little to no attention to the percentage of alcohol in a beer. However, I have learned that the jump from 3.5% to 4.0% is highly significant to someone, somewhere. It is the deciding factor as to where I can buy my beer and why they want to charge me a 40% higher price.

And while I have never done it, this interesting way of ordering beer does mean that in theory you can order 'A small medium' or even 'a large medium' without illiciting any strange looks.

Rule #3: If you want real beer, skip the Stor Stark

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Whatever you do – DON'T HONK!



Do you want to know a surefire way to scare away your newly found Swedish friends? Honk the horn next time you take them for a spin in your Volvo. Nothing will make them duck and cringe like a good New York 'HONK' at someone who cuts you off. But it doesn't even take that, if you so much as 'tootle' the car in front of you to let them know the light has turned green during their cell phone discussion – chances are your Swedish friends will find 1001 excuses to never to get in a vehicle with you again.

I have to admit I have a hard time laying off the horn. But I have found myself faced with horrifiedly angry drivers shooting me 'poison dart eyes' when I have tried to point out that it was a good time to take that left hand turn.

So now I feel truly Swedish – last week on the way to work I sat behind a car stopped at a green light for at least a minute – and I didn't touch the horn.

(Side note – I have been told that this rule applies even more strongly to Swedish women than men – who might occasionally use a horn if a moose crosses the road. Yes, I have seen a moose cross the road.)

Rule #2 – Your car horn is for decoration only.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Excuse me - No I'm not from around here

Excuse me is an American staple. Walking down the street, at the grocery store, trying to find a spot on the subway 'excuse me' is another way of saying 'Sorry, I realize I'm invading your personal space, but I don't really have a choice in the matter.' Excuse me is also an art form of emphasis. If you enunciate the 'cuse' you may feel a little put out. If you emphasize the 'me' you probably feel the other party is in the wrong, but they are too rude to say 'excuse me' so you feel you must remind them.

So when I moved to Sweden, of course Excuse me was one of the first terms I wanted to learn in Swedish. It turns out the phrase is 'Ursäkta mig' (pronounced Urshekta may). The first chance I got was at the grocery store - I wanted to grab a carton of milk, and needed to lean close to an older woman. 'Urshekta may' I said, as I reached about 6 inches to her right. She turned around and glared at me, grabbed a milk in a flash, and was out of there.

And this scene has repeated itself probably a hundred times since. You'd think I would learn, but it turns out 'excuse me' is a tough habit to break. It is so ingrained in me, that I often mumble it before I even know what I am saying. I have only really gotten one true reaction other than the one above. 

I was standing in the grocery store with my SUV stroller (more on these later) and suddenly found myself in a traffic jam. One woman was walking down the aisle behind me, another was going to be trying to walk in front of my stroller any second. The stroller was huge & had no place to go. I tried to duck and cover. The woman behind me approached first and slipped past the stroller. The woman in front got this crazy idea to plow through the display case to my left, walking behind the giant cardboard cutout of a pizza and some precariously stacked boxes of tomato sauce. 

'Urshekta May, Urshekta' I aplologized as I tried to maneuver my stroller out of there.

She stopped dead in her tracks, looked at me, and responded 'Goodness, urshekta may! I don't know why I am in such a rush. What am I doing?' She smiled and continued on her way. (and yes, that interaction happened years later when my Swedish had improved from a bit more than an urshekta may)

 Rule #1 There is no excuse me, just plow on through.