Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Swedish Christmas in October

Daylight savings ended the other day. And by the other day I mean Last Saturday night/Sunday morning. That is a week earlier than the US. Very sneaky. Messes with the time difference a bit, so last week football games started at 6 in the evening instead of 7, and life was good. But aside from that benefit, it just means that Sweden is really dark now. Like sunset at 4 in the afternoon dark. Like pitch black by 4:30 in the afternoon dark. Like less than nine hours of daylight dark. Which can only mean one thing to Swedes. Christmas is almost here.

Swedes don’t have anything to look forward to until December rolls around. Halloween is trying to catch on, but Swedes have resisted the urge to adopt a holiday that really just gives people my age another reason to drink and dress up in next to no clothes. Some people love Halloween, but they are no friends of mine. Halloween isn’t really my style. Mostly because I hate fun.

But who are we kidding. Swedes don’t need another reason to drink during the winter. The darkness gives them plenty of reason already.

Of course after Halloween on the 31st of October comes November. Which means absolutely nothing to Swedes. They don’t even get Thanksgiving. And, in case you were wondering, no, Swedes don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. It is by far the question from Americans that aggravates me the most. Swedes do not celebrate English religious fugitives sailing across the Atlantic, landing in New England, and having dinner with the natives. For some reason they don’t feel the need.

Anyway, this leaves Swedes anxiously awaiting December. Santa Lucia. Christmas. New Year’s Eve. It’s all there. Finally, there is something to do in the winter darkness.

With this in mind, capitalism is alive and well in Sweden. Because I went grocery shopping last week. So now I don’t have to resort to a dinner of senapssill on knäckebröd and spaghetti with ketchup two nights in a row. I found the jar of senapssill in the back of the fridge and was hesitant to eat it not really knowing how long it had been there. Then I remembered that senapssill is in fact pickled herring in mustard. And pickling, by design, is meant to preserve food for a long time. So I ate it. And felt fine. But I digress.

While doing my shopping at Willy’s I couldn’t help but notice something was amiss. Christmas decorations were already out. Little towels with Christmasy themes. Tea trays with Christmas elves painted on them. Christmas had come to Sweden in October. And I was confused.

Every year in the US people complain that Christmas comes earlier and earlier. The idea being that the earlier you put the idea of Christmas in consumer’s heads, the more time they will have to spend. It makes sense. It’s kind of annoying, but it makes sense. But the US has Halloween and Thanksgiving to break things up a bit. To slow down the onslaught of Santa and his merry elves.

Sweden does not. And so, with 56 days left until Christmas day, or 55 days until Christmas Eve seeing as how this is Sweden, the onslaught has begun. But in the spirit of Christmas, there are rumors of snow tonight...

Welcome to Sweden.



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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Swedish Customs and Holey Socks

As a general rule, if you ever walk into someone’s home in Sweden, you should take your shoes off. I suppose the idea is to keep the floors in good shape, whether they be carpet, wood, or crappy plastic flooring like I have in my apartment.

Taking your shoes off is quite a nice little custom if you ask me. Shows a bit of respect for the home you’re entering, plus it shows a bit of friendliness, a comfort with your host if you will. It’s something I found myself doing over the summer when I went home. It’s something I find myself doing here without even thinking about it. Until recently. Because recently my socks have taken a turn for the worse.

I’m not really sure what happened. But apparently socks have a limited shelf life. And since I tend to buy (and by buy I mean my mom gives them to me for Christmas) socks at the same time, they apparently decide to give out all at the same time. So I am stuck with a drawer full of socks with gaping holes in them. Mostly on the bottom of the sock near the ball of the foot and the heel. This isn’t so bad really, except for the gross sticky feeling I get when walking on the aforementioned plastic flooring in my apartment. What is bad are the holes in the toes. Because when you take your shoes off at someone’s apartment, and your big toe is sticking out, well you feel a bit self-conscious about it.

This seems like it would be a simple problem to solve. There are a couple of options. I could sit around and darn my socks. But that’s not really my style. And there’s an even easier solution. Just throw them out and start over with new socks. I know. It’s easy. And socks aren’t exactly an expensive luxury item. But I have a problem. I can’t throw things away until I have used the hell out of them. So I keep wearing these socks until not only my big toe is sticking out but the rest of the little piggys stick their heads out too.

And while Mr. Fontana always told us to work smarter not harder, I would like to think that there are many different ways of doing that. And so while the smart thing may be to buy new socks, the even smarter thing is to just not wear socks with holes in the big toe when you are going to visit someone. I’m a problem solver.

Welcome to Sweden, where you should always take your shoes off at someone’s door. And where you should always be sure to have socks without holes.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sweden Announces the Nobel Prize Winners

Last year around this time I was keeping everyone updated on the Nobel winners. This year not so much. It just didn’t grab my attention as it did last year. For whatever reason.

But lucky for you, yesterday I went to the Nobel Museum. And so was reminded of some of the cool things the Nobel Prizes stand for. And even came away with a handy cheat sheet that described what each winner had done to be honored with this award.

And so, a quick rundown of the 2008 Nobel Prize winners.

Physics: The Nobel Prize in Physics was split two ways, between three people. Makoto Kobayashi and Toshide Maskawa were awarded the prize “for the discovery of the origin of the broken symmetry which predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature.” And Yoichiro Nambu “for the discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics.” I have no idea what this means. I do know that all three are much smarter than me.

Chemistry: The Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie, and Roger Y. Tsien “for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP.” This of course has garnered some attention, because one of the scientists who was in on this at the ground level is now driving a van for a living making $10 an hour. He says he isn’t bitter for missing out on the prize and the potential to split 10 million SEK. And for some reason, in all of the interviews I have read and heard, I believe him. That being said, it’s a damn shame and a waste that he isn’t working in science. Especially if he wants to be.

Medicine: The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine goes to Harald zur Hausen “for his discovery of human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer” and Francoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier “for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus.” I’m going to give a nod to zur Hausen just because his discovery has led to a vaccination, which Sweden is handing out for free to young girls by the way. Granted, the discovery of HIV is damn important, but let’s get a cure already huh?

Literature: The literature prize this year was highlighted by a couple of different controversies. First, was Horace Engdahl going out of his way to point out the cultural ignorance of the United States and their inability to translate books, basically saying that they had no chance of winning the prize. Engdahl said: “The US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.”

Some people think he was joking. Some people apparently have a strange sense of humor.

When the winner of The Nobel Prize in Literature was announced, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio from France was honored as an “author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization.” But more controversy followed. Because, while, Le Clézio has long been on the short list of supposed winners over the past few years, the day before the announcement betting on him as the winner skyrocketed. Which brings up a couple of interesting points. First, that there may have been a leak somewhere in the literature committee. And of course, that people actually bet on who will win the Nobel Prize for literature.

Peace: The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo. Every year. According to the dying wish of Alfred himself. At the time, Sweden and Norway had a nice little union, and Nobel was a fan of the union. Some people think by giving Oslo the Peace prize he was trying to create his own version of peace between the two parties in their union which would dissolve just a short while after Nobel’s death. But no one really knows. Because he didn’t write it down. Let this serve as a warning to all of you who intend on leaving your vast fortunes to the creation of international awards. Explain everything.

Anyway, ex-President of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari was awarded The Nobel Peace Prize “for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts.” Most people feel this was completely well-deserved, and probably should have been awarded to him last year. Martti “So Many Vowels” Ahtisaari himself thinks so. And said so. In fact, this is exactly what he said: “Often, the prize has been awarded to parties involved in a conflict, and then possibly also to mediators in conjunction. But, of course, if this (mediation) was the awarding criterion, then my chances increased quite considerably. In the end, I had very few competitors in this category.”

Which takes some balls. But there’s something to be said for standing up after having won the Nobel Peace Prize and telling the world that they did the right thing and that he deserved to be recognized with this prestigious prize. Maybe that’s why he’s so good at negotiating peace between warring factions in places like Namibia and Indonesia.

Economics: Of course the economics prize isn’t technically a Nobel Prize but instead an honorary prize in memory of Alfred Nobel sponsored by Sweden’s banking system. Anyway, this year’s economic prize went to an American. Which seems a bit ironic considering the current state of the US economy. Paul Krugman was awarded The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences “for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity.”

So now everyone is just a little bit smarter. Not nearly as smart as those who took home a prize, but it is a step in the right direction.

Welcome to Sweden. Home of the Nobel Prize.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Doing My Civic Duty in Sweden

You may have heard about the United States Presidential Election. The main contest is coming down to Barack Obama and John McCain. There hasn’t been all that much press about it really. Some of my more international friends may have missed the whole George Bush leaving office thing and someone else taking over. It’s so hard sometimes to get a feel for how Europeans feel about the Bush years. They tend to keep their opinions about the US to themselves.

That’s not true. I lied. Europeans are anxiously awaiting the end of, what they see as, the disastrous Bush era.

I on the other hand am just excited to be able to vote from abroad for the first time. As an American living abroad though, I feel a bit of a disconnect from the whole process. But in order to make Mrs. Switzer proud I needed to vote. So I registered for an absentee ballot which arrived yesterday in the mail. After reading through the information I realized that there needed to be a quick turnaround time. Because suddenly November 4th is just around the corner. Eleven days around the corner. And so, over the course of the last 24 hours or so I’ve been voting as an American.

So at about 11 in the pm last night I started voting. And I was still voting at 2 in the morning. Because I wanted to make sure I knew what I was voting for. And Colorado had a solid number of amendments to be voted on. Plus a bunch of people I had never heard of. Luckily, the good state of Colorado puts out a book with information on all of the amendments. Gives the proposed amendment, gives a summary, describes what will change, what won’t change, the impact it will have on various aspects of Colorado, the supposed financial impact, and then an equal number of for and against arguments. And I poured over it and made my decisions.

In a strange attempt to test my political leanings I stayed away from any sort of partisan websites that would suggest I vote in a certain way. Until I had made my choices in black ink. At which point I scoured the web. With the help of my old man on the other side of the Atlantic. Turns out I agree with Colorado Republicans on just about everything that has ties to small business. I blame my father for this somehow.

While I found plenty of information on the amendments, the candidates were a bit trickier. Because to get information on the candidates it was usually necessary to go to the candidates websites. Which obviously are bastions of neutral and non-partisan information.

Eventually, again with the help of the old man, I got enough information on candidates to make what I consider a halfway intelligent decision considering I am thousands of miles away.

Of course some of the candidates were pretty easy to find information on. Like the Presidential candidates. However, Colorado likes to put a twist on things. Because Colorado actually has 16 people on the ballot for President. Apparently, all it takes to get on the ballot in Colorado is 1000 signatures and $500. And of course all of the other requirements, like that whole being born in the USA thing. Which Bruce Springsteen has, and I do not. I mean come on now, I had no control over that. It’s just not fair. Teachers for years told me I could be anything I wanted to be. But they lied. Because I will never be President of the United States of America. I think we all know that only America loses in that situation.

So after hours of voting research in the wee hours of the morning, and continued research the next morning, I had done my civic duty. It felt good. Colorado even provided me with a sticker to wear that shows off my voting prowess.

Now I can only hope that my ballot gets to Colorado in time. I did pay an extra 80 SEK to make sure it arrives next week instead of taking the chance that 7 business days isn’t enough.

Welcome to Sweden, where the democratic process is alive and well.




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Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Beauty of Swedish Sports

One of the reasons I quite like being in Sweden is the sports culture. Even though I very much feel like a foreigner and don’t have nearly the same handle on it as I do in the US. It still entertains me. When my brother was studying here we went to a hockey game. And it was glorious. The chanting and singing were something else. Kind of intimidating. Kind of scary. But strangely hypnotic at the same time.

It seems though that the Swedes have stepped it up a notch. Chanting and singing just aren’t enough these days. Or at least not for those fans who support AIK, one of Stockholm’s best established sports organizations.

So the other night AIK was playing Leksand. Both teams find themselves in Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second division in terms of ice hockey. Leksand made some headlines last year by signing Ed Belfour as their goalie. Now keep in mind they play in the second division. And a sure-fire Hall of Fame goalie was playing for them. That’s good work.

Anyway, Jan Huokko plays for Leksand but used to play for AIK. Jan Huokko is a pretty solid player and has spent some time with the national team. Jan Huokko also likes to make sex tapes with his girlfriend. And those sex tapes found their way online. As sex tapes are wont to do.

Now I hadn’t even heard of this sex tape until reading about this yesterday, nor have I seen the sex tape, but from the reaction of AIK’s fans, Jan Huokko’s sex tape made an impression. For whatever reason. And those reasons are maybe best left to your imagination.

Like a jilted lover though, AIK responded. And pulled no punches. By littering the ice with dildos. By holding up signs saying “Bend Over Bitch.” By even bringing an inflatable penis to the arena. Luckily, dildos are easy to come by now that they are sold in your local pharmacy. But an oversized inflatable penis? I don’t even have the slightest clue where you could find one of those. Luckily for all of us, the AIK fans did know where to get one.

What makes this story even better is that AIK as an organization knew this was going to happen. And allowed it to happen. They are complicit in all of this. This wasn’t some under the table deal. This was announced on the supporter’s website beforehand. This was marketed. Advertised. And AIK did nothing to stop it. Which I just think really adds to the hilarity of the situation.

A quick side note which bears mentioning. In Sweden many sports teams are under an organization. AIK for example is not just ice hockey but also soccer and all kinds of other sports. They cover the spectrum in terms of demographics also with men’s teams, women’s teams, and even junior teams all playing under the AIK banner. Along with that organization tends to come a large fan base, sometimes organized into its own separate entity. They are separate from the organization. These are your fanatics who stand throughout the game chanting, singing, yelling, clapping. For example, AIK’s biggest fan group is called the Black Army. These groups of people are what make me love the Swedish sports scene. Now because they are separate entities they can do whatever the hell they want. Like organize a group of people to show up to the game with dildos to throw on the ice.

Some people might argue this went too far. And some people might be offended. And some people might feel bad for the girlfriend in all of this. And that’s fine. All legitimate concerns. I just laughed though. Because it is so very obscene. And hilarious. And while Jan Huokko said he hardly noticed it, you know damn well he’s lying. Because when dildos come raining down on the ice, and you recently had a sex tape pop up on the internet, you notice.

One of my favorite sports writers is Bill Simmons from ESPN. Simmons sometimes writes about how organizations need to psyche out the other team through varying methods. Maybe an opposing player’s ex-girlfriend should sing the national anthem. Maybe the ceremonial pitch should be thrown out by someone who would leave the opposing team, if not intimidated, then at least a bit unsettled. Maybe a team should throw dildos on the ice to make fun of a player’s sex tape. I’d like to think Mr. Simmons would be proud of this.

For some semblance of actual journalism on this event check out The Local’s take on this. It’s beautiful. And aptly titled: Swedish hockey fans delay match with dildo downpour.

In case you were wondering, AIK beat Leksand 3-2. Jan Huokko did not score but assisted on Leksand’s final goal.

Welcome to Sweden.


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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sexy Sexist Ads in Sweden

The other day I wondered if it was sexist of me to give more weight to a study about Swedish boobs done by a woman than a man. I’m going to argue that it had more to do with the end result, one had ties to cancer while the other with how boobs sagged, than with the fact that the cancer study was done by a woman while the sagging one was done by a man.

Luckily though, in Sweden, you usually don’t have to think about these sorts of things. Because there is always someone else to tell you if something is sexist. Especially when it comes to advertising. And the list is long and distinguished.

Etiska Råd mot könsdiskriminerande reklam, lovingly known as ERK is big on getting the names of discriminating companies out to the public. The organization loosely translates to the Ethical Council against Gender Discriminatory Advertising. Kind of. After my own translation. Without all of the särskrivning. The Local translates it as Sweden's Trade Ethical Council against Sexism in Advertising. But that’s just no fun using someone else’s translation.

Anyway, the other day the ERK came out with a list of companies that insulted their senses. The two that really caught my attention were Lego and Ryan Air. Lego of course is known throughout the world for its sexist overtones. I mean come on. The little yellow Lego characters all start out as men. You have to put a wig on them to make them women. It doesn’t get much more sexist than that. Or so I thought. Until I read why they were listed as a company that used sexist advertising.

Lego had the gall to print in their advertising catalog pictures of girls playing with princesses and castles. In a pink room. Disgusting. But it gets worse. Lego also printed pictures of boys playing with a police station and a fire station. In a blue room. Oh the horror. Clearly, Lego, in its attempt to brainwash children everywhere, has printed the catalogs in hopes of cementing centuries old gender roles. Because Lego wins when girls like the color pink and boys the color blue. Obviously. Lego defended itself by noting that there are boys and girls throughout the catalog playing with each other.

Ryan Air, the low-fare airline based out of the UK has also fallen under attack. For an ad campaign that came out in conjunction with the new school year. The ad showed a girl in the classic school girl outfit. And by classic I mean the sexy costume that college girls throughout the US will be donning in just a couple of weeks for Halloween. So of course, this was sexist.

Ryan Air responded by saying they believed women should be allowed to take their clothes off. And if women are allowed to take their clothes off then Ryan Air should be allowed to show them in various stages of undress. Who am I to argue with that sort of logic? No one, that’s who. The beautiful thing here is that Ryan Air referred to the ERK as “anti-funsters” and “old farts.” That’s good stuff.

After these comments one of Sweden’s leading feminist politicians called for people to boycott Ryan Air. Birgitta Ohlsson said it was her duty “to name and shame companies” like Ryan Air. Or in other words, to tell people what to do and how to think. Ryan Air responded. Of course. I mean, a company who refers to the ERK as anti-funsters and old farts won’t sit idly by as their company is subjected to a boycott. And their response? Classic. “‘This really is a storm in a D cup!’” Even referring to the aforementioned politician as “Boring Birgitta.”

This turned out to be an old fashioned mudslinging contest. And I’ll be honest. I think Ryan Air won. So while some people might boycott Ryan Air, I just can’t turn down roundtrip airline tickets to such exotic locales as Poland for only 94 SEK. And with the dollar pushing 8 SEK now in exchange, well, you can’t steal it for that price.

Granted, I won’t be boycotting Ryan Air, but luckily I have found a different sexist cause to rail about. The other day I saw a commercial for a vitamin that was specifically for women. The ad said that women get home they have all kinds of other responsibilities. Like taking care of the kids. And cooking. And cleaning. I was disgusted. As a man who cooks and cleans I have never felt so discriminated against. Clearly this company should be called out for its blatantly sexist ad campaign. I started dictating an angry letter in my head. And then remembered that I’m not an idiot. I am capable of living my life without being insulted by everything that doesn’t fit into that extremist world of political correctness that so many people try to push.

Advertising should be taken with a grain of salt. It is aimed at specific groups of people. A target market if you will. Of course it will discriminate. Now if only the crazy bastards at the ERK could figure that out and let people think for themselves. If I am offended by something I won’t support that cause. Like Socialdemokraterna. I don’t need someone putting out a list that tells me what I can and can’t support. What is and isn’t sexist. What should and should not offend me.

Welcome to Sweden.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Very Own Swedish TV Show

As a general rule I’m not good at watching TV shows. I’m good at watching sports, but actual TV shows that are shown on a certain day at a certain time; I just don’t have it in me. I find myself watching a bit of TV and I’ll see a commercial for a show that looks halfway entertaining. But I just can’t bring myself to turn on the TV at the same time every day. Really what I want is someone to write a brief synopsis that I can then read. Or skim.

Which I suppose makes sense. Because I can obsessively update my RSS feeds waiting for something new and exciting to read online. I can check my fantasy football team and NFL box scores hundreds of times over the course of a Sunday. I can read every damn article on ESPN.com. But I can’t watch a TV show consistently. Except for South Park. Every weekday night at 11 pm. MTV. Which should probably pay me some sort of royalty for that plug. But I digress.

Sometimes, in my attempt to engrain myself in pop culture I try to adopt a show. Which usually fails miserably. And lately I have been thinking I should try to adopt a Swedish show. You know, to engrain myself in Swedish pop culture. Now, when I say lately, I really mean that the other day someone made a reference about some Swedish TV show and I didn’t know what was going on. Which isn’t all that strange I suppose, but it did hammer home the idea that there are many ways to get into a culture, and sad as some might think it is, TV is one of them.

And so it was that last night I watched a show called I Ditt Ansikte. In Your Face. A show that I had seen commercials for and thought could be entertaining. And last night I stumbled upon it. Which was excellent. I had found the show I was going to adopt. I even watched the whole thing. Or at least the whole thing from the time I turned on the TV. So I actually missed the first 20 minutes of it or so. But still, that’s a solid 40 minutes of one show. And it was in fact entertaining. This was it. This was my Swedish show.

Basically, it’s a couple of stand-up comics who are to perform somewhere that isn’t exactly a comedy venue. Like a mosque. In front of Muslims. And they are to joke about Islam. Hence the title “In Your Face.” It was awkward and funny. But mostly awkward. Awkward in a way that kind of leaves you with that squirmy feeling inside. Like you need to move around a bit to get out of the situation but there’s just no way out. It’s the same feeling you get when you are hanging out with your buddy and his girlfriend and they are bickering over who is supposed to do the dishes, and instead of someone giving in it escalates as you sit quietly. Glorious really. And so it went throughout the show. The two guys went around practicing in front of different groups of people, learning a bit about Islam, finally culminating with their stand-up show in a mosque. I laughed and squirmed. And it ended.

With a glint of hope in my eyes I anxiously awaited to hear about the next episode. This was going to be my show. I mean who am I kidding? I have nothing else to do on Monday nights at 9 in the evening. It was perfect really. But I was sorely disappointed. I had managed to catch the last episode. Episode six of six. The finale if you will. And so my attempts at adopting a Swedish TV show will have to wait.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Shrinking Swedish Boobs

One of Sweden’s enduring stereotypes is tall blonde girls running around with big boobs. With that in mind it seems that scholars are keen on understanding more about Swedish breasts. Earlier I wrote about a professor who did a study about early bra usage leading to saggy Swedish boobs. An unfortunate, and apparently unforeseen, side-effect of bra usage. Now the studies continue. And on another important boob issue. This time not sagginess, but size.

It seems that the good researchers down at Lund University are at it again. Possibly the leading university in terms of well publicized studies involving breasts, researchers have found that drinking lots of coffee can lead to shrinking breasts. In a country that consumes a whole lot of coffee this could have far reaching consequences. Of course, it can also lead to shrinking risk of breast cancer. Tradeoffs. We face them every day.

For some reason, while I think this study is kind of funny, I have a much easier time accepting this study than the study about saggy boobs. For a couple of reasons. One being that this has some ties to breast cancer. And also because the researching professor was a woman. Which might be sexist. I don’t really know.

The study about saggy boobs that I wrote about a while back was carried out by an old man. The focus being the sexification and pressure placed on women in terms of their breasts. So basically an old guy was staring at boobs all day and calling it research. At least here a woman was staring at boobs all day and trying to tie it in with breast cancer. Which I must say ranks a bit higher, in my opinion, in terms of important subjects to research.

But in the end what I think is important doesn’t matter. It is the intellectual elite of Sweden who bear that burden. And they have spoken. Lund University has made it clear that Swedish boobs are important. Important enough to study what makes them sag and what makes them shrink. Oh to be a professor…

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

More Adventures in a Swedish Elevator

Elevators are awkward. You are forced into a small confined space with people you don’t know. And only for a short time. Do you strike up a conversation with someone who might only be on the elevator for a couple of floors? In Sweden the answer is, of course, no. Never strike up a conversation with someone on the elevator. In fact, if at all possible end all conversations and stare at the floor numbers moving by in complete silence. Of course, there are some other rules for elevators that should always be followed to avoid any more unnecessary awkwardness.

Keep your boobs in your shirt is a good one for example. You might think it strange that I mention this rule but a few months back I was on the elevator with a girl whose boob was hanging out. The whole time. It was really one of the more hilarious/awkward moments of my life. Feel free to relive the moment with me here: A Strange Morning with Swedish Boobs.

But just the other day I had another elevator adventure. And one that reminded me of some additional elevator etiquette. That being, don’t fart. Especially if they stink.

Now let me set the scene. I am a pretty big guy. About 6 foot 3 inches tall, 190 pounds. Relatively broad shoulders compared to the average Swede. And the elevator I found myself in was small. Width–wise there would have been no way to fit more than one and a half of me. My shoulders nearly touched both sides of the elevator. But it was a long elevator. So you could stack people in. And so it was that three other people crammed into the elevator. One girl obviously by herself, and two guys about my age who got on together. They had been having a lively conversation which died the second they crossed the threshold of the elevator (please see the first paragraph of this post for rule number one).

Anyway, we are now riding on the elevator in complete silence. And someone cracks one off. And by someone I mean the guy closest to me. Because I heard it. And smelled it. Now, in general I find farts to be hilarious. I know. I’m 24. They shouldn’t be funny anymore. But they are. But even I have some recognition of time and place when it comes to ripping ass. And the elevator is neither the place nor the time. But this guy didn’t care. Or maybe he was just trying to sneak it out hoping it wouldn’t make any noise. Hoping it wouldn’t stink. We’ve all been in that situation. Sneak one out and it gives a little pfft and makes a bit of a smell. Oops. It happens.

And here’s the thing. It’s embarrassing. But everyone does it. And instead of excusing himself, or maybe even laughing it off, maybe joking with his buddy about it, he said nothing. The silence continued. As did the smell of poop. And all I could do was smile and shake my head. Mostly because I was trying to get that smell out of my nostrils…

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Leaky Toilets and Well Designed Bathrooms in Sweden

My toilet is leaking. Bad. Every time I flush water spews out from the tank. At first it was just a bit of water. So little that I thought it was just coming from the bottom of the toilet. I wasn’t all that concerned. The next day it was a bit worse so I sent in a fault report to my building maintenance guy. In the meantime I kept doing my business. A little water on the floor wasn’t going to stop me.

I’ve learned a lot from this leaky toilet. In my opinion, anything that can’t be learned on a toilet or from a toilet just isn’t worth learning. And this particular toilet has reiterated two very important things about Sweden. The first one being that Swedes are damn good at designing bathrooms.

Most bathrooms in private residences that I have ever used have a glorious design. There is a large drain incorporated into the floor. And the floor slants towards that drain ever so slightly. Just enough to convince the water to head that way.

I think the good Dr. David Knightfish, who sometimes comments here, would agree that as an exchange student in Uppsala, after nights of possibly having had too much to drink, being able to rinse whatever may have ended up on the floor down the drain was a god send.

And now, in my old age (or lack of social life), when nights of heavy drinking are few and far between, I enjoy the drain for different reasons. That is to say when water ends up on the floor because of a leaky toilet I don’t have to use towels to clean anything up. I just let the slanty floor do its job. And so when I flush and the water leaks out, down the drain it goes. I don’t have to do a thing. I can live my life as if my toilet wasn’t leaking copious amounts of water.

The second thing that my leaky toilet has reiterated is the beauty of Swedish service. Or the lack thereof. Because a couple of days after having notified my maintenance guy I received a couple of mysterious messages on my phone. You know the ones where someone just says “Hello” over and over as if you have chosen to answer the phone but not talk to them. Anyway, as a general rule I don’t really respond to missed calls unless someone leaves a message. But I figured this person left some sort of message, regardless of its worthlessness. So I called them back yesterday. Turns out it was the plumber. Of course it was.

The regular maintenance guy was on vacation so he was filling in. And he was not pleased with me. It seemed like I was some sort of bother to him. To be honest, he was an ass. And he told me how he didn’t have any time to fix my toilet now. The only opportunity he really had was on Friday. Last Friday. The very same day he had left his two mysterious messages. If I had responded then he would have had time. But now? No way. Instead I would just have to wait until Monday the 20th.

I told him that the toilet was in fact leaking a good bit of water and any help before Monday would be appreciated. He reminded me again that he really only had time last Friday with some grunting and groaning as if to remind me just how busy and important he truly was. In the end, my boyish charm won him over and he agreed to call me back. I hung up the phone amazed at the guilt trip I had just endured. Somehow, I felt like it was my fault.

Now granted, I didn’t call the number back right away. But as it was, due to the lack of any credible message, I had no idea who was calling. So I’ll take a bit of blame. My no-call back policy bit me in the ass. But come on now. I have a toilet that is pissing water. Toilets are supposed to be passive in the act of pissing, not active pissers themselves.

Luckily, despite the lack of initial service and overall grumpiness the plumber called me back. And he will be coming on Friday. But can’t give me any specific time. Sometime in the morning he said. Sometime.

From my understanding though, this kind of attitude isn’t unique to Sweden, except for the fact that this was a Swedish plumber. Apparently plumbers the world over hold sway over the common man. Perhaps because of the fact that they can be counted on to keep a toilet from spewing sewage everywhere. I suppose it’s a good skill to have. But Mr. Plumber, I must remind you that with great power comes great responsibility. So don’t be an ass. And please fix my toilet.

Welcome to Sweden.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

A Week of Tennis in Stockholm

As I have mentioned over and over in this blog, I love sports. A lot. And even the sports I don’t know much about I like to check out. Witness the fact that I actually went to a soccer game. And kind of enjoyed it.

But so it was that I found myself at the Stockholm Open quite a bit the past week. The event ran from October 4th with the start of the qualifying rounds, to October 12th. Yesterday. The finals.

Yesterday the Stockholm Open wrapped up with Jonas Björkman and his partner Kevin Ullyett winning the doubles final. During the week Björkman played his 1000th doubles match. He won his 53rd doubles title. And he will not play competitively on Swedish soil again. He is retiring at the end of the season. The win was a fitting ending then to his tennis career in Sweden.

My tennis experience begins and ends with a good friend from high school who played in college and now coaches and an old girlfriend from high school who also played in college. That is to say, my tennis experience is scant. So I was pleasantly surprised by the sport itself. It was fun to see. Exciting. Quick… most of the time at least. And there were some pretty intense moments.

That being said, I was less than pleased with the fanciness that surrounds tennis. There were the stereotypical, fancy-pancy tennis fans. And you’re damn right I just wrote fancy-pancy. Because not only were these the stereotypical tennis fans, but the stereotypical Stockholm tennis fans. All the name brand clothes, hair gel, and sweaters draped across shoulders that being a Stockholmer entails.

But that is something I have learned to deal with since being here in Stockholm. What really got me about watching tennis weren't the fancy fans, but the quiet of the fancy fans. The quiet while the ball was in play. The damn near silence when the ball was being served. It was deafening. And the whole time all I could think about was Todd Helton playing in front of 40,000 screaming fans and hitting a 95 mph fastball with a tiny stick of wood. But tennis players need absolute silence to throw a ball to themselves and hit it with a racket that is several times the size of the ball. Apparently.

And this is absolutely nothing against Stockholm’s tennis fans because I am well aware that this is expected behavior at tennis matches. I was even told that Stockholm is a bit more liberal in terms of their silence policy because they play music during breaks.

But aside from that, I am definitely down for watching a bit more tennis live. Because it was fun, even if it was quiet.

One of the highlights came on Saturday, and wasn’t even tied to a match. Because that’s when I wandered past one of the courts not being played on and saw Björkman and Ullyett having a bit of fun. And working their asses off. And I took some video of it.

video


In other news, my new favorite player, David Nalbandian, ranked seventh in the world from Argentina, won the singles title. Since I had no favorite player before this tournament it would be easy to assume I chose him because he won. You would be wrong. I chose him for one simple reason. Earlier in the week, after a few of the matches, the winning player played a quick game with various children that had been chosen to compete. And I saw Nalbandian play against an 11 year old boy, followed by playing against a seven year old girl. I don’t think I have ever seen a professional athlete have so much fun. I told this to someone who was standing near me and he informed me that all the players are probably coached in how to interact with kids. Maybe. But I’d much prefer to think that him playing with those two kids gave Nalbandian a bit of unbridled joy that had nothing to do with competition and winning.

Welcome to Sweden.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Me, a Kenyan, and Barack Obama in Stockholm

Two nights ago I found myself out way past my bedtime. And needing to take a night bus home. Unfortunately, having never taken a night bus in the middle of the week back to my place I wasn’t really sure what time they left. So I guessed. And my buddy and I left the bar in hopes of catching it. Well I guessed wrong. By about seven minutes. Which doesn’t sound like much. But when they only come once an hour seven minutes becomes a long ass time.

So we had time to spare. And wandered to McDonalds. Which was closed. Luckily, 7-11, despite its moniker, was not closed. I bought a calzone and Fanta. The calzone was dry. And delicious. Because it was 3 am and I had imbibed in a drink or two. Anyway, that obviously didn’t take 53 minutes. So we sat our asses down on the bus stop bench and waited.

When two gentleman rolled up speaking English. And me, being a drunk American decided to talk with them. One was from Kenya. The other from Nigeria. Both had been in Sweden for a while and spoke Swedish but seemed more comfortable speaking English to each other. They asked where I was from and I explained my confused background and finished simply with, “in the end, I’m an American.”

At which point the Kenyan quickly pounced. Not in a bad way but he asked me what I thought about the upcoming election. As I often do in Sweden because of my political views and my not wanting to cause problems at 3 am I simply stated that I believed Obama would win without stating my preferences. And then he said something which took me by surprise. He asked if I knew that Obama was from Kenya.

Now I have read the articles about Kenyans loving Obama. And the support he has there. And even about the author of an anti-Obama book being deported. But I was still taken aback for a second.

Technically, Obama isn’t from Kenya. Had he been born in Kenya he would not be eligible to be President. Just as I am not eligible to be President. His father was born there though. A father he really only met once in his life. But a father that seems to have played a strong role in his life regardless. The title of his book, Dreams from My Father, suggests as much. I would never consider Obama Kenyan. But this Kenyan claimed him as if he were a native son.

I always believed the claiming of an ancestral country was something unique to Americans. Like an old girlfriends friend who claimed to be Norwegian despite not having citizenship, never having lived there, studied there, worked there, or even speaking the language. Something drives people to cling to their ancestry. And yet I was surprised to see a Kenyan man who had lived in Sweden for nearly 20 years claim Obama as a native.

Anyway, I’m really not all that interested in Obama’s specific case. I am interested in the claim of belonging. So instead, in my selfish ways, I thought of my own claims. Because, when I was younger I think I probably claimed to be Swedish plenty of times. I even said I would renounce my American citizenship when I turned 18 to rile up my mom once or twice. I think part of the reason I moved here was to straighten out my ability to make a claim. And since having moved to Sweden I now claim to be American when people ask. Either I have realized something profound or I just have a strange desire to be different and seen as other. I prefer to think it is the former.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Lunch with Swedes

Yesterday I sat at lunch with four Swedes. Three of whom knew I was American. I sat silently throughout nearly the entire meal for one simple reason. It was America bashing time. Primarily coming from the mouth of the girl sitting immediately to my right. But one other guy joined in a bit.

For example, did you know that:

Americans eat too much? And that they only eat junk food. And hamburgers and french fries.

Americans drive too much? The magic number according to these Swedes was 300 meters. Anything over 300 meters was driving distance.

Americans don’t recycle enough? And when they do learn to recycle Europeans look down their noses at them because Europeans have been doing it since they were little.

Americans have shallow relationships? Because they are so friendly, it was decided that Americans don’t have good friends and that all of their relationships are shallow.

(Finally, one that just made me shake my head), American athletes, before competing will drink a bottle of water, and then immediately fill the bottle of water with pop so that they have it during competition? Little known fact.

Let me remind you that all of these things were actually said. Granted in Swedish but still. One girl actually uttered the recycling and the athlete comment.

Now granted, I have heard most of these before, except for the pop thing, because it is the same thing over and over. Americans are fat and lazy. Americans are bad for the environment. Americans are too friendly. Usually I stand up for the US, but I just wasn’t in the mood to deal with this nonsense. Sometimes I just don’t have it in me. And yesterday was one of those days. So I sat quietly. I mean, literally did not say a single word. I did do a lot of head shaking, because well, that’s what I do when I’m disgusted. Finally, the girl to my left turned to me with a half smile on her face and laughingly commented that I was being very quiet. So I simply stated that I was American. And left it at that. That at least shut up the girl doing most of the bashing and the talk instead turned to the tired food we were eating.

But it made me think. It is socially acceptable to bash America. But had a group of people been sitting around a table eating lunch and bringing up negative stereotypes of, say, Mexico, those people would be considered, at best, mildly prejudiced. At worst, full blown racists. A quick side note, I know that being from a certain country does not give you claim to race, Mexican is not a race, Swedish is not a race, American is not a race, just deal with my colloquial usage of the word.

It boggles my mind that a country that prides itself on openness and acceptance can so obviously disregard those very morals and beliefs when it comes to the US, simply because it is the US. Obviously there are things wrong with the US, but it’s not hard to pull up things that are wrong with any country really. I’ve found plenty of things that I don’t agree with here in Sweden, many of which I have written about. Of course, I would never dream of sitting at a table with four Swedes and go on a tangent about how awful their country is.

This America bashing is something I have seen from most of western Europe. Very seldom have I found anyone from western Europe that has much good to say about the US. I even had one guy tell me that the US really had no impact in World War II. Those people which I have run into from eastern Europe seem to have a different attitude towards the US for some reason, often asking me with disbelief why I would have ever moved from the US to Sweden. So in the spirit of stereotypical assertions about large groups of people: It seems that as a general rule, the bashing of America is seen as acceptable if not required for true citizenship in any western European country.

Welcome to Sweden.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

ride for HOPE - Canada to Argentina by Bicycle

Another post that has nothing to do with Sweden. But I am constantly amazed by my buddy Keenan.

So check out his blog Ride for HOPE - Canada to Argentina by Bicycle. It’s well written, has some beautiful pictures, and plus it’s for a good cause. And say it with me now… I’m a sucker for a good cause.

And to be honest, it’s just a damn cool story he’s got to tell. Quite the adventure. He and his brother are in fact riding their bikes from Canada to Argentina. Hence the title of the blog. No one ever said Keenan’s strength was creative copywriting.

If you’re really feeling generous you can donate some money to HOPE, the organization they are raising money for. But, I’ll settle with people just clicking on the link to check out his blog. Because while I enjoy writing this blog, and enjoy ranting about whatever I feel like here in Sweden, there are plenty of people doing similar things. Very few are doing what Keenan is doing. And that’s something special. And worth reading about.

So Welcome to Sweden. Now get the hell out of here and check out a trip from Canada to Argentina. He’s about one month in. Only about 11 months to go. That gives you all plenty of time to get to know Keenan.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Swedish American in Greece

I’ve been in Greece. Exploring. And it was glorious. And now I am back. And it is cold.

The old ‘uns flew over to Greece for a little vacation so I flew down to Athens and met up with them. Because who am I to turn down lodging and food with my parents in Greece? No one, that’s who.

The week was filled with sightseeing, ruins, driving, bad "it's all Greek to me" jokes, even a little scuba diving, and a whole lot of lamb. Because Greeks love lamb. And so do I.

The week started in Athens with the requisite ruins. The Acropolis, some Temples, some arches. Stuff that was built over 2000 years ago that is now hanging out in the middle of a city filled with the trappings of modern society. The ruins were beautiful, the city was not. While mostly clean it was just kind of ugly. Tired looking. But I suppose the point of going to Athens, at least for me, is the old stuff. And the old stuff is hard to beat.

What’s even harder to beat is dinner at Taverna Acropolis at the foot of the Acropolis. The Acropolis is lit up and looms over the city. Almost ghostly. But stunning. And dinner there is something that will stick with me forever. It was one of those experiences.

There was also a trip to one of the Greek islands. Hydra. A small little island rumored to be nearly car-free. I saw at least four. But nothing else motorized on wheels. The island was one of the closer ones to Athens and was a very calm, pretty place. With some glass clear water to swim around in. Which I did.

Following our day of braving the seas off of south western Greece we had an adventure to Delphi to check out the Temple of Apollo and the Oracle. Delphi was basically built right into the side of a mountain. And I never realized quite how mountainous Greece was. Rumor has it that there is a Dutch company working in Greece that offers a week of skiing and sailing. Three days of skiing and four of sailing. An interesting combination. And one that I am interested in. Now I just need to learn to sail. Because obviously it’s not fun having someone do everything for you.

Along with all the sightseeing was probably one of the coolest things I’ve done. I went scuba diving. I got certified over the summer so this was my first real dive. So I got to do a dive around an old ship wreck a little bit south of Athens. And that’s not something you get to do every day.

But one thing you do get to do every day in Greece is eat lamb. Lots of it. We went to a few restaurants, tavernas if you will, or tabepnas if you really will because of that silly Greek alphabet. Come on now… an alphabet that you’ve been using for thousands of years? Show-offs. Anyway, they basically just skin a lamb and shove it on a stick over a fire. Then you order it by the kilo. And it is salty and delicious. And we ate a lot of it. I was surprised to find out though that gyros featured pork or chicken, not one of them offered lamb. And I learned something. I thought gyros were at least offered in lamb form. I was wrong.

All in all a great trip. Next time, because the beautiful thing about travel is planning next time, will be spent checking out more of the Greek islands.

What does this have to do with Sweden? Not a damn thing. Except that I’m back in country now.

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