Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lost in Translation – Swedish Style

Sometimes everyone finds themselves in one of those surreal moments. Trying to figure out exactly what is going on. Trying to figure out if it is just something that is, in fact, lost in translation.

And so, I found myself having a beer after work with a buddy of mine. We had managed to put away one beer and were sitting around chatting about Sweden in general. The classic ex-pat conversation. What’s wrong with the country. What’s right. And why the hell we are there.

That’s when a voice came from off to the left. Are you English? My buddy is Australian. So no, not English. She threw herself into the conversation. The fact that she was Swedish made this really quite surprising. We continued on with our new found friend asking the standard questions. Where are you from? Do you like it? Why are you here? What do you do? She told us she was a social worker.

The basic interrogation of any foreigner living in Sweden really. We politely answered. At which point she asked us the same questions. Again. We politely answered. Again. At which point she asked us the same questions. Again. We politely answered. Again. I think you see where this is going.

Finally, we got out of this endless loop only to get stuck in another one. This time, she was telling us about herself. And her husband. He was English. And incredibly intelligent. Thirteen years of university. And her husband was English. And incredibly intelligent. Thirteen years of university. But he can’t learn Swedish. And did you know her husband was English? And was incredibly intelligent? And had 12 years of university (you’ll notice there was a slight hiccup in the loop, 13 to 12 years)? And can’t learn Swedish? Strangely enough, I did already know that. It’s almost like we had met before.

Finally, after we had gotten to know one and other, she introduced herself. And we introduced ourselves. Actually giving our actual names. Which was strange because at this point I was starting to concoct incredible tales to tell. Clearly she wouldn’t remember. I could live out my dream of being a world-class porcupine racer without her knowing the sad half-truth. That I only watch world-class porcupine racing.

Having established that we all had names, and quickly forgetting them, we were back to the liking Sweden loop. Followed by the introduction loop. Through it all, I was able to not make up any stories. Call it kindness. Or pity.

Having made it this far, my buddy and I were both casting sideways glances at each other trying to determine how in the hell we could get out of there without making the crazy lady sad. We are kind souls. That’s when she decided we needed another beer. Politely declined. Offered. Politely declined. Offered. Politely declined, and there was a beer in front of me. Fine.

Now that we had a new beer in front of us, we might as well start all over. So, where are you from? Why are you here? Do you work? What do you do? Do you like Sweden? What’s your name? Again. And again.

Then it just got kind of uncomfortable as the 40 year old woman (she told us she was 40 at least four times) began discussing how she was really struggling with being married at the moment. And how she would like to live in India. These two topics weren’t really all that connected aside from the fact that she decided to tell us.

Once again, because we are kind souls, we engaged the crazy lady. This, in and of itself, seems to be a bad idea. Do not engage crazy ladies. But we did. Where in India should a person travel? Her answer. “I don’t know. India will fucking blow your mind away.” In a span of max three minutes, that last sentence was uttered at least five times. India will fucking blow your mind away. So will crazy ladies.

Now it was really time to go. The second beer was disappearing, and dinner still needed to be eaten. Of course, our resident crazy lady decided that dinner may not be as important as the unmarked bottle of pills she pulled from her purse to swallow down with a swig of beer. I’m no doctor, but I feel fairly confident that most medicines should not be chased with beer.

We deftly maneuvered away out the door and walked the other way. Throwing furtive glances over our shoulder to make sure we wouldn’t be assaulted with the same questions over and over again.

That’s when it struck us. Clearly something was lost in translation. She wasn’t a social worker. She was under the supervision of a social worker. We hope.

Welcome to Sweden. And social work in Sweden.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Stuff Swedish People Like

Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Straight stealing ideas and making them fit your needs is an even higher form. Obviously. So in the vein of Stuff Black People Like and Stuff White People Like, I bring you Stuff Swedish People Like (in alphabetical order):

ABBA – Because they put Sweden on the map. Despite what anyone might tell you about the Swedish Model.
Alcohol – Because it gives them something to drink. This might become a recurring theme.
Candles –Because it is dark. All winter.
Christmas – Because it gives them a reason to drink.
Crayfish – Because it gives them a reason to drink.
Donald Duck – Because otherwise Christmas would just be another day.
Earplugs – Because tinnitus will get you if the horn is too loud at the hockey game.
Escalators – Because it helps you identify true Swedes. If you’re standing still on the left-hand side… you’re not a true Swede.
Fermented fish – Because it gives them a reason to drink.
Fika – Because it gives Swedes an excuse not to work.
Glögg – Because it gives them a reason to drink. And it is, in fact, a drink.
Going Dutch – Because the guy paying for a date is sexist. And sexism is wrong.
Ingmar Bergman – Because he explained Sweden. Or at least the gloom that can be Sweden.
Jantelagen – Because that way, no one is better than anyone else. Despite evidence to the contrary.
Ketchup – Because it tastes good. On everything.
Lagom – Because, well, it just feels right.
Meatballs – Because they are sold at IKEA for next to nothing.
Midsummer – Because it gives them a reason to drink.
New Years – Because it gives them a reason to drink.
Other countries – Because they have cheaper alcohol. And getting there gives them a reason to drink.
Public Transportation – Because they can get away from the sambo and kids and finally get some peace and quiet.
Sambo – Because actually getting married is just too much work.
Santa Lucia – Because it gives them a reason to drink. And maybe argue about the hair color of Lucia.
Saturdays – Because it gives them a reason to eat candy. And it gives them a reason to drink.
Schlager Music – Because it gives them a reason to drink.
Socialdemokraterna – Because they’re just kind of there. And change is scary.
Sports – But only when Sweden wins.
Sunlight – Because it gives them a reason to drink.
Systembolaget – Because they don’t trust themselves to drink responsibly. So the government keeps the tax high and the hours tight.
Taxes – Because it makes them feel superior to have “free” health care and education.
Tetra Pak – Because if Tetra Pak can’t hold it, nothing can.
The Twenty-Fifth – Because it’s pay day. And it gives them a reason to drink.
Tjuvlyssning – Because, since no one actually talks in public, when someone does, everyone needs to eavesdrop.
Tomten – Because he’s not fat. Like Swedes.
Valborg – Because it gives them a reason to drink

Welcome to Sweden. And Stuff Swedish People Like. Feel free to add more in the comments below.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

The Democratic Process and Blatant Self Promotion

You have less than four hours left to exercise your right to vote. I know I did. Because I love democracy. In the past 12 months I have voted for the President of the United States of America. I have voted for EU parliamentarians. But maybe, nay, definitely, most important of all, I have voted for the Hairy Swede and A Swedish American in Sweden as the Best Language Blog. (When campaigning, it’s important to use the third person.) Now, seeing as how I am not, in fact, an Iranian dictator, or a New Jersey politician, I would never push you towards any sort of voter fraud. But please note that while voting twice is wrong, voting once from your home computer and once from your work computer is basically like casting a vote for freedom. And we all love freedom.

Like any good campaign, I feel the need to introduce myself. Maybe explain why my parents named me as they did. Despite your thoughts, that damn, his parents are mean, you would be wrong. They saw the potential. The potential for hairiness. And they were right.

Now I am, true to my name, hairy. The five o’clock shadow tends to be more of a 96 hour shadow. If you’re lucky, you might catch me with an old undershirt on. You know the ones where the neck is stretched out from repeatedly being pulled over an ever-growing dome. If that is the case, you might just catch a glimpse of chest hair poking out. Ants venture into the forest of leg air and die there. They get lost and starve to death. Seriously. I am a hairy man.

Now that we’ve had a chance to get to know each other, let me tell you where I stand on the issues. I’m a simple man, some might say simpleminded but those people suck. So I stand for just a few things. For example:

Good steaks. Because steak is delicious. So I promise a steak on every table. Even the vegetarian tables.

Good sport. Not soccer, because, as I mentioned, the sport needs to be good. Which is exactly why I will implement a shot clock in soccer to speed up the game.

Good books. Because if you don’t read, well, I judge you. And so, I will randomly be sending books to people in Sweden so I can judge you less.

Good country music. Because, if you like stories, then you have to like country music. And everyone likes stories, except for puppy murderers. And you don’t want to be a puppy murderer do you?

Unfortunately, I’m not a good politician. Although, I did manage to get myself voted President of my dorm hall freshman year. Mostly because the other guy made some wise-ass remark that pissed off all the girls in the room. The girls outnumbered us by about three to one. But I digress, because I am not a good politician, I probably won’t be able to come through on any of my promises. Strangely enough, that actually puts me right up there with most elected officials. Both Swedish and American.

Welcome to Sweden. And my blatant yet incredibly lame attempt for adulation.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Swedish Fashion Tips

Stockholm is a fashionable city. At least that’s what I’m told. Today made me question all of that.

In a two hour span after I left work this evening, my eyes were assaulted by fashion. Swedish fashion.

First, a girl, maybe 17 or 18, walked by with her friend. They had the standard issue Swedish teenager attire. Black tights under a skirt. Enough make-up to make Krusty look natural. And a striped shirt. Now, that’s really not that strange. Of course, one of the girls had a hat on. Again, not horribly strange. Except that the hat also doubled as a rainbow colored umbrella. It wasn’t raining. Nor was it sunny. While function may be style, this had no function.

Just an hour later another girl walked by. I’m going to put this one in her early twenties. Again, pretty standard uniform. Skirt. Striped shirt. Black tights. But then I noticed that the tights were shiny. Reflection shiny. She was wearing latex. And at that very moment I realized why when I have kids, they have to be boys.

After this realization, I sped past the Linnea Latex, only to be met by the ‘80s in a showdown with the ‘50s. The ‘50s won. Or at least won my attention. Because standing right next to me, waiting for the subway, was what Red would describe as a tall drink of water. I am a tall person. Over six feet tall. This man towered over me. And he was dressed in black. All black. Black boots. Black jeans. Black shirt. Black leather jacket. Black glasses. Black hair. All black.

Since moving here over two years ago, my definition of tight has changed. Tight shirts. Tight pants. There’s American tight and there’s Swedish tight. So when I notice tight pants at this point, they are tight. Uncomfortably tight. And his black pants were uncomfortably tight. For me. And I can only imagine for him.

Lucky for me though, I got to share a subway car with him. Now a guy that cool doesn’t need to hold on to anything in the subway car. Of course, subway cars don’t recognize cool and he was thrown throughout the car. In a pathetic attempt to make it look more natural, at one point he actually tried to break out some sort of dance move. While whipping his leather jacket (which had been draped over both shoulders like Dracula’s cape) off and twirling it into his hands.

It was during his dance move that I saw it. His black shirt. He had tucked it into his underwear. Sticking out of his all black, what turned out to be, façade was a pair of white underwear. And it was at this point that I made my second realization of the evening. I’ll stick to my four year old jeans. My Work Out West t-shirt from high school. My tennis shoes. Because I might not fit in, but at least I don’t tuck my shirt into my underwear.

Welcome to Sweden. Where fashion is all relative.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Swedish Fairies. Seriously.

Fairies creep me out. A lot. Something about them being so small and sneaky just makes my skin crawl. And they kind of remind me of cats in their sneakiness. Cats and I don’t really get along.

Swedish folklore is full of fairies. If you ever wander through the Swedish forest at dusk in the late fall you’ll understand real quick where the troll and fairy folklore comes from. The thick vegetation, the undergrowth, it all lends itself to an active imagination.

But you don’t need to have an active imagination to understand that fairies walk amongst us. Not in some sort of derogatory gay bashing either. For the past 15 years, Sweden has actually had a fairy contest. Water fairies to be exact. They even have a special Water Fairy of the Year website in Swedish.

I’m going to come right out and say it. This was news to me. And I have thelocal.se to thank for that. As always, The Local is breaking news that the English speaking community in Sweden needs to know.

For example, this year was the first in which a saxophone playing fairy was recognized. About 400 people watched the competition. Which just goes to show that the recession is hitting hard in Sweden. Because 400 people watching five naked men play instruments while trying to capture the spirit of a water fairy can only mean one thing. There are way too many unemployed people in Sweden.

I urge everyone to click on “Naked horn player named Sweden's Water Fairy of the Year” to read The Local’s coverage. And check out the video below from TV4. It’s in Swedish but has some things that everyone needs to experience. Like male nudity being shown on a news program. Which doesn’t happen every day in the US.

Welcome to Sweden. And water fairies.




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Monday, July 20, 2009

Adventures in Driving in Stockholm

I don’t drive often in Stockholm. I don’t do well with big cities. So I park the car and let it sit until I want to go somewhere far away. Or buy lots of groceries.

But I’m in the process of moving to a new apartment. So I need my car. In town.

First, I had no idea how to get to my new place by car. Which is always a rough start to moving. But I checked out trusty Eniro.se. Eniro told me I was going to make six kilometers in eight minutes. Through the middle of Stockholm. So I should have been skeptical to start.

Having loaded up my car I started my drive. And after the second turn was immediately told by Eniro to drive the wrong way on a one-way. It was at this point I began bending the traffic laws in my favor. No I didn’t actually drive the wrong way on the one-way, instead I decided that, since I was carrying cargo, I was essentially a bus and took the bus lane. Of course the bus lane was going the wrong way.

And so, I followed a taxi in a somewhat questionable maneuver in the face of traffic. The U-Turn. At least now I had managed to get myself where I was supposed to be according to Eniro. Of course, the eight minutes had already passed and I was nowhere near my new place.

Before leaving for my journey, I wasn’t worried about this part of the drive. I was worried about Slussen. So the fact that the easy part of the drive was already causing problems wasn’t exactly a good sign.

I have never driven through Slussen. For good reason. It can best be described as a jumbo cluster fuck. Apparently, it was designed when Sweden was still driving on the wrong side of the road. So, as my old man says, the fact that it is still in use is damn near miraculous. Of course, it is being redesigned. And after my drive, the sooner the better.

Driving through Slussen was no small feat for me. And I thought I had it. I thought I was going to get through Slussen without any problems. But I was wrong. Because suddenly I was faced with two signs. Two signs which seemed to give conflicting directions. I chose the left.

I chose wrong. Damn it. I have wandered around enough in Stockholm that I have a pretty good idea of the layout. Unfortunately, while it sometimes transfers wonderfully to driving, sometimes it doesn’t. Because of such problems as the aforementioned one-way. But I was convinced there was a road that took me to where I needed to be. And that is to say, off of Södermalm. The island that Slussen connects with Gamla Stan.

Well, that road exists. Unfortunately, there was a dead end keeping me and my Saab from getting to that road. So I turned around and headed back to Slussen. This time I knew what I was doing though. Last time I had a 50-50 chance and chose wrong. This time I still had a 50-50 chance, but I had already eliminated one of the 50s. I liked my chances.

So I stayed right, and got myself off of Södermalm. Thirty-five minutes later I was at my new apartment. Not eight minutes. Even with my foray into the world of Slussen, the trip was pushing 20-25 minutes.

Silly Eniro.

All in all, I’m pretty sure I bent several traffic laws in my favor. Slussen beat me once, but I won in the end. And now I know how to get to my new apartment from my old apartment. Which will only do me good for a couple more days.

Welcome to Sweden. And driving in Stockholm.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

It’s Raining Sill

I’m in the process of moving. I intend to make it the final move I make in Sweden before moving back to the US. It really is just a pain in the ass.

Suddenly, I have to clean places I forgot existed. Like the corner in the kitchen. Or the sides of the toilet. Or the balcony.

Now I didn’t forget the balcony existed. It’s hard to forget something like that. Since I’ve been in the US though, the balcony went unused for a few weeks. And actually, since I’ve been back it has also gone unused. Until today.

I decided I needed to sweep a bit and clean up. So out to the balcony I went when I was met with a bit of a surprise. An old herring. Sill.

Sill is kind of a Swedish tradition. One of those Swedish foods at which Americans might wrinkle their nose. It’s pickled fish. Usually eaten at Christmas, but also during Midsummer. The Swedes mix it with all kinds of things. My favorite is senapssill. Herring with mustard sauce. I like sill, but it isn’t something I eat on a regular basis. And it most definitely isn’t something I have eaten on the balcony. Especially since I’ve been gone.

In my disgust I kicked at the sill only to watch it fall through the cracks. That’s when I realized how it might have ended up on my balcony. Because rather than falling all the way to the sidewalk, it stopped. On the balcony below me. Oops.

Welcome to Sweden. Where sill falls from the sky.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Swedish Summer Public Transportation

I am a sweaty man. One of my more attractive qualities really. Which might not say much about my other qualities. But being sweaty and being in Stockholm when the sun is shining and it is humid doesn’t do me well.

And it’s even worse when I’m on the bus. Because until today, every Swedish bus I have ever been on has been lacking one key amenity. Air conditioning. Today though, I sat in the finest bus I have ever seen. And the air conditioning caressed my sweaty face whisking away my beads of perspiration. That last sentence was damn near poetic by the way. Feel free to use it in every day conversation.

It was a good thing though that the bus was air conditioned, because along with being sweaty I am judgmental. Mostly of people. And I do it quickly. Call it my Malcolm Gladwell Blink instinct. And I don’t tolerate stupid people. I just don’t. Maybe because, despite what some might gather from my writing, I don’t consider myself a stupid person.

But regardless of what you think of me, I think we can all agree that there are stupid people in the world. And one was sitting right behind me. At first I thought he was flirting with the older woman sitting next to him, which, to be honest, should have been warning enough about his intelligence level. But it got worse.

She asked him where he was headed. And he forgot. He spent five minutes trying to remember. An actual conversation took place as to why he was on the bus. Where he was going. What he was doing. And it wasn’t one of those scary “oh shit he forgot everything” moments, it was a scary” man that guy is an idiot” moments. Finally, he checked his cell phone. Turns out he was meeting his brother. Apparently family wasn’t at the top of his priorities when a haggard looking old lady with boobs hanging out was sitting next to him.

But my ride just got better. Because I transferred to the subway. And there was a busker on the subway. I don’t know if they are actually considered buskers if they are riding on the subway or if they were sitting at the station, but either way, the man was playing music and asking for money.

As a general rule I don’t give money away to strangers unless they have something unique to offer. Like people promising me a hug for a quarter. This man had music. Which just wasn’t enough for me. Then I started looking him up and down. The man was well dressed. Nice pants, nice shirt, an old, but nice sports jacket. And then I looked at his shoes. Because if I learned one thing in business school it’s that shoes make the man. The man had nicer shoes than me. I’m cheap, but these things were fancy looking.

My first reaction was that to be a beggar dressed better than your beggees seemed like a bad plan. Then I completely changed my mind. This man had balls. Dressing to the nines to go play music on a subway takes a certain amount of testicular fortitude. And I appreciate testicular fortitude. So I gave him the coins in my pocket. A grand total of 2.5 SEK. I can only appreciate testicular fortitude so much.

And finally, just a quick tip. When it is hot and humid and you plan on riding public transportation, there is one rule you should follow above all else. Wear deodorant. I know I sweat, so every morning I wear deodorant. Hell, I even have it in my bag that I carry to work every day. I don’t like it when my nostrils are assaulted.

Welcome to Sweden. And summer public transportation.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Working in Sweden. During the Summer.

I was at work today. And yesterday for that matter. It’s not east coming back from vacation but I managed to get through the day without the jetlag kicking me in the face. Which was nice, because no one likes being kicked in the face.

I work for a pretty small company. I like the smaller companies. To an extent. Sometimes though, I just can’t help but shake my head. At small companies. At Sweden. Especially during the summer.

Let me first say, I love the Swedish vacation system. I have 25 days of vacation. I have friends in the US who have 10. Now, I’m not much of a mathematician, but 25 is way better than 10.

But after having taken 11 days to be in the US, coming back to Sweden was a bit of a shock. I walked in to the office on Monday and was met by four other people. Count me and we were five. By the end of the day we were six.

Today was even worse. We started with four people at work, total. Around 11 we were joined by a fifth, who then left at around three. By five, we were down to just three people in the office.

It amazes me that anything gets done in Sweden during the summer. And actually, not much does get done. There’s only so much four people can do. And working in an international environment makes it even more obvious that the long vacation periods during the summer can, if not cripple a company, it can at least kick it in the nuts.

I remember moving here in June of 2007. If I had to do it all over again, I definitely wouldn’t pick June to move to Sweden. I was unemployed and so, like a good unemployed person, I was looking for work. I was applying to jobs constantly. Strangely enough, it took me a while to find a full time job. Now I’m starting to understand why. There was no one around to read my, obviously, stellar CV. That’s résumé for all the non-Europeans out there. There was no one to admire my accomplishments and my ability to brag without bragging too much in my well-written cover letter. Just think what all of those companies missed out on.

I was talking to the old man about this, and he brought up an interesting point. Made even more interesting considering he is the Swedish one and worked in Sweden for quite a long time. As the economic environment continues to become more and more international, how long can Sweden, and some other European countries, continue with the long summer vacations? I don’t know, I just hope it can continue as long as I am still living here.

Welcome to Sweden. And the Swedish summer work schedule.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

The Democratic Process and Swedish Blog Campaigning

I was recently nominated for a blogging award. Which is kind of cool. Because I am a selfish person who needs constant praise in order to help myself sleep at night. Luckily, since I am always right and awesome, praise is heaped upon me. But awards help too. And you have the chance to confirm that. So make sure to take part in the democratic process. And if you're still undecided, keep reading. I'm sure my campaign, with help from readers just like you, will help your decision.

And in case you’re thinking to yourself, “hmmm… I’m not too sure about this guy. I haven’t been impressed by the lack of writing lately. And he’s just kind of exhausting to read,” have no fear. I have culled some of the most supportive comments to help you make your decision.

Like Henrik, for example, who asks:
“Har du sniffat lim eller?”

Henrik thinks my writing is so good that it can only be aided by performance enhancing drugs. Like glue.

Or an anonymous supporter who says:
“förmodligen fattar du inte svenska heller din dumme jävel.”

Who was so impressed by my command of the English language that there was no way I could understand a second language.

Then there is Kurtgreger who says:
“Why don't you make us here a favour and get your ass out of Sweden again.”

Obviously Kurtgreger, despite spelling favour with a British “u” is American and just misses me. He wants me back in his country, to claim my superior writing skills as his own.

And who could forget when Anders said:
“You're a good writer, not very smart, but talented with words”

In the end, it’s the writing that counts. Intelligence is highly overrated. Just look at me.

And finally, anonymous says:
“vilken jävla tönt du är”

Well, actually, that’s just not very nice. I’m a dork, but a damn dork is just too much for me.

With all that said, I think it's pretty obvious who you should vote for. So head over to Lexiophiles and vote for me as one of the Top 100 Language Blogs 2009.

Welcome to Sweden. And a rousing endorsement from readers of this blog.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The 4th of July and the World Championship Porcupine Race

Let me start this out with a simple U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! Because what I experienced on the 4th of July was well deserving of the chant.

I was in Idaho during the 4th of July. Idaho gets a bad rap sometimes. I blame the fringe militias that pop up every now and again. Idaho is an incredible state filled with all kinds of exciting things. Skiing, hiking, fishing, rafting, they’ve got it all. But one city rises above the rest: Council.

As of the official census data from 2000, the population of Council, Idaho was 816 people. Since then, it is thought to have decreased. And when the population decreases in a town of 816, it becomes obvious. Luckily, I love small towns. I love the Rocky Mountain states. So give me a small town in a Rocky Mountain state, and well, then I’m in Council, Idaho.

The goal wasn't actually to end up in Council, Idaho. Instead we were heading up to an area near McCall and chose to drive through Council to avoid the traffic. And what a serendipitous shortcut it turned out to be. Because from the back seat of the car, staring back at me, damn near taunting me, was the greatest sign I had ever seen. World Championship Porcupine Race and 4th of July Celebration. In that order. The World Championship Porcupine Race took top billing over the celebrations of America’s independence. Obviously.
Now I’m sure someone out there is thinking that the claim of Council, Idaho, being home to the World Championship Porcupine Race is just more American hubris. Of course, those people are terrible human beings and have no sense of humor.

The citizens of Council do have humor though. Obviously, I was intrigued. So I broached the subject with the family. Because what better way to spend the 4th of July than watching porcupine racing? There was skepticism. Understandably. Were these real porcupines? If so, why? How did they race? So many questions.

Turns out, Morfar (see what I did there with the Swedish?) knows people. Lots of people. Like people at the Chamber of Commerce in Council. So after a couple of phone calls, it was confirmed. Yes, the porcupines were real. Porcupines would be racing on the 4th of July.

Once again… U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

I had never actually seen a live porcupine, let alone one racing. I couldn’t sleep on the night of the third. The excitement was palpable. That’s not true. At least the sleeping part. But the excitement was palpable.
We arrived a bit early to watch the parade. Because it was the 4th of July and that’s what you do. The parade in and of itself was small-town-'Merican. Flags. Little kids driving four-wheelers. Anti-Obama floats. And porcupines. Twenty-one porcupines were paraded through town in preparation for the races. They were treated like heroes. As they should be.

As the parade wound down, I thanked a 10 year old boy who had helped me get a popsicle for free from one of the floats. Turns out, parade participants are hesitant to throw popsicles to 25-year old guys with beards, but have no qualms about throwing an extra one to a 10-year old.

Anyway, being the superior conversationalist that I am, I got some information about the races from the kid. Follow the crowd to the football field. The races will be held there. Watch out, it can get pretty wild. Sometimes the porcupines get out of the race tracks and into the crowds. Porcupines have what can best be described as son-of-a-bitch quills. They are a son of a bitch to get out because they are barbed.

With that knowledge in mind, we headed off to the football field. Home to the eight-man Lumberjack football team. State champions in 2006. Gooooooooo Lumberjacks!

But I digress. The area was still filling up so I camped out on the sidelines. A front row seat if you will. I was either going to get a close up view of the porcupine races or get a son of a bitch quill in me. I liked my chances.

We were surrounded by locals. And we were very obviously not local. You may ask how I know. It’s easy. My body isn’t covered in tattoos. I’m not 18 with a kid. I’m not pounding beers at 11 in the morning with a cigarette hanging out of the side of my mouth. But most importantly, my teeth are relatively straight. While Council apparently has an orthopedics office, (I know because they sponsored two of the racers), they seem to lack an orthodontics office. Unfortunately. That was mean. I'm sorry. Mostly.

As the sun beat down on my poor Swedish-colored scalp, which would eventually turn a nice shade of red, the event began. But first, some background information on the event.

Each porcupine is sponsored by a person or company. The porcupines also have two handlers. The handlers are the men and women responsible for racing the porcupines. And also for catching the porcupines the night before. How do you catch a porcupine? Carefully and with a trap. Apparently the citizens of Council are remiss to give out their secrets to catching a porcupine because that’s all we got out of them.

Once the porcupines are captured and sponsored they are put up for auction the day of the race. Rumors swirled and no one really knew where the money went. Most agreed it went to a charity. Which charity? Who knows? Maybe the Chamber of Commerce. One lady, her voice haggard from years of cheering at porcupine races, and probably a lot of smoking, informed us that the money actually went to whoever had purchased the winning porcupine at auction. The money was then divided between the sponsor of the porcupine, the handlers, and then the auction winner who then gave the money to charity. Thousands of dollars were spent. In cash. The top bid for a porcupine was $200. The winning porcupine was purchased for $140.

After 21 porcupines were finally auctioned off, and I had the cultivated the beginning stages of melanoma on the top of my head, the races were ready to start. Three heats of seven racers each. The races begin when the handlers place a porcupine in a trash can. Dump the trash can over. Tap the trash can gently with a broom to get the racers facing the right way. And away they go. The broom is used to guide them. As is the trash can. After watching one race, I was expecting PETA to descend from the heavens in biodiesel helicopters, rappelling down on hemp ropes, chanting slogans, and snagging the porcupines away to safety. Luckily, PETA knows better than to venture into Council, Idaho. Which turned out to be a good idea. There was a rifle raffle in the middle of all of the excitement.

Three heats later, and no rogue porcupines in the crowd, the finalists were lined up. Everyone knew who was going to win. Poke 'n Go. Everyone knew because the handlers of Poke 'n Go had won three of the last four races. And at some point it stops being luck and starts being some sort of skill in racing porcupines. Sure enough, Poke 'n Go won the race making it four out of the last five for the handlers.
I was emotionally drained. I had lived and died with those porcupines. The adrenaline was pumping. My voice was hoarse. And my internal chanting of U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! had damn near driven me to join the Army. As the races wound down, the MC asked us all to pick up the quills afterwards. That eight-man football team doesn't want to compete against porcupine quills when two-a-days come around. They have other concerns. It’s been a couple of years since their last state championship.

After the races most of the locals headed off to watch the lawn mower drag races, but I had had enough excitement for one day. My 4th of July was complete with the World Championship Porcupine Race. And now yours can also be complete. Because I filmed the action. Enjoy heats one and three from the 2009 World Championship Porcupine Race in Council, Idaho:

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Welcome to the USA and Council, Idaho. Population 817… once I move there.

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