Sunday, June 6, 2010

Farewell to the Land of the Midnight Sun

Just so easy
When the whole world fits inside of your arms
Don't really need to pay attention to the alarm
Wake up slow...

My year of "making banana pancakes" comes to a close. This will be my last blog post as a Swedish resident.

It has been a good year. I have learned a lot. I have had many of preconceived notions challenged and many enforced. Sweden has been a good host and the Swedish people as well. So, I take with me a fond appreciation of the people and their culture. It has also made me question many aspects of American culture that I, many times, accept as just the way it is.

Thanks to those who read. I know many read because my views were foreign to them. I hope I have made some think, sometimes laugh and sometimes pull their hair out in aggravation. As events unfold in this crazy world we inhabit, always remember dominate, or be dominated—it’s that simple in this universe. Freedom requires serious defense and offense in order for it to exist in any form. Your mind is always the prize for anyone wishing to extinguish that flame of freedom.

Hey då...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Weather, Bag Barrettes and Nuns

I went running this morning in shorts and a sleeveless Tshirt. That's always a step in the right direction. The unusual thing about it was that it was fifty eight degrees. My, how far we've fallen! Fifty eight degrees, in Phoenix, and it's generally hard to muster up the wherewithal to go out and brave the cold. Certainly, it's sweats and long sleeves. Maybe even a sweat jacket. Drop another five or ten degrees and we would typically be breaking out the gloves. But, it's a dry cold.

Summer is reaching Sweden. The bikes are back and the Swedes seem to come alive. The cafes and restaurants have all put the tables outside and the street vendors are back in earnest. Lilac bushes are in bloom. I had completely forgotten about them. I have not thought of them in years. I love seeing them. I remember picking the blooms from the trees as a child and seeing them again is definitely nice.

Also, the sanity challenged are back out. Walking home from school the other day the park wished us farewell with a homeless man passed out on the park bench in his own urine, with his penis still hanging out of his pants. This same park greeted us last May with a heroin addict just as he was injecting by a tombstone. My children have certainly gotten an education this past year. I do not think this is necessarily a bad thing, as this is the world we live in and one we have been insulated from in the especially antiseptic suburbs of Phoenix.

On to lighter topics. I am loading up on "bag barrettes". (See image in post) These things are genius! You use them to close, obviously, bags. Snacks, frozen food, whatever. I have never seen them in the states. We usually use those big clips that always break. These are like big plastic barrettes of varying sizes. Such a simple thing and one of those "why didn't I think of that" products.

I saw a nun on the tbana this morning. A real, old school nun. Granted she was about 80 but I wondered if Sweden was producing a new generation of Catholic nuns. So, I looked it up. It turned out Sweden has of the fastest growing Catholic Churches in Europe. Though Sweden is an agnostic country , by and large, they have an established Lutheran church. The Protestant principle of separation of church and state is not practiced in Sweden. Because of this, without special permission of the Swedish government, the Catholic Church can not own property in Sweden. A friend told me this once and I sort of disregarded it but here it was in black and white. Who knew?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Eurovision 2010

I plugged into Eurovision last night to see what it was all about. The concept is similar to American Idol. The European countries plus Israel competing in a singing competition. It is a little more theatric than American Idol relying more on dancers and back up vocals whereas American Idol is more about individual talent. I am not a big American Idol watcher and like many people I usually only tune in when they do the initial shows that show the highly entertaining "try outs". Though I have gotten roped in a season or two I, hesitatingly, admit.

However, I found the concept pretty cool. Between acts they would show families from the countries in their apartment living rooms so it showed a little of how they lived. Sometimes they were dressed in traditional clothing (Ukraine) and sometimes they would show the different foods they were snacking on while watching Eurovision and rooting for their country. They would show the different flags and for a non-European all that is sort of fascinating.

The way it worked was that no country was allowed to vote for themselves and they had a sliding scale of points to give out. The largest block being 12 votes. It was funny to watch most of the former Yugoslavian countries vote for each other and the former Soviet satellites pretty much did the same. Old animosities seemed to live through the votes also. Israel gave the Germans exactly zero votes and the German singer was never very popular with the Russian voters despite the fact that she was the clear favorite.

Europe has become so much more Americanized since my last visit here. There was still a lot of that hokey Euro-ness but there was some good stuff. I was leaning heavily towards the acoustic John Mayerish sounding guy from Belgium when the German contestant came on and she was incredible. Light years above the the others, she easily blew the rest away. And she was so, so un-German, just watching her made you happy. Congratulations to 19 year old Lena, 2010 Eurovision winner.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Just Fondue...Nothing Else

Many of the foreign to Sweden people I know complain about the Swedes. They complain about their reservation, their lack of service in stores and other various society wide traits. They complain they are too insular and that it takes an impossibly long time to forge friendships, real solid relationships, with them. As I have said, I find the Swedish people pleasant and open. So, I typically laugh and tell them, "You have done it all wrong, you must FIRST live among the Germans, then your perspective will change."

Though there are some aspects of Germany I liked better, I have found Sweden much more livable. But, often times I do find myself wondering, "maybe they weren't that bad, maybe it was you" or "maybe you just got a bad batch of them" or "maybe it was just that period in your life". Such was the case, this past week when on vacation with, mostly, Germans. By the end of the week, let me tell ya, it was all fresh in my mind and no, it wasn't me, wasn't a bad batch and not that period in my life. I don't wish to knock them all, I have met plenty of, OK, a few, really splendid Germans.

First off, the cutting in line. What the *$%# is that all about anyway? It wasn't even crowded on this island. There was no wait for anything. Yet, there they were, ungroomed hairy teeth mustaches, cutting, pushing and prodding to get first. I watched as a young girl struggled to get her suitcase up the ramp to the ferry and a 60 year old German guy nearly bowled her over to get past her on the ramp. The girl stopped and stamped her feet in dismay. We just watched, laughing and saying "classic!".

The cigarettes and putting cigarette butts out on beautiful places. Really? Here you are on this beautiful, unspoiled beach, so privileged to be there, and not only are you disgustingly puffing away but you are putting cigarette butt after cigarette butt out on the beach. Why the chain smoking anyway? What's a pack of those things cost in Germany? 27 euro?

The black socks and sandals. This MUST end. It must. My radar goes off when I see it and I immediately know rudeness of untold proportions is in the vicinity. Ditto with the lavender suit jackets with the mustard colored ties.

The bad, bad, grooming. Please get to the friseur and cut that Brillo pad on the top of your head.

The meanness and gruffness and the weird ability to be laughing and yoking it up among friends one minutes and to turn into Burger Mesiter Meister Burger with the public. My son was born in Germany and my delivery doctor did this transformation on me. During the labor he was this soothing and nurturing, perfect, man to have at the helm. The minute my son was born, it was like someone pushed a button and he turned into this automaton of bare bones efficiency.

I have a friend who has lived in Germany and he says "the Germans fear their neighbors more than they fear their government." I do not particularly want to fear either. I would greatly prefer if they both just left me alone. But that does explain why nearly everything we did while there was met with the phrase, "that is excessive by German standards". We had a TV that was excessive, our freezer was excessive, supposedly a dryer was unnecessary and just ruined clothes, don't operate power tools or any noise making device of Sundays, we had too much recycling. Unfortunately though, to them, the taxes weren't excessive because I could get behind that notion.

You are probably wondering what the title to this means. This was an invitation we received one time. This was exactly how it was presented to us. "We would like you to come over for fondue on Saturday night. There will just be fondue. Nothing else." Seriously? How could you refuse such a gesture? How do you even respond to that. "Yes. We will be there. One hour. No more."

Monday, May 24, 2010

American Girl...Whatcha Ya Wantin' in the Olive Man's World?

I am hopelessly in love. With a place. And a people. And a culture.

I have spent the better part of ten days in an undisclosed location on the Adriatic Sea. Undisclosed because, though well known to European travelers, it is still so unspoiled and wondrous that I am hesitant to inform more of the world about it. So, like Dick Cheney's secret bunker in the days following September 11th, it will, for now, remain my undisclosed location. I am selfish like that.

We rented a small apartment in a family villa just a stone's throw from the sea. The owner, a family man and former radiologist, had his roots on this island for centuries. He had left briefly, for a few years, to chase the dream in a large Canadian city. For a few years he worked three jobs, saving every dime, to bring back to his home. At present, he has not even left the island to go into the mainland city for over a year. "Why would I?' he says as he communicates this to us in his broken English.

The financial crisis, dying Euro and political upheaval may as well be happening in Mars. The guests may stop coming but this lifestyle will continue much as it always has. It will survive the socialists, communists, globalists, fascists and their various puppets-as it always has. It is a region that is no stranger to strife. He points out a building on an island in the distance that once served as a prison to house his people by a bordering country.

One morning he took us on his boat to a tour of some of the neighboring islands. We stopped at a family restaurant. It was the summer home of a German immigrant family who had come to the area some decades ago. We were treated to the meal of a life time. Carafe after carafe of homemade wine, fresh vegetables from the property, fresh fish caught that morning and lots and lots of olive oil. All made on premises. From beginning to end, I think it lasted four hours.

The owner, Tonchi, came to our table to say hello to his good friend. I was later amazed to find out he was seventy years old. He could have easily passed for 45, even with his light German complexion and the constant sun of the region. Crystal clear blue eyes, matching the azure blue waters surrounding us, showed the peace of a man who had made all the correct moves.

After a day or two the abject freedom we were experiencing became apparent to me. We were riding in boats with, not only, no life preservers on -- there wasn't a life preserver to be had. No seat belts, no laundry lists of things I could not do on the beach. I was buying homemade wines and hand pressed olive oils. No FDA labels telling me the fat content and federally mandated this or that. Crosses adorned the beaches and no whiny and self loathing useful idiots to complain how offended they were by their presence.

I know all too well, many paradises have another side that is more akin to hell. I never once felt that omnipresent cloak of vulnerability you feel in so many of our vacation paradises. I never felt that if I strayed off the beaten path some perilous fate could await. (Ironically as I type this the news streams from the USA of a state of emergency has been declared in Jamaica). Children played innocent games of yesteryear in the city square. Grandmothers swept stoops and property owners tinkered diligently on their properties. Cash was king, deals were made with handshakes and bartering seemed to be a common method of trade.

Yes, this is the world where I belong.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


First off, I am not a pastry person. I can normally take or leave a pastry or a donut of any kind. Unnecessary calories I would rather use for things I enjoy more. Save the calories for lunch, I figure.

However, here in Sweden I have developed an affinity for the kanelbulle or cinnamon bun. The cinnamon roll is said to have been introduced by the Swedes and October 4th is the Official Kanelbulle Day in Sweden. The kanelbulle is to Sweden what a berliner is to Germany or the croissant is to France. A must try food for visitors.

Different variations are available. Cardemom and some delightfully sticky green stuff that I believe to be almond or mazarin are typically available. Small bakeries are dotted through out the city and a fresh kanelbulle is never hard to find.

I eat them daily, either fresh form the bakery or the frozen, in the red bag, Findus brand. So much better than those yucky, big, messy American cinnamon buns on the right. Yuck. Who eats those anyway?

Monday, May 3, 2010

An Uneven Trade

A letter came home from the school the other day to warn of a man in a car trying to lure young kids into his car. It was in the more affluent suburb of Lidingö, an inner archipelago island northeast of Stockholm city. Such letters are not to uncommon in the United States. However, here in Sweden, we live in a sort of denial based illusion that it is still incredibly safe. That it is still this 1970's society of unlocked doors, Abba and unfledged blonde innocence.

Children are routinely out and about in the city alone. They ride public transportation, sometimes long distances, either alone or with their mates. They shop alone. They get off to school alone. Originally, I was a little jarred by the sight of a pack of smelly eight year olds making their way through the T-bana, lollipops in mouth and skateboards under their arms. But eventually, as they say, when in Rome do as the Romans. I found myself doing the same.

The Lidingö letter was a bit of an intrusion into my bubble of self delusion. I knew there was an underbelly. I can read enough Swedish to make out many of the articles in my local freebie paper that told the tale of a sex crime ring involving immigrant children in the Odenplan area. I had never witnessed anything unusual in that area and I quickly brushed it out of my mind.

It makes you question how a country loses it's innocence and the sadness that it does. Many Swedes look back to the 1970s as the golden days. It was a small homogeneous culture, newly wealthy and teeming with idealism of a still undemonstrated welfare state. They never locked doors, I am told. Crime was nearly non-existent and many of the social ills Sweden sees today were less prevalent. I do not know if all that is true but I have bought into it simply from desire to believe it was.

My own country lost it's innocence in the 1960s, following what many perceive as the blissful decade of the 1950's. Regardless whether you share that view, it was indeed a more innocent time. Values were more universal. I've also come to realize the level of siege we have grown to accept in the United States, even in the antiseptic suburban settings. Our kids don't know what it is to roam their neighborhoods, we clutch our wallets pumping gas, club our cars and, many of us don't carry lightly, if you catch my drift. Other, more urban, areas are straight out Mad Max. Once bustling and opportunity laden cities, like Detroit, have become habitats for feral humans.

Cynically, it is probably more the natural state of the human condition and that our two societies were anomalies in a brief span of time. I am more inclined to think the larger the government, the smaller the individual. Smaller individuals make smaller citizens and they build smaller and less desirable places to live. The only rightful role of government is to protect a man's rights, to protect him from violence. In this context, sane people should be looking around and seeing the state is an abysmal failure and asking themselves, "just what are we hanging on to here?"

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Lada De, Lada Da

I have found my next car. I noticed the coolest looking car while walking down Tulegatan yesterday. I have a penchant for old SUV type vehicles, Broncos and Landcruisers from the 70s and 80s or old Range Rovers especially. This instantly caught my eye. Hmmm, what make is this I wondered, as I had never seen anything like it. It's ruggedly simplicity was candy for my eyes.

As I was surveying it, I walked around back and read the letters. Lada. Being a Russian history buff, I instantly knew I was looking at the "People's Car". A staple in former Soviet bloc countries and Cuba and a known piece of shit the world over. Though countless men named Sasha are rumored to have kept them running for decades with not much other than a wrench and duct tape.

Lada is the trademark of AvtoVAZ, a Russian car manufacturer based in Togliatti, Samara Oblast. Although touted as the people's car only members of the nomenclature actually had the privilege of driving and owning luxuries such as autos of any sort. The Soviet Union was an elitist society, with cars and roads reserved for the elite. Though high ranking party members wouldn't have been caught dead in the Lada, they preferred the luxury vehicle Chaika. Not surprising as elitism is what Marxism breeds and is prevalent in Sweden, in my opinion. Though, the people here seem to submit to it willingly.

Never the less, I am on the hunt for a Lada when I get home. It's the least I can do to repay the climategate email leakers at Tomsk State University.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Time and Space

so many times i've wondered where i've gone
and how i found my way back in
i look around awhile for something lost
maybe i'll find it in the en

I have not written for a long time. No real reason. I guess mostly not much to say and not much to complain about. Spring has sprung in Sweden and the days are once again long. The year is coming to a close and my return home is imminent. It has been a self indulgent year of introspection and discovery. A luxury. Almost guilt inducing if one readily accepts such emotions.

I am thinking of my two big storage units full of stuff. I do not really miss any of it. Well, my freedom enabling Acura. I have to struggle to remember half of it. I miss the Arizona desert and all it's beauty. However I do not feel so inclined to go back on the hamster wheel. Especially a hamster wheel governed by the dictates of the mob.

Thoughts of selling Texas Tacos to expats on the beaches of Belize invade my thoughts. Going back to a more globalist socialist by the hour America just does not appeal to me. I feel like a (counter) revolutionary in exile and like Lenin in Zurich accomplishing nearly as little. Conversely, Rand, Burke, Paine, Voltaire, Jefferson and Mises have been my guides.

Sometimes you have to be shaken from your comfort level chair. I miss some of the places and some of the faces. The houses, the appointments, the deadlines, the gossip, the Stepford Wives, the bullshit-I could do without it. It is an interesting place to be. Odd. It is funny how you never really change.

I think I'll start learning Spanish.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Farewell TV People

The way these buildings are set up with large windows and fairly narrow roads makes for a sort of intimacy with one's neighbors. Kinda like the TV show Friends. Because our apartment is very large by Swedish standards it spans quite a few apartments on the other side. Through the year, we've gotten to know them all.

Admittedly their monikers aren't very creative. There is underwear guy, a middle aged man who routinely comes to the large window to look around outside. There are worker guys who inhabit the offices just left of us. We have breakfast people who have long, slumberly breakfasts at the picture window on the other side of their apartment. Finally, closest to my heart, we had TV people.

TV people had the largest big screen TV I had ever seen. It would make any American proud. It would greet me on those dark winter mornings when I was the first to wake and shower for the day. There was something comforting about it's presence, though I can not really identify why that is. If they were home, it was on.

We eventually got to the place where we'd notice if there was a break in the routine, which was basically eating and watching television on this mammoth screen. "TV people haven't been there all day". or 'Something's up, the TV hasn't been on the past two mornings". They were predictable. They were constant. They were normal. And then suddenly they were gone.

Yep. One day we looked over and noticed the behemoth fixture was removed from the wall. What followed was what appeared to be weeks of renovation. The renovation came to a close but the television never returned. They put up some stupid painting.

Then just as suddenly the apartment was barren. They were gone. Soon new inhabitants moved in. The new people don't have a name yet. They just seem so wrong and out of place.

Monday, March 22, 2010

First Time on Skis

I do not think it is a secret that I am not a big winter enthusiast. That can be a hinderance in Scandinavia considering it has been winter now, or what I would consider winter, for about six months. That said, I took on the challenge of attempting to ski this past weekend.

Perhaps I was not what you would call a natural. I think I was a bit hampered by fear. Typically, I am not fearful of such things but after a near brush with death last year biking on a Colorado mountain, I was a little more cognizant of my own mortality. I had been mountain biking for a few days and growing more confident each day. Translation: doing stupider and stupider things without a helmet.

This culminated in me biking down a rocky mountain slope with my dog on a leash. The dog suddenly jumped in front of my tire and I invariably fell while going really, really fast and hit my head. Thankfully, at that time, I was pretty ignorant of head injuries and impending death. It wasn't until later when a celebrity of sorts fell and hit her head skiing that I realized how serious such things can be and also a friend of mine's mother, an ER nurse, clued me in on such injuries.

So now I am a bit skittish. Fear is your worst enemy when trying an adrenaline sport such as skiing. Fear also comes with age. That seems almost counterintuitive. It does, however, explain the five year olds buzzing past me and the fifteen year olds flipping down the mountains on their snow boards.

First off, if it involves packing a lot of gear, it's not for me. Skiing involves packing a lot of crap. Boots, skis, hats, gloves, snow pants, base layers, scarves, poles, helmets. Far more planning than I care to engage in. And the boots? Seriously? Torture devices if ever there were any. "Who does this" I kept asking myself.

The first day: We get up and put on all the stuff. There I was: prepared to go out on the slopes or a moon mission. It could have been either from my perspective. It was raining. After an early morning lesson by our Russian ski instructor, my daughter and I sat at a picnic table, in the drizzle, amusing ourselves by trying to come up with places we'd rather not have been. Other than in a hospital (which was an entirely possible outcome) or in a doctor's office receiving a fatal diagnosis, we were coming up short. A weekend getting water boarded at Guantanamo Bay outranked the present circumstances. At least it was warm at Gitmo and they were serving decent food.

Day two was better. The sun was out and it was a warm day. My daughter and son by this time were whizzing down the hills and by lunch time I had actually stopped falling. I never graduated past the easy slope but I overcame my fear and was actually somewhat addicted to going down the hill "one more time" by the end of the day.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Flying Ryan Air

Flying to Rome was my first experience with Ryan Air. Ryan Air is typically the butt of jokes because of it's ala carte menu of services and no frills approach to flying. Anyone who had flown in the United States since the time when speculators drove oil prices up to nearly $150 a barrel, is well used to ala carte services from their airlines. You will pay to book luggage, pre-board, have a Coke and recently they've even added pay toilets (1 euro) for one hour or less flights. The good news is, however, the flights are cheap. Dirt cheap in some instances. I have heard of instances of 20sek fares. (approximately $2.50)

That said, I thought it was a great value. Four of us flew to Rome for about $600, which is actually pricey where Ryan airfare is considered. The plane was new. I've flown some transcontinental flights with Delta on planes that looked like they were being held together with dental floss and electric tape. The seats were cramped but no more so than any standard domestic class flight, really.

Additionally, it is about 90 miles outside of Stockholm in a little city called Nyköping. They make it easy to get there. Busses leave central station all day at regular intervals. I actually liked the opportunity to drive through the calm and scenic Swedish countryside. Something I rarely get the chance to do. Farms and gentle rolling slopes covered in snow dot the countryside.

Most of the complaints regarding Ryan air come from the fees. If a flight is advertised as 5sek, some get irate to see it turn to 150sek with fees for internet booking, luggage, etc. Again further proof that some people really do just expect something for nothing. I am firm believer that most times, you get what you pay for. Then it is up to you to weigh your priorities.

All things considered, it's still a great value for inexpensive travel. Even with the fees you are likely to pay double or triple with SAS or other large commercial airlines. For a quick long weekend trip and a short flight Ryan air does the job quite nicely.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Whatsa Matter, You Donta Lova Your Momma?

That is the cry of the dejected street vendors in the squares of Rome. How can you not love it?

I have finally found the quintessential Europe that all Americans envision. I knew it had to exist. Stereotypes are never formed out of complete fabrication. That place, that little slice of heaven on the European continent, is Italy. I am hooked.

Only twice have I visited a place and felt such an envy. The first was Bangkok. The second Rome. A feeling of looking through the glass window into to an exclusive club where I could never gain membership. All this was their birthright. Oh, please let reincarnation be real and let me come back an Italian.

Long leisurely breakfasts on rooftop gardens leading to long leisurely dinners at outside sidewalk trattorias, fashionistas at every turn, sun, citrus and that intangible Italian spirit pervades every intoxicating breath of air. Instantly, their happiness is palpable and, like all moods, it is contagious.

Wisecracking and curious waiters are part of the ambiance. By the end of your time here, I guarantee you'll be saying things like "Mamma Mia" (yes, they really do say this) and "Prego". Instantly, you understand New York City and the obvious impact Italians have had on the NYC culture. The service is excellent in every capacity. Fashion smart sales clerks in three simple moves take the jacket you are trying on from drab to high chic. "How did she do that you ask yourself", as you tell her, "I'll take it, how could I not?"

Might I add:!?

Perfect moments are easy to come by in Italy. They are like busses, if you miss one, just wait, another will come in fifteen minutes. Close your eyes and imagine shop owners on lazy Sunday mornings cleaning their windows listening to some forlorn Italian opera telling the tale of unrequited love, open shuttered windows with Italian grandmothers banging clean rugs while conversing with a street side neighbor, meandering alleyways of cobblestone echoing Italian love songs or threesomes of portly, older Italian men in hats and with cane, sipping tiny black expressos while passing the time playing cards. It is all that and more.

Affordable too. Ofcourse, Italy has it's welfare state but like all of the more rebellious southern European countries, a good third of the country performs business through the "back door". It is estimated 25%-30% of the Italian economy is blackmarket. To a newly transformed anarcho-capitalist as myself, I say "Viva la Italy-bring it all down, man". The black market distorts things a bit and adds downward pressure to prices. Coming from Stockholm, it was a bargain hunters dream.

Noticeably reduced is that, "gotta get mine first" mindset I find so prevalent in collectivist societies. "Scusi" abounds. Yes, they really say excuse me when they brush up against you or inadvertently bump shoulders. What a novel concept. Doors are held open and heavy arms eased with willing assistance. Smiles and dancing eyes tell the tale of a life to be enjoyed, not endured.

Of course, the food. You'd really have to work hard to have a bad meal. Fresh handmade pastas, seafood, pizzas, carafes of red wines, gelatos to die for, lasagnes, my personal favorite-gnocchi's, and all affordable. None of this, Scandinavia, needing to take out a small loan for dinner for four.

This was also only Rome. I can only imagine it improves from here in the smaller more out of the way destinations.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sometimes the Clothes Do Make the Man

In the NUDE, all that is not beautiful is obscene.
Robert Bresson

Um, yeah, gotta agree with that one. There are definite stereotypes regarding the American comfort level with nudity and the European comfort level with nudity. If my gym locker room is the barometer of truth regarding that idea, the arrow is pointing way into the the truth side. I do not have a problem with nudity. It is just, as with everything else, I have strict parameters of people who should actually have the desire to walk around nude. It basically limits that pool of people to about two percent of the population.

In summary, people who shouldn't subject us to their nudity:

1. Anyone over 50

2. Anyone who does not routinely groom their pubic hair. (from my observations at the gym this pretty much leaves most European women out)

3. Anyone whose breasts are at the same level as their knees

4. Anyone who is just badly proportioned

Now, before I get the angry messages and emails, I am not saying anyone fitting the above criteria is less of a person. I am just saying, we need to know our limitations. It is healthy. And it's healthier for my burning eyes.

This morning at the gym was disturbing to say the least. I am pretty much used to turning around to have some woman's unshaved 1970s muff in my face as she reaches to get into her locker over me and the 15 person long line of naked women waiting to get into the showers barely causes me a pause anymore. I am growing. Just like you could count on that one country bumpkin from fly over they used to cast on the Real World every season to do. Today, though, it set me back. Set me way back; far, far, far back.

I am sitting on a step in the locker room eating my granola bar and listening to Von Mises as I do so many mornings, when she comes up. She says something to me in Swedish that I can only vaguely make out as needing to get into her locker that my bag is blocking. Then I make out something she says about a table and I assume she is saying something in reference to me eating on the stoop. Whatever, I think, and I go back to the world of the Lost 17 Years and the Japanese economic condition. Then she starts.

Madly she begins taking off her clothes. She takes out what appears to be a Tupperware kind of container with what looks to be water and a wash cloth. I am really trying hard not to watch but she is a mere three feet from me. Next thing I notice, she has one foot propped up on the bench and she begins dipping the washcloth into the water and washing her, having never seen a razor, crotch. In earnest. It's getting hard to finish the granola bar at this point because the area isn't exactly smelling like roses, if you catch my drift.

As I begin to pack up my stuff, she starts dressing. She gets dressed from the waste up. She's commando from the waste down. She begins assembling what I presume is her breakfast. She's bending and squatting and preparing it all in her little two feet of space. Is she airing out, I wonder? Why doesn't she just put on some frikking underwear, I think as she is squatting down, one knee at ten o'clock the other at about two? I am just thankful she was facing the lockers.

Out comes what appears to be an empty paper towel roll which she has inserted a piece of Tunnbröd, a sort of Swedish flatbread, a bit like a tortilla. Pretty ingenious I think, which led me into wondering if there was a market for some sort of portable plastic Tunnesbröd carrying product I could develop and sell. Then she takes out a, mostly empty, tube of something greyish, brownish and epoxy like. Just nasty. I do not know what it was. Food in a tube is just wrong on a lot of different levels.

Whatever it was, it could have been some cheap caviar product or a flavored cheese, she begins again frantically rolling it like an old toothpaste tube to get the remnants out of it onto her bread. Mind you, she's still wearing nothing from the waste down. And from my vantage, she really is not taking that into consideration.

At this point, as she was getting her rice milk out of the bag, I got up to leave. The show was over, for me anyway. The other girl in the area with a big Australian flag towel covering her body as she applied her mascara, looked through the mirror at me as we both rolled our eyes in a knowing kinship of shared understanding.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Movies and Flowers

Since I spend a healthy portion of my writing railing on (and on and on and on) about how expensive everything is in Sweden, I figured I would rack my brain and give a few examples of things that are actually a good value here. It is true that things are commonly two times, but often three, four or more times, as costly than in the States but occasionally there is a rare something that is not.

Not to fear, we have our own set of economic illiterates in charge hoping to destroy our standard of living as well. They are doing a might good job of it too, I might add.

So, here we go:

Dried Spices: For whatever reason, you can buy just about any dried spice for about the equivalent of two dollars. It is, many times, twice that in the US.

Fresh Herbs: Ditto. And they come in little pots so I guess if you are the green thumbed kind of sort you can "grow" them. Having a black thumb, I have never actually had any success with this endeavor.

Fresh Flowers: You can buy a gorgeous, big bouquet of fresh flowers for the equivalent of ten dollars. Even less sometimes. I shudder to think what they would cost in the US. Generally, a half dead bouquet of varying degrees of not so pretty flowers from the grocery store will run you $10.

Movie Rentals: You can rent 3 new releases for about the equivalent of $12. I think they average around $5 a rental in the US.

Bear in mind, I am basing this on my rate of 7.9SEK to the dollar. The currencies are doing a bit of jostling at the moment in favor of the US dollar as the Euro heads into the abyss, hopefully not taking the Swedish Krona with it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fabulous and Poor

Looking forward to a March ski trip to Klappen it dawned on me that none of us have any ski clothes. Faced with the idea of buying new ski clothes, that I'll likely use once or twice, at Swedish prices I was less enthused. Ironically, the quarterly newsletter I received from our relocation service had an ad for a second hand winter sports apparel shop.

I would have never found it left to my own devices. I had already asked the good folks at if they knew of any place and this store was not among the places they told me about. That was probably owing to the fact that it only recently opened for business in October. It is a little, really little, out of the way shop located on an off street in Kungsholmen. (Bergsgatan 18, tbana/Radhuset). In there you'll find everything you could need for skiing or snowboarding, quality stuff and only in good conditions, at relatively decent prices. For the price of one new pair of ski pants, I got three.

It is called Fabulous and Poor. You can visit their website at Cash only, no debit or credit cards.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jag lärde mig engelska från TV

The Swedes speak excellent English. Occasionally you might run into someone who has a really limited ability but they are few and far between. I had always assumed they learned it in school. But that still left me wondering how they got so fluent.

The answer I always get is - television. Swedish TV, like most other foreign countries, is many times bought from the American market. However, what is different, unlike other countries, they do not overdub the voices in Swedish. They leave the original audio and have Swedish subtitles.

That, mixed with the English they do learn in their studies, makes them have incredible fluency with the language. Typically they can move in and out of languages with ease. Signs and advertisements are commonly in English to the point where there has been some talk at the legislative level of limiting the amount of English used in that capacity.

I have also learned a few things about the Swedish dialects. Some Swedes, when you speak with them, will do a sort of, unnerving at first, "sharp intake of air" (as it is described). Almost the noise you might make when you see someone get hurt or watch something unpleasant. Typically, it is a gesture of agreement. A strange sort of "yes, aha, I see".

Some Swedes tell me this is a red neck trait. Which is funny because many of the people I hear do it are not anywhere in the realm of red-neckdom. I have noticed, though, someone may not do it when you initially speak to them but as they grow more comfortable with you it will begin to assert itself into the conversation.

I have also noticed it is habit forming. Sometimes, I must admit, my kids and I imitate it and it takes us a while to stop.

Additionally, I have learned that the more desirable accent to have is what has been described to me as a more southernly accent. I should preface this by saying I find Swedish to be a nice sounding language for the most part. Except for this accent. It is a throaty, maybe Pee Wee Herman sounding...oh, I'd go so far as to say Julia Child's sounding kind of thing. It is really not attractive. I am told it is some remnant of Danish which travelled northward and into the Swedish language.

I am still learning Swedish, at a snails pace because the urgency is not there. When I lived in Bremen, you either asked for it in German or you did not get it. Sink or swim language training, more efficient than Rosetta Stone.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Sun Always Shines on TV, When it's Working.

My cable is out. It went out last Tuesday, the fourth. Initially, it was the internet and the TV but now it appears to only be the TV. Let me preface this by saying it was just a short time ago brought to my attention that the cable company recently went into private ownership and was previously a state run entity. With that knowledge, I went into this with low expectations. I was not disappointed.

First call to the cable company on Wednesday where I explained that my cable was out for both TV and the internet. I went through the obligatory restarting and re-plugging to no avail. The technician scheduled a maintenance call for sometime in the next few days.

I wait until Monday, I call back and ask if my maintenance call is still scheduled after receiving a vague email that they had tried to call me and, no worries, they could see everything was working fine. The guy on the phone could not find a technician scheduled for me. I guess because it had been cancelled by whomever emailed me to tell me, "no worries, everything is good".

This time the technician tells me he will schedule a time to come out and that they will call first to get my door codes. Why suddenly a time has to be scheduled, I have not a clue. Yet, another phantom phone call. The date they can come is not until the 22nd. That was ten days away. For real? I tried to explain it was unreasonable to wait what would amount to three weeks to have my stuff fixed. It fell on deaf ears. It was the way it was. Ten days.

I asked to speak to a supervisor. There was none, you had to email. I sent an email. Crickets. Ah, state run enterpises -- the gift that keeps giving. Sort of like Jason, you think it's been killed dead but the mentality lives on.

Miraculously, the internet is back up. The TV, not so much. I don't really watch TV so it's not much of a big deal other than the principle. Except those 6 hours of The Hills I caught on the local channels last Sunday. Ugh, that Spencer...he is so diabolical.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Deadly Swedish Roof Tops

Seek and you shall find. Answers to your queries, that is. Icy Swedish rooftops could be deadly

Friday, January 8, 2010

Snowy Cultural Nuances

Interesting that they do not shovel snow off the sidewalks in Stockholm when it snows. It has been snowing here for weeks I presume. It was snowing before I left for the states and the snow was still going strong upon my return. Sure, with lapses in between but the temperature has been below freezing the whole time which has allowed for the accumulation a of fair amount of snow. Not shoveling the sidewalks has left mini-icebergs of varying heights all over the sidewalks, some five or six inches high.

I guess the lack of ambulance chasers will leave the business owners a little more ambivalent about the idea of someone breaking their necks outside of their establishments but even and still, just shovel the 10 foot by 6 foot area outside of your store, already. I contrast that with my German neighbors whom I would routinely catch with buckets full of bleach water and scrub brushes scrubbing off their front steps. So, yeah, I couldn't picture them allowing ice, sand, snow and cigarettes accumulating at their stoops. Sometimes living in a litigious society has it's benefits.

Even stranger, I keep seeing people shoveling snow off the roof tops. I was walking along yesterday as an avalanche of powdery white snow came flying off the roof ahead of me. Later that day I saw the same scene coming from the roof of a different building. A middle aged Swedish dad had stopped with his two toddlers to witness the spectacle. I stopped and asked just why they were shoveling snow off the roof tops. I thought it unusual that they'd go to all the trouble to shove it from the roof tops as it accumulates on the streets below. His response was that it clogged the drain pipes. Further proof that you do indeed learn something new everyday.

Knowing a little more about the snowy weather than I would ever care to have to recollect, I do know salt is by far the best antidote for road or walkway slipperiness after a snowfall. The dirt thing, not so much. I gather it is some environmental concern why they do not use salt though I can not really say for sure. Why use what works seems to be the mantra of policy makers in modern times.

Although, the oddest thing I have seen relating to the snowy weather was walking into the entrance of the grocery store yesterday. It's a rather large store with a large brick face opening to an industrial sort of building. I believe it used to be an old train station. As I walked up the ramp to the entrance I noticed, strangely, no snow or ice but water and hot steam simmering up from the ground. I looked up to see boiling hot water streaming down from above the entrance way. I don't mean misters or some organized method of dispersing water I mean water haphazardly flying out of some sort of hose and lots of it.

I looked around thinking clearly something was wrong. A pipe had burst...something. I peeked in; the store appeared open. I carefully maneuvered my way in through the about seven inches of clear area through the hot shower coming from above. Pools of hot water lay in the walkway. About an hour later, I came out through the same small dry space, water still raging from above. I guess you just have to file this one under "shit you just can not make up". I will also file it under reasons why it's a good thing we'll never be as cultured and civilized as the Europeans. (;