Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas in the USA

Merry Christmas from Southern California. I just couldn't resist our famous "Surfing Santa, " but no, this is not the typical Christmas activity, even in the land of the sun. The Christmas Eve Linköpinglivin edition proved to be a bit too ambitious, so if you noticed the delay, thanks to you for being an admirably attentive blog reader.

Usually, the intended audience for Linköpinglivin is people who know me, but are unfamiliar with Sweden and Swedish life and culture. The Swedes who eavesdrop on this ongoing conversation, and often add to it, are a welcomed and enjoyable part of this weekly tour of Sverige for the novice.

This week however, the audience is one of a Swedish background and all the non-Swedes, mostly American, get to listen in and offer some insight into how Christmas is celebrated in the U.S. The funny thing is that it is a whole lot easier for me to stand on the outside and observe someone else's culture than to stand on the inside and try to gain perspective on what I've always known and loved. We'll see what happens as I try to take on the daunting task of describing this most beloved holiday in America.

The stereotype of an American Christmas is overdone lights and an altogether over-commercialized holiday. While I cannot pretend this is not the case, there's certainly more to Christmas than lights on our roofs and too many presents under the tree. In a society that works too much and often sacrifices relationships for the almighty dollar, Christmas provides an opportunity to re-connect and re-establish ties that bind.

Family and friends are the highlight of the season, in addition to a time of the year when spiritual reflection is widely supported through advent church services as well as acknowledgment of Hanukkah and other religious traditions. Some choose to celebrate culturally, some choose spiritual celebrations and most bring the two together for a complex mingling of great gift expenditures and deeper personal meaning. Not unlike the cultural and religious celebration of other Western societies, the U.S. celebration is an individual and collective experience that cannot be adequately described or summarized, but reveals the great diversity of a country made up of immigrants who share a big land.

Specific elements of the Christmas celebration are simply variations on a familiar theme of Santa, stockings, trees, angels, music, Christmas food and drink, red and green, the wishing for and sometimes receiving of snow, etc. Many people begin their celebration around the tree sometime Christmas Eve and continue on through Christmas Day, from where I write you at this moment. The upcoming week will be gloriously unproductive as many vacations last right through the New Year. A personal favorite, the upcoming week culminates the American college football season with multiple games referred to as "bowl games" to determine the best teams of the year and preview next season's potential favorites.

Finally, the picture above is of my cousin Alexis, five years old and full of Christmas spirit, as well as one of the few reasons I found to not move to Sweden....

Check out Linköpinglivin next week for the continued State-side editions and a special "USA: Fact or Fiction" effort aimed at debunking and confirming popular stereotypes of America held throughout Sweden, at least what I've heard from people courageous enough to share their views. Until then, enjoy the week and take some time to rest. You deserve and need it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Till alla från Linköping, Stockholm och överallt i Sverige-

Jul i Sverige är jättekul och din firande, från Lucia till vinglögg till den många ljusstaker på fönster, är mycket vacker. Jag tyckar om detta land så mycket, men under Jul, jag älskar din land (men, när jag kommer tillbaka från USA i Januari, jag vill se snö). Igen, jag tackar er för min "Välkommen" från er under min fem månad här i Sverige. Jag lämnar på tisdag till Seattle, så "vi ses nästa år!" Titta min blogg nästa vecka för något från min hem i USA.

10 words you must know to understand and appreciate Christmas in Sweden:

1. Glögg--a sweet-tasting Christmas drink similar to our cider, but, much like fika, glögg (pr. "glerg") is more anticipated, celebrated and ever-present during the Christmas season in Sweden. Non-alcoholic and, of course, alcoholic versions are widely available.

2. Pepparkakor--"Gingerbread Cookies" are as much a part of this season as Santa. Usually thin and heart-shaped, they are widely known to make you "sweet and nice" and therefore the more you have, the better. Highly recommended with glögg.

3. Lucia--Santa Lucia is the patron saint of light and her legacy is honored throughout most of Scandinavia, and especially in Sweden, during the calendar's darkest period on December 13th every year. A "Luciatåg" or "Lucia train" consists of the honorary Lucia wearing the crown of candles and a "train" of followers wearing white and holding candles singing to the delight of Swedes everywhere. The Lucia concert at the Domkyrkan Cathedral was truly something out of a fairy tale, almost angellic. See a picture above for a version of the Lucia celebration.

4. Ljusstake--Whereas Americans put Christmas lights on the roof or around the window or throughout the front yard, Swedes and Germanic Europeans in general have a refined acknowledgment of the season through lights, the "Ljusstake" in the window. See above for a picture of the Ljusstake, which is in virtually every window in Sweden this time of year, creating quite the festival of lights on facades of buildings.

5. Julbord--The Swedish smörgåsbord, Christmas style! More food and drink than you could ever imagine, buffet style, so tempering your appetite for multiple return visits is a must during a Julbord. See above for a Julbord picture.

6. Lussakatt--a special bread, widely available during fika, for this time of year. Similar to our saffron bread.

7. Julmarknad--"Christmas Markets" are the most popular community gatherings in Sweden this time of year. Besides the glögg and pepparkakor available around every turn, Julmarknads offer the best of Swedish handicraft and gifts perfect for, well, your Mom, and not too many other people.... See above for a picture of the Julmarknad in Gamla Stan's square in Stockholm.

8. Advent--The four Sundays before Christmas are known as Advent, which is recognized and celebrated in churches throughout America, but in Sweden is much more well-known among common culture. "Adventljusstake" is a very common item counting down the Sundays until Christmas.

9. Disney--You read that right, "Disney." Swedes and most Europeans do the majority of their gathering and celebrating of the season on December 24th. Every Christmas Eve Day at 3pm, the number of switched-on televisions supposedly equals that of switched-on Christmas trees as Swedes nationwide participate in their annual Christmas practice of watching Donald Duck (the lead Disney character in Sweden, not Mickey) for an hour, which I presume would make this the Super Bowl of television marketing in Sweden?

10. Snö. This fictional weather condition, "snow," used to grace the land during December, but Sweden hasn't seen a flake of snow since early November. If you have any extra, send it our way...

In a land where holidays and festivals are cherished, Sweden at Christmas does not disappoint. Music, lights, food, drink, community gatherings, "Julklappar" (Christmas gifts), public displays and decorations, celebrations both spiritual and cultural and yes, commercialism, are all a distinct part of the Swedish Jul season. Overall, much like my previous thoughts on "my" two countries, the differences are outshined by the similarities during this time of year.

I did observe however, that Sweden has a more refined, subtle and simple seasonal experience, but that is to be expected given my Linköping location and other well-known cultural differences between the U.S. and Sweden. Another significant difference is due the homogeneity of Sweden--there is virtually no public acknowledgment of other holidays such as Hanukkah or Kwanza. And lastly, "Tomta" or Santa does not come down the chimney in the middle of the night when no one is watching, but comes to the door in the middle of the day when everyone is watching and asks, "Are there any good children around here?" He then proceeds to pass out all the gifts. And while I have not heard that Santa then partakes in fika, he is indeed offered glögg and pepparkakor!

I leave for home on Tuesday not to return until 2007, but watch for a State-side edition of Linköpinglivin next Sunday, Christmas Eve, when my Swedish friends will receive a small window into an American Christmas. And if you think you already know what an American Christmas is like, I will start with the declaration that not all of us celebrate like Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation, just some of us....

God Jul till alla i Sverige!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Barn" and Strollers

In preparation for my experience here, one of my cultural guidebooks stated plainly that in Sweden "children are sacred." Believing that children are sacred everywhere, I was unsure what to make of this declaration. I soon discovered what this meant.

Whether you're in Linköping, Stockholm, Uppsala, Tranås or any other place in Sweden, children ("barn" in Swedish) are more present and involved publicly than in the States. There are two reasons for this and they are inter-related. First, as a society, Sweden is prepared for the presence of children in more places. Almost all public places are accessible to strollers and welcome the excitement that children bring. Second, and this will make all American mothers wince with "what ifs," the new Swedish mother receives 18 paid months off to care for her newborn and infant child (compared to just four months in the States). This eliminates the need for newborn day care and brings me to the other part of this week's observation of Swedish culture...

...strollers. The phenomenon of strollers in Sweden cannot be understated. To a Swede, "strollers" will seem like a mundane and matter-of-fact topic for a blog entry, but that's just the point. Public places filled with strollers during every season of the year is like air, food, water and "fika" to a Swede. It's always been and always will be, so normal it goes unnoticed. Someone in Södermalm (south Stockholm) even created an icon to this phenonmenon as seen above. When I saw this statue of mother and stroller, I knew a blog entry was not far off. And these strollers come in all shapes and sizes, often including luxuries that cause strollers to be locked up when not in use. When you come to Sweden and walk around her beautiful cities, make sure to look both ways when you cross the street. If not, you may very well be run over by a bike or a stroller (cars are the least of your worries!).

Because the Swedish mother is off for 18 months, mother and child are together all day long, in private, in public and everywhere. The 18 months law gives mothers freedom from work, which leads to children-in-strollers-with-mothers everywhere you go, which only reinforces the "children are sacred" Swedish cultural truism. Not a bad way to run a society, quite frankly. I just can't figure out how the birthrate in Sweden remains similar to other developed countries--from walking around this place, it seems the population would be skyrocketing every year.

This Wednesday, Sweden pauses to honor Santa Lucia, Patron Saint of Light. With the daylight being just six hours this time of year (sun rises at 8:30am and sets at around 3pm), Lucia precedes Santa Claus. So next week, we will enter the world of Julbords, Julmarknads, Glögg, Pepparkakor and say "God Jul till alla."

Sunday, December 03, 2006

"LHC" and Swedish Sports

Those of you that know me well are aware that following and occasionally playing sports takes up far too much of my mind and time. I was under the illusion that coming halfway across the world might add a deeper dimension to my life and reduce my interest in American sports. Well, thanks to the wonders of the internet, my sports following has remained at the "overly preoccupied" level all through autumn and an exciting college and NFL American football season. Picture #4 above is a special Linköpinglivin tribute to my UCLA Bruins and one of the best games I've ever seen, no matter where in the world I was watching. Down goes Troy!

Now back to Linköping. This weekend I attended my first "Sverige Ishockey Liga" match between the hometown Linköping Hockey Club ("LHC") and last place Malmö at the new Cloetta Center here in Linköping. The Cloetta Center is just a few years old and a fantastic place to watch hockey (since I'm such a conoisseur of hockey arena enjoyment). With a capacity of 8,000 seats, the Cloetta Center is large enough to be a respectable arena and small enough to make every seat a good seat and to feel like you're a part of all the action. Everything else (food, accessability, parking, entertainment) was all very similar to the previous arena experiences I have had (the last hockey game I attended was at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in 2003). On this day, Malmö played tough and LHC had to show some grit just to end in a tie, 3 - 3.

Overall, football (I am confident enough in my American readers not to have to qualify what "type" of football I am referring to) is the dominant European sport and Sweden is no different. Ice hockey and other winter sports are the focus all winter and track & field is very popular during summer. Cloetta Center-sized arenas are all over the country and Stockholm and Gothenburg have larger stadiums and arenas for the larger populations.

My sense is that sports are not as much of a cultural obesession here as they are in the U.S. Trying to explain to Europeans why we care so much about 18 - 22 year-olds who play sports is a challenge and also helps to put things in perspective, but generally they understand the "these are athletes that don't get paid and simply love to play" argument, though I know that this argument is questionable with the current state of college football and basketball. Yet the fans at the Cloetta Center clearly love their Linköping Hockey Club--love that White Lions cheering section--and I hear that roughly 10 million out of 14 million Swedes and Finns watched their teams clash for the gold medal in last year's Winter Olympics. The Blue and Yellow prevailed--keep up the love, Sverige!

And as for UCLA, #1 in basketball rankings and the de-throning of the crosstown rival isn't a bad way to head into the holidays with my Trojan-heavy family. See you in a couple weeks.

"Jul" has descended upon Sweden. Watch for that blog entry coming soon.

And that's a friend, Andreas, in the picture with me above. Thanks for my welcome to Linköping, Andreas. Go LHC!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving in Prague

If you had told us a year ago that for this year’s Thanksgiving holiday I would be leaving my current residence in Sweden to visit my Dad at his current residence in Prague, he would have said, “Prague? Is that a city or a country?” and I would have said, “Sweden? Which one of the Scandinavian countries is that again?” Aside from our former geographical ignorance, what a difference a year makes.

Unexpectedly but enthusiastically, I write this blog entry from the ever-growing and ever-stunning city of Prague in the Czech Republic where I have spent the weekend of the American holiday of Thanksgiving with my Dad, John, who moved here in July to teach English after “retiring,” which we all knew my Dad could never really do.

Prague’s allure is found in it’s history, most evident through the architecture in the areas of Mala Strana and Stare Mesto (Old Town) where lies Prague Castle, Charles Bridge above the Vltava River, Old Town Hall, Tyn Church and Old Town Square with a memorial to one of Prague’s favorite sons, Jan Hus, a Protestant reformer 100 years before it was trendy. Most of my time was spent in these areas with occasional wanderings through Nove Mesto (New Town) and a day-excursion down to the medieval town of Cesky Krumlov. Experiencing this gem of Eastern Europe, it’s food, it’s beer and it’s people has been the best Thanksgiving I could have had (aside from surrounded by family).

Dad, I admire your sense of adventure and curiosity during your “retirement.” May we all have your energy and excitement when our working years conclude. Thanks for a spectacular weekend in your brand new city. See you in a month!

A word about tourists:
There’s a bunch of them in Prague, and admittedly I was usually no exception. However, sitting in Old Town Square watching the hoards, I was struck by some of the positive qualities of tourists. The wide-eyed awe, the openness to new things, the childlike enthusiasm for the next picture, street exploration or unique possibility (and this is found in all tourists, not just expressive Americans who, I acknowledge, are very entertaining to watch), these are all things that we tend to forget in our “normal” lives. The tourists today reminded me of why I love my work with students, who also share these life-giving characteristics. Perhaps my purpose in writing this commentary on tourists is not necessarily to encourage travel (most people reading this either already do or would travel if circumstances were different), but to shed light on some forgotten qualities of tourists, who as a whole usually carry a negative connotation. So, the next chance you get, sit back and people watch, especially the tourists.

If you’re still reading, I thank you. The pictures included are:
1. Old Town Square-Our Lady of Tyn Church with the Jan Hus Memorial.
2. “Thanksgiving Dinner” with Dad and our friend, Sam from Wales.
3. Prague Castle with Charles Bridge and Vltava River.
4. Dad and I sharing in an old Czech tradition together.
5. Cesky Krumlov from above the castle.

And finally, next week I return to Linköping, where I have tickets to see LHC take on Malmö at the Cloetta Center. Watch for my first Sweden sports-related blog entry next week.

“Nascledanou” from Praha.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

European Café Culture~Linköping style

Though much more so in recent times due to a growing coffee culture connected with a certain worldwide coffee chain (give it up for Seattle!), we in America generally don't do the café nearly as well or as often as our counterparts in Europe. Taking time during our busy days to sit back with coffee, tea, sandwiches and pastries as well as friends, acquaintances and strangers is a time-honored tradition throughout Europe, probably most notably in France or Italy or other Mediterranean-based locales. I just don't think of Germany or England when picturing the quintessential café experience. And while it's not quite as treasured or celebrated (yes, even with fika) in Sweden, Swedes can lounge and chat and sip and eat and waste a day at a café with the best of 'em. I know. I've seen it. I've done it. I love it.

Since this blog is dedicated to sharing about my experiences here in Linköping, I would be remiss to exclude my beloved café time. If my calculations are correct, I spend on average 8 - 10 hours per week at cafés in Linköping usually reading a paper (International Herald Tribune if I'm looking to be informed, Dagens Nyheter if I'm working on my Swedish while being informed), studying svenska, reading a book, people watching and still relishing this unexpected experience in Sweden. For those of you in Linköping, you can almost always find me on LiU's campus at Cesam or at either Wayne's Coffee or Cafe Cioccolata downtown, places I feel comfortable setting up shop for a couple hours or more (break through the iPod and say "Hejsan" if you happen to see me).

Special greetings to Wayne's Coffee workers (Simon, Josep, Armand) for the reliable welcome, chat and svenska practice.

The picture above is of Vic Knight and friends during this afternoon's Thanksgiving celebration at his house in Tranås, which is about a 45-minute drive south of Linköping. The American holiday of Thanksgiving is this coming Thursday, so Vic invited me down to take part in a feast with some other Americans or Swedes very familiar with American traditions (but the picture is, of course, of our post-meal fika). Thanks for the warm welcome and hearty meal, Vic.

Next week's Linköpinglivin edition will be from Prague in the Czech Republic where I will be visiting my Dad who is teaching English in "Praha." We're going to have a memorable and unexpected Thanksgiving together a long, long way from home.

Happy Thanksgiving to all in the U.S. and for those Sweden-based readers, I look forward to the onset of my first Swedish "Jul" coming soon.

Trevlig vecka!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Min Svenskakurs (My Swedish Course)

An essential element to any international re-location and cultural experience is to learn the native language. As already acknowledged (see blog entry #2), Swedes speak English very well. However, I've found that my personal sense of becoming a part of this new country is directly tied to how well I am understanding the language. I don't need Swedish in order to get my job done or to meet people, but I do need Swedish in order to feel like I'm not just a foreign imposter, but actually connecting with my temporary home and respecting my Swedish colleagues, friends and acquaintances.

The first picture above is of the participants in my Swedish class this semester. We meet twice per week for 2-and-a-half hours and have become a small community as we all adjust to life in Linköping. Studying a new language with others from around the world (Czech Republic, Germany, Japan, China, Iceland, Brazil and Bangladesh) is a fascinating part of this new experience.

So how's it going? Slowly, but surely, I guess. Here's some lessons I've learned from my studies of a new language:
  • You'd better be ready to make mistakes and laugh at yourself (while being laughed at!).
  • Reading and writing is WAY easier than listening and actually speaking.
  • Patience is an essential element to language acquisition.
  • Pronouncing vowels properly makes all the difference.
  • Just being immersed in a new culture does not automatically mean you will learn the language (language osmosis would be really nice to have).
  • Counter-intuitively, it's actually harder to learn a language when everyone knows your first language....all-important practice is much harder to come by.

Keep checking back to Linköpinglivin to witness my gradual grasping of "svenska."

The second picture above is of Riddarholmskyrkan and Gamla Stan in Stockholm and the last picture is a special one for the native Swedish readers: My summertime experience at "Allsång på Skansen," a uniquely Swedish "sommar" experience.

Finally, a blog entry on learning Swedish would not be complete without a small example:

Till alla i Linköping (och/eller Sverige),

Tack så mycket för dina hjälp med min svenska. Jag gillar att bo i Sverige och i Linköping. Det är spännande för mig att tala på svenska mer och mer varje vecka, men bara därför att dina hjälp. Tänkar svenska är vacker och, med mer tid och tålamod, jag hoppas att tala det bra. Det här vecka hos min svenskakurs, vi ska lära rätt ordning av orden. Inte skrattar, tack!

Det här min favoriten orden på svenska. Jag hoppas att tala vid 2007:

"Sju sjösjuka sjömän träffar sju sjungande, sköna, nyduschade sjuksköterskor och bjuder dem generöst på choklad."

Vi ses snart på Linköpinglivin.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Stomping Through the Snow of Stockholm

How do you improve an already excellent city? Just add snow. And a Californian who will always revert back to five years old when it starts to snow. I love the majesty of snow. I love the beauty of a fresh snowfall. I just spent the weekend in the premiere Scandinavian city during the first snowfall of the year. I can just hear my native Sweden readers saying "You just wait." Well, I spent two years in Ohio and never lost the love, so hopefully, even in the cold and dark Swedish winter, my love of snow will remain. For those of you who read last week's blog, "Autumn in Linköping," imagine my shock to find out that autumn lasts only one week in Sweden!

Stockholm. Overlooked because of climate and size in relation to other European capitals, Stockholm is quickly helping me feel right at home in Sweden. Having grown up in Los Angeles, where the city never starts, never ends and you're never quite sure where you are in relation to everything else because of the sprawl and endless concrete, I've found that well defined and accessible cities such as Stockholm help me be oriented quickly and therefore able to grasp all the city has to offer (Seattle, San Francisco and New York City among others do the same for me). Stockholm has a few major areas and neighborhoods and one often feels like they are just around the corner from the next opportunity, experience or adventure. Add to this great transportation, a clean and orderly environment, design in form and function as only the Swedes know how, water everywhere you look and all the expected European history, culture, art and architecture and you have one great Scandinavian destination. Yes, even in wintertime.

My favorite area, you ask? Well, for an American, Europe is defined as damp, cobblestone streets lined with shopkeepers, people watchers from window sills, an historical church around every corner, alleyways where extended arms can touch both walls and squares that offer pedestrians (both native and foreign), cafes, unique shops, and basement dwellings from the 14th century for that much needed fika or beer. As much as I like Östermalm, Södermalm, Kungstradgården and Djurgården, I'm just continually drawn to Gamla Stan, the Old Town of Stockholm, yes despite the tourists, whom I have yet to disdain (half of them speak my language as their first language!).

In addition to walking streets and nooks of Gamla Stan, I went to the Aquaria, Stockholm City Museum and the National Museum (art gallery), as well as spending much time in cafes and a bit of time in pubs. And I bought tickets to Handel's Messiah at Storkyrkan (Gamla Stan cathedral) for December--that, my friends, is quintessential (and probably stereotypical, as well) Europe at "Jul," Christmas.

It was such a pleasure to read all the comments posted by various Sweden-based readers this past week. You just never know if anyone's reading or caring about your blog unless they tell you and the many of you that left comments, advice, encouragement and corrections just made my week. While I would like to respond to as many of you as possible, I realized that, despite the blog, I'm not very gifted at technology and was only able to trace a couple of you to reply. Know that your comments were valued nonetheless and it's a privilege to have at least a few native Swedes occasionally checking out my blog.

Back to Linköping tomorrow where I hear that the more seasonal weather will be returning in the coming week, probably a good thing.

Hej då, Stockholm, för nu. Vi ses snart!

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Special "Välkommen" to Corren-Linköping Readers

Greetings to those of you visiting this blog for the first time! In this morning's Corren-Linköping daily "tidning" (newspaper), there was a story on this blog along with some background information on my stay here in Linköping. As of this moment, I have not read the article, but I have been informed about it and will look forward to reading it upon my return to Linköping after a weekend in Stockholm. Here is the website for the article (which I will need translated by someone):

A big thanks to Sofia Tanaka, the Corren journalist who interviewed me yesterday and put me on the spot with a lot of good questions and thoughts about this blog and more.

Above, you see a few pictures of my time here in Sweden. Many of you from Linköping will recognize the first picture as the traditional folk dance group from Skansen in Stockholm. The second picture is from a recent visit by two friends from Santa Barbara, California here in Linköping and the final picture is of other visitors from Seattle by the fountain in Stora Torget.

This website is updated weekly, based upon different experiences I am having in Linköping and all of Sweden as an American visitor making a home in Sverige for a season of life. Please visit often and feel free to make comments on the blog or email me with your thoughts, clarifications or outright corrections. Unfortunately, due to some spam comments, I am monitoring the blog, but will approve all non-spam appropriate for the nature of this blog.

And one day, perhaps not too far off in the future, this blog (or at least an entry or two) will be in Swedish--my class is going well.

Hej då, vänner. Vi ses nästa vecka med en blog om min helg i Stockholm! Trevlig Halloween.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

An Autumn Walk Through Linköping

Weather is always a hot topic in Sweden--pun absolutely intended. From what I've been told, autumn ("höst") is just postponing the inevitable that still seems to arrive so quickly. Winter ("vinter") is the inevitable. Spring ("vår") is just extra winter and summer ("sommar") is simply Swedish heaven.

Though this autumn in Southern Sweden has been "the warmest in memory," this week marked the arrival of temperatures below freezing, though during the day the weather is still enjoyable and not too much different from my experience of autumn in Seattle. Eventually, when we're in the heart of winter, snow will be on the ground, but the average high will be in the 20s and lows in the 10s--not all that different from my time in Ohio, but significantly less than Seattle. Though Sweden's latitude is equivalent to that of central/northern Canada, we fortunately have a jet stream that comes up from the Caribbean. Yeah, it's almost tropical around here sometimes...

The difference is the darkness. Coming from Southern California, when the Seattle winter sun would rise at 7:30am and set around 4:30pm, that was much more alarming than the rain (which I loved and still do). Well, in a few weeks, I'll be crying for the sun to rise and set at those times, because there will not be sun in Sweden until 10am and then a few hours later, it will be gone (3pm). That's apparently when we settle in with movies, books, candles, homemade bread, hot coffee during "fika," Ikea lighting and, of course, Swedish schnapps.

Though probably a weekend and one wind storm late for the heighth of fall foliage, the sun was out yesterday and Linköping was begging to be photographed during autumn. I obliged. I hope you enjoyed the walk.

I think I've figured out the Blogger picture deal, so please come back for more pics, especially next week after a long weekend in Stockholm during what is anticipated to be the first snow storm of the year. Until then, "Hej då."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Lagom and Jante Law

Boom! Take that, Blogger! Got 'em. It took a week, but I finally got some "Visitors" pictures up. Yes! Oh, the joy of overcoming the great Blogger picture gatekeeper. Here's to Steve, Geoff and Won as well as the Sunukjians and our dinner of Swedish reindeer, potatoes, Aqvavit and desserts like you wouldn't believe. Makes you want to come visit, huh? But that was last week...

While I have many blog entries brewing, while there's an endless amount of Linköping fun facts, stories and experiences to keep this website active for years to come, I've gotta hold off in order to fill you in on a couple important life philosophies critical to understanding Swedes. So step back with me this week for a cultural lesson that may perhaps enlighten future entries.

"Lagom" is loosely translated in English as "just enough." This idea of society's needs and resources, and every person needing and deserving "just enough" to fill their needs is a Viking concept that still lives today, apparent in many areas of Swedish life, but most clearly in the Swedish socio-economic model where everyone has and deserves "just enough" for their needs. This is not a concept found only in history or social science classes because I have spoken with many Swedes very familiar with this and even asking if I'm aware of it. When they ask, I say "Yes, in preparation for my time here, I read about Lagom and also 'Jante Law.'"

The Jante Law
The Swedish Jante Law (Pr. 'Yante' Law) is the strongest social underpinning in the country. Think of how strong the American social ethic of "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps" is to American individualism and life and there you have the equivalent strength of a social protocol found in the Swedish Jante Law. Jante Law can be summarized as "Thou shalt not believe thou art something"--in other words, a great commandment to keep oneself in proper perspective to everyone else. A nationwide calling to humility is another way of looking at it. Socially and economically, one can see how different this is from an American perspective. And as American commercialism and cultural life is only on the increase throughout Sweden, the Jante Law brings about a tension that Swedes are having to address on many levels of society. In the end though, Jante Law is in full effect throughout Sweden serving to create a society that seems to work together and trust each other more than most, from what I've seen so far.

There's your classroom lecture for a little while. Talk amongst yourselves....but make sure it's in Swedish!

"Se du nästa vecka."
See you next week.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


My vocation and much of my personal life center around the concept of "community." Communities of students, communities of friends/family and other groups of people that make life so much richer and deeper. One of the initial drawbacks to picking up and leaving to move halfway across the world is the loss of community (though I often remind myself that in time a "community" is also gained). So, through emails, Skype (user name: sean.whiting-please join), IM chats, this blog and a host of other internet link-ups, I am able to stay remotely connected to my previous communities of people. This, oftentimes, is what carries me through, especially when that beautiful Swedish summer begins to become autumn with winter looming not far behind. With that introduction....

When the "home" community comes to visit, Linköpinglivin goes from pretty good to outstanding! This blog entry is dedicated to my visitors, both in the past and to inspire future visitors. This afternoon I dropped off at the airport a longtime college friend, Jason Sunukjian, and his wife, Heather. They are in the midst of a European extravaganza focused on Switzerland, Germany and Italy, but took a much appreciated excursion north for just a day-and-a-half to come check out life in Linköping. Though short, their visit was a thing of beauty, highlighted by a European marathon meal reserved for only the best of friends. A big thanks to Jason and Heather for including Sweden in their travel plans.

Earlier this summer, three former students-one of whom was an RA for me in McCarty last year-were my first official visitors to Linköping. Steve Margitan, Geoff Morgan and Won Steinbach were on a meandering journey through Europe eventually leading them to the UW Honors Rome Program and decided to make a stop in "Sverige" to visit me for a few days and check out Stockholm. Their stay was memorable (and more than just because they are all under 21 and consumed "adult beverages" with their former Resident Director) and I hear their time in Stockholm was one of the highlights of their entire summer. Thanks for the visit, Steve, Geoff and Won. See you next summer!

Finally, the very first familiar face in Sweden was Jason Chan, a former RA of mine in Lander Hall my second year at the UW. He was coming through Stockholm when I was there this summer and we took in an evening together wondering how we both ended up in Stockholm at the same time.

Which brings me to YOU! If you choose to visit me, you will simply never regret it. You will be housed free-of-charge, wined and dined as only the Europeans know how, given the Displaced-American-in-Sweden tour of Linköping, become a part of "Gästbok" lore and your visit will be prominently highlighted in the blogosphere never to be forgotten for all time. Most of all, you may even find yourself in Stockholm, which besides the irreplaceable company, might be the best part of your entire European swing.

Make your plans. Airfare, you ask? Winter's cheapest, summer's expensive, but the trip will be priceless no matter when it is. Fly into Stockholm or Copenhagen from the States, Nyköping-Skatsva on RyanAir ( from most of Europe.

"Vi ses snart i Sverige!"
See you soon in Sweden.

**Writer's note: Blogger picked a horribly disappointing time to deny any and all pictures. In future entries, I commit to squeezing in photos of Jason Chan, Steve, Geoff and Won and Jason and Heather Sunukjian. Blogger's just hurtin' me right now....

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Whether visiting or living, you simply can't be in Sweden too long without learning about and experiencing "fika." Fika can be a relatively simple coffee break or a longer celebration of people and food. Fika almost always involves coffee (one of the most treasured of goods in all of Scandinavia) or at least tea and usually bread, cheese, crackers, jams, butter and the like. Fika involves friends, co-workers, strangers, you name it. The picture above is me with colleagues during morning fika. Trust me, they're as happy as I am with fika...

Not a day has gone by where my colleagues and I have not had "fika" at approximately 9:30am as well as 3pm. It's a twice daily ritual that I've come to appreciate, especially because it's very rare for my colleagues and I to discuss work during fika. In our case, our morning fika includes the foods and afternoon is simply a coffee break, but sometimes includes a dessert of some kind. As we gather each day, we can look across the courtyard of our building and watch the other companies and organizations having their fika at the same time. In the end, "fika" is an opportunity to take a break, enjoy the company of others, gain sustenance and partake in a time-honored Swedish tradition, on a daily (and sometimes twice daily) basis.

With all that fika has to offer individuals and communities, watch out. Fika can't be far from a marketing campaign at a coffee establishment near you. Of course the American "live to work" ethic may get in the way of the daily fika, but even Americans need to take a break from work once-in-a-while.

Shout out to Stephanie Van Driel for pointing out an unthinkable omission in last week's Famous Swedes entry, ABBA! My Swedish friends have yet to forgive me....

And I actually succeeded in placing a couple more pictures this week. The first is "Tre Krona" or "Three Crowns," a symbol of Sweden, this one found at the top of Stadshuset, Stockholm City Hall and the second picture is of a replica Viking Ship, minus the bloodshed and conquering, which tours around the waters of Stockholm during the summer months. Come visit me and Stockholm (as well as fika, of course) will be on the agenda.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Top 10 Interesting Sweden Things Not Interesting Enough for an Entire Blog Entry

10. There are not drinking fountains anywhere. I, of course, learned this the hard way, over and over again. When you visit me, bring your own water.

9. When I first learned of the possibility of this life adventure in Sweden, I had to make sure that I knew at least one city name in Sweden and I guessed "Stockholm?" Fortunately, I was correct. Another very important city in Sweden is one you've never heard of. It's called "Gothenburg" and it's on the west coast, the main shipping port for all of Scandinavia. You should be ashamed of your geographical ignorance. Thankfully, you have Linköpinglivin.

8. Roundabouts are a beautiful thing. How we on the west coast of the U.S. live without roundabouts and subways, I will never know...

7. No one reading this is unaware of my love for playing and following sports. While my attention to the American sports scene has hardly missed a beat (good 'ol internet-Go Dodgers!), my sports outlet in Linköping is the Linköping Lions Hockey Club. We're off to a bit of a slow start, but you too can follow their season at:

6. "Röd är röd!" Red is red. You may NOT turn right on a red light. Period. However, traffic lights do turn yellow before they turn green, which I take it to mean they want you to fire off the line as quickly as possible, so I comply...

5. The closest eatery to my apartment in Linköping is McDonalds, actually about a two minute walk. McDonalds are everywhere in Sweden, sigh. Okay, perhaps the occasional indulgence a fry or two or 80 gives one a sense of home, which I am not above.

4. The Swedish alphabet is exactly the same, except for three more letters at the end:
Å is pronounced "aw" as in raw
Ä is pronounced "ai" as in rain
Ö is pronounced "ir" as in girl
For a real fun time, we'll do accents someday...

3. Swedes love nature. Lakes, forests, rivers, endless meadows, canals and countryside (but not mountainous until you get way up north). Water and forests dominate the Swedish topography. There is a forest about a two minute jog from my apartment, which has a 5 km. wood-chipped trail for running, biking and walking. I love this trail and run it twice three times per week. So, I have established a routine of running 21 miles per week. This in combination with no longer living on an American campus with college dining halls at my fingertips has helped me lose 15 lbs. since I left Seattle in mid-June.

2. Some famous Swedes are Alfred Nobel (Nobel Prize(s) is awarded in Stockholm every December 10), Ingemar and Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, Björn Borg, The Swedish Chef from the Muppets and Tiger Woods' wife, Elin Nordegren.

1. Garbage. You read that right, garbage. Virtually all residential garbage is thrown into handy chutes located on every apartment building level or a street corner of houses. The garbage is deposited, then promptly vacuum sucked underground across the city to the dump. The only garbage trucks you see in Sweden are commercial. Pretty cool, yes?

Sorry for the lack of pictures. I'm really trying. Google Blogger is just too powerful. Keep checking back for the exciting conclusion to Sean vs. Google Blogger. Until next week...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

It's the Red, White and Blue One (With All the Stars and Stripes!)

I just couldn't resist this title, juxtaposed with last week's submission because my Red, White and Blue blood is running high right now after a simply perfect weekend in Boston celebrating Shannon (Rapo) Kelley and Mark Rapo's wedding. What does Boston have to do with Linköping? Well, nothing except for me, so that's good enough for a blog entry!

After throwing one memorable party related to my work here in Linköping, I was off to Boston via Stockholm, starting a long weekend that included a smooth flight to Boston, spending good time with family (Mom-Dianne and Brother-Todd, see pic) and friends from both high school and college as well as parents of friends and others from La Canada(California), though we were in Boston--the perfect place and time for a small reunion of people for me, almost 3 months into this European experience.

Some highlights were walking around historical Boston (Boston Common), exploring Harvard with Frisbee in hand, a long walk along the Charles River with a patient and persevering mother, great food and company at virtually every meal, the frequent visit to Starbucks (nope, I've found the one place in the world, Scandinavia, that has yet to succumb to Starbuck's worldwide domination attempt), the wedding celebration of the couple unlike I had ever seen before, drinks and dancing till dawn or close to it. So to all of you reading this who partook in these events, thanks for a great weekend and a refreshing and renewing time of being at home in the States. You are missed already. See you in December!

As for the flight back to Sweden, let's just not talk about it. Safe to say that leaving apartment keys in checked baggage is a terrible idea, one that makes a long night and day of travel longer and more expensive--just another story on this unexpected European adventure. I wish I could include more pics below, but there seems to be an invisible Blogger picture limit--if any of you know how to overcome this, please let me know. See you next week.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

It's the Blue and Yellow One

Another common question I received upon sharing with people that I was moving to Sweden was "Which of the flags with the crossed lines is Sweden's again?" Yes, all Scandinavian flags--Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland--have the same type of design, but different colors. This is an appropriate symbol of Scandinavian unity yet distinctiveness that I have observed since arriving in July (already over 2 1/2 months!).

One of the first things I noticed while in Stockholm is the fact that you can find the Swedish flag somewhere around you at virtually every public location. It is everywhere! In addition to public buildings, boats and various historical landmarks, etc., it's also found throughout commercial and private buildings, businesses, store fronts, corner markets, inside restaurants, in front of many homes and on balconies of apartments everywhere. Picture Memorial Day or July 4th in the States every day. I've even come across many homes that actually have a full-fledged flag pole in their front yard--not uncommon.

So what does this mean that the flag is everywhere? The obvious answer is that Swedes adore their country and this is accurate. Perhaps more than even other European countries, where nationalism has often been a positive and often a negative, it seems that Swedes carry a lot of national pride, but do so with a common sense and content spirit about their place in the world, hence the well-known neutrality in times of conflict and other political responses. Virtually all Swedes would tell you that they have something special going on way up here in the north and the omnipresent flag is the clearest representation of this.

And, while I miss the States at times, I would certainly have to agree that there is something special going on up here in Sweden. While my adjustment is still continuing and will for awhile, Sweden in general and Linköping in particular have treated me very well, even as my All-American qualities reveal themselves on a seemingly daily basis (perhaps a future blog?). Speaking of which, I'm off to Boston next weekend for a wedding, so my submission will be a special State-side version of Linköpinglivin' this time next week.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Swedes And Their Beloved Crayfish

Something I love about Sweden, from cultural reading and personal experience, is their extraordinary celebrations around holidays. Virtually every holiday is celebrated with a combination of family/friends, food, alcohol and Swedish traditional songs, sung by everyone around the table, including displaced Americans.

Swedish "Mid-Summer" (approx. June 23rd) is one of the most celebrated of holidays anywhere in the world. The National Holiday is June 7th and Christmas ("Gul"), from what I've heard, is most cherished-a time when Swedish traditions, wintertime comforts and family/friend gatherings are plentiful. One of the more unique Swedish celebrations happens in August, or in my case, during the first week of September.

Crayfish is found throughout Sweden in the many lakes, rivers and seas that surround the country. A crayfish run is a long-standing tradition, one which my company sponsored for all of the employees this past week. On a lake just outside of Linköping in Östergotland (this region of Sweden), I was elected to row the boat, some others placed the cages, then we waited. Of course, during the wait, we gathered around the firepit and dinner table, ate broiled crayfish, sang Swedish folk songs, shared an assortment of special beverages and generally enjoyed a very unique Tuesday evening toward the end of Sweden's summer.

When all was said and done, I had learned through experience a lot more about this new country I am temporarily calling home. My colleagues are a special group that can work and play together and except for a few of us, can also carry quite a tune.

And if you're curious about how many crayfish we caught, well....let's just say that they must've known there was an American trying to be Swedish on this night. See you next week.