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...