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.