Sunday, January 28, 2007

Making Your Travel Plans? Top 10 Reasons to Visit Linköping, Sweden

This weekend I've had the pleasure of hosting two friends and showing off this "jättekul" country I have found. Crystal and Brajna decided to take a mid-winter (bless them) excursion from their life and work in the Balkans to come check out a svenska vinter. From Stockholm to Linköping, Sweden has been even better because of them, even with temperatures hovering around 10 degrees farenheit, which got me thinking...
Right about this time, many of you out there are deciding whether or not to follow through on your previously-talked-about plans to visit Linköping over the next 6 - 8 months. Here's my list of the top 10 reasons Linköping should indeed remain on your list of spring/summer/fall exciting travel destinations:
10. You will learn the words "Tack," "Hej" and "Trädgårdsförening." One time I tried to say "Linkopings Trädgårdsförening" and a colleague gently replied, "You should just say 'the park.'"
9. Gamla Linköping.
8. Run a wood-chipped (or snow-covered, wood chipped) trail with me in Ryd Skogan.
7. Norin's Ost--a fine example of Swedish appreciation for and availability of high quality products from throughout Europe, in this case focused on one of my favorite things in life, cheese.
6. Because any trip to Linköping will inevitably become a train ride to Stockholm, one of the smoothest trains you've ever been on to one of the best cities in Europe.
5. A concert in the Domkyrkan, especially on December 13th.
4. Because you just have to see the crayfish, princesstårta and the stroller mafia for yourself.
3. Summertime lounging in Stora Torget while planning the next excursion to the coast, summer cottage or great European destination.
2. Because at some point during an extended journey to Europe, you really need to rest....
1. And the number one reason you should visit Linköping soon is because Linköping can serve as a fantastic springboard to the rest of Europe--in fact, when you look at Sweden on a map, it actually looks like a diving board into continental Europe. Come, stay awhile, enjoy. See you someday soon (yep, a top 10 list that didn't even include fika. Too predictable, plus you already knew about that one.)
Pictures above:
1. Linköping Centrum on a cold winter's day.
2. Crystal and Brajna--Sweden wintertime visitors. Impressive.
3. Stockholm skyline in the snow.
4. A moose at Skansen Outdoor Museum in Stockholm.
5. Sun, rain, wind and snow, the bicycle rules Linköping.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Här kommer vinter i Linköping och överallt i Sverige!

Without further ado, winter. Just when we started to speculate about what a winter would be like in Sweden without snow, just when I started to become resigned to the fact that my first year in Sweden would be missing an experience so integral to this land, just when we were starting to pull out our t-shirts and shorts for spring (or perhaps that was just wishful thinking), winter has hit. This weekend, the temperature dropped, on came the moisture and now Linköping, and all of Sweden, is witnessing the glory of winter.

Darkness, cold, snow, heavy jackets, gloves, boots, snow caps, candles, lights, coffee and warm breads, indoors, movies, ice hockey, alpine and nordic skiing, ice skating, ice scrapers, fireplace gatherings and, as always, singing while eating and drinking amongst friends, these are the hallmarks of a Swedish winter. Scandinavian weather is a testimony to extremes. As cold as it is in the winter is as delightful the celebration in the summer. As dark as it is this time of year is as light and playful the Swedish spirit come July. In the midst of the snow, I remember the never-ending daylight and outdoor cafes in Stora Torget that welcomed me to Linköping last year.

Alas, the hope of summer is what motivates the Swedes through the winter. As a Southern Californian-turned-Seattlite-turned-honorary Swede, I can attest to the extremes of the seasons reflecting the rhythm of life. Life is not about 75 degrees all the time (23 degrees Celsius), but about the endurance through the winter that creates a cherishing of summer unknown in warmer climates. Indeed, as Swedes spoke of the winter-never-to-come, it was akin to the missing of an important part of the yearly life cycle. So, this summer will be all the better because of the winter that just arrived. And there's just something right about being here in Sweden during the winter.

Pictures above:
1) A classic Swedish cottage found in Gamla Linköping (future blog).
2) A snow-covered Stora Torget with the Domkyrkan in the distance.
3) The same Viking as introduced last week, but a different season of the year.
4) The Domkyrkan up close.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Linköpinglivin Live!

Though there is still no snow in Linköping, save for a small dusting last week, winter is definitely here, if only represented by the post-holiday slow down as people take a collective break to catch their breath. In other words, aside from the excitement of hurricane force winds that hit parts of Sweden yesterday, life in Linköping seems a bit slower than usual, a calm during a (wind) storm if you will. A perfect time to take a moment and do what I normally don't get to do, respond through the blog to some Linköpinglivin questions, comments and contributions from the past few months.

Though I attempt to write this blog week after week for my own personal satisfaction, not dependent upon readers' comments, you bloggers out there can understand how rewarding it is when you know people are actually reading, most clearly represented through comments or emails. So to those of you who have taken some time to comment or email me directly once or more, thank you. And to those who haven't but read faithfully, thank you as well. Hopefully, the following will provide some insights, some entertainment and continue to further the understanding of life in Linköping and in Sweden.


Ever since Fredrik's advice on how to "How to Make Friends with Swedes and Influence Them Forever (see "Engelska"), I've done my best to express how impressed I am with Swedes' English speaking skills. Usually, their reaction is one of being flattered, as he said, yet I'm always left astonished that they don't just think it a matter of fact that they speak English well. I continue to be impressed that it's just normal for an entire country to know two and sometimes three languages easily and quickly. However, this line does not work in flattering Swedish women--funny thing....


I have never neglected ABBA again in anything I say and do Sweden-style (see "Top 10 Interesting Swedish Things"). In a cultural duel between ABBA and Pippi "Långstrump," I'm not sure who would win, but the TV audience would be right up there with Disney on December 24th. Other important Swedish people:

Dag Hammarsköld-Secretary General to the U.N. during the heart of the Cold War

Stefan Edberg-professional tennis player

Astrid Lindgren-children's author and creator of Pippi

Annika Sörenstam-only the Tiger Woods of women's golf (how did I forget Annika the first time around?)

The Cardigans and Roxette-music groups

Christer Fuglesang-As of December 2006, the first Swede in space! It was a pleasure to see the national celebration when, after years of anticipation, Christer finally hit the stratosphere and beyond sporting the blue and yellow. It brought back many memories and excitement of the first shuttle launches when I was in elementary school.


Nothing caused a bigger stir and more face-to-face comments than that "Fika" entry. Some understand, some don't get the uniqueness of it or why it was worth an entry, but one thing's for sure, fika, no matter where in the world I am, will always be a consistent part of my days! Long live fika (and those who gave it to the world)!


Someday, I'd love to have a beer with "KB" and "Hans Persson" and discuss socio-political-economics (see "Lagom and Jante Law"). I would learn so much. I loved the banter among Swedish and Scandinavian readers from this entry. Nice work on discussing and clarifying things, everyone.


I have indeed been to Ryttargårdskyrkan (see "A Special Welcome to Corren-Linköping Readers) and find the congregation there to be so welcoming, friendly and easy to speak with, which is not always the case with Swedish culture. In fact, watch for a blog entry on Ryttargårdskyrkan someday soon.


Thanks to "Helene i Valla," I attended the Lucia Domkyrkan celebration and it was an hour of pure Lucia bliss, one of the most beautiful spectacles I have ever seen.


Apparently, some think I have a striking resemblance to former LHC player, Mike Knuble. As usual, one fails to see the resemblance of oneself in anyone else, but if family members agree, then I must trust their judgment, albeit stubbornly.


Swedes are much to courteous and non-confrontational to boldly bring up politics or ask me to explain American foreign policy (see "Min Svenskakurs"). In my entire time here, I have never been approached about the subject. And while I generally try to remain apolitical, if you haven't noticed from the blog, if someone did ask me about it, I would simply say, "9/11 really hit us in the gut and we're still trying to figure out how to live in a world where that could happen." And most Swedes are very wise to the fact that a democratic government represents some of the people all of the time, but never all of the people all or even some of the time....


I'm happy to say I saw my first "LHC" victory two weekends ago (see "LHC and Swedish Sports"). A whitewash of Luleå, 4-1. And there really is no good reason why we call American football "football." I think this is one the world has on us...


A colleague who had not read the blog asked me last week if I have noticed the "Stroller Mafia" that is Sweden. I said, "Yes, I have noticed."


One frequent commenter on this blog is unacknowledged and shall remain so....!


Pictures above are more humble spots throughout Linköping. The viking on the keg welcomes people to one entrance to Linköping University's campus (a symbol that students really do have a say in their own campus here in Sweden) and the canal is the Gota Canal, which runs from Stockholm all the way through Sweden to Göteborg. A weeklong journey for those mariners who choose to float along that route.

Thanks for reading this far-this entry got a bit out of control. As a reader of Linköpinglivin, I can't adequately express my gratitude that you're interested in what I have to say.
Vi ses snart i Linköping!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Swedish Food and Drink

It was helpful for me to go home and talk to people in person who are interested in my Swedish excursion because they asked me questions about life in Sweden that I have started to take for granted or overlooked entirely. For example, a key component to any culture and lifestyle is obviously food and drink, but outside of the now infamous "Fika" blog entry, I've given very little mention to Swedish culinary delicacies and delights.

Upon hearing the question "What's the food like in Sweden?," my immediate response was "not very different to what I have known in the U.S." Relatively speaking, this is very true. In comparison to the unique flavors found in Spain, Italy, France, Asian countries and many others, the food in Sweden is fairly familiar to the American palate. Yet unto itself, there are many characteristics that set Swedish food apart.

Fish is the central Swedish genre of food, coming in all shapes and sizes with many different sauces, spices and manners of preparation. "Lax" (Salmon) is common and available everywhere served either hot or cold, Also omnipresent is "Sill" (Herring) which comes in forms pickled, marinated, pan-fried and many other fascinating presentations usually complementing the main dish. Other fish entrees are seasonal including the aforementioned blog entry of crayfish (August) and a December favorite of some Swedes (loathed by others) is lutefisk, where preparation actually begins in August!

Other dishes include wild game and reindeer (yes, reindeer and you Americans need to get over your Rudolph and Bambi issues), which simply can't be beat with a savory glass of red wine. Boiled potatoes, Swedish meatballs, lingonberry jam and sauce and hearty breads full of natural fiber all distinguish food in Sweden. The famous Swedish "smörgåsbord," which means "sandwich table," is a full buffet of extraordinary food intended to be gradually enjoyed, lightly sampled and where patrons linger for a long time delighting in an experience truly Swedish.

As for drink, despite Swedes being known for their schnapps, aqvavit and vodka, beer remains the most affordable and favorite of the alcoholic drinks. If you come to visit, part of your experience will be learning about the legend of Swedish "Skål," the beverage toast to begin formal and informal meals which dates back to the Viking era. Coffee is always available and usually consumed after the main meals of lunch and dinner. And ordinary tap water is very good, though I do wish there were drinking fountains in Europe....

Fast food is not nearly the sensation it is in the States, but you can't go too far without finding a McDonalds and there may well be a Burger King around the next corner. "Pizza & Kebab" (Kebab is a Middle Eastern meat prep) can be found everywhere, which is almost equivalent to your typical fast food joint in the States.

And finally, while much is made of the ever-growing portion sizes in the U.S., Swedes seem to do just fine with generally smaller portions, though I have a really hard time finishing the supposed "individual-sized" pizzas here.

I'm hungry. See you next week--it's good to be back in Sweden once again.

Monday, January 01, 2007

USA: Fact or Fiction (and Happy New Year!)

"Gott Nytt År" till min vänner från Sverige and Happy New Year to those in the U.S., where I have spent the last two weeks sharing the holidays with family and friends. Pictures above are from the New Year celebration in Seattle as the city's most famous icon, the Space Needle, was lit up for 2007. Additionally, there is a picture of a baseball stadium in New York, "America's game" which shall be addressed below.

As this is the last State-side edition of Linköpinglivin for quite awhile, with Swedish readers remaining the intended audience, I decided to address some of the perceptions, stereotypes and pre-conceived notions I have heard about the U.S. and Americans while I have been in Sweden. My hope is that this could be an enlightening and playful exploration of how we all can be misled, misunderstand or sometimes actually know the essence of another culture and land.

The biggest fault that I am guilty of and that most of us can occasionally succumb to is the gross generalizations about other people and actually believing that everyone fits the stereotype. It would be a surprise to many Americans to meet friendly French people just like it may be a surprise to many Europeans to meet an American who was culturally appropriate and geographically aware. On that note, here's a list of popular perceptions about America that I have come across during my six months (already!) in Sweden:

"Americans are superficial, overweight, money-hungry and don't care about the rest of the world." Okay, I have not actually had anyone say this to me, but it is common knowledge that this is a popularly-held perception about America and it's people, especially in our current political and economic times. While there are some Americans who certainly fall into this, in no way do all 300 million people fit this stereotype. It's been enjoyable for me to meet people along this journey and have them confess afterwards that they were surprised that I didn't display pre-conceived characteristics of an American.

"Americans don't know their geography." Well, while many Americans do have a hard time finding the state of Ohio on a map, much less picking out Belgium or South Korea, many are well-traveled and very aware of world geography and, more importantly, culturally-sensitive. But yes, even I had to make an educated guess about which of the Scandinavian countries was Sweden upon hearing of this opportunity (I guessed correctly, by the way). As a whole, we can definitely become more worldly-conscious and aware...

"Americans only know English." Yep, this one is true. A little French, German or Spanish in high school and that's about it. And with the rest of the world continuing to learn our first language, the need for learning another language seems small, but at the same time, the world is getting smaller and many Americans are waking up to the need for other languages. Spanish and Chinese are becoming critical to know. Jag tyckar om prata på svenska och jag behöver prata mer när jag kommer tillbaka idag! Vi ses snart...

"The U.S. is a dangerous place and if I travel there, I might get mugged or hurt." You might. But I can say the same thing walking down Drottningatan in Stockholm (though the crime rate in Sweden is one of the lowest in the world). If you use the common sense and travel smarts that Swedes are known for, you would have a great time in America. I highly recommend it actually....

"The numerous regulations and laws in the U.S. seem to betray the freedom that Americans proclaim to be their heart and soul." This one is interesting. I didn't hear this in Sweden, but I can understand it from a smaller country's point of view. Laws are created when common civil trust is broken and when you have a country with 300 million people, it gets a bit harder to trust everyone. While there may be lots of regulations and laws, the previously-mentioned common sense and travel smarts (along with good planning) should make an experience in the U.S. irreplaceable (and you can turn right at a red light when there are no cars coming!).

"How can Americans think football (soccer) is boring when their great game is baseball, a confusing and boring sport?" Now we get personal. You can make fun of my country's politics, ignorance and overindulgence, but don't start messing with my beloved baseball. Baseball is a beautiful game of athleticism, chess-like thinking and unparalleled execution, much less the experience of going to a stadium on a nice summer's day and having a beer and a hot dog. Long live baseball. And I think the appreciation for the intricacies of football is similar to the appreciation for the intricacies of baseball--the little things make all the difference.

"Americans are loud and socially inappropriate, constantly drawing attention to themselves." Sometimes. I've found that I, usually somewhat introverted in larger social situations, have become a bit more social and talkative in group settings when those around me are a bit more cautious and quieter, a characterstic common in Swedes. While my typical American characterstics reveal themselves often, I've found that I can be fairly "American" while still remaining appropriate to the social situation.

"America is a great place with so many different types of people and different kinds of places. I can't wait to travel there and the only problem will be deciding where to go first." Much to my delight, I have heard this quite often and I wholeheartedly agree with it! Swedes are a very worldly-aware and well-traveled bunch and many have already been or are planning on going soon to the U.S. Deciding where to focus your travels is important because New York, Florida, Southern California and Seattle are very different types of places. Feel free to ask me if you're looking for advice on how best to spend your time.

There's plenty more perceptions out there, some true and others not at all. Hopefully this can simply begin the discussion. Feel free to comment (or confess) other pre-conceived notions if you like. Perhaps I will revisit this topic the next time I am in the States (July). I fly back to Sweden today and I'm happy to report that I am looking forward to my return. Happy New Year to all of you.