Monday, June 18, 2007

Americans in Sweden

As spring becomes summer in Sweden, native or foreigner can sense the conclusion of one year (as measured by the academic calendar and approaching Swedish vacation month) and the anticipation of rest, endless sunshine, water, people and the glories of the warmest and brightest time of year.

An international rite of passage for summer is the various graduation ceremonies and celebrations, which in Sweden take place with captain's hats and farming equipment, at least here in Linköping. Late last week, hundreds of graduating gymnasium or "high school" seniors were paraded through the streets of Linköping (as seen above) declaring their arrival to the next phase of life. The captain's hats one can see in these pictures are a national symbol of high school level graduation, not unlike the motorboard in the U.S. and other countries. These hats can and might be used again at different occasions at University or other times in life (see Valborgs Day on April 30th).

However, this week's subject is dedicated specifically to the ongoing Linköpinglivin theme of an American in Sweden. First, a special Linköpinglivin' acknowledgment goes out to a lifelong friend who has been here the past five days discovering my Swedish world. Jason Berns, who as a matter of fact is 25% Swedish (!), and I grew up together, attended college together, have shared in many life experiences and can now add "Sverige" to our list of accomplishments. You can see above that, even while in Sweden, we experienced a small piece of California during a "beach volley" tournament in Linköping--you should have seen the waves on that beach! So with a visitor this past week, it's been not one, but two, Americans experiencing the adventure that is Sweden.

Second, though I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share parts of Sweden in this weekly, topic-by-topic format, there is a summary of life in Sweden for an American currently circulating around the internet that is too priceless to pass up. The following is written by someone who apparently lives in Gothenburg and has clearly experienced Sweden as an American. Anyone familiar with this blog will understand just how much I found this to be a poinant and humorous summary of a displaced American in Sweden. Two small comments, 1) I haven't found the customer-service in Sweden to be anything but courteous and respectable and, 2) friends and family back home don't have to worry--I don't think the ground in Linköping is made of "highly absorbent clay."

Enjoy (and we'll see you back here for the famous Swedish Midsummer celebration next week).

Enormous Blonde Herring-scented Nauseatingly
Fair-minded Nymphomaniacs in Clogs

If you're from Topeka, you can go to Kansas City. If you're from
Kansas City, you can go to Chicago. If you're from Chicago, you can go
to New York. But if you're from Manhattan, where can you go?

By the time I was 35 I had to go to Sweden just to calm down.

These are not the people who drill holes in cheese and yodel. They are
not a fondue people. Their trains are often late, their mountains are
unimpressive and their chocolate is adequate at best.

No. These are the people who brought you The Nobel Prize, the Volvo,
the smörgåsbord, free day care, suicide and full frontal nudity. These
are the blondes. Enormous Blonde Herring-scented Nauseatingly
Fair-minded Nymphomaniacs in Clogs.

One day I was using the osthyvel (special cheese slicer) on a hunk of
"grevé" cheese, and Lena, Lina Helena and Lene stared yelling at me.
"We always know when you've been in the cheese! It t looks like a
ski-slope!" Apparently it is of great importance that every slice
attempt to "even out" the cheese level. All Swedes are brought up to
do this. I call this enlightening episode: "Respect the Cheese Form!"

"Lågom" means "not too little, not too much. Just Right." The Middle
Road. Social Democracy. Fairness. Even-ness. Cheese. Although Swedish
is a word-poor language, they have a few we don't. They have a word
for the crime of falsely washing the dishes in a quick and sloppy way.

Sweden has an extremely active yogurt culture. Almost frantic. Choose
between "filmjölk", kefir, and yogurt. Yogurt is available in Japanese
style, Russian style, "farmer" style, "normal" style and liquid style,
each in a stupefying array of flavors, including cloudberry. Filmjölk
tastes sourer, but frankly I don't understand the difference. You can
buy no fat, low fat, medium low fat, medium fat, medium-high and "call
your cardiologist" versions of all these things as well as "long"
filmjölk, whatever that is.

Swedish people travel with sheets and towels. They cannot be stopped.
You can try saying; "You don't need to bring your sheets and towels. I
have everything here" but they will bring them all the same.

If you go on a vacation with a Swede, watch out, because when exposed
to direct sunlight, they tend to burst into flame.

Swedes don't like to talk. Except at the movies.

You can buy herring in any gas station.

Swedes squeeze food out of tubes. Among many other choices, liver
paté, mushroom/cheese spread, crab paste, and the infamous "Kalle's
Kaviar" (lumpfish roe) are very popular. My favorite is black
pepper/cognac. There are special gizmos in refrigerators to hold the
tubes. They squirt this stuff onto the knäckebröd (crispbread) which
they store in the special cupboard above the fridge. For an average of
fourteen years. It keeps rather well.

Beer is available in strong, medium and light versions. The most
oft-spoken words are "En stor stark." A big strong one.

Many of my friends, both men and women, use "snus." Chewing tobacco.
Stuffed into their gums, this results in a distinctive, puffy

Whatever their sex life may include, Swedish people sleep in single
beds. Peculiar. But cozy.

Swedes eat a lot of korv (hot dogs) with mos (mashed potatoes) on top.
When they speak English they invariably say, "smashed potatoes" and I
can't correct them; it's too charming. Then there are the ketchup
udders. At every korv kiosk (hot dog stand) there is a shocking lineup
of assorted mustards and ketchups, each in a long, squeezable rubber
udder. There's no other way to describe them. Udders.

Christmas means one thing. Festive Pigs.

Eye drops are illegal. Crazy glue is illegal. Hair dryers never get
really hot. Sweden protects you.

I love Sweden. It's boring, but in a good way.

On every street there are five or six hair "salonger." Most have
frightening English names, like "Klipper Crazy." I am convinced
they're a front for some illegal activity. Because if they're for
real, it's surprising that anyone has a hair left on their head.

Dentists get mad at you because you don't "toothpick", not because you
don't floss.

Toilet paper is packaged in gigantic, 24 roll bales, wrapped in clear
plastic with a handle on top. People run around in public with these,
constantly and shamelessly.

There's something called the Swedish standard, and it's pretty high.
Fairness and Equality means that you can buy a very good Merlot in
Lappland. This is part of the Swedish standard. Liquor is sold only in
state-run stores, called "SystemBolaget", or, as it's more popularly
known, "Systemet." The System. The System closes at 6 PM, and 2 PM on
Saturdays. The most Swedish thing one can do is to go to Systemet on
Friday at 5. You will take a "nummerlapp" (a number from the
Turn-o-Matic) and wait calmly and patiently for your turn to insure a
desperately rowdy weekend. The Turn-o-Matic is an invention of which
the Swedes are very proud. Even at the police station you have to take
a "nummerlapp." And wait. Enterprising drunks outside the shop might
sell you a low number for a few kronor. Otherwise, bring literature.

The most serious television news shows interview political figures
with a charming and homey milieu, including flowered curtains, blond
wood, colorful pillows, pastries and coffee. On doilies. "Nightline,"
take note: Dick Cheney? Why not brownies? And wouldn't Condoleeza Rice
enjoy a freshly baked cinnamon bun?

Even after years of psychotherapy, my most burning issue is a complete
lack of patience. Seemingly, Sweden has been designed especially to
help me learn this virtue. There are not enough people in Sweden. Even
at fancy restaurants, some element is always self -service. It's not
uncommon to clear one's own table. The salad, bread and water are on
the sideboard. Help yourself. No. Help me.

The waitress, the cashier, the mechanic, the cleaning lady and you are
all equals. Not only is the customer not always right, they're just
plain lucky to receive service of any kind.

I want to buy an apartment here, so I had a frank conversation with
immigration. It went something like this:

LR: I'm an American citizen, but I want to buy a house in Sweden. What
are the rules for residency here?

IM: So you're married to a Swede?

LR: No, I'm not married.

IM: Oh, so sorry. So you're living with a Swedish man, then.

LR: No. But I once was married to a Swedish man.

IM: Okay, then!

LR: But we divorced in 1985.

IM: That's too bad.

LR: You're telling me!

IM: So, you have children in Sweden? Swedish children?

LR: No. No children.

IM: No children? Oh, well. Perhaps a Swedish company employs you.

LR: No, not employed.

IM: No job?

LR: I'm freelance.

IM: Silence.

LR: But I have a lot of friends here.

IM: Oh, friends don't count.

LR: silence.

IM: But what reason could you possibly have to want to live here?

LR: You make me feel like I have no reason to want to live at all.

Wait. I have an ex mother-in-law in Helsingborg.

IM: That doesn't mean anything.

LR: But she loves me very much!

IM: Look, we here in Sweden are very liberal. You don't have to be
married. But to live here you have to have a serious relationship.
Like for a couple of months.

LR: A couple of months? Is that all you people care about? Sex? I have
to be having Swedish sex?

IM: Well, yeah!

LR: I'll see what I can do.

The city of Gothenburg was built on highly absorbent clay. Legend has
it that this clay makes one sink in and stay. There might be something
to that because I am still here.


Johan Gunnarsson said...

Well, about that suicide thing...

Since I seem to be the one bringing boring but essentially correct numbers to this blog, I might as well point out that Sweden's suicide rate is slightly lower than in the EU as whole and has been for a very long time (caveat: I saw this statistics a few years ago, but I wouldn't expect it to be any different today). Why everybody abroad seem to know that Sweden is a diluted version of Jonestown 1978 is a mystery to me, perhaps someone could enlighten me?

Judith said...

hej sean!

nice and true articel you found!
"I don´t think the ground in Linköping is made of "highly absorbent clay." "
No, its just sand in Linköping...
The first time i saw the captain´s hats last year I was really confused.
I would love to be there for Midsommar... with whom will you celebrate?

Skhor said...

Very amusing blog you posted =) As I was reading through the account of you and your best friend, I couldn't help but remember the last McCarty exec board volleyball bonding experience, when it was raining on Denny, but Casey, Bobby and I still pulled everyone outside to go play!

BTW, see you in...2 weeks? You're still coming to Seattle, right?

Todd said...

Sean...I understand that Jason is in town, but to steal someone else's material to populate your blog isn't right! It's about as awful as the ability to buy herring at gas stations...


Anonymous said...

we all sleep in single beds? hm... how big are your beds??

anna said...

oh please ppl! stop complaining about seans´s generalizations about the swedes, take it with some humour and a grain of salt. so typical swedes to complain.