Monday, October 29, 2007

The Top 10 Things Sweden and Southern California Have in Common

In an effort to continue the welcome to our new Southern California-based readers of Linköpinglivin’, this week’s entry explores the things that unite two places vastly different from one another, Sweden and Southern California.

Being uniquely qualified to, somehow, capture commonalities between two places as far away in climate as they are in distance (but, relatively speaking, sharing some similar cultural traits as two economically-strong, Western places), perhaps you can indulge me as I share this latest “Top 10” list on Linköpinglivin’:

The Top 10 things Sweden and Southern California have in common are:

10. A love of the sun (some just have it more than others).

9. An IKEA around every corner…

8. A love of coffee (some like it hot, others “iced”).

7. A great diversity of topography (mountains, water, farmland, desert…oh, wait).

6. The presence of reindeer at Christmas (one imaginary, the other real).

5. Beautiful people (but generally way too image-conscious).

4. A love of Swedish Fish (One is a brilliantly-marketed American candy and the other is fish caught in or near Sweden.)

3. A reputation to their geographical neighbors as being laid back, easy-going and politically left of center.

2. They both love their “football” teams…

1. And the #1 thing Sweden and Southern California have in common is:


Oh, forget it. Sweden and Southern California have only nine things in common (and even some of those were a stretch). This undoubtedly comes as a relief to people from both places.

Pictures above:

1. Don't be fooled. Sweden has approximately twice the coastline of California. This is Motola, a town near Linköping, on a nice summer's eve.

2. Okay, this is California. Specifically, me diving for a Frisbee in Santa Barbara last weekend.

3. As opposed to the American-based Santa & his reindeer story at Christmastime, Sweden actually has reindeer, and lots of them, in the north (and reindeer is delicious, by the way!).

4. Swedish Fish is an American candy almost as well loved as Ahlgren's Bilar in Sweden, but to the surprise of most Americans, Swedes have never heard of Swedish Fish.

5. One of the best parts of being a foreigner is getting together with other foreigners and sharing a common bond (as well as making fun of Swedes). Represented around the table here is Turkey, France, Singapore, the U.S. and....Sweden.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Special Welcome to The Outlook Readers (and a trip home in pictures)

As Linköpinglivin' returns from an unusual mid-Autumn break, we must welcome the readers of the Outlook newspapers in Pasadena, California and soon, my hometown of La Canada, California (both thankfully spared in the recent wildfire devastation throughout Southern California).

The Outlook is a locally-based, hometown newspaper (now in two different neighboring cities) for which I am writing an occasional travel column beginning today. Starting with Sweden (which the Swedish readers of Linköpinglivin' would be very interested in reading - I'm working on getting an online link), I hope to introduce readers to some familiar and not-so-familiar parts of Europe and share some travel advice about being an American abroad.

So if you're a long time reader of this blog about the experience of living in a smaller town in Sweden, then hopefully we will have online access to this and future articles soon. And if you are brand new to Linköpinglivin', welcome to Sweden and please visit on a weekly basis to learn more about this often overlooked, but special part of Northern Europe and the adventures of an American living abroad.

Ironically, I just returned from a two-week swing through my west coast, former hometown cities of Seattle, La Canada and Santa Barbara. As always, this time at home was treasured and every moment was worth the long trip as the pictures attest:

1. What a difference 16 months makes. My cousins Lexi and Hunter as compared to their picture from June '06 on the right-hand side of this page.

2. Celebrating the wedding of a good friend, Chad Fransen (who has Swedish roots!), with my close friends in Seattle (Clay Robinson, Chad, Daniel Hinds, D.J. Del Rosario and Tony Scaringi).

3. A reunion of college friends where we went to school in Santa Barbara, California, a place as close to paradise as you will find in the USA (okay, besides Hawaii). Left to right: Jason Sunukjian, Jason Berns, Matt Gazaway, Dan Deeble and me in front of the famous Santa Barbara mission on yet another perfect day in "SB."

4. The Swedish summertime game of KUBB is introduced in the United States!

5. A competitive introductory game of KUBB lasts well over two hours and successfully adds one more Swedish product to the long list of Swedish items loved by Americans (IKEA, Volvo, ABBA, Pippi Longstocking and KUBB...).

The weekly commitment of "a new post by Monday night" should return to Linköpinglivin' this coming Monday. Good to be back. Vi ses snart!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Why It's So Cool to Live in Linköping - Part 1: Domkyrka

Some of you have figured it out. “Linköpinglivin’” may be a catchy title, but we all know this blog is about life in Sweden and sometimes even expands throughout Europe. In an effort to be true to the title, and to pass on some love and credit where love and credit are due, this week commences a five-part occasional series on what makes Linköping a special place to live. No better place to start than the undeniable heart of the city’s history and culture, Linköping’s Domkyrka (Cathedral).

To American eyes, the Domkyrkan is a quintessential example of historical Europe, a stunning architectural and historical edifice that simply defies what we would have ever thought could be built in the 1200s. To Swedish eyes, the Domkrykan may very well be taken for granted as one more historical icon in a part of the world with many historical icons. My hope is that the Domkrykan captures the imagination and wonder of Europe for the American and that the Swede takes a moment to re-consider (and even re-visit with fresh eyes?) this remarkable achievement.

From far away, off in the distance, as someone is approaching Linköping, the Domkrykan marks the spot, the heart of Linköping’s otherwise humble historical district. As one stands at the entrance and looks up, the surprise that this cathedral is in a town like Linköping reveals a naïve historical perspective, that only the biggest towns have the biggest toys. Linköping, being on a central road of both north-south and east-west commerce before and after Sweden’s dynastic era in the Middle Ages, was a natural location for pilgrims seeking a place to pay homage. The first limestones were laid in 1230 (1230!), and the initial church finally was completed in the mid 1500s. Throughout Europe, the townspeople who laid cathedrals’ foundations knew they would never see the completion in their lifetime, nor would the six generations after them! Apparently instant gratification is a recent concept…

Over that period of time of building, a lot changed in Europe. What was Romanesque architecture (rounded arches, large supports inside) became Gothic (pointed arches, outer buttress support) with a small element of Early English (decorative), as well. What was Catholic became Protestant and has ended up to resemble the Anglican Church of England more than anything else (the Swedish State Church, Svenskyrkan, is officially Lutheran).

The sense of awe and wonder that Americans seek when visiting Europe is not lost on the Domkyrkan. The second largest cathedral in Sweden (Uppsala – north of Stockholm), the Domkyrkan can be enjoyed any time of day, open and free to the public, and is still used for daily services of Vespers, occasional Mass and Sunday services in the evenings as well as visiting instrumental and choir concerts. As for attendance, only 5% of Swedes attend church regularly, but predictably the Christmas service is the high point of the calendar for the Domkrykan. Personally, the Santa Lucia concert celebrating light in the middle of darkness on December 13th was simply the most magical thing I witnessed my first year in not just Sweden, but all of Europe.

Whether visiting for spiritual, historical or cultural reasons, whether sharing the faith of the people who constructed it or simply curious, the Domkyrkan is one of many highlights throughout Linköping that will be covered in the coming weeks and months on Linköpinlivin’.

Finally, this month marks the seventh anniversary of my Grandmother Dorothy’s passing in October of 2000. Prior to coming to Sweden, I read Grandma’s trip diary from her Scandinavian tour back in 1982:

“After leaving Stockholm we went to Copenhagen stopping in Linköping to hear a concert in the cathedral there.”

If only Grandma had known that 24 years later, her then 9-year old grandson would be living and working in that city of the cathedral, doing his own trip journaling about the Domkyrkan. She would be delighted with this experience, as am I. Here’s to Grandma, the Domkyrkan and Linköping.

Pictures above:

1. Who would ever think that something this colossal would be found in quaint Linköping?
2. Inside the Domkrykan, the nave.
3. Pointed arches and buttresses (sometimes “flying”) reveal the Gothic architecture of the High Middle Ages (1000 – 1500).
4. The photographer’s favorite angle of Linköping’s Domkyrka.
5. A picture taken from Linköping University captures the stature of the Domkyrkan in comparison to the rest of Linköping.

Monday, October 01, 2007


Every-once-in-a-while, I come across a subject and think, “Oh yeah, how could I have overlooked that one?” and thus, a new Linköpinglivin’ topic is born. Sweden, as one of the two most famous neutral countries in the West (Switzerland), is proudly neutral, proudly absent of war for over a hundred years (which makes their Viking ancestors turn over in their graves, I’m sure) and I have some thoughts about all this non-violence, non-war, neutrality stuff.

First of all, a brief description about what “neutrality” means. A country that has declared itself neutral means that it will not initiate or participate in any act of war. What it does not mean is that it won’t defend itself if attacked. Neutrality also includes not allowing other countries military access or bases and other stipulations regarding alignment. Sweden does indeed have a military and would, I suspect, defend itself valiantly if attacked, but the Swedish stance of neutrality has created peace throughout this land for over a hundred years – something not many countries in the world can claim.

The advantages of neutrality are obvious. No war. Also, the ability to remain outside of any alignment obligations during any lead up to war. Politically, it completely changes the discussion, negotiation and position for government officials, diplomats, ambassadors and representatives. 100 years of peace. Enough said, right?


As impressive as this peaceful reality is, as always with things political and global, it’s just not that simple. In discussions I have had with various Swedes about this topic, there are clearly some disadvantages to a stance of neutrality, though no one is questioning that this political stance is right for Sweden.

First and foremost, not fighting Hitler poses the obvious and massive moral question. Despite their neutrality, it is well known that Sweden gave safe haven to Jews from throughout Scandinavia and participated in other measures believed to help the Allied forces. However, it is also well known that Nazi sympathizers throughout Sweden (of which there were many throughout non-German Europe – power is frighteningly intoxicating) provided advantage to the Axis powers, as well. Perhaps some native Swedes with some historical perspective on this can share more in depth about the legacy of World War II, neutrality and Sweden.

Another disadvantage is the self-deception, particularly in young people, that accompanies a successful (read: no war) neutral stance. I get the distinct impression that many people here think they are somehow above war. That other, less civilized, countries are the ones that have to resort to war because they cannot figure it out diplomatically or as adults. After initially questioning the practicality and moral virtue of “neutrality,” I definitely believe it is important to have neutral countries that are willing to intercede from their position on behalf of many other nations when the time calls for it, but make no mistake, Sweden can be successfully neutral because other countries choose to fight. These countries working together with Sweden is a good thing, but neutrality is a convenience that only a few specially placed and specific types of countries can or should enjoy.

Another disadvantage of a neutral stance, similar to the first, is the message that is sent to all Swedish citizens. Neutrality is easily mistaken for isolation and isolation is easily mistaken for non-participation. And non-participation in today’s world is simply not an option. I am often concerned that Swedes, particularly the young people I work with, are satisfied letting the rest of the world just do it’s own thing and as long as everything is okay up here in Sweden, then all is well. Does neutrality inevitably lead to disengagement? No. However, there can definitely be an underlying sense of isolated arrogance up here that is perhaps one of the casualties of a neutral stance.

Sweden is well equipped to be a world leader in so many ways, and many of those ways Sweden does indeed rise to that challenge, but would there be a greater nationwide sense of responsibility and engagement without the neutrality tag?

I’ve said far too much to exclude my qualifier of “I’m no geo-political expert.” These are simply concerns, observations and considerations meant to provoke some thoughts and maybe even discussion on such a vital and all-important topic on Linköpinglivin’ (much less, in Sweden).

For those that are interested in more about the current flood of Iraqi immigrants into Sweden, the International Herald Tribune (the global daily English newspaper published by the New York Times) provided an interesting article last week which also included some accurate summations of the Swedish character:

Pictures above? What kind of pictures capture “neutrality?” I don’t know so I posted some pictures of me throwing axes and swinging from a 40-foot high trapeze (and the students who joined me) this past weekend. Here's to controlled and harnessed violence in a non-violent, neutral country.