Sunday, February 24, 2008

Melodifestivalen Kommer Till Linköping

It was bound to happen.

Any legitimate blog about Swedish life, culture and times that doesn’t include something that 1/3 (1/3!!!) of the country watches every weekend from February to March is not worthy of it’s purpose.

By comparison, there is only one show in the history of United States television that has ever had 1/3 of the country watching - the finale of MASH in the late 70s...

I resisted this blog entry last year, largely because of blissful ignorance, but as I’ve become better acquainted with this increasingly strange-but-lovable culture, I am forced to take a week away from what I think are more important subjects to acknowledge, as painful as it is to say, Melodifestivalen, Sweden’s pinnacle of pop culture and the shameless obsession that overtakes Swedes (and their often clueless and always unsuspecting foreign guests) this time every year.

And really, is there any better time to introduce the peculiarities of Melodifestivalen and its accompanying Swedish cult than when the grand tour arrives to - that’s right - Linköping! You Americans may think that Linköping is always the hot topic of conversation throughout Sweden, but the reality is, well, it was the hot topic of conversation at least last night.

Melodifestivalen kommer till Linköping!

And Linköpinglivin’, risking all hard-earned respect, is right there covering the story…

For those in the USA, the best way to describe Melodifestivalen is to take the genre and contest format of American Idol (minus obnoxious judges), mix in the week-by-week elimination format and utter delirium of March Madness, add a good dose of a Super Bowl(!)-sized audience EVERY week, then put this grand show on tour throughout the country for six weeks ending with the final in Stockholm and there you have the cultural frenzy affectionately known as Melodifestivalen.

Oh, and one more thing that is just SO Swedish about Melodifestivalen: It’s on public television. In other words, 1/3 of all Swedes are watching EVERY week for six weeks and you won’t see a single advertisement or commercial. How’s THAT for an injection of socialism into capitalism?

I love Sweden.

One more side note on Linköping’s Melodifestivalen show: I had the opportunity to purchase up to three tickets – all for the bargain price of 500 SEK per ticket ($75)! I laughed as I quickly dismissed this offer, only to find out later I could have sold these tickets for three or four times that amount, at which point the laughing stopped.

“Scalping in Sweden” would have been a fantastic blog entry…

The winner of the final of Melodifestivalen will represent Sweden in the Eurovision Song Contest, which takes place in May (and you can read all of my outsider’s thoughts on the “ESC” by browsing to the May 2007 entry).

In case you’re wondering, no opinions from me on the performances. Still just shaking my head at the latest "VSE," Vintage Swedish Experience, I am privileged to have had.

And apparently, through some strange process of osmosis, I am becoming a bit Swedish, because in taking a critical tone towards Melodifestivalen, but somehow still enjoying it, I fit right in with an entire country that loves Melodifestivalen, but isn’t very proud of that fact.

Is it Saturday yet?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Why It's So Cool To Live in Linköping: Part 3 - Kanevad Woodcarving

Sweden is known worldwide for high quality goods and services. When it comes to handicrafts, homemade specialties, unique and useful artisan products and simply top-notch, heart-invested items of all sorts, Sweden may have the world beat. During Christmas the “gifts-perfect-for-Mom” are simply in abundance…

In order to make the list of cool reasons to live in Linköping, the place has to be one that makes Linköping’s blue eyes light up, heads nod, conversation levels rise and provide an overwhelming general sense of hometown pride and fondness. Virtually synonymous with Gamla Linköping, the Old Town, is “the wood shop” or Kanevad Träsnideriet and the subject of the third part of the Linköpinglivin’ series on why Linköping is such a cool place to live.

Open since 1962, Kanevad is the kind of shop you wander into ignorant of the treasure you are about to discover. One look inside and Kanevad is a memorable part of any visit to Linköping. The sights of endless types heartfelt wooden creations and the smell of 30 different types of wood found throughout Sweden and beyond strike you immediately upon entry. And soon you become lost in a world of wood that leaves you speechless, sometimes laughing, often surprised and always in admiration of the artistic ability of Kanevad’s master woodcarver, Håkan Jansson.

In my tour of Kanevad with Håkan, I learned that he has been refining his trade for the last 30 years, working “at least” eight hours-per-day, always juggling various sets of orders from company logos to religious symbols to personal items to be displayed for weddings, in offices or for any other type of occasion or commemoration. Woodcarvings of the natural world, sports icons, Disney or Biblical scenes as well as everyday items such as cutlery, children’s toys or candleholders can be found throughout the shop for the person wandering through in awe of the creativity and ability of someone who loves his trade (or online:

As someone with very little artistic talent, and certainly no ability to carve wood without putting digits and limbs in serious jeopardy, observing Håkan at work was a sheer delight. “Pine” and “birch” and “aspen” and “elm” were all types of woods I had heard of, but seeing them all together with the array of colors and textures (along with 25 other types of wood from deep in the Swedish forest) gave me insight as to what it may have been like to witness Rembrandt’s palette.

Unfortunately, the era of globalization has even impacted Linköping’s favorite woodcarving shop. In the past several years, the number of orders from Kanevad has decreased rapidly due to China’s wood export business, which sells similar products for less money (along with dramatically lower quality and personal investment, of course). Linköpingsborna, kom tillbaka, eller upplev för första gången, den bästa butiken i vår stad!

Kanevad Träsnideriet, one more reason why Linköping is such a cool place to live.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Presidential Nomination - Only in America

I just couldn’t stand the thought of putting pictures of politicians on my blog, so it’s the flags for you.

In a recent study, it was determined that the vast majority of Linköpinglivin’ readers are Swedes, so in light of this, I think a quick tip of the Linköpinglivin’ cap should go to the very intriguing political process taking place in the U.S. to determine our future leader, especially since an often-heard comment here is “Why is it so long and complicated?”

(Please know that not just any political event would usurp the continuing examination and dialogue on Sweden, but as we approach November, the U.S. elections will only take on more intensity worldwide, so one week set aside doesn’t seem too inappropriate.)

As for a very basic introduction, there are essentially three candidates left that could possibly become the next American president: Hillary Clinton who would be the first-ever woman and Barack Obama who would be the first-ever person of color of the Democratic Party and John McCain, a decorated and respected war hero, on the Republican side.

What is happening right now, ever so slowly and state-by-state, is all part of the “primary” process. The reason it is indeed such a long and drawn out process is not because the U.S. just loves to have all the world attention all the time (okay, perhaps that’s a part of it), but because of the uniqueness of the 50 states (and a few more districts) in the U.S. Each state needs proper representation and deserves an appropriate say in who will be representing both parties – by “appropriate,” I mean proportional based on the number of people who actually live in that state, which brings us to a key word, “delegate.” California has more people than Nevada, so if someone “wins” California, they receive a lot more “delegates” than if they win Nevada. The current process is simply giving each state a chance to say who they want from either political party. The two winners will face each other in the general election and then it becomes similar to all Western democracies – endless media hype, debates, political spin, attacks and often both participants make fools of themselves and their dignity in order to get elected (but only because that’s what we make them do…).

The new president won’t be elected until the first week of November and won’t actually take office until the end of January ’09.

In general, from what I have heard and seen, Europeans enjoyed the last Clinton presidency and would be very content to see Hillary have a chance. Many people from non-Western nations simply take a look at Obama’s skin color and name and identify with him (and for whom the Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, has already expressed public support). However, the economy is always such an unpredictable factor in an election and many people inside and outside of the U.S. just feel better about business and the world financial markets when a conservative is in command in the U.S., especially with the recent turmoil of the U.S. economy.

And THAT, my friends, is why this is going to be so interesting.

One thing is for sure, this process has captured the imagination of more people than ever in the United States. People from all different backgrounds and ages are participating like never before and this can only be a good thing in a democracy.

I won’t say here with whom I am leaning, but I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if you live outside of the U.S.

And lastly, Europe, please forgive us for thinking that we’re actually electing a president of the world. Your thankless patience is always appreciated…

Next week, it’s back to Linköping and the next reason why it is just so cool to live here.

Monday, February 04, 2008

"Football" vs. Football

As for which one is meant to be questionable and therefore in quotes, I’ll let the reader decide.

Last night was the 42nd American Football Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. In honor of this annual, colossal game, it’s time to address one of the most popular issues that comes up when speaking with Swedes and all Europeans about any kind of sports. Yes, as an American you can always count on the conversation finally turning to “football.”

Misunderstanding about “football” abounds from San Diego to Sao Paulo to St. Petersburg. Americans label European/worldwide football “boring” and Europeans label American football as “confusing” or “violent.” It is at this point that most people’s interest in learning about the “other” football stops. With the exception of those rare games when someone suspends their lack of interest in learning more long enough to watch the spectacle, be it for the World Cup when Americans take a casual interest in the European/worldwide football or for the occasional Super Bowl that Europeans might try to have an open mind and explore why so many Americans (and TV advertisers) go crazy over one game, interest in learning more is minimal, so the controversy and misunderstanding lingers on.

I am not about to try to explain either kind of “football” game or attempt to convince anyone about the superiority of one game’s strategy or another game’s skill or which game has more beauty or less moral value. However I do encourage you, the next time you have a chance, to suspend your lack of interest in learning more and try and find out why soooo many people on so many continents enjoy both games (okay, perhaps that’s a stretch, but there was an “NFL Europe” at one time…).

Of all the questions I am often asked about American Football, my favorite is this one:

Question: “Why do you call it ‘football’ when you almost never touch the ball with your foot?”

Answer: In order to annoy the rest of the world! And apparently it’s working…

I’ll leave with this thought: It doesn’t matter which “football” game is better, because neither one is as good as baseball! Only 10 days until pitchers and catchers report to their teams for spring training! Go Dodgers!

By the way, Europeans, don’t even ask me to explain “Super Tuesday”…

Pictures above:

1. & 2. Recent logos representing two great sports.

3., 4. & 5. My “America is Awesome” Super Bowl pre-party we had last night before heading to an American-styled sports bar in Linköping for the game. A big thanks to Linköping’s O’Leary’s for staying open really, really late on a Monday morning. On hand were representatives from Czech, Austria, Sweden and, of course, the USA! Huge props to Mike, Vaclav, Jana, Benedikt, Alfred, Reinhardt, Susanne and Andreas for their impressive suspension of lack of interest in learning more, and from 12:30am – 4:30am, no less. And...

...The classic American feast: Doritos, Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Apple Pie and, of course, Peanut Butter – what to put the peanut butter on we didn’t know, but since this party was hosted by an American, we had to have our peanut butter.