Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Super-Size Me" - Swedish Style

There’s an ice cream shop here in Sweden.

In fact, there are many ice cream shops in Sweden as Swedes are known for being some of the top consumers of ice cream in the world. However, there’s no ice cream shop quite like Söderköping’s Smultronstället just east of Linköping located right on the Göta Canal.

When you say “Söderköping” to any Swedes south of Stockholm, their eyes light up, an excited smile comes across their face and they ask you about the “glass” (Swedish for “ice cream").

Smultronstället is one of few places in Sweden where Swedish cultural moderation is thrown out the window in the face of pure, unhindered, unlimited, extra-large indulgence. “Super-size me,” Swedish style.

Smultronstället takes the Swedish cultural law of “lagom - not too much and not too little, just right” and laughs at it.

The ice cream servings, toppings, decorations, environment and indeed festival at Smultronstället is larger than any I’ve ever seen anywhere, including my home country, which is known for doing nothing, especially ice cream, in moderation.

Speaking of the USA, Smultronstället has close to 30 different themed ice cream presentations ranging from places to holidays to happy occasions of all kinds. All presentations reflect something of that theme, of course. What is the USA theme, you ask? Five scoops of mouth-watering ice cream, topped off with a sugar donut – and one more scoop on top of the donut, just to make sure. Add some apple pie filling in the middle, a flashing guitar icon, an American flag and there you have the USA-themed Smultronstället ice cream concoction named “Rock ‘n Roll.”
Apparently, donuts are as synonymous with Americans as peanut butter...

Let it be known that this is the very first time I have EVER had donuts and ice cream in the same dessert.

Let it be known that I only ordered this life-shortening creation in order to take a picture of it – with all of you in mind, obviously.

And finally, let it be known that the next time I go to Smultronstället, I’ll be ordering the “Rock ‘n Roll” again, because I had no idea how good donuts and ice cream taste together….

Speaking of unhindered indulgences of the American kind, I’m off to the USA this week, for the first time since October, and, along with all the Swedes, will be taking the month of July off and away (from the blogsophere), relaxing and vacationing, enjoying and embracing all that summer has to offer.

Thank you for regularly reading Linköpinglivin’ and being my cyber-companions on this continually enjoyable and memorable Swedish excursion. I’ll be back in August to give it a few more months in Linköping and, of course, on Linköpinglivin’.

Trevlig Sommar och vi ses snart.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Euro 2008

In the past year on Linköpinglivin’, you’ve heard about the American college basketball tournament, read about not one, but two Super Bowls, been introduced to baseball and had “soccer” directly and indirectly criticized, so I think it is about time to, well, acknowledge some of the finer points and qualities to “the beautiful game.”

As surprising as this might be to Europeans who, whether they want it or not, are surrounded by and completely engulfed in football fever right now, most Americans have no idea there is a soccer tournament almost as important as the World Cup (which even most Americans are very familiar with) taking place in Austria and Switzerland right now.

Quick insight for the Americans: The Union of the European Football Associations (UEFA) holds a European-wide soccer tournament every four years, coinciding in the off years with the World Cup (which was last played in 2006). After qualifying, 16 teams/countries are grouped in sets of four and play a tournament which lasts about three weeks and started on June 7. The host country rotates every four years. Austria and Switzerland teamed up this year to host.

It’s impossible to be breathing anywhere in Europe and not know about the Euro tournament. So, as with most things that I can define as uniquely European or Swedish experiences, I have decided to embrace it and follow it and have a good time with it and have, so far, been rewarded with some very interesting and at times, dare I even say, “exciting” football.

Sweden won their first game, lost a heartbreaker in the second, but still look promising to advance to the next round of 8 teams. Other favorites so far look like Portugal, Croatia and Spain, but no one has been as impressive as the Dutch who, with their precision passing, ball control and bright orange uniforms, have simply embarrassed both Italy and France, who just happened to be the finalists in the most recent World Cup.

I’ll just say that anyone who has an appreciation for the art and science of sports and athletics can find it in them to be mesmerized by soccer. As I’ve said before, we Americans just don’t really give it a chance, except every four years as long as we’re alive in the World Cup. A well-orchestrated goal really is a beautiful thing. But, I still don’t like the fake injuries, acting and virtual crying that takes place (some teams more than others, I do acknowledge) and seems to be an accepted part of the game.

However, the excitement and interest for me lies in the overall spectacle itself. I appreciate the events or moments that bring the whole continent of Europe, with all its differences and past conflicts, together under one banner. While the EU is a fascinating and challenging experiment in this with the things that really matter, events like Euro and even the Eurovision Song Contest (so sorry to put those two things in the same sentence, soccer fans) do this on a temporary basis and it’s very rewarding to watch for an outsider.

Meanwhile in the United States, one of the most historic and celebrated rivalries in all of American sports is happening again in the NBA Finals between the beloved Los Angeles Lakers and the hated Boston Celtics. Since it’s played from 3:00 – 5:30 in the morning Sweden time, soccer is astonishingly taking up more of my thoughts than this cherished rivalry. More surprising words have perhaps never been blogged on Linköpinglivin’. I’ve been here too long….

It remains to be seen just how much soccer stays with me upon my return to the U.S., but for now I have just one thing to say: “Heja Sverige!”
Pictures above:
1. Euro 2008 approaches the second round this week. The final will be held in Vienna on June 28.
2. Linköping's main square brings out all the fans, despite the chilly temperatures, to watch the beloved home team's victory over Greece.
3. Anything blue or yellow will due, and a flag is especially welcomed.
4. Friends Emelie and Lisa show their true colors.
5. Though I'm a long way from home, Go Lakers.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Top 10 Things I Love To Say To Europeans

10. “?Habla ingles?” “Parle vous anglais?” “Sprechen sie englisch?” “Förlåt, på engelska, tack” and my favorite, ”Could you please say that again without your British accent?”

9. “I have no idea how much I weigh, how tall I am or how far it is to the next town…”

8. “How much did you say the tax was?!!!”

7. “Could I have some peanut butter with that?”

6. “Soccer. The only sport in the world where crying is both strategic and encouraged.”

5. To the question of whether or not every American owns a gun, “Yes, one for each hand.”

4. Upon seeing the size of a personal pizza in Sweden, “Wow, I’ll never be able to finish that and I’m an American!”

3. Upon seeing anyone holding Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Subway or all three:”Thank you for trying to help that poor American dollar.”

2. “Yes, start in New York, but remember that the west coast is the best coast!”

And the number one thing I love to say to Europeans:
1. “I’m so glad that Obama has finally been selected because now the election campaigning can BEGIN!”

And a special bonus quote for all you Swedes:
“I love living in a small town like Linköping...”

Pictures above from a perfect summer day in Sweden (as the weather continues to be the warmest I have ever felt here):

1. On the eastern coast just north of Västervik.
2. Classic Swedish coastline full of “röda små stugor.”
3. Flags of the Göta Canal at Söderköping, which means…
4. Smulltronstället ice cream. Ah, Svensk sommar!
5. A recent taco dinner obviously hosted by an American – can you see why?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Everything You Need to Know About Golf (& Mini-Golf) in Sweden

It was warmer than a summer’s day in Sweden this entire weekend and, along with the grilling, the sun-bathing, the dark-less nights of this time of year and the Euro-shorts, new and interesting tidbits about Swedish life, even after almost two years here for me, reveal themselves.

So here’s virtually everything you need to know about golf and mini-golf in Sweden.

Traditional golf:

*Yes, it is played in Sweden. Just save your wisecracks about playing golf in the snow.

*Not only is it played in Sweden, but you must pass a test and prove your worth to play on Sweden’s courses. There is no room for lousy golfters, “hackers” as we would say in the U.S. In order to get your “green card,” you need the approval of a golf professional at one of the courses. I have a lot of friends in the U.S. who would really love to keep “hackers” like myself off of the courses there….

*Since that’s about all I know about traditional golf in Sweden or anywhere, we’ll switch to mini-golf, one of Sweden’s favorite summer pastimes.


*First, every country has their own name for this and in Sweden, we call it "mini-golf," not "miniature golf" or "putt-putt."

*Sweden was one of the first countries to develop mini-golf along with the U.S., Britain and Germany back in the early 1900s.

*Predictably, Sweden formed the very first mini-golf “federation” 30 years before any other country had a mini-golf federation – yes, apparently there are mini-golf federations worldwide….who knew?

*While American mini-golf courses compete with designs ranging from waterfalls to windmills to neon signs to mazes to anything else that will entertain a family of four or a birthday party of 14, Swedish mini-golf courses are relatively simple collections of 2 x 4s that require you to hit the ball perfectly, with no forgiveness for even small mis-hits.

*I would say I am a better-than-average mini-golfer and there is a course on the little island of Öland that I scored a 90 on last summer. A 90! Mini-Golf! Two holes required 10 shots (even though you are supposed to ”pick-up” after six in Sweden, it’s MINI-GOLF for goodness sakes. I’m NOT picking up until my ball is in the hole!).

*Swedish rules for mini-golf are taken very, very seriously. There is no going out-of-turn, no going before the person in front of you is completely finished with the hole, no moving the ball anywhere it’s not supposed to be moved. This is mini-golf. This is Sweden. You will play by the rules and like it.

*Mini-golf is one more way that the beloved Swedish summer is celebrated. I once again affirm how much I love the seasons around here. And when the warm summer weekends arrive, even a little early and a little warmer than normal, there’s just no place like it. Bring on summer.

(Pictures above from treacherous mini-golf holes from Öland to Linköping – You’ve been warned.)