Swedes are Adorable

Yes.  Swedes are adorable.  In everything! They are adorable in the way they pay for vending machine items with credit cards, bus tickets with smart phones, and text to bid millions of crowns for that apartment that just went on sale five minutes ago and will be on the market for another oh, it’s gone.

I also find their way of unwinding after work adorable.  I went to this thing called “Out of Office”, that’s essentially a party thrown in a club right after work on a Friday.  So instead of going home, getting ready, and then going out at 10, Swedes bring their office style straight to the bar where free entrance, free coat check, and a massive techno party await them.  For me it was mostly confusing, because I don’t generally listen to this kind of music.  There were two ultra-blond and bespectacled DJs loving the sound of someone else’s their own music, followed by some of the worst dancers I’ve ever seen jumping around in suit jackets, only to have everything stop for a moment while we all stared, bewildered, at the screen playing the beginning of the Lion King.  You know, that AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH SEVAIGNAAAAAAAAAAAAAA part.   Or maybe I was the only one bewildered.  I couldn’t really tell.  There are only so many Swedish facial expressions.  They might have been loving it.  Either way, I could never afford to get drunk enough in a Swedish bar to love being in one, so after the third drink spilled on one of our group, we punched and clawed our way out.  It was 9pm.

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They are equally adorable with their many holidays that stem from pagan viking traditions like this evening’s Valborg, a moment to celebrate the arrival of spring and the burning of witches.  It is even more adorable that tomorrow is a national day to protest.  Anything.  Just go on the street and yell about something you find important.  Maybe you find the quality of the kanelbullar at the grocery chain Hemköp has decreased significantly since you started shopping there (as I have) and want them to switch back to their previous recipe.  Maybe you’re a parent and don’t find enough marked stroller parking at your neighbourhood playground (which, by the way, are world feats of engineering and design).  Or maybe you want to go see the Swedish democrats (essentially Sweden’s nazi party) try to convince the masses that the only immigrants that should be let into Sweden are the ones that look just like “real” Swedish people.  In addition to my desire for high quality, fair-trade and publicly accessible cake (a desire I am sure I share with most Swedes), I will probably pit-stop at this last one to boo whenever they start talking before I make my way to the Feminist Party rally.  They have a defined, singular goal, and that is to make a gender-equal country in power, politics, and pay.  And well, I’m for it.

But isn’t it also adorable how stylish they are?  I mean, only today I observed some teenager dressed in crop top, oversized poncho, and grandmotherly shoes (you know, those sneakers that are actually clouds for your feet that the 80+ crowd eliminates from the shelves at Payless before you have a chance to try them on with your indigenous outdoor music festival gear?) and she was KILLING it.  If I put that combination on I would fit in with the homeless sitting outside the drop-in center in downtown Calgary.   No matter what they wear, everyone else in the entire world just seems trashy.  Saris? Trashy.  Grass hula skirts? Come on.  Maori tribal tattoos? Don’t even. Unless of course, you pair any one of these items with wide stripey pants, platform shoes, and/or movie pirating, which are all in season this summer.  In that case, bring it on!

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Keep being adorable, Sverige!

 

 

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My life in Sweden explained in GIFS

I haven’t written in a while.  Let me make it up to you by giving you a plethora of gifs only people like me will find hilarious.  Cue: All immigrants in Sweden laughing who haven’t yet witnessed the glory that is….An immigrant in Sweden dot com.

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Except that I want to explain a few of them that have I have a deep personal connection with.

Like this one:

HOW I VIEW SWEDES WHEN THEY COMPLAIN ABOUT SWEDEN DESPITE THE FACT THAT ALMOST EVERYTHING IS PERFECT HERE

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Like the time Jesper told me he was angry/annoyed/bitter/unimpressed with the public transportation system (Stockholm has nearly half a dozen ways of getting around the city including bus, tram, and one of only three metros in the world that has 24/7 service on the weekends).  And that other time he told me there was a Feminist party and they had seats in parliament.  Or the time my landlady told me she couldn’t get her summer house all the time because her brother wanted it sometimes too.  And how they start with 5 weeks of vacation, and have national holidays dedicated to cream puffs and waffles.

Which leads me to…

WHEN SWEDEN’S GOVERNMENT TRIES TO DO SOMETHING WELL

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WHEN MY COUNTRY TRIES TO DO SOMETHING WELL

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Let’s take for example compost.  Two communities in Calgary (one of which I lived in at the time) tried out not only recycling on a community level but also composting.  The result was that you could put exactly one banana peel in the biodegradable bag before it broke.  In Stockholm, not only can you put in more than half a dozen pieces of organic material into their biodegradable bags and have them not break, but there is an entire fleet of buses powered by this material.  I don’t even know what we do with ours.  Pay some foreigner assloads of money to build it into shitty pieces of art at obscure intersections, probably.

WHEN YOU TELL A SWEDE ABOUT SOME LEFTOVER FIKA CAKE IN THE KITCHEN

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Because Fika.

WHEN YOU LIVE HERE FOR YEARS BUT STILL NEVER MEET SOMEONE THAT DOESN’T SPEAK PERFECT ENGLISH

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Also the reason why my Swedish is still incredibly and embarrassingly terrible after a year and a half in their country.

AFTER YOU MOVE TO SWEDEN AND YOU REALIZE ALL THE SUNNY IMAGES ON VISIT SWEDEN WEBSITES WERE LIES

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Which is why I take vitamin D supplements and tape myself to the window when the sun decides to show itself after two and a half months of darkness.  In the middle of February there was a sunny day with a sunset past 3pm and it was like a zombie apocalypse.  People were just wandering aimlessly around with their arms outstretched staring upwards in complete disbelief.

WHEN YOU FIRST MOVE TO SWEDEN AND TRY TO GET INTO A SWEDISH CIRCLE OF FRIENDS

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I mean, it was worth the wait.

I’m still not on there.

WHEN I’M IN A GROUP OF SWEDES AND I’M DOING TOO MUCH OF THE TALKING

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Too many times to count.  All of last year.  All of this year.  Today.  One of the best things I ever heard someone say to me was Jannike who told me how impressed she was with my confidence in the use of the English language.

WHEN YOU ASK A SWEDE TO MAKE PLANS LESS THAN ONE FULL WEEK IN ADVANCE

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Believe me, I’ve tried.

ME WHEN I HEAR HIP-HOP IN A CLUB INSTEAD OF TECHNO

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I’m usually near tears.  And the last (only) time it was House of Pain and I still went nuts.  I was the only one.  And when I tell someone I like listening to hip-hop the reaction is inevitably “Oh, that’s so American.”

WHEN EVERY FIRST MONDAY OF THE MONTH AT 15:00 YOU HEAR THOSE AIR RAID SIRENS GO OFF

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Because in Sweden, the biggest security threat is that one day Russia might invade, and these sirens will let everybody know they should gather up all their kanelbulles and hide in the summer houses.

WHEN THE BARMAN CHARGES ME 120 KRONOR FOR A COCKTAIL

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I’ve bought cocktails exactly twice in a year and a half and a glass of wine once.  Then I spent all night nursing one drink. 120 kronor is roughly equivalent to a 10% down payment on a new condo.

And finally this, because it’s true:

THE SWEDISH GOVERNMENT’S PRIORITIES

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When Escalators Become Stairs in Sweden

The rulltrappor (escalators) have been down at a bunch of tunnelbana (metro) stations in Stockholm this week, and nobody knows when they’re going to be fixed.  These stations have some of the longest escalators in the whole of Stockholm – you could learn how to make bread, study the art of silent Japanese theatre, and re-juggle your finances to make a trip to Tahiti in 2020 possible while waiting for the moving stairs to lift you up to your final destination.  Walking up them feels like training for your next ultra-marathon, and I’m pretty sure most of us are content with the handful we’ve already completed.  A few friends and I made the terrible decision to meet at Östermalmstorg ( the station with probably the longest escalators), and after we all finally found each other, wanted to say hi, but had to wait a quarter of an hour before we had breath enough to talk.  When we finally did it was all in agreement that the only way you could make it up the escalator was if a) you went as fast as possible, b) you didn’t stop, c) you never looked up and d) kicked anybody taking their time out of the way, including pregnant women, children, and old people.  Thankfully, SL, the company in charge of most of the transportation in the city, has placed friendly, official-looking Swedish people at the top of the escalators with trays of oxygen tanks water to help quench your thirst after the grueling climb, which one, or all people, may compare to Krakauer’s literary sketch of his 1996 summit of Mount Everest, when a whole lot of people died.

Rulltrappor at Solna Centrum station, Stockholm

Rulltrappor at Solna Centrum station, Stockholm

Now, in addition to the official-looking water-carriers, there are cross-fit athletes hanging out at the broken-down escalators, waiting to carry people up them.

You heard me!

The sports gear giant Reebok heard about the broken escalators, and, sensing a marketing opportunity, hired some young fit people (not me), clad them in branded athletic attire, and sent them off to do kettlebell  people lunges.

Of course, in this city, such a marketing strategy will actually work.  In Calgary, somebody got hit twice by the c-train – one going in each direction – and everybody just grumbled about having to take a shuttle bus for 5 minutes.  And by everybody, I mean the 10 people who don’t actually drive and therefore are forced to use public transportation.

I look forward to matching Reebok wristbands with the rest of Stockholm next week.

What the **** did you just say

languagememe2I’m back in Sweden and I’ve started my third Swedish language course, and now they don’t let you speak English in class at all, so that’s horrible for me because I suck so bad.  I mostly stare blankly at the professor, who at the end of delivering a long-winded speech on the placement of “do” in a sentence three words long, asks my name, and then writes down “who the **** put her in course 3, find them and destroy them” in her notebook.

The next day, I felt emboldened (because I’m an idiot) and ordered my coffee in Swedish from the Swedish form of Starbucks – Espresso House.  My boldness only increased when she asked if I wanted it to stay (sittar här) or to go (ta med) and I correctly responded.  I felt extra good because the woman in front of me was clearly a tourist and asked for everything in English without a hint of trying otherwise, which of course gave me a tremendous sense of god-like superiority.  Then she said “elligowehtogewhoeklfjslkfjchockladäåklsldkfjwejjaah”.

WTF.

I was forced to respond in English.

“Sorry what?”

“Oh! I was just asking if you were sure you wanted your latte just like that or maybe you wanted to add something sweet, like chocolate, to make it that much tastier? Do you even know what chocolate is you illiterate mongol?”

“Nej………”

Man every time I think I’m getting it, they add another question.  It’s like they can smell it, and they tell all the other cashiers I might possibly visit that week: “Dude, she knows what a bag is in Swedish.  Yeah.  Unbelievable.  Ask her if she wants anything else.  Oh she always says no.  Okay I know, tell her it’s on sale.  She’ll have no clue.”  Swedish class 2 did NOT prepare me for the “would you like some chocolate in your latte because you are too cheap and boring” question, so I should probably write and tell them to include it in their syllabus.  

On top of that, I’m pretty sure even Swedes don’t understand other Swedes because every other sentence they ask each other: “Vad sa du”, or “What did you say?”, which really sounds like “vasilu” because they say it so damn fast, which is their problem in the first place.  I was on the bus the other day sitting next to a couple of elderly Swedes, and attempted to follow their conversation as it was somewhat more stilted than the usual Mach III (no vasilus in sight).  Here and there I caught things like “no children allowed”, “clinic”, “management” and then a bunch of numbers.  Logically, my mind put together that they were talking about involuntary geriatric euthanasia and I nodded sagely along with them, which they mostly tried to ignore.  And tonight, my landlady’s son was doing his homework and I thought to myself that I should probably do his homework too, because that could only increase my proficiency.  He’s eight.  This is the point at which I remember the speech-therapy classes my parents forced me into when I was a child because I couldn’t pronounced “lion” correctly.

It does makes me feel better to see fashionable hats emblazoned with “BRAAAAAP Pimpstarlife”, and posters for Mud Hero and Spartan-type competitions encouragingly called “Superior Race”, with a handful of viking-looking people on it.

In conclusion, I will not be defending my thesis in Swedish, even though I’m obviously 87% of the way to perfecting the language.  Vasilu?

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End of Act I

I find myself in a very reflective mood as my last week of my first year in Stockholm draws to a close, and I am ever increasingly surrounded by mirrored objects.

I would like to share a little of what I’ve experienced, what I’ve learned, and why I would like to live here permanently, and no, it’s not just because polarbröd is the best thing that happened to me since smörbulle (which quickly eclipsed kanelbulle in late february).  It’s also not just because I can say that sentence with a straight face.

Hopefully the one of you dedicated and avid reader out there (thanks mom) got a giggle out of one of my surprisingly cleverly-wrought phrases, for to me, that’s what life is all about.  I get no bigger high than inducing raucous laughter (or even just a slight hiccup turned accidental chortle) from an audience, which can be a few friends, one of my brothers, or 300 new students eager to hear all about the internship program at my old university.  No laughs = no fun, right?  Listening to someone drone on about how important ties to the industry are for any university program is wayyyyyy better when they tell you how as soon as they realized that in their first internship they were pretty much a guinea pig subordinate for their boss to learn how to manage people, the two of them spent the rest of the 8 months speaking in military code in their emails and having better, more serious discussions on what colour to paint the walls than any work they could have been doing in a hard bid to prove to anyone that public servants use tax-payers’ money effectively.

Sweden gave me a big surprise.

Even before moving here I had travelled a LOT and lived in three different countries. I had a vast amount of experiences meeting new people from all over the world, sharing strange, sometimes strange and uncomfortable, sometimes strange and uncomfortable and downright disturbing living accommodations (I’m thinking here of the time I lived in a small house with 9 rooms, no common areas, and the guy in the room beside me who peed in jars), and finding myself in stressful, unorthodox situations that I just had to deal with (confronting a boss about his incredibly degrading and inappropriate behaviour towards women – I hyperventilated; fighting to control a wild-eyed and panicked 550 kg horse with nothing but a single rope in an enclosed stall – I shit my pants).

I figured, if I’ve stood on massive cliffs and felt the weight of the ocean crash around me, if I’ve climbed high mountain peaks in grizzly territory, run half-marathons (I may have considered taking the bus for the last 100 metres), lived my worst fear (a giant huntsman spider crawling up my leg), and survived a Montenegro Airlines flight (everyone was literally just standing around, drinking rakija with the flight attendants as this ex-soviet metal tube hurtled towards the Earth, rattling and shaking like a crack-addict in rehab), then moving to a country that is so civilized that playgrounds offer both open-air and garage parking for baby strollers seemed like a walk in the park.

And for the most part, it really has been.  I mean, I live between a nature reserve and a cemetery moonlighting as a magical forest full of mythical woodland creatures, so trying not to take a walk in the park is actually kind of difficult.

What surprised me was how much I still had (and have) to learn.  And I don’t just mean the Swedish alphabet or making that wind-through-the-trees sound every time s, k, and e get together and throw a party.  I mean about people, about myself, about how a city can be built and run, how you can, actually, live without a car, about living in a country not built on immigration, that offers a different kind, a more tangible sort of identity.  Learning that looking just like other people doesn’t mean you think or act the same way.

I had almost no expectations when I arrived in Stockholm.  I had a very vague idea that it might be harder to make friends with people since the Swedes were ostensibly “cold” and “repressed”, which many attributed to the lack of both daylight and sunlight during the wintertime, that I might start eating a lot more fish (even the fermented kind! Nope, tried it once, never again), oh, and that everyone would be beautiful and know how to dress.

First of all, making sweeping generalizations about 9 million people is pretty much a terrible idea.  During the winter, there are definitely people that get seasonal depression because there really is no fucking sun.  I mean in Stockholm, in December, the sun sets at two forty-seven in the afternoon!!!  And, the few hours you have between sunrise and sunset might just be a dismal, dreary, grey, cloud-filled poop of a sky with a ceiling at about 14 feet.  It sucks.  So, I get it.  You’re not 178% super into life mid-January? I get it.  I really do.  Thankfully, I don’t get so affected by it, but when you’re surrounded by people who are really affected by it, you get indirectly affected by it.  You all just kind of turn into apocalyptic zombies that go into a feeding frenzy as soon as that glowing celestial object that is the source of all life decides to make an appearance every three to four weeks.

I have to admit though, it was a teeeeeeeeensy bit harder to make friends.  Since this isn’t a mathematical quandary and I can’t compute friend-making ability into real numbers (or imaginary ones, HAH), I will stick to general qualitative descriptions, like teensy.  And itsy-bitsy.  I’m an adult.  I DO WHAT I WANT.

At first, when I didn’t make deep, meaningful connections with 15 new people who I knew would become life-long friends in the space of a week, I was somewhat confused and bewildered.  How is this possible? I thought to myself.  I am amazing at making friends! I shouldn’t even have to say anything anymore! You should just see me and a big flashing neon FRIEND sign should light itself up in your brain!  What, English isn’t your first language, I’m a bit (qualitative descriptor inserted here) intimidating and I maybe block out the sun when you’re trying to get in that last drop of vitamin D before early October hits? This should not matter at all!

What I like to think of as personal charm can seem more like a loud, somewhat obnoxious personality, and it doesn’t work with everyone.  I had to learn how to mould it so that I could still show my character, but essentially take it down a notch or two.  On top of that, and despite the Swedes’ superior handling of the English language (I’m like a kid seeing the moon for the first time, every day I’m impressed, mouth hanging open, drool slowly falling to the floor, holding my blankie in one hand…wait a second), I had to reduce my vocabulary, which I honestly did mostly subconsciously.  And this was a big thing for me because there is not much I love more in life than wordplay.  I mean, okay, galloping on horseback in the Snowy mountains of Australia and sleeping under a sky so filled with stars your brain can’t even compute comes pretty close, and like, not living under the poverty line is pretty good too, but witty banter and I go back a long ways.  We tight, yo.

I have now made a handful of really good Swedish friends (and a few non-Swedish ones as well 😉 ), and I can say with all the certainty 28 years on this planet has afforded me that every second in those 8 months leading up to it has been worth it.  Yes.  It took my entire time here to make them.  But that’s okay!  Now I know all their secrets.  And as the Canadian government has zero funding to pay me to document them, I can tell you those secrets are going nowhere.  Also they’re in Swedish, which I still don’t fully understand.

It’s been a really fun time getting to know them.  Like anybody, they have multiple facets and they surprise me almost daily.  They’re all conscientious people who research political platforms, they’re passionate about environmental causes, they’re talented musicians, great conversationalists, they’re innovative and ambitious, they are great dressers, they’re also kind of strange, and most of all, they are kind.

Now I’m just generalizing five people instead of 9 million.  Who’s counting…

For most of them, making friends with them has been like climbing stairs.  Sure, I’m a little (okay a lot, since most of you have seen me climb stairs) out of breath, and it’s kinda hard when you’re doing it, but the top feels amazing and you know your butt will thank you for it.  I mean…

For others it has been more of a roller-coaster ride, and I’m still sorting out whether I want to get off or go another round, but what would any adventure park be without a roller-coaster?  Come on, you can’t top out with bumper cars…

So, in conclusion, I do eat more fish (but I still don’t catch it myself), everyone is stupidly pretty and stuff, and it was, in a way, harder to make friends.  But I fell in love with a city for the very first time, and, I think it’s mutual. ❤

 

Spring in Sweden: Påsk & Valborgsmässoafton

I was originally going to start this post about Easter, but then I started reading about spring traditions in Sweden and found this on wikipedia:

On the 25th of March on the Christian holiday of Annunciation the Swedes eat waffles, as the day is called the “Waffle Day”. This is in fact due to a misunderstanding of the phrase “vårfrudagen” which means “Our Lady’s Day”, which sounds like “våffeldagen”, meaning “waffle day.””

Any excuse to eat waffles I guess…and from a people who have now extended the allowed eating time period of semla from a single day (shrove tuesday) to several months out of sheer love of the combination of tasteless bread sandwiching heavy cream and almond paste, this isn’t so surprising.

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Semla. The poor man’s cream puff.

Easter in Sweden is weird.

Over the years, the old pagan viking traditions merged somewhere with Christianity, which likes to borrow and steal from everyone else, and made for some pretty far-out traditions.

First of all there are coloured feathers everywhere – I mean someone is paid to artfully arrange dollar-store feathers dyed in every lurid neon shade in giant pots at bus terminals.

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And in your homes.

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Then, in a bizarre seasonal displacement of North American halloween, children dress up, go door-to-door and receive candy in exchange for not cursing your house with a plague of locusts like any normal five-year-old is wont to do.  Here is the part where I mention that the only costume they’re allowed to dress up is as a witch.  No ghosts or vampires or a zillion zombie-batmans.  Old women with spell-casting ability only.  Spell-casting ability and obviously dimples, because the whole reason the kids dress this way is to represent the witches who flew to Blåkulla to have sabbath with the devil, only to have the best-looking out of them thrown into some Hugh Hefner den until the wee hours of the morning.  I guess they used to take this story a little more seriously, because Blåkulla picked up a lot of steam during 17th century recreational witch hunting.  Now of course, parents just like to dress their children up in a really logical celebration of the whole affair.

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Ordinary witches rode broomsticks on their way to satanic fornication, but LADIES rode barn animals.

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After the 17th century witch hunts, the women who lunch of sorcery upgraded their mobility. Still, it was only the few in the higher income brackets that could afford such modern transportation finery.

Two girls and a boy dressed as Easter witches are running.

The Swedes have had centuries to evolve and refine their proud traditions into a lasting legacy. And it’s terrifying.

Of course the Swedes, like any civilized society, do eat a lot of chocolate for this holiday, which is the real point of anything.  But they do find yet another reason to needlessly insert pickled herring.  At least it’s not in the chocolate.

Another fun spring Swedish tradition is Valborg.  This is a day of festivities to celebrate the start of spring, burn dead branches that were cluttering your garden, ward off witches (again with the witches!) and for some, drink until you black out.

Since this last one usually happens at very specific Valborg locations (there are events peppered throughout cities), my friend and I decided on going to one where there was not a high chance of being surrounded by obnoxiously drunk people on a Wednesday afternoon.

This meant we went to Solna, an ethnically-diverse community/neighbourhood/zoning of Stockholm.  This also meant that in addition to traditional Swedish songs sung by Swedish choirs in honour of the spring, we got 13 year-old all-girl jazz groups failing at krumping to Macklemore, gospel choirs, and hip-hop artists.  Yes.  You heard me.  No better way to welcome the delicate blooming of flowers than Swedish rap by ABIDAZ (who, incidentally, is from Solna).

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Just look at that face.

The real star of Valborg however, is the massive bonfire built of all the dead wood people have been tripping over since the snow melted.  My friend mentioned right before the 10 year-old scouts lit the thing on fire that in the countryside these piles of wood have been sitting around for a while, so hedgehogs like to make their home inside of them.  So when Valborg comes around, don’t be surprised to recognize the wafting aroma of roasted hedgehog.  Charming!

The bonfire in Solna was indeed enormous, which was good, because it was cold outside.  At some point it raged out of control and people ran screaming into the night, but the rest of us were just pleased we had made our approach to the right side of the fire.

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No marshmallows, but enough heat to singe the eyebrows off of at least a couple dozen spectators.

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In which we had a most Swedish experience

This is now my second experience with sweaty naked Swedish people, and this time it was a in a room full of sweaty naked men all smelling of eucalyptus.

That’s right.

Sauna time!

For a mere 60 kronor, this activity is something you HAVE to do if you’re ever in Sweden.  Luckily, I live quite close to Hellasgården bastu, or sauna, which also includes an indoor gym and yoga area, an outdoor gym (of which I am totally impressed with), and is located right next to a lake that you can cross-country ski around in the wintertime (or hike with improper footwear if there isn’t enough snow).  No wonder the Swedes are so fit!

To enjoy a proper Swedish sauna time, follow these simple steps:

1. Shower

2. Choose a level in the sauna room (level 3 is dangerously hot, recommended only for the advanced sauna-time goers)

3. Deftly pour water on the heated rocks without scalding yourself with backsplash (this has definitely never happened to me)

4. Spend 15 minutes naked (no bathing suits allowed) in the sauna room with a bottle of water (you’re going to need it so you don’t become dehydrated and pass out)

5. When you feel like you’re going to pass out, it’s time to jump in the lake.  Go outside and down to the dock, discard towel, and dive in head first into a Swedish lake with resting temperature hovering just above zero.  Understanding the cold has caused you to forget how to swim, attempt not to drown.  Clamber your way back up the ladder and wrap yourself in your towel.  Realize you just flashed several old naked Swedish men and a child learning how to fish.  Throw head back and howl.  FEEL LIKE A VIKING!

6. Repeat steps 1-5 as many times as you like.  Or until you stop feeling anything.

For fancy mixed-sauna-time, simply go into the men’s sauna room on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, and sit around with a room packed full of naked sweaty Swedish men who will talk to you more than any fully-clothed Swedish man you might meet on the street.  Then enjoy the sauna-master’s expertise as he pours eucalyptus-smelling oils in addition to copious amounts of water on the heated rocks, and then lasso-style waves a towel around to disperse the heat and the oils.

The sauna is open all year round, so when the lake freezes over the Swedes just cut an isvak (hole) in the ice for you to jump into.  Normal, right?!

Here is a Swede (that I don’t know) in front of the isvak in Hellasgården.  She looks happy because she hasn’t jumped in the water yet.  It’s still probably flippin’ cold out which is why that smile looks totally forced.  I know these things.

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Here is what it looked like today:

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And here is what we looked like after the “bath”.  We look happy because though the water was cold, it wasn’t an isvak, and nobody drowned.

Happy sauna-going!

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The most frightening thing in Sweden

Swedish horror movies are very particular.  There are no ghosts, or vampires, or monsters of any kind.  There are no serial killers, torture scenes, not even a hanging, a stab wound, a light scratch from an angry badger.  Getting lost in the woods just means more vacation time.  And yet, these films still portray a deep sense of fear.  But fear of what?

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Making.

Eye-contact.

For example, in this memorable scene from arguably the most famous of all horror films, the axe in the Swedish version of The Shining was edited out because it would have just proven a distraction to the real terror – Jack making eye-contact with his wife, Wendy.

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The Swedes are so terrified of making eye-contact that they will literally do anything to avoid it.  Having said that, it is bewildering why they constructed their metro cars with seats facing one another, so people have to actively avoid looking at the people sitting opposite them.  Avoidance tactics include: reading books and/or newspapers; texting on your phone; pretending to sleep; playing with that tamagochi you got from your birthday haul in 1999, and looking desperately anywhere not directly in front of you.

Of course, if you look slightly to the left, people sitting on that side of the car may be looking slightly to the right to avoid looking at people directly in front of them and you now have to avoid making eye-contact with those people avoiding making eye-contact.

Not only do you have to avoid looking at the people across from you, slightly to the left of you, and in the extreme cases, behind you,  but then there are the times when you’re avoiding looking at people, staring through the window pretending to appreciate the scenery which is a wall of black bedrock because you’re in a metro, only to accidentally make eye-contact in the window reflection with someone else also pretending to stare at the scenery to avoid making eye-contact.  In bad cases, this is also the person sitting directly in front of you.  This is called a geminus, from the Latin for double.

In this scenario, you rapidly blink to dispel any confirmation that eye-contact has been made, and search for a new empty spot somewhere in the train car, only to again accidentally make eye-contact with someone else who has also just experienced a geminus.   This is now called a double-double, and it is the worst possible thing to happen to you on the t-bana.  If this happens, you need to immediately cleanse yourself  by throwing cardamom over your shoulder.

Cardamom?

Yes.

They put that shit on everything.

Sweden, Steve Zissou, and Style

Recently I’ve noticed that this is a country where people look like they’ve just stepped off the set of The Life Aquatic, as red toques (BEANIES for you non-Canadians, then again the only person who reads this drivel is my mom so I don’t know why I bother explaining anything)  have become popular amongst the hip and beards are fashionable always.  There is also always that one guy singing Portuguese David Bowie.

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 Considering I live at approximately 60 degrees North and these people are actually descended from these guys:

vikings

You have to wonder how they got from A to B.  This.  Is.  Swedish Mystique.

In Stockholm, the amount of hair product used dictates what part of the city you live in, your income level, and the thread-count of your Egyptian cotton sheets.  Wear anything but black ankle boots and everyone knows you’ve been in the city less than a week.  If a club actually plays hip-hop (which in Sweden is harder to find than your own shadow) then don’t be shocked to see:

a) long dresses appropriate for outdoor music festivals or scenes from The Sound of Music

b) nordic slippers

c) back-packs

d) no black people

They are a people obsessed with coffee, 5-cent candies and luxury baby strollers.  The mystery deepens.

Last night I was introduced into the very private world of an exclusively Swedish house party.  Here you will not only find Swedish people who don’t want to speak in English, but you will also observe the most sacred of deep-rooted Swedish traditions.  I’m talking of course about drinking games.

Having bluffed my way into speaking some very broken Swedish, buoyed into bravery from the three glasses of water I had just consumed, I listened intently to the rules of the game.  It went something like this:

Gibberish gibberish cards gibberish gibberish drink if you lose gibberish gibberish drink if you win.  Clarified in English, this in fact turned out to be all of the rules.  I watched in fascination as they downed their beers and their Bacardi breezers, yelling anytime anything happened, and loved every confusing moment of it.  Confusing mostly because the drinks screamed “teens” but the décor whispered “adults”.

When I finally arrived home around 2am, I turned on the light in my bedroom only to find my alcoholic landlord asleep in my bed.  Non-plussed, but especially thankful I had elected to drink faux gin-and-tonics, I informed him of his location, then gently reminded him he couldn’t take the blankets with him out of the room.

Not that I’m particularly worried about a man who would blow away in anything more than a slight breeze and who is possibly shorter than Nicolas Sarkozy, but I think I’ll be locking my door from here on in.  It’s too bad really, my Canadian sensibilities don’t like locking anything up, except for my feelings.  It’s why we’re so polite.

And 2014 starts with more things in the sky than there should be

“The first step to learning a new language is to speak badly in your own.”

Timeless words by Sanbula Z.  And words to keep in mind as I rapidly lose my once glorious hold on the English language, one misspelled adverb or not-even remotely-conjugated sentence at a time.  This morning I tried to spell prone with a ‘w’.  That’s right.  Prown.  And just yesterday I started replacing all of my ‘g’s with ‘j’s for no reason at all.  My eyes said no but my fingers typed yes.  J J J!!

Since I can no longer carry on a witty conversation in my mother tongue, I have been forced to smile awkwardly when I can’t remember what that device that keeps your food cold is called, pretend I finished my thought and distract my opponent by asking them something intelligent and disarming like this: “How you go school?”.  I’m nothing if not a charmer.

In other news, I thought I saw two suns in the sky on Monday, but my brain refused to register and I simply turned away, until my Swedish friend pointed out the sun halo.  OH.  YOU MEAN IT ISN’T TWO MAGICAL GLOWING GLOBES OF HEAT AND LIGHT?!  I HAD FORGOTTEN WHAT THE FIRST ONE LOOKED LIKE ANYWAY SINCE IT HASN’T COME OUT SINCE LATE OCTOBER.  

Here’s what one of those badass motherflippers looks like:

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Tell me you wouldn’t think you got dropped into The Chronicles of Riddick meets Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I stared at it for a while until I remembered staring directly into the main source of planetary heat is not helpful in retaining the ability to see.

And in Swedish Real Estate News, Janna is being forced to move for the fourth time after finding out her current landlord shot someone in the knee and has to hide the fact he is receiving income in the form of rent so that he doesn’t have to pay the 500,000 Swedish crown repairment to the guy who is now handicapped thanks to that little incident.  Stockholm!  Where normal people live!