Monthly Archives: April 2011

SKÅL!

This is where I’ll be today!!

Very exciting :)

For more info and a detailed background on the “holiday” we’re celebrating, check out my blog post on Sweden.se!

Spring in Sweden is a non-stop parade of holidays; this is not a joke.

Maybe at its heart Valborg is just about FIRE! Unbelievable displays of FIRE! Photos by (clockwise) dark botxy/Flickr, t_buchtele/Flickr, WixPix/Flickr


Living in the Midwest… Living in Sweden

It is extremely unlikely that I will ever live in the Midwest again. On the other hand, it is a distinct possibility that I will live in Sweden for a significant part of my life. That’s not always easy to deal with as a concept.

Last week, I read an article on Slate that articulates some of my feelings about Sweden—for better and worse—in talking about the Midwest, the area of the United States with the largest proportion of German, Dutch, and Scandinavian immigrants. In “Living in the Midwest,” Susanna Daniel writes,

When I tell people outside of the Midwest that I live here, they invariably mention two things: the Weather Factor and the Friendliness Factor…

What I didn’t realize, when I married the Midwest, was how difficult it is to be welcomed into the heart of the heartland. Broadly speaking—which is the only way to talk about this kind of thing, after all—Midwesterners are, true-to-reputation, kind and friendly, but they aren’t particularlywarm. Maybe in my narrow-minded, pre-Midwestern existence, I’d assumed that “friendly” and “warm” were the same thing, but it’s a distinction I’ve found unnerving.

Midwesterners are wary of prying—they consider it impolite, even unfriendly—and they don’t readily reveal personal information. Which means they exist comfortably at a certain remove that can take years—and I mean years—to breach. When my family gets together in Florida, we share a meal, heatedly discuss current events, then retire to separate bedrooms to catch up on email. When my husband’s extended family gets together, it’s an all-day family-fest. They might not talk about much, but they truly enjoy just being together. To a coastal-hearted misanthrope like myself, it’s mind-blowing…

The trouble here is the trouble everywhere: how to find close friends, how to really connect. And though I appreciate Midwestern civility… I continue to wrestle with the barriers of it.

Daniels goes on to talk about the quality of life she has, the importance of family in the Midwest, and the Midwestern sense of being rooted by and in family and community. But this sense of being welcome and appreciated and still not quite part of things is something that really resonates with me. Maybe it will change. Maybe it’s just because I’ve only been here 8/9 months. It’s really hard sometimes, though, to realize that while I have made a few very good friends, I don’t feel like I’ve made very many, and when those few are out of town for a holiday, I find myself unsure of what to do with myself in this town.

Pity party for myself aside, the article is really good, and if you’re at all interested in what it’s like to be a transplant in the Midwest (or in Sweden, by extension), you should check it out.

“Living in the Midwest” by Susanna Daniel, published 14 Apr 2011, Slate.com.

Spring in Sweden: Absolut Bliss

Could I be more in love with spring? No. I couldn’t.

Last night, I got off of work a little earlier than expected, so when I got to Lund, I biked from the train station to Anna and Nils’ apartment. Simon arrived 30 seconds after I got there, and the four of us took Castor (Anna and Nils’ dog) out for a walk through the horse pasture. I don’t know where the adult horses were, but we met some new arrivals: six foals born in the spring. Love.

Some were shy, some were attention-seeking, and they were pretty reluctant to leave each others’ company. We hung out with them for a little while and pet the ones that were willing to be petted, then continued on homeward for some dinner.

3 new foals in Klostergården

Here’s a picture from last Monday, which we had off since it was “Annandag Påsk.”

Annandag Påsk in Lund's Botanical Garden

In other news… if you want to know what I’ll be up to on Saturday, check it out on my Expat Blog on Sweden.se. Valborg Valborg Valborg!!

Red panda wannabe

So, you all know about my *cough* slight obsession with red pandas. Slight, I tell you. Barely noticeable.

Well, both Christmas and my birthday have passed this year without a single red panda jumping out of a cake and into my arms, and I’m not that hopeful about the rest of the year because my boyfriend will not agree to convert a corner of our one-bedroom apartment into a Himalayan rainforest for my little panda, which I will smuggle out of Bhutan, Nepal, or China, depending on airline fares and varying legal consequences. Although my sisters have still not delivered my birthday gift… so there’s still a little sliver of hope that I’ll be bringing one home with me in June.

In the meantime, I have a secondary solution, thanks to my friend Anna. She found a red panda for sale on Blocket!!

My little Pomeranian red panda lookalike!! On sale for a mere 14,000 kr ($2,300) on Blocket. It’s pretty much an awesome deal, considering that the owners recently reduced the price by $400. Compare with the real baby red panda below.

They could be brothers from another mother! Or at least second cousins twice removed. Am I right or am I right??

I’m going to set up a Paypal donate button, and you all are going to help me get this little guy. Ok??? Sweet.

From The Expat Blog: Happy Easter or Glad Påsk from Sweden!

The signs of the season were everywhere: babuschka-like Easter witches, feather-bedazzled branches, a haunting and eerie emptiness on grocery store shelves previously occupied by jars of pickled herring… Easter season had arrived in Sweden, and it would be a long four day weekend before our lives could return to normal.

Here’s a rough recipe for a Swedish Easter celebration, based on my empirical observations of the weekend:

1 part Easter witch, 2 parts decorated branches;
2 parts fish, 1 part potatoes;
3 parts eggs, 1 part asparagus;
3 parts pickled herring, 2 parts chocolate (preferably in egg form), 1 part cake.

Season to taste with dill, mayonnaise, bread, and cheese. Pair with Easter egg hunting, outdoor picnics, and walking in the forest (weather permitting).

Read more at The Expat Blog on Sweden.se!

Happy Easter or Glad Påsk from Sweden! Traditions, food, decorations, and more

Food!

Various parts of our Easter feast: salmon, hard-boiled eggs, and gubbröra!

Activities!

Swedish Easter activities: take a walk or picnic in the woods, paint eggs, hunt for eggs.

Decorations!

This is just a small sample of the feather-bedazzling that was going on throughout the whole country.

Annandag Påsk… “another day of Easter”… delightful.

Well, the fabulous adventurous of Katie and Kate are temporarily over. Sadness!

I'm hoping to resume our adventures at the end of summer by visiting this girl in Turkey. Fingers crossed!

In a mere two weeks, we conquered far more of Scandinavia than I would have thought possible, including…

  • Copenhagen
  • Helsingborg
  • Helsingør
  • Stockholm
  • Malmö
  • Lund
  • Ikea

It was really fun to show Katie what my life is like here and to have her meet the people that are important to me here. I hadn’t thought of it before, but Simon pointed out to me how good it feels to show a visitor around, and it’s true. It makes you feel a sense of ownership over your surroundings and your situation when you present it to someone who knows you from before. It also feels extra good to have been able to show Katie around at the exact moment when spring was coming to Sweden. Just in our courtyard, a new tree or bush blooms every day. One day you see the buds, and then the next day it’s in full flower. After feeling like I was in a rut over the winter, it felt like Katie’s visit and spring itself coincided beautifully.

On another note, I have been so tired over the last couple of days it’s kind of scary. I don’t know whether it’s just residual tiredness from doing so many things over the last couple of weeks, if it’s an emotional reaction to coming down from all the excitement, or if I’m getting sick, but I have just been completely exhausted over the last weekend. It’s pretty unusual for me to be just drop dead tired for several days in a row, and it just feels weird… my whole body just feels weak, weak, weak, and I can barely stay focused on computer-related tasks. Hence the blog drought. What’s going on??!

But anyway, I digress. I am having a wonderful day today, Monday, “Annandag Påsk.” Annandag Påsk is basically Swedish for “another day of Easter.” This country really cracks me up sometime. Despite being totally non-religious as far as I can tell, all of Sweden gets both Friday and Monday of Easter weekend off. Why? I don’t know. It’s just that way. I got a little bit of a Thanksgiving vibe from people, actually. A lot of people take the time to go home to their family, wherever they may be, and just rejoice in the spring, giving thanks to God or Nature or whatever other pagan influence they might have.

So far from this…

We have a long weekend. For the hell of it. Works for me!

Glad Påsk, allihopa! Happy Easter!

SHOW ME THE MONEY! Sweden’s social welfare system and families

When people talk about Sweden’s social welfare system, they often talk in terms of quantifiable statistics: the distribution of fathers and mothers on parental leave, infant mortality rates, and the number of entrepreneurs per capita, to name a few. It’s more difficult to trace the social welfare system’s effects on Swedish culture and families—effects that are just as important, but to which it is almost impossible to assign numbers and figures.

TO READ MORE:

the expat blog at sweden.se

I’m in Stockholm until Wednesday. EXCITING-AWESOMENESS!

occasionally blurry photos from two moving targets

Picnics in the park!

Touring SofieRO!

Rhododendrons trying... trying... trying... to bloom.

adventures in self-timers.

tourin' helsingbor'

the most stupendous cheese machine of all time

a glimmer of light in kronberg castle's casemates

it was the danish queen's birthday, and then there were cannons. true story.

tomorrow: STOCKHOLM!!!

Most Excellent Adventures, Copenhagen Part One

Katie has been here for a mere three days, and we have already covered quite a bit of ground. Our first stop in Scandinavia was Copenhagen. We went there directly from the airport despite the fact that Katie spent 18 hours in Moscow the night before, attempting to sleep on one of those airport bench with arm rests (ouch) and awakened by a constant stream of zamboni-like airport trucks. As a further note, she flew with Aeroflot. She is a brave soul, I tell you. She didn’t even look rumpled or dirty when she arrived in Copenhagen. It was amazing.

I got to the airport pretty early, but I certainly wasn’t bored. There was a rabbit man to keep me company, of course.

This rabbit man undoubtedly represents some important cultural tradition in the Nordics. I'm sure of it.

Once Katie and I had successfully found the luggage storage area, we headed straight into the city for some food, which we found at the incredible Restaurant Samos, located very close to Strøget, the large pedestrian shopping street. Let me tell you, Restaurant Samos is awesome. I was sort of reluctant to go because it’s Greek food and I felt like I should give Katie a taste of some traditional Danish food the second she stepped in the city, but we could not have made a better choice. It was this very small but extremely ample Greek buffet with lots of vegetarian options for a mere 49 Danish crowns ($9.48), which is a steal in Copenhagen given both the location and today’s exchange rate (not good). I ate until it hurt. Then we headed out into the streets once more.

We didn’t get very far before we reached a very exciting toy shop, full of all sorts of children’s characters previously unfamiliar to us. This is Katie displaying some Barbapapa memorabilia. Apparently they’re French and the variously-colored members of the Barbapapa family can morph into different shapes. Simon and the kids I babysit knew what we were talking about the second we said “Barbapapa,” so I guess it’s just us Americans that are missing out.

Shake, shake, shake your Barbapapa!

Then we spent an inordinate amount of time in what might have been the world’s largest H&M (and certainly its most labyrinthine). We also visited the most chichi Urban Outfitters I’ve ever seen, complete with an exquisite chandelier. (That’s how you can tell it’s classy.)

The Urban Outfitters in Copenhagen is marvelous, darling, just marvelous!

Finally, shops were closing and we headed to one of my favorite places in the city. It’s quite cliche, I guess, but I love sitting outside at the cafes in Nyhavn (“New Harbor” in Danish). Katie and I wrote a postcard to our friend Josh, and we enjoyed a sumptuous cheese platter.

So many reasons to be happy: a good friend, a sunny day, a cold beer, and a very large cheese platter.

Obligatory Nyhavn shot. ISN'T IT BEAUTIFUL.

As the sun went down, it started getting cold and we headed back to the train station to start our journey home. Viva la Scandinavian adventure!


The art of finding “things worth seeing”

I’ve been thinking a lot about what my friend and I should do while she’s in Sweden. We have such a short time together and I want to make sure that our adventures go beyond the ordinary process of compiling a list of tourist destinations and checking them off once we’ve visited them.

In Swedish, there’s a specific word for a region’s top spots to visit: sevärdheter. The first part, “se,” comes from “to see,” while the next part, “värd,” relates to ideas of value or worth. The last part, “het,” is a common suffix used to create a noun (“heter” is the plural ending). A “sevärdhet,” then, is “a thing worth seeing.” What I want to do make sure that we don’t stick to just the typical sevärdheter that you can find in a guidebook—I want the sevärdheter we choose to explore to give my friend a sense of Sweden, to make her feel something that might be unique to this country or to certain regions within it.

The following is a list of places to go where the point is not just to “see” something, but to be there. To walk around and hopefully get some sense of the place. From the natural to the urban, from the historical to the modern day, here are my picks for sevärdheter in Lund and Malmö that go beyond the typical tourist spots and give you a feel for everyday life here.

Read the rest of this article on the Expat Blog on the Swedish Institute’s blog portal.

One of the highlights of Lund: walking through its many “colony gardens,” or urban gardening spaces.

Västra Hamnen: so much more than just the Turning Torso.

… and stay tuned for more adventures…