Monthly archives: July 2011

Cope With Summer Rain Like a Swede

I posted a brief update earlier this week about how the cold snap had ended and the sun was out and an evening canal boat just made my day by being too-cute-to-be-true.

And then the next day the rains started again.

I would just like to say that I am trying very hard to be positive here, because by suffering through one of the coldest Swedish winters on record I feel like I earned a summer characterized by above-average beauty, unbroken pleasantness, and gorgeous weather.

Yes, some might say: But Kate, you went home to the US for six weeks and skipped most of January! You were barely here during the winter! What are you talking about?? DON’T CARE. WAS TERRIBLE. WANT SUN NOW.

So anyway, positive thinking, zen, ommmmmmmm, rain is dripping on me in my lotus pose, ommm…

In the midst of all this pain and suffering, though, is the truly hilarious range of reactions I’ve seen Swedes have towards the rain. There are a few who have gone into full-scale depression, hiding under blankets and drinking hot chocolate and bemoaning their impending doom/the coming of winter (surely somebody besides me did this), while the vast majority are just engaging in some moderate complaining about the injustice of it all.

Then there’s a third group: a select number of people who have clearly become totally numb to the concept of weather and refuse to pay any attention to it at all.

On Friday, I went to Lilla Torg (means, literally, “little square”) in Malmö for dinner and drinks with a couple of friends to say goodbye to Frida, who, incidentally, is moving to Scotland to be with her Scottish boyfriend. I tell you, these Swedes… just finding love connections everywhere.

Lilla Torg is in extremely old section of town, and it’s really cute: lots of restaurants and bars clustered together, all with outdoor seating areas, umbrellas to sit under, blankets for when it gets cold, heating lamps, etc. We were at an Indian restaurant, and we had just gotten our food when it started to pour monsoon season levels of rain on the whole square. I expected the normal migration of people from outside to in, waiters taking peoples’ food and dinner guests collecting their purses and coats, but people were totally unfazed.

I don’t know if you can really see this, but it’s raining so hard on the cobblestones that there’s about 1.5 feet of bounceback. Crazy! Photo: Kate Wiseman

When the rain started, the people eating shifted chairs and bags and moved a little closer together to avoid the gaps in umbrellas. The waiters took roundabout ways from one table to the next to avoid being showered more than necessary. And people continued to line up outside for a table—people in high heels, silk dresses, and umbrellas.

Can you see the woman's shoes? She's on her way out the door... Wowzah! Photo: Kate Wiseman

Unbelievable! I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It was a little like when I was in college, and there was some sort of policy that dictated the start and end dates for heat and air conditioning. Regardless of whether it was 100 degrees out or 50, the heat would be on between October 15 and May 15. And then when the air conditioning was on (between May 15 and October 15, of course), the ambient temperature indoors was cold enough to give you double pneumonia and the flu if you didn’t bring a cardigan indoors with you… even in July.

It’s the same here, but with people: clearly, it doesn’t matter whether it’s warm or cold, rainy or dry—if it’s summer, they’re going out. The weather doesn’t play a role in the evening. The decision has been made: if they’re going out, they’re going out! They’re certainly not wearing anything boring, either; forget the rain boots and jackets that I was sporting. It’s full force party wear accessorized perhaps with an umbrella that can be discreetly tucked away.

I love it. These people are a total inspiration to me. I, too, would like to be totally impervious to the fickle Swedish weather. I haven’t made it there yet, but perhaps with time…

Mmm... proof that the weather is not going to hold us back from enjoying some of our most-cherished memories of summertime. Photo: Kate Wiseman

And lest you think the pain is unending over here, well… it’s not. The skies cleared for the whole day today, and my friend Malin and I bicycled to the beach where we both had some delicious ice cream. Sooooooo nice… and especially appreciated after the downpour.

Brief Update from Southern Sweden

My proper blog post is going up tomorrow, but I just had to share this story and video with you.

I know that North America is currently besieged by a nasty heat wave, but here in Skåne (the southernmost state of Sweden), we’ve been enduring a prolonged cold snap. Plummeting temperatures, wind, miserable amounts of rain, even a little hail here and there—all of a sudden, I realized that July is almost over, and then it will be August, and then it’s the fall, which means IT’S ALMOST WINTER AGAIN. Ahhhhh!!!

(Don’t mind me, I’m just a little traumatized from last year.)

Well, we FINALLY got some sunshine yesterday, and it was warm enough to wear sandals again, so life is good. I worked until about 7:30 last night in Malmö, and just as I was closing up the office around 8:00, I heard what sounded like an accordion being played in close proximity. Is there a radio in here? I wondered, and took another look through the office. I couldn’t find anything, so I locked up, and then it started again.

I crossed the street, looked over the edge into the canal, and there it was! An evening canal boat full of guests, drinking beer and wine, just cruising through Malmö to the sweet music of an old man and his accordion- and guitar-playing friends.

Check it out!

How awesome is that? When I saw this, I thought: Now this is Sweden. What a great way to spend a summer evening in Malmö.

If you can’t watch the video right now (not that you would be reading blogs at work or anything… right??), here’s a photo.

A lovely evening in Malmö. Photo: Kate Wiseman

I hope you are enjoying summer wherever you are—stay cool, keep warm, whatever it takes!

1 Year in Sweden, 30 Swedish Experiences… and 30 more to work on

Last Wednesday marked one year in Sweden for me. This time last year, my boyfriend drove through half of Europe in a heat wave to collect me (and all of my belongings) in Vienna… and then the real adventure began!

One year ago: the adventure began, as it always does, with me having too much stuff that then needed to be unpacked.

The transition hasn’t always been easy; one thing I’ve learned is that it’s much easier to move somewhere new when you have a structure to step into, whether it’s work or school or some sort of project you need to get started on. I think that would be true anywhere, though, not just in Sweden and not just as an expat.

Nonetheless, one year later I’m happy, I’m employed, I have friends, and I speak a fair amount of Swedish, although there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Equally importantly, my boyfriend and I are still doing great (he’s the reason I’m here, after all). It feels like a huge accomplishment to have reached the one year mark—I feel as though I cleared many of the hurdles that were standing in my way.

All that said, the year has gone by quickly! A year always sounds like a long time in my head, but when I think of all the things that I’ve done and seen, it feels unbelievably short.

Without further ado: thirty things I did over the past year, and thirty things that I still want to do… in the next year or in the years to come.

1 Year in Sweden, 30 Swedish Experiences:

  1. Picked mushrooms… and ate them! (And didn’t die, as you can tell.)
  2. Made aquavit and brännvinn for Midsummer’s
  3. Went to Stockholm, stayed on a boat
  4. Survived Midsummer and Valborg
  5. Made friends… real friends.
  6. Said goodbye to a close friend
  7. Made flädersaft from real elderflowers
  8. Started SFI (Swedish for Immigrants class); finished it.
  9. Went to a Swedish bachelorette party
  10. Went to a Swedish wedding
  11. Visited so many castles: Helsingborg’s Sofiero, Torup, Krapperup, Vittskövle, Landskrona’s Citadellen, Övedskloster, and many more …
  12. Survived a Swedish winter… granted, with a six week break to go home to the US, and even then it was kind of a close call.
  13. Learned a fair amount of Swedish
  14. Attended two Thanksgivings; cooked my own turkey for the first time as well as food for 26 people
  15. Attended a Lord of the Rings/Hobbit theme party
  16. Learned how to make cooking substitutes for just about everything
  17. Saw the Wasa ship at the Wasa Museum
  18. Found a job (or four)
  19. Went horseback riding
  20. Was finally beaten into submission by the weather and bought rain boots, something I had successfully avoided doing for almost four years
  21. Became part of a family
  22. Took advantage of the excellent Swedish health care system; spoke in Swedish on the phone
  23. Got the mumps
  24. Grew my own container garden
  25. Became more “at one” with nature… an ongoing process
  26. Attended a crayfish party
  27. Became a sauna veteran
  28. Chopped wood (I’m so rustic)
  29. Saw the Swedish men’s soccer team play
  30. Went to a Lady Gaga concert

30 Things Still to Do in Sweden, definitely more than one year needed to do them all:

  1. See the true Midnight Sun
  2. See the Northern Lights
  3. Go to the Viking Reenactment Village in Foteviken
  4. Travel in the northern regions of Sweden
  5. Become fluent in Swedish… or at least close enough good enough to understand and make jokes
  6. Try Surströmming
  7. Experience a Swedish Christmas, including the traditional Julbord… a Christmas feast of legendary proportions
  8. Explore the middle parts of Sweden—Dalarna, Småland, etc.
  9. Go to Astrid Lindgren’s World (a theme park)
  10. Read Selma Lagerlöf’s children’s stories and the Pippi Longstocking books
  11. Go to Gotland or another exciting-seeming island
  12. Get another exotic or extinct disease that my immunizations were inadequate against
  13. Grow an urban garden
  14. Learn to fix my own bike
  15. See the Swedish women’s national soccer team play
  16. Go sailing, hiking, and camping
  17. Visit the micronation Ladonia on the Kullaberg Peninsula to see the Lars Vilks driftwood sculptures
  18. Pick my own cloudberries
  19. See a member of the royal family
  20. Compete on Mästerkock, Sweden’s Top Chef-style cooking show (I’m going to do it!)
  21. Go to Ullared and see how a Swedish-style Walmart stacks up against the American prototype
  22. Stay in one of the rooms at the Tree Hotel
  23. Take a “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” tour of Stockholm
  24. Journey to the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi (and maybe the Ice Bar in Stockholm before that)
  25. Frolic with reindeer
  26. Enjoy the breakfast smörgåsbord at the Stockholm Grand Hotel (winning a Nobel Prize is not on the to-do list, though)
  27. Take a cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki or Tallinn
  28. Make homemade pickled herring
  29. Go to Allsång at Skansen
  30. Compete on På Spåret (I have to become famous first, but I’m not going to let that hold me back)


The Great “Sweden is Socialist” Hoax

In the US, Sweden is often used as a symbol of all that is right or wrong in this world, depending on which side of the political spectrum you fall on.

Environmental sustainability paired with universal healthcare and a strong economy!” shout the progressives. “Doomed-to-fail socialism characterized by wanton hedonism, immorality, and midnight sun orgies!” cry the conservatives. “Meatballs! Loud noises!!” screams the confused guy in the corner.

Frankly, it’s a lot of talk, and usually from people who don’t know that much about Sweden and have never been here. But here’s some food for thought for those who want to have an opinion on the big “Sweden is Socialist” claim:

Have you considered the public restrooms situation?

To a casual observer, Sweden can look a lot like the socialist utopia it’s made out to be. Free university education, (mostly) free healthcare, five weeks of paid vacation, shared parental leave that allows you to actually participate in the first year of your child’s life… And even non-Swedes like me can reap many of the benefits of Swedish citizenship, thanks to the generous provisions of my love visa.

What I fail to understand, however, is the complete lack of public restrooms in any town in any venue where you might expect to see them. You have to resort to finding a larger coffee shop where you can walk in and put on a show of looking for your friend who’s probably right around the corner oh what do we have here it’s the bathroom I’ll pop in for just a second and check if she’s here ahhhhhhhhhhhh sweet relief.

It can’t just be me that’s doing this.

Photo by: four12 (CC BY NC ND)

So what am I missing here? Do people never have to go to the bathroom in this country? Do they run home every few hours to take care of their business, or are they really feeding coins into the nasty public bathrooms every time they want to be outside for the day?

Take the public library, for example. I have to pay 5 crowns to use a dirty, poorly-lit stall in the library. Not that it’s a lot of money. It’s the principle of the matter! You have this beautifully-designed, well-staffed library, and I would like to sit there for a couple of hours and read or work on my computer. But eventually the time will come, and I will have to, you know, pee. But I can’t unless I have a 5 crown coin… and then it’s a kind of disgusting experience.

The train station is another example. As you would expect, there are lots of people waiting and milling around. There are restaurants, coffee shops, and even a bookstore (in the Malmö train station at least). But the bathrooms are available only to paying customers.

Once you get on the train, you can use the bathroom—I guess once they’re sure that you’ve purchased a ticket, you’re entitled to the facilities. But what if you are a tourist and just passing though and have no change? Or an ordinary resident in Sweden who spent his/her last crown on the last bathroom? Where’s the justice?!?!

Oh, Sweden. You are a land of dreams: a feminist, environmentalist, strong-economy Utopia among Western nations. (Leaving aside the weather issue for the moment.) But if you were really a collective of the workers, you would have our basic needs more fully covered. Forget all the opportunities you provide for self-actualization and achievement. Where are the basic structures for my physical well-being?

The game is up, Sweden. The public bathroom situation has shown all of us who live here your true colors: you are so not Socialist.