Monthly archives: December 2012

9 Steps to Doing the Laundry in a Swedish Apartment Building

washing machine

The washing machine

Doing the laundry in my apartment building is a workout. It’s a (relatively) long way away, it involves numerous staircases, a trip outside over ice and snow, and, worst of all, braving the scary 19th century basement. Laundry is not a very “sexy” topic but it’s a slice of Swedish life as I know it.

I live on the 4th floor (technically the 5th floor if you ask me but Swedes don’t call the ground floor the first floor so I am splitting hairs here…)

Assemble all my dirty clothes. I often use the embarassing (if out in public) zebra-striped food cart someone gave me to save my back. Gather the washing powder for colors, washing powder for whites, and liquid softener (necessary evil with the hard water and air drying). Grab the dog. Make sure I have the keys. Make sure I have bags in case the dog does her thing when we pass through the courtyard. Put on boots and jacket….Okay, ready! Read more » >>

December TV in Sweden–A Sacred Tradition

Family watching TV 1958

Family watching TV in 1958. This image is in the Public Domain.


Television is important to Sweden in December. First we get the Christmas Calendar which I posted about recently. Then there is the Nobel Prize ceremony on December 10 which is a big deal on TV in Sweden. After that comes the long-cherished Christmas Eve program.

Christmas Eve Host
Singer Sarah Dawn Finer has been given the prestigious job of hosting Swedish Television’s Christmas Eve programming this year.

For a long time, the job long belonged to TV star Arne Weise. He retired in 2003 and ever since there has been a new host chosen every year.

Sarah Dawn Finer is a singer but she has also been a TV presenter before, for example at this year’s Swedish Song Contest. She also presented Sweden’s votes at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Donald Duck and the Christmas Eve Program
The Christmas Eve program always begins at 3pm on Christmas Eve. At that time, I’m not kidding, nearly all of Sweden stops what they are doing and they sit down to some ritualistic television. At preciely 3pm Swedens Television (SVT) airs “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul” (From All of Us to All of You).

“Kalle Anka” as you might know is known as “Donald Duck” in English. The one-hour Disney show which is shown in many countried consists of clips from classic Disney films like “Robin Hood” and “The Jungle Book.”


Donald Duck or “Kalle Anke” as he’s known in Sweden. This image is in the public domain.

“The show is one of the highest-rated Swedish television programs, only rivaled by international sports events and the Eurovision Song Contest, and most Swedish people can recite much of the show,” according to Wikipedia.

Karl Bertil
A little while later in the afternoon, SVT shows another traditional Christmas show called “Sagan om Karl-Bertil Jonssons Julafton” (In English it’s called “Christopher’s Christmas Mission”).  This film is also animated and tells the story of a boy who steals from the rich to give to the poor in Stockholm on Christmas Eve.

A Few Changes This Year…
There’s a rather famous (and quite interesting) Slate magazine article by an American who spent Christmas with his wife’s Swedish relatives in Sweden a few years ago.  But before you click away to that link, note that this year, 2012, Disney, who owns the rights to the show and to all the clips from its movies, has enforced the removal of two questionable parts of two clips. The scenes, which were unfortunately acceptable in the 1930’s are considered offensive today. The Slate article, which was written in 2009 makes reference to those scenes.

A Christmas Treat: Interview with “Repat” Kate

Kate works in Washington D.C. at the Swedish Embassy… a chance to continue her relationship with Sweden. Photo: Kate Reuterswärd


Since Christmas is a time to greet friends and family, I thought we should catch up with previous Expat Blogger Extraordinaire, Kate Reutersvärd, and see what life is like now that she and her Swedish husband have moved to the United States.

What’s the biggest thing that surprised you when you moved back?

The biggest thing that surprised me when I moved back was the lack of culture shock. I was prepared for some sort of traumatic cultural adjustment in my transition back to the US, but it really just felt so normal. So normal and so easy.

I think when you live abroad you tend to get used to a certain amount of friction in your everyday life — not knowing what to say when the cashier jokes with you, struggling to read the fine print on the transit system, looking at the root vegetable section in the grocery store and thinking to yourself Now what on earth is THAT? Now that I’m back in the US, everyday interactions with people and with organizations just feel very easy.

One thing that’s sort of funny is that before we moved, I tried to speak Swedish all the time, with everyone, to really solidify my language skills. Now that I’m back and speaking English all the time, sometimes I’ll catch myself translating to Swedish in my head or thinking, “Oh, you’re cheating now by speaking English…” and then realize that actually, I have to speak English because my mom, for example, doesn’t speak Swedish.

What do you miss most about Sweden?

Family and friends, of course. That’s a given. I miss them every day. I wasn’t very good at keeping in touch with my American friends while I was in Sweden, but I’m trying to turn that around now that I’m older and wiser.

Besides that, believe it or not, I miss LAGOM! I used to think that the idea of lagom was something I didn’t like in Sweden–that it represented a tendency to stay within safe, expected norms. Now I think I see it as a deep appreciation for balance, and balance is not something I would consider a strong point in mainstream American culture.

Stupidly enough, I also miss some of the TV shows that I followed in Sweden (why that, of all things? I don’t know), and in case anyone’s feeling particularly generous, I also miss kanelbullar and Swedish candy, so please feel free to mail me some.

What do you do at the House of Sweden? What sort of people visit there?

The House of Sweden is a mixed-use building that comprises the Embassy of Sweden, corporate offices for companies with a connection to Scandinavia, public exhibition spaces, private residences, conference rooms, and more.

I work as a tour guide in the public exhibition spaces, providing information about our two exhibitions, and I also give tours of the building. The House of Sweden is really a stunning building, full of references to Swedish history and the national landscape, and I love working there.

I would say that the visitors are a fairly even mix of local families, local adults, tourists interested in architecture, and visiting Swedes. I greet them, provide some context for what they’re looking at, and answer any questions they might have. Next spring, I’ll be taking on a marketing role for the new exhibits as well and working more with giving in-depth tours to special groups. It’s a pretty awesome “next step” from working as the Expat Blogger here at

How often do you use your Swedish in DC?

I use my Swedish at the House of Sweden (I even did my interview in Swedish!), at home, and in my work at Kate Reuterswärd Consulting. As a consultant, I teach Business English to international business people (mostly Swedes) and I translate from Swedish to English.

Before we moved to the United States, my husband and I decided to only speak Swedish to each other so that we would get in the habit before being in a predominantly English environment. We were really good during the last four to six months in Sweden, but now that we’ve moved here, it’s more difficult. We still try to speak in Swedish but it can be hard to move from one language to another mid-conversation. I’d say now it’s about 50/50.

I asked Kate to tell us about myriad other topics. Here’s what she had to say:

When I first moved to Sweden and realized that my initial unemployment would last longer than I had originally anticipated, I was very negative and was looking at the move in terms of “what I was sacrificing” — what jobs my friends had in the US that I could have… the financial hardship… the lack of a social or professional network… etc. As people who followed the Expat blog while I was writing know, my pitiful employment situation turned itself around as I got first a part-time job, then a full-time job, then a couple of freelance jobs in addition, and then ended up starting my own company. Not so bad.

Coming back to the States, those work experiences abroad have more than paid off in a very short time frame. Not only have I gotten a job with the Swedish Embassy, but in casual networking, I’ve found that my international work experiences make me very attractive to U.S. employers. My Swedish skills are impressive to Swedes, but to other people, it shows how quickly I learn and the depth of commitment I have to all areas of my life.

Work-wise, I would say that an international transition will probably set you back in your career in the short term, but in the long term, it will set you up for a lot of amazing opportunities.

Something that’s interesting about being in Washington D.C., which is such an international city, is that my experiences abroad and my international relationship with Simon are the rule rather than the exception. There are so many families that come to visit the exhibits at the House of Sweden that are Italian/Spanish, Indonesian/American, Armenian/American, Nigerian/British, and more. I also went to a Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce holiday event this past week, and let me tell you… Swedish-American marriages and cross-cultural work experiences are not in short supply either.

I know that when Simon and I first start dating and then later, when I was considering whether or not to move to Sweden, everything on the Internet made it seem like these multicultural relationships are doomed to crash and burn once the novelty wears off. That doesn’t have to be the case: as in any other relationship, some will succeed beautifully and some will come to an end. The only thing that might be different is how high the stakes seem. My friend Cecile once said something along the lines of “Being in a relationship with someone in your own city is like playing poker at the $25 table. Being in a relationship with someone in another country is like playing poker at the $2500 table. The farther you go, the more you have to lose.” And I think that’s true, with the added caveat that there’s also potential for great gains.


Thanks, Kate, for sharing your life with us! You can follow Kate’s life in DC on her personal blog You can find her consulting company at, where she teaches Business English, translates from Swedish to English, and provides a range of writing services, like proofreading, copywriting, and social media management. She’s also on Twitter: @kwise321.

Kate Reutersvärd

Kate Reutersvärd

Beware the Falling Ice!

ice sign

Risk of falling snow! (But this stretch of sidewalk has been nicely shoveled–for now…)


Up until yesterday, it has been very cold and snowy in Stockholm.

Lots of signs and barriers appeared on the Stockholm sidewalks warning of falling ice and snow (from the buildings). I’ve never known anyone who was hit by a falling icicle but I get the feeling that it’s happened a lot here in the capitol city. It makes me think of a puzzle story I heard a long time ago where a murder scene is imagined and you are only told what the evidence around the dead body is. Among other things, there is a puddle of water and it turns out that the person was killed with an icicle. (I’m not exactly sure how.) But it’s convenient when a murder weapon disappears. Anyway, don’t think I don’t feel a little nervous as the temperature swings between freezing and melting temperatures! Read more » >>

Swedish Emergency Shows and a Segue into Why You Shouldn’t Cuss in a Foreign Language


Swedish Ambulance. Photo by: Henrik Sendelbach (CC BY 3.0)


Life and Death on TV
It seems like every time I turn on the TV in Stockholm, a show called “112 På Liv och Död” (“112 On Life and Death”) is on. I only get 4 or 5 channels—the ones that come without a subscription. I rent a room in a large flat and the owner of the flat pays the TV license (which I’ve blogged about before) and subscribes to more channels but his subscription only allows 4 televisions  to get the channels (and the other rooms all have TVs). But even when I lived in an apartment with one TV and a subscription to lots of channels, this same show always seemed to be on. Read more » >>