Tag archives for Expat

Walk to Work With Me in Stockholm

So far, weather has not stopped me from walking to work. Come along with me one morning as I walk to work…

I cross through Humlegård, a large city park dedicated to Carl Linneus  who is “known as the father of modern taxonomy and… one of the fathers of modern ecology.” There are several statues of Linneus in the park and the enormous National Library. The park was a royal garden established by Johan III, who grew fruit, spices, and hops. “Humlan” has been a public park and a popular spot to relax since 1869.

November is typically soggy and dark. The park’s unpaved paths are wet and gritty. Pedestrians bundled in black hustle past me talking on their mobile phones. Ridiculously fit (jealous much?) and ridiculously motivated joggers pass me wearing multiple spandex layers.

I cross Birger Jarlsgatan, a relatively wide city street with an island in the middle. The crossing lights aren’t coordinated so if I obey the lights then I get stuck waiting on the island which isn’t so pleasant in cold temperatures with whizzing cars really close. People “in the know” just walk against the lights. Well, when in Rome…

It’s important to note which part of the crosswalk is for bikes and which is for pedestrians, otherwise you either get run over by a cyclist or you get a warning bell from the cyclist or maybe even an expletive. It took me months to learn to remember to look which side I was supposed to walk on. The short white stripes are for the cyclists and wide white stripes are for the pedestrians.

(The National Library in Humlegården; the difference between pedestrian and cyclist paths.)

National Library crosswalk

Once across Birger Jarlsgatan, I enter the walking tunnel I showed in a picture in a previous post. Here there is also some confusion about the whole walker vs. cyclist thing because they switch back and forth which side they want the walkers on and, to make matters more confusing, the paint establishing which is for which has worn off. (I suspect there is someone up in a window with binoculars who must get a kick out of all the confusion…) My strategy is to follow the people in front of me and stay to the side they choose. It’s like football—they are my blockers, clearing the way for me to carry the football into the end zone (or at least get to work in one piece.)

(The entrance to the tunnel in between 2 staircases; the tunnel itself.)

tunnel entrance tunnel

On the other end of the tunnel, which reader Monica, and I agreed looks like the famous Sasquach tunnel from the “Six Million Dollar Man” TV show, I come out at Sveavägen, a very busy street. I am on the backside of Högtorget, a popular shopping district. The tunnel disgorges people right near a back entrance to the subway and most people seem to be going towards the tunnel so it is always a fight upstream to get to Sveavägen. Plus, the walkers and cyclists switch sides again, just for yucks and giggles.

There is heavy construction at that intersection right now and it’s easy to miss the brass plaque in the paving stone walkway that commemorates the spot where Prime Minister Olaf Palme was assassinated in 1986. It was a watershed moment for Sweden and you can read more about that on the Internet if you like.

(The Olaf Palme commemorative plaque (with construction dust)…It says “On this spot Sweden’s Prime Minister Olaf Palme was murdered on the 28th of February, 1986.”; this sidewalk is better-marked about who should be where…)

Palme memorial sidewalk marks

I cross Sveavägen and now I’m on Olaf Palmes Gata (I guess he got the whole street named for him after he died.). Among other stores, I pass an electronics store, a nutrition store, an Asian speciality market and a Thai travel specialist. Right in there is the most amazing smelling bakery I have ever passed. I have not gone in because I can’t eat gluten anyway. I am afraid to ask if they have anything gluten free because then I would go in there every day. It’s a tiny, tiny place and you can see the bakers doing their thing. The cinammon buns…oh, don’t get me even started!

Pedestrians don’t tend to stick to the right so there’s lots of awkward moments where I nearly crash into people. I have tried to learn to stop saying “sorry” all the time because it outs me as American immediately and because Swedes don’t usually acknowledge this kind of thing. They wordlessly keep going, even if the fault is theirs. They aren’t meaning to be rude, I don’t think, it’s just the culture.

I pass Drottningatan, a pedestrian-only street (for many blocks, anyway) marked by two stone lions that must also function as a physical bar to drivers who try to turn onto Drottningatan. Early in the morning, the shops aren’t open but on my way home, Drottningatan is packed with shoppers and don’t even ask me about weekends!

I pass an antique bookseller that seems to also sell used books. They have a bin outside selling used thriller for 10 crowns ($1.50).

Left turn up an alleyway gets me to Kungsgatan where I turn right. I cross busy Vasagatan and sometimes have to fight my way through people milling outside the hotel on the corner. If I’m in a bad mood I think, why can’t these people see that they are blocking the sidewalk? It’s a mystery ho come people just stop in the middle of sidewalks and don’t notice the people forced to move around them.

(Sveavägen and the shortcut through the alley)

sveagatan alley

I cross Kungsbron (King’s bridge)–not my favorite part of the walk. There are two parts to the bridge. First I pass over all the trains coming and going to Central Station on the tracks below and then I cross over water between the islands that according to the map is called Klarasjö (Clear Lake) but which looks like a river and is really just part of the archipelgo water flowing between the islands of Stockholm. The reason that it’s not my favorite part of the walk is that it’s usually cold and windy on the bridge druign the winter. Sometimes it’s icy and there is lots of dark sand spread on the sidewalk to keep it from being too slippery. Also, one has to cross a number of on and off ramps leading to the freeway. But I do like looking down at the water.

(View from the two parts of Kungsbron…One through the safety fence on the bridge and one from where the bridge crosses the water, connecting two Stockholm islands.)

trains river

The bridge leads to Kingsholmen, the district where I work. The whole walk I have been playing zip up my jacket, unzip my jacket. The November temperatures have been all over the place and I find it challenging to have the right coat. I am either too cold or too hot. And the moment I enter the ground floor of my office building, I have to immediately take off my scarf, coat, etc. or else I will be a sweaty mess by the time I make it to my desk. Sometimes I am anyway.

In a way, I look forward to colder temperatures so that my jacket will not be too warm!

 

Santa of the Year

Santa

Photo by: Minna Ridderstolpe/imagebank.sweden.se

 

Well, another Santa Winter Games has come and gone. This year’s competition, held every year in Gällivare, Sweden was held the weekend of November 17.

According to GellivareLapland.se , Gällivare is situated 100 kilometers north of the polar circle. They enjoy the Northern Lights in winter and midnight sun in the summer. Gällivare and the local small villages around it boast approximately 20, 000 citizens. They have apparently spent a lot of time measuring out things and the website says, “We have 15,825 square kilometers to move around on.”

Santas from all over the planet meet in Gällivare to vie for the title “Santa of the year”. The Santas spend the weekend doing tasks such as collecting wish lists, playing with kids, radiating Christmas spirit, and preparing for the heavy work of delivering all those presents in just one night. Read more » >>

Jantelagen Means “Humility and Restraint”

Girl running

Jantelagen discourages standing out from the crowd. Photo by: Carolina Romare/imagebank.sweden.se

 

In my previous post, I wrote about “lagom.” You can read about that here. This time, I am going to explain Jantelagen.

Modern Day Vikings: A Practical Guide to Interacting with the Swedes” by Christina Johansson Robinowitz and Lisa Werner Carr (2001) explains Jantelagen as “a Scandinavian concept with the underlying theme of societally enforced humility and self-restraint. Expressed as a series of commandments, Jantelagen attempts to “keep people in their place” by discouraging vanity of any kind. One consequence of Jantelagen is the “Royal Swedish Envy”—there is a tendency to envy and thus criticize anyone who appears to be “too successful.”

Wikipedia describes The Law of Jante (Jantelagen) as “a pattern of group behaviour towards individuals within Scandinavian communities, which negatively portrays and criticizes individual success and achievement as unworthy and inappropriate. Generally used colloquially as a sociological term to negatively describe an attitude towards individuality and success common in Scandinavia, the term refers to a mentality which de-emphasizes individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while discouraging those who stand out as achievers.”

When it comes to business, some people think Jantelagen is a threat to Sweden’s global competitiveness because it might discourage innovation and achievement. Others think it is no longer an issue because new generations of Swedes are discarding Jante.

I see the effects of Jantelagen on the culture in Sweden. Even if it truly is disappearing with every new generation, I think it is still firmly woven into the cultural consciousness. People want to wear the same colors (it’s those black jackets I’ve blogged about so many times), not show off wealth or lavish purchases, or be perceived as too ambitious in their jobs. One of the positive things about this way of thinking is that people think more about the group and less about themselves.

Lagom Means “Everything in Moderation”

moose

This Swedish moose knows the exact meaning of “lagom.” Photo by: Maria Emitslöf/imagebank.sweden.se

 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a Swede use the word “lagom” and then tell me in reverent tones that there is no word that means the same thing in any other language. Hmmm…I don’t know…”Just the right amount” seems to get the job done but I guess what they mean is that it is just a single word in Swedish.

“Lagom” is the concept of taking the “middle way” with “everything in moderation.” Read more » >>

A Trip to the Grocery Store

Time to go food shopping.

I take my zebra-striped, shopping trolley, thingy-on-wheels down in the elevator. (The trolley is a back saver and the price was right because it was a free hand-me-down, but it makes me feel like a little old lady. I swallow my dignity and exit the apartment building with it anyway.)

I walk the few blocks to the local food store. Inside the entrance, I stick a plastic key into the mechanism of the first cart in the stack and uncouple it from the one it’s attached to. This is how most stores keep their carts from being abandoned in parking lots and removed to points unknown. You can use either one of the plastic keys that food stores give out or a five crown coin as a deposit. Either way you want to get it back so you return the cart.

I stow the zebra trolley underneath the shopping cart and push on.

The first thing I see after entering is that they’ve already got crates and crates of “Julmust”  for sale. Julmust is a soft drink sold only at Christmas (or “Jul”) except for when it’s sold at Easter and is called Påskmust (Påsk means Easter). But seriously, most people think of it as a Christmas alternative to the hard stuff.

Next up is the vegetable section. The main staples are iceberg lettuce and cucumbers. The tomatoes come from Spain—not much produce can be grown in Scandinavia’s climate.

 

lettuce

Iceberg lettuce and cucumbers are staples in Sweden…

 

I wheel my cart past the meat section. I feel too shy to take on trying to order special meat or fish so I’ve never bought anything there.

meats

The pristine meat section. I don’t dare buy anything there…

 

The dairy section is a thing to behold in a Swedish store. I’ve mentioned it before in this blog so I won’t belabor the point. But suffice it to say that there is a plethora of dairy here–20 kinds each of plain yoghurt, milk, cream, and more. And that’s not even counting the generous lactose-free and organic (“ekologisk”) sections.

laktosfri

Here are some lactose-free and organic dairy products…

 

There are great sauces in Sweden. I’m not a meat lover but I do eat meat and I tell you, it tastes so much better with all the ready-made sauces available. Even when it’s just an international sauce like béarnaise, it just tastes ridiculously good here in Sweden.

There’s not a big cereal section. In fact, in the store I shop at, they keep it in a section they have labeled “Bread” for some reason. You can see in the picture that there are not a lot of sugar cereals. Corn flakes are big. Most Swedes I know eat yoghurt and an open-faced sandwich rather than cereal in the morning. Some put some granola into their yoghurt.

cereal

The cereal section is labelled “Bread” for some reason at my food store…

 

There is an amazing amount of baked goods in Swedish stores. You can always count on there being fresh cinnamon buns as well as many kinds of breads and pastries. I skip that section because I go to the gluten-free section.  In addition to the fresh breads, there is plenty of shelf real estate given to the hard breads and crackers.

bröd

The hard breads (crackers) are just one small part of the bread section…

 

Somewhere near the cash register in every self-respecting Swedish food store (and even every 7-11), is…wait for it…the candy wall. (You should imagine a heavenly choir singing when I mention the candy wall.) The candy wall is a self-serve affair where you use plastic scoops to put your selections into a paper bag. Then it’s weighed. The candy’s freshness varies depending on the store but in general it’s pretty wonderful. Most of the candy is of the jelly kind, “Swedish fish” doesn’t begin to cover it. There are jelly tongues, frogs, fried eggs, and lips.

wallofcandy

Heavenly…

 

If you pass the candy wall because you’re too mature for such things or you avoid carbs or you want to skip the diabetic coma, then you can help yourself to the gum section. I’m sorry but I just can’t be objective about the gum. It’s nasty here. Seriously, black licorice gum? Mint gum that’s so strong it’s like to take our lips off? Eucalyptus gum? Cactus flavor? I have yet to see a cactus in Sweden so that’s just wrong.

OK, the Grapefruit gum is not so bad but it takes a little getting used to.

Time to check out. If I want to put my groceries in bags, I have to estimate how many I’ll need and pay for them long before I start bagging them. There are no baggers in Swedish grocery stores. Experience has taught me that it’s important to put the heaviest items on the conveyer belt first because otherwise they’ll crush the delicate items in front of them. The cashiers use a divider bar to separate one customer’s groceries from another’s. I find it kind of stressful. As soon as I have paid, I have to begin madly bagging my groceries because other customers’ groceries are going to start piling up next to mine. And if I am really slow, then the 3rd customer’s groceries have nowhere to go but into my “chute.”

bagging groceries

My friend, Petra packs her groceries. Note the wooden divider that separates the next customers groceries from hers while she packs her bags…

 

Whew! I got my bags into the shopping trolley and I returned the cart. Now it’s time to lug my purchase home and celebrate my accomplishments by eating a few Swedish fish.