Stockholm’s Stadshuset (City Hall) in the distance with the Riksdag (Congress) of Sweden on the right.
Category: Weather (page 2 of 3)
Best email ever.
Helena and I sent a message-in-a-bottle from the Gotland ferry on July 30, 2012. Two weeks later, I received this email:
Hello. We found your message-in-a-bottle today on a little island off of Huvudskär. (Stockholm’s archipelago)! The kids had gone out to look for messages in bottles… Crazy.
Lisen, Peder, Carsten and Hjalmar
The bottle covered a distance of more than 100 miles (160 km) from one place that was in the middle of nowhere to arrive on a tiny island (that is also kind of in the middle of nowhere) to be found by some children who had gone out searching, with the intention of finding a message-in-a-bottle.
What’s even crazier is that the day after I posted this photo, my boss came to me flabbergasted, because he knows the family who found it.
It is 7:30 in the evening and it’s still light outside. It’s not “warm” but it’s nice enough to have the windows open and to be laying in bed after a long day at work.
I’m sure there will be other days of cold and rain before summer – maybe even more snow – but the light is at the end of the tunnel. I feel confident in saying that I survived the Swedish winter.
The darkness of the Swedish winter is well-documented. Other than not seeing the sun – or even the clear sky itself because of all the clouds – one can go for months in Stockholm without actually setting foot on the ground.
Now that things are thawing out and the days are getting longer, I was excited to snap this photo a couple weeks ago, depicting one of the first times I saw the sun and the ground at the same time.
Below are some more images collected through the long winter, which we are all very happy is slowly coming to a close.
Beneath all the snow is generally a super thick layer of ice which builds up through the winter. This picture is from last week. Even though all the snow is gone, the ice remains in a lot of places. Here, some workers have attempted to clear it from a children’s playground.
I suppose they didn’t consider that they might want to leave some room in case something crazier happens in the future. I mean, what are the chances that the Middle East would erupt into riots and revolutions at the same time a tsunami, earthquake and nuclear disaster hit Japan, while Elizabeth Taylor is dying and Charlie Sheen is winning? A lot of snow probably is the worst that could happen.
I especially enjoy how, even though the headline is declaring “Total Chaos Everywhere,” they’re still including the TV schedule for Christmas and New Year’s, as well as pop singer Carola’s tips for shopping. If you survive this insane, overwhelming chaos, and you can still breathe, and there is still electricity and standing buildings, and you’re not busy burying the dead, you might want to catch the Christmas episode of Svensson Svensson.
Generally, when the snow is almost as high as the seats on the picnic table, we hold off a few days on having that picnic. Not this family.
“Goddammit, we’re going outside and we’re having a damn picnic whether you kids like it or not.”
“But daddy it’s snowing and the temperature is minus a million.”
“Right, so you better put your coat on and shut your mouth.”
There’s a popular saying in Sweden. “Det finns inga dåliga väder, bara dåliga kläder,” which, although it doesn’t rhyme in English, means, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.”
How strange. I totally could have sworn that this weather really sucks. Apparently I’ve been misinformed. It’s my clothes that are the problem.
I still have so much to learn about Sweden.
As a person who sold or gave away nearly all my earthly possessions and moved to Sweden with only a single bag, my wardrobe is naturally comprised of just a few simple items.
While I do have a few great vintage plaid shirts from classic brands like Penney’s and Kresge (aka the “K” in Kmart) – some from my father’s closet when he was my age and others from Louisville vintage shops like Hey Tiger and Acorn – most of my clothing can track its pedigree back to a few main sources: H&M, the Gap, and a couple items from Target. It’s all what those in the fashion world call “basics.”
Despite H&M being a Swedish company and there being a location on every other corner in Stockholm, I’ve found their clothes to be surprising un-warm. My winter coat is a Merona from Target and it, too, seems more suited for the type of winter familiar to people in Kentucky or Rhode Island.
And although I love my gloves – a pair of mittens made from recycled sweaters (also from a Louisville shop, 15 Ounce, and built by a Canadian company called Preloved) – they’re not exactly ready for Scandinavian winter.
(Honestly, I’m not turning into a fashion blogger. I promise that in my next article I’ll be back bitching about fonts and about how Princess Madeleine never calls me anymore.)
Today while walking through a swirling blizzard, I must have looked like I was trying to hide from someone. With my hands propped up against the sides of my face as barriers to the flying precipitation, I found myself conspicuously leaning forward, walking as quickly as possible to escape the weather and equally rigid to not let down my guard against the elements.
There are now four ways you can tell that I’m not Swedish. I think it’s cold. I feel cold. I’m acting cold. I look cold.
This type of behavior cannot be sustained. As I have many times in past years, today is the day I dedicate myself to this cause: I refuse to be cold.
Time to layer on the multiple pairs of socks and long underwear. Time to invest in a serious, Swedish-made winter coat. Time to get some clothes that make me feel protected enough to walk on the Moon.
The devil wears Merona. I need to be warm.
A couple Tuesdays ago, I visited Skatteverket (the Swedish tax office) to apply for my personnummer.
The personnummer is the Swedish equivalent of an American Social Security number. In Sweden, you kind of need this number to do anything outside of just breathing. Not having a personnummer excludes you from anything “official” like opening a bank account or signing up for a monthly cell phone plan.
Sure, you could use cash for everything, which I have long been in the habit of doing, but it really feels nice to be official.
The main walk-in Skatteverket office in Stockholm is almost directly across the street from Centralstation. It’s almost like you can take the train into Stockholm, then just walk across the street and sign up to be Swedish (or at least sign up to pay Swedish taxes).
Inside the building, the first floor is an open space with long cushioned benches and chairs in rows on one side, and a long row of divided countertop stations on the other side. A large digital panel displays a set of “now serving” numbers.
Swedes simply love the “now serving” numbers. Anywhere there’s a line of people waiting for service, there’s almost always a “take a number” machine. Okay, not in bars and restaurants, but organized places like pharmacies, train stations, and banks. They all have ’em.
The Skatteverket office is reminiscent of a motor vehicle license branch in the United States, well, except that it’s clean, well-lit, relatively comfortable, and nobody’s screaming or making a scene. Get this: the people working there will answer your questions in a friendly tone of voice without treating you like an idiot for not knowing something.
No sooner did I walk in the door than I was greeted by a young woman wearing a yellow sash that read “fråga mig!” (“ask me!”). I told her that I was there to apply for my personnummer, she handed me the two-page form (all printed in English), a pen, a queue number, and asked me to find her when I was finished filling out as much as I could. It was that easy.
Every greeter wearing the “fråga mig!” sash was equipped with an iPod Touch which wirelessly tracked the visitors’ requests and added them to the queue. I’m not making this up. I seriously wondered to myself if the place could be any more organized or efficient. It was borderline ridiculous how friendly and coordinated everything was.
After completing the form and reconsulting with her, it was about 15 or 20 minutes until my number, B402, appeared on the board.
The waiting area was populated with people, it seemed, from all over the world. There was every diverse brand of human imaginable. Every continent seemed to be represented except maybe Antarctica.
When my queue number appeared, I was directed to desk 13. There, a gentleman reviewed my forms, Xeroxed my passport and residence permit, had me sign on the line, and within minutes, told me, “You’ll get your personnummer in the mail in three to four weeks, then bring it back here and you can register for the social insurance program.” (Americans know this program by it’s political nickname “European-style, socialist health care.” My American friend Ty, who also recently emigrated to Sweden, knows it by the name “The first time I’ve ever had health insurance in my life.”)
When the papers were shuffled and stapled, I asked the man at the desk, “Is that it?” He responded, “Yes, that’s all,” and he declared, “Welcome to Sweden.” My stomach almost dropped and I answered, “It’s good to be here.”
In a testament to Sweden’s legendary efficiency, my personnummer arrived in the mail in a decidedly un-government-looking Skatteverket envelope less than a week later. In contrast, I ordered a copy of a form from the City of Louisville government about five weeks ago and it still hasn’t arrived at my Kentucky office (aka my parents’ mailbox).
I returned to Skatteverket the following week, with personnummer in tow, to register for the insurance system. That experience was equally painless and expedient, and I was assisted every step of the way by people who seemed like they were happy to help. I could write all day about how doing such things in America would be an all-day, totally inconvenient pain in the ass, but I’m sure anyone who reads my writing regularly could predict every word of it.
This week, I registered for Swedish language classes with the national school SFI (basically Swedish For Immigrants). These classes are run by the government, paid for with tax money, and free for immigrants. I can attend four hours per day of classes up to five days a week.
In fact, there are cash bonuses for completing certain levels of the courses within a designated amount of time. I have already begun learning Swedish – last year i paid for six weeks of classes – and I planned to continue learning, but now I can earn some extra cash while doing it. This place just keeps getting better.
At the SFI office, I took a long test and spoke Swedish with an interviewer in order to be placed in the appropriate level. The four-part exam consisted of reading, listening, speaking and writing. I scored perfectly on reading, very well on listening, not so great on speaking, and okay on writing. Hopefully all that will begin to noticeably improve when I start classes on November 1st.
Learning more of the Swedish language is a fantastic and priceless opportunity that will pay for itself every time I speak with someone. And the money they give me as a bonus for doing it will all be reinvested here in Stockholm. In fact, I think I can safely promise to speak Swedish to every cashier who accepts this money when I spend it around town.
After spending most of 2009 in Sweden, I’ve been back in America since December. Since being Stateside, I’ve realized that I just haven’t had the time or inspiration to write as much or as often as when I was in Sweden. Certainly, those who follow my articles on this site have noticed the same thing.
Frankly, it’s hard to write about life in Sweden when you’re not in Sweden.
The long road back
In January, I applied for a Swedish residence permit, a process that can take many months – after you finally complete the stack of paperwork and apply – to get an answer.
Legal residency has many of the benefits of citizenship, but is a softer, less permanent version of it. For many immigrants, residency is the first step toward becoming a Swedish Citizen. But for me, I am simply an American citizen who would like to live in Sweden on a longterm basis.
While I have been going through the residence application process this year, I considered writing periodic updates about my progress, but honestly, every time I attempted to sit down and share it, the experience was too nerve-wracking to put into words.
Typically, I prefer to write about things I know about, things I can research, or things I think may be of interest to readers. Applying for Swedish residency, while it was a unique, titlating and potentially life-changing experience, it is largely one in which the main character is in the dark about what’s happening in the story. The entire process is your classic “don’t call us, we’ll call you” experience.
Now that my application has been fully processed, I can more comfortably spill the beans about the whole adventure. Grab a snack.
Residence permit process
To become a legal resident of Sweden, one must apply at the Swedish Embassy in their home country. My home country is God’s Great United States of America (you may know us as “the bad cop”) and our Swedish Embassy is in our nation’s capitol, Washington, DC.
As you can imagine, the paperwork one must fill out is quite comprehensive. Obviously, like any country, the Swedes don’t want a bunch of unsavory characters moving into their country.
As much as any country wants to be hospitable and diverse (Sweden has welcomed more Iraqi refugees than any other nation), they also want to maintain a comfortable environment for the native population. The goals of ensuring economic vitality and security for the country are always primary.
To that end, the Swedish immigration authority, Migrationsverket, wants to know everything about you when you apply: who you are, where you come from, who is related to you, who loves you in Sweden, who is related to them, how many times you’ve been to the country, why you visited, how you’ll support yourself, how much money you have, where you will live, if you really think you can live without Mexican food or high-quality peanut butter, and detailed explanations of why you would possibly want to live in complete darkness for five months out of the year… especially if your home country is open 24 hours, you can take your gun to church, and the place is so plentiful, well, the oceans are practically filled with oil.
Despite the careful and meticulous nature of this process, from what I’ve heard, it is downright friendly in comparison to that of legally immigrating to the United States. I’ve read horror stories of families being split up in America due to immigration problems or as a result of painstaking investigations.
In my case, throughout the whole process, I felt like the Swedish officials I dealt with were on my side. Whereas US Immigration agents often seem to be portrayed as adversarial – even going to some lengths to “trick” applicants – it seemed the Swedes were there every step of the way doing everything they could to help me succeed.
I didn’t have to sing the Swedish national anthem. I was never forced to eat a jar of lingonberries or smell any pickled herring. I was never asked a single question about Olof Palme, that creep from True Blood, or Agnetha Fältskog. There were no games, no memorization, and no history tests.
Hurry up and wait
After submitting my documents to the Swedish Embassy in Washington, DC, in January, there was a silent period. This quiet zone can last several months and there’s no way to know how long it will be. For me, it turned out to be two and a half months.
Not knowing what was happening – or what was going to happen or when – was rough. I got really restless during this time.
At first, it was awesome to be camped out in America without a proper job or responsibilities, but after a while, the novelty of temporarily living in Louisville again began to wear off. I was beginning to gain back the weight I had lost last year in Sweden (did I mention the food in America is amazing?) and I was realizing that living without a plan can be as unsettling as it is freeing.
Waiting around to find out what’s going to happen with your own life ain’t easy. It prohibits you from making longterm plans, from seeking regular work, from building relationships, from buying a car, from entering into anything like an apartment lease or an annual cell phone plan.
Essentially, nobody wants to make an investment in someone who is possibly leaving in a few months. It’s hard to just wait and see what’s going to happen.
Luckily, I have some amazing friends who made this entire period a lot easier for me. I never would have made it through with my sanity in check without them.
We’d like to meet you
In late March, I finally received notice that I was being called in for my immigration interview. Heja Sverige! At last, something was happening! Now I just had to set up an appointment with the Swedish Consulate for my interview.
There are more than thirty offices of the Consulate General of Sweden in the United States. The offices are located in places as cold as Alaska and as warm as the Virgin Islands; as expected as New York City and as surprising as Raleigh, North Carolina. The closest one to my hometown of Louisville is the office in Chicago, just four and a half hours away by car. I picked that one. My interview was scheduled for early April.
A secret patch of Swedish soil
The Swedish Consulate’s office is a nondescript space of no more than six small rooms on the nineteenth floor of a downtown Chicago office tower. To enter, you walk in through one of those electronic glass doors that is always locked unless an important person activates it for you from the other side. (Further proof that all Swedish people are vampires: they have to invite you in.)
The tiny lobby is lit by fluorescent tubes and decorated with framed portraits of the King and Queen. A coffee table is stacked with magazines and books about Swedish life (all beautifully photographed and designed, of course). Seating is provided for four or five guests and a doctor’s office-style sliding glass window is on one wall, through which reception is offered and forms are passed.
I really wanted to take some pictures of the space for the purposes of sharing them here – if I ever actually got around to writing this article – but more importantly, I didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize my chances of making a good impression. Hence no photos of the inside of the office.
I was told that the Swedish Consulate’s office is technically Swedish soil, so it felt reassuring to be back. (I’ve also been told that whenever a Van Halen song is playing, you’re technically in America, but I don’t know if that’s true or not.) The inside of the office actually did feel notably more Swedish than Andersonville, Chicago’s Swedish neighborhood.
And coincidentally, within the same few blocks of the consulate’s Michigan Avenue office, South Africa, Spain, the Czech Republic, Argentina, Japan, Italy, Pakistan, Ireland, Turkey, France, El Salvador, Switzerland and several other countries also have consulships. It’s like a bureaucratic EPCOT Center.
Interviews are my specialty
I love the idea of interviews. 60 Minutes is my favorite TV show. I always think the best magazine articles are the ones in which the writers simply coerce the subjects into telling their own stories. Vanity Fair comes to mind. I have even published thirteen editions of my own magazine called K Composite that is comprised almost entirely of interviews of my friends.
What I kind of don’t love about interviews is being on the receiving end when I’m trying to get something. Job interviews are probably one of the things that make me feel the most uneasy.
For some reason, when I have run for political office in the past, being interviewed on television or for the newspaper barely fazed me at all. It was exciting and invigorating, and the same goes for being interviewed for my music.
Once the interview becomes one in which my performance will be subject to approval – one in which there is an invisible, unknown line between acceptable and unacceptable answers – all comfort goes out the window.
So despite my interviewer being very friendly, helpful and accommodating, this interview was anything but relaxing. I have dreamed of living in Sweden since the first time I visited more than ten years ago. Now I have awesome friends and loved ones in Sweden, and my chances to really make it happen have come down to this one interview. Oy vey.
The best advice I could give to anyone reading this, who may also be going through the process, would be to just try to relax. It’s easy to get carried away with the thoughts of how devastated you’ll be if it doesn’t go well, but that should be the farthest thing from your mind. I tried to remember that as I walked in.
In the hot seat
The interview itself is kind of a blur when I think back on it. It took place in a small office with big windows. I was seated beside a desk where a 50-ish Swedish woman was facing both me and her computer. The screen was in my field of view, framed by the backdrop of a foggy downtown Chicago morning and the smaller buildings outside the window.
After a brief introduction, she opened a blank Word document and began the interview. The Q-and-A was conducted in English and while I spoke, she converted everything I said into a narrative story in Swedish. I understood almost all of what she typed. It lasted about 30 minutes. Maybe less. When we were finished, she asked me to sign a form, and I was on my way.
On a couple of occasions during my visit to the office – when I expressed thanks, greetings or farewells – I spoke Swedish to her and the other people I encountered in the office. They always answered me in English. I knew it! The Swedes really are trying to keep Swedish to themselves!
In mid-May, about a month after my interview, I received word that my application for Swedish residency had been approved. Helt otroligt! Weeks later, when I received my US passport in the mail with my Swedish residence permit affixed into it, I honestly could not stop looking at it. It remains one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life. Naturally, it’s my prized possession.
When I arrive back in Stockholm in a couple weeks, I’ll apply for my personnummer and settle into life in Sweden. Just in time for the cold, dark winter.
I’ve been told that no one ever moved to Sweden for the weather or the food. I believe that (though Louisville’s weather this summer hasn’t especially been ideal). However, there are plenty of other reasons to go.
This ain’t a reality show or a diary, so I won’t bore you with the fascinating, sexy details of my personal life. Suffice it to say that I’ll miss a lot of amazing people in America and a lot of great food, but I’m immensely excited about being surrounded by Sweden and within arm’s reach of the people and places I love there.
Tack så jätte mycket to everyone who helped me start this new chapter in my life. It is with great humility and honor that I accept this opportunity to be fake-Swedish.
Now somebody give me a job!
It’s beginning to get cold in Sweden. The first snow of the season, however fleeting, already happened a couple weeks ago.
I’m actually being very generous by using the term “daylight hours.” We haven’t truly seen rays of direct sunshine in a number of days. I don’t even know what that number is. A week, two weeks? Who knows? If the sun isn’t shining where I am then it feels like it’s not shining anywhere.
I’ve been told by reliable sources that such a change in the weather happens every year around this time. What seems like the retreating of the sun is nothing to be alarmed about.
Scientists say the sun is actually just fine and shining as brightly as ever, we just can’t see it directly from here. Experts say it’s not just the weather, but a further problem which lies in how our planet rotates and tilts.
While places closer to the Equator are drenched in year-round sunshine and suffer no real differences in the length of their days, place like Sweden which are much farther away from this center line get a real variety depending on the season.
The converging events of cold and darkness have brought me back to an important resolution I make every year when it starts getting cold. This year will be one more in a series of winters I have embarked into with this simple pledge: “This winter I refuse to be cold.”
If this resolution means I don’t leave the house wearing less than three shirts, two sweaters, long underwear, two pairs of socks, a coat, a scarf, a hat and special gloves, so be it.
Freezing in the cold is fully preventable and I see no reason to suffer through the chilling discomfort. It is simply not worth the pain if it can be avoided.
So if it’s snowing in October and there are already 14 hours of darkness every day, that presents a relevant question: Just how far north is Stockholm?
I’ve often wondered exactly how far north a lot of places in Europe are compared to places in the United States. For instance, is Berlin farther north than New York?
Each degree of latitude on the globe is a space of 60 nautical miles or 69 statue miles. That equates to about 111 kilometers.
In the chart, I’ve highlighted where I am now in Stockholm, my hometown of Louisville and other cities of interest around the world.
It turns out that Stockholm is nearly 1,400 miles (2,250 km) north of Louisville. If Stockholm were in North America, it’s position would be very far north into Canada or Alaska. It is farther north than the Aleutian Islands, but not quite up where Anchorage is.
If Louisville were in Europe, it would be in Spain, south of Madrid.
Though some people in America consider Louisville to be a Southern city, most would never say Washington, DC, is a part of The South. The space between DC’s latitude at 38.8° and Louisville’s at 38.25°, is a difference of only about 38 miles.
It’s true that both cities are, in fact, south of the Mason-Dixon line which places them in the area that has traditionally been considered The South, but again, both cities are barely south of that line.
St. Louis, Missouri, another city not typically considered southern, is on a line between Louisville and Washington at 38.6° latitude. St. Louis lies only about 24 miles (39 km) north of Louisville.
I recently ran into a girl in Stockholm who was from Mississippi. Hard to believe, right? I felt like she had me beat on the surprise factor. Being from Mississippi and stomping around Sweden made being from Kentucky seem a little less surprising.
When she asked where I was from and I said, “Kentucky,” she quipped, “Oh, the Fake South?” Ha! “Thank you very much,” I said.
We congratulated each other apparently in the same way a lot of people have congratulated us individually throughout our lives, “You don’t sound like you’re from Mississippi.” “Well, you don’t sound like you’re from Kentucky.” Of course, we are both from cities which made it easier, but for both of us, avoiding a southern accent was a conscious choice and we opted for the non-regional American dialect.
The “Fake South?” What a nice thing to say about Kentucky!
The sky is a monster of gases that blankets the planet and protects us from the harsh nothingness of outer space. As an added bonus to this monumental task, it is sometimes really pretty or interesting to look at.
The best part about the sky is that it’s free. All you have to do is look up and there it is. Another very cool feature is that it never looks the same twice. Wait just a few minutes and it will be totally different.
Lots of people take pictures of the sky for all these reasons, but it seems sunset photos are the most popular ones. Photographs never quite capture it, though. It’s hard to fit something into a few inches of a photo that in reality is all around you, everywhere you look.
Nonetheless, I also continue to try to do this with a beat-up pocket camera. Here are a few of my latest feeble attempts to point-and-shoot something that is impossible to reproduce.
Recently when I’ve been out late, I’ve noticed something strange. The sky has been getting really dark at night, for several hours at a time.
This hasn’t happened for a few months and I can only presume that Mother Nature has brought the phenomenon back as a way of saying “go to sleep.” And while it might be news to a couple of my American friends who recently visited, perhaps it’s also a hint that the eternal party must sometimes come to an end.
My longtime friend Curtis and my new friend Juan hit Sweden hard for seven days, and they did it from a direction I had never seen Sweden from before.
Originally from Indiana and Ohio, respectively, they both live in Los Angeles now, as I did for about a year around 2003. Like an entourage of aging Midwestern rockers (the three of us are members of 90’s indie rock groups Chamberlain, Brainiac and Metroschifter) we took to the streets of Stockholm last week.
As you must know by now, Stockholm is an expensive place to go out and have a few drinks in, but no part of it is more pricey than the area around Stureplan.
The restaurants, bars and clubs at Stureplan are packed with “fancy” people and many locations have door prices that start around 100 kronor ($13-ish). It’s not like there are live bands inside these clubs or they are showing feature films or that they even have roller coasters inside. It’s just thirteen or twenty bucks to walk in the door. In fact, they get a little disturbed at the door if you ask, “150 kronor? For what? What happens in there?”
Inside, there’s usually people dancing, somebody playing an endless feed of end-on-end songs that sound alike, and a line to buy drinks for the price of a good meal. Many places have an outside area as well, populated with people who are talking, have gone out to get some air and smokers. So much for the fresh air.
You’d think the crazy door price is designed to weed out the riffraff, but there is also a frontline of vãktarna (security guards) who do that. These dudes will either just wave you through or find some excuse not to. Your shoes, how much fun you seem to be having, whether or not you have girls with you, how old you are – all of these elements seem to be factors in the decision. Often, it seems the delay is designed to keep a consistent population in the line out front in order to advertise that it is such a great place. There’s a line? It must be amazing in there!
The first night I went out with Curtis and Juan, we paid 100 kronor each to get inside a place that looked very nice from the outside. Well, actually Curtis paid for all three of us – thanks, man! We chose this place after a couple others we visited had closed. This one was an all-night club.
When we got inside there was hardly anybody in there, and with exposed drywall and unfinished edges on the walls, the place looked like it was still under construction. It wasn’t long before the place was swamped with people. It reminded me a bit of Louisville in that respect. It seemed like we were early by showing up at 1:00 in the morning.
Because of the continuous daylight, it’s very easy to lose track of time in the Swedish summer. This night’s rager lasted all night. Rather than taking an expensive cab, an unofficial “black cab” or the 45-minute night bus home, we decided to just keep the party going until the trains started running again around 5:00 in the morning. Welcome to Stockholm.
Curtis and Juan’s approach to Sweden is a study in contrasts to mine. I take things very quietly and I meet new people essentially only through friends. If I can, I try to hide that I’m American (or foreign at all) and I keep a low profile. I think – no, I know – I still have a lot of Bush-era embarrassment about being American and I try as much as possible to not contribute to the loud and ugly stereotype.
When I do talk with people, I keep my English simple and clear. I honestly never take it for granted that everyone here speaks English and I never presume someone does.
In contrast, Curtis and Juan are very outgoing and will talk to anyone. They constantly meet strangers and do it unapologetically in casual English. Swedes love speaking English and I totally ignore this all the time.
In the back of my head I have this feeling that I can be in a shell for some period of months until I am fluent in Swedish. One day I’ll just turn it on, open up and start talking. I realize this is an impractical and unrealistic expectation. Becoming comfortable in a language can really only materialize through practice.
I try to dedicate as much time as possible to studying, repeating and using as much Swedish as I am able to, but I always feel like I’m not doing enough, I’m not good enough at it, I’m embarrassing myself, I’m not smart enough or dedicated enough. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.
The idea that I’m living within a shell was never more evident than when Curtis and Juan were here. In fact, when I was around these guys from America I felt like I never shut up. “Blah blah blah blah yap yap yap.” Words and stories were just gushing out of me. It was like I had been holding back the whole time I’ve been here. I’ve been painfully quiet, to not disturb anyone, and I constantly temper my vocabulary.
I love comedy and laughing, and even though Swedes are intimately familar with American comedy, there are vast subtleties about living in America that I miss sometimes. These are things that can only come from decades of context. Almost all comedy is based on context, references and repetition. There is always some new “thing” that everyone is saying in America. It’s probably happening here, too, I’m just not picking up on them yet. Funny colloquialisms are wildly entertaining to me.
(For instance, and this is a small example, if someone is farting while walking through a crowd of people, that’s called a “crop duster,” but it’s just not funny if you’re not familiar with the original meaning of the term “crop duster.” It’s these types of little things that I miss. I mean, I miss the comedy, not the dusting of crops.)
Throughout the week Curtis and Juan were in Stockholm, I met more strangers than in all my previous months here. By “strangers” I mean people who were not already friends of my friends. Talking to new people… hmm, interesting approach.
While I’ve heard time and time again that Swedish people are incredibly shy and it is up to me to take the first steps, this is something I had trouble with in the 365-day-Casual Friday city called Louisville.
I don’t have a conclusion to this story, but I suppose the point is that it was nice to see friendly, outgoing people in action. It was fun to meet new people and I wish I didn’t think about everything so much and that I had more hours in the day to really study Swedish. However, my desire to have longer days is coming just as darkness is returning to the nighttime. Amazing, really, that I’ve been living in a place with practically 24 hours of daylight and I still want more.
Unbelievable, I know. No one would ever expect to see a picture of the Swedish sky on this web site. Nonetheless, here are still more pictures of the sky.
Saturday afternoon I went for a long walk and relaxed in the park to recover from Midsommar festivities. During my sunshiny day, I enjoyed some Reese’s peanut butter cups my parents recently sent from America. Mmmmm….
A couple people were also taking advantage of the gorgeous weather to row a boat out into the water between the city’s islands. I caught this view from LÃ¥ngholmen (um… “Long Island”). The tall building with the green and gold top is the City Hall – Stadshuset.
Here’s something I’ve never seen on the Long Island in America, but I’m sorry to report that I have no idea what the story behind it is. Perhaps the Beatles left it here because it wasn’t in their color.
I’ve mentioned before that there are no truly unacceptable words in the Swedish language. Every word in the the language can be used on television. The same goes for English in Sweden. It is not only the ubiquitous second language, but it is also totally uncensored. This shop window demonstrates that. “Summer Sale – but we also have some expensive shit.” This store recently had another sign up that said “Stor JÃ¤vla Rea!” (“Big Fucking Sale”) Hilarious.
Another example of the acceptance of all vocabulary is that when the cooking show “Hell’s Kitchen” airs here, nothing Gordon Ramsay says is bleeped out. I can’t tell you how much more enjoyable that show is when you can actually hear what he’s saying. That man really has a filthy mouth and it’s what makes him so entertaining. I’m not sure why you would want to broadcast the show any other way. I think the FCC must have some very good reasons for treating Americans like children who can’t be allowed to hear anything scandalous.
Here is a nice building I can’t afford to live in, but I bet they have amazing views and lovely dinners. I’m happy for them and I hope whoever lives here will invite me over some time. Please click the contact link. Thanks.
Despite a long weekend of rain, tens of thousands turned out Friday and Saturday for the Where The Action Is music festival in Stockholm.
The rain was punishing and relentless. Sometimes heavy, sometimes cold, sometimes sideways. More than one person asked me if I was enjoying the Swedish summer and if I was having any second thoughts about coming here. I’ll stick with my original story that when the weather here is nice, it is astonishingly stunning. This weekend’s consistently rainy weather was unusual, though, because lately every day has included every type of weather.
Waiting to see if the rain would let up and holding out for a change, we missed the first few bands on Friday. Before eventually diving in and deciding to brave the rain, we enjoyed some drinks in the city at Iida’s new favorite bar, the Vampire Lounge (more not-so-subtle proof that all Swedish people are vampires).
Many people would consider the lineup of bands to be spectacular, but I think there may have only been a couple of them that I would have gone to see had they been playing a show on their own.
As you may know, I am an old sourpuss who only really loves about six bands, but believe it or not, I do enjoy seeing other bands sometimes, especially those who are legendary, popular or influential.
Erik was nice enough to get some free VIP passes for Therese, Iida and myself. This was fantastic because I was on the fence about laying down the 1400 kronors (more than $180) for the weekend pass. I knew the weekend would be entertaining, a great spectacle to see, a fun social event and a really Swedish experience, so I really can’t thank Erik enough for the pass. Since I expect he might read this, I can say it again: Tack sÃ¥ mycket, kompis!
I would have liked to have seen The (International) Noise Conspiracy, but we got there just after their set time was over. Back in 1999, I did a solo tour opening for them all around Sweden, from which I have some fond memories. Unfortunately, our paths have only crossed briefly in the ten years since, including once when I was living in Los Angeles. Dennis and Lars recorded a really cool version of a song I wrote back then for the Metroschifter Encapsulated album. Hopefully I’ll be able to catch them again soon since I’m in their part of the world now.
Not seeing The Pretenders was something I couldn’t have planned better if I had tried. This is one of those bands that I just don’t get. I never have. They are just not for me. Whooooo caaares!
The Pixies were playing when we arrived. The festival was held on the grounds of Stockholm University and it was truly surreal to walk up to the festival gates through the school campus, hearing them playing songs like “Head On” and “Gouge Away.” I felt like I was walking back in time.
I guess I never realized just how many familiar and memorable songs The Pixies have. Like almost every band I saw over the weekend, I’m not a huge fan of The Pixies, but they were really great and I’m so glad I saw them. Kim Deal even messed up the bass line at the beginning of one of the songs. That was one of my favorite parts, not because I like seeing people make mistakes, but, yeah, I guess it is because I like seeing people make mistakes. It’s refreshing when there are ten thousand people watching and you’re like, “Uhhh, whoops. Those were the wrong notes. Let’s try that again.” I’m paraphrasing her thoughts, of course. I don’t know exactly what anyone else is thinking.
Neil Young ended the festivities Friday night with a phenomenal performance. He opened the set alone, playing several songs with just a guitar and harmonica, without his band. The rain paused softly and a hush literally fell over the crowd when he took the stage.
I caught myself thinking about how insane it was to be seeing a legend like him – whose music seems so inseparable from the outdoors – in this beautiful setting, surrounded by the silhouette of the treelines and blanketed by the dramatic Swedish sky.
The audience’s quiet and respectful response was just as breathtaking. I couldn’t believe how many thousands of people I was seeing, reverently listening, still and muted, captivated by one man playing a song.
It goes without saying that the harmonica is the most annoying instrument in the world, but Neil Young seems to use it in a way that doesn’t wail or blast or destroy the rest of the song. When his band joined him onstage, the worship service instantly morphed into a rock concert, for which he had a list of countless, timeless anthems – okay, maybe they can be counted.
The festival had a policy of not allowing umbrellas for safety reasons and to ensure that everyone could see the bands. Because of this, the fences around the entrance to the festival grounds were decorated with hundreds of umbrellas that people hung there when they were told they couldn’t bring them in.
Our friend Therese unknowingly brought an umbrella and was forced to leave it behind at the gate. When we left the festival late that night, her umbrella and, it seems, all the others, were waiting outside, right where they were left earlier in the day.
This reminded me of a short story from the winter about how Swedes have a habit of hanging lost gloves, scarves and jackets in adjacent tree branches or bushes. If the owner passes by the same place again they can easily spot their lost clothing. Nearby statues are also dressed up with lost items.
As I told Therese, I think if people hung their umbrellas up like this at a festival in America, some assholes would come by and take all of them. If it was still raining later, they would probably try to sell the umbrellas to people leaving the festival. (U-S-A-! U-S-A-!)
It was just after midnight, so of course it was almost daylight out. To beat the crowd, we skipped the end of Neil Young’s set – which I can only imagine included “Keep On Rocking In the Free World.” We avoided the Stockholm University Tunnelbana station where everyone would be going. Instead, we walked toward Ropsten, a nearby neighborhood where Iida and Erik used to live. This backroad route took us a little closer to nature than we expected. We happened upon a field full of sleeping cows and later crossed a shaky footbridge over a creek, before reaching Ropsten.
A warm Volvo wagon with Erik’s parents in it was waiting to collect us in Ropsten and deliver us south to the homestead. On the way home, Erik’s mom jokingly asked me if I used to drive a Hummer in America. Nice people, and funny, too!
We began the Saturday show with Tiger Lou, the band Erik plays bass with. They seemed to be having a good time despite the conditions, and I think it translates to the audience when band members are enjoying what they’re doing. It would be very easy to phone it in if you were playing in such a tough venue… outdoors… at a festival… in the afternoon… when it’s raining. The crowd can feel it if the band members are on the same page with the audience and it becomes more of a shared experience instead of a “performance” with a wall between the stage and the audience.
Tiger Lou was accompanied by a minor downpour that I actually think enhanced the ambience of their set. The band’s fans actually are pretty fanatical about them which is always fun to see. It seems that most of the people who come to see them know the words to all their songs. This appeared to be true even at a festival event like this, where people are there to see any number of bands. It doesn’t hurt that the songs Rasmus Kellerman writes are the type that get stuck in your head for days on end.
Because we expected a lot more rain and a much longer day, we were a little more prepared. There was, of course, a wide variety of rain gear on hand. Some people were in serious head-to-toe rainsuits. I tried to shop some boots and a raincoat in advance of the festival at some secondhand stores, but returned empty-handed.
Without any proper rain gear, I had to resort to purchasing this “emergency poncho” from a street vendor outside the Tunnelbana station (seen here with Johanna). “Quick! How much is this?! I need a poncho immediately! This is an emergency! I can’t get wet!”
For some of the day we hung out in the VIP area, where you could get rained on just as much as anywhere else, but alongside famous Swedes. And, yes, several famous wet Swedes were on hand to supply such an experience for us. I mean, nobody really famous like BjÃ¶rn Borg or Liv Ullmann, but famous in the Generation X sense.
Some of our friends were not super-exclusive VIPs like us (Viktigt Imponerande Personer?), so we kindly mingled with the common folk in order to accommodate them.
I could not have been more excited about seeing Annika Norlin’s band Hello Saferide. Last year, my friend Emma introduced me to an album of Norlin’s previous band SÃ¤kert. That band’s songs were all in Swedish and I fell in love with them without really understanding what all of the songs were about.
Since then, SÃ¤kert has kind of become a barometer of my comprehension of the Swedish language. Over the past year, as I’ve heard the songs over and over, they have unfolded more and more in front of me. As I have begun to understand some of the words, I began putting the stories together, piece by piece, in my head.
I recently looked up some of the lyrics online, just to be sure she was saying what I thought she was saying. I can’t think of another artist whose songs are as painfully honest as hers. Some of the songs, while having almost a slightly fun quality to them, are still heart-wrenchingly sad. This is true of both her bands. I would hate to use the words sarcastic or ironic to describe it, because I think that would discount how sincere her songs are… but just because I can’t think of any better words doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about.
I like Hello Saferide almost as much SÃ¤kert, but Hello Saferide is sometimes hard for me to listen to. I think this is probably because the songs are in English and there’s no mystery or language barrier to filter the lyrics for me. Everything is laid out so bare and her truthfulness is brutal.
Sure, not every single song of hers is going to tear your heart out, but she has many that are agonizing enough, and I kind of have to look away sometimes. It’s not always entertaining or fun to listen to something that is so traumatic, but I suppose that’s what – for me – makes her such an admirable artist. She is willing to go there.
Seeing them live was a highlight of the weekend. It was like riding a roller coaster – as soon as it ended I wanted to go again. Finding something I really like this much shouldn’t be such a unique and isolated experience!
Right when Hello Saferide was beginning, I met up with some more friends, including the gang Johanna hooked me up with for the A Camp concert back in April.
Here are Kajsa and one of the 2 million people in Sweden named Anna. Kajsa enjoys forcing me to speak Swedish. I can’t tell if she’s doing it to help me or only to be entertained by my awful pronunciation and sentence structures. Maybe a little of both. Either way is fine with me. I think I owe her some laughs because I could not get enough of how funny I thought it looked as she was multi-purposing the hood of her emergency poncho as a hands-and-beer hole.
Almost as priceless is the look on the guy’s face in the back – not the least bit amused by my camera. Sorry, dude! What you can’t see in the photo is that Duffy was playing, so this guy was getting drenched in rain while being crowded by people and surrounded by the sound of a baby-voiced girl singing retro sixties numbers. Double sorry, dude!
The Telia telephone company had an inflatable tent on hand with a ping-pong table and DJs inside. Here we see Johanna and Kajsa’s sister Marja taking a round of circular ping pong. I don’t remember what this is called, but the game starts with dozens of people walking in a circle around the table. Each person hits the ball once. If you miss, you’re out, and the game continues until it’s just down to two opposing players. Marja is a ping-pong enthusiast and writes an entertaining blog about it called Mitt Pingis (“My Ping-Pong”). Don’t get hooked on it, though, because I’ve been told she is a serial blog starter who may soon abandon it for another hilarious idea.
Fever Ray, a band I had never heard of before, totally blew me away. I don’t remember any of their songs and I’m not sure I could even describe what kind of music they play, but it was filled with the kind of insanely loud and deep sounds that move your clothes.
As you can see in this image, their light show included everything from lasers to house lamps. I could continue on for a while about them, but I simply don’t know what I saw or heard. I do know that it seemed like the fog machines they were using were presented in 5.1-surround. Yes, they had smoke machines behind the audience, too. Crazy.
The weekend ended with Nick Cave, another artist who is fanatically admired by seemingly everyone I know, except me. I don’t dis-like him, I just think I’m missing whatever it is he’s doing that everyone else is getting.
Kind of unrelated to this, Iida was telling me about how she had to ask for someone’s ID when working in the post office the other day. The person presented an old ID card that was no longer valid and Iida said she couldn’t accept it as legitimate identification. The customer became furious and said that the card works everywhere else. Iida explained that it shouldn’t work everywhere else. It only works everywhere else because nobody else is following the rules. She said basically, “Everybody is wrong except me,” a priceless quote.
Nick Cave sounded pretty fantastic Saturday, so it occurred to me that this might be an opposite case to the ID situation in the post office. Maybe everybody is right except me. It’s possible. But then again, the music I like is just my personal taste and preference, there’s no right or wrong. I don’t have to like it just because it’s loud and exciting and ten thousand Swedes are having a great time.
Sure, maybe I think too much and I should loosen up. I’m here for new adventures and such, right? Maybe I am in complete control of what I enjoy. Is it possible that I can just flick a switch and suddenly like Nick Cave or The Police or Bad Brains or anything else that everyone likes except me?
As much as it would allow me to have more fun more often, I don’t think it’s possible. Believe me, I’ve tried. Maybe I’ll just be reassured in knowing that when I go into a record store, there’s nothing I think is worth the money, so I can leave without spending a dime – or a kronor. Of course, every time I’m in a record or book store, I am also overwhelmed with the feeling that I’m wasting my life and my contributions should be represented on the shelves… but that’s an entirely separate bucketful of words.
Let’s just leave it with the feeling that I had a great weekend and I got to share it with some wonderful people. Even though it was raining the whole time, I think that added a lot of character to the experience. As I’m looking back at these pictures from the weekend, I couldn’t help but think that Sweden is still beautiful and fun even when the sun is not out.
And that reminds me of another great Iida quote: “This is really nice weather, if you’re a fish.”
The daylight and the colors and shapes in the sky are continuing to fascinate me (as is the dark, blurry line in my camera’s lens). These images are from late Thursday night/Friday morning around 1:00 AM. Fresh!
I would like to say that I’m starting to get used to the surplus hours of daylight in Stockholm, but I can’t. I still find it so amazing.
During the past few weeks, it has been fascinating to me that each day has been noticeably longer than the day before. It is beyond surreal to see the sun still going down after 11 pm and coming up again at 2 in the morning.
The pages at those links are updated live in real time, so you can check them periodically if you want to see how each day inches closer and closer to midnight sunshine. Sweden is six hours ahead of Eastern Time in the United States.
The daylight hours will continue to get longer and longer here until late June. The longest days of the year are celebrated with the Midsommar festival. Midsommar is responsible for many of the stereotypical or recognizably Swedish images that foreigners have of the country. Singing, dancing, eating outside, and girls wearing flowers in their hair.
Here is a nice overview of Midsommar in English.
That’s still about a month away, so get ready for more pictures of train stations until then!
A few images of dark clouds moving in over Gamla Stan (The Old Town) last week.
The gold-tipped building is Stockholm City Hall (Stadshuset), completed in 1923. You can see one of the old-style Tunnelbana trains passing in the foreground. Most of the trains running through the city are very modern and from the 1990’s or later. Occasionally you’ll board one of these Cx-type wagons which have been in use more than 30 years.