Thursday, April 30, 2009

Valborgsmässoafton from far away

This year's Valborgsmässoafton (Walpurgis Night - or night of spring, a major celebration in Sweden) went to the history as one of the least celebrated. I was still tired from jetlag and didn't have any energy to invent a substitute to a big bonfire and nice spring songs, the weather was surprisingly cold and since it's just a regular day here it was filled with regular activities. 

Valborgsmässoafton sure is one of those things I would love my kids to experience, but realizing they won't as long as we live here - it's in the middle of the semester, only a few weeks before we're leaving for Sweden anyway. And it's kind of tricky to show a bonfire on TV...  

A day of a bit of home sickness for sure. 

This is one of few digital pictures I have from Valborg. It was taken on April 30, 2001 at Riddarholmen when I actually happened to be in Stockholm on that day. Stadshustornet to the left, huge bonfire in the middle, lots of people in the foreground. Pretty bad picture but it was taken with one of my first digital cameras, a small, 3-something mega pixel camera...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

State of emergency vs undantagstillstånd

I've had a couple of people from work ask me about the swine flu outbreak in the US. I actually spent Sunday evening making a quick overview of the news reporting here to send over. 

Since then we have actually had a couple of confirmed cases in a school about 15 minutes from here. And yesterday the school district made automated calls to all families on how they're handling the situation. 

Today the Governor of California Schwarzenegger declared a "state of emergency" in California as a prevention. But when you find this first page story on one of the evening news in Sweden, you realize that sometimes things do get lost in the translation. 

If you read the Expressen headline (mind you, this IS an evening tabloid) you would think California is on the brink of chaos and confusion. The Swedish word "undantagstillstånd" means something that you do in the time of warlike situations (even though the correct translation might be "state of emergency"). But meaning of "state of emergency" doesn't have to be nearly as "strong". California, and other states for that matter, have "state of emergencies" a couple of times of year. Usually in a county (kommun) when something is going on - like flooding or extensive forest fires. It's a way to organized the authorities better and ease up the protocol. 

It does not mean the national guard is marching in on the streets to calm the hysterical people... As you really might think if you read the headlines... So, dear friends, family and readers in Sweden. Be calm. Things are nice and easy in the sunny state of California. Even though we have confirmed cases of the swine flu. 

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Time to vote?

We got ballots from Sweden in the mail awhile ago. I must say I didn't even know there was an election going on. When I was in Sweden last week I tried to figure out what to vote for. Didn't get much wiser, part from it being the election for the European Parlament. 

But - since I really think voting is important - I'll do my best to figure out what to write on the empty voting cards that were provided. The election is June 7 and if you're voting as a Swedish alien from abroad - your vote has to be in Sweden on June 7 to count. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

Going home

I had to get up at 3.45 am (ugh!) to catch the 6 am flight to Frankfurt, connecting to San Francisco, continuing to Sacramento when I went home from Sweden earlier this week. The SAS flight to Chicago is no longer an option since United has cancelled a bunch of flights to Sacramento and a 10 hour stop over in Chicago really is out of the question. 

The flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco, an 11-hour flight, was long and boring. The plane is a jumbo and in the back cabin there were four (!) small screens of which I could see none. Didn't
 really matter since the two (!)  movies they showed I had already seen... You sure get spoiled by the inflight system on the SAS flight... 

It was +35C when I got off the plane in Sacramento. Kind of hot when you're wearing leather boots, long-sleeves and jeans...

Here are some pictures from the flights. 


Shuttle plane from San Francisco. 

They're really small...

Mount Diablo. 

Can you see the windmills?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chip readers

I felt like a real alien in Stockholm all week. The new thing is that all Swedish bank cards have a chip on them (and I use a Swedish bank card when in Sweden).Everywhere I went I tried to swipe my card when I made purchases, only to get told (in the polite Stockholm way) that I had to push the card in the card reader, chip down. AND I learned the hard way that you have to keep the card in the reader until the transaction is completely done. If you remove it, the (poor, exhausted) sales person has to redo the process... 

Note to self: Do not swipe card. Do not remove from chip reader until transaction is done. 


Monday, April 20, 2009

Nice fabric on the Stockholm subway

I really like the fabric on the seats on the Stockholm subway. I happened to take the subway during lunch today and it was pretty empty so I took a picture. The picture is taken with my BlackBerry - not the best pictures. It's a dark blue-purple color with drawings of known buildings in Stockholm (looks like Lasse Åberg drawings but I'm not sure). 

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I passed this "korvstånd" (hot dog stand) today, felt the smell and had to turn around - and take a picture (wasn't hungry so I passed on the hot dog). I had forgotten about these quite common hot dog stands you can find downtown Stockholm. 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Observations from Sweden #8

I bought the lastest issue of the Swedish magazine Amelia the other day (oh, how I love reading Swedish magazines when in Stockholm!) and found an article about a woman returning to Stockholm after a couple of years in New York. The article was about the rudness of Swedes (in Stockholm I should state before I get comments that "in [insert smaller town's name here] it's totally different"). 

I had no idea how rude we were until I left for a university year in the US and came back and realized you really get shuffled around in this town, wihtout so much as a word or excuse. This is something you don't really realize until you have left the town for a substantial time (a two-week vacation to Mallorca doesn't count) and returned. I spent the day in downtown Stockholm on very specific errands (getting an iron, Scotch tape, and Bamse underwear) and I was going crazy after just a few minutes. Going downtown Stockholm on a weekend you sure have to expect tons of people - it's crowded. 

But there is a very weird exception to the rule of crowd chaos - the unspoken rule of riding an escalator. When you're in an escalator in Stockholm you better stand to your right if you're not planning on walking down or up. You can immediately spot a tourist or non-Stockholmer by them riding to the left. 

This picture was taken with my BlackBerry at the major department store Åhléns. Everyone neatly to the left, leaving a nice passage if you need to walk quickly down. But once your off the escalator, the crowd chaos begins again....

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Observations from Sweden #7

The hierarchy on Stockholm sidewalks: 

1. Bicylists
2. Strollers
3. Walking people 

I have to walk from buss station "Mälartorget" up towards Slussen to get to work. It's only about a 3-4 minute walk - but it's pretty easy to be run over by a bicylist or rammed by a stroller before even making it to the entrance. 

But I shouldn't complain at all. At least I'm not alone when walking the sidwalks. I just have to remember to always, always look out for bicylist that sure are breaking the speed limits downtown and remember that Swedish strollers are so big they take time to stop (just like huge tankers at sea). 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Swedish design?

On my first night in Stockholm after spending a dazed afternoon at the office, I headed out for some quick shopping before catching up with some sleep. I had order for a Pippi t-shirt from the Daughter and headed to Åhléns (who has the rights to Pippi). Didn't find any - maybe it's too early in the season, but aI love browse throught the home decoration department - even though I really can't by anything to bring "back home". 

But maybe I should get a couple of these GANT pillows and blankets? Or were is the section with blue and yellow pillows? Oh... the tourist shop... 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stockhom by morning

After a nice Easter weekend with the family I packed up and headed for a week in Stockholm. As always I dreaded the long, boring trip and having to leave the house at 4 am since United has cancelled a number of flights to Chicago. But I got very lucky with my seating - not only got I a exit row seating on my Chicago flight - I got upgraded to business on the SAS flight to Stockholm. Very nice! After watching a movie on a way larger screen and sleeping almost flat for four hours I was greeted by a very nice (and unusual) sight - Stockholm by morning (usually you arrive from north east when arriving from Chicago but for some reason we flew south and circled over Stockholm. 

The picture was taken by my Blackberry so I't not really good and the sun peaked out from under the clouds so the lightning conditions are pretty bad - but still.  Downtown Stockholm is in the middle, right of the sun and we're flying in over Hässelby. Soon after we flew north again towards Arlanda so couldn't get a better picture. But is sure was a beautiful sight! 

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

American Easter

The main attraction of Easter here if you're a kid is not dressing up as Easter witches but to go on a egg hung and collect egg in a basket that the white Easter Bunny has hidden. We try to combine Swedish and American traditions  - letting the dressed up Easter Witches hunt empty eggs and then the kids get the Swedish paper eggs filled with some candy - after they painted the eggs and done their Easter cards. We have no real relation with the Easter Bunny so we've quietly left him out until required by the kids. 

Easter is a major holiday in Sweden. Well, at least people get a lot of time off work (half Thursday, all Friday and the Monday after Easter Sunday) - not sure people really "celebrate" it. But it's always nice to get off work. Here you wouldn't know it's Easter except the Easter decorations. Thursday and Friday are normal days as is Monday. But Easter Sunday, Påskdagen,  is the big day, the only day of Easter - lots of stores are actually closed (and the only other time that happens is Thanksgiving Day).  

But by then I'm usually done with Easter and egg eating. 

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The candy that won't end up in our Easter eggs

So Easter is coming up and the stores are filled with candy to put in kids' Easter baskets or in the eggs you hunt and one major component seems to be Jelly beans (is it the egg shape?). Jelly beans sure is a prominent American candy - can be found everywhere and is... sorry dear Americans... but really disgusting...  

It's like... mushy sugar... The different jelly beans are supposed to taste different (there is even a long list of the 50 official different flavors), but maybe I've eaten to few, they all taste the same to me. 

The JellyBelly (the company that makes these jelly beans) headquarters' is located between here and San Francisco, in Fairfield, CA, where they have a visitor's center and you can do a guided tour (and unfortunately probably get to taste a lot of jelly beans...). We haven't informed the kids about this and hopefully it will take a couple of years until they realize this proximity... 

Friday, April 03, 2009

Maybe I need to attend Kindergarten...

In my Daughter's home work packages there are usually a couple of pages with drawings of things starting with the same letter. The exercises is to identify these and then come up with two more things that starts with the letter and draw that. 

This might sound easy enough but I find it kind of hard to quickly come up with words in English that also can be drawn by a 5-year old. The other week I took help of my dear Facebook friends with things to draw starting with the letter "n". Unfortunately none were really useful since they came up with words such as naked, nun, nipple (oh my the Google hits this blog will get now) - but at least we had a good laugh. 

I'm not sure if it would be easier in Swedish. Anyway, I've come to dread those pages and try to make sure it's the Husband how is helping out when it's time to come up with two things starting on the letter b or l as today (the Daughter decided to draw a lamp and lava).

Friday she worked with the letter u and there was a drawing of a man sitting down dressed in gear with a protective gear and a helmet with a net. I had no idea what he was until I learned it was an "umpire". Does the average American kid has detailed knowledge of baseball already in Kindergarten... ? 

We really need to tune in to ESPN more to get our kids ready for letter practice in school. 

Thursday, April 02, 2009

"Where are you from?"

The other day my Daughter had a play date with a friend from Kindergarten. It was the first time and she got to go over to their house after school to her big joy. I haven't really talked to the other mom that much - more than the "hi" and "good byes" when leaving or picking up my Daughter from school. We arranged for the play date and since they live really close to use it was pretty easy to organize. 

Today there was an open house at Kindergarten - the parents were invited to come to school and be guided around the classroom by the children. It was pretty interesting for us - the kids seemed more keen on getting to go outside to the playground. 

While watching the kids play I talked to the mom with whom I had set up the play date and she told me that she had asked my Daughter where we were from during the play date, since she had noticed our accents. My Daughter had looked strangely at her and didn't know the answer to the questions. When the mom had changed the question to "what languages does your parents speak", my Daughter knew the answer and could say "Swedish". 

In her world, she is "from" here - as are we. She has no sense of us coming from somewhere else, she hardly knows the earth is round yet. As with the flag story from the other day - it's yet another reminder on how we might have to talk differently about these things. For me it comes totally naturally to say "I'm from Sweden" or "I'm Swedish" (even before my accent betrays me and they ask if I'm from Germany), but for my kids it won't be.