Category Archives: Society

Locking love

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There is something about traveling by train that I find very relaxing – I can spend hours just looking out of the window, watching the landscapes change, getting little glimpses of the lives of people living close to the railway. And while I often say I take the plane as easily as I take a train (making a habit of long-distance relationships tends to have that effect), I still find flying much more stressful. Getting to the airport, checking in, security, boarding, getting out, hoping your luggage comes through, … I am never completely at ease until my bags and I have arrived at my destination. Obviously, taking the train can also cause stress, especially when you accidentally take a regional train instead of the direct train, reducing the transfer time from 32 minutes to… well, zero, but since that has never happened to me (eh…), and since I am pretty sure I would be lucky enough for the connection to be delayed by a minute allowing me to still catch it (I was born lucky, I swear), I would argue that is totally beside the point here.

When traveling by train you generally don’t get the nicest impression of the cities and towns you go through: back alley’s, abandoned cars and fridges and a lot of graffiti are most often among the highlights. Not so in Cologne, where you get a beautiful view of the Cathedral when you enter the train station, and you get to cross the Hohenzollern Bridge.

The Hohenzollernbrücke crossing the Rhein rive...

Image via Wikipedia

I don’t get easily impressed by bridges: Sweden is connected to Denmark by the Øresundsbron, a combined twin-track railway and dual carriageway bridge-tunnel almost 8 kms in length, and Cologne’s simple river-crossing construction almost appears plain and bland in comparison. There is however, something that the Hohenzollern bridge can boast, that only few other bridges can.

Padlocks.

More specifically, love padlocks.

Love padlocks at the Hohenzollernbrücke in Cologne

Image via Wikipedia

In the summer of 2008, these love locks have started to appear on the pedestrian bridge. Lovers, friends and families alike, affix locks to the metal grid of the bridge to symbolize their love for each other. I’ve only been able to see the multitude of locks from behind a train window, but here you can find several close-up pictures of individual locks, some of which have been engraved with the names of the lovers or were decorated by hand.

The phenomenon is not new, but has had a boost a few years back after the best-selling novel “I want you” by Federico Moccia (anyone read it? or even heard of it?) featured a couple young lovers doing just that at the Ponte Milvia in Rome. The craze spread quickly, and love locks now hang from bridges in Paris, Seoul, Moscow, and many other cities. They are not without controversy, however, since they are considered an ‘eyesore’ by many city officials. Only last week, the city of Venice decided on a massive clean-up campaign of the city’s bridges, including the Ponte dell’Accademia and the Ponte Rialto, because the rusting locks were damaging the age-old stones of the bridge.

To be fair, I think it’s cute – I’m a hopeless romantic and although I would never do it myself, there is something endearing about the idea of ‘locking your love’, on a bridge in particular, which by definition connects two places that were separated before. And while I understand the locks may actually damage the bridge and can thus be regarded as vandalism, there is always a middle way : in Rome special railings were erected when the lamp posts on the Ponte Milvia threatened to collapse under the weight of the padlocks. No doubt the street vendors selling padlocks and the many café’s that have recently opened in the neighborhood preferred this to a padlock-ban…

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The straightjacket of gender

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I originally had something else scheduled for today, but then this article caught my eye on Twitter: a couple in Canada has decided not to disclose the sex of their child to their friends and family. To the parents raising a “genderless” child is a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a logical continuation from the upbringing they are giving their other two children, two boys, who are allowed to put on a dress or wear their hair in braids if they wish so.

I find the story, and especially the underlying philosophy, incredibly fascinating. I have been giving quite some thought to the whole transgender-debate after the addition of a transgender male-to-female character to one of the fanfictions I’m following caused quite a stir within the fandom – in a positive way. The amount of people writing to the author of the story, thanking her for creating a character which they could relate to, and a positive, accepted character at that, was simply overwhelming.
 


First off, I have nothing for or against transgenders. I cannot understand what would bring a person to make such a huge change in their life, because I have never felt uncomfortable with my gender or my body (to that extent), but I do believe that people should have the freedom to make this decision, to change gender physically, if they wish to do so. This may sound condescending (though that is not the intent) and I might get this all wrong, but I find it similar to getting a boob job or getting tattoo’s all over – you shape your body the way you feel best in it.
That said, I can’t help but wonder if people would be less inclined to match their ‘male’ body to their ‘female’ soul (or vice versa) if society would allow more freedom to the individual to determine the boundaries of their gender. If a man wants to wear skirts, is he a man who likes to wear skirts or is he really a female inside? I realize many transgenders hate their “birth-body”, but do they actually hate the boobs or do they hate what they represent: a symbol that leads your peers to determine what you can and cannot do in terms of expressing yourself?

So imagine that you are not burdened with the presumptions and assumptions that exist in society today, that you don’t need to limit yourself in any way to whichever package of actions, feelings, … is deemed appropriate for the type of body you happened to have been born with. This goes further than buying your baby girl a toy tractor or giving you little son a doll to play with – you eliminate all conscious AND subconscious prejudices and expectations people might have towards your gender: you can wear heels, play football, work as a trucker, take salsa classes as the follower and nobody would bat an eye (note that the aforementioned might be accepted when you were born female, but likely not so much when you are born male). It means a whole new type of freedom…

… and thus also a whole new type of responsibility.

I love the idea. I really, truly love the idea and I honestly believe many people would feel more comfortable with themselves if they didn’t feel the need to restrict themselves to a pre-defined set of actions and feelings which are supposed to go with their gender. However – gender is not just a collection of societal can’s and cannot’s, it is also a biological given, with certain implications and limitations (the average female body cannot develop as much power as the average male body), and it is important to be aware of those (being a female athlete in a male competition would be a very frustrating experience indeed). Allowing overflow of what is deemed appropriate behavior for either gender is not the same as eliminating gender altogether. And however interesting an experiment it would be to study how strong the influence of society on gender identity is exactly, it is still an experiment, and I don’t feel children should be made part of it.

At this point I am tempted to argue that, in a sense, every type of upbringing is an experiment, the outcome of which depends both on the parent(s) and the child(ren) involved. But – raising a gender-less child automatically implies that the gender be kept secret, and secrets are never (rarely) a good thing. It is and will be confusing for the child, if not directly, then through the second-hand confusion it experiences from its peers who will likely not always know how to approach the child. It gives plenty of food for thought on how widespread gender-based preconceptions are, sure, but there should be other ways to have this discussion than letting a child be the instigator.

International Women’s Day, anyone?

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At the last count, I am currently following 38 blogs, the vast majority of which are personal blogs maintained by women. I’ve often wondered about this, and at one point I actually started looking for interesting, personal ‘male’ blogs – but without much success, leading me to the conclusion that either men don’t have a personal life, or they are not able to write about it. That is, however, not what I want to talk about today. Because I follow all these people, from different nationalities, backgrounds, religions, ages, and even senses of humor, but when I look at what my Reader is presenting me with today, I am baffled.

An interview with Cinderella (which, by the way, was hilarious). Baby bumps. The start of lent tomorrow. One-uppers. Chickens.

Carbon bloody laundering.

It is March 8th!

International Women’s Day, anyone?

The 100th edition of it, even?

I mean, I understand I’m 6-9 hours ahead of the rest of the world, but really? Not even a glimpse of a shimmer of a mention?

And I admit – what are we supposed to write about? What on earth have we, women in over-developed countries, to complain about? We have access to birth control, education (in Belgium, more women than men have higher degrees: 31,5% vs. 27,4%), we can vote, we can build a career if we want to, … sure, we kinda need to work on the equal-pay-for-equal-work-thing, and there’s this “glass ceiling” everyone refers to, but really, has anyone ever seen that?

That’s what I thought, yes.

But only last week, in the Belgian Chamber, an agreement was made that will force listed companies to have (at least) one third women on their Board – currently a mere 6% of board members are female. Yesterday, in Belgium, one woman’s contract was not prolonged at the shop she was working because she refused to take off her veil. Today, during coffee break, the gasps were audible through the uncomfortable silence when one colleague explained she doesn’t want children. Meanwhile, in large parts of the world, women are denied the right to work, to speak, to vote, to refuse men access to their body, to stand up, to organize themselves – even to think.

We are far from gender equality, or even from gender equivalence, if you prefer that term. And yes, that was, is, and will be a desirable, obtainable, and above all necessary goal. Because, as women, we are a group that is systematically denied rights and privileges based solely on the fact that we are women, something we may cherish, love or despise, but which we never chose, and which can therefore never be a ground for discrimination. I am not a feminist, I have much to learn about how the world goes round, and I’m pretty sure I don’t realize half how privileged I am. But it is therefore exactly that I need to commemorate today all those women who have stood up and fought for what should be their birth rights, that I need to raise awareness for the little, unconscious acts of discrimination we even barely recognize as such (how is a man who stays home with his kids not a real man?) and that I really, simple just want to celebrate today, which is my day as well.

Happy Women’s Day everyone!

Eve Ensler’s “Refuses”
International Women’s Day website

T – the manual

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I have a very nice girlfriend. She’s pretty, is a master in relativity (which is a good quality to have in a partner when you are a drama queen yourself) and provides good service where good service is due (trying to keep this child-safe to American standards…). So with it being Valentine’s day today, I can imagine there’s a ton of people out there that want to take her out on a date. This post is directed to these people. Because – however cute and smart and funny she may be, she also comes with a manual. A quite substantial manual. And just so aspiring lovers know what they’re getting themselves into, I provide them here with some excerpts.

 
§2.1 Do not surprise

A jack-in-the-box

Not a good idea. (Image via Wikipedia)

§2.1.1. No surprise parties of any kind or size shall be organized in the subject’s honor, nor shall you surprise her with a night out and/or tickets for her favorite band (see also §4.1. Do not plan anything without the subject’s consent). Jokes about these subjects shall not be tolerated either, and will result in a very edgy, uncomfortable, and nervous subject for several days.
§2.1.2. Do not kiss the subject while she is under the shower washing her hair with her eyes closed – you will get smacked in the face. Do not let the cat jump on the subjects’s lap unless she’s seen him coming – he will get smacked in his face. Do not wake the subject with a romantic wake-up kiss on the mouth on a lazy Sunday morning – you will … you get the picture.

 

reference_2012_calendar

Too early. (Image by brookeduckart via Flickr)

§4.2 Do not plan ahead
§4.2.1. No arrangements should be made for dates more than 2 weeks ahead since it is impossible to tell whether these plans will fit with the mental and physical condition of the subject at that particular time point. Failure to do so will require you to take full responsibility for the poor planning of the event.

 
§5.1 Do not interfere with decision making
§5.1.1. Decision making for purchasing material goods can take anytime from 1-2 weeks for basic needs such as the purchase of a t-shirt or a pair of jeans, to up to a year for more important purchases such as a photo camera. Interference with any of these decisions will only be tolerated if and only if sufficient credentials on the referred purchase domain (PhD or higher) can be presented.
§5.1.2. Life-influencing choices, including moving in together, having children and/or getting married do not have a maximum decision time-limit. Any attempt to help in the decision making process will result in longer decision times.
§5.1.3. After receiving permission to assist in the decision making, limit yourself to rational arguments and quantifiable parameters. The use of tables, graphs, and charts is encouraged. Appropriate references are highly appreciated.

Not Ts philosophy.

§5.2.3 Decisions you make yourself are better, therefore under no circumstances the subject shall involve in or help with decision making on behalf of other people.

 
I will briefly mention §7.3 (do not talk when watching a movie), §8.2 (always sleep on the subject’s left side) and §10.2 (countries where spiders roam freely are excluded as a travel destination). In case you still plan on taking her on a Valentine’s dinner: I hope you invited her no more than 2 weeks and no less than 2 days ago, that she knows where you are going, and that there is only 1 veggie choice on the menu.
 

Totally out of context. But incredibly funny.

Bad intentions

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Because you really know you won’t be keeping the good ones anyway…

  • Moan
    I plan on doing a lot of moaning in 2011. And I mean, A LOT. With 5 weddings and 4 baby-due-dates on the calendar and an overdose of hormones in my body, I feel I’ll have loads of inspiration to nag to T about when WE will be moving in together (rough estimation: in 10 years) / have babies (she’s waiting until my ovaries have dried out so she can carry them, I feel it) / get married (never). Fun times ahead ;).
  • Fly
    Lately I’ve been obsessing about my ecological footprint – I mean, worse than usually ;). So once I found out my attempts to vegetarism are futile if I keep flying back and forth between home and work, I decided I wouldn’t be flying anymore. Only, I would love to see the aurea borealis (alternative: 24h train ride). And Iceland (alternative: 3-day boat trip). And the whole of Scandinavia. So despite my climatological worries, I’m pretty sure the comfort and speed of a plane will be preferred here or there… . Now, where’s that tofu?!
  • Spend money
    On flights, obviously :D. And grabbing drinks. Presents for the people back home. Trips everywhere. Eating out. Fun times. Hey, I’m only gonna be here a year, I gotta enjoy it while I can! Besides, interest on savings accounts is historically low, I’m better off enjoying it. Let the money roll!
  • Get a taste of pot
    In case you’re a police officer: I’m not serious about this ;). I’ve never smoked or done any drugs at all in my life – whenever I drink alcohol my friends take a picture of it because it’s considered a rare occasion which should be captured for future reference. You could think I’m a nice girl but really, I just hate to lose control. Still, my curiosity is bigger than my hate, and just once, I’d like to know what it feels like. So I need to get my hands on some space cake. Well, my colleague is Dutch …
  • Indulge
    Give yield to temptation, it may not pass this way again.” I’ve had breakfast on Belgian chocolate and gingerbread for 2 days now – now thát was good. I am in the luxury position that I can eat more or less what I want without it sticking in unwanted places and I plan to make full use of that advantage now since, judging by my mother, it will not always be like this. Anyone seen my dessert book?

 
Have you made any resolutions you know you won’t keep? Which (big or small) sins are you planning to commit this year?

So, did everybody survive the holidays?

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I know I did! Though they’re not really over yet, so I guess I should hold wood and not scream too loud ;).

But the real, BIG holidays are over – and it was all good. After my hi-tech science Christmas Eve, I made it home, though “are you kidding me?” flashed through my mind when the pilot announced the following 10 minutes after boarding was complete.

Dear passengers, we are currently unable to refill the fuel tank of the airplane. We have tried two tank trucks so far, but there seems to be a problem. We are trying to find out whether the problem is the tank trucks or the plane, we are working on it and will keep you posted.

After everything that could’ve gone wrong (no trains, delayed trains, hand luggage too big/heavy (it really was – fortunately for me, they didn’t check), delayed flights, cancelled flights), you can’t fill up the tank?? But they solved it, we left, I came home to a freshly-made quiche (I really don’t get what the big fuss over in-laws is, mine are just great), we played games, I slept, we went to my parents’, confused hell out of my one grandmother who met T for the first time and doesn’t seem to get that she is my girlfriend and not my girl friend (I refuse to have that talk with her and my mum has just passed the stage of being able to pronounce Ts name, no help there), celebrate New Year’s Eve with friends and didn’t even get out of the couch for the countdown (ooooooooooold…), celebrated New Years’ at both grandmas and my parents, got tired of repeating the same stuff about Sweden over and over again, got tired of talking about baby-stuff, went to a birthday party, got crazy from all the small kids running around there (really, I don’t know where my nesting syndrome comes from), had a misunderstanding with T about shopping together leaving me home alone all day, … . So basically, nothing particularly blog-worthy happened ;).
Next up: shopping with my sis, meeting with some friends, celebrating Ts birthday, count down the days and get my ass back to Sweden. 4 days of holidays left … .

Happy belated birthday, Jane

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I was hesitating whether or not to post this. After all, the present was the ACT, not the writing a post about it. And I believe you’re not supposed to brag about the “good” stuff you do. Coincidentally, I also believe I should be able to write about what keeps me busy on my own blog. So here it goes.

Let’s start with a confession: I’m not a good commenter.

Most often, either of the following situations occur: 1) 10 people have commented before me, saying exactly what I was planning to say (including that witty joke), or 2) nobody has commented yet, and I’m too chicken to actually write something because, well, it might not be as funny as it sounds in my head and, I commented yesterday already, they might think I stalk them or feel obliged to start reading my stuff just because I read theirs. Or something along those lines.

So when Jane from They call me Jane came back after almost one month of absence, I almost didn’t say anything. 8945 people welcomed her back already, she wouldn’t care about my little shout out. Would she?
But see, Jane was one of the first blogs I subscribed to. She was one of the first to leave a comment here. Her birthday challenge was the first I participated in. And she’s just funny and smart and great. I wànted to welcome her back, regardless of whether she wanted to be welcomed back by me (does that make sense?). So I did. And I got myself in a mess :D.

See, it was her birthday 2 days later.

How that gets mé in a mess? Well, she challenged us. Me. She asked everyone who welcomed her back (and everyone else, for that matter) to pull a Random Act of Kindness that weekend, as a birthday present.

Now, this is a very strange concept to me. I mean, I’m kind and all, of course, I give to charity, I’m polite to strangers, I give up my seat on the bus to let older people sit, I help people when they have 3 big grocery bags and a buggy. I do that. Everybody does that. But when it comes to money, I’m not very comfortable with the whole RAOK-thing. I mean (imagining that I would own a car and there would be a drive-thru Starbucks here) I don’t think “that’s kind” would be the first thing that would pop my mind if somebody would ‘pay it forward’ for me. I would find it strange, and scary (what does this person want from me?), and I might even feel offended (do I look like I can’t afford a coffee?), only to conclude that probably, they must have thought I was someone else. However, it most certainly would never cross my mind to do that for somebody else (on a spontaneous basis).

This is what you get for a Google Image search of "starbucks drive thru". I'm hoping most of them are more car-friendly.

I’m not too keen on giving stuff or money to beggars or homeless people either. Don’t get me wrong, I am such a devoted socialist I’m almost a communist, but I refuse to give anything to beggars. I will donate to organizations that work with homeless people, if I ever get the time and courage I might even volunteer with them (I should just DO that, I know – what can I say, there’s room for improvement), and I buy the newspaper they make and sell to support themselves. But I won’t give them anything directly. I am convinced (maybe wrongly, I admit) that our social security system is sufficiently broad so that people who need help, can get it when they want it. I need to believe this is true, because it is the basis of our society (or the ideal one in my head, at least). And giving them… anything, kinda messes up the system. To me.

I would give money if it was for scientific research, obviously.

Obviously, I could give something to someone. For once. After all, a birthday present is a good cause. But then I either needed to buy a car (to go to the drive-thru), or find a beggar. The first was… well, too expensive, and the second was not as easy as it sounds since there’s not so many beggars where I live. I think I have seen one a couple of weeks back… he could’ve just been a lonely old man though (although then again, that would be as good a RAOK-target as anyone else). But maybe I don’t see these people-in-need because I don’t get out. I get up, go to work, get home, read blogs, go to sleep, and repeat that cycle on a daily basis. I live a mile from work, out of the city – it’s a miracle if I see anyone on that walk. I see my colleagues, I go out shopping once every week or every other week. I simply don’t see that many people I could be kind to.

And then it struck me. I was making excuses. I was making excuses why I could not possibly be kind to people. Don’t wanna do this, don’t have the opportunity to do that, … . When did I become so lazy and self-absorbant? Whenever did “being kind” become such a task?

I had to work on Jane’s birthday weekend. I had a friend coming over the weekend after. Yes – I was making excuses again ;). But an idea grew – which was maybe not strictly a RAOK, since it wasn’t particularly random (very heavily planned, even), there was little acting involved and it was more nice than kind, but it was a gesture towards people I don’t know, to brighten up their day unexpectedly. And after all, that was the idea, right, to brighten up somebodies day?

So these were the accomplices I made to help me get Jane her present last weekend (note, carefully check how many you need to make and how much material you need for them, or you’ll be running back and forth to the shop a gazillion times) :

A whole army of Tomterna, Swedish Santa Clauses, were about to take over the apartment block. I didn’t want to take a picture when they were dangling from all door handles for fear of getting caught, so you’ll have to believe me on my word that it looked all kinds of merry!

Happy belated birthday, Jane – for fear of sounding like a cliché, I have the feeling you taught me more than I have given you. I’m sorry it took so long, but this is my present: I will be doing more of these.

Santa Lucia

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Ah the options of a story today: how my friend and I missed the biggest Christmas market in Sweden (we searched high and low, but simply couldn’t find it), how I missed the lecture by Konstantin Novoselov, one of the receivers of the Nobel Prize in Physics this year for his work on graphene (on a regular lecture, you can make full use of the academic 15 mins – however, it doesn’t quite seem to work that way when the speaker recently won a Nobel Prize), or how I decorated my house with Swedish Christmas decorations (I will get you some photos of that later, though). But since I know how much you love hearing about foreign traditions ;) (although it seems to be celebrated in some parts of the US also), I present to you: Santa Lucia!

 
You are really supposed to be celebrating it by the crack of dawn, but I was lucky enough to be in a lab where the Lussetåg only came by around 3pm. So while enjoying my lussekatt and a hot chocolate, I saw my very first Lucia procession: first comes Lucia, a girl dressed in white with long blonde hair, 5 candles (fake ones!) on her head and a red ribbon around her waist, followed by a number of other girls (virgins, supposedly…), dressed similarly but for the candles and the ribbon, and stjärngossar, and boys dressed in white with a princess-like hat and holding a star. And yes, that looks very gay. Subsequently, they sing. There appear to be a finite number of Lucia songs, but they ALL have to be sung. Which, if you don’t understand the lyrics and the singers aren’t very well trained, can be… a bit long. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun to experience and see – they were clearly very nervous and not always sure which song was the next, with the occasional girl starting to sing on her own and then – oops! – shut up :).

Lucia up front, with the virgins and the stjärngossar behind her.


For the occasion, they also brought a gingerbread girl, Santa, and a Christmas tree.

So because I also needed to see a ‘real’ (read: serious) Lussetåg, I had subscribed to an event organized by an organization for foreigners, and this is what their Lucia looked like:

They could sing. Really. And yes, that are real candles on her head (on of the stjärngossar was carrying a bucket of water, just in case).

 
For those interested in some background history, you can read up on it below – for everyone else, I give you a picture of myself being very proud of my first home-made lussebullar (saffron buns), and the recipe!

Ingredients: 1 stick butter (8 Tbsp.), 1 1/3 c. milk, pinch saffron, 3 Tbsp. yeast, 2/3 c. sugar, 1/2 tsp. salt, 2 eggs (1 in dough, 1 to brush), 4 c. flour, raisins for garnish
Melt butter in a small pan over low heat. Add milk and saffron and heat until about body temperature. Mix milk mixture and yeast and let sit about five minutes. Add the sugar, salt, one egg, and about half the flour. Knead the dough on a floured surface, adding flour to make a smooth dough. Let rise in a warm place about half an hour. Punch down, and then form into buns. Lay it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and tuck raisins into them. Let rise again in a warm place. Brush the risen buns with beaten egg. Bake at 400 degrees F about 15 min, until buns are golden brown.

 
Lucia was a Sicilian virgin who died as a martyr in the 4th century after she was denounced to the Roman authorities as a christian by the man she refused to marry. The Romans, unable to move her, even with a 1000 man and 50 oxen pulling (try to picture this… does anybody else find it hilarious??), decided to burn her. Which obviously didn’t work – as it never does with saints. Wikipedia states that a soldier got annoyed by her continuous reciting of encouraging words to other christians and stabbed her in the throat to shut her up (which… didn’t work, indeed), but my colleague claims she was complimented on her beautiful eyes by one of the Roman guards, after which she took them out (as only saints can do) and offered them to him. In return for her cheekiness, she was then stabbed in the side (hence the red ribbon).

If you’re wondering how the Sicilian Lucia came to be one of the few saints to be celebrated in protestant Sweden – I haven’t got a clue. It was probably a mixture of traditions, since December 13 was previously believed to be the shortest day of the year, and the most dangerous one, for Lussi, a female demon, would then ride through the night to take away naughty children (through the chimney). The importance of light (lux – lucia) in this time of year melted together with the day of Lucia (who is claimed to have put burning candles on her head to have both hands free while working in the catacombs). According to the same colleague though, it was just an excuse for students to party – but that in turn might derive from the custom of staying awake during Lusse-night, to make sure nothing bad happened. However it came to be – it is a must-celebrate for every Swede, and I’m happy to join in, if only because I love the lussekatten/lussebullar/saffron buns ;o).

Let me tell you something about Santa Claus…

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… he’s not real!

(I shocked you there, didn’t I?)

THIS is the real Santa Claus, aka Sinterklaas:

Portrait of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet.

Image via Wikipedia

Although I had to let go of the brilliant idea that Coca Cola invented Santa Claus, even Wikipedia agrees that we, in the Low Countries, have the true and original saint. Ha! Moreover, we’ve managed to get the Americans to adopt him for Christmas, only to have them export him back to Europe. It is ironic, in a way, but since it means I got presents TWICE in december as a kid, you don’t hear me complaining ;).

See, for us, Belgian kids, the highlight of the year is December 6 – sure, you get presents from your parents and family with Christmas, but the true event to look forward to is when Sinterklaas arrives in the country. Days, even weeks before the big day, we would put out our shoe near the window, hoping Zwarte Piet (Black Pete, Sinterklaas’ servant) would know we didn’t have a chimney and he’d have to get in through the window. We’d leave our letter to Sinterklaas, with a long list of the presents we would like to receive, a carrot or a sugar lump for his big, white horse Slechtweervandaag (Badweathertoday), and occasionally a beer for Zwarte Piet (not always – we didn’t want to get him drunk). The next morning, the letter was gone, the carrot was left half-eaten and the beer bottle was empty, but some candy had been left instead. The proof was overwhelming: Sinterklaas had come! And he had taken our letter!

via Google Images

My mum was sure sometimes she heard the horse on the roof, but I never did… but then again I wasn’t such a good listener. Sometimes though, Zwarte Piet would slam open the door and throw cookies and candy around – you never knew when he would come, or from which door (although attentive children might have noted it was the door through which their father disappeared 5 minutes before) and you had to be REALLY quick to see him. But when the doorbell rang on the night of December 5th, and Sinterklaas and 3 or 4 of his Zwarte Piet’s entered the room, everybody froze. Excitement, because the big bag Zware Piet was carrying promised presents, but also fear: Sinterklaas had a big book in which all your mischief was listed, and you could only hope the list wasn’t so long that Zwarte Piet would be tempted to put you in the bag and take you back to Spain with them… . The way they were standing behind their boss, looking very big and black (it’s not racism. it’s from going up and down the chimney.) and serious, was pretty daunting, so I generally tried to please them by singing or playing a song on my flute – and it worked every time ;). Of course, the Sint couldn’t make it to our house every year – there were just too many kids to be visited, but even when he was busy he’d make a quick stop during the night and left our well-deserved gifts in our shoes.

Image via Google Images

This year though, I have bought the Sint a gift. A GPS. Because my grandma has moved 3 times since I was small, but he still brings MY chocolate to HER place. And you know what I found in my shoe this year?

An un-eaten carrot!

If you want to know the whole story of Sinterklaas/Santa Claus, I refer to Wikipedia, here is the story of how I, as a Belgian child in the 80’s, experienced the whole thing – traditions evolve and differ slightly in the Netherlands, Germany, … so you might find other versions elsewhere.

Do you have too many friends?

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Is your social life too busy? Are you always running around here and there? Are you tired of that time-consuming job? Have you had enough of family gatherings?

Try the AIDS-stigma!

The AIDS-stigma is guaranteed to help you reduce your number of friends, will keep distant relatives you never cared about anyway at their distance, and has been shown to be an effective means of getting rid of your job! Over 38 million people (and counting!) worldwide can testify how the AIDS-stigma changed their lives.

 
How would you react when a friend/relative was diagnosed with HIV? Who would you tell if you were?

  • Every day 8000 people die from AIDS.
  • 15 million children have lost their parents to the disease.
  • More than 25 million people have died from AIDS so far. According to UN estimates, there will be 280 million by 2050.
  • 50% of infected people is between 15 and 24 years old.
  • Less than 35% of young people knows how to protect themselves from HIV.
  • 90% of HIV-patients lives in developing countries.

Yesterday was World AIDS Day. Did you wear the red ribbon?