Tag Archives: Sweden

The art of queuing

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When I arrived here in Sweden, I was warned about a number of things. To be punctual, for example (which, for me, is a total nightmare). To take off my shoes whenever I was visiting someone at their home. To be “lagom”, i.e. not to try to be better than anybody else. Last February, The Local, a Swedish news site in English, published a list of 20 things any foreigner should know before moving to Sweden, and I found myself smiling and nodding over more than one thing.

There was one phenomenon, however, I hadn’t really experienced: the Swedish art of queuing.

I was told the Swedes are patient, and usually await their turn calmly, in a queue. To get on the bus, for example, they form a queue along the bus, waiting to get on. Anywhere else, however, there were only very little queues to be spotted. The reason is very simple: there are numbers everywhere.

You go to the bank? You take a number. You want to buy a train ticket? You take a number. You go to the butcher’s? You take a number. You call a help line? You get a number!

But last Saturday, I was finally able to witness the queuing in its glorious perfection.

Picknick tables on the street at Malmöfestivalen.

Currently, in Malmö, there is the Malmöfestivalen, a free open-air music festival. Apart from the big stages on almost every square, lining the streets are of course stalls with jewelry, clothes, and naturally – food. Now it happens, especially around dinner time, there’s a lot of people wanting to take something out at the same time. We have a similar (although obviously bigger and better) festival in my home town each summer, and it is always a challenge to get the attention of whoever is running the food stall and actually get your food.

Not in Sweden.

In Sweden, people queue.

There’s a gazillion people on the street, pushing to get through, but when it comes to getting the food, they all queue.

And they don’t just queue. Oh no. They queue parallel. Like such:

(Forgive my drawing skills – they have not yet reached the costume making-level…)

I tried to take a pretty picture of it, but it didn’t work out on camera at all, so you’ll have to do with the drawing. Believe me when I say it looked amazingly funny.

I later mentioned this to some Swedes at work, and they nodded seriously in response: “It is sometimes hard, though, when there are only 3 or 4 people, do you already start a queue, or not? And which direction? But there seems to be a common intelligence, and fortunately, it always works out.”

Most fortunately, indeed. Because what on earth would they do if no queue were formed, right?

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).

So here I am

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… on my own again.

I will have to get used to it – a fact which was demonstrated only now when I got home and wanted to open the front door by pressing the handle instead of using the key: for the past 2 weeks, someone was waiting for me here, and the front door wasn’t locked. It was great fun and we travelled around quite alot, although I managed to arrange some drama here and there with tears on both sides – I really have to learn when to shut up. Or actually, simply to shut up. Generally I know perfectly well when I should, the problem is I don’t. Maybe I’ll come back to this later, when I’ve arranged my thoughts on the subject a little bit better.

We’ve taken a whole lot of pictures, and thus I take advantage to change my header image to something of my own making – the Öresund bridge is very pretty, but everything is just so much prettier when you made it yourself ;). Below is the complete stitch (click to enlarge) which is unfortunately too wide for the header. I’ll try to post some of the better pictures in a later stage, once I’ve had the time to sort them all out and photoshop those in need of a straight horizon (seriously, one would think half of the pictures were taken while standing on a rocking ship!), but right now I’m just tired and wanna go to bed – I have just gotten home from work (it’s 10 pm) and it’ll be early day tomorrow (don’t feel too sorry for me… I only showed up at work around 1 pm today). Oh, and there’s 200+ posts waiting in my feed to be read…

Tomorrow…

Kullaberg, Sweden (courtesy from myself)

A tale from the road

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My apologies for leaving you all post-less last weekend, but I wasn’t exactly in the mood for blogging due to the circumstances that sent me home unexpectedly, and neither did I have time to prepare some scheduled posts – but for now regular posting is back! (well, at least until the end of the month)

As I said, I had to return home unexpectedly last weekend. And I took the train. From Lund. To Ghent.

A 17 hour journey*.

To this moment I have no idea why exactly I chose the train. It wasn’t that much cheaper (although, to say it with Tesco: every little helps!). Or actually… T told me to take the train. So I did.

And it started out great – the first train was 15 minutes late. Not when I got on, but for some reason or another, it stopped every 10 minutes. Without there being a train station. We stopped on the øresund-bridge, we stopped before getting into the tunnel, we stopped when we got out, … honestly, this train had issues. I was starting to fear I’d miss my connection and wasn’t exactly thrilled by the idea of missing my grandfather’s funeral because of a train with issues. So once in Copenhagen I started to run – well, you know, the kind of run-hop-walking you generally do when you’re in a hurry but got a big backpack on your back and a full handbag on your front which bounces along happily. The platform was found easily enough, but this was the longest train I ever saw (not really… I saw a Guinness Book attempt for the longest train of over 70 wagons… but for the sake of this post: it was loooooong) and my coach was the very last one. And when I finally got there, I wish I hadn’t.

The wailing which greeted me coming from the train was just… mind-blowing. Think a 2-year-old which has been taken its lollipop, only this was an adult. And I’m pretty sure she wasn’t going to stop even if you gave her 10 lollipops. She was sitting in a couchette with her husband and 3 children, and was completely freaking out. The conductor was in there with them, trying to calm her (and her kids, which were getting really upset because, well, their mother was upset), so I wiggled my way past to try and find my couchette, hoping it would be as far away as possible from noise. It wasn’t. In fact, in passing the conductor I had already passed my spot.

It was there.

The one remaining seat in the couchette occupied by HER.

Please, no, please don’t tell me I have to spend 12 hours in a tiny couchette with a freaked out woman and her 3 kids. She has probably a very good reason to be upset and I’m a kind, tolerant person but please…

And then they got out. For whatever reason the lady had decided she would not continue her journey and she got out, her 3 kids and husband following her silently. I couldn’t believe it – not only did I not have to share a couchette with Mrs. Wail, I GOT A WHOLE COUCHETTE FOR MYSELF! Ah, bliss … .

And then they got back in. Apparently 3 ticket guys combined had been able to convince her to still take the train (strangely, her husband did not say a singly soothing word to his wife, let alone give her a hug or a kiss, rather he seemed embarrassed by the whole situation).

No… please… no… .

Fortunately, both the lady and the conductor had the same idea – it wouldn’t be healthy for me to spend the night in her company. Pfieuw…. for a second, I thought I would be assigned a private bed, since the couchettes seemed pretty much full, but I ended up sharing with two Croation women which fell asleep as soon as they found their seats.

The Thalys was late. And the train to Ghent was late. But I was home. And sometimes, that’s enough.

* For the sake of comparison, Copenhagen-Brussels takes 1h20 with the plane – 6 hours door-to-door.

Swedish for… Swedes?

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I prepared another post for today, but it’ll have to wait. See, today I tried to get inscribed for Swedish language classes. I was really looking forward, because I HATE (and yes, that needed to be in capitals) to be as isolated as I am now. Because that is exactly how it feels – isolate. While everybody (or almost everybody) here speaks English as fluently as you can expect from second language learners, it is just embarrassing having to reply “I’m sorry, could you repeat that in English?” time and time again every time someone in a shop or on the street addresses you for whichever reason. Let alone how annoying it is not being able to understand the signs in the street/in the shops, to have to ask your colleagues every single thing because you can’t even Google where the nearest hairdresser is. But I digress.

The SFI program Autumn 2010... in Swedish, obviously

Now, they have a nice little course in Sweden which is free for immigrants, called Svenska För Invandrare. For Lund, their website can be found here. Notice how it is in Swedish? Because obviously, people who want to learn Swedish… understand Swedish already, right?

But oh, you got me there! There IS an icon to get to the English version of the page. Try it. All in English! Isn’t that nice! Now try to find the opening hours. Whether there are courses Autumn 2010. When they start. It’s not there? Ain’t that a pitty…

So we send an e-mail to Pia Lindskoug, the SFI contact person, to ask for further information. At least on the Swedish page she is designated “Kontaktperson”, there is no mention of her on the English page. Maybe that’s why I haven’t received an answer to the (English) mail I sent 2 weeks ago. But hey, we’re flexible, let’s just go and visit!

I am fortunate enough to inform with my colleague about the opening hours, because those apparently don’t match what is stated on the web page (not that I found them on my own – that page was in Swedish). Now, to subscribe, you need to have a personnummer (some type of ID number). For which you need a Swedish address, a Swedish job and a Swedish person as a guarantee. Well, I’m lucky enough to be able to provide all 3, but while the application only took 10 minutes, it can take 2 months before I actually get the number – it’s a busy period, see. But no personnummer – not even a provisional (official) one – no classes.

So to be able to subscribe to Swedish classes, you need to

  • have a Swedish address
  • have a Swedish job
  • have Swedish friends
  • speak Swedish (to understand the website)

Basically, you need to be Swedish.

I understand the Swedish Democrats managed to get into the parliament – with this type of policies you’re making it real hard for foreigners to learn the language, a prerequisite for integration.

Sweden in a nutshell

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I thought, if I can successfully write a recap of two weeks of blogging, I can surely successfully list the things I love/hate most about Sweden, two weeks into this little project of mine?

  • I love … free coffee. Free coffee, I’m telling you! Well, at the lab at least, but anyway… Nothing helps to recover from (or prepare for) a failed experiment as does a cup of coffee. At our lab, there is a HUGE, and – more importantly – cosy coffee room with two coffee machines and all the sugar, milk, cups, spoons, … you could ever need. Heaven surely must come close to this…
    However, I hate … the lack of Freddy. Freddy was the guy in my previous lab who filled pipet tip boxes, did the dishes (you cannot believe how much dirty glassware one scientist can produce in a day), did the ordering, made media, autoclaved everything – in short, did all those lousy, dreadful things a scientist has to waste his/her time on. There is no Freddy in Sweden :(.
  • This is maybe not the best example... but at least I could afford it.

    I love … the shops! I am not talking clothes shops (obviously) – if you thought IKEA had neat ideas, think again. I am absolutely loving to stroll around interior decoration shops and discover all the genius little things on display. Buying them would ruin my budget, but one can dream, at least…
    I hate … their opening hours. Granted, the supermarket is open till 10pm every day, but on Saturday you will not find any shop open after 4 or even 3pm. I mean, how can you enjoy a relaxing day of shopping when you only have 5 hours? Honestly?
  • I love … cycling. And everybody cycles here! There are loads of parking places for bikes, separate tracks along the road, … There is only little traffic but it is well organized – you know how as a pedestrian you have these buttons to speed the green light when crossing the street and it seems that it takes longer when pressing the button than if you’d have just waited? Not here! You press and … presto … cross along! b.r.i.l.l.i.a.n.t
    But I hate my bike. Or maybe that’s too strongly put. I don’t actually HATE it. But it squeeks. And it has a back pedal break. And my bell is broken. I can do something about the squeeking and the bell, but that damn break… .
  • I love … the gym. At €165 per year (for university employees, it’s around 200) including full access to the gym and all spinning/aerobic/workout/… classes, you have no excuse not to go (which probably is the point). I’ve been there for the first time today and it was a blast (though I’m stone dead now – after only 2 classes… how disappointing). The teachers are good, the building and equipment are recent and modern, and while the majority of people are students, you see a good deal “older” people (grey hears included!) so I’m not really feeling out of place.

    I hate … that they don’t have dancing classes. Don’t get me wrong, I love a serious session of Aerobics, but I am completely hooked on “true” dance classes, where you take a song and work out a choreography over a couple of weeks, so that you really have time to make the dance your own. Most group session are “gympa”-based (defined as “All around workout in a group with focus on strength, cardio, and flexibility”) so the dance element is often missing, but even the Funk or Afro sessions are drop-in (understandably) so … not gonna happen. I keep on searching, though!

I love the purple trains … I miss UHT milk … I like the rabbits in the university grounds … I hate it that I don’t speak (or at least understand) Swedish … I love the many trees/green spaces in the city …

So all in all, the things I like about Sweden are at a slight advantage. Let’s see if they can keep this up ;).

I go on holidays and I take with me …

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I am horrible at packing. No matter how many lists I make, I always forget something. Last month when we went to Croatia on holidays I forgot my credit card, anti-blister tape (we were planning on some serious hiking), our flash light, and my bikini (!). So there is no doubt I will forget something (which is part of the reason I’ll be coming back end September) – and now I am especially worried since my backpack is currently less full and less heavy than it was when we left for Croatia. So, here’s what I put in so far:

  • hairbrush
  • toothbrush
  • 2 large towels, 2 small towels & 4 washcloths
  • nail clipper
  • toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo, deodorant, hand creme
  • 2 kitchen sponges
  • Swiffer (yeah, I Swiffer. sue me)
  • something that is called a “chamois leather” according to Google Translate – Google Images retrieves what it should be but of course, this could all be one Google conspiracy to contaminate my English vocabulary with nonsense words
  • My Vegetarian Cooking Book
  • 1 mattress cover, 2 bottom sheets, and 1 duvet cover
  • 6 long-sleeve t-shirts, 6 short-sleeve t-shirts, 6 tops, 4 sweaters and 1 pair of trousers (it seems I have lost misplaced my other jeans… working on that)
  • a bunch of socks and underwear
  • bathing suit + diving goggles
  • running shoes (I will be SO sportive!)
  • headset, camera
  • first aid kit
  • some pens, pencils, …
  • credit card, homebanking Digipass
  • lighter
  • my mobile garden: parsley, chive, and basil seeds, and these small pots to grow mini-sunflowers, lavender and 4-leaf clover
  • birthday calender

And the million dollar question is… what have I forgotten?