Friday, 17 November 2017

Murder-loving Swedes


Swedes love murder. Discussing murder weapons and motivation is something of a pastime.

I find myself ill-equipped to wade into this gory reservoir of shared knowledge as my in-laws effortlessly compare cases. Swedes seem to discuss murders joyously, as if they were part of some quaint who-done-it series rather than harrowing, real-life events. Of course when it comes to the news we all do this to some extent. It's just the concentration on murderers and serial killers that seems a particularly Swedish preoccupation.
   
Murder just isn't my forté, so I usually wait it out.

But on one occasion I fessed up in a desperate attempt to change the subject: "Wow, you guys love murder. I don't know any of this stuff!".

A brief pause. A few awkward shuffles. Some suffering smiles.

Then it's back to murder! :-)

Friday, 1 September 2017

Spit It Out, Sweden!






Meetings in Sweden are...different.

First of all forget about decisions being the most important part of the meeting, 'cos that's history muchachos. 

This is Sweden.

First, it's customary to have a lot of small talk, bring in a coffee and laugh a bit so we're all friends. 

Eventually the reason for calling the meeting is reluctantly invoked. The aim of the meeting itself is often loosely defined in the style of "let's-vaguely-talk-about-this-rough-topic-till-we-collectively-attain-a-mind-melding-Eureka-moment". 

AND LO! THE SWEDISH COVEN DOTH CONVENE! 'Tis time for the most sacred 'Sharing of All the Opinions of Everyone'. 

Progress. Is. Slow. 

All opinions are supposed to count equally (irrespective of job roles) and most organisations have flat hierarchies, so no one wants to take the lead (that would be displaying too much authority which is anathema to Swedes). 

Everyone is probably feeling a bit uncomfortable at this stage, what with all that potential conflict hanging in the air like some dark, malignant cloud descending ever closer to poison everybody’s Fika Funtimes. 

And after all, everyone's opinion has been expressed. So something's been achieved, right? 

So that's enough, surely? Decisions can wait. Far safer to put it off to the next meeting. Scheduling the next meeting is accomplishment enough. The Wheels of Corporate Democracy have turned. Job well done!

Ah look, it's fika time! :-)

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Brexit and Freedom





Freedom of movement in the EU is about freedom. It is personal. It is where you can live, where you can work, who you can meet, who you can fall in love with and who you can stay with. 

It is this freedom that Theresa May and the UK government are trying to curtail at this very moment at the talks in Brussels. These negotiations will decide how Brexit will affect EU citizens living in the UK.

Donald Tusk spelled it out by saying it was obvious that May aimed to reduce the rights of EU citizens in the UK

My wife is Swedish. I met her in London, and at the time I was living in a flat with an Italian, a Frenchman and a Spaniard. This was after graduating from university when I lived in a flat with a Frenchman, a Greek and a German. It is the Europeans that have opened up my horizons and made me see how interesting life can be.

It is these same people who are now being made to feel isolated and unwanted by the actions of the UK government. This is not the UK that I grew up in. What the UK government is proposing now in Brussels is thinly-veiled xenophobia to appease their right wing UK supporters. It is petty, small-minded and harmful. A suggestion from Theresa May could actually make it impossible for me to return to the UK with my wife. What is the motivation behind such a rule? 

Not only that, but there are proposals that EU citizens must be fingerprinted and apply for special ID cards, symbolically marking them as second-class citizens.

It feels like the UK government  is sending a message to EU citizens, both within and without the UK: that they're simply not welcome.

But a lack of Europeans won't do anything to change the increasing inequality in the UK. There will still be those Etonian toffs running the boo-hiss pantomime parliament in that Victorian country known as 'Great' Britain. 

But I think this is a turning point. I think this is a step too far. When a government's idea of sovereignty is to start telling people where they can live and who they're allowed to live with, people start getting seriously pissed off. The game is getting old now. The same rhetoric that garnered right-wing support is about to change the course of millions of peoples lives and alter the faces seen on British streets for years to come.

There is opposition. I only hope it is strong enough to resist these ludicrous demands and lessen the fallout of this messy separation. Or even better, avoid it altogether!

Let me Off!


Maybe it's a Gothenburg thing rather than a Swedish thing, but people don't seem to let you off the tram here. Everyone piles on before you get out! And they wonder why you shove them out the way!

Very weird, considering the obsessive 'queuing culture'.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Pubs in Gothenburg





People often say it's expensive to go out in Sweden. 

Actually Swedish bars sometimes have cheaper beers as well as expensive beers — beer can be cheaper here in Gothenburg than in Oxfordshire! Your basic stor stark (5%+ beer) can be found from 35-39 kroner in some places. Gothenburg is the home of Swedish micro-brewing, so wherever you go there'll always be a good quality selection of (far more expensive) craft beers. I heartily recommend the Tullen bar chain - cheap and tasty Swedish food and cheap beer, plus hundreds of more expensive 'classy' beers

There's also a few cheap beer places in Vasa too. These places seem to be sort of 'basement bars' that are sunk below street level, yet let in a little light. From the outside they look a little foreboding, but I suppose it's OK when you get in there (I don't think I've been in one yet, gotta give one a go).

If you don't mind paying more but want a bit more atmosphere, I would take a look in Sejdeln ("tankard") on Andra långgatan. This is a Czech place with good lager and classic rock music on the stereo, and true to its name you can buy beer in massive tankards - up to a litre! Swedish bars can sometimes be a little too bland and overly modern, lacking character. Sejdeln has charm precisely because it's a bit rough round the edges. Weirdly, this is the bar that reminds me most of English pubs. It doesn't look like an English pub, but it definitely has its own identity.

Near to Sejdeln on Andra långgatan you've got Kelly's. The stor stark is cheap here, and they serve cheap pizza too. It's a slightly weird place: they have big framed photos of celebrities and artists everywhere (I once spent 2 hours there chatting to a friend in the shadow of a massive David Bowie photo, which was spooky!). Despite the name, there's no Irish connection!

I should mention that near to Kelly's and Sejdeln there's a strip club. This doesn't mean this is a seedy neighbourhood: everything is mixed together on Andra långgatan! The strip club is in fact next door to a 'Save the Animals' place! 

On Storgatan there's a 50's rock and roll bar called Skål. This place serves cheap stor stark  (Norrlands Guld) and even cheap wine at Happy Hour. It's a nice little pit stop to while away hours chatting and listening to good old rock and roll. There's also loads of events going on throughout the week: an open mic, a pub quiz, karaoke and even Pokemon Go Tuesday (whatever that is!).

If you like playing music in pubs Restaurang Västerhus on Karl Johan's gatan is a loveable dive with a very popular open mic (every Thursday) and a lively 'bohemian' music scene. There's also SS. Marieholm, a pub restaurant on a massive boat that hosts a big blues jam every Saturday. If you fancy folk music there's Haket in Masthugget, which has an open Irish session every other Wednesday hosted by TIMSIG ("Traditional Irish Music Sessions in Gothenburg").  

Well, that's enough for now. There might be a follow-up to this after I explore more of Gothenburg!

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Carola Craziness




There is a magical moment in Swedish parties when the music of Carola comes on (Carola is a Swedish national treasure who had some massive hits in the 80s). 

Carola is particularly adored among women of a certain age. When a Carola tune comes on at a party these ladies just let loose: singing as loudly as they can and with total abandonment! It's a sight to behold. It's like they're suddenly back in their childhood, singing Carola tunes into their hairbrush-microphones and dancing in front of the mirror! 

I have to admit, Carola is pretty catchy! :-). 


Saturday, 29 April 2017

Swedes Being Reserved




After you live here a while, you start noticing that Swedes seem quite reserved. 

At first it's hard to put your finger on, but then you begin to recognise the signs. Like how their everyday speech is peppered with a "little" this and a "little" that. It's always a "little"as if they distrust the use of intensifiers. As if they're demonstrating their restraint. They're sensibleness. Swedes rarely exaggerate. 

This makes Swedes seem boring to Brits and American people, who tend to exaggerate desperately in order to elicit some kind of response from Swedes and assert their own individuality. 

But strongly emphasising your individuality is a faux pas! It can be seen as showing you are better than someone else (a serious no-no in Sweden!). It can make you look flashy and imprudent. 

So as Americans and Brits happily machine-gun their audiences with gloriously inflated, half-baked theories displaying their dazzling flair and charisma, Swedes will visibly start backing away. As if they find such comments generally distasteful, but are willing to indulge you. 

After all, you're 'not from around here'. 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Dirty and Dirty!


I got a funny look the other day when I said (in Swedish) "they were a bunch of dirty old bastards". 

My friend said "uh...do you mean they were covered in dirt? I think you mean something else". 

I then asked her for the correct word, which rhymes with the word I mistakenly used!

Smutsig means dirty as in "They were covered in dirt". 

Snuskig means dirty as in "He was a dirty old git!".

Swedish, that ain't fair! It's like you're trying to confuse me! ;-)


More Brits become Swedish After Brexit!



One of the biggest uncertainties when it comes to Brexit is the rights of Brits abroad.

It's no surprise then that more of us are becoming Swedish!

According to this article, the number of Brits applying for Swedish citizenship rose from 441 in 2015 to 1521 in 2016. 

The trend shows no sign of stopping in 2017 as the first 2 months of this year saw 328 Brits applying for Swedish citizenship (it's normally only about 30 a month).

I myself will apply for Swedish citizenship as soon as I can. 

Might as well play it safe!

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Sami Blood




I have been interested in the Sami (the indigenous people of northern Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia) for a while now. 

Recently I saw Sameblod (or Sami Blood in English). It's a Swedish/Sápmi language film about a teenage Sami girl called Elle-Marja who grows up at a time when the Swedish state were forcibly trying to integrate the Sami through compulsory education. Elle-Marja and her sister are sent to the nearby Swedish school, where the children are forbidden to speak Sápmi and must learn about Sweden and Christianity. Representatives from the state use the enforced schooling as an opportunity to take unpleasant biological measurements (at that time the prevalent belief was that the Sami were less intelligent, 'low-born' humans). The film tracks the Sami girl's life as she tries to navigate the two worlds and the situation she finds herself in.

The film forces Sweden to face a dark side of its past. My wife and I were deeply affected by it. I couldn't speak for half an hour afterwards (I had a frog firmly lodged in my throat!). 

The thing that stayed with me was Elle-Marja's sense of otherness: her feeling of being alone and self-conscious. 

The lead Lene Cecilia Sparrok received the youth prize of 5000 Kroner and a diploma from the Såhkie Sami organisation, who said "She is an enchantingly good example for other young Sami with her pride, her language and her courage to try new things". 

The Sami have had quite a bit of media attention in Sweden of late. Recently there has been a TV drama called Midnattsol , a documentary called Renskötarna ("Deer Herders"), a documentary about the Sami artist Sofia Jannok and a song with joyk (traditional Sami singing) just came third in Meolodifestivalen (the national competition where Sweden chooses its Eurovision song). 

My wife said she was taught nothing about the Sami at school, so it's good that some information is getting out there now!




Sunday, 19 February 2017

Swedish Reggae





I watched a great programme on SVT about Swedish reggae. Here are the points I found interesting!

Swedish reggae started when a man called Peps Persson heard Bob Marley's music and was inspired to start singing reggae in his own Skånska Swedish dialect. Peps and his band released an album called "Hög Standard", recognised as one of the first Swedish reggae albums.

In 1981 Bob Marley died of cancer. To honor him, a band called "Kalle Baah" put on a remembrance festival in the tiny town of Skärblacka. Skärblacka is now known as the 'the Kingston of Sweden', and the festival continues to this day. The band went on to begin the studio and production company "Blacka Music", which is known for the special 'Skärblacka' reggae sound. According to one of a group of Skärblacka youths interviewed for the documentary, people in Skärblacka "live, breathe and shit reggae". Skärblacka is only known for two things: reggae and its stinking paper factory. 

One of the biggest reggae festivals in Sweden is currently the "Öland Roots" festival, which is known for it's nice, community-friendly atmosphere. "Öland Roots" stole the title of biggest reggae fest from "Uppsala Reggae Festival", after it was driven to folding due to (according to the documentary) an undue amount of attention from police and authorities concerning drugs. But according to their website "Uppsala Reggae Festival" will return to Uppsala later this year!

Another 'reggae base' in Sweden is apparently Göteborg, where there is something of a homegrown reggae scene (although I'm having trouble finding it!).

Keep skanking!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Passport Pickiness




As I am writing this my Swedish wife and I are sitting in the waiting room of the Passport Office. We're waiting to update my wife's passport. We are number 152 and the electronic counter currently reads 122. A while to go yet!

Kids are starting to go slightly loopy as the boredom sets in. Their parents frantically attempt to appease them with books, games, mobile phones...

In the UK you can do the whole process online or by post. But here in Sweden the photo must be taken in person at the Passport Office on a special machine, so that it's properly standardised. 

I can't help thinking that although the UK produces less 'standardised' passport photos, at least you don't have to spend ages in a waiting room!

This seems to be another classic example of excessive Swedish bureaucracy, where the need to do things 'properly' overrides all other considerations (even efficiency!). 

The waiting continues...

I notice an old man with an enormous white beard. He is reading a newspaper dated 1961. He looks at me with sleepy, ancient eyes. Then he turns back to his paper, scratches his balls and settles in to continue his long wait.

I'm going to be here a while... 

Sunday, 5 February 2017

All Aboard the Beer Boat!






  









Here in Gothenburg people 'ride the Beer Boat'.

Stena's Denmark ferry goes between Frederikshamn in Denmark and Gothenburg in Sweden. Loads of people use it to buy alcohol on the boat at reduced prices, then ride the same boat straight back to Gothenburg without stepping foot outside the Danish terminal.

And we're talking some serious stocking up here! You see them strapping on huge boxes of beer and spirits to hand trucks with bits of bungee cord. Then they're wheeling their enormous loads down the gangway at Gothenburg terminal, lumbering like mastodons and trying not to pulverise small children.

And then it's time to PARTY! :-)


Saturday, 21 January 2017

Wild Boar Takeover!




There's a baboon in the White House and now wild boar are taking over Sweden!

Multitudes of the hairy hogs are seriously damaging crops and projections suggest their numbers will continue to rise over the next ten years.

Why not make the best of it and start keeping them as pets? 

"OK fetch the stick boy, fetch the stick! No, not my LEG! NOOOOOOO!"





Saturday, 14 January 2017

Dreaming in Swedish



You know how they say dreaming in your second language means you're making progress?

This happened in last night's dream, which was straight up wacko! My wife and I somehow have a newborn baby without her being pregnant. I ask her how this happened and she just says "don't worry". I worry. I'm walking in the street with my wife and the 20-minute-old baby in my arms. The baby says "Jag tycker om att sjunga" (I like to sing) and starts singing like a lark. "Sofia, our 20-minute-old baby can talk Swedish and sing!". "Don't worry" says my wife.

I worry.

Then we come home. As we step through the door an identical twin of the baby I'm holding springs out of nowhere and both infants start ninja fighting round the living room at lightning speed. Then in slinks a loser-drunkard claiming to be the father of the other twin baby and starts whining that Sofia should take him back. I ask my wife "Sofia, what's going on?". "Don't worry", she says. Then I wake up.

As you can see, my 'second-language-dreaming' is most likely in its early stages — only a small part of the dream is in Swedish.

But now and again there's more Swedish in my dreams. Like when I dreamt I was the star pupil of a Swedish class!

Well, why not?

Thursday, 12 January 2017

English Killing Swedish?






English appears to be killing Swedish.

Alright, maybe not 'killing', but English has at least given poor Swedish a mild concussion.

Because Swedes seem to be ‘losing words’. Literally.

Younger Swedes tend to use a lot of English in everyday speech. The more they use an English word the less they use the Swedish one, thus weakening their 'Swedish' memory. It's a vicious circle!

Aside from taking English words wholesale, there's also a huge amount of anglicising​​ going on in the Swedish language itself. 'Swenglish' seems to involve 'Swedifying' an English verb (eg. to hint = att hinta) or adding an extra letter to English adjectives so they fit within the Swedish grammatical system (eg. cool = coolt). This kind of 'Swenglish' changes the very fabric of Swedish.  

I’m not a fan of this. But if Swedes themselves don't seem care about English taking over, then so what?

Well, in fact it turns out some Swedes do care.

According to this article written by Swedish and Dutch professors "English has caused worry amongst preservers of the Swedish language. One of the biggest worries is that English is taking over in certain areas, particularly research and higher education in biology, medicine and science..."

The article then goes on to mention Språkförsvaret” (‘Language Defence) who basically say that in Sweden many core areas — such as business, university, the media and adverts it is English and not Swedish that is strongly represented and that this is seriously damaging Swedish: “Why is it that English spreads at the cost of Swedish?...We contend that the many different languages in the world have an intrinsic richness...it needs a grassroots movement to defend the Swedish language”.

By contrast there are those who believe that if languages die off it was ‘meant to be’. This is the view of British comedian David Mitchell, who in this video claims languages simply die out ‘naturally’ due to “natural selection”  and not due to the “actions of Man”.

This is total rubbish. Rachel Nuwer points out in her BBC Future article that "Languages usually reach the point of crisis after being displaced by a socially, politically and economically dominant one...". How are these political, social and economic conditions brought about, if not by the actions of Man?

I also disagree with Mitchell's rather ill-thought out 'it's-OK-because-languages-die-off naturally' sentiment. Anthropologist and linguist Mark Turin explains how this popular "Social Darwinism" argument is rationally unsound: we invest money in bio-diversity and protecting animals, so why not invest in human diversity by protecting languages? In his words "why should it be that the one thing that makes us singularly human shouldn’t be similarly nourished and protected?”

In the aforementioned video, Mitchell claims it is “not the end of the world” when a language dies out. He’s wrong. It is the end of the world or at least a world because that particular way of seeing the world is lost. Each language reflects what that culture holds dear. Its hopes and its fears. We are not USBs, we do not simply dock and transfer data. Language is so much more than that. It is not merely the communicative tool of a people. In a way, it is a people. It is an integral marker that distinguishes a people and expresses their identity.

So I hope Swedish policy makers and broadcasters listen to the general message of ‘Language Defence’ and make Swedish more visible. At the moment it feels as if some authorities and companies are treating Swedish as a second class language. And having listened to beautiful songs and read wonderful books in Swedish this particular Englishman wholeheartedly and fiercely contends that it most certainly is not.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Sun Plays Peekaboo



I saw this beautiful sunrise recently and it was like I could breathe again. Like my heart was swelling in my chest and I was happy to be alive and everything was going to be alright. I went out and stood stock still in the sunlight for ten whole minutes.

You might think this is an odd reaction. You might think "It's just the sun!".

But I live in Sweden and it's winter. Although there is light here in Gothenburg, there can be days of what I call 'Gothenburg grey' when it's cloudy and gloomy from morning till sunset (which is about 3pm).

Clear sunny days feel like a blessing sent from above. Like your soul is coming out from hibernation. It's hard to explain. This country's mood is largely decided by the seasons. Light and the return of summer after winter's murk is a prevalent theme in Swedish folk and church music. You can understand why Midsummer is still celebrated here  I can't imagine anything else more worthy of celebration! People take weeks of holiday at summertime to soak up the sun. It's just common sense!

I used to think that taking all your holiday in summer was a waste.  How little I understood!  Summer is the time Swedes recharge their batteries. You gotta crack open the solar panel of your soul and load up on those rays, man!

And if that sounds too hippy for you then I don't care! The sun's coming back, baby!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Swedish Channel Goes High-Brow Bonkers?





All Swedish TV channel SVT seems to show these days are classical music performances, opera and Antiques Roadshow. SVT seems to be forcing high-brow culture down our throats. 

Are they trying to 'civilise' the population by sheer force of will or something? 

Are their offices filled with chandeliers and ladies in ball gowns and old men in smoking jackets with whiskers talking about how they're going to 'educate the rabble' while classical pianists tickle the ivories of old grand pianos? 

Who knows? 

All I know is that I wouldn't mind watching something else now and again!




Sex and Private Body Parts




"Wow that wine is dry! Reminds me of my nether regions!"

This humorous line from a Swedish Vagifem advert is indicative of the no-nonsense approach Swedes have when discussing sex and genitals! Of course, removing the 'embarrassment factor' from such situations is perfectly logical. Problems can be discussed, prevented and solved without stigma or shame. In the Vagifem advert, the Swedes openly discuss the woman's problem at the dinner table and find the perfect solution (which is of course  Vagifem!). 

Obviously this advert is a joke, but Swedes really are very open about these things! I feel I am positively 'Victorian' by comparison. They simply have a matter-of-fact approach to it all, which for them is perfectly normal. But for me it can be a little uncomfortable!

Here they simply 'call a spade a spade'! Or in this case... 

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Culture Shock


I think most English-speaking immigrants in Sweden fall into two categories:

1. Those who live in a monolingual bubble
2. Those who engage and learn about the language and culture

I am in the second category, but I am starting to take a more charitable view of the first category. The first category may find it easier to retain their confidence and sense of self. They are securely 'grounded' by holding fast to the language they've always spoken: English. It feels safer to stick to what you know. It's less confusing.


I am learning all the time, yet I am in a constant state of confusion and flux. I don't know anything for sure. The ground under my feet is constantly shifting. Once you speak Swedish and start engaging, you quickly discover how little you know or understand, both about the language and the culture. You're in constant overload. 

But the first category only get the 'tourist' version of Sweden. They can't read or discuss in Swedish, so they are always distanced. They force the international language onto the Swedes, and in response the Swedes become the 'international' version of themselves. The worldly, English-speaking version. The local cultural dialogue cannot take root in these conditions. It is not an equal exchange.

This week I have been tempted just to give up. The Winter darkness is wearing me down and I want comfort. Security. Ease. And as I struggle I sometimes feel like my head is going to explode.

But that is the price you pay to deal with Swedes on their own level. And when they see you trying, they let you in. 

I'll probably feel better about it all when the Spring comes!

Saturday, 5 November 2016

The Redneck/Shakepeare Spectrum



One mental mindset I have developed to help me understand Swedish grammar is what I call "The Redneck/Shakespeare Spectrum".

When you say "those __" it sounds redneck. If you want to say "those beer bottles" it's "de där öl-flaskorna!" which literally means "them there beer bottles!". Yah Boigh! 

But the word order used when asking questions and fronting adverbials somehow smacks of the Bard. For instance, "Vad har ni för bilar?" literally means "What have you for cars?" (ie. "What cars do you have?").

Hell yeah boigh, them there bars look gooood! Go we now, my good fellows?     

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Embarrassing Confusion





Some words sound very alike in Swedish. And getting them wrong can be pretty embarrassing! 

I have a particular problem with pronouncing "Jew" and "sound". This can lead to such embarrassing constructions as "What was that loud Jew?" and "That was a really weird Jew!"

I also mix up "vile" and "eager" which is even worse: "Wow, he was vile!", "I am really vile when it comes to this project", "There's nothing wrong with being vile!", "Don't be so vile, just be yourself!"

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Expats Missing Stuff: Decaf


What the hell is wrong with you Sweden? Alcohol-free beer at every turn; but when it comes to decaf beverages, nothing!

In Sweden decaf is viewed as being just as pointless as alcohol-free beer in the UK. So naturally decaf is denigrated and caffeine is king. It's like being a vegetarian in Texas at an annual steak grilling event. "What you say boigh? You wants WHAT!? GET ON OUTTA HERE!"

OK, slight exaggeration. But it's bloody annoying! I can only buy decaf tea from an English import shop. Condeco only serve one decaf coffee: a too-milky latte. In all coffee places in sweden 'real' coffee drinkers get infinite refills. But for decaf drinkers like me it's a one cup deal.

I'm highly aware that this is an extremely middle class problem. That doesn't stop me being pissed off.

I knew I would miss some things from the UK, but I never expected it to be this! Pubs and cheap beer, yes. But unbelievably I've found those.

Lack of a product is something expats always complain about. I used to think that was stupid and sentimental. But the availability of products in different countries indicates different values and needs. The scarcity of a once valued product is somehow destabilising and alienating. What was comfortable and part-of-the-furniture has simply disappeared. 

You simply took it for granted before. But now it's gone. And that really pisses you off!