Something Swedish


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Älg: Moose, Meese, Mooses or Elk?

IMG_8323editWhen people in Sweden talk about “älg” there’s always some debate on whether the animal is an elk or a moose.

The confusion is completely understandable because it kinda means both. But aren’t Moose and Elk different animals? Yes, but the word “älg” isn’t very specific in Swedish (Why would it be? Only one of the animals live in Sweden).  The Swedish word “älg” means “elk” in British English and “moose” in American English. To complicate it further, the American Moose/European Elk/Swedish Älg is scientifically known as Alces.  This is especially confusing because there are Elk (not the British English/European elk), also known as wapiti, in America and Asia.

Note the different types of antlers:

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Images from wikipedia


Oh, and the plural of moose is moose, the plural of elk is elk (not that we are talking about elks here) and the plural of älg is älgar. Now that we have that cleared up…

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Did you know that älg is Sweden’s national animal?

Moose  symbolize something very important in Sweden’s culture: Nature.

It’s also one of those things people associate with Sweden, even if they’ve never been here:

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Moose are superstars in Sweden. It’s impossible to walk into a tourist shop without finding moose key chains, bumper stickers, aprons, shot glasses, stuffed animals, and shirts. If you go to Sweden and you want some sort of souvenir, chances are it will be something moose shaped.

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The huge animals aren’t particularly dangerous (although,  I wouldn’t recommend getting close to one in the wild – they do protect themselves and their young by charging). More than anything though, with such a high population of älg in Sweden, they are a danger to drivers. It is common to see signs on roads to watch for them and accidents aren’t unheard of:

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Because of the high population, they are also the second most hunted animal in Sweden (about 100,000 a year). It’s common to see antlers hanging on walls as trophies or decor, and to eat älgkott (moose meat) for dinner.IMG_8331

So, after being in Sweden for almost 3 years and never seeing one, we decided it was time to go to them – at the moose park.

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There are many moose parks in Sweden, luckily we are only a short 45 minute drive from one that is open all year round, everyday: ElingeAlgPark (although the café that normally serves pancakes (crepes) was closed)

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When you go into the park, you get a bundle of twigs and leaves to feed the moose with.

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They particularly like the leaves:

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You can also pet them (There is a sink to wash your hands afterwards):

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Unfortunately, not all of the adult moose were there (probably due to mating season) but the four calves and two adults were on premise. Calves are born in May, so that’s the next time we will be going.

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These 5 month calves are almost the size of mama moose.

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This is the adult male (as you can see by the horns) he was not interested in us at all. The female adult (in another enclosement) was very friendly though!

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So, if you’re looking for something Swedish to do while your in Sweden (and you don’t live in or near a forest where you’d probably see moose in their natural habitat) Why not visit a moose park?


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Mushroom Picking

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I know it’s been awhile and I hope you’ll excuse my absence – I was vacationing in the U.S. for 5 weeks.

(blog post in the works about Swedish related stuff in NYC)

Today I checked off a To-Do on my “become more Swedish” goal – I finally went mushroom picking. Ever since I’ve visited Sweden I’ve heard about how popular it is to scour the forest for mushrooms. Not just any mushrooms – but chanterelles.

“Do you want to go mushroom picking” 

“Sure! How hard can it be!”

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Step one: Have boots

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When I asked my husband what we need he simply said, “boots.”

“But, it hasn’t rained in days! It’s sunny and warm”

“Boots.”

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If it weren’t for our newly bought boots we probably would have given up half way through the three hour adventure and went home empty handed.

Step two: Know where and when to go.

Not being from Sweden and having grown up picking mushrooms and berries in the woods, we were a bit blind. Thankfully, in Sweden there is allemansrätten – which means that anyone can roam into nature freely without worries of property boundries as long as you don’t destroy anything. There are definitely good “spots” for finding chanterelles, but finding one is hard, and people want to keep it their secret. Mushroom picking season is in the late summer months, August and September being the best.

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So, we headed into the forest with no clue where/how to start.

Step three: Be patient

We didn’t find any chanterelles for the first hour. Instead we found every other imaginable type of mushroom. Naturally we didn’t know which ones are edible, so we stayed clear – but I took tons of photos:

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The classic red and white mushroom – flugsvamp:

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I’ve never seen so many mushrooms! All different shapes, sizes, colors – but none what we were looking for.

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I never knew mushrooms got so large:

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Or so ugly:

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This one reminded me of a moose antler:

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 Step four: Look closely

We were close to giving up when we had our very first spotting

“Guys!! I think I found some” followed by us running to see the mythical fungi:

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Our second (spotted by me) was strangely out in the open, giving us hope that we might find more:

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And our third – by this time all three of us had found some, so we were happy:

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But then we started finding more and learning where to look. Apparently chanterelles like mossy, dark, and wet areas, usually growing near the roots of pine trees or under rocks and aren’t too easy to spot even though they are bright yellow.

Sometimes all you see is a sliver:

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Sometimes they even took some digging to get to:

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Or reaching down into a dark hole in the ground underneath a boulder covered in moss:

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Some more tips:

~ Check that your chanterelles are real – there are yellow look-alike mushrooms that can make you sick.

~ Be careful of ticks.

~ Bring drinking water.

~ Have fun!!

 

 


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Swedish Scrabble – Alfapet

Whenever I teach an English course I always suggest different ways to practice the second language casually at home:

1) Read books you have read before in your own language
2) Read magazines or blogs about topics you’re interested in
3) Read or watch the news in your second language
4) Watch TV or movies with subtitles
5) Listen to music or audio books
6) Play games

Since I’ve moved to Sweden and started learning Swedish I have tried to integrate the language into my day to day life by doing as many of these things as possible. I especially like to use my Swedish while playing games – it makes language learning more fun, social and casual:
(As a sidenote: board games in Sweden are way more expensive than in the U.S., 300-500kr in stores, depending on the game)
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I’ve always enjoyed Scrabble, so I figured: What better way to work on my vocabulary than playing scrabble in Swedish? After being here for 2 years and refusing to pay 400kr for a board game that I’ve bought for 100kr in the past, I finally found one at a fleamarket for 40kr. Score!
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Now, Scrabble does come in Swedish scrabble as well, but more popular is an almost identical game called Alfapet. (The Swedish spelling of “Alphabet” is actually “Alfabet”)
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As you can see, the board and premise are exactly the same, but there are a few differences:
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In Afapet, not only do you try to build on tiles that give you bonus points, but you try to avoid tiles that take away points. (Note the dark blue tiles)
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Naturally, there are a few new tiles due to the different letters in Swedish. I was surprised that there weren’t more of these, as they are commonly used letters in Swedish.
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Like in Scrabble there are blank tiles, that can be used as any letter without collecting value.
Now it gets interesting, as these next tiles don’t exist in Scrabble at all:

The black tiles represent stops. Once you use this tile you can spell a completely unconnected word next to or after another word: no common letters needed.

The arrows make it possible to turn your word another direction, making space constraints a thing of the past. This also allows you to turn your word so that you can collect bonus tiles that normally wouldn’t align.
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We played for the first time last week, and it was a lot of fun. We initially agreed to use both English and Swedish words, so that I would have a fighting chance, but we played 95% Swedish words, anyway. It was a really great way to practice my Swedish – and I thought this variant of Scrabble was a lot of fun.


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Gekås – The biggest store in Sweden

Sometimes part of my part-time teaching job involves going to companies to help employees improve their English. Over the past three months I have been holding three weekly English lessons for a company called Gekås. If you are planning on moving to Sweden, knowing about this place is a must. If you are going to visit, it’s even a tourist attraction.

Every Swede knows what Gekås is, because it’s the biggest and cheapest “super store” in Sweden. I knew what it was  before I even moved here. Everyone I met used to ask if I have ever been there and were disappointed when I revealed that I hadn’t.  I didn’t get the big deal- I come from the U.S. where huge stores that sell tons of cheap stuff are everywhere, so I didn’t think much of it – until I went to work there. Walking through the store itself takes forever, not to mention through the warehouse to get to the offices.

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Before I went there for the first time I knew that it was very big, very cheap and very famous – not just because people mentioned it to me, but because of the T.V shows. Yes, multiple. One show includes following/interviewing regular customers as they shop and employees as they work.

The other, more famous, show is based around two employees (morgan & ola-conny) that travel to different countries (season 1) and different states of the U.S. (season 2) doing different things despite their difficulty with the English language and inability to communicate.

(They start speaking English at 0:45 )

What does that have to do with Gekås? No idea, aside that sometimes they go back to the store and their faces are all over Gekås merchandise and advertisements.

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So, obviously the store is huge, both in size and familiarity, but the neighborhood is not. Gekås is in a small town in Sweden called Ullared, which has only 800 inhabitants. The 40 minute bus right from the train station is mostly trees, fields and farms. Gekås was built in the middle of nowhere in 1963 and just kept growing until it put Ullared on the map.3675390-pix-geksdiagram_2014

At 35,000 squared meters (376, 735 sq. feet), it’s over 100,000 squared feet (9,300 sq. meters)  larger than the biggest Walmart in the U.S. . Due to the low prices, people travel to shop at Gekås, enough so that they have their own hotel, cabins and campsites next to the store. If you spend a whole day shopping, you can eat at the full sized restaurant on the 3rd floor, the salad bar on the first floor or have a beer at the sports bar in the middle of the store – in the women’s department.

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Don’t be surprised to see people with two carts full of merchandise, exploring the 19 different departments on the hunt for more. Combine this with thousands of customers (record of 27, 500 in one day, 4.6 million in one year), it gets awfully crowded, even if it’s a big place. The good news is that there are over 62 cash registers to help with the congestion. That many cash registers helps with that many people, but also with how much merchandise they sell and money they make: a record of 33 million SEK (5 million USD)  in one day.

Thankfully, going every week meant I never had to go crazy to find everything I wanted or needed, but I did find a lot of good deals (like games and clothes) and cheap prices on household stuff I would have bought anyway. I have only explored a tiny part of the store, since I only had 30 minutes between teaching and my bus, so,  I’ll certainly be back.


38 Comments

Don’t judge my decision to move to Sweden: In response to a vicious comment

Over the years I have tried to keep Something Swedish as positive, inspirational and helpful as possible. In response I have gotten hundreds of positive, encouraging, and touching comments. In fact, I have met a handful of these people in real life and have gained some life long friends through this blog. Thankfully, these kind and sweet words overshadow any negativity such as the mean and ignorant comment that I am about to share, which Something Swedish received three days ago.

Now, I am not personally offended by this comment per se, but I do find it offensive. In fact I read it twice to figure out if it was a joke or not. The reason I am sharing it is to give a proper response to someone who obviously wants to be heard – and to share the moment with all of you instead of hiding it in the unseen comment section.

Texas&Beyond Wrote:
May 6, 2014 at 6:43 am

I do not get it. How can a New York woman get married to a Swedish man and then leave the greatest city on earth – moving to a Halmstad – a medium sized Southwestern coastal city with 100 000 people and a density with is below 100 people/Km. I do not get these middle class liberal American women that move to Scandinavia marrying some liberal blond Middle class IT-programmer with an eco-friendly apartment. Than these American women get all creative and make a blog and fill it with Swedish food, design and nature pictures to show fellow American women that – why “hide” from United States in New York or San Francisco when they can go to Sweden and get married to a blond feminist eco-friendly man and live among 9 million socialists – that is even more hipster than the people in NY and SF. Soon they get pregnant and we have to read about how good socialized health care is. Nine months later we when the baby is born they write something about how “natural it feels not to circumcise the little boy”. We are then shown more picture from her IKEA-home and in the middle the little baby clothed in Swedish design cloths made by unionized labor and that her husband will take out “daddy days” so he can connect with the kid.

I cannot stand liberals – hopefully can the entire NY and SF move to Sweden so we can built a large parking lot over the Bay Area for our SUV:s and use NY as a test-site for no bull shit free market capitalism.

Dear “Texas&Beyond”,

Thank you for your comment, sorry for the delay! I am also sorry that my existence confuses you, if it helps – yours confuses me just as much. The difference between us is that I wouldn’t go onto your personal blog and tell you as much, but it’s sweet that you care so much to go through the trouble to search for a blog that you will hate the contents of. That’s real dedication.

Being a “New York woman” is not what defines me, and my husband is not just “a Swedish man.” We are people who happen to live in, and perhaps even come from (you don’t know, do you?) these places, so why would it matter where we move to? I do feel sorry for you seeing as you don’t understand enough about human beings to know that people fall in love despite gender, age, race, or location. In fact, I didn’t even know location should be on that list, but it seems as if your main problem with me and my blog is that I relocated from “the greatest city on earth” to “A Halmstad.” (Thank you! You know, I do still love NYC! What a shame that following this compliment you hypocritically end your comment with hoping to turn NY into a test-site for capitalism)  To make it clear, Halmstad is the name of the town I live in, not a thing  – although it does seem that you otherwise did your research! Good for you. It would be a shame to leave a comment without knowing what you are talking about. Yes, your Wikipedia stats are correct. It’s almost as if you know a little about Sweden…or at least the stereotypes.

By this point in your comment I am now considered a “middle class liberal American woman” – that sure escalated. How long have you been reading my blog by the way? I’m just curious to know how much you truly know about me. It’s obvious that Something Swedish is surely not the only blog on the topic that you have read, or read on a regular basis just to piss yourself off and add fuel to the fire to give you some sense of passion. I wasn’t aware that my particular life situation was a “trend” I am so damn trendy that I do trendy things without knowing it. I must have psychically known that the anonymous person I played video games with and whose company I enjoyed was a blond haired, IT-programmer Swede with an eco-friendly apartment….except that he is none of those things, aside from Swedish of course. In fact, I have to force my Swedish husband to recycle (such a bad Swede, I know!).

I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider having a blog to be “creative,” it’s more of an outlet – maybe you should start one to get all of this anger out of your system without attacking random people on the internet. You did catch me though, I am indeed guilty of starting a blog, I guess I can’t deny that one. And I do write about Sweden  and Swedish things – guilty again. I know doing this makes no sense; why would anyone in their right state of mind want to talk about and share things that are happening in their lives? Oh! Right, you think it must be so we can brainwash other American women! DUH! It sounds like a vicious cycle we’ve started by falling in love and relocating. Did you know that some people fall in love and move to countries OTHER THAN Sweden?? And SOMETIMES it’s a MAN that moves to Sweden because they fell in love with a Swedish woman… or a Swedish MAN. Shocking, I know.

You are right about one thing – there are about 9 million PEOPLE living in Sweden. How socialism and being a hipster coincides truly eludes me, just like that fact that women tend to have children and then like to talk about their children, seems to elude you. Ah, now we’ve moved onto circumcision, how sweet. It turns out that every culture has it’s own way of doing things and these things might be different than what people are used to when they move from a different country…I think what you are are referring to is “adapting”. It happens. When people are exposed to more ways of living, they tend to change the way they think and even some of the things they believe in or just daily things they do. And yes, people write about it because people are story tellers – we always have been. Blogging might be new, but the tradition of talking and writing is not. We like to share and teach and learn from other through these stories and that is why these women, including myself, write about these things that might seem strange to you. The secret is, you don’t need to read it.

Ikea – probably the one thing you knew about Sweden before doing your blog and Wikipedia research. The last time I checked, Ikea is international – even though it is from Sweden. Many Americans, maybe even your friends, family, and neighbors own furniture from Ikea. I hate to tell you this secret, but there are other furniture stores in Sweden. Lastly,  I’m not sure why anyone would have a problem with a father connecting with their child and I feel very bad for your children if you think this is a bad thing. I guess this goes back to you thinking that all Swedes are feminists; there is a difference between feminism and equality. If I were to hazard a guess I would say that you think women should stay home barefoot and pregnant, cooking, cleaning and looking after the kids while the man is making the money – the equality in Sweden would shock you and most people in the world think it’s a good thing.

If I understand correctly – you can’t decide if you hate socialists, liberals, hipsters or Swedes more; you want to wipe both NY and SF off the map, even though you admit that NY is the greatest place on earth; you judge without knowing or understanding, but you know how to use Wikipedia to make your point; you hate blogs and bloggers, but read them anyway; you really like stereotypes; you don’t understand cultural differences; you have no desire to connect with your kid  – or for your husband to connect with your kid – since, unlike you, I won’t assume anything about who you are. I hope I understood the point of your comment. Thank you for taking the time to write to Something Swedish :)

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Whew, that took a while, but as you all know I ALWAYS – even if its a few months late (sorry!) reply to comments left by readers! And I always encourage discussion and feedback on posts.

Biking

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The first thing I noticed when I first came to Sweden was all the bikes. Everywhere. I’ve seen more bikes than people. I’ve seen people talk on the phone, text, smoke and walk their dogs while on their bikes. It was clear to me that in order to ever truly become integrated into Swedish society, I would need a bike. I even got asked multiple times, ‘Don’t you have a bike?’ as if walking just doesn’t cut it.

Sweden is a very health and environment conscious country, center stage being the strong biking culture.

This commercial was just released by our county explaining that people who bike are superheros:
(Translation:
~ Halmstad is a biking town.
~ 21% of Halmstad residents travel via bike.
~ We have 21 (swedish) miles of biking trails. [= 210 kilometers = 130 miles ]
~ We are building super bike lanes
~ Everyone who bikes is a superhero)

It took a year, but last year I finally loaned a bike from my in-laws and have been riding it nearly every time I go anywhere.

Even though I’ve been able to ride a bike my whole life, this was different. Biking to commute to work/school or when you go to a friend’s house or when you go grocery shopping is a lot different than riding your bike around the block for fun as a kid or to exercise as an adult. In NYC you don’t see too many bikes, it’s simply not a common way to get around. It’s as if I had to relearn how to ride: bike lanes, hand signals, traffic laws, and getting used to so many other cyclists and pedestrians. Oh how things have changed; before I started biking I had no idea. I was amazed by by husbands ability to hear the tire treads of a bike approaching from a block away. I was blissfully unaware of the high pitched yet gentle dinging of a bike bell telling me to move out of people’s ways. Bike lanes seemed like wide sidewalks. Every time a bike whizzed past me I thought for sure that I would be run over.

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Today my husband and I took our bikes out for a ride together for the first time. It was nice to bike for the fun of it instead of using it as a mode of transport. It’s truly the best way to learn your neighborhood, too. Even though I’ve lived here for two years, biking today allowed me to see more places and understand where everything is in relation to each other and the fastest ways to get around. I learned that there is a separate traffic light for bikes, which means that I’ve wasted a lot of time waiting for the pedestrian one instead. Better safe than sorry though! Enjoying the beautiful Swedish weather on a nice long bike ride followed by a picnic in the park is the way to go.
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Welcome to Sweden

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When you first move to a new country you wonder and worry about a lot of things:

“Is this ever going to feel like home?”
“When will I get used to the way things work here?”
“How long will it take to feel normal again?”
“How long until I can speak the language?”
“Will I ever find a job? Make friends? Get used to the food and traditions?”

For me, the overall answers are, “Yes” and “About two years.”
A few months ago I noticed that I no longer felt the need to take pictures of everything I saw or did. A few months ago I noticed that things were no longer strange and exotic. A few months ago I realized that I had found my place in Sweden, started working more, can speak the language and have a strong group of friends. I began to forget how hard and different it was when I first moved here two years ago. The differences that made me laugh or get frustrated are now part of my everyday life. A few months ago, I stopped blogging.

Today though, I decided to pick it back up. Stopping was never my intention, it just sort of happened as a side effect of being busy and not finding anything fun or interesting to write about. This weekend I watched a new show about an American who moves to Sweden and I felt the need to comment on it, criticize, and continue doing what I can do to help other people who are still finding their way.

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About the show that motivated me to write again: Welcome to Sweden – it is a semi autobiographical comedy of Greg Poehler (Brother of actress/comedien Amy Poehler) moving to Sweden for love (Which he really did do about 7 years ago). Sound familiar? I thought so too, so I was eager to watch it.

This interview (which is in English) and short clip from the show make it seem like the perfect show to watch:

And it’s true; it is about being a “fish out of water” and trying to reinvent oneself. For some reason though, I couldn’t connect to the actual show.

While it shows a lot of stereotypes (of both Americans and Swedes) I can’t say i was personally able to relate to all of it. Greg Poehler plays the over the top ignorant, oblivious, culturally obnoxious American who moves to a country without doing a single second of research or putting a single thought into it. The way the character is portrayed is supposed to be funny and charming, but is a bit insulting. His girlfriend’s parents expect him to fail and go home and wonder why he hasn’t found a job and can’t speak the language after two days. Yes, there are pressures and expectations, but this is exaggerated for no reason.

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“…and so you moved to Sweden to live with our daughter. You have no friends, no job…”

Now, I know its hard to make reality into a show (aside from reality tv) and still make it fun and captivating, but part of the problem for me is that most of the show doesn’t make sense because it’s simply not the way things work. Immigration interview after you’ve already moved to the country? Illegal. Needing to get your drivers license changed to Swedish immediately? In reality, you have a year. The Swedish teacher speaking English to the class/the class introducing themselves in English? Should never happen. Not knowing about taking off your shoes indoors until you’ve lived there for three weeks? Seriously? Come on! Perhaps this is exactly how it was for him, but parts of feel hard to believe.

Maybe I am too serious and like to be overly helpful and informative, and a comedy show doesn’t need to get all the facts straight because there is an artistic freedom, however, I find some of it to be misleading or annoying at some parts. Of course everyone has different experiences and I don’t expect it to portray my exact struggles or observations, but there are a lot of things that are overly exaggerated and even more basic (and potentially very funny) things left out.

Those in Sweden- What are your thoughts on the show? (If you haven’t seen it yet, it is being aired on TV4 play) Those in the US – you’ll get your chance to see on July 10 2014 (My wedding anniversary) as NBC has bought the rights and renewed the contract for a second season – so it must not be so bad. Even if I don’t think it’s great, it’s interesting to see and I will certainly tell my friends and family to watch it to get an idea of what it’s been like for me…kind of.

I will continue watching because it does have potential. I can see the appeal and there are funny parts and parts I can kind of relate to, but it’s still an overall “miss” for me so far.

I think I can do better (in written form)- and maybe one day I will. For now though, I’ll continue blogging.

Welcome back Something Swedish.

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