Something Swedish

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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Navigating Sweden

I’ve been living in Sweden for nearly two years now and I have a confession: I still don’t know my own neighborhood. Outside of four major streets or highways, street names are an elusive mystery to me. Having grown up in Queens, NYC, where every street is perfectly aligned with a ruler and numbered in order, I’ve never been very great with named streets. Naturally, I thought that was the problem – until yesterday.

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Yesterday I had my first lone adventure in Sweden. I took the 8am train to Gothenburg all by myself so that I can get my fingerprints, photo, and signature taken for my new ID card (Permanent residence, yay!)

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Even though I’ve been to Gothenburg a dozen times before, I’ve never had to think about where I was because I wasn’t alone – especially not trying to find an address. Even though I’ve been to migrationsverket one time before (two years ago) and I was using Iphone maps, I was having a hard time. And that’s when it hit me:

Street signs in Sweden suck. Sorry to be so harsh (it was partially for alliterations sake… I couldn’t resist the 4th ‘s’ word) , but they are so different than what I’m used to, I’ve never even NOTICED street signs in Sweden before. No wonder I don’t recognize any street names. (thankfully, and obviously, I don’t drive)

Let me compare:

Street signs in NYC are ALWAYS posted in the same exact spot on every street corner – sticking out from a pole on the corner, away from the buildings in clear sight of pedestrians trying to find their way – spottable and readable from more than a half a block away. These signs are also always at the same height, not to be missed or confused with anything else.

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Street signs in Sweden can be anywhere. Yes, they are on the corner, but not always every corner. They are not always at the same height (from above store entrances/ signs to almost eye level). And worse of all, they are camouflaged into the surroundings – attached to the sides of buildings, sometimes nestled next to awnings or signs.

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BTW, stumbling upon street names named after Norse gods (Odin and Frigga) was pretty awesome, I have to say.

While the street sign system is not my favorite, I do give partial credit to the addresses. The sorting of addresses on each block reminds me of how books are sorted in a library: each book shelf (block/street sign) indicating which books (addresses) you’ll find there. While I don’t think it gives a good indication of where that address will actually be, if you’re looking at the sign (if you can find it) then you’ll know if that block has the address you need.

In Queens a three part address system is used (xx – xx- xxx street), which seems confusing, but helps understand where in the neighborhood the address is located in relation to other streets. The first number being the cross street, the second number being the house number, and the third number being the street that the address is actually on. Without using cross streets in the address, dependency on a map (or knowledge of the area) is more crucial in Sweden – or so it feels for me.

Of course street signs are different everywhere, and it’s easy reading what you’re used to. This is simply not something I expected to have to adjust to. Now that I’ve noted the difference, I can start paying more attention and forcing myself to look for them – on the sides of buildings.


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Riddle me this, Sweden

First things first…

Stay with me here – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th. In Swedish these would be 1:a, 2:a, 3:e, 4:e, 5:e, 6:e, 7:e, 8:e, 9:e, 10:e. I wasn’t able to recognize them either, don’t worry. But sometimes you do see “1st” in Swedish – usually in the produce section of the supermarket and you wonder what it is, “Is it the first crop of the season?” then you see “2st” and think it’s just a typo. “st” in Swedish means “stycken” a useful word that we don’t have in English which indicates how many of something, like individual pieces.

Time

Telling time is telling time, right? Wrong. It might be easy for those who know how to use military time, but I have literately missed a work meeting because of the habit of using AM and PM and mistaking an early morning meeting for an “after work” meeting. It takes a lot of time and finger counting to look at a clock and read 21.15 as 9:15, or vice versa, thinking 9:15 but needing to write 21.15, without getting it wrong a few dozen times.

Here’s a tip: if someone is meeting you for a drink at 10.00 they probably mean coffee, not alcohol.

But don’t worry, it’s only written this way, when Swedes speak they use the am/pm system, just to mess with my mind I assume. Not that saying the time is any easier – wrap your head around explaining 7:35 as “five minutes past half till 8,” More simply, dinner at 6:30? instead of saying “half past 6″ you would say “half till 7″.

Oh, and 10.00 is how we write the time here in Sweden, I wasn’t accidentally talking about the price of overpriced drinks (coffee/alcohol) in Sweden.

Like so:

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Money

So, if a period equals a colon (10.00 instead of 10:00) to indicate time, then how do we deal with money? Commas, of course, ya know, unless there should be a comma, then we use a period ($1,000 = 7.000 SEK)

Buying a pair of pants? Price: 699,90 SEK. Don’t worry, that’s hundred, not thousand, don’t let that comma startle you. And good news, tax is always included in the price tags in Sweden, so what you see is what you pay! Except that the “öre” (think “penny”) hasn’t existed in many years, so prices are just “rounded” to the nearest kronor, so yes, you will be paying 700 SEK.

Dates

Have an important meeting on 5/4/2013? Don’t miss it, it’s on April 5th, not May 4th.  Oh, and don’t try to make it any easier by writing “April 5th” because it is really “5:e april” (You were wondering where they used that colon, if not for telling time, right? Me too) The colon is also used when you would add an ” ‘s ” to an abbreviation, but I digress.

Grammar

While we’re on the topic of commas, colons, and periods being used differently than what I’m used to – why not talk about apostrophes and semi colons, too?

It’s easy, they barely exist while writing Swedish. Big sigh of relief, eller hur? Semi colons not being used as often as in English I can understand – people use them incorrectly all the time anyway, but apostrophes!? That’s like the bread and butter to English! Well, here’s the thing – Swedish doesn’t use contractions. You’ll never find our beloved “I’m,” “you’re,” “she’ll,” “aren’t” “they’re,” “here’s,” “I’ll,” “he’ll,” and “won’t” in Swedish which means that 90% of the apostrophes we use every day are gone. The other 10%? Also gone: “Sweden’s soccer team” becomes “Sveriges fotbollslag” no apostrophe needed, and yes soccer in the U.S. is “fotboll” (football) here in Sweden.

At least one thing is just as important in Swedish as it is in English, don’t forget your capitalization, as in don’t forget to NOT do it  for months or days of the week.

Multiple choice time!

Why is there an X here?

1) “2” and “3” are way too similar to put next to each other

x) Swede’s thought they’d get the numbers and the letters mingling.

2) To be even more confusing to immigrants!


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Being an American in Sweden

At ten o’clock this morning (4am EST)  Air-force One landed on Swedish soil, that’s right – President Obama is in Sweden. I know because we watched it in class for almost an hour, yes, it’s THAT big of a deal here. Granted, it IS civics class which discusses domestic and international politics, so it was pretty relevant, but I was still surprised. Over the past week or so it has been impossible to turn on the radio or open a newspaper without hearing or reading about this jam packed 24 hour (completely televised) visit. Before I delve into the details on Obama in Sweden, I figured this gives a relevant transition into how it feels to be an American in Sweden – or at least a few broad one side observations that I hope don’t offend anyone, but just came to mind:

First off let me point out that we are few and far between, unless you are working at an International school. Keep in mind that Sweden accepts a large amount of immigrants and refugees, so the ratio is not too surprising. Outside of native English speaking teachers recruited to Sweden, I’ve met 5  Americans in two years (one in passing, one moved back, one being my old boss, one in my current class and one a friend from school & the blog I don’t see often enough), plus a few Swedes that have lived in the US for a long time. Compared to the large groups of people from other countries bonding during class breaks (often in their own languages), sometimes it can feel a bit lonely. Not to say that people aren’t friendly and welcoming, but cliques are natural. I’m guilty of it –  hanging out with a mix of Americans, Brits, a New Zealander and a Canadian. Oh, and Swedes.

For the most part I want to say Swedes like, or are at least impartial to the U.S. The bigger happenings in America are often reported here, which is an upside of being an American in Sweden – being in the know. Someone in class today asked why it was such a big deal that president Obama is here in Sweden, knowing that if it was a president from any other country it wouldn’t have been as important or such a big deal. As much as I hate that many Americans seem to think that the U.S is the center of the world or know little to nothing about other countries, (I’ve been asked if Swedish is really a real language and told that I can drive a car from NYC to Sweden instead of fly) it’s true that America gets a lot of attention world wide, at least in Sweden. It’s not that the world cares so much about America, but one way to look at it is that the European Union and the United States are two sides of a coin – large and powerful with many smaller parts (countries / states). Countries in Europe, to me, are like states in the U.S. – different cultures, languages (Dialects, anyway), economies, politics. News is no more reported about all European countries combined than it is about the U.S.

In almost all of the classes I’ve been in and many casual conversations I’ve taken part of, America has been brought up in discussion in one way or another, sometimes more relevantly than others, sometimes with more or less hostility than others – all with me feeling awkward wanting the conversation to change (I’ve never been a fan of politics). Being the only American in a room when the super power gets brought up is a lot of pressure; either you’ve got to have an opinion, your political views are assumed, or thankfully sometimes you aren’t put on the spot but you are anxiously waiting for it to happen anyway.

Sometimes the conversations are welcomed and pleasant, especially depending on how much you enjoy talking about politics and the like. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to talk about where you are from, your opinions, and find out that people are interested in something you care about or are invested in. Sometimes it’s not even politics, which is even better.

Oh, and don’t be surprised to see Yankees baseball caps here and there –  unlike I originally thought, this does not mean they are from, or have ever been to the U.S.

I’m constantly reminded of common advice most Americans have heard at least once in their life, “When traveling abroad, say you’re from Canada.” You’re never sure how people will respond to you, what they will ask you, or what they will assume about you just because the country you come from has gotten involved in a few too many things. Oh, and sometimes being “American” automatically means being a Texan, the southern accent being a favorite to use when quoting Americans. Other stereotypes: being loud, prude, rude, and good tippers.

It’s been interesting hearing so many outside views of my home country, sometimes as if I’m not even in the room, being offended, enlightened or amused. As an immigrant, I get to learn about not only Sweden, but so many other cultures through my fellow classmates, all of whom seem to have a different opinion about something that is happening, or has in the past happened in America. I’ve heard conspiracy theories, admiration, confusion, hatred, respect, and just plain interest in current events. On the other hand, some people don’t even know who Obama is, let alone anything concerning news in the U.S.A., maybe with the acceptation of something that effects Sweden or their homeland.

Most of the time though, I’m met with positive reactions, “Oh! Where in the U.S are you from!?” Thankfully I’m from NYC, which always opens up the conversation of “Really? I’ve always wanted to go there” or “It must be really different here” or “Oh! I’ve been there!” Which are all great ice breakers.

All and all, it’s nice to live somewhere that isn’t too different from living in America, unlike if I moved somewhere where I couldn’t buy my meat already slaughtered and prepackaged, or where technology wasn’t so advanced, or where English isn’t understood or spoken by the majority of the population.

Maybe this deserves it’s own post – more on Obama’s visit tomorrow instead.


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Nollning: Sweden’s School Hazing

A side effect of living near a university in Sweden this time of year is that for a few weeks it feels like living in a Dr. Seuss cartoon. Let me explain.

Mid-Late August means classes start back up, which means new students, which means “Nollning” takes place: a ten day “orientation.” The direct meaning  translation of “Nollning” is “Hazing” but it’s not exactly done the same way. Sure, it’s an “initiation” or “rite of passage” of new students, but there isn’t the same negative connotation to it like in the U.S. At least, not anymore, or as much as before – over the years most schools in Sweden have been making an effort to make it a more positive and fun experience.

The word “Hazing” in North America is associated to physical or sexual harassment, abuse, and humiliation to become an accepted member of a sorority or a fraternity, which is often illegal and not associated to the school.  In the worst spectrum of hazing can range from being kidnapped to being beaten, being abandoned to being forced to commit a crime. Swedish “Nollning” on the other hand means “Zeroing” because students are at the “zero” level: they have yet to start year 1 of college, they are new and don’t have friends. The idea of nollning doesn’t have the same cringe-factor as hazing, unless you consider singing and dancing competitions to be particularly cruel. There is of course a lot of being yelled at and doing somewhat embarrassing things, but from what I’ve read and seen it seems a lot more open and fun. Sure, sometimes some people take it too far like anywhere else, but the intentions are not as malicious.

Instead of being initiated into a sorority or a fraternity, Swedish students are being welcomed into the program they are studying. Nollning is an accepted tradition of the school culture in Sweden, even recognizing it as a student event: Check out photos and info HERE and HERE. Schools are organized with the official events and activities of nollning, making sure everything is safe by organizing student union pub nights, providing low % alcohol, and making sure there is crisis training in case of emergencies.

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In North America “hazing” is optional in the sense that the majority of students don’t care about being part of something extra like a sorority or fraternity, and not all of them have such rough hazing rituals. Nollning is something that many (About half) new Swedish students choose do to be a socially accepted part of the program, to have fun, make friends, and party before school begins.

In Halmstad this means seeing students walk around in overalls of all different colors, each color representing a major: Engineering, IT, Mathematics, Humanities, etc. You’ll usually spot them walking in large groups, like a flock of birds. The overalls are written on or covered with patches. Where does the Dr. Seuss part come in? It’s the colorful and huge wigs, crazy sunglasses, weird masks, animal hats, and the funny voices they have to use to talk  with (Sounds like a robotic voice). It’s a bit surreal around here for a while. There are activities and games that they play together, or competitions against other “teams” (other colors or programs) so that they become a community before school starts. If you miss Nollning it might be a little bit harder for you to make friends in your classes, having missed the “head start” bonding.

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There are “Zeros” (New Students) and Leaders (Second year students who lead the nollning) The leaders are the ones who speak with the robotic voices and wear the colorful overall outfits/masks/Wigs to hide their true identity from the zeros during the Nollning, which is revealed on the last day. Meanwhile the “zeros” wear colorful shirts, necklaces and headbands with their names written across so that everyone gets to know each other. Originally I thought it would be the opposite, since making new students dress in silly costumes seems like something under the idea of “hazing”, but it’s the other way around.

Video of some Nollning activities in Halmstad (No sound, sorry):

Having only observed Nollning from afar, if anyone would like to enlighten me a little more on the topic, feel free to share! I can’t figure out why some people have strips of different colors at the bottom of their overalls, for example. Have you seen any Nollning activities?


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Meeting and Greeting in Sweden: Handshake, Hug, or Kiss(es)?

I started writing this post almost a year ago, when it was more relevant to my newness here in Sweden and attending SFI:

When I first started visiting Sweden I wasn’t familiar with the small details of Swedish culture, like what you do when you meet someone new, or when you say hi to a friend.  I was always a little annoyed with my then-boyfriend-now-husband, because he never introduced me to people that he was talking to in front of me that I hadn’t met yet. I thought it was rude, but it was simply a difference in culture.  In NYC, It’s more common to be introduced by the mutual friend, “Meg, this is Randomname, Randomname this is Meg” handshake greetingwith pointing and gestures to indicate who is who – usually received with a wave and a smile or a handshake. It’s a lot less common to introduce yourself in NYC and comes off to be a little too forward.

In Sweden, however, you have to take it upon yourself to step up and reach out your hand and announce your name with a solid handshake and eye contact. Naturally, I never did this the first few times I visited and it got to be pretty awkward as I didn’t officially “meet” a lot of people.  Finally, I confronted my then-boyfriend-now-husband who explained it all to me. After that, I started doing it Swedish Style; introducing myself right away instead of awkwardly standing around waiting for him to do it.

Once I got over the hurdle of MEETING people in Sweden, I realized that I’ve been GREETING people all wrong. When researching how to greet people around the world, Sweden is usually not on any of the lists, because there is nothing too specific about a Swedish greeting – except maybe moderation. There is no special way to hug or shake hands that could be rude, offensive, or embarrassing. It is good to know that they generally don’t kiss on the cheek though, singlekissgreetinglike many other countries do. It wasn’t until our wedding in Sweden that my mother-in-law pointed out (in a friendly, shy and giggling way) that my family kisses on the check, which was a little strange to her and she failed to reciprocate since it’s not something normal for her. Meanwhile, this is something I have always done since being in Sweden, but it’s never been pointed out to me. Thankfully, I’m a ‘light contact’ cheek-to-cheek air-kisser which might have gone undetected or else I might have been making a lot more people a lot more uncomfortable. Towards the bottom of this interview HERE I mention it as one of the most embarrassing mistakes I’ve made in Sweden, going around kissing stand offish Swedes who generally like their personal space; at least until you are good friends.

So, I’ve braced myself and committed to being a little gentler with my hello’s and goodbye’s, reserving hugs till I’ve built up a friendship instead of freely handing them out to people I’ve only just met – and then I started making other expat friends and had to start all over again. I never thought any of my anxiety would be over how to say hello or good bye to friends and classmates, but there it was.

The thing with being an expat is you generally tend to hang out with a lot of people from different countries, we go to school together, learn the language together, and socialize together more than I’ve ever hung out with any Swede aside from my husband. This is especially true in Sweden, as anyone new to the country is given the opportunity of free language courses (SFI) everyday. Expecting SFI to be all Swedish and Swedes, I wasn’t prepared to find so many people from around the world. I thought I was well diversified coming from NYC, but it is a whole different thing when everyone has just moved to Sweden straight from from their home countries – Iran, Thailand, Africa, Iraq, Turkey, Spain, Serbia, Germany, Bulgaria, Russia, Lithuania, Korea, Croatia, Egypt, Romania with a light sprinkle of New Zealand, Australian, UK, Canada, and the U.S. All trying to adjust to living in Sweden, while bringing in their own traditions and cultures, such as how to greet one another.

Every country naturally has their own way of greeting friends, so I was thrown back into the whirlwind of what to do with who; not just “stop kissing Swedes”. I always try to take the other persons lead, but sometimes slip and turn a hatriple kiss greetingndshake into a panicked cheek kiss because there was a moment hesitation from both of us and I didn’t know what to do. Sometimes it is a light hug, a wave, a smile, or a strong embrace depending on where someone comes from. A handshake varies from a light gentle graze or a very firm grip. In some cultures it is offensive to kiss on the cheek, and in others it is offensive not to, and then you never know how many times to do it, once twice or thrice. Throw in everyone’s effort to integrate into Sweden and no one seems to know what to do outside of their own culture groups. Greetings become a little blurry and shaky, unless you have the same traditions and already know how to handle greeting each other. For my birthday I was given  triple or double cheek kisses by some cultures, hugs from others, handshakes from the rest as they congratulated me.

Upon saying good bye to new found friends from England, Canada, and USA (Places with the same customs as myself, so this should be easy) I froze and automatically (read: awkwardly) stepped back and offered a hand shake instead of what would be a friendly wave or a hug. We stumbled through it, laughed it off and ended up hugging instead.

All in all, it’s just a funny observation of a sometimes awkward situation that maybe you’ve also experienced while learning the Swedish language along side other people learning the same thing, all from different places around the world, speaking different languages inbetween classes and bringing in all sorts of delicious food that I’ve never seen or heard of before for class parties. SFI is a unique place; a smörgåsbord of cultures all brought together to learn about one thing we all have in common: Sweden.

List of THINGS TO SAY to Greet People in Sweden

Hej! or Hej Hej! = Hey/Hi – Most common, appropriate for both formal and informal.

Hallå = Hello

Hejsan = Hey

Tjena = Hey – Less formal, between friends

God Morgon/Dag = Good Morning/Day

Trevligt att träffas!  = Nice to meet you!

Hur är det? = How is it? (Whats up?)

Hur går det? = How goes it? (How’s it going?)

Hur läget? = How are things?

Vad hittar du på? = What are you finding? (What’s are you doing/up to?)

Hur mår du? = How do you feel?

Hej då! = Good bye!

Adjö! = Bye!

Ha det så bra! = Have it so good! (Have a good day)

Vi ses snart! = See you soon!


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Someone, Somewhere, Something: A Transcontinental Love Story.

(Written a year and a half ago, never posted, newly updated. Happy 2 year Anniversary!)

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Everyone has a different form of love, success, opportunity, or happiness that they don’t even realize they need or want. Something that completes you. Sometimes that “something” is a “someone,” or even a “somewhere.” Mine turned out to be both, my “Something Swedish” you can say.

Five years ago I met my “someone,” in a somewhat strange way, having only spoken through Skype and video games, proving that the world is truly a small place. It was the first time he stepped foot in a plane when he traveled 3,800 miles across the Atlantic ocean to meet me in New York City, a long way away from Sweden.

I was expecting to meet “someone,” unaware he’d introduce me to two “somewheres” – one of which was in my backyard my whole life, unexplored. The other, on the other side of the world.

I learned that you don’t need to go far to experience something, or someplace. Being a tour guide in my own city opened my eyes to where I live. Known as ‘The Big Apple,’ New York City has something for everyone (who knew?) When growing up in New York it’s easy to overlook all of the sites, attractions, culture, and history around you and at your fingertips, not recognizing why millions of tourists flock to the annoyingly crowded area of Times Square every year. You don’t understand why people want to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge when you can simply take the train. We hatched an “attack” plan of how to see/do as much as possible in just one week. I learned that there are three kinds of tourists: the sight seers, the shoppers, and the museums goers.

It turns out my Swedish guest was very excited to see the museums. I had a “museum goer” on my hands and a museum goer I was not. (Since then we’ve become more of sight seers and shoppers, but still enjoy a good museum from time to time) First I brought him to a childhood classic; The Museum of Natural History, a staple for N.Y.C. school kids to learn about science, history, animals, and geology through impressively gigantic exhibits – the most memorable being the model 94-foot blue whale dangling from the ceiling and being greeted by the fossilized T-Rex in the lobby.

A tourist in my own backyard, I wondered how I’ve lived in New York City my whole life and never even seen the famous white curves of The Guggenheim.

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The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) greeted us with contemporary exhibitions of photography, film, architecture, typography, and design. The Cloisters showcased a collection of European sculptures, tapestries, paintings, statues, gardens, stained glass, and architecture from the 12th -15th centuries.

We were drawn to the bright lights of Times Square where we instantly regretted not preparing and buying Broadway tickets ahead of time, knowing it is a New York experience that will be cherished for a lifetime. We instead went to an off Broadway rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelve Night, leaving us thirsty for more. (Making sure never to make that mistake again, seeing something every visit: Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Sleep No More) Instead we soaked in our surroundings: the huge stores and flashing lights, and the overwhelming amount of people walking, selling, yelling, performing, and painting on the streets.

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Seeing Manhattan together let me see it for the first time, I learned my way around my own city. We taught each other how to navigate the named streets and the subway system. I took him downtown, away from the large crowds into the comfort of Little Italy and China Town where we ate cannolis and Chinese food. We took a tour boat around Manhattan, passing by the iconic Statue of Liberty.

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I showed him the massive buildings in the financial district, whose archways were built for giants, we rubbed the famous balls of the charging bull, explored the oldest church, solemnly soaked in the wreck of the ground zero work site, and then walked through an illumination of blue lights sparkling against the water along the southern tip of Manhattan at Battery Park.

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We reached new heights in New York. We might not have climbed to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, but we did see the famous view from the iconic Empire State building (and the next year finding the even more breathtaking view from Rockefeller Center). A horse and carriage ride through Central Park was the perfect end of the evening.

We even escaped the grasp of Manhattan. Something that most tourists don’t get to do, know to do, or care to do. He taught me how to see Manhattan and I taught him that there was more to New York City than the “city”. We walked across the Brooklyn bridge, bringing us to where the most beautiful Manhattan skyline photos are taken.

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I took him off the beaten tourist path and showed him my version of NYC. We went to the Queens botanical garden and Flushing Meadow Park, were the worlds fair was held in 1939 and 1964. We went to Coney Island, known for its amusement parks (with the oldest wooden roller coaster in the U.S., the Cyclone, and the iconic Wonder Wheel),

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walked along the famous boardwalk, and enjoyed the food vendors, aquarium, beach, and minor league baseball. We ate traditional Coney Island food: Nathan’s hot dogs, sausage and peppers, and Italian ices followed up by his first American baseball game. (Which has since  become a tradition)

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Five months later it was my turn to travel to his world, to be the real tourist instead of the clueless tour guide. Traveling the world never even crossed my mind. Sure, I always wanted to trace back the history of my heritage in Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France, and Italy, but it seemed like nothing more than a childhood dream – “something” other people do. I never thought there would be a “somewhere” other than New York City.

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I took the same 10 hour flight and finally landed in Sweden to experience my first time in another country. I didn’t know much about many other countries, let alone Sweden, where as he knew a lot about New York from school, movies, and television. I didn’t know what to expect or how to act. To my relief most Swedes speak English extremely well.

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My first impression was of how beautiful everything around me was. Flying into Gothenburg, the second largest city in Sweden, felt very comfortable and pleasant. It was a mix of both fast and slow pace, just the right amount of hustle and bustle. When I saw the trolleys chugging along the cobblestone streets I knew I wasn’t in New York anymore. Everything was picturesque – the carefully crafted architecture of each beautiful and impressive building, the churches, the stained glass, the abundance of fountains and statues.

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It felt empowering to be amongst a place so rich in culture, tradition, and history. I fell in love. Not only with him, not only with Sweden, but with traveling and soaking in another country and its culture – with him. It was my “something” – both Someone and Somewhere. I enjoyed Sweden without feeling the need to have a packed site-seeing schedule. In that way, my trip to Sweden was different than his trip to NYC. Just being there was enough. I didn’t know whether to soak it all in and enjoy the moment or take a lot of photos to make the moments last forever.

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We casually strolled the streets, shopped in the stores, and ate Swedish food. When people ask what I did in Sweden I replied “nothing.” Everyone wanted to know about the sites, the museums, what I did and saw, and were disappointed by my lack of being a tourist. They wanted to vicariously travel through me but I didn’t feel the need to rush and experience every historical or cultural crevasse of Sweden. Maybe I sensed that I was the fourth type of tourist; not a sight seer, shopper, or museum goer- but a “stayer.” I was the kind of tourist that wasn’t in a rush because I knew I would be back and would have all the time in the world.

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Since then I have enjoyed a Swedish Midsummer meal highlighted by pickled herring, new potatoes, and fresh strawberries. Then I experienced the festivities as people dance around a maypole to special songs about frogs and summer while wearing traditional clothing and a crown of flowers on their head. I’ve endured through the harsh winters when there’s only 6 hours of daylight, as well as basked in delight during the 18 hour days of summer.

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Together we have conquered the tallest wooden roller coaster in Sweden as well as visited the museum with the most Scandinavian art. I’ve adapted to stores being closed on Sundays and buying Swedish groceries. I’ve learned to eat thin Swedish pizza with a knife and fork. I have grown accustomed to taking my shoes off at the doorway of every home and have gotten used to open faced sandwiches for breakfast. I’ve seen little kids wearing witches hats to celebrate Easter and have eaten the Swedish specialty of Lutefisk for Christmas dinner. I saw that the stereotype that every Swede is a blonde bombshell with blue eyes is not true, it is actually a diverse country.

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We’ve been aboard the world’s largest operational wooden sailing vessel, a replica which originally sank in the 18th century. We learned all about the history of Älvsborg, a fortress castle built to protect Göteborg in the 17th century, then pretended to get shot out of one if its many cannons.

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I now know my way around a town in Sweden, where as six years ago I hardly knew the country existed. I have favorite places to eat and favorite Swedish foods. I’m learning the Swedish language, going to Swedish school, making Swedish friends, and working at Swedish places.542887_10151033620320628_1458500220_n

I have seen the red and white houses sprinkled through out the beautiful country side, such as is classically depicted in any story about Sweden. I’ve celebrated “Fat Tuesday” by eating a decadent creamy pastry with almond paste called “Semla.” We live in a town filled with rich history such as viking naval battles, valiant struggles between Sweden and Denmark, and a fire that destroyed almost everything. I’ve heard the cheerful drinking songs that Swedes sing before taking the first sip of liquor, and I love to say “Skål” in Sweden instead of “Cheers” while drinking snaps at every holiday dinner.

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I loved Sweden the first time I stepped foot there even though I didn’t do anything touristy or exciting. I couldn’t explain that it was the day-to-day life that I enjoyed. Maybe it’s because I was meant to get married in Sweden on a sunny day that lasted 18 hours with perfectly “lagom” weather. It’s because I was meant to move here, meet new people, gain the courage to socialize, and adapt.

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Since his first visit in New York, my “someone” and I traveled back and forth between our two “somewheres” twice a year for three years, experiencing something new each time. We have explored and experienced each place together. Not only do I now feel more comfortable in Sweden, but NYC is now a home away from home for him.  We can compare our experiences and each  country more and more each time we travel back and forth. Each time is like a vacation and visiting home all wrapped in one.

It doesn’t matter if you are looking to see the world, given a job opportunity far from home, if you want to help the less fortunate, fulfill a bucket list, or maybe you are following love. Everyone needs to find their “someone,” “something” and/or “someplace” which sometimes means taking a leap of faith.

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All About Working in Sweden

A few weeks ago I managed to find two part time jobs (Actually, one found me)! Not only are they in a new country with me speaking a new language, but also in fields where I have little to no experience – a restaurant and a preschool. Read about my job hunt Here.

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Snack Time (Mellanmål) with Name Tags

Lärare Vikarie (Substitute Teacher): I’ve taught children before as an English tutor, but never ages 2-5, and certainly never in Swedish. It’s fun to play with the kids, help them build and figure out puzzles and read to them in Swedish, even if I sometimes struggle to understand (sometimes it’s simply baby talk). It’s great practice for the language, I pick up a few new words each time I am there.

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Hair up. Rings off. Hat, Apron, and Smile On!

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             Språk Praktik (Language Practice):

More often I am at my other part time job, which is more like an internship to train my Swedish in a workplace. (Explained below) While I do a lot of what a normal worker would in the restaurant such as working the cash register, serving and preparing food and cleaning, I work less hours each shift and focus on improving my language by interacting with customers and co-workers in Swedish. This helps me become more comfortable with conversations and descriptions.

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          About Working in Sweden

It feels great to finally be part of the work force again, socializing with new people, doing different things, and learning something new every day. Expats tend to get in a funk somewhere along the way, but once working is back in the equation it helps a lot.

When you start looking for work in a new country you have to be open to try new jobs or career paths; even if you have experience, education, and comfort doing something else. It’s about adapting to a new environment, training your new language, getting your foot in the door, networking, and picking up new skills along the way.

Remember:

You never know what you will find, so just go out there and try.
Don’t be picky – Any Experience is Good Experience.
Don’t expect to (or count on) finding a job within your first six months – learning the language is priority and makes everything easier.
Don’t get easily discouraged, it’s hard for everyone.
Networking is super important, especially when you don’t have any experience or references in your new country.
Be competitive – Take initiative and be persistent.

So, What are Some Differences of Working in Sweden?

Swedish Resume: Swedes are very humble and modest, especially when it comes to work experience, responsibilities and achievements on a resume. Unlike in the USA it is considered rude and pushy if you start to list every one of your responsibilities and show off that you were the best at everything. The Swedish resume is much simpler with fewer and shorter bullet points for each job description.  Most important thing about your resume is the cover letter and when you get called in for an interview remember that being punctual in Sweden is a must.

Payday (Lönedag): Instead of weekly or bi weekly paychecks, Sweden revolves around it’s monthly payday – The 25th. This method really shapes the way things function from paying bills to going to the movies. A lot of people are pretty much broke by the 20th and life seems to slow down, it’s especially noticeable in restaurants when less people spend money to eat out. It’s a whole different way of budgeting and handling money, after the bills are paid off by the 27th, anything goes for a couple of weeks – it’s like the town comes back to life. I’ve heard very positive things from Swedish workers who love being paid a bigger sum on one day instead of a little at a time, they say it is easier to budget and save. Payday is a big deal here in Sweden, something to adjust to – it does feel like more of a celebration!

Language Competence: One of the big complaints about Sweden and finding a job here is that your expected to have very good Swedish to do anything at all. Even if you are applying to a cleaning or maintenance job where speaking, reading, and writing is not required, your Swedish has to be much better than what most people can manage within their first year or two of studying. The thing that aggravates people about this is that Sweden has the best English fluency in Europe, but being able to speak English doesn’t help in most cases. Great Swedish is usually required. In fact, it means very little that you are fluent in English in Sweden since so many people are, meaning English is not the huge asset that many people think it will be when they move here.

Breaks: Something that many non-Swedes notice and need to adjust to is how often the Swedish workplace allows/expects breaks. Fika is a very strong tradition here, and is not only limited to after work, but during it as well. Several times. When I volunteered at a school last year I couldn’t wrap my head around the staff and kids having 15 minute fika breaks other than lunch time. When I am in Svenska Som Andra Språk a two hour class has a 15 minute break, which seems unnecessary to me since I’ve never had such breaks unless the class was four hours long.

Minimum Wage: There is no national minimum wage in Sweden, but it is instead agreed upon between the different unions (Fackit…pronounced like “fuck it”), which are very important and active in the Swedish Labor market. Wage is often dependent on age brackets, experience, and what time the shift is (Night/Weekend vs Daytime/Weekday).

Paid Vacations: After being employed for a full year  at one location all employees are entitled to five-weeks of paid vacation, by law. July has always been a very popular and expected time for this vacation leave, and many businesses close during the month. Lately, vacation weeks have been more spread out over the year to decrease downtime of companies. Vacation time can also be accumulated for every year you work at a company for a total of ten weeks. In comparison: The U.S. has  ZERO paid vacation time on a legal federal level – any paid vacation you receive is directly from your employer/Union agreement.

Paid Sick Leave: Your employer must pay about 80% of your salary for 13 days sick leave a year after the first sick day which doesn’t count (no payment) because it is considered to be a “waiting period.” You must show a doctors note if you are on sick leave for more than seven consecutive days.

Paid Parental Leave: Stay home with your newborn child for 480 paid workdays without worrying about losing your job. This time is offered to both parents and is often split between both mother and father for better equality. Must be employed for at least one year. In comparison:

Paid Home with Sick Child: There’s even a special verb for this which comes from “Vård av barn” which means care of child, which is “Vab.” Where is Inga? Hon vabbar idag = Shes home with her sick kid today. If your sick child is under 12 years old and you take off of work to take care of them, there is also a type of paid “Temporary Parental Leave” that can be applied for which is paid by your employer and the state.

Arbetsförmedlingen (Job Center): This is a really helpful tool for anyone new to Sweden (with a personnummer) who doesn’t know how to get started. It could be compared to the U.S.Unemployment Office, but with a lot more to offer, easier to maneuver, and no negative connotation. It is considered to be a “Placement service” centered around helping you find a way into the workforce through meetings, workshops, or classes. You are given a case worker, can schedule a translator if needed, can place your resume on their website, search though jobs according to location or career, print helpful resources and forms, attend vocational training programs, receive help to set up your own business, go to nationwide recruitment meetings and job fairs, translate documents such as school degrees into Swedish equivalents, find information about what level of education is needed for which careers, research which careers have a good future prognosis all around Sweden, and more. Website Here. Remember that only 1/3 of available jobs are listed on Arbetsförmelingen, so use other means such as handing out resumes and trying different job searching websites.

Praktik, Step In Jobs, New Start Jobs: These are the best ways to get your foot in the door. Set up by Arbetsförmedlingen for people who are new to the country or have just graduated high school, been unemployed, or have been in prison.These ease you into a job by providing a percentage of your paycheck or a stipend which increases the chances of getting a job with a business that is unsure of your skills, language, or if they can afford another worker.

Instegsjobb: Arbetsförmedlingen can pay up to 80% of your paycheck. Only available if you arrived in Sweden less than three years ago from a non-EU country and currently studying SFI (NOT SAS).  If you work less than 51% this set up can last up to two years, if more than 50% then only 6 months.

Nystartsjobb: Arbetsförmedlingen pays 32% or 64% of your your paycheck depending on age. If you arrived to Sweden less than three years ago, have been unemployed for 6-15 months (depending on age), or were in prison for at least one year. Can last 1 – 5 years depending on age and other factors.

Praktik: If you are unemployed and collecting unemployment benefits Arbetsförmedlingen can set you up with an obligatory praktik that they find for you or you can find one on your own. A praktik lasts 3 to 6 months and provides a daily stipend instead of a hourly wage, ranging from 100kr/day ($15) to 680kr/day ($100) depending on full time or part time hours and weather or not you are collecting unemployment benefits. Suggesting that you are looking for a praktik when our job searching is a great way to get started since the business owner is getting extra help for free.


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S.F.I _ v s _ S.A.S

I started my next step towards Swedish fluency this week – Svenska som Andra Språk, S.A.S. (Swedish as a Second Language)

All throughout my S.F.I (Svenska for Invandare/ Swedish for Immigrants) classes I’ve heard about this awesome next level of learning and how much better and more helpful it is.

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The difference between the two schools is bigger than I expected, but I wouldn’t say one is better than the other – just different approaches for different levels.

S.A.S is sort of an extension of S.F.I,  only because you must finish S.F.I first and your ability in S.F.I determines your level in S.A.S.  Confused yet?

I knew SAS would be more formal and different from SFI as soon as we had to sign rules and a study contract during the orientation:

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SFI ranges from levels A – D, and SAS has levels E – H.

SFI covers the basics of the language so that you can function at an Elementary level, while SAS is considered Middle School level.

At orientation most people (about 25) went to the “E” level and a few of us (5) skipped ahead to “F” or “G” because of recommendations from our SFI teachers – I started in “F” – which means I am skipping 10 weeks of SAS!  The “normal” pace means that class takes 10 weeks, but you can take your time or work faster, since you have the whole schedule of assignments. If you work at the “average” pace, SAS takes a total of 40 weeks, I should be done in 30, but I’m aiming for sooner!

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The biggest difference in SAS is the amount of structure – every level focuses on specific chapters of the same book, has a weekly and daily plan, with pages of assignments and  goals.

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This type of structure is not found in SFI because so many people are at so many different levels and learn at such different speeds. Until you get the basics of the language, it’s hard to work on your own, which is 90% of SAS.

My schedule went from having 4 hour long classes to 2 hour classes, which consist of a lot of “egen arbete tid” – “own work time.” It’s easy to stay on track and know what you are supposed to be doing by following the study plan, where as in SFI it was common to switch between topics, assignments, and difficulty levels from day to day in an effort to include everyone and give a wide base knowledge of the language.

SAS is more specific and more like an actual class. Instead of talking about vocabulary and spending 10 minutes explaining one word for one or two students, we read on our own and discuss “why?” and “what do you think?” together.

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We are responsible for making our own study time plan, keeping track of books we read, listing words and definitions, using given verbs in sentences, and other things that are updated daily, along side with the homework assignments. It’s my second day of SAS and I’ve already finished 4 assignments and 7 out of the 59 check points there are required to complete level F. It feels good to have an organized work plan to follow.

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Within the next three weeks we will all be reading the same book, “Marie Curie”  and discussing it on Tuesdays – with a book report at the end. My “F” class is very focused on writing, which might be the teachers method or each level focuses on a different aspect of the language (speech, hearing, reading, writing). I think reading this book will be the hardest part of the class, but I’m pretty excited to start reading something other than children’s books.

Vocabulary

Test – Prov

Grades – Betygen

School – Skolan

Study – Studera

Learn – Lär


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S:t Lucia in Sweden

Yesterday I finally got to celebrate Lucia for the first time!

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Photo Credit: Recepten.se

Days (or even weeks) before December 13:e, you can find Lussebullar (also called Lussekatter or saffronsbullar) in all of the bakeries in anticipation of Lucia Day.  This is a  traditional bun shaped like an “S” with saffron flavoring, which gives it the classic yellow tint and a distinct flavor.

Here is the  Recepten.se recipe.

Halmstad Lucia 2011

Preparations for Lucia festivities start about a month before December 13:e, because Lucia’s all over the country need to be chosen. Every town votes for a Local Lucia through a contest which is held in newspapers, such as the one to the left, Hallandsposten, where everyone can vote via SMS for their favorite Lucia. Contestants are always teenagers, and are meant to look the most serene, calm, and soothing. They also need to be able to sing, as you will see in this interview of this years crowned Halmstad Lucia: here. On the first advent the town’s Lucia is publicly named and crowned. All of the Local Lucia’s are also runner up’s to become the National Lucia on TV. This is not the only Lucia you will find on Lucia day, as every church and school (from universities to kindergartens) also has their own selected to perform for Lucia concerts throughout the whole day.

At 5:30pm yesterday we went to the library for a Lucia concert, which featured the Halmstad Lucia. The town Lucia often also visits senior centers, community centers, city hall, and schools. This was a beautiful bite-sized (15 minutes) performance, which a selection of all the most popular Lucia and Christmas songs. The smaller setting allowed me to see the halo of candles, wreaths of lingom, red sashes, and white robes up close. (although I was a scared of so many candles walking around so many books!)

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Lucia was first celebrated in Sweden in the late 1700’s, but not in the same way as nowadays – it wasn’t until 1927 that Lucia became a public event. Lucia was originally a celebration observed only within the household by each family. The oldest child would wear a crown of candles and bring their parents breakfast in bed (Normally consisting of Gingerbread cookies) while singing Lucia songs. This is still a common family tradition today, every year stores sell the Lucia Crowns that families can use at home:

Next was the nights main event. We arrived at the S:t  Nikolai church an hour early and it was already half full. After an orchestra performance the lights dimmed down low and the beautiful voices surrounded us. The Luciatåg (Lucia procession) of tärnor (Lucia maidens) holding a single candle each walked slowly up the aisles towards  Lucia, who lead them to the front of the church. It was truly magical.

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This Lucia procession was by an all women’s choir, but many Lucia performances include male members. Boys dress up as stjärngossar (Star boys), wearing cone shaped hats decorated with stars, tomtar (Santas) wearing all red, or gingerbread men, which is common for the much younger boys.

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Saint Lucia is one of few Saints celebrated in Sweden, representing the spreading of light when the dark nights are longest and warmth when the winter is coldest.  There are many different stories of Lucia’s history. Her feast day is widely celebrated as a Scandinavian tradition, holding Germanic pagan traditions. Born in Sicily (283-304), she is said to have become a Christian Martyr after seeing an angel in her dreams when she prayed for her dying mother. She devoted herself to Christianity, distributed her wealth and dowry to the poor, and refused to give up her virginity even after marriage.

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Some versions say that when she was sentenced to be defiled at a brothel and refused, nothing could move her. Not even 1,000 men and packs of oxen could make her budge from where she stood. Instead they built a fire around her, but she did not burn. They stabbed her in the throat but she continued to sing and preach.

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St. Lucia is known as the patron of sight, often portrayed holding a platter of two eyes. Some say this stems from her being tortured with eye stabbing when she wouldn’t move or burn, but she was still able to see. Other versions state that she removed her own eyes because they were too admirable and attracted attention from men and unwanted lust. In both cases, God restored her eyes to be more beautiful and with better sight.

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Lucia is seen as a protector. She cared for her mother when her father was absent. She spreads light to cure the darkest part of winter. In the old almanac it was believed that December 13:e was the Winter solstice, and thus this longest night of the year. It was also on this night that “Lussi’s,” known as witches or demons, supernatural beings, trolls, and evil spirits of the dead would roam the darkness. It was Lucia who would protect people against harm by bringing hope and joy through spreading the “light in her hair”.

Others say the date of Lucia is to celebrate the first of the “12 Days of Christmas.”

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It was an amazingly beautiful event to see. Now I know why it is a beloved tradition  in Sweden. Even without understanding all the lyrics to the 15 songs they performed, I had goosebumps the whole time. They did sing (in Swedish) a few songs I recognized such as Silents Night and Hark the Bells.

A video so you can experience Lucia, too!

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