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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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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Facebook Fun!

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Something Swedish finally has it’s own FACEBOOK fan page! It’s still being set up and doesn’t have anything fun yet – but don’t miss out! Start following it today to read the day to day in between tidbits that might not make it to the blog. Stop by and say HEJ by clicking the link below and LIKING!

Something Swedish Facebook fan page: CLICK HERE

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Julbord: Christmas Table

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I’ve eaten Christmas dinner in Sweden four times now, but it wasn’t until this year that I realized how traditional it really is. A week before Christmas we had lunch at a restaurant, which happened to be serving a “Julbord.” Christmas in Sweden is all about the Julbord – think “Smörgåsbord” but with all the classic Christmas foods. The restaurant Julbord was serving the exact same Christmas foods as I’ve eaten in Sweden the last few years; it’s not just a family tradition.

Come noon on December 24th (Swede’s celebrate on the eve, or afton) our Julbord looks something like this every year:

Except this year we somehow forgot the boiled eggs – a Swedish tragedy. So, whats on this Christmas Table? Let’s see!

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Julskinka: Naturally, The Christmas Ham – only eaten after smothered in mustard.

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Dopp i gryta: “Dip in the pot” -  Using the rich flavored Christmas Ham broth, it is very traditional to dip dark bread and to eat the soaked bread along with Christmas dinner.

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Janssons Frestelse:  “Janssons Temptation”a delicious dish with very thinly cut potato ‘sticks’ is cooked in the oven with a secret ingredient that makes many non-swedes squirm…

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Anchovies. and anchovy juice.  Sounds gross, I know, but it’s awesome and full of flavor!

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Kålpudding:  Cabbage pudding. Thinly chopped cabbage, fried with syrup, baked with a thick layer of seasoned ground beef in the middle.

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Some Kålpudding and Janssons Frestelse  preparation.

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Fläskkorv: large pork sausage

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Prinskorv: “Prince sausage”  mini hotdog-like sausages

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Köttbullar: The homemade meatballs, of course.

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Brunkål: Brown Cabbage, served as a side dish. Cabbage is boiled and fried and seasoned with vinegar, salt and syrup.

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Christmas Bread

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Cheese, bread, butter, and salad.

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My Christmas feast. Bottom center is the Kålpudding and Janssons Frestelse.

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Alongside we drank Julmust, beer, and snaps.

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Julmust is a very popular cola beverage that is Christmas themed and has a distinctly different “holiday” flavor.

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After dinner and before the presents we eat Struva and glögg - a Swedish mulled spiced wine served warm with raisins and almonds.

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Later that evening we enjoyed Swedish cheesecake, icecream, jam, and cream with coffee, tea, and liquor.

If we had any young kids in the family our Christmas eve festivities would be very different, having to schedule around the must-watch 3:00pm Christmas cartoon, “Kalle Anka,” or as we know him – Donald Duck.  Every year half of Sweden faithfully sits around the television and watches “Kalle Anke och hans vänner önskar God Jul” or “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas.”

Which would probably be followed by a mysterious Santa knocking on the door and giving out presents.

Christmas eve is also filled with tons of chocolate treats and candy, both as dessert and presents.

On Christmas Day, as if we aren’t full enough, we have our next food tradition – Lutfisk served with boiled potatoes.

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Lutefisk is a white fish that is air dried to later be re-hydrated with water and lye. The fish soaks in the lye water for weeks before it is ready to be cooked. The fish has a strange consistency the first time you eat it, but it is easily forgotten because it is served with a ton of white sauce, salt, and pepper. There are very small bones in the fish,  so be careful!

One last thing – it is very popular to make gingerbread houses in Sweden, as well as to eat ginger bread cookies throughout the month.

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Swedish Santa: Tomte

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In Sweden you’ll find all sorts of Santas – some more familiar than others. Some hardly recognizable as “Santa.” While you’ll see Jolly ‘ol Saint Nick from time to time, you’re much more likely to find depictions closer to what we have as elves, which a few years ago I was surprised to find out are Swedish Santas or “Tomten.”

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I’ve gotten used to the fact that my beloved childhood Santa Claus doesn’t live in Sweden, and that every country has it’s own version. I’m pretty happy that Sweden has such cute little fellas, which such rich history! – So, what is tomten…and why are they so small!?

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Tomten (sometimes called Nisse) hasn’t always been the Swedish Santa (replacing the Yule Goat); actually originating as a mythical creature in Scandinavian lore that played a role more similar to a “house gnome.” The tomten would secretly live in, or under, a house and protect the children and animals from evil or misfortune. Sometimes a tomten would even help with chores or farm work. Despite being tiny, they were also known to have a temper, playing tricks or killing livestock if offended by rudeness.

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It wasn’t until the 1840′s that  tomten became Jultomten, or “Christmas tomten,” and  started to play the role of Santa after being depicted  as wearing a red cap and having a white beard – and of course tomten started delivering Christmas gifts.  Jultomten didn’t replace tomten, but nowadays when people talk about “tomten” they are normally referring to the Swedish Santa. The traditional “house gnome” tomten is called a hustomte or tomtar.

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When a tomten delivers 2012-12-03 15.27.32Christmas gifts, he doesn’t use the chimney, but comes straight through the front door. This coincides with the Swedish tradition of many households having their very own Santa simply walk in and hand out presents. If a family has young kids, it is common for someone to dress up and play the role with these costumes found in stores (My husband was Santa for his nephew for many years).

Jultomtens don’t live  in the North Pole,  like Santa, or in peoples houses, like traditional tomtens, but is believed to instead live in nearby forests. Much like leaving Santa cookies and milk, tomten likes porridge, or rather requires it. If not gifted with porridge, tomten would stop helping and leave the house or, even worse, cause mischief. And don’t forget to include the almond and butter.

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Tomten is sometimes shown carrying a pig, which is also a popular Christmas decoration in Sweden.

This year was the first time I saw Santa out and  about. Unlike in New York where you will find a Santa in every big store with a long queue or children waiting to sit on his lap, the “Mall Santa” is not a popular thing in Sweden.

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A few weeks ago we spotted Santa sitting under the towns (outdoor) Christmas tree with a dozen children huddled around. There was no long line, no one taking/selling photos, no one collecting money for a turn to talk to Santa.

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We talk about “writing our Christmas lists,” but whenever we go to see Santa we normally just say what we want. In Sweden those lists are key. Every single kid had a list in his or her hand, either written neatly before or scribbled right then and there on scraps, backs of envelopes, or wrinkled receipts.

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When asked if he would take a photo by the decorated tree nearby, he posed for us – with his baskets of wish list letters.

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Hope everyone had a Great Christmas!! – More about Swedish Christmas (Traditions, Food, and decorations) coming up soon!

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Trip to the Tivoli Christmas Market

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Tivoli is always a beautiful place, especially at night, but with all the extra Christmas decorations and lights, with dozens of fun stores filled with presents and ornaments, it was extra special!  ~ Enjoy!

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Hope all those photos put you in the Christmas spirit! This week I sent out all of my U.S bound Christmas cards and exchanged my first presents! It really is around the corner!

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Swedish Health Care

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My first Swedish doctors appointment was not the experience I expected. When you arrive in Sweden as an immigrant you are given a list of clinics to choose from and sign up to after you receive your personnummer. You are quickly approved to start going to your new health clinic. One of the only things people know about Sweden is that we pay high taxes and in return we get socialized medical coverage - something I looked forward to when I found out I would be moving here, since I hadn’t had medical insurance for almost two years at that point. That being said, I was excited to utilize this aspect of my new Swedish life.

I went in and explained to them that I wanted to be seen since I have not had a check up in about two years. As an immigrant you are given a free one-on-one sit down with a nurse the first time you come in, to talk about your condition, what you are there for, what they provide, and how they can help you. I wasn’t asked to fill out any forms.

The nurse was polite and helpful, but the information she gave me was surprising.

View the pictures →

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Lösgodis – Loose Candy

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In the U.S we have a certain image of Swedish people. Tall, blonde, beautiful, and built like Norse Gods/Goddesses. Upon my arrival here I learned that resisting the temptation of sweets was not their secret. Did you know that Sweden eats the most loose candy per capita in the world? It is also the largest importer of candy in the world. (Think about there only being around 10 million people in Sweden- that’s about the total population of New York City) The amount of loose candy eaten in Sweden is said to make up for 4% of the country’s total sugar consumption!

I know I have talked a lot about Swedish pastries and treats (Here, here, here, here, and here), and true to both American and Swedish form I have eaten my fair share of these delicious baked goods. However! This Swedish candy culture has never passed my lips. That’s right. I have not fallen weak to the loose candy craze! I have not picked up a shovel and filled a colorful paper bag*  with anything my sweet tooth desires. I really am proud of myself because no matter what type of store you step foot in, small or large, food or none, you are met with this: (*similar to a bag or bucket of popcorn from the movie  theater, eaten with absent yet impressive speed)

This is not a candy store but a place to buy movies. The Lösgodis take up about 1/4 of this store while the rest is filled with DVDs and blue-ray movies to buy. Maybe a movie store is a bad example, as there is usually some (small) selection of treats, but that pales in comparison. The concept of loose goodies is not an unfamiliar one, but never to such a extent unless it was an actual candy store. Even then, the loose candy selection would only make up for a rather small part.

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Americans are known for overeating unhealthy food and having a heavy sweet tooth, so I was caught off guard when I saw such quantities of candy in a seemingly health conscious country.

This candy craze is so integrated into the Swedish culture that there is even such a tradition as “Lördagsgodis” which means Saturday Candy. In the 1950′s  it was recommended by the Board of Health to limit children’s candy intake to once a week instead of daily in an effort to slow down tooth decay. I have read on a few blogs of attempts to get their children off of the candy by giving them money on Saturdays instead of the sweet treats. It seems there is almost no getting around having a candy-filled child in Sweden, as the Lösgodis are everywhere and all the other kids are eating them.

It is not only the children that love Lösgodis. I have seen bags of Lösgodis given as presents (to adults) and met with excitement- Swedes do love their candy. Even if they didn’t pick it themselves, they are sure to enjoy what ever is inside because all of the candy is classic.

Classic to Swedes. This past weekend my husbands nephew had some Lösgodis that we were picking from and I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t like any of them. To the point that I had to spit them out. The family laughed and was shocked because they are all beloved classic flavors. Two types of favorites I have noticed are marshmallow candies and salty black liquorice. There is also a selection of hard candies, coated candies, gummy, caramel, and chocolate.

To be honest I am a bit skeptical to even try any Lösgodis because I have not yet tasted any Swedish candy that suits my Americanized taste buds. I’ve been told that the difference is that Americans prefer a more sugary and sweeter taste, which seems true. Of course I have only tried a very small fraction of the selection, so I am not yet a complete candy outcast.

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