Something Swedish


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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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Tickets to New York

Last week we booked our flight for New York- three week vacation with family and friends back home. Seems pretty far away, leaving June 26th, but it is really just around the corner. I’m so excited to see everyone and catch up. In the mean time I’ve made a list of some things I’ve missed and been craving…

To Do Eat List:

Breakfast

Fluffy DinerPancakes with syrup and butter
Diner waffles with strawberries and whipped cream
Cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese and jelly
Toasted plain bagel with Cream cheese, bacon, tomato
Deli breakfast sandwich: Egg, ham, cheese, mayo

Lunch

Pizza from my two favorite pizzerias (Top Topping choices: Mushroom, Eggplant, Chicken broccoli, and garlic spinach ricotta)
Diner: Cheese Burger

Deli sandwich:
Ham, lettuce, tomato, mayo on a roll

Home cooked specialties: Chicky-ham sandwich.

Dinner

Eggplant Parm Hero
Calamari
Clams
Scallops

Home cooked specialties:
Chicken supreme, chicken pasta, BBQ

Dessert
Cannoli
Doughnut

Hershey pie
Any Entenmann’s cake

Oreos

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…and so much more.

I guess foods remind you of home the most when you can’t easily have it where you are. This isn’t the healthiest list…but most cravings aren’t so good for you! Looking forward to  having a taste of home for a month. I don’t intend to stuff my face with only these things the whole time, but as long as I can have each thing just once…

The biggest difference is that there aren’t really any diners or delis in Sweden. At least not the same kind, which is only natural. The Breakfast and Lunch culture is very different here than in New York.

And I know that once I get there I will crave food from Sweden. Food habits and cravings change after awhile. I eat more fruit now, I drink more water, I cook almost all the time, I eat salmon now (along with plenty of “new” foods), more pastries, less cookies, much less fast food, etc.

For now I’ll start organizing who to see, when, and what we will be doing in New York City. Home Sweet Home- The time will fly! I’m sure our stay will be busy and hectic and lots of fun. So many people to see and spend time with. Excited to go home and reconnect. And Eat.


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A Splash of New York

So, our guests from New York are on their way back home- it was awesome to see them and to be with friends from home for a few days!

Admittedly, their being here did confuse my brain a bit- arriving straight after Easter when I was exposed to almost all Swedish language and culture for three days straight at my in-laws, it felt extreme to be with them with no transition. They instantly noted that I picked up an almost-not-really-Swedish-accent when we met up on Sunday and by Tuesday I sounded like a New Yorker again. Going (running) to SFI straight from dropping them off at the train station on Wednesday was pretty unproductive as my mind was not really understanding Swedish again yet.

On Easter Day morning (don’t worry, we celebrate on Saturday here in Sweden!) hubby and I went to Goteborg. We stayed at the Ibis – a boat hotel!

Then we all set out with two museums in mind. We went to the Goteborg City Museum, which has the remains of the only viking ship in Sweden (or at least the largest amount/best preserved). The exhibit also showcased weapons, coins, jewelry, pieces of clothing, and more. The rest of the museum was a little more broadly  themes around Swedish life, culture and history, not only the viking age. We then took the tram to the Art museum, which has the largest amount of Scandinavian art.

Later on we made our way to Fangelset, the venue for a melodic death metal show, an old prison across from a cemetery. Our guests were very interested in seeing the metal scene in Sweden, so going to a show was top priority. The bands we saw were Agalloch and Velnius, both from the U.S. ironically, but nonetheless the crowd and atmosphere was Swedish. While death metal isn’t exactly my scene, it wasn’t my first time going to a show and I immediately saw that this was different. My husband must have seen me looking around because he leaned over and explained that Swedes just stand and listen, pay attention and appreciate. There was a lack of wildness that I had anticipated, there was no movement anywhere outside the slightest head bang which usually stayed within a 30 degree angle like an exaggerated and aggressive nod of approval. There was no dancing, moshing, moving, talking- I felt like I was standing amongst the  zombies. Eventually we spotted two or three who really stood out in the crowd, but would still be considered tame. There was also a lot more personal space, no pushing or shoving or standing on top of each other. It was a fun change of pace.

The next day we went back to Halmstad, the contrast between Goteborg and a smaller town was unpleasantly exaggerated by being a red day (holiday) and the windy rainy weather. Our options for Monday were extremely limited but we made the best of it by introducing them to Swedish pizza for lunch, relaxing, having a home cooked diner, playing pool, and then going to McDonald’s since it was sadly the only place open to just sit around and have some coffee.

The next day we set out for a Swedish Lunch Special, which is from 11- 3. After looking at a few menus and options we found a place just in time (2:45), most places were already done serving and we were the only ones at the restaurant that late in the afternoon. I was excited that our guests loved the traditional food and were impressed by how cheap lunch specials are in Sweden. Then I showed them the castle, old prison, and church. Site seeing is no fun in the rain so we were going to cut it short as we stumbled upon a cafe which I have seen before but haven’t yet tried.

It turns out to be the second oldest building in Halmstad (Aside from the castle and church) and it was absolutely perfect and picturesque! I will definitely be going there more often, they have good coffee, a great selection of tea and a charming…everything. We took quite a few photos and I plan on going back for more! It was nice change to step away from the larger cafe chains in town.

A few hours later we all got dressed up and went to Verona for a nice dinner. They loved the food and really enjoyed the planksteak- success! I really wanted to get a photo of the four of us, but it just never happened. Afterwards we went to another coffee shop until it closed.

Even though the weather was gloomy and it was a holiday we had a great visit and it made me even more excited to visit home in June/July! It was special to have guests from New york after being here only 5 months! I love playing host and showing people around, hopefully next time we have guests we will have more room and nicer weather!


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How to Spot a Tourist in Sweden

This weekend we will have visitors from New York!

I am super excited to see them and for them to see and experience Sweden, not only because it’s where I live now but because its a beautiful country rich with history, tradition, and culture! Walking them through a few things and answering some questions made me think of being a tourist in Sweden. I decided to compile a little list to point out some culture differences between New York and Sweden, based on my personal experiences, stories I have heard, things I’ve seen when my family visited, and the questions my friends have asked in anticipation of arriving. **Some exaggeration and/or Halmstad specific examples might occur.**

How to spot a Tourist in Sweden

  • The confused person standing at the crosswalk not sure when to go. A look of panic and frustration as they dash in front of your car even though you are already stopped in the middle of the intersection waiting for them to cross.
  • The ones pointing, giggling, and taking photos of/with exit or entrance signs. (Utfart, Infart)
  • The ones taking photos of ANY signs, trash cans, buses, cobblestone, etc.
  • Enters your home without acknowledging that everyone else has taken their shoes off.
  • Speaks slowly, expecting you to hardly understand English.
  • Says “Hey” to everyone and wonders why it is not obvious that they don’t speak Swedish.
  • Walks blissfully unaware while you are trying to cycle past them; they don’t seem to have the sixth sense of being able to hear your tires as you approach, nor the slight ring of your bell.
  • Is more worried about getting hit by a car than a bike.
  • The one who is still bundled up while the Swedes are grilling and sunbathing.
  • Is shocked to see any other ethnicity in Sweden – anything out of the blonde hair and blue hair stereotype is surprising.
  • Wants waffles or pancakes (Snack food) for breakfast instead of open sandwiches, and “regular” sandwiches for lunch instead of full “dinner” meals.
  • Laughs louder than everyone else in the room, usually at things you do not find so funny.
  • Talks louder than everyone else, all the time.
  • Insists on striking up small talk with every stranger.
  • Expects stores to be open no matter what, at any time.
  • Talk about Ikea, Abba, and the Swedish Chef non-stop.
  • On the hunt for Swedish Fish.
  • They are surprised to find H&M in Sweden.
  • Gawks at the amount of fathers with strollers in the street.
  • Doesn’t expect a bar to close at 2am.
  • Tries to book a hotel room where smoking is allowed.
  • Leaves the largest tip for dinner at a restaurant. Or any tip for a lunch meal.
  • Doesn’t order a sweet pastry with their coffee, or even worse – doesn’t drink coffee.
  • Orders water, then spits it out when the bill comes.
  • The only one at the restaurant not eating plank steak.
  • The only one at the restaurant not eating their burger with a fork and knife.
  • Asks for a doggy bag to take home their left over food.

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Any to add? Hope these were fun to read or relate to!

Being Easter weekend I would greatly appreciate some things for them to do in Goteborg that might be open/available this time of year! Any suggestions? Also #1 things in Stockholm if only visiting for one day!


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Carrying on Traditions

Part of being abroad, no matter where you are is holding onto your traditions. It wasn’t until last weekend that I realized how much I love St. Paddy’s Day, reflecting on what I would be doing and how I would be dressing if I were back home. How excited I get about it and all the memories through the years of celebrating it with family. It’s up there with Christmas, Thanksgiving (Which I will also have to reinvent in Sweden), and Easter. Things like traditions and holidays are different in different countries and while I have celebrated three Christmas’ and one (going on two) Easters, this was the most different.

Saint Paddy’s Day has always been one of those traditions that I cherish. Not for the pub crawls or the partying, but for the flood of green, the unique sound of bagpipes, strings of necklace shamrocks, and pinching those who weren’t in the spirit! Eating corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and soda bread with my dad. I’ve always been a sucker for soda bread. I get to brag about being half Irish and people who aren’t Irish pretend to be. Introducing my hubby to the hysteria of St. Paddy’s day in NYC last year is something I won’t forget. It was the first time I’ve been to the parade, even if I am dressed for the occasion every year with green from head to toe.

This year there was no parade (For us. There is one in Stockholm I believe). When we went to the stores to buy our drinks and food I didn’t notice anything special in the air or more green on the street. I didn’t even pack my green pants, whats a girl to do!? (or my green eye shadow, nail polish, hat, socks…) I still represented with whatever green I could find. We drank Irish whiskey and bought Irish beer. I made soda bread (For the first time ever) and I cooked the traditional Irish meal of corned beef and cabbage. Sort of. Corned beef isn’t so easy to find in Sweden, but my wonderful husband found the canned substitute that tasted close enough if you ignored the texture. It all came together and we celebrated the best we could.

Lets compare.

Some photos from last year:

This year:

Mostly I wanted to show off my soda bread.

I went from always Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day to Creating it. I’m pretty happy with that, it will get better each year!

Happy Spring!!


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America’s Influence on Sweden – Valentine’s Day

It’s strange for a country with such old history, rich culture, strong traditions, and festive holidays to adapt a “new” holiday. Especially from such a young country. But the heart wants what the heart wants I suppose! There’s nothing new about Saint Valentines Day, the origin dates back to Ancient Rome- however the way we celebrate it now is reasonably new. It has twisted and changed throughout history which has left Sweden only to have recently started to celebrate the holiday as we know it. A day for lovers – when flowers, candies and cards represent the romance and emotion of a relationship. It wasn’t until around the 1980’s that the theme of heart shaped chocolates, roses, and cupids invaded Sweden.

A lot of people despise this holiday because they believe Valentines Day was only invented for consumerism… in Sweden that is actually how it was first introduced. How did Valentines Day start in Sweden? By selling flowers. In the 1960’s it was flower-sellers that tried to push the idea of Valentines Day, mimicking the American pitch in an effort to boost sales. The bait didn’t take for quite some years, as it has only become popular and more regularly celebrated in the 1980’s and is not considered an official holiday. The essence of Valentines Day is the same as in America but on a much smaller scale from what I can tell. Here in Sweden it is called “alla hjärtans dag,” which means “All Hearts Day,” although it is still otherwise known and sometimes advertised as Valentines day.

Despite spreading to Sweden because of a sales pitch, Valentine’s Day is much more than that, historically and culturally. It does not originate from American Greeting card companies, and represents more than consumerism, even if that might be a big part of it. Saint Valentines Day is named after a Christian priest in Rome who was buried on February 14th, it is said that when the law forbid all marriages he secretly performed the ceremonies. It wasn’t until 1382 that Saint Valentine was romanticized in a poem in England by Chaucer:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

“For this was Saint Valentine’s Day
when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”

Since this poem, Valentine’s Day became more common in literature as a symbol for love and a day for romance. Over the next centuries there are a few citations from different poets and authors mentioning “Valentine” in a romantic setting or  to celebrate a marriage. This context lead to dedicated sentimental writings, hand written love notes being exchanged on February 14th. In the early 19th century cards started to become manufactured and mass produced. It wasn’t until the 20th century that cards were joined by chocolates and flowers as a token of affection and even later when jewelery became part of the mix. The original Valentine’s were simply hand written notes, a pure way to express and share emotion.

It’s nice to have learned about the origins of Valentines Day, I no longer feel tainted by everyone’s negative vibes from the over consumerism. We might not need a day to celebrate our love, but it’s nice to have one, at least a day to appreciate someone special. Every day is a celebration, today was just a little more so.

In New York you are aware of Valentines day months in advance. The decorations, advertisements, teddy bears and heart shaped chocolates start appearing as soon as the Christmas decorations are gone in early/mid January. It’s a big deal and expectations are high.  You can’t go into a store without  an overwhelming sea of red and pink clouding your judgement.

While most Swede’s tend to celebrate in some way or form – Valentine’s Day seems to be easily overlooked here. Which is reasonable since it is so “new” and not pushed as hard. I scoured the all the store windows in town looking for sign, displays, and decorations, I was surprised by the small amount I found:

There was a nice display at one of the florists (Photo didn’t come out), and I admittedly didn’t feel like walking to the bakery. However, I think I covered all other bases. A small assortment of cards, some selection of heart shaped candies and cookies, a bunch of small-medium plushies, a few books, and some other items because they were red or pink. There’s a lack of decoration and the signs on the windows were so small I nearly missed them despite being on the hunt for anything red, pink, or in the shape of a heart.

So, despite being a holiday that began with selling flowers, Valentine’s Day sales in Sweden pales in comparison to the amount of products dedicated to it in America where most stores pounce on the opportunity and are loaded with Valentine’s Day themed merchandise, or a sale in name of the festivities. However, I read that sales for cosmetics, perfumes, jewelery, etc for Valentine’s Day is second only to Mothers day. So, it seems Swede’s might not buy as much into the cute stuffed animals, cards, and flowers, but they still know how to shower their loved ones in affection in some way, be it presents, pastries, or a nice dinner.

This was my first Valentine’s Day in Sweden, our first Valentines Day together in person, and our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple!

No pressure, right? I’ve never fallen heavy into the Valentine’s Day hype, but this year was special. And I’m proud to say that hubby exceeded my expectations and managed to surprise me (I love surprises!)

I planned on starting the day by cooking hubby breakfast early in the morning but he woke up earlier and beat me to it! He served me crepes with strawberry jam and yogurt. I guess I’ll have to use my  heart shaped cookie cutters on cookies soon instead of eggs like I had intended (and practiced!)-

Then we had lunch at a restaurant we haven’t gone to before and had a nice meal before he went to work. While he was at work I made him a small card, prepped a few candles, a carafe of red lingon berry juice with special Valentine’s Day heart shaped cookies garnished with cranberries and a bowl of heart shaped snacks we often enjoy.

When hubby came home I was met at the door with flowers he picked out, knowing that I hate roses. (They are supposed to symbolize love but I think they are too widely used, a standard flower with no thought) The flowers he chose were ones we used used at our wedding. He said the florist was packed and finding anything aside from a rose was difficult today. I appreciate the sentiment, effort, and thought more than any rose.

After 10 minutes of not being allowed near the kitchen I was lead with my eyes closed to a dark room only illuminated by three candles and a table filled with cheeses, meat, crackers, fresh veggies, and a marinated artichoke/olive/pepper mix with a bottle of wine.  Dessert was chocolate fondue with cut up strawberries, bananas, and pineapples to dip. Yum!

Best Valentines Day ever. Thank you hunny. Jag älskar dig!

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone! ~ Glad alla hjärtans dag allihopa!



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New York Pizzeria in Sweden?

Everyone in the U.S has seen this before, no matter what State they are in, a “New York Pizzeria.” Why? Because N.Y. is famous for their pizza, and N.Y. is famous. Now these pizzerias claim to have captured the essence of New York Pizza, they have supposedly harnessed the special power, the secret ingredient. They try to get it to taste the way pizza tastes in the Big Apple. (Its said to be the water, I’ve been to a great pizzeria in Florida who actually drives to New York once a week and brings back gallons of tap water.) Anyway, this obsession with New York pizza does not only go as far as the American borders. It’s here in Sweden too, but as far as I have experienced, the presence is only cosmetic decoration and appeal.

Last night we went to a pizzeria that we have never gone to, but have always passed by. I noticed a large gray-scale painting of the Brooklyn Bridge hanging on one of the walls. I didn’t take a photo but I took a note of it and decided it was time to bring this pattern to light.  I’ve only  been to five local pizzerias, three of which have New York paintings on the walls, one being this “New York Pizza & Kebab,” which takes the cake. I can assure you that none of them have New York pizza, nor do they even attempt to. There is no mention of the pizza being New York style, and it is very classically Swedish pizza.

While I am used to having a great deal of selection in New York, I would say that Swedish pizza has a much wider variety of pizza toppings, mostly due to some we wouldn’t usually put on a pizza. Swedish pizza is known for this large selection of toppings to choose from, anywhere from bananas to béarnaise sauce. I estimate that I normally see 30+ toppings at each pizzeria we go to, each topping normally comprising of 4-5 items as opposed to our typical toppings of one or two. It takes me a long time to read through each description (A pizza menu was the first thing I studied in Swedish, so if its on a pizza I know it! (mostly..) I usually end up with the veterinarian since I get overwhelmed and am familiar with the mushroom, pineapple, asparagus, artichoke, olive, onion, pepper combo.

The most popular and most “Swedish” pizza topping is the Kebab with a hot sauce and a yogurt based sauce, sometimes with french fries baked onto the pizza as well and maybe a sprinkle of lettuce. A “plain” slice of N.Y pizza is just tomato sauce and cheese, while Swedes throw ham into the mix.

Since the pizza is sold by the pie and not by the slice there is no viewing the pizza to help decide what you want, everything is made fresh from when you place your order from the large menu. This means that Swedes do not feel limited by the choices of pre made pizzas in front of them, like New Yorkers often do, pointing at the pizza we want instead of asking for our toppings. Normally only giving a “special order” pizza over the phone since it will take some time to make, otherwise it will not be as delicious as the ones on the counter because the toppings you chose will usually only be thrown on top of a plain slice of pizza and the flavor won’t meld correctly.

While you wait for that fresh pizza to be made up you have your pizza salad to munch on,  shredded cabbage marinated in vinaigrette, which is adored by most Swedes and is always a side dish to pizza. You eat with a knife and a fork, half because of the pizza salad and also because your pizza pie is not cut into slices for you and the crust is extremely thin and soft- not crispy like New York pizza. (I’ll never forget watching my in-laws have New York Pizza for the first time, teaching them to fold it in the center)

And so, where is the New York in this pizza?

This:

Is nothing like this:

And nor should it be.

Why do these Swedish pizzerias turn to the New York skyline for inspiration? Is that the number one thing we are known for in Sweden? It seems that Swedish pizza is much more similar to Italian pizza, why not idealize Rome? I have seen New York paintings in a restaurant other than a pizzeria as well, so maybe it is more of a food culture than only pizza. In that case where are the delicatessens and the bagel shops. Swedish pizza is amazing and shouldn’t  have to take on the presence of something its not, the two types of pizzas are very different and should be represented that way, proudly showing Swedish culture instead of New York.

I’m sure there  are New York style pizzas in Sweden, somewhere (Aside from Pizza Hut), but I have yet to encounter any. If there is the attempt to make actual New York style pizza, with a thicker crust, different selection of toppings, and sold by the slice, then the photos, name, and theme would make a lot more sense.

Has anyone else noticed so many pizzerias with New York theme decor in Sweden?

Oh, now I am really craving New York Pizza.