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Archive for March, 2009

At a tour of the Wine & Spirit history museum (Vin & Sprithistoriska Museet) tonight, I was given yet another fantastic definition of lagom. Basically, our tour guide Elke said that in days gone by at a dinner, a large chalice or mug of alcohol was passed around the table. There should be enough in the mug for everyone to take a drink and that is then a lagom amount.

Meanwhile just after a particularly hard part of a spinning class the other day, the instructor asked us if we were lagom warm. As most everyone in the class was gasping for air and dripping with sweat, there was a general shout of yes.

Yet again, it’s easy to see why lagom is such a useful word.

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On Saturday, we watched a concert outside in the dark. It was beautiful. High on a hill at Skansen, in an area where you normally see the lights of the city below, the lights went out and four Swedish acts performed in the dark in support of Earth Hour. Just before 8.30 pm, the crowd was led in a countdown to darkness. Then the show began. Lit by torches, lanterns and a bicycle-powered spotlight generator, the show was such a powerful performance–no big screen TVs or other stage tricks distracted you from the music. (My favorite was A Camp, a band lead by former Cardigans lead singer Nina Persson.)

For Earth hour, people in 88 countries and in every time zone turned off or lowered their lights for one hour as a show of support for the earth and against global warming. The Sydney Bridge lights went off, as did those at Big Ben and San Francisco’s Golden Gate. The event was sponsored by the WWF and at our event here, also by RIX-FM – a local radio station that turned off their station for one hour to show their support.

What a cool idea. It felt good to be a part of the statement. For once, I am not complaining about being in the dark!

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Summer time–daylight savings–begins this weekend. But you would not know it given today’s weather. It’s snowing AGAIN. I can’t even see Kungsholmen–the island across from me that’s usually quite visible.Unbelievable. Winter is not quite ready to leave us behind, even though the calendar says spring.

There are a few signs that spring will come, at least. Crocus are starting to make their appearance. The seagulls and robins are hanging out. And the days are getting amazingly and unbelievably long. At last. We are now getting more daylight hours than the east coast of the US. Hah! But I can’t scoff too much thanks to that blasted snow storm.

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I have been amused lately by the throwing around of the term socialist as a dirty word in US politics. I understand where the fears of socialism and government control come from, but my perspective is a unique one. I am an American, but I live in a socialist country. So I am in the funny position of seeing how both sides work. My Swedish friends ask about health care in America and are concerned about how hard it must have been for me to get quality care there. And in the US, my friends ask about how bad socialized medicine is, somehow feeling that the care I receive will be sub par and perhaps too little too late.  There is a lot of misinformation about both options. The truth, as with so many things, lies somewhere in between. In the US, I had good quality health care at very little cost because I had an employer who provided me with good medical benefits. When my orthopedic doctor recommended that I have knee surgery, I had it within a week. My Swedish friends are astonished by this story as they often have to wait months for a doctor recommended surgery. But then I have to acknowledge to the Swedes that there are way too many people in the US without access to health care. Everyone is taken care of here. Which is why I’ve been amused about hearing how horrible socialism is.

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Easter feather branches

Easter feather branches

Traditions are funny things. They are handed down from one generation to the next, often without an explanation of how the tradition originated. It’s just what you do. But when you are new to a country, those traditions are interesting to you and you want to know more about them. As for me, I was very curious about what the deal was with the birch branches with feathers tied on to them that come out just before Easter. You can buy the branches at the florist or grocery and then you put them in vases for decoration, just as you would with flowers. People in the suburbs tie feathers on to the branches of the trees in their yards as well. The colored feathers look festive on the bare branches and I bought some my first Easter here and then began asking some of my Swedish friends about them. But nobody really seemed to know much. Instead, my friends said getting the branches were just something they’ve always done at Easter. After getting over my surprise at their ignorance, I then realized that I could not explain why I grew up hunting for eggs on Easter morning.

So I did a little digging and found that the feather branches have their roots in Swedish folklore. Traditionally, Easter was thought to be the witches’ time and on Maundy Thursday, all the witches fly to Blåkulla (the Blue Mountain) to meet the devil. Out of these beliefs sprang the tradition of children dressing as witches by wearing long skirts, colorful headscarves and painting their cheeks with rosy circles. Much like Halloween, the kids then go door to door in their neighborhoods and hand out drawings and paintings in hope of collecting candy in return. Still another tradition is one where young people hit each other with birch twigs on the morning of Good Friday as a reminder of Christ’s suffering. Luckily, this tradition is not one that seems to be done anymore. Instead, you’ll find the much safer alternative of those feather-decorated birch branches. Now I suppose I need to find out why I grew up searching for eggs.

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Shortly after moving here, I noticed what I deemed was an obsessive degree of sun worship by the locals. On every sunny day – even the chilly ones – I would see people sitting in cafes, on park benches and even just standing on the street corner with eyes closed and face uplifted to catch the rays. If the weather was warm enough (above 50), women of all ages would also take off their shirts and just sit in their bras. Outside of a beach, I had never seen such a wanton display of sun seeking. Haven’t those crazy Swedes heard that sun exposure is bad for your skin I would snicker to myself as I passed them. But after nearly losing my mind during my first long and dark winter with very little sun, I got it. Now I also indulge in sun worship. I need to soak up as much vitamin D as possible before the dark comes on again. It’s become a matter of survival. I suppose you could also call it an obsession.

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One of the most exciting and also most difficult parts of living abroad is being part of an international community. On the upside, I get to meet and hang out with an amazing variety of people from all around the world. On the downside, since these people are international, it’s almost always inevitable that at some point they return home. My life has been graced by the presence of so many wonderful people who I have learned from and enjoyed. And so many of them have gone home, but their presence is remembered. In Julie and Susan, I had great work-out partners. With Carrie Ann and Ellen, I had countless game nights. Thanks to Kate, I went to some to-die-for cocktail parties. As for Judy, she made me laugh. This is just a small part of the list of wonderful people I’ve known who have returned home.

As much as I have enjoyed these friendships, I find myself doing something now that horrified me when I heard of others doing it when I first moved here: I ask how long the person will be living here. The short-termers are great to be casual friends with, but it’s just too hard to continually invest a lot of time with them. It’s a cold calculation and it sounds terrible, I realize. But it’s also necessary for self preservation. All that said, I do still hang out with newcomers. But I am now mourning the loss of yet another friend. After five years in Stockholm, Brooke and her husband Sean will be moving back to the US. Brooke has embraced her time in Europe to the fullest: having one child here (and another on the way), buying a summer house, learning the language and traveling quite a bit. It’s hard to say goodbye. So instead, I will wish her well in her new life in LA.

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