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Archive for October, 2009

Robert and I are having a Halloween party tonight. So this morning we got up early to get things organized, go to the grocery and go to Systembolaget to get wine and beer. As we are walking toward the stores, Robert comments on how quiet it is out. And then we come to our first stop: Systembolaget. And it is closed. Big problem. Especially since we are having a party and there is no where else we can buy this stuff.

Given that neither of us is Swedish, we did not think about Systembolaget being closed today for alla helgons dag or halloween. (It is not a holiday in the US or Australia.) Since the state controls the purchase of alcohol, the only place you can buy wine and liqour is at Systembolaget. You can buy low alcohol beer at the grocery, but none of the good, higher stuff.

After we got home, we got calls and text messages from friends that were bringing drinks to the party and they had the same problem as us. So it is kind of funny in a pathetic kind of way tha we all goofed up. Thank goodness we have some alcohol in our liquor cabinet. Just let me know when you are ready for your Halloween cocktail . . .

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Today I showed my South African friend Annelie how to carve a pumpkin. She had never done one before and liked her results so much that she carved a second one just for good measure. And Mitch the Swedish guy who cuts my hair admitted that he would like to learn how to do one as well. A neighbor who saw me carrying the big pumpkin home today admitted that he had never carved a pumpkin but would like to. Given that pumpkin carving is something that I have participated in since I was a child, it was good to share the tradition.

And tomorrow, Robert and I will host an American style Halloween costume party. Don’t tell anyone, but I am going to be a vampire – a costume I have not worn since I was 12 and part of a haunted house with the other kids in my neighborhood. I went shopping today for a few accoutrements to complete the look. Of course, some makeup will play a key role in my costume. Now I can’t wait to see what everyone else wears…

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I went to buy a pumpkin at my local grocery yesterday and found the rack which they had been on just the day before was now laden with Christmas wreaths. And as I went out today to buy vampire teeth for my Halloween party, I was surrounded by Christmas decorations.

Halloween has not even happened yet but it has already been preempted by Christmas. I can’t keep up. Making matters worse, a security guard was managing the line at the Buttericks party store which went out the door and well down the street. As I already spent one hour in line today picking up my China visa, I did not get my teeth.

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I was waiting in a long line at Pressbryan recently (a convenience store like 7/11) and contemplating the customer service concept in Sweden. Or should I say, I was contemplating the lack of customer service. Even though the line was out the door, only one of the staff members waited on customers while the other continued to slowly stock the shelves. When the person in front of me finally reached the cash register, she then pulled her backpack off her back and proceeded to look for her wallet.

Of course, she did not do this while she was waiting in the long line and of course it took her a long time to find her wallet. She basically emptied her pack before she found it.

And of course the clerk did not ask to serve the next person in line so as to move things along more quickly. Once the women finally found her wallet, she then proceeded to chat with the clerk for a few minutes, completely oblivious to the glares she was getting. I would have laughed if I was not so annoyed.

At my old office, there was a cafe where you could buy snacks and coffee. Inevitably, the line was long but only one clerk  would wait on one person at a time. Instead of starting a latte and then waiting on the next person while it brews, the clerk stands and waits with the coffee. I always wanted to go back behind the counter and show them how to multitask. But that would not be very Swedish of me.

Long lines always seem to bring out the American in me.

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Yesterday I got out for a bike ride for the first time in a while. It has been raining here every day for as long as I can remember (something more than a week – I stopped counting) but  yesterday it was just a slight mist, so I got out for my favorite ride around Södermalm. And even though it was rainy and gray and I was very muddy by the end of the ride, it was also beautiful.

It was the sort of low level gray day that inexplicably enhances the bright colors of autumn. The leaves on the maple and birch trees have turned glorious shades of red and golden yellow, blanketing the ground and branches with their splendor and contrasting beautifully with the evergreens. The waters of Pålsundet and Årstaviken were dark and calm and reflected the autumn trees in perfect mirror images.

Even though most of the boat harbors are emptying – a yearly happening that always leaves me mourning summer  – I am still so happy I got out. The autumn colors are just too pretty to miss. . . even if it won’t stop raining.

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I was at the Chinese embassy this morning to get a visa for an upcoming trip. There was a long line as I walked in and automatically I walked up to the machine to take a number. It did not work. Even though people were standing right there by the number machine, no one told me that the machine was not working. As more people came in after me, each person would try the machine and then promptly get in line. Only once did someone tell a person that the machine was not working.

Somehow, this scenario is so very Swedish to me. Without fail, Swedes know that you have to take a number to be served, whether you are at the pharmacy, the food market or the tax authority. And almost without fail, no Swede is going to let you know that something is not working. They will let you figure that out for yourself.

If this was going on in the US, you can bet that everyone would be talking about that machine and how long the lines were. Here in Stockholm, I did not hear anyone complain.

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“So you are an American and married to an Australian. Why live here if you don’t have to?”

When you live in Sweden but neither you nor your partner is a Swede, these are questions that you get all the time. Most internationals that live here are with a Swede. So we don’t make sense, especially as we don’t have one single answer as to why we live here, but rather a list of many reasons.

I am an American who loves where I am from but also loves the experience of living abroad. Actually, I would love to move to Australia. But Robert my Australian husband is not quite ready to move back home. So Europe is somewhere in between for us.

And my answer to the question of why I am living in Sweden: I love my life here. For now.

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