Archive for the ‘Cultural nuances’ Category

A game of mahjong on one of the back streets.

In traveling to Shanghai, I was not sure what to expect and wondered whether this super-size city of 17 million would be too big to navigate and enjoy. But what I found was an exciting and dynamic city that was full of life and energy at all hours of the day and I absolutely loved it.

I loved the contrasts: glittering skyscrapers, elevated neon-let highways and luxury boutiques sit next to lanes with no indoor running water and street markets selling everything from kiminos and pearls to Chairman Mao bags and terracotta soldiers. Horn honking taxis and cars do battle for space on the roads with mopeds and bicycle carts laden with fruit. In the back streets, life is lived on the sidewalks. Hair cuts, dog baths, dish washing, cooking, teeth brushing and playing mahjong and checkers – everyday life rituals as well as entertainment is played out for all to see.

In a carryover from the past when only the wealthy could afford pajamas and thus wore them as status symbols, both men and women wear their fuzzy polar and silk pjs on the street during the daytime. That means that by Chinese standards, when my cousin and I would go to the drive-through late at night in our pjs we were actually being fashionable and making a statement about our wealthy flannels.


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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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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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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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Yesterday we went to see the Salvador Dalí exhibit at the Moderna Museum here in Stockholm. It is my favorite museum in town, not only for the great views from the cafe, but also for the art. The Moderna always seems to be able to push the envelope in regard to putting on comprehensive and exciting shows, much like they did with the Warhol exhibit last year.

This show did a fantastic job of showing how Dalí was truly a master at exploring all sorts of mediums beyond his paint brush and drawing pencil. He appeared as a performance artist on TV, created posters for the French trains, magazine covers for Vogue and countless ads for all sorts of things, including stockings and Alka Seltzer. He worked with Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock.

There is no doubt that Dalí was quite a media savvy dandy, but he could also draw. His finely detailed figure drawings for the Comte de Maldovor’s poetic book  were stunning. And I love the description of surrealism that the Comte himself coined: “The chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.”

Dalí was a pop artist long before Warhol hit the scene and brilliantly created a public vision of himself. And in an interesting twist, the Moderna paired Dalí’s work with contemporary celebrity artist Francesco Vezzoli. The exhibit did a good job of comparing the artists’ works and showing how Dalí used certain objects, including spoons, fried eggs and crutches over and over.

The show is on until January 17th. Check it out if you have the chance: see the Moderna.

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As I have done a number of posts about learning the Swedish language, my friend Roger sent me this great video about an Italian man in Malta who is having trouble being understood. Enjoy the laugh. See do you speak English?

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Just as I finished posting on classic Swedish miscommunications, I got this great video from a friend. It brilliantly explains just what we all have to go through when learning the Swedish language.

Check out learning Swedish here!

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