Burn the Goat

How long will you survive this year?

How long will you survive this year?

In a Swedish town ’round Christmas time,
There’s usually a most heinous crime,
Involving a gigantic decoration,
Going up in a massive conflagration.
A forty-foot goat made of out straw.
The biggest straw goat you ever saw.
It’s magnificent, this huge straw animal.
Though it’s also irresistibly flammable.
As soon as they’re done erecting it,
That’s when they start protecting it,
After setting it up so neat and nice.
From becoming the next goat sacrifice,
But most of the time, it’s all in vain.
Someone still manages to set it aflame.
Most years it burns right to the ground,
To the delight or the horror of the town.
As for me, I’m just happy either way,
If it burns or lives to see another day.
So come one and all, put on your coat.
Let’s get out there and burn the goat!

Observations: Swedish Customs

I’ve been living in Sweden for almost seven years so I’m pretty well assimilated by now. Naturally, there are a few things that still bother me, but I’ve gotten used to them. I’ve written previously about Systembolaget (the “System Company”…uh..yeah) Sweden’s outdated monolithic alcohol monopoly, but it’s certainly not unique to Sweden. With the notable exception of Denmark, all Nordic countries, including Iceland, have their own alcohol monopolies. Parts of Canada have similar systems in place as well. For all its flaws, it’s really not that bad. It has a huge variety of fermented grain and grape-based beverages. When my mom and grandmother and cousin came to visit me last year from the States, oh how they marveled at Systembolaget. They thought it was fantastic!

Anyway, this is more of an observation than a complaint, but one Swedish custom that I find kind of weird is the practice of saying congratulations to someone when it’s their birthday. Where I come from (America) the word congratulations is used when someone achieves something truly great or commendable, such as having a baby, or graduating from college, or getting promoted at work. Having a birthday is not really commendable unless you consider having lived another year to be a worthwhile achievement. When someone says congratulations to me when it’s my birthday I always say thank you, but I feel like saying, “For what? I haven’t done anything important. I just survived.”

Nothing special about that.

Be Lagom

If you’re forming a plan,
Of moving to this land,
Then there’s one Swedish word,
That you need to understand.

It’s lagom, the foundation,
Of this excellent nation.
Simply translated it means,
Average, in moderation.

But it’s so much more than that.
Lagom is a caveat.
And more of a lifestyle,
Than just a word, in fact.

Don’t over do it, or be proud.
Do not stand out in the crowd.
Do not bother, or talk
To your neighbors. Not allowed.

It may seem isolating, cold.
Hard to handle, and truth be told,
It takes some getting used to,
This lagom lifestyle foothold.

A lagom Swede causes no strife,
Keeps to his family and his wife.
Doesn’t try to cause a stir.
It’s the Swedish way of life.

So take pleasure, but be lagom.
Don’t take it all, but have some.
Not too little, or too much.
And leave enough for everyone.

Six Years So Far in Sweden

Six years so far in Sweden,
For the most part have been good.
I’ve tried hard to be lagom and,
Do what a good Swede would.
I learned the Swedish language
And I did the best I could.
But I still don’t hurdy gurdy,
As well as I think I should.

Six years so far in Sweden,
Have not been all that bad.
And yet there are still certain things,
That make me kind of sad.
I feel out of place on holidays,
And I miss my mom and dad.
Though my Swedish family loves me,
And to see them makes me glad.

Six years so far in Sweden,
All the laughter and the tears.
Six years of glorious vinglögg,
And watery Swedish beers.
Six years of not quite fitting in,
Of culture shock and fears.
Six years so far in Sweden,
Have been strange and wonderful years.

Mother Nature is a cruel bitch, baby!

The title of this post is a recurring line from the song, “Mother Nature” by Swedish artist, Andi Almqvist. I usually don’t do music reviews or recommendations but, seriously folks, you gotta listen to this guy. His hauntingly beautiful lyrics are the result of a personal tragedy of the worst kind, the death of his son.

Here are a couple of selections, “Mother Nature”

And “Low Dive Jenny.” This one gives me the shivers.

When is a hospital not a hospital?

When it’s a medical center. Even if it calls itself a hospital.

I left work early yesterday because I was feeling very poorly: dizzy, lightheaded, disoriented, and feeling in my head as if I was riding a roller coaster. I told my boss I had to leave and he told me to go to the nearest hospital. He even offered to put me in a taxi and pay for me to get there, but I said I could probably make it on my own. Anyway, I called Tobias (Swedish boyfriend) and he said he’d meet me at Capio Lundby Hospital, since it was the nearest one. At least I thought it was.

When we got there the staff seemed confused as to why we were there, since this was apparently not a hospital but a local clinic or medical center (vårdcentral in Swedish), despite the fact that the sign on the outside clearly reads, “Hospital.”

“So, uh… why did you come here?” the receptionist asked.

“I need to see a doctor right away and this is nearest hospital to where I live.” I said.

“Oh,” she said, “Well, that’s an easy mistake to make. It says hospital on the building but it’s not really a hospital. We don’t take emergency patients. For that you need to go to one of the emergency hospitals.”

She agreed that it was a stupid rule but that rules are rules.

At this point, I began to get really upset, since I was feeling genuinely awful and no one seemed willing to help me. They then took me into a room and let me sit down while a very kind and sympathetic nurse talked to me and calmed me down. She looked up the number of my neurologist and had Tobias call his office. He didn’t speak to the doctor but after giving an explanation of my symptoms to one of the nurses there, it was I suggested I go to the emergency room ASAP.

The problem was that the nearest emergency room was across town, and it would take us an hour to get there on public transport. So, the hospital/medical center arranged for a taxi to take us there at their expense. They did seem sincerely sorry that they couldn’t treat me and were being as helpful as they could. The taxi ride took about fifteen minutes.

Eventually I was admitted to triage and was seen to by a whole team of nurses and doctors. They did an EKG test, took lots of blood and urine, asked me a bunch of questions, and fixed me right up. It was nice that I didn’t have to wait very long either. It was the shortest emergency room visit I ever experienced. In and out in about two hours time.

So, to make a long story short, if you ever find yourself in Sweden and need to go to the emergency room, make sure that the hospital you go to really is a proper emergency hospital. Not all of them are. I found out the hard way.

WOTD: smörgåstårta

Today’s word literally means “sandwich cake” in Swedish. I have seen it translated as “savory tart” though, which to me sounds like a naughty woman.

This cake-like concoction, popular throughout Scandinavia, is comprised of layers of white sandwich bread, mayonnaise or some other spread, ham or shrimp and cucumber slices. It’s a popular fika dish here in Sweden. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of fika for Swedes. The word means coffee but it’s much more than just coffee. It’s like tea in the UK: a big deal and a whole meal.

Anyway, we were served this after today’s conference at work. Even though I’ve lived in Sweden for more than five years, this was actually the first time I’d ever had the opportunity to try this delicacy. Despite the popularity of the dish, I must say that it’s definitely not one of my favorite things to eat. Well, it’s not exactly awful, but the idea of a savory “cake” made out of white bread and mayonnaise just seems somehow wrong.

The one I tried had smoked salmon and shrimp and there was crushed pineapple between the slices of bread. I thought it was a bit weird.

Here's a picture of one made with shrimp, egg and caviar.

Blondinbella

I’m jealous of Blondinbella.  She’s so pretty, smart, and successful.  She has her own business, book, magazine, and boyfriend.  Her blog is one of Sweden’s most popular websites.  Somehow, despite all this success, she appears to have it all together and dress fabulous.  I think she is probably a genuinely nice young woman, and a positive one at that.  Not like that Kissies chick who is about as self-absorbed and narcissistic as a Jay Gatsby .

I sometimes wonder how I would have turned out had my parents not packed us up and moved to America.  What would have happened had I stayed in Sweden?  Would I have become a liberal, progressive, bon vivant Swede, or a down-to-earth Nils Holgersson?  One thing is for certain, I would not have been the male equivalent of Blondinbella because I was too late for the social media revolution.

Anyhow, reading Blondinbella’s blog is my delicious vice.  Whenever I’m feeling down I read about her fantastic life and I feel much better about myself and life in general.  It also helps keep my Swedish current.  Until next time…