Community, Cooking, and Q&A:

Community:

Since arriving in Sweden, I have had very few social interactions. Reasons include: the time I spent navigating the Swedish bureaucracy when trying to settle in, age differences between myself and other students, and unfamiliarity with the city and customs. I still, on occasion, receive incredulous reactions to being back in school, but instead of feeling offended I am saddened by the pettiness. Most of it, however, is my… well, I would not say “fault,” but “character” is probably as good a term as any. Adherents of pop psychology, people who read rag magazines about “How to tell what he/she is really thinking,” and viewers who believe that daytime talk show panels are sources of deep wisdom would probably not hesitate to label me as an introvert. Maybe it is true. I am perfectly comfortable dining at a restaurant or going to the cinema by myself. I have always been very selective of whom I call “friend.” When I study on campus, I often seek out the most remote, isolated corner. When I cared enough about the MBTI to take the test, the results were always The Architect. The point I am trying to make is: even if I point out difficulties in socializing, I know what I do and how I act is an important factor. I certainly recognize how life is sometimes easier with a certain amount of social interactions. I notice that Swedish people tend to prioritize socialization with other Swedish people yet they seem to readily describe themselves as being “very friendly.” Could this be similar to people who are offended by everything but insist they have a great sense of humor? Still, I have been trying to be more social and force myself out of my comfort zone, and I have made some efforts here to become part of the community.

I bought a bag of dog treats at a pet store. I carried it around with me everywhere and, time permitting, I stopped people to ask them if I could give their dog a treat and I would make short conversation with them. I would tell them, “I can’t presently have a dog, so I have to borrow yours for a moment.” 😊 I also love dogs. Dogs > Cats, especially when you understand just how horribly destructive cats are to the ecosystem. Yes, even your cat!  Anyhow… To my surprise, most people (women in particular) would say “no.” Most of the time they did not offer a reason and they kept walking. Out of all the people I asked, only 4 accepted my offer (2 women who are neighbors, 2 men on the street). I had to throw the treats out as they were getting old. I am sure it is a cultural attitude and I do not take it personally but I will not be continuing this social exercise.

Last Tuesday in class, I took a moment to write my name and email address on the board and extended an invitation to anyone who wished to review material for the upcoming exam. No takers so far but we will see what happens this week.

When asked to form groups for class exercises, I make it a point to ask my peers — whomever they may be — about their weekend, or their major, places around town they enjoy, or what they think of the class material. So, I do take an interest in the lives of others from time to time and I am also very sincere about it. I usually ask the cashiers at the market how they are and, if they offer an emotionless pre-programmed response, I smile and tell them, “You can tell me the truth, I do not mind. How are you really?” You might be amazed at what people will tell you when they know you are sincere, listening, and make the conversation about them. I have heard amusing stories about people being hung over at work from their best friend’s birthday party the night before, frustrating tales of how one’s apartment was flooded just the day before, I have heard the terror in a person’s voice when they told me how they lost have not heard from their family in Iran because of street violence and the government shutting down all forms of public communication, and excited tales of someone’s new pet. So, maybe I just have a scary resting face? Maybe I look hostile even when what I’m really thinking is, “That video of the turkey who needs hugs is so neat!”

Today, I spent hours making sandwich cookies (under construction, below) to share in class tomorrow. Chocolate toffee chip cookies with a cream cheese & peanut butter filling. My own recipe.

Some might say I am trying too hard but, whether people accept it or not, I do enjoy doing nice things for people. We will see if this has any effect. I do enjoy challenging myself regardless of success rate, and I honestly feel as if the way to a better society is by establishing communication with people, so finding ways to be more social is one way of challenging myself and communicating with people.

Cooking:

I have been spending entirely too much time in the kitchen. Last week, I made a puff pastry log to take to class. I made a blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, and honey filling from scratch (below: before and after simmering). I forgot to grease the bottom of the log, however, and it turned into a messy heap of delicious slop after I tried to separate it from the foil. I did not want to present it to the class so I slowly consumed it myself over the week. This is why I tried again today with the sandwich cookies. The filling — jam, if you wish — was really flavorful and not too sweet. I wanted it to be a bit tart because I was going to cover the pastry in a buttercream frosting but, again… “delicious slop.”

8oz blueberries

8oz strawberries

8oz raspberries

¼ cup of honey

1tsp lemon juice

Simmer until it is 2/3rds original volume or desired consistency.

With the winter approaching, I have been investing in soup. I made a nice chicken, vegetable, barley soup. More of a stew, really, as it could have used more water but I didn’t want to have to tweat the seasoning again. It also turned out well but I accidentally threw the paper with the precise measurements I used. I filled in what I could remember below.

3 liters water

3 Yellow onions, chopped

6 Large carrots, chopped

30 Medium mushrooms (equal amounts portobello, button, and oyster), quartered

6 Medium red potatoes, diced

1 cup Barley, whole

8oz Egg noodles

1 and ½ Chicken breast, cubed

3 tbsp Chicken stock

Red wine vinegar

Salt

Chives

Parsley

Season salt

Black pepper

Ground mustard

Smoked paprika

It sounds like a lot of mushrooms but remember how much they reduce. Bring ingredients except noodles and potatoes to a boil in a large pot, reduce heat, and simmer until the mushrooms reduce. Add noodles and potatoes until they are cooked.

To celebrate the end of Stats, I really indulged myself (below). I bought a baguette, some nice smoked cheese, and some great cured meats at the store. I sliced, seasoned, and toasted the baguette, made a sauce with equal parts strong Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, and honey, and enjoyed with a stiff drink.

Q&A:

Now to answer the questions I have received in the last week. Thanks to those who sent me questions. Also, if you do have questions, please feel free to ask. I am happy to address them in another email. 😊

“How about some information on Swedish holidays and how they are celebrated, the cuisine, over-all personality type of the Swedes, their recreational preferences, modes of transportation, housing, etc.”

Holidays: The Swedes celebrate All Saints’ Day with dignity and reverence. It is not a party or commercial holiday the same way it is in the US. They certainly enjoy some entertainment, but that entertainment isn’t as raucous as what is seen in the US. It revolves around reflecting on ancestry, history, and culture.

Lucia is another reverent and solemn winter holiday. It is coming up. There are lots of choirs, candles, wreaths, incense, and pagan religious traditions but, being a very secular nation, similar to All Saints’ Day it is more about reflecting on history, culture, and ancestry.

Christmas is “celebrated” in Sweden but, as far as I can tell, it is mostly a commercial holiday. Food, family, presents, giving, cooking, dining. Any religious context is not really on the publicly facing, much like in the US.

Midsommer (Midsummer) is the big party holiday where Swedes just get silly. It is packed with alcohol, food, dancing, music, singing, and sex. No, seriously, apparently libidos (not to be confused with promiscuity) spike over Midsommer. Don’t believe me? Read this PG-13 article. On Midsommer, Swedes excuse behavior they would normally consider classless and crass any other time of the year.

Those are the only holidays of which I am aware and, forgive me, I do not have the time to research others. There was a Kultur Day a couple months ago, but it is a modern secular event and I have no idea what it was. By the time I found out about it and that it was a “big deal,” I was home and showered for the evening.

Food: The cuisine here, in terms of restaurants, is very much like it is in the US. There is a variety of different restaurants from all over the world. Last night I ate a regional taco chain. It was a quality of food like one would expect from Q’doba. Sushi has seen a HUGE increase in popularity in the last 10 years and, because of the enormous amount of immigration in the last few years, there are Middle Eastern eateries on every block of any commercial district.

Recreation: The Swedes are very active people. They spend much of their time riding bicycles, at the gym, Nordic walking, skiing, walking, jogging, etc. Futbol is very popular. There is also some kind of national endurance or triathlon competition that is advertised all over the place. It is a spectator sport to them.

Personality: Swedes, when compared to Americans, are about as warm and hospitable as a Lapland winter (below, photo is not mine). They do not even make eye contact on the bus, the bike path or sidewalk, and they rarely say a word or even smile if I bid them good morning/afternoon/evening.

After asking around a bit, it seems Swedes establish their friends early in life and do not deviate from that circle much except on rare occasion and only casually. They are polite when they do speak but getting them to do so is a challenge. There are some frustrating things about Swedish culture. I am getting tired, for example, of being the polite one when someone else steps in front of me or bumps into me because they were not looking where they were going. I find myself apologizing when I should not have to, and those who should say nothing. There are days where, after several such incidents, I just want to tell people, “You’re a complete #@$%” but I bite my tongue. There’s no rhyme or reason to their sense of politeness. When you are in line at the market, you need to mind the cue. It is considered bad form if you do not yet when the bus pulls up people will step over their own mother to get ahead of you. If you are shopping and need to get around someone, they will park themselves in the middle of the isle and stand their ground even if you politely ask to pass, but if you forget to put the separator on the conveyor belt after your items in checkout, they give you dirty looks and scoff. This inconsistency, however, is the kind of behavior I do not understand about Americans either: the double standards, hypocrisy, selective manners based on convenience, self-serving politeness, etc. So, overall, Swedes are really no different in their respective idiosyncrasies, but Americans tend to be a bit more outgoing.

Housing: Overall, their houses tend to be smaller but nicer. Unlike Americans, Swedes do not seem to place much importance on keeping up with the Jones’. Maybe this is because they spend little time at home? Everything they own is efficient, high quality, modern, and reasonable. The car in the worst condition I have seen here is easily a vehicle in good-to-excellent condition in the US. Swedes are not garish or flashy by comparison to Americans.

Many, many Swedes take the bus, or ride a bicycle as their mode of daily transport even during the winter.

“What kind of grocery stores do they have and what does it resemble here in the US?”

In suburban settings, their markets are quite like those in the US except smaller. The larger grocery stores they have, are located further away from the town center. It takes some work to get there just to buy the stuff I need. They tend to have more stores, smaller, and spread out. In Central Stockholm and downtown Uppsala, however, is where you find smaller specialty shops mixed in with lower square-foot sites of the larger grocery chain. This is where you can buy your milk, breakfast cereal, and potato chips in the chain stores, and then buy your artisanal bread and meats just a couple doors down. The Ikea here is huge. It is like 3 Wal marts stacked on top of each other. Seriously, it is 3 floors, not including the garage.

“Have you eaten Swedish Meatballs?”

I have not. The Swedes, sadly, do not have any “Swedish restaurants.” They have more McDonald’s per capita than any other EU nation and there are Subways (sandwich shops) and Burger Kings all over. I wish this were different as I would love to try some “old world” Swedish dishes, but the bakery items in convenience stores is about as exotic as it gets. I have, however, tried reindeer. It is wonderful! I could eat that regularly. It does not taste much like venison as one might expect, but instead it reminds me more of horse.

“What is the worst thing about Sweden?”

As far as living here or the nation goes, it would be the bureaucracy. There is so much you cannot do here without a Personnummer: their version of a Social Security Number. Getting mail at my address was hell without it. I cannot even sign up as a member at the larger grocery chains. I cannot buy a phone here, and I do not mean sign up for a plan. No, no — I cannot even buy a phone if I wanted. I cannot get a Swedish bank account, getting a refund for incomplete train is still pending after a month (assuming I will ever see it), and even returning a piece of faulty electronics is a nightmare. I am a resident, but not a citizen, and that still creates a world of logistic and bureaucratic nightmares. And this is just regarding a Personnummer. More frustration can be found in trying to pay my rent, using the banking system, using my American bank card, using the ATM, having to whip out my ID for every purchase, getting deliveries, seeing a doctor. It is all asinine.

As far as the people goes, it would be their general coldness and aloofness. So many Swedish people seem to be offended when I politely ask them, in Swedish, if they speak English. “Of course I do!” Yet, twice when I have approached Swedish people and spoken directly to them in English, they took offense and feigned the inability to speak English until it was obvious I could not speak Swedish. There are pricks in every nation.

“Do all the girls have blond hair?”

A large percentage, yes. I thought it was an inaccurate stereotype but natural, healthy blond hair is everywhere. Not a trace of dark roots like you see everywhere in the US. I would say 50% to 60% have natural blond hair ranging from true, blinding platinum blond to a dark, “light caramel” blond which borders on light brown. Black hair is almost completely absent among native Swedes, their brown hair tends to be lighter, and red and dark brown hair is rare.

“Do they have Swedish pancakes for breakfast and Swedish meatballs for dinner?”

I have yet to have a Swedish breakfast, so I do not know. I hear they like pancakes, specifically crepes. Meatballs, however — see 2 questions up. They certainly enjoy their meatballs, and there are lots of different bags of them you can buy in the market, but I do not know how they typically prepare them. They really enjoy their pizza but they have a lot of combinations we do not typically see in the US. Kebab (gyros meat), pineapple, and egg, for example. Yes, I am serious.

“What do they eat for lunch?”

I spend my own lunches off in some corner eating and studying hard, so I do not know what a typical lunch is. What I have seen in the cafeteria, however, is fish, salad (usually made of cabbage, slaw, or beets), potatoes, and bread. That seems to be as typical as anything I have seen.

“Do people shop at IKEA in Sweden?”

Very, very much. It is almost an institution here.

“Does all their furniture just look like it came from ikea?”

Their furniture is surprisingly plain. Having been to Ikea several times, I would have to say, “Yes, their furniture all looks as if it was bought at Ikea.” It is not very flavorful. Practical furniture is the norm and fancy craftsmanship, antiques, and high-end woodwork are rare as far as I can tell.

“Since healthcare is free how much are their taxes?”

They pay roughly 45% to 50% in taxes. Sweden is a highly socialized democracy. Do not let that fool you, however, as they have a very high standard of living. Higher than the US. What blows my mind about Sweden is how you can support yourself working in a fast food restaurant or convenience store. If you had those jobs in the US, you would have to live in poverty, would have to live with other income earners, or would need additional jobs. If you have ever heard a leftist nutjob tell you there is no poverty, homelessness, or super-wealthy people in Sweden, they are ignorant liars and trying to sell you their delusion. If you have ever heard a conservative puppet compare Sweden with “Socialist” Venezuela or the USSR, they are ignorant liars and are trying to get you to subscribe to their fear-mongering (below, not my image).

The truth, like in most cases, is someplace in the middle. The simple fact is, what they pay in taxes is mostly returned to them in the form of reliable, cheap public transportation, clean water and food, free health, dental, and optical care, free college at high quality institutions, and excellent yet reasonable social support systems (disability, retirement plans, unemployment insurance). Sweden certainly has its social problems with poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and crime (though on the rise), but they are not nearly at the same magnitude as in the US.

The easiest way to think of it is like this:

In the US, you put your money in a bank and withdraw from it every time you need to go to the doctor, pay a health insurance premium, or make a payment on your college loans.

In Sweden, you just go to the doctor or go to school, and the money you already paid the government is “being transferred” to those respective organizations.

“Do people like the USA?”

They do not dislike Americans but they do not think highly of us. They are mostly indifferent. They certainly think American politics is a joke. I can’t imagine why. Unrelated note: I wonder if there is such a thing as a Personnummer Marriage in Sweden. Hahaha! It would tempting just to avoid returning to the Identity Politics of the US. Identity Politics certainly exists here, but they are not completely stupid about it. The loud, unreasonable, gas-lighting, intellectually-dishonest voices of the extremes that dominate discourse in the US are not found in Scandinavian nations as far as I can tell. I have come across a few absurd gibbering heads here, on both sides, but the Swedes see them as morons. On the subject: the biggest social downfall of the Swedes, I think, is their unwillingness to talk about any of their serious problems. They seem to be under the impression that if they say nothing, and do nothing, the problems will go away. I see major problems rising in Sweden in the upcoming decades for this very reason, but I’m not a social scientist so what do I know? They would rather be polite than address any of the major social problems they have.

“What is the climate like?”

It is like Wisconsin! Only darker and wetter. Much of their winter looks like late October in the Southern Wisconsin. Swedes are generally surprised to hear that Southern Wisconsin typically deals with colder weather than they do, but I am certain we will see more snowfall here any day now.

“Do they drink a lot of alcohol?”

They drink a LOT of beer and wine but very little by way of liqueurs, grain alcohol, distilled spirits, etc. In fact, for some reason, they tend to stigmatize the consumption of anything but beer and wine; they see it as something for lower class people, less sophisticated people, alcoholics, homeless people, etc. They believe in moderation and feel vodka, for example, is too strong for moderated drinking. I guess it doesn’t matter how much orange juice you mix with it. The Systembaloget — the state-controlled store where all alcohol is purchased — is 80% beer and wine. Their alcohol is ridiculously expensive, too. A white Russian at a bar cost me $16 US and tastes more like melted ice cream — very little vodka in it. A 250ml bottle of Absolut is $15 US. It is… weird and confusing, especially given how much beer, wine, cigarettes, and chewing tobacco they consume. Then again, even food tends to be expensive here. Unless you dine out, in which case it is comparable to prices in the US. Which is also weird.

*shakes head in confusion*

OK, everyone, I have been at this for hours and need to get to bed. Feel free to ask more questions and best wishes to you all.

1 thought on “Community, Cooking, and Q&A:”

  1. I forgot to add something that almost blew me away about Sweden in response to the question, “Since healthcare is free how much are their taxes?”

    Another benefit of Sweden’s socialized democracy is their utility system, for which communication (internet, cellular, cable TV, and hardwired phone service) is considered a public utility. Their mobile phone plans and internet access is absurdly cheap. Seriously cheap. A cellular plan with unlimited data costs roughly $15/month here in Sweden. I am paying roughly 9 times that amount and it is still the most affordable plan, with the best coverage, I could find for overseas service (partially based on my lack of a trade-in device). Yes, I am serious. I researched this extensively.
    Can you imagine paying as little as $15 per month for the newest phone PLUS unlimited data, unlimited texts, no roaming within the ENTIRE EU, and free calls within national borders?

    Also, they do not pay a penny for their water utilities (or so I was told by one citizen) and electricity is about 1/3rd the cost of US usage (when compared to my last apartment).

    Again, this is a system of trade-offs. I am not saying it is better than the US but, if you compare the much higher standard of living, well… it certainly has benefits.

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