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All right, listen. I’m a union supporter. My dad’s really involved in the union movement. I also understand that rank-and-file members don’t always see what their unions do for them and resent their union dues. I fear I’ve become one of those people.

Here in Sweden, membership in the student union is compulsory for all students. It costs 310 SEK a semester — about 50 bucks. Without your student union card, you can’t take exams. The student union card also entitles you to student discounts on Swedish trains. Beyond that, I really don’t understand what the student union does. At the presentation for international students at the beginning of the year, the student union representative could only manage to repeat “We have a pub” over and over again. But you have to pay 30 SEK ($4.25) just to enter this pub if you’re a member (more if you’re a guest)!

All right, so instead of just bitching, I did a little research and came up with this info page from the Swedish Institute. They say that “compulsory membership fees have allowed them to improve conditions for students”. That’s pretty vague. They also say that student unions are in charge of accomodation at some universities. Here in Falun, though, the housing is arranged through the municipal housing authority.

Education in Sweden is free and $50 per semester is a small price to pay for a master’s degree. And I want to believe that the student union is there to advocate on behalf of the students if necessary, in which case I’m happy to contribute my bit. It would just be nice to know that our student union was doing something besides running this lame pub.

We celebrated international Thanksgiving yesterday. There were two Americans (including me) two Swedes, two Germans, a Canadian and a Russian. Turkey and pumpking pie filling are hard to find in Sweden, so there was chicken and apple pie, but other than those elements it was pretty authentic.

After announcing the end of autumn a few weeks ago, I failed to mention that we had only one more minimal snowfall after that, and the snow has slowly disappeared over the past couple of weeks. The temperature has been hovering around 0 (that would be 32, for you Fahrenheit people). Today, it’s downright balmy out.

On the other hand, it has been pretty gloomy. Today there has been some sun and blue sky, but for most of the past three weeks it’s been really dense cloud cover. Sometimes it’s foggy, too. Combine this with the fact that it gets light out (I can’t say the sun rises, because we never see it) around 8:30 a.m. and it starts getting dim at 2:30 p.m. (though not really dark til 3:30 or 4) and you feel like you never really had a day at all. We’re at the same latitude as St. Petersburg, so technically we get the same amount of daylight, but the weather and the fact that the sun rises and sets earlier here due to our being in the eastern end of our time zone really produces a different psychological effect.

For those who read Russian, here’s a sad story about a circus hippo who died recently after 27 years of service.


I’m feeling a bit groggy today as a result of last night’s presentation by the Ukrainian and Czech students in my program, which turned into a party featuring Becherovka, horilka, Waragi, Russian vodka and Jim Beam. Being an international student is great!

OK, I know I write about alcohol a lot on this blog, but I don’t drink that much, especially not since leaving Russia for Sweden. This is only my second hangover since August.

Here’s an article on the perils of drunkenness.

Drunken elk drowns after falling through ice
Published: 23rd November 2006 12:05 CET

An elk that became inebriated after binging on fermented fallen apples in northern Sweden drowned when it fell through the ice of a frozen inlet, Aftonbladet reported on Thursday.

“The elk appears to have eaten too many fermented apples and become confused out on the ice,” Luleå police spokesman Erik Kummu told local media.

Emergency services were scrambled but they were unable to save the four-legged apple thief.

For several days prior to the elk’s demise, local residents had contacted police after seeing the animal munch its way through rotting fruit, Aftonbladet said.

Drunk elks are relatively common in Sweden in late autumn as the animals eat fallen apples which ferment slightly on the ground.


Sophie said…
Hi, this is a bit of a random moment to ask this, especially since you’ve just moved, but I’ve been reading your blog a while and just lurking… I’m wanting to go to Russia, either Moscow or SPB this easter and do an intensive (fairly beginners level) language course for maybe 3-4 weeks, do you recommend the one that you went on?

Yes, I would, actually. It’s really affordable, the teachers are good, the program is well-thought out, it’s easy to get a visa, the dorm is nice by Russian standards and it’s near the Gulf of Finland and a laundromat… here’s the link:

I recommend going in the summertime, at least the first time you go to SPb!

This site’s quizzes are lamer than average, not to mention that the creator of this one was lacking in The Spelling and The Grammar, but it was too funny not to post.

You are 41% sucky as a person

Your a bit lame. What the hell is wrong with you? You want to cry?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Do You Suck As A Person?
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You’d think that having a state monopoly and incredibly high taxes on alcohol would be enough to satisfy people that the government was doing its part to discourage excessive consumption, but it’s not enough for some…

Militant tee-totallers smash booze store
Published: 16th November 2006 14:04 CET

A branch of state alcohol retail monopoly Systembolaget last night had its windows smashed by anti-alcohol activists in Umeå.

The group smashed seven of the shop’s large display windows. It also spray-painted the word ‘äckelgift’, or ‘disgusting poison’, onto one of the windows.

Straight Edge Terror Force, as the group calls itself, sent a letter to local media in Norrland explaining that the attack was intended to serve as a warning about the negative effects of alcohol.

“People who do not use this poison always have to answer for why they do not abuse it. Is it the abstention from this drug that needs to be defended, or its usage?” the group asked in its statement.

“It is the first time anything like this has happened to Systembolaget,” Lennart Agén, spokesman for Systembolaget, told The Local.

Agén has never heard of Straight Edge Terror Force before.

“We have to figure out who they are. Then we can try to speak with them.

“This is not an appropriate way to conduct a discussion,” said Agén.

Commenting on Umeå, Agén notes that the northern Swedish town has “lots of vegans”.

Umeå is the main Swedish stronghold for the straight edge movement, whose followers often abstain from alcohol, tobacco, drugs and animal products for ideological reasons.

“Alcohol is a terrible poison, which contributes to getting people on trouble and making them feel bad,” the group wrote in its statement.

‘Straight Edge Terror Force’ is the title of a 1997 song by Umeå band Last Exit.

Paul O’Mahony

Foreigners visiting Russia like to complain about customer service. It can be pretty horrible sometimes. Waiters and salespeople come across as rude, impatient, or just uninterested, and service can be unreasonably slow.

Russians (and others) who have been to the US like to retort that American customer service is irritating, overbearing, and fake. All the “can-I-help-yous” and “have-a-nice-days” and “my-name-is-Jenny-and-I’ll-be-your-waitress” and small talk and smiling seem quite absurd if you’re not used to it. And working in customer service can suck, with pressure to work fast, be nice, and pretend that “the customer is always right” (because, let’s face it, sometimes the customer is wrong).

As in so many things, Russia and the US are extremes. And, as in so many things, Sweden seems to have found the happy medium. Customer service here is helpful, efficient but not rushed, and devoid of emotion. They give you what you ask for, usually with just a nod of the head and a quiet “varsågod” (“you’re welcome” or “there you go”) and then it’s as if you disappear from their field of vision. Sometimes the American in me finds this a bit abrupt, and I stand there feeling a bit silly, like “is that all? Should I say something else? Did I piss them off?” But after a second I remember where I am, and I remember what it’s like in Russia, and I appreciate Sweden for, as always, being so reasonable.

Phew. The term paper that threatened to become a thesis is finished and submitted. I am relieved. I was co-writing it with my fabulous classmate Oleksandra (hi Oleksandra! :-)) and at one point we had almost 40 pages together. Now it’s a more reasonable 22.

Here’s a nice picture that’s on the cover of our paper.

About This Blog

I'm an American who started blogging when I moved to Russia in 2004. Eventually I moved to Sweden, where life is pleasant but uneventful, and stopped blogging for lack of interesting things to say. And then I joined Facebook, which further destroyed any motivation for blogging. Maybe someday I'll start blogging again, but for now, this blog is dormant, an archive of The Russia Years: 2004-2008.

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November 2006