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In Russian you don’t “wish” people a “happy” anything (though you can and should wish them happiness, luck, love, success, and a whole stream of other abstract nouns that always leaves me feeling overwhelmed) but rather “congratulate” them “with” a given holiday or birthday.

Also, it’s bad luck, or at least bad form, to congratulate someone with a birthday or holiday before the event. Instead you say “I congratulate you with the upcoming…” whatever, though it’s usually shortened to “with the upcoming”. Except that Russian’s biggest shortcoming is that it doesn’t have articles, so it’s really more like “with upcoming”, which doesn’t make any sense in English.

Anyway, I congratulate you with the upcoming New Year!

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I have a blogger pet peeve. Maybe I’ve even been guilty of this myself at some point (need to check the archives to be sure) but I hate it when people write vague things in their blogs like “there’s stuff going on in my personal life” and then never say anything else about it. That’s like, teasing, people! We read blogs to get the juicy details! If you’re not going to write about it, don’t say anything at all! Or if you’re trying to blow off steam, make a secret blog (even though such blogs aren’t very secret).

A few weeks ago I dissed on the Swedish postal system for its expensive postage, but I feel a little bad about that now. I was a little stressed out at the time because money was tight and I had just spent a lot of it sending crap to the US. The truth is, high-quality services cost money, and this ought to be Sweden’s national motto.

Our mailman is sweet. Yesterday I came home and there was a slip in the mailbox indicating that there was a package too big for the box waiting for me at the post office. The mailman must have noticed that the package was from the US and I had a non-Swedish name, so he scribbled English translations of the relevant information on the slip, which was totally unnecessary (I mean, I did well in my first two Swedish courses, I can certainly decipher “Stort brev” and “Hämtas på posten”) but very considerate.

Today I happened to be home when the mailman came, and he delivered a second package to my door. “Megan Case? Here’s a package for you!” “Tack så mycket,” I replied.

Keeping with the post office theme, the Blog Supergroup is blogging about stamps this week. It’s kind of boring, to be honest, and they say so themselves, but I loved this bit from Jane:

I can, however, tell you about the last time I was in a Russian post office (last May or June). I was inside the Central Post Office of the city of Vladimir. Had I desired to do so, I could have purchased laundry detergent. I could have purchased cigarettes. I could have purchased a lot of random things of the sort which one would not expect to find in a Post Office. I could not, however, have purchased stamps. They were out.

Well, I wrote about the last time I was in a Russian post office here, but I didn’t mention that we could have purchased bedsheets and towels during our two-hour saga.

One weird feature of the Swedish post office is that many of their branches are in supermarkets, not always as a separate department, but rather one of the supermarket checkout lines functions as the post office as well. So maybe you just need to buy stamps or pick up a package, but you wait in line with people buying groceries. I suppose it’s efficient use of labor, the most expensive aspect of anything in Sweden, but it takes some getting used to.

And now I’m off to stand behind some old ladies buying cat food in order to pick up my other Christmas package!

We had a whirlwind few days, with three guests from Russia for whom we tried to make Falun — a sleepy town at the best of times and an absolute ghost town for the three-day holiday that is Swedish Christmas — interesting and exciting and worth their coming all this way by train and bus and ferry to see us. We walked all over the city, and looked at all 24 advent windows in one of the historic neighborhoods, and went to a church service (which was really nice, lots of singing and not much talking, good for people who don’t know much Swedish) and used the bastu (sauna) and drank duty-free alcohol and had a nice time.

Kostia left this morning for St. Petersburg. He’ll be between there and his hometown until January 15. It’s quiet and sad around the apartment. But my friend Hugh is coming for a visit next week, and the other students will start coming back, and then classes will start, so I just have to amuse my self on my oddy-knocky for a few days. There’s still plenty on my to-do list, so I should get to it.

The downstairs neighbor has been listening to Coldplay nonstop for two days. I don’t even know who lives down there, but now I’d guess it’s a guy in his mid-20s who’s just been dumped. And right before Christmas. How sad. I feel like I should bring him some cookies or a six-pack or something. Like I said, I don’t actually know who lives down there. Could be anybody. But two days of Coldplay is a cry for help, in any case. If you ever hear me playing Coldplay more frequently than once in a four-month period, bring me some cookies AND a six-pack.

The 2001 edition of Lonely Planet’s Scandinavian & Baltic Europe, the one which says that “Swedes are generally decent and serious”, also says “other Scandinavians resent Sweden’s quietly assumed superiority”. I always thought, “Oh, whatever” when reading this, but then came across this in a book from the ’70s called Så Fungerar Sverige that we found in the secondhand shop:

Hmm. Now where would other Scandinavian countries get the idea that Sweden has a superiority complex? (“Stor i Norden” means “big in the Nordic region”.) The preceding page, “Liten i världen”, (small in the world) demonstrates how Sweden attempted to get the superpowers to pay attention to the real problems in the world rather than the Cold War pissing contest.

The book seems to be aimed at pre-teens and covers all kinds of historical, political, and social issues. I get the feeling that this book was pretty popular in the ’70s and has now become obsolete; there were several copies of it in the secondhand shop. It’s a very interesting artifact and full of insights about Sweden’s self-image.

…so here are some random images with minimal commentary:

A teachers-vs-students game of innebandy (floor hockey) which is terrifyingly important in Sweden (yours truly in the center there oh and by the way the students lose miserably every time):

A safe-sex poster featuring the beloved dalahäst (sorry for the quality, took it with my mobile):

Kostia with an assortment of products from our favorite brand, Eldorado:

A nice scene in Falun:

OK, I’ve accomplished something on my to-do list: I’ve finally started my Russian LJ. If you’re a Russian speaker, go on over and give me some encouragement…

Think being in Sweden guarantees me a white Christmas? Think again. We still haven’t had any snow since early November, and the temperature continues to hover just above freezing.

On the other hand, one of the delights of the holiday season in Sweden is the Christmas decorations which, apropos of Swedish culture, are restrained and tasteful. The Ned Flanders Christmas decoration scheme is inconceivable here, no oversized multicolored lights or plastic Santas to be seen on people’s lawns, just sparkling yellow-white lights everywhere. It’s very nice.

Speaking of lights, last night I got a glimpse of aurora borealis. We were at the dorm at an end-of-term party and had gone to another corridor to try to persuade some other friends to come to the party, when another partygoer came in and said, “The Northern Lights!” We rushed outside. We had missed the most spectacular part of it, but we could see the traces of green in the sky. I didn’t take a picture, but it looked a bit like this one:

From http://www.hustadnes.net/Tur/Svalbard/Hornsund1.htm

Hooray! I’ve finally been allowed to move to Blogger in Beta, which should be more user-friendly for you and for me.

With today’s Swedish lesson/fika over, I’m officially on break til the second week of January. It’ll be a working break, though. Academically, I have to write my term paper for Comparative Social Policy and a thesis proposal. I also want to make sure I work on my Swedish every day – we won’t have lessons again for more than a month. The pace is slow enough as it is, and I really need to learn more Swedish to have any hope of finding a real job here. Which brings me to my next task – intensive job hunting. We’d like to stop living on cheap pasta and the beer (in unopened cans) we have a knack for finding in the woods (people stumbling around in the dark drop a lot of things I guess), and maybe even to stay in Sweden past May, but it will only be possible if we find work. We’ve been un-intensively job hunting all the while, but it’s time to give it a big push.

In addition to Swedish, I want to work on my Russian every day too. Although Kostia and I speak enough Russian to each other that I don’t think my Russian has deteriorated since we left St. Petersburg (well, except for all the Swedish words that have become mixed in*) , it needs improvement nonetheless. My vocabulary sucks, basically. (My grammar does too, but that’s not as much of a hindrance to expressing myself as vividly as I’d like). What I really need to make myself do is write. I have a LiveJournal sitting and waiting for my Russian posts — LJ is much more popular than other blogging formats on the Russian internets, so it seems only appropriate that I blog in Russian over there. I’ll let you know when I get some posts up.

I need to write a few long-overdue evaluations of my experiences teaching at several St. Petersburg language schools for VisaRus and some trial articles for a new site called TimesRussia. I also need to prepare a day-long English lesson for my banking students with whom I get to work face-to-face only once a month.

So, that’s the holiday plan. It’s a good thing I’m staying put in Falun, otherwise I’d never do it all.

*Yesterday without really thinking about it I managed to coin the trilingual phrase “Fucking Pochta Sverige” when complaining about how expensive postage is here. 25 kronor ($3.75) to mail a Christmas card to the US! Enjoy your Christmas packages, Case and Race families — in the future Swedish goodies will be delivered in person only.

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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