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Ison & Fille

“Hela Dan Varje Dag” is on the radio like a dozen times a day. I like it a lot.

Last week there was an e-mail to international students from the international office coordinator, looking for volunteers to help out at a concert in exchange for a free ticket to the concert, a 500 kronor ($80) value. I had never heard of Björn Skifs, but the e-mail mentioned that he had had a US chart-topper in the ’70s, “Hooked on a Feeling“, which I suppose I must have heard now and then on the radio in childhood, but mostly I remember it from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack which my roommates my junior year of college played incessantly.

Anyway, the e-mail made it sound like Skifs was a major Swedish cultural institution, and free entertainment is always welcome, so I replied to the e-mail, and sent Kostia an SMS saying “I signed us up to volunteer at the concert of some old Swedish wanker in exchange for free tickets.”

So, since the only thing I knew about this guy was this hit from 1974, I expected it to be like the Swedish version of a Neil Diamond show, with rhinestones and synthesizers and fake tans, with half the songs in Swedish and the other half in Swenglish. At the venue, before the concert started, we could count the number of audience members under forty on our fingers.

It’s good to have low expectations. Because the first half of the concert was absolutely great. It was big-band jazz, all the songs were in Swedish, and the musicians were top-notch. I kept whispering things in Kostia’s ear like “I can’t believe how good this is!” There was lots of well-prepared stage banter in Swedish, which I could get the gist of, but never the punchlines.

The second half of the show was closer to the cheesiness I had expected, but he had built up so much good karma in the first half that I could forgive it. It was mostly covers of 50s and 60s rock songs, including “Hey Jude”, which, when sung by a couple thousand Swedes, became “Hey Yude” (besides “z”, Swedish doesn’t have this English “j” sound). Too cute. And there were a few really good songs in Swedish.

Afterward we spent a long time putting away chairs, and it was not light work. I would say we earned our tickets.

Björn Skifs, then and now:

It really is like this in Sweden.

Published: 23rd January 2007 15:15 CET

Many Swedes will tell you that there’s only one law in Sweden that matters, and that’s the mythical Law of Jante, which promotes the idea that being average is the most desirable of personal qualities. It is also a cherished stereotype that Swedes are sticklers for scientific accuracy.

Many will therefore no doubt be thrilled by the news that state-run Statistics Sweden has compiled a scientific profile of the average Swede.

Meet the Johanssons: mother Anna and father Lars, aged 42 and 39 respectively, with their two children Johan and Emma. They drive a very lagom Volvo and go on vacation once a year. They are Sweden’s typical family according to a new study by Statistics Sweden.

Anna and Lars live in a detached house in an urban area. The couple married in 1990, when Anna was 27.

Both the Johanssons have a full high school education, but did not go to university. They both work full time – Anna in healthcare, Lars in a manufacturing industry.

Lars earns 28,100 kronor a month, Anna 21,800, leaving the family with a disposable income of 32,000 kronor a month. The family spends an average of 31,300 a month, of which a quarter goes on living expenses.

This being Sweden, the couple drive a silver-grey Volvo from 2000, with 170,000 kilometres on the clock. They have a home PC and Internet access, but do not own a dog.

The pair have a fairly healthy lifestyle. Neither Anna nor Lars smokes. Lars is a bit overweight, but Anna is not. She, however, suffers from neck pain. Anna spends three times what Lars spends on underwear and six times as much on personal hygiene.

The couple together drink a litre of wine, with the family eating 1.2 kilos of candy and 1 kilo of pastry every week.

The Johansson children were both born in April – Johan in 1990 and Emma in 1993. Both have their own bedrooms and own mobile phones. They both play sports regularly. Emma has a pet, but Johan does not. Johan has a television in his room, but Emma does not.

Both children spend one or two hours a week on homework. Emma gets 150 kronor a month in pocket money. As the older of the two, Johan gets a little more – 250 kronor a month.

Exactly where the mythical Johansson family might live depends on how you look at it. Stockholm is the largest city, while Hallsberg is ‘Sweden’s demographic centre-point,’ meaning that it is the municipality that most accurately represents the characteristics of the average Swedish town.

James Savage

I like reading fiction, but I’ve never taken a literature class in my life (unless you count the required Freshman Seminar in college), and it shows. I just took a book out of the library and was shocked to find that it was course reference material, meaning it has to be returned by the end of the day. “How can fiction be reference material?” I thought to myself.

Oooh, real winter!

We had a nice snowstorm the other night and it was minus 20 according to our kitchen thermometer this morning (though that thermometer has a tendency to exaggerate). In Fahrenheit that’s… you know, I’m not going to do the conversions anymore. The rest of the world uses Celsius, and we Americans better learn it too. Anyway, minus 20 is cold enough to make your nose feel crinkly when you inhale.

It’s sunny today and flakes of snow are lazily floating around and sparkling in the sunlight. The trees look frosty and everything is just unbearably picturesque.

I feel like I should update, but I can’t think of anything interesting to say.

Here’s an amusing piece about Prince Carl Philip. He’s a hottie, by the way, as are his sisters, Crown Princess Victoria and Princess Madeleine.

Swedish prince “held for questioning” in USA
Published: 17th January 2007 10:04 CET

Prince Carl Philip is reported to have been held by American passport police in Miami when he entered the USA from Venezuela last autumn. According to Aftonbladet, he was interrogated on arrival in the country, missed his connecting flight, and arrived in Washington one day later than planned.

During the autumn Carl Philip was working as a trainee with photographer Mattias Klum. The prince followed Klum and documentary film-maker Folke Rydén on a journey in the footsteps of Swedish scientist Carl von Linné.

Because he had left his passport behind at a hotel in the town of Ciudad Guyana, the prince ended up leaving Venezuela on a later flight than the rest of the film team. His security guards deemed it safe for him to arrive in the USA unaccompanied.

But Carl Philip arrived in Miami without a work visa and, as a result, wound up spending the evening in police custody, Aftonbladet reports.

Passport police did not believe him when, having politely waited in line with the other passengers, he told them he was a Swedish royal and displayed his diplomatic passport.

“As I understand it he was taken aside for questioning and missed his connecting flight.

“I got the impression that he thought it was quite exciting,” said Folke Rydén.

The prince eventually caught up with the rest of the crew in Washington a day later than anticipated.

A spokeswoman for the royal court, Nina Eldh, has poured cold water on the newspaper’s claims.

“I spoke to the prince today and nothing unusual happened when he got to Miami,” she told Aftonbladet.

Photo on homepage: Henrik Montgomery; Copyright: Pressens Bild.

TT/The Local

When Kostia and I were applying to universities in Sweden this time last year, we didn’t pay any attention to WHICH universities we were applying to. Rather, we were just looking for programs we were qualified for. For us, studying was just a pretext for living in Sweden. We didn’t know anything about the reputations of Swedish universities, nor did we really care. I already have an M.A. from a decent U.S. university, so this was really all about having a positive Swedish experience, not about getting an impressive piece of paper to wave around.

I think that, entirely accidentally, we wound up in a really good place for us. We both like our programs a lot, Falun is a nice little town, and I think we would not have been able to make our savings stretch the whole academic year in a bigger city. I’ve heard that finding student housing in some other places is really difficult, and some universities don’t even offer Swedish classes for their international students!

The funny thing is, people are always talking about another university: Uppsala. Before we came, a few of our St. Petersburg friends who have more of a clue than we do asked us if we were going to be attending Uppsala. Kostia was on an e-mail list for prospective students in his program and one of them sent an e-mail to the list saying “I’ve been accepted to Dalarna University, but I don’t know… it doesn’t have a good reputation like Uppsala”.

People say “Uppsala” here with the same kind of reverence that Americans use for Harvard. And, like Harvard, people like to try to “casually” work it into conversation if they or someone they’re related to went there: “My son finished his studies in New Zealand – the university there had an exchange program with… UPPSALA.” Even one of my professors, a seemingly typically humble Swede once said, “When I was doing my PhD… at UPPSALA…” I suppose I should be flattered that some people here have said things to me and Kostia like, “How come you guys didn’t go to UPPSALA?”

Well, part of the reason we didn’t go to UPPSALA is that we didn’t get in. We applied to some programs there that were only remotely related to our academic backgrounds, and we didn’t really sweat over our applications, figuring that the whole Sweden thing was just a pipe dream anyway. Maybe if we had known that Uppsala was UPPSALA, we would have made more effort, or maybe we wouldn’t have bothered applying at all.

Ultimately this UPPSALA thing just makes me laugh because university reputations really don’t matter to me at all. I know idiots who went to Ivy League schools and brilliant people who attended completely unknown colleges. In my experience, education is mostly about what the student brings to it, and given the academic job market, most people who are going to teach you anywhere went to places like UPPSALA anyway. I’m learning more in the program I’m in now than in my last M.A. program, mostly because I’m older and more focused, and I’m enjoying it a lot more in part because the people around me aren’t pompous assholes. I’ll admit that the name on the diploma of my previous M.A. has probably opened some doors for me, but I also know how absurd that is, because I’ve never used a damn thing I learned there, other than the fact that I don’t want a career in academia (which was, admittedly, a useful thing to learn).

I had told Hugh about all of this when he was visiting last week. Then, when we were talking to the crazy earth mother in the vegetarian café, right on cue, she said, “There’s a university in Falun?” [pause] “There’s a really good university called UPPSALA…” Hugh started to laugh his trademark laugh. “I TOLD you,” I said.

Online translators used to suck really really really bad. Now they only suck really bad. There’s a good free Russian-English translator which does a decent job of getting the basic idea across, but it still comes up with some pretty hilarious stuff.

This is the publisher guy’s LJ post promoting my LJ:
Это дневник Меган Кейс, подруги Кости Смелого. На русском.
Она недавно начала его, но, думаю, он будет интересен взглядом на нас с заинтересованной другой стороны.
Стороны дружеской, но все же другой.

This would be my translation:
This is the diary of Megan Case, girlfriend of Kostia the Brave [Kostia’s pseudonym]. In Russian. She started it only recently, but I think it will be interesting as a view of us from another perspective. The perspective is friendly, but still, different.

This is the online translation:
It is diary Megan the Case, girlfriends of the Bone Courageous. In Russian. It recently has begun it, but, I think, it will be interesting by a sight at us from interested other party. The parties friendly, but nevertheless another.

I think the thing I like about it the most is its random use of the definite article.

A few weeks ago I started my Live Journal in Russian. I had about 5-10 readers, mostly friends of mine and Kostia’s. That was plenty.

Kostia’s still in Russia, and yesterday he met with the guy who is publishing his (Kostia’s) first book of short stories. Kostia tipped him off about my LJ, the guy promoted it on his, and since he’s widely known in narrow circles (he has 2764 LJ friends) I’ve been friended by about 65 people in the past 6 hours.

Most bloggers hope that their blogs will be read and appreciated, but this makes me really nervous. Writing in Russian is a LOT more work for me than writing in English, and though I have Kostia as my dictionary and grammar check, I still feel the pressure of expectations. Also, Russians on the internet are very critical, and hypersensitive when foreigners write about Russia, so I’m bracing myself for the inevitable harsh comments.

I’ll admit that I’m flattered and excited, but it’s scary too.

I sent a pre-written letter to that moron in the White House through Amnesty International, urging him to close down Guantanamo Bay. I don’t think these things do any good, but I don’t think they hurt either. If you want to do it, you can go here. Oh, and while you’re at it you can send this one too from Harry Reid.

Anyway, I got a lovely auto-generated response to my auto-generated letter. Orwell would be proud:

On behalf of President Bush, thank you for your correspondence.We appreciate hearing your views and welcome your suggestions.The President is committed to continuing our economic progress,defending our freedom, and upholding our Nation’s deepest values.

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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January 2007