Well, I said I wasn’t going to write anything interesting for the next couple of weeks, but I hope this will be interesting to all you Swedophiles out there.

Topic 1: Yesterday Kostia and I got to meet Björn von Sydow, a member of the Swedish Parliament and its Speaker from 2002 to 2006 (when the “right” wing came to power). As he explained it, the Social Democrats have a bit more time on their hands at the moment, so they’re getting out and about in the country. The event was a presentation about Dalarna University followed by a sort of roundtable discussion with about 15 people, half of them students. Kostia and I didn’t contribute much, since the discussion was in Swedish, but I was happy that I understood what was being talked about most of the time. Why we were invited is a mystery, but my guess is that they needed to find a few friendly-faced international students who would accept a last-minute invitation.

Here’s the photographic evidence:

Topic 2: Swedish Drinking Culture. Since we got to Sweden, people have been telling us things to the effect of “Swedes seem really reserved, but then they drink and all hell breaks loose”. I dismissed this as exaggeration, but I’m starting to believe it. The first piece of evidence was the trail of blood we discovered when we were still living in the dormitory last autumn – someone had come home drunk, punched a window, cut up his hand and bled all the way back to his room. And it turned out it wasn’t an international student. I last week I heard that a similar thing occured again recently in the dorm. I’ve also heard a few stories about drunken Swedes in bars trying to pick fights. But I haven’t witnessed any violence first hand. What I have witnessed is guys who seem mild-mannered around the university reflecting a completely different side of their personality at the student union pub — being talkative, outgoing, and singing drinking songs. Of course, alcohol has this effect on lots of people, but it’s the stark contrast between Swedes’ quiet everyday demeanor and their boisterous drunken behavior that is surprising when you’ve gotten used to the former. At the student union pub last Friday, I was sitting next to a Swedish woman who I had just met that night and who was highly critical of Sweden, and when one group of guys started to get rowdy she said “You see what we have to put up with?” Well, I guess so, but all things considered it’s not that bad.

Topic 2a: The dual toilet. The student union recently moved to a fancy new building downtown and last Friday was our first visit to the new pub. Before we went, our friend Lenka mentioned that there was a curiosity in the women’s restroom – two toilets in one stall. She said, “Have you noticed that Swedish girls always go to the bathroom in pairs? In this one they can go in fours.” I had not noticed that Swedish girls go to the bathroom in pairs. But apparently they do. The Swedish woman above said it was so they could talk about things. This phenomenon, of course, is more or less universal, but why do they have to be sitting on the toilet to do that instead of standing by the sinks or something? In any case, the dual toilet really exists. Here’s what it looks like:

That’s about all I have to say about that, but while I’m at it I’ll post the student union pub rules. My favorite is “If you throw up you must clean it up yourself, or pay 300 crowns if the personnel have to do it.”

Right. Back to those papers I’m supposed to be writing.