Wednesday, July 31, 2002

I live on the Farmer Street. That would be Bondegatan in Swedish.

I've always found the name charming, if a bit mundane.

Here in Stockholm, the names of streets, roads, avenues, alleys, lanes and hills seem to have practical and historical origins.

There are Kungsgatan and Drottninggatan, the King's Street and Queen Street - for some reason, the possessive -s- is only there for the king, implying that while he owns his own street, the poor queen doesn't own hers. Odd, that.

There is Narvavägen - The Narva Road - which I assume is named after a famous 18th century battle in the once-Swedish city of Narva, which is now in Estonia.

There are Linnégatan and Birger Jarlsgatan and Morten Trotzigsgränd, one named after the famous Swedish botanist Carl von Linné, one named for a medieval Swedish ruler, and one named for - uh, I have no idea who Morten Trotzig was, I only know it is the smallest street in Stockholm, basically a narrow set of steps leading from one street to another.

There are Västerlånggatan and Österlånggatan - the West and East Long Streets - both of them in the old town, the names really just a description of what were assuredly the longest streets of Stockholm some 700 years ago when the city was young.

There is Lidingövägen, the street that leads from the city of Stockholm to the bridge that takes one to the island of Lidingö.

There is Fredrikshovsgatan, a short street that runs next to the sight of a former royal palace that was called Fredrikshovs Castle.

And there is my favorite, Tystagatan, the Quiet Street.

History, honor, direction, description.

I'd love to see a map that explains why all the streets are named what they are named.

Who gets to choose, huh?

The Swedish phrase for the day is Vem är rädd för Virginia Woolf? It means, of course, Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?

- by Francis S.
More recommendations from the tasty links to the left:

  • Want to know about rocks? Yami knows about rocks. But what's best about Yami is not her rock knowledge, but rather her hilariously warped yet somehow logical take on life.

  • Thinking about becoming a single mother? I'm not sure whether or not Miss Lauren would advise it. Yes or no, take her advice. She's awfully wise for one so young.

  • Looking to improve your knowledge of pop music trivia? Mike's knowledge is encyclopedic. I kid you not. But wait, there's more. You also get plenty of juicy and well-written personal details at absolutely no extra cost!

  • Interested in life in the other New York? Read what April has to say about life in Buffalo with her sweetheart and a veritable bestiary of animals.

  • Want to talk libraries? Want to talk Swedish libraries? Linnea and Erik (he's in Swedish only) actually don't talk so much about libraries, but they are both as eloquent and thought-provoking as one would expect a librarian to be.

  • Ever wondered if there were Chinese-West Indians? There are. And some of them, like Patrick for instance, write with great insight and warmth on birth, death and everything in between.

    - by Francis S.
  • Tuesday, July 30, 2002

    "Isn't it nice to lose the socks?" said my neighbor P., the guitarist. Er, that's how I'd translate what he said, more or less.

    And I agree, it is nice to lose the socks. One of the glories of summer is to be able to wear sandals and even more minimal variations on sandals; it would be even nicer if I could go barefoot completely. I think I've never gotten over the barefoot halcyon summers when I was 9 and 10 and 11 years old, when my parents shipped me off to my Uncle Wilbur's farm in Iowa for a couple of weeks.

    I would get up with my cousins as soon as the sun was up, then we would run outside wearing only the flimsiest pairs of shorts, slipping our bare feet into galoshes to do our chores: gathering eggs and feeding the chickens and dumping silage in a trough for the cows. Then we would kick off the rubber boots until the late afternoon, when chores had to be done again. Kicking off those boots was the mark of complete and utter freedom. We didn't even bother to put shoes on when we decided for no good reason to go running through freshly cut fields of dirt clods and hay stubble that hurt like hell, shouting, "ow, ow, ow, ow!" as we ran.

    I suppose the city streets are even more hazardous to my feet than those fields were, so there's no question of trying to go barefoot now. Besides, I don't think my feet are tough enough anymore.

    The Swedish verb for the day is att springa. It means to run.

    - by Francis S.

    Monday, July 29, 2002

    The Swedish summer is over. Everyone is back from their four- and five-week vacations. It's time to buckle down and ignore the fact that the sky is bluebell-blue without a cloud in sight. Time for three meetings a day. Time to speak Swedish with all and sundry.

    C'mon Francis, you can do it. Stop being a little chickenshit. Quit your worrying that you're mixing up your en- and ett-words. Quit trying to remember förstod is pronounced as if it were spelled förstog. Quit correcting yourself when you use the wrong adjectival endings, when you put the inte in the wrong place, when you use ska instead of kommer att.

    Just speak.

    The Swedish word for the day is liksom. It means, like, like.

    - by Francis S.

    Saturday, July 27, 2002

    Finding books in English is little trouble in Stockholm - Hedengren's has a great selection, and NK, the big expensive department store, ("kompaniet," as all the little old blue-haired Östermalm matrons call it) has an English Bookshop that is excellent. So while the husband was gone a week ago, I took the opportunity of browsing leisurely for a couple of hours, and ended up buying Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford.

    Now, the Mitford girls were one weird contradictory bunch. Diana still likes to say when interviewed that what everyone forgets about the Nazis is that Hitler had exquisite manners (thanks, Simon and Alex, for the link); Jessica, who happened to have been communist, wrote scathing books about America, on the, er, mortuary industry for example.

    But Nancy, she wrote about what it was like to be a member of the English upper class between the wars. There is no denying that Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love possess a certain precious charm. The characters, most of whom are based quite explicitly on her own family, are a zany lot with some interesting priorities. Most remarkable is a hero who happens to be a, well, screaming queen; he even actually wins it all in the extraordinarily pixilated ending of Love in a Cold Climate. What is a bit dissimulating, however, is the way she imputes Nazi sympathies not to her own fictional family, but rather to villainous rich in-laws who have the misfortune to have a German surname.

    Of course it is a bit hard to pick out what might and might not be irony from the distance of more than five decades since the books were written. So in the end, I'm not sure what to make of it all.

    The Swedish word for the day is märkligt. It means peculiar.

    - by Francis S.

    Thursday, July 25, 2002

    As the world's stockmarkets took a nasty spill, we spent the evening dancing on a volcano, not knowing things were crashing down around us outside.

    Well, not dancing exactly, more like having a dinner party on a volcano. A dinner party thrown together at the last minute in honor of two guys from America whom I'd never met before, friends of a great friend of mine who lives in Chicago. The Americans, naturally, provided the news from America; we provided the food, the rioja and the Spanish eau de vie brought by the husband from Spain, and most importantly, the charming Swedish guests.

    A., the former model and aspiring producer, ravishing in her little black shawl and impossibly thin spiky heels, told us about the time the animal talker came and talked to the family dog. "Dogs can make jokes," the animal talker had said. "They're very funny sometimes."

    We sang silly Swedish drinking toasts.

    The Americans were stuck reluctantly defending America. Which is a good thing for us Americans because we rarely have to do it to non-Americans. It toughens us up.

    M., the t.v. producer, drank so many whisky glasses of neat white tequila that he couldn't stop talking way too coherently about Israel and Palestine and the power of positive propaganda. He also graciously taught the Americans - including me - a useful Swedish verb that does not translate squarely into tight English, although the concept is simple enough: att olla. It means to touch objects with the tip of one's dick.

    Isn't Swedish great?

    - by Francis S.

    Tuesday, July 23, 2002

    Holy mackerel, there's a group of Christian guys who want to shut Landover Baptist down.

    I guess the old equation is true: orthodoxy = no sense of humor whatsoever.

    However, it is not true that orthodoxy = no sense of rhyme or meter.

    Bad poetry is, apparently, the sign of a pretend Christian.

    (Thanks for pointing me in the general direction, yami.)

    - by Francis S.
    More reading recommendations culled from the list of links at the left:

  • You want to know about Crown Princess Victoria Ingrid Alice Désirée? Des can tell you. Don't ask me how a straight English guy knows all the latest dish on Sweden's most eligible bachelorette, find out for yourself by reading his amusing reflections.

  • You want to know about the California State Legislation process? Aaron has firsthand experience. But it's his tender, angry, funny and poetic jousting with life in general that never fails to impress me.

  • You want to hear about the ultimate in long-distance relationships? Forget the pathetic and defunct "Damn the Pacific." Those two have nothing on Ash and Fraser, who will never ask you for money because, well, they have jobs.

  • You wanna talk accordians? Joey, itinerant Accordian Guy, knows all about life in the accordian fast lane. The accordian fast lane being club life in Toronto. But don't let his nice bad boy persona fool you. He is domestic enough to have white sofas at home.

    - by Francis S.

  • The tongue is such an unwieldy organ.

    Yeah, it does some useful things. I'm a big proponent of licking, for instance. When appropriate, of course. And tastebuds are quite useful, although they don't really function well without an olfactory component, so they deserve only so much credit.

    But the tongue seems to have its own little counterbrain that works in direct opposition to the Big Brain. And my tongue's single-minded little brain is driving me absolutely crazy because it keeps telling my tongue to press against the spot where the permanent retainer used to be, the one that had been in place for nearly 25 years but got accidentally ripped out in an ugly dental-floss accident yesterday.

    I wish I could find the override function.

    The Swedish word for the day is tandkött. It means gums.

    - by Francis S.

    Monday, July 22, 2002

    My version of the Trojan War in 100 words.

      Two stories about Helen

      1. They all thought she was just a common whore when she showed up in the bed of the farmer’s son. Then it turned out she was worth something on account of she’d run away from money, real money. So they said the farmer’s son wasn’t so stupid after all. But it didn’t stop them from spitting on her whenever she passed.

      2. “My mother screamed when I was born,” says the ancient blind woman sitting alone in the orchard. "I hatched from a lavender egg."

      She tells herself, “I was an ugly child,” and she can’t remember why she is lying.

      copyright 2002 Francis Strand - just a little reminder!

    So, could you, would you reduce a classic epic tale to 100 words? And which one would it be?

    The Swedish word for the day is novell. It means short story.

    - by Francis S.

    Sunday, July 21, 2002

    At long last, the husband comes home today. He's been gone for 10 days. It feels like a century. I can hardly stand waiting until his plane arrives at 9 p.m. this evening.

    It's time for a deep-cleaning frenzy around the apartment.

    But first, let me start with something I've been meaning to do forever and the first in a series, I guarantee it. That is, recommendations to some of the links on the left side of this page:

  • You want to talk literary criticism, social criticism, movies? You must read Tinka. The only blogger I've met in person. She's sharp, witty, intensely interested in language and speech, of a literary bent, able to nimbly switch gears. And so's her writing.

  • You want to know what's really happening in America? The best source is undoubtedly Nancy of the "World of Jill Matrix." Überdyke extraordinaire, I get way too much of my scary news of America from her. Oh, and she's really funny, too.

  • You want to know about Moscow? Read now what Fiona has to say about living with a babushka, because Fiona's going back to Scotland soon. She must surely be droll, dry and madcap if her writing is any indication. I bet she can talk a mile a minute.

  • You wanna know clothes? Try Jacqueline X. Or is that Miss X? Her take on life is short but sweet, and occasionally a bit obsessed with finding the right size 11 mules.

  • You want to hear a good yarn from an old sailor? Bill is your man. He's full of the past, present and future.

  • You want to know how to make Welsh cakes? Want to know what Welsh cakes are? Duncan has the recipe. And a lot of other interesting observations about life.

  • You interested in becoming a father? Do you like comics that feature a hero with some 20 legs who spends a lot of time in a Doblo? Want to hear what another expatriate - other than me - thinks about America? Read Miguel, whose writing is touching and hilarious.

  • You obviously are interested in what an Anglo thinks about living in Sweden. But what about a Swede living in England? Simon has only just begun, but I know I'm curious as to what he'll be saying about us wacky English speakers over time.

    More to come.

    The Swedish verb for the day is att läsa. It means to read or to study.

    - by Francis S.

  • Saturday, July 20, 2002

    I should've known he wouldn't be able to resist.

    R., my good buddy and proud father to be, has started his own weblog to record the anticipation of the birth of his child. Woo-hoo!

    So now I can keep up on a daily basis with his emotional highs and highers as he waits to welcome a new little human being into the world.

    Thanks, R.

    The Swedish word for the day is Hilda. It is a name rather infrequently given to Swedish girls when they are born.

    - by Francis S.

    Friday, July 19, 2002

    A wasps' nest is a curious thing. It can't rightly be called beautiful, there's too much menace and fear associated with it for beauty. And yet it can have a papery round perfection to it.

    Wasps, on the other hand, can only be given grudging respect, except perhaps if one is an entomologist. Especially as August draws near and wasps become increasingly aggressive. Which is why C., the fashion photographer, decided it was time to remove the nest that wasps had built in the eaves of his summer house.

    He started rather cavalierly with merely a jacket and long trousers, poking a little here and there as he exposed the nest to daylight. But the mad buzzing was enough to make him reconsider.

    And so we fitted him out, Tweedle-dum fashion: first with a stocking cap; then on top of the cap, one of those wire-mesh hemispheres that serve as an airy cover to keep flies off of the last two uneaten pieces of rhubarb pie still left in the pie pan; then we pulled down a mosquito net from one of the bedrooms and put that over the wire-mesh pie protector so the yards of netting hung to the ground.

    With his long legs and the high cheekbones of his handsome face hidden behind the netting so that only his huge hands poked out, he looked like a Gilbert and Sullivan version of a Chinese potentate. We tied the long trailing ends of the netting around his waist, and then taped his gloves to his sleeves with duct tape.

    Looking now more like a comically maniacal and slapdash beekeeper, C. was ready to do battle with the wasps, tree-pruner in hand.

    In the end, it was impossible in that get-up, and he got the thing into a bag with only the jacket and gloves for protection, with the help of another summer guest.

    As he walked me down to the jetty where the ferry back to Stockholm stops, we laughed that he was wary that the wasps might somehow follow him even though he knew they would not.

    "I wonder how long the ones that weren't in the nest will fly around before they figure out that it's gone?" he asked.

    It was nearly enough to make me feel sorry for the wasps.

    The Swedish word for the day is of course geting, which means wasp.

    - by Francis S.

    Wednesday, July 17, 2002

    And now off to the archipelago for a couple days of sea and sun with A., the former model and aspiring producer, and C., the fashion photographer, at their summer home on Birds Island. And of course the boys will be there. It's amazing how quickly one gets used to having cats around. The two cats were here only three days, and I still keep thinking they're still here, ready to follow me around the apartment or come walking into a room for no reason whatsoever looking at me with great expectation in their eyes, or start wildly racing around in the middle of the night on a racecourse that just happens to include my poor naked butt, over and over.

    - by Francis S.
    My tastes in music are catholic. Or rather, Catholic. As in Fauré's "Cantique de Jean Racine," Duruflé's "Four Motets" or the Bach "Magnificat." I really only like music that most of the world describes as classical - although in fact it's not just classical music I like, it's everything from plainchant to polyphony to baroque to romantic and onwards.

    But, the first record I ever bought was a 45 of Chaka Khan with her group Rufus singing "Tell me something good."

    I was ten. And now at 41, I've finally seen Chaka Khan sing her tough old heart out, on the waterfront of Stockholm harbor. Her voice could still no doubt split granite, despite all the booze and heroin.

    Tell me something good - tell me, tell me, tell me,
    tell me that you like it, oh yeah.

    Oh yeah, I liked it. You are still the shit, Chaka Khan.

    The Swedish phrase for the day is värsta brud. It means foxy chick. More or less.

    - by Francis S.

    Tuesday, July 16, 2002

    A., the former model and aspiring producer, never does things half way.

    Or rather, things never happen to her in measly little spurts. Yesterday was her birthday and she and C., the fashion photographer, were engaged to be married.

    You should see the rock on her left hand: a great big lavender sapphire the color of some unknown exotic liqueur, surrounded by diamond baguettes.

    After the dinner and the champagne and the strawberry torte her sister made her, she was so happy she put Aretha Franklin and Serge Gainsbourg and Teri Moïse on the stereo and danced her way around the room, so unbearably beautiful and sensuous and girlish and ecstatic that C. and I finally jumped up and joined her as midnight closed in and the day came to an end.

    Happy birthday, happy engagement, happy everything, A.

    The Swedish word for the day is puss. It means kiss, but in a friendly as opposed to a romantic way. Not be confused with kiss, which means, uh, pee.

    - by Francis S.

    Sunday, July 14, 2002

    The sun was just finishing up its brief pass below the horizon when I was woken out of a fitful sleep last night at 1:30. It was a late dinner in the courtyard of the building. I hadn't noticed anyone down there chittering away when I'd gone to sleep, but I suppose they'd come out sometime after midnight. And now, though they were assuredly drunk, they were singing a song I knew by Bellman, in glorious and sure-footed three-part harmony:

    Bort allt vad oro gör,
    bort vad allt hjärtat kväljer.
    Bäst att man väljer
    bland dessa buteljer
    sin maglikör.
    Granne, gör du just som jag gör,
    vet denna oljan ger humör.
    Vad det var läckert!
    Vad var det? Rhenskt Bläckert?
    Oui, Monseigneur!

    Bort allt vad oro gör,
    allt är ju stoft och aska.
    Låt oss bli raska
    och tömma vår flaska
    bland bröderna.
    Granne, gör du just som jag gör,
    vet denna oljan ger humör.
    Vad det var mäktigt!
    Vad var det? Jo, präktigt!
    Mallaga - ja!

    I suppose I might have been angry, woken up at an ungodly hour. But it is Sweden, and it is summer, and I could only be charmed by the ever-so-civil incivility of it. Who could be upset at being woken by a choir of Swedish angels? So I stood by the window, naked, and listened for a while as they continued to sing and laugh through the slow-coming dawn.

    When I woke this morning, I wondered for a moment if it had been a dream.

    The Swedish word for the day is grannarna. It means the neighbors.

    - by Francis S.

    Friday, July 12, 2002

    The husband is off to Spain again to see his mother, who has recovered nicely now that she has a pacemaker.

    Me, I'm staying home to take care of the boys.

    The boys would be the two cats belonging to A., the former model and aspiring producer. She and her boyfriend, C. the fashion photographer, are off to a wedding on Gotland for the weekend.

    I wonder how many kitty treats are suitable for a cat over one weekend?

    The Swedish word for the day is bortskämd. It means spoiled.

    - by Francis S.
    In the 1960s, one of the chairmen within Sweden's National Department of Health and Welfare, a man with the peculiar old-fashioned name of Bror Rexed, declared that within his department, in keeping with a modern social democracy, employees would no longer address their superiors using the formal form of you - Ni - but rather using the informal form, du. And so began a big debate in Sweden that became the so-called du-reform, in which the Swedes collectively decided to do away with the concept of tutoyer. Along with the disappearance of the formal you went the practice of never addressing one's parents and other older relatives in the second person: children no longer directly address their parents by saying things like "Skulle vilja mamma/pappa/morfar få en kopp kaffe?" - "Would mother/father/grandfather like a cup of coffee?"

    The idea of getting rid of such a formality, and doing it in the form of a national dialogue in order to drive a concensus, is so very Swedish.

    But when they got rid of the "Ni," the Swedes also got rid of other formalities such as saying "goddag" - good day." So oddly enough, in books that teach foreigners Swedish, the book does not begin with a description of how to properly greet someone in Swedish. In fact, a description of how to properly greet someone is nowhere to be found. Perhaps because the proper way of greeting someone is simply to say hej - hi.

    However, my Swedish teacher told us that "Ni" seems to be making a comeback.

    I wonder what that portends?

    - by Francis S.

    Thursday, July 11, 2002

    After nearly two months of endless meetings, rounds of nasty e-mails, exhausting management meetings and vaguely uncomfortable one-on-one meetings, the salary-setting at the company is finished. And as a boss, I've learned that those who work for me inevitably go through the five stages of reaction to the discussion of their annual salary increase with me: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

    I hate setting people's salaries.

    The Swedish phrase for the day is i värsta fall. It means in the worst case.

    - by Francis S.

    Wednesday, July 10, 2002

    I can think of no peace as sublime as the peace of waiting for a train at a country station on a warm Swedish summer evening. The dusk drawn out to what seems an impossible length, a silent and respectably modest country mansion barely visible through a curtain of green leaves on the other side of the station, a well-fed cat padding its way inscrutably along the train tracks, the husband and I nearly drunk with the luxury of not having to mind a 25-minute wait for the train.

    Why does it charm me so that the train will only stop at the station if the engineer sees that there are passengers waiting on the platform to climb on board? How is it that all night trains give me the same odd feeling of being in a delicious limbo, between two lives along with all the rest of the odd people who ride the night train: a young French boy disappointed nearly to the point of aggression at failing to get the attention of a pair of Swedish teenagers with his inadequate English; a sixty-ish woman dressed to the nines and talking slowly and deliberately to her sixty-ish American guests, who are not dressed to the nines; a boy nearly weighed down in his seat from all the silver jewelry hanging from his fingers and wrists and neck.

    Who are these people taking the night train back into the city after a day in the country?

    The Swedish phrase for the day is på landet. It means in the countryside.

    - by Francis S.

    Tuesday, July 09, 2002

    As we sat last evening drinking beers up at Mosebacke, looking out over the Baltic and the city of Stockholm spread out below, the drunken woman next to us pestering us in her slurred Swedish, M. the T.V. producer told one of his music video stories:

    A Swedish back-up singer favored by a number of Swedish - and non-Swedish - popstars was signed by a small but prestigious Danish record company. M. was asked to produce the music video. He went down to Copenhagen and met with the record company, shaking hands all around and getting his moderate budget.

    "She's very special," the record company executives said to him. "She'll be a hit with the gay club crowd in Spain and Germany. But she wants to do her own clothes and makeup, so just let her."

    Uh, okay, M. thought.

    So he and the back-up singer flew to California, where he collected an American co-producer among other crew members, and they went on to Las Vegas. M. didn't explain to us how he found all the various American crew members, but he did say that he thought that the American co-producer was probably not just a producer, but a serial murderer-rapist as well.

    "I can't explain, " M. said. "He was just kind of scary in a serial murderer-rapist kind of way."

    The husband and I nodded.

    Once in Las Vegas, after a few problems with the co-producer, the production ended up in a suite in a big hotel. And the makeup artist and seamstress that M. had gotten, just in case, "collaborated" with the back-up singer and her, uh, artist friend in doing the makeup and clothes for the video. "It came out beautifully, all things considered," said M. "The shots were great and it looked fantastic."

    After some scrimmaging, M. managed to wrest the film out of the American co-producer's hands and bring it back to Sweden and get it edited.

    They showed the rough cut to the back-up singer. They touched up the film and magically got rid of the wrinkles and lines on the face of the back-up singer. At last, they sent the finished video down to Copenhagen and got their paychecks.

    And then they heard nothing. For weeks and weeks.

    Finally, curiosity got the best of M. He called the executives at the Danish record company and asked if they were happy with the video.

    "She's fat," they said to M., their voices incredulous.

    Well, yes, M. thought. Hadn't they actually met her before they signed her?


    The Swedish phrase for the day is ...och det spelar ingen roll ändå om hon ser ganska tjock ut, eller hur?. It means ... and it doesn't matter anyway if she looks fat, does it?

    - by Francis S.

    Monday, July 08, 2002

    Blame Denmark.

    Or rather, blame the so-called "Danish People's Party." And while you're at it you can also blame Sweden's biggest national newspaper, Dagens Nyheter (all links in Swedish - sorry!).

    The big stink here is that the anti-immigrant Danish party placed a full-page ad in the Sunday edition of Dagens Nyheter. I think it was rather a shock for many Swedes to open the paper and see party chair Pia Sjaersgaard's big blond head next to a Danish flag and a Swedish flag. "We thank the Swedish people for their support..." the text read, more or less, with the implication being that although Swedish politicians have spoken out strongly against the Danish People's Party, the party has the support of the Swedish people.

    So it seems that an awful lot of Swedes are mad at the paper for running the ad, and insulted at the implications made in the ad. Politicians of various stripes are worried that it will stir up racial animosity; other politicians are calling for much wider public debate on the issue of immigrants. Interestingly, the Sunday paper also included an opinion piece quoting a recent survey of the Swedish Integration Department which showed that 70 percent of Swedes favor a multicultural society with immigrants.

    So I didn't know what to say to the guy from Barcelona in my Swedish class who asked me if Sweden really had as good race relations as it seemed from his week and a half here.

    Does 70 percent equal good? What about the other 30 percent?

    What's a responsible Swede to think, or do?

    Blame Denmark!

    The Swedish phrase for the day is det går inte. It means it doesn't work.

    - by Francis S.

    Saturday, July 06, 2002

    In my quest to gain dual Swedish-U.S. citizenship, I need to fill out a form. It is in fact an itsy-bitsy form, all things considered. I don't have to pledge allegiance to anything, reel off the names of Swedish kings or prime ministers, or even learn Swedish, for that matter. I simply have to fill out four pages of questions that ask what my name is, where and when I was born, what my parents' names are and where and when they were born, what the husband's name is and where and when he was born, when and where we were married, as well as where I work and for how long I've been working there.

    Can this really be all that they want to know about me?

    Ah, and they want to know when and where I've been outside of Sweden since I first arrived. There are only four spaces in which to put this information. Perhaps this is the trick. Because I need about 25 spaces.

    My old passport was filled to the brim, with only three spaces left for new stamps before it expired.

    I like the triangular stamps from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur and the jetty at Kuah on Langkawi (Passport control at the jetty at Kuah was like something out of a wartime Hollywood B-movie, unsavory officials in crisp uniforms standing behind ancient and flimsy wooden tables, groups of vaguely desperate looking families with trunks and satchels and oddly shaped packages tied with string, and me feeling like I'm trying to get to Thailand under false pretences when I'm doing no such thing, it's all just delicious melodrama.)

    I like the round stamps from Panama, too (You had to pay 50 U.S. dollars to get out of the country there. And the police hated Americans, because we'd bombed police headquarters when we attacked Panama back in the early '80s.)

    Then there are all the non-descript rectangular stamps: Dorval (The first time I went to Montreal, they told me I didn't need a passport, but there actually was a passport control when it was time to get back to the States, and they gave me hell for not having mine. So the next time I visited my good friend L., I brought my passport. Oh, and you have to pay to get out of Montreal, as well. Only 15 Canadian dollars, though, I seem to recall.)

    Nickelsdorf (At the border between Austria and Hungary, the police scared the hell out of me as they passed through the train, snarling in German and me not understanding a thing.)

    Casablanca. And Prague, Bologna, Nice, Barcelona, Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle (I wouldn't have half of these now: The great thing about Schengen is that you don't have to stand in line in passport control to get a stamp in your passport every time you fly within the borders of the Schengen countries. The bad thing about Schengen is that you don't have to stand in line in passport control to get a stamp in your passport every time you fly within the borders of the Schengen countries.)

    And Arlanda and O'Hare, over and over and over again.

    It will be strange to have a Swedish passport. But I guess it means that I will have even fewer stamps, in the long run. And I'll always have to choose which passport to use where.

    The Swedish phrase for the day is det är dags. It means it's about time.

    - by Francis S.

    Thursday, July 04, 2002

    It wasn't until I left my Swedish class at 1 p.m. this afternoon that the other American in the class reminded me that today is the Fourth of July. It's cold and raining, but I bet the American Embassy, not 500 meters from my office, is full of foreign service lackeys firing up American Embassy grills, while the wives of foreign service lackeys are husking American Embassy sweet corn and cutting up American Embassy watermelon. Yee-haw.

    It's difficult to stop myself from writing nasty things about whatever possible orgy of nationalism is taking place in the States today, people waving flags like big old hard-ons in each others' faces to bravely show that they haven't, uh, had their meat beaten by terrorism. Or something like that.

    I feel I barely have a right to criticize anymore. Although I noticed some migalomaniac ex-patriots were unable to restrain themselves.

    So tell me, how is it really? Are you having fun?

    There is no Swedish word for the day.

    - by Francis S.

    Wednesday, July 03, 2002

    One of the oddest things to get used to here in Sweden is that instead of the vague affirmative vocalization we like to use in English - "mmm-hmmm" - Swedes show you they agree with you by a sharp intake of breath, as that red-haired Viking chick Gale Storm has noted.

    The first time it happens is always a shock - you can't help wondering if the person who just sucked in some air could in fact be having a kind of minor heart attack. Or wondering if that person has some new tic you haven't seen before. Or even wondering if you are hearing things. Even after a couple of months hearing it, this Swedish idiosyncrasy remains disconcerting and distracting.

    The question is, if you were really having a heart attack and breathing in sharp little gasps, would a Swede think that you were simply a terribly agreeable fellow?

    The Swedish word for the day is ja. It means yes

    - by Francis S.
    There is no real equivalent to The Guardian in the U.S., or in Sweden for that matter. The Guardian satisfies my leftist news needs like no other newspaper. And it has a web log. Not only that, soon it will be publishing a story on web logs. But first it's published a list of recommended blogs. I was ever so pleased to be included.

    Thanks, Guardian!

    The Swedish phrase for the day is jag har inte fått så många hits förut. It means I've never gotten so many hits before.

    - by Francis S.

    Tuesday, July 02, 2002

    So last night we went to the Swedish premiere of "Minority Report." We rarely go to these things, but this time the husband wanted to actually see the movie, and it sounded pretty interesting to me, plotwise.

    So we stood in line behind a, er, television personality and then had to wait a bit to get in while the tabloids took pictures of her and her escort. And then of course we ran into all sorts of beautiful people inside: the husband's agent, an up-and-coming fashion photographer who lives across the street from us, a crazy model.

    So we listened to Peter Stormare introducing the film fast and furiously in his sunglasses in the dark theater. And it was appropriate that he was there in person to present it, because he was the best part of the movie. And it turned out that it was also appropriate to see the movie in Sweden because there is a part that is actually in Swedish. An extremely bizarre part, which includes a nurse with a huge mole on her upper lip singing "Små grodorna." But she changes the words, which are in Swedish in the movie, singing: "small frogs, small frogs are funny to see. No eyes, no eyes, no tails have they..." (The real words are no ears, rather than no eyes.)

    So the movie deteriorated significantly after this over-the-top Swedish interlude. Someone kept putting thicker and thicker coatings of vaseline on the lens (Tom Cruise isn't that old yet, is he?), which was very distracting. The ending about made me spit up. And the moral of the story beaten into us with brutal force was, uh - I don't know.

    So the popcorn was pretty good.

    The Swedish word for the day is besviken. I think this has been the word of the day before, but that's just too bad. It means disappointed.

    - by Francis S.

    Monday, July 01, 2002

    My summer extra-intensive Swedish class began this morning at 8:30.

    Just after the second break, the Chinese woman sitting next to me, Y., said to me that she assumed I lived with a Swedish girlfriend or wife. I told her, no, I live with a Swedish husband.

    She was rather taken aback by this. After a brief look of astonishment and silence, she asked me why.

    An odd question. I didn't really know how to answer, especially not in Swedish. I sputtered a bit. I suppose I should have said it was because I was in love. Instead, I launched into the story of how I met the husband. Y. recovered her aplomb, and politely asked a few questions. Me, I was a bit red in the face. I desperately wanted to act naturally and matter-of-factly, but I'd slipped a little on my statement and it took a little while to completely regain my composure.

    I hate when I turn these things into a big deal, because it wasn't a big deal.

    For Wednesday, we have to write an essay on why we are taking the class.

    The Swedish word for the day is därför. It means because.

    - by Francis S.