Friday, January 31, 2003

Sweden's indiginous northern population - the Sami, commonly called Laplanders in English - speak a language, Sami, which is a bit unlike the other official minority languages of Sweden (Finnish, Romany Chib, Meänkieli, and Yiddish).

Shakespeare's Hamlet has been translated into Sami. It can be seen at the theater next to the Ice Hotel, up at Jukkasjärvi. I wonder what it could possibly sound like?

The Swedish phrase for the day is att vara eller inte vara. It means to be or not to be.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

On the one hand, it's so easy being an expatriate because I don't need to have an opinion about politics: I can't properly keep up with what's going on in the States, and the Swedish system is impenetrable. Without the requisite nuances, I can't make a proper decision, so I just sort of slide by without choosing sides.

On the other hand, it's awful as an expatriate to have to constantly explain to dismayed Swedes the actions of the American government.

No matter what the leaders of the various governments of Europe say or do, the fact is that the European people, by and large, are wondering what the hell George W. Bush thinks he is doing and why there is no opposition from the American public.

The Swedish word for the day is skeptisk. It means, of course, skeptical.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Sweden is really hard on one's liver. Because, of course, any decent social gathering involves consuming mass quantities of alcohol. I remember my first office party in Stockholm, being taken aback that not only was it acceptable to get shitfaced, it was required. And since everyone gets completely bombed, from the CEO down to the little old lady who works in accounting and never says a word to anyone, there's no need to be worried about any embarrassing acts that may have been committed over the course of an evening or a weekend-long retreat. Everyone is guilty, guilty, guilty, so it all equals out in the end.

For a foreigner, (uh, except if you're Finnish or Russian) the most difficult thing to remember is that you are a pathetic lightweight in comparison, so don't bother trying to keep up with the Swedes. Worse, everyone will be on time for work the next morning no matter how hungover they are, so don't even think about sleeping it off.

I'm still recovering from last night's drink with a former co-worker who was laid off in December. I helped her find a new job, and we celebrated at WC, our neighborhood bar. There are few things worse than riding the subway in the morning with a hangover, no matter how minor it is.

I made it in by 9:05.

The Swedish word for the day is färdig. It means finished.

- by Francis S.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Top-notch investigative blogging reveals questionable behavior by some Bloggies judges. Oh, the juicy anecdotes and salient detail, not to mention actual photos of alleged culprits.

Am I rescinding my nomination? Not on your life!

Think of what we could do if we focused our energies on something, um, important.

The Swedish word for the day is syrlig. It means acerbic, alias my competitor, which would be, uh, min konkurrent in Swedish. Are you confused now?

- by Francis S.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

For Philo, who says I have been derelict in one aspect of my Swedish lessons: Swedes are not so big on swearing - most of their oaths are rather mild, and nearly all of them seem to involve the devil somehow. My favorite is fan också! It means devil, too!

Aren't Swedes just the cutest things?

- by Francis S.

Friday, January 24, 2003

This damned nomination is making me a bit crazy, sitting just behind my chair where I can't see it and staring at the back of my head, snickering under its breath and casting voodoo spells. I'm trying to ignore it, but I can't, so I may as well acknowledge it and mention at least two people - Tinka and Mig - who should be on that list in my place. They're my writing idols. Not to mention any number of people on the links at left, too many to list. So go, read what they have to say.

The Swedish word for the day is självklart. It means obviously.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Have you ever played 1000 blank white cards? When I first read about it, I knew it was a game for me. So, I made everyone play it on New Year's Eve. Me, the American editor, the guy from the Goethe Institute, the South African publicist and 20 Swedes.

The basic rule of the game is that there are no rules. You get blank cards, you write what you want on them. Like for instance:

Obsessed with elves - at least you're not a plushie. Minus 100 points
It's pleather - plus 200 points
Traffic jam - everyone hit the person on their left.
Traytables in their full upright and locked positions - minus 100 points if you're allergic to nuts.
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch - pinch yourself for 500 points.
Subscription to Playboy - but you read it for the high-quality writing. Minus 500 points.
Morning woody - plus 200 points all men. Women discard a card and draw a new one.
Nose candy - Everyone stick their little finger up their noses. Plus 500 to the deepest nostril.
Old fudge - Do you dare to eat it? It's a month and a half old... all players stand together in the bathroom.

The playing took a strange turn when the actress, who had been extremely drunk already when she had arrived at the party, got a little too enthusiastic when someone played the card that read Strip mall - everyone take off an article of clothing.

The Swedish word for the day is kortspelare. It means cardplayer.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

When I was a kid, my father had rather peculiar tastes for someone of his background (an Iowa farmer's son) and education (an electrical engineer). He introduced us to "Monty Python's Flying Circus" when I was 13, and was addicted to the original bizarre night-time soap opera black comedy: "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman."

My father also loved Ingmar Bergman films, something my brothers and I never took to. Since then, I've learned to appreciate Bergman, although I couldn't go so far as to say I've enjoyed watching Cries and Whispers and Persona and Fanny and Alexander, but I know in my bones that he's about as good as it gets.

Now, here I am living in Sweden and I can, more or less, understand Swedish and if I wanted, I could go see one of the great plays of modern times as directed by one of the greatest directors of our age in a grand theater. Which I did last night, with the husband, and A., the assistant director, and her fiancé C., the fashion photographer, and P. and E., the parents of the friends from London - a complicated bunch of initials, but a choice bunch in real life, every last one of them. It was our treat, a present. My father will be so jealous when I tell him.

The play was superb - a straightforward staging without gimmicks, meaning that the actors must carry it off themselves through brute strength of will, which they did, unmannered and thoughtful and grand.

As I've gotten old, I weep so easily at movies. And at the end of plays, apparently. How embarrassing.

The second Swedish word for the day is gengångare, which was translated as ghosts in the original translation of Ibsen's play. However, it is apparently very inexact, and there doesn't seem to be a good English word for someone-who-haunts-you, which is what everyone seemed to agree that gengångare means.

- by Francis S.

Holy mother of god, father of god, little brother of god and second cousin once-removed of god. I guess people do want to learn Swedish the hard way: This site was nominated for "Best European Blog" in the Bloggies 2003.

The Swedish word for the day is skitbra. It means shit-good, in the best possible way.

- by Francis S., almost in too much shock to thank everyone

Monday, January 20, 2003

I'm a coward, and I'm lazy. Oh, and I'm jealous, too, because heterosexualists have it so easy when it comes to kissing. It becomes such a production if I want to kiss my husband in public, or hold hands with him. It's instantly a statement to everyone in the vicinity, and I don't want to make a statement to anyone but him. Yet I know it will never change if homosexualists like myself don't bother to kiss each other in public precisely because it is a statement.

I'm just a coward, and lazy and I think the whole thing kind of stinks.

On the other hand, at least I'm not likely to end up in prison anymore just for my homosexualist tendencies. That is, if I stay out of Texas.

The Swedish words for the day are skratt and gråt. They mean laugh and cry.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

I live in a social world full of photographers and popstars and football players and television personalities and stage actors and ballet dancers and more than an average share of ex-models. All of them with a modicum of fame here in tiny Sweden.

Yet, I was still surprised to find that my friend, I., one of the aforementioned ex-models, toured for four months in 1998, singing with David Byrne.

I loved the Talking Heads in the late '70s and '80s - I know most of their songs, owned most of their albums back when vinyl was pretty much the only choice. They are the only rock group I ever listened to over a long period of time with anything close to fervor. I thought they were the shit. Still do, sort of, as far as rock and roll and shit goes.

So, the important question was, was David Byrne an asshole?

I., the ex-model, answered: "What do you think?"

The Swedish word for the day is speciell. It means special in the same way the English word is used, although it is used most often to describe someone who is difficult, strange, unpleasant to deal with.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, January 18, 2003

Last night, we went and saw Gangs of New York, which is apparently un-American, perhaps because it is about not guns, but knives. Knives and Daniel Day-Lewis chewing up enough scenery to cover his lifetime roughage needs. Still, I'd take it over The Patriot any day.

A., the assistant director, brought along her great aunt who lives in the far north of Sweden and who hadn't seen a movie in 50 years.

It wasn't, in hindsight, perhaps the best movie to see after 50 years of non-movie going. The great aunt seemed to be in shock at the end of the movie. "Next time," A. said, "it should be a romantic comedy."

Some solace.

The Swedish word for the day is blodig. It means bloody.

- by Francis S.

Monday, January 13, 2003

When the weather is cold, Swedes walk on the ice. It's like a scene out of Brueghel, sledders and skaters and skiers slipping and sliding and promenading, the steeples and towers of the city on the palisades of Lake Mälaren above and around them.

Me, I've taken a walk on the ice exactly once. And that was on a very shallow lake outside the city. I decided that I'm not so keen on any kind of exercise that requires a weird plastic necklace with detachable wooden handles that end in metal spikes that can quickly be whipped free and stabbed into the ice so one can pull oneself out of the freezing water. Swedes apparently learn how to use these things - called isdubbar - when they're in school, sort of like we had to learn lifesaving techniques in swimming class in high school. Somehow, having that thing around my neck takes away the feeling of calm that walking on the ice is supposed to give one.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, the husband arrived at his hotel only to find that someone had stolen the underwear out of his baggage while it was, uh, being handled. I wonder if the person who stole the underwear was disappointed that it was clean.

The Swedish word for the day is tjuv. It means thief.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Last year, being relatively new to the blogosphere, and full of opinion and bite, I followed rather closely those awards known as the Bloggies and in response made my own awards - the My Way awards - with winners in categories such as Best Sylvia Plath impersonator, Best Potential Pornstar, Best i-Mom, Weakest Link, Best-in-Show, that kind of thing.

This year, I haven't been paying enough attention to make my own awards, let alone notice the Bloggies - but Jessica has. She made a list of recommended nominations for the Bloggies. And graciously, she nominated "How to learn Swedish in 1000 difficult lessons" in the Best European Blog category, among many other suggestions (including Miguel, whom I then went and voted for in several categories, along with voting for a number of other favorites on the links to the left).

The Swedish phrase for the day is tack ska du ha. It means, literally, thanks shall you have - I suppose a more useful translation might be thanks ever so kindly.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, January 11, 2003

The Baltic is frozen to the edges of the Stockholm archipelago, and the sun has finally made it over the horizon for the first time in a month in the northern Swedish city of Kiruna. But the husband has momentarily abandoned the winter for sun and heat. He is, as I write this, on his way to South Africa to film a music video involving a rabbitman and a band playing on the flatbed railroad car of a train careening through the countryside of South Africa.

The South African publicist and his husband, the guy from the Goethe Institute, were terribly jealous when the husband told them earlier in the week. They'd stopped by to pick up shoes that they'd left behind at the New Year's party and brought sherry, which we sat sipping in what was nearly a caricature of civilized fashion.

"Did you have fun at the party?" the husband asked. They had hardly known anyone but us.

"Yes, we had fun," said the South African publicist, despite his having to perform his usual party trick of speaking Xhosa, with its clicks and stops. "But stop trying to change the subject. I can't believe you're going to South Africa. Don't you need an assistant?"

Unfortunately, my husband did not need an assistant.

The Swedish word for the day is resenär. It means traveller.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Who says that consumers want mobile phones (sorry, link in Swedish only and even worse, no pictures) only for talking?

Some people obviously like to use the take-a-picture functions available on the latest models. Like the guy who bought a phone here in Sweden and found it pre-loaded with pictures that hadn't been removed when it had been returned by its previous owner. Strangely enough, the pictures were of the previous owner's dick.

Sadly, I don't think this is going to happen to me when I get a phone to replace the one that died over the holidays.

The Swedish word for the day is, uh, kuk, which is pronounced sort of like "cuke" and means cock, and should not be confused with kock, which is pronounced sort of like "kook" and means cook or chef.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Sweden is Babyland.

Yeah, people are, arguably, babied a bit by the government, which many Swedes will readily tell you (a big controversy at the moment are the high numbers of people on, er, "disability" - sjukskriven they call it - because their doctors have written them notes to bring to their bosses saying they have a tummyache and it's going to last two months so they have to stay home and drink flat gingerale. Or something like that.)

But I was thinking of Sweden as Babyland more because there seems to be a baby boom going on. The government encourages babying on many levels, apparently. For instance, parents get some $100 per month per child from the government to cover the cost of raising a child. Parents also get nearly a year and a half of parental leave when a child is born, to be divided as they wish, much of that time at 80 percent pay. There is special sick leave when a parent must stay home to take care of a child, and there is universal daycare. The country is a veritable Parentopia.

I want to have a child.

(I think the fact that all my friends are having babies is having an effect on me. After all, who could resist the charms of, say, Hannes Pakarinen, who on New Year's played the part of The Perfect Baby - those cheeks! that nose! those little rabbit booties!)

Am I crazy?

The Swedish phrase for the day is vad har hänt? It means what has happened?

by Francis S.

Monday, January 06, 2003

The American editor and his wife left this morning, piling bag after bag into the cab as if they were fleeing the country. The apartment is empty and a little cold in the pale January light. Oh, the dinners and parties and games and movies and conversations and more conversations of the past three weeks - I've been so busy living, I haven't had the time to write about it.

The Swedish phrase for the day is på grund av, often shortened to the acronym p g a. It means on account of.

by Francis S.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

I've made it three-quarters of the way through to the twelfth day of Christmas, which is an amazing feat. The season has been unduly full of cookie baking, concert singing, movie going, IKEA shopping, American Christmas dinner for 15 Swedes fixing, and then guests, guests and more guests, including my sister-in-law, the rebel, who was here for 18 hours before she whizzed off back to the States at 9 a.m. on Dec. 31.

Then there was that New Year's party we gave. At 8:00 a.m., instead of leaving, the last guests were given sheets and pillows to sleep on the sofas in the living room.

Someone left his or her digital camera complete with, er, interesting pictures of the football player in what could be described as an unusual yoga position. The photos could no doubt have been sold to Hänt Extra, Sweden's smarmy equivalent to The National Enquirer, for good money.

It's been a day and a half and I still feel like I could sleep for a week. But that's the mark of a good party, isn't it?

The Swedish word for the day is januari, which you don't need me to tell you means January.

by Francis S.