Swedish Living

“Welcome To Sweden”

A new TV series hit the Swedish airwaves this spring called Welcome to Sweden which has definitely raised an eyebrow by this American living in Sweden.  It’s described as a comedic view of Greg Poehler‘s life experience, having moved to Sweden to marry and live with a Swedish woman almost a decade ago (seven years to be exact). The show basically chronicles the funny, awkward and downright weird experiences of an American guy moving to Sweden.

The show has now been launched on NBC in the United States with the first showing on July 10, 2014. I won’t go into a critical review of the show but I can say that it touches many of my own experiences living in Sweden, many of which I have described in the American Norseman blog over the last 5 years (I’m waiting for the royalty check). So far the reviews have been pretty good with the L.A. times describing it as it “the best thing to happen to broadcast-network comedy since Modern Family.

If you’d like to get a small glimpse of what it’s like to live in Sweden as an American make sure you DVR/TIVO Welcome to Sweden.

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Categories: Sweden, Swedish Living | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Norwegians & Swedes — What’s the difference? Part II

In April 2011 I wrote a blog about my observations of the difference between Norwegians & Swedes. Turns out this is one of my most popular blog posts based on Google hits, so I thought I’d revisit the topic for my interested audience. I’ve now been working in Norway for two year and lived in Sweden for almost four years, so I’d say that my knowledge base is pretty robust at this point. That being said, these are just observations from a lonely American and should be taken with a grain of salt… 🙂

Clothing

Swedes and Norwegians are both fashionable peoples. The global clothing giant H&M (Hennes & Mauritz) is a Swedish company that has done for fashion what IKEA did for home furnishings; modern design, decent quality and good prices that is available to “everyone” (for fun, think about how this business philosophy connects to Swedish social policy). Helly Hansen, the outdoor sport clothing giant is a Norwegian company that is world renowned for its high- quality ski gear (again, very appropriate considering the nation’s infatuation with skiing :)). In both countries, pants are worn too tight for men and are way more expensive than anywhere in the US. 

The Swedes and Norwegian’s differ in what they consider fashionable. In Stockholm, it almost feels like a tight fitting country club where everyone, and I really mean everyone, floats thru the city with the latest fashion trends and overpriced bags (men & women). It’s sophisticated and well put together, but not as pretentious as you would think at first glance. The Norwegians have a slightly different approach. They are also wearing high-priced clothing, but it’s usually a bit “edgier” (think a mix of sportswear and skater) and often it’s more about functionally than the latest style. Norwegians wouldn’t blink an eye at spending $1500 on a winter jacket. Moods of Norway is a great example of this.

Living and working in both places has definitely influenced me to “step up” my game in this area. Gone are the bar t-shirts, sandals and fleece jackets. In are the Polo shirts, Tweed jacket and deck shoes. I look forward to someday getting back to my California “beach wear” but for now it’s fun to be a fashionable European.      

Language (Swedish Chef)

Swedish & Norwegian are different languages but share many words. Norwegians usually have no trouble understanding Swedes but the Swedes can sometimes struggle with Norwegian. This is mainly due to the high level of Swedish TV broadcast in Norway. On a side note, if you ever wondered why both countries are fluent in English, one could argue that this is due to their fantastic education systems or that is because most of their TV broadcasts are in English and not dubbed (like in France, Germany, and Italy). I’ve traveled a lot in Europe and there is a direct correlation between the amount of English on television language and the level of English spoken by the citizens. Anyway, the Swedish and Norwegian languages are very similar, enough so that my knowledge of Swedish can help me get by In Norway.

Now, the more interesting difference (for me) is the way in which the languages are spoken. Norwegians speak with roller coaster like inflections that are very pronounced compared to Swedish. The best way I can describe this is to say that the Swedish Chef sounds more Norwegian than Swedish.

“Yorn desh born, der ritt de gitt der gue, Orn desh, dee born desh, de umn bork! bork! bork!”

Social

Both Norwegians and Swedes are reserved in their approach to new people.  They tend to let you do most of the talking initially which gives them the opportunity to feel you out or to confirm a stereotype  in order to find the appropriate way of “interacting” with you. This might sound a bit strange, but Scandinavians usually have a pretty good read on other cultures, while other cultures generally are a bit “in the dark” about the Scandinavians. To be honest, it’s a bit unfair but that’s another blog post… Anyway, when it comes to this initial categorization, it feels the Norwegians are a bit less judgmental, but also more naïve, regarding people from other countries. For a large portion of Norway’s history, its people have been isolated by geography due to the physical environment (small fjord-based communities insulated even within Norway) and isolated by lack of travel outside Norway due to cost (Norway was a poor country until the discovery of oil, more on this in the next section). In my experience, this lends Norwegians to be friendlier during initial meetings but a bit constricted in the way they ‘frame’ others.

Swedes on the other hand tend to be quite “ traveled” as a society, from both holiday vacations and business trips. I read a business article a while back that said Swedes are some of the most connected people in the world. This is partly due to the economic conditions in Sweden but also its distant history as a world power. This level of contentedness allows Swedes to have a pretty good idea of cultural tendencies (especially, when it comes to Americans and Western Europeans), but it takes them a bit of time to open up to you. Once they understand where you’re coming from, Swedes are open, courteous and fun. 

It’s been said that once you’ve become friends with a Norwegian or Swede it’s a lifelong relationship. They’re going to put you to the test over an extended period of time, but once you’re in – you’re in. This is not the easiest path for new people (like me) and I can tell you from experience that making friends in both places is extremely hard. However, I can say that the friends I do have in Sweden and Norway are very special people and I look forward to having them as a part of my life regardless of where I live.

Old vs New Money

This may be the most “sensitive” topic in this blog. Sweden and Norway are both healthy countries economically. I’ve lived in Stockholm and worked in Stavanger (one a capital city, one an “oil town”) for a majority of the recent recession and I can tell you that in my experience, neither place was greatly affected. This is mostly due to fiscal policy, but that’s not really what I’m talking about here.

Sweden has been relatively well off for hundreds of years. Enormous timber and Iron ore reserves have fueled steady growth for the Swedish society, which has given the country an aristocratic feel. Swedes are proud of their fantastic public infrastructure, uniform healthcare system and generous social benefits. This has been the product of many years of social policy engineering and things like four weeks mandatory vacation are considered rights by the Swedish people. This long term accumulation of wealth and benefits has bread a society of mature and sophisticated people. Swedes tend to have a mild sense of entitlement when it comes to quality of life, but absent is their need for huge amounts of material wealth.

Norwegians by contrast have been quite poor for a majority of the country’s history. Norway is an extremely beautiful country to visit, but not the best place if you have to conduct modern business. For instance, the flight from Stavanger to Oslo takes about 45 minutes but to drive would take about 7 hours. Norway’s fjords and lack of above ground natural resources has kept the country’s majority working class centered around small towns, separated economically from the material wealth of other countries. This started to change dramatically with the discovery of oil on the Norwegian continental shelf (I’ve actually been on Norway’s first offshore oil rig). Today Norway is an economic powerhouse with wealth unimaginable to its citizens just 60 years ago. Before going on, it’s important to note that Norway is THE model country in the world in managing oil wealth. A massive influx of funds from oil often cripples countries, which are commonly referred to as the “curse of oil.” Norway has placed a majority of its oil money into a reserve for future generations, as of today that’s about $150,000 per citizen.

Norwegian salaries are quite high and despite extreme taxes, Norwegians are pretty wealthy people. I tend to think or Norwegians as “new money” because they often behave like people who, well, have recently come into money. This is the best general way I can describe it: do you remember the character Molly Brown in the movie Titanic? She was the wealthy lady that came from a working class background, strong and resourceful but a bit unpolished. Without going into further detail, I think you can get a picture of what I’m talking about…

In both cases, I would say that Norwegians & Swedes are some of the most sensible, responsible and caring people I have ever come in contact with. They both have strong moral compasses that are reflected in their public policy and how they conduct themselves on the world stage. They are small countries in terms of population, but make for great role models in building societies that protect individual freedom while taking care of the common good. In my opinion these countries deserve more of the limelight.

Categories: Norway, Sweden, Swedish Living | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Salema, Portugal: Contemplating Time & Money

“Take the E4 to the A22 and then the N125 to the EN537 and follow it all the way to the beach,” said the rental car clerk at the Faro international Airport. “It’s a nice drive. Why are you going there again?”

The route to Salema Portugal is like an hourglass. Slowly but surely the path dwindles down from a major freeway to a side road to a country road to a dirt road, transporting you to a place where time seems to follow different rules. Nestled among the beautiful cliffs on the Algarve coast in southern Portugal, Salema is a true hidden gem. It feels like a small taste of the way Portugal once was (I think, but then again how I would know :-).

Salema, Portugal (Click for more images)

Salema, Portugal (Click for more images)

Free from tourists, English breakfasts, hotel chains, and tacky beach resorts, Salema just is. One small market, two dive bars, three fish restaurants, twenty sun chairs and the feeling of absolutely no connection to the outside world.

I arrived in Salema midway through a marathon working session. After three weeks offshore, 10 days in a work conference, a flight from Salt Lake, to Denver, to Frankfurt, to Faro, followed by a 3 hour drive to Salema I was tired and a little stressed. My mind was on the perpetual “high” of modern day work: emails, phone messages, responsibilities and the general notion of being “productive.” I was wound up like a spring asking myself, What am I going to do here for five days? I’m in Portugal, there’s a lot to see. I can walk though this town in five minutes. What am I missing?

Then, as Europe has always done for me, I was fortunate enough to have my mental model tested as I was afforded a glimpse into another way.

It was 9:30 on a Tuesday and I decide to take a leisurely walk down to the beach. As I strolled down the main (and only) street, I passed a small home no larger than a one car garage. Faint sounds of Portuguese music and voices from a family inside drifted out though the soft white curtains of an open window. It sounded like a mother, father and a couple of kids chatting and laughing. It made me happy. As I continued to walk, however, my mind drifted off and I started to think about their situation. Why aren’t they working? Is their a preschool near by? It’s Tuesday at 9:30 after all… Maybe if they were working they could get a bigger place, move to the city and buy a car…I made the assumption that they needed to be working, progressing forward, getting more done to live a “better” life.

Main Street Salema

Main Street Salema (Click for more images)

It could be that the family valued time over money, a very simple and real prioritization that many people have come to realize and enjoy.

This outlook on life is still foreign to me, but not because I am in Portugal. Europe in general seems to value time over money. In Scandinavia, Swede’s have a government mandated four weeks of vacation per year, which does not include sick days, or national holidays or “squeeze days.” People as a whole seem to value time with family, friends or even just a quiet walk more than the monetary rewards from working. Swedes often work an extra hour per week in the winter to have more days off in the summer. Notice that they work more for time off and not for extra pay. The concept of less is more, quality over quantity and the appreciation for the little things makes Europe a great place to live.

After my time on the beach, I walked back down the main street as the family of four emerged from their small home. Mom and dad were taking the kids for a walk. They were not well dressed, but not poor either. I started day dreaming about the father working as a fisherman that decided to take a day or three off to spend with the family. His tucked in shirt, cap and leather shoes remind me of a 1950’s Italian man from New York. Mom was wearing a homemade dress and the boys wore plaid shirts, pants with belt and shined shoes look just liked Dad. I wondered to myself whether they made this decision to prioritize each other over money or whether it is their culture that has ingrained them with these values. Perhaps it is as normal to them as breathing, something that is not thought about, but just done. Either way it makes me feel warm and sentimental. Not everyone wants to live a capitalist lifestyle. Not everyone strives for more in the land of plenty.

Clay pots used to catch octopus

Clay pots used to catch octopus (Click for more images)

Needless to say, I enjoyed my time in Salema. I sat with a book and read during the day, ate fish with the locals in the evening and spent one night drinking one to many beers with an Australian backpacker who was passing though. Salema is a small vestige, reminding us that the way we choose to live our lives is not universal and that preserving what is old can sometimes be quite progressive.

Fish stew at the "local" restaurant

Fish stew at the “local” restaurant (Click for more images)

Categories: Europe Travel, Personal, Portugal, Swedish Living | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Sweden’s Arctic Circle – Kiruna & ICE HOTEL

As a general rule DUS likes sunshine. Beach chairs, fruity drinks and suntan lotion. So for her 29th birthday, I planned a special trip to the Arctic Circle in Northern Sweden – nothin’ says relaxing like sub-zero temperatures and sled dog races.

From Stockholm we boarded the night train to Norrbotten and the arctic town of Kiruna. This fun 17 hour train ride is the best travel option to Northern Sweden. We paid extra for a 2 person sleeper car and settled in with snacks, champagne and some good kindle books for the journey.

All Aboard! (Click for more trip images)

Boarding the train in Stockholm

The great thing about long distance train travel is “time away.” No TV, internet or other distractions (although Sweden’s fantastic cell network afforded us access to wifi hotspots through our cell phones but that’s beside the point.) Gently gliding along the tracks with the amazing Swedish countryside passing is like having an live episode of Plant Earth right out your window.

Northern Sweden (Click for more trip images)

Northern Sweden (Click for more trip images)

We arrived in Kiruna, Sweden’s largest northern outpost on a bright and sunny arctic day. From the train station we walked up an icy hill to Hotell Vinterpalatset and after settling into our room, we headed out to see the thriving town of Kiruna. After walking around for a bit, we decided to jump on the infrequent bus to the famous ICE HOTEL (only runs 3 times a day). As this was on a whim, all I had on was a pair of jeans and regular jacket which for obvious reasons would not play well in my near future.

The ICE HOTEL is located in Jukkasjärvi which is about 30 minutes outside of Kiruna. Overall, I was extremely impressed by the ICE HOTEL operation. For 20+ years of the hotels existence, they have built up a small empire of buildings and infrastructure to support this thriving attraction. There are even plans to have an indoor ICE HOTEL for residents in the summer time! Despite the Northern Swedish charm, I think it would be safe to say that the only Swedes at the ICE HOTEL were the ones that work there. This is a definite tourist attraction and there is even a weekly direct flight from London to Kiruna (hence the large amount of Brits staying there).

ICE HOTEL (Click for more images)

ICE HOTEL (Click for more images)

My most memorable experience from Jukkasjärvi was the 2012 Nordic Sled Dog race that took place during our visit. The race and events in itself were pretty interesting, but I almost froze to death waiting for them to start (remember my aforementioned clothing situation?)

Sled Dog Race (Click for more images)

Sled Dog Race (Click for more images)

Upon our arrival back to the hotel in Kiruna I was ready for some sauna action. My body felt like a Popsicle so I headed to the spa area. Walking up the stairs I started to hear laughing and the faint sound of ABBA playing on the radio and after turning the corner to the sauna I was greeted with a surprise. Half naked, drunken businessmen were frolicking around the area playing loud music, using all the space and generally acting very “unSwedish.” Now for you non-Swedes out there, this is an interesting phenomenon. Under normal circumstances Swedes are generally very polite, respectful and well behaved people. However, when particular social situation allows for “naughty time,” Swedes (especially men) can run with the best of them. It’s a bit like letting the kids out to play after a long winter inside. For the most part, the normal Swede who wittiness this type of activity begrudgingly accepts this behaviour as a part of normal life. Swedes that observer other Swedes being unSwedish will cast aspersions, but only quietly to a friend. Maybe they’ll even give the evil eye and glance at a neighbor to show general disapproval for this activity. In the Swedish mind, these outbursts of funness will quickly resolve themselves once the rowdy Swede is back in their normal, everyday environment. It’s a fun dynamic to be involved in and this day I decided to be Swedish and complain to DUS, but only quietly when I return to my room 

The next day we enjoyed a few hours on cross-country skis (my first time) and went on a “Northern Lights Snowmobile tour.” This was a very fun activity accept for the major snowstorm that pummelled us for the entire trip. This as you would imagine quelled all hope of seeing the Northern lights.

A workout (Click for more images)

A workout (Click for more images)

Which brings me to an important point. If you want to see the Northern Lights, it is far from being guaranteed. Many of the people we met had planned a week plus in Kiruna in hopes of seeing the great natural wonder. I was a bit naive to think that it would just happen, kinda like a light switch. But the lights, just like a snow storm, are pretty unpredictable – you never know what you’re going to get… The sad part was the two days before our arrival was the best sightings of the entire year — Next time!

Despite the lack of natural spectacles, we witnessed plenty of human spectacles while driving the snow “scooters”. When the group departed from the main staging area, there was basically no instruction on how to drive the machines. Lucky for me I’d done it before and it was no problem. For other participants, this wasn’t so much the case… We were the only “Swedes” in the group and there were a large representation of city dwellers and “non-outdoor” types present. Turns out that driving a snowmobile is kinda hard, at least for the people in our group. Riders were swerving into ditches, snow banks and driving at 3 MPH white knuckling the whole way. Best part was the guy from New York who was tailing a couple from Hong Kong like Dale Earnhardt at Daytona. On a winding part of the trail, the HK couple veered off into the woods and hit a small tree (slow and no injury) and the New York guy “passed’em on the inside” throwing up a hand and speeding off into the distance. Classy.

Denise driving (click for video clip)

Denise driving (click for video clip)

All in all it was a very fun trip. This part of Sweden is isolated, vast and beautiful. I really enjoyed the area and would love to go back both in winter or summer.


http://www.erikfunfar.com/Sweden/Northern-Sweden/Kiruna/21553763_KxRSSc#!i=1719970187&k=LhgTRPp&lb=1&s=A

Categories: Europe Travel, Sweden, Swedish Living | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Munich: Home of Beer Gardens & Beer Halls

With a bit of reservation, we packed up and headed toward the capital of Bavaria, Munich. The drive from Český Krumlov to Munich is fantastic. The quintessential countryside is picture perfect with rolling hills of pine forests, wheat fields and other images that look like BMW commercials and illustrations on German beer advertisements.

Our first stop was none other than the famous English garden in the heart of the city. With a clear blue sky and warm temperatures we luckily found a table in the busy area around the Chinese Tower. Here you can find all kinds of German fair: Bratwürst, smoked fish and of course, delicious German Bier. Purchasing this tasty beverage is kinda fun. You need to pay a deposit for the stein; apparently they have a reputation of leaving with the tipsy tourists. If you need a refill, just turn in you glass and grab another (after you pay of course).

"Beer booth" in the English Garden

"Beer booth" in the English Garden (click for more Munich images)

It’s hard to find a better experience than sitting in the warm sun listening to German Oom-pah music and laughing with family. Well, that is unless you are in the Hofbraeuhaus listening to German Oom-pah music and laughing with family — which is what we did the other part of our time in Munich 🙂

Fun at the Hofbrauhaus

Fun at the Hofbrauhaus (click to see the video)

Spending some “quality time” in Germany, while enjoying refreshing alcoholic beverages made me wonder a bit about Scandinavia and what I would call its “unfriendly” relationship with alcohol. Scandinavia has some of the strictest consumption laws in the world. In Sweden, buying alcohol over 3.5% requires that you go to Systembolaget, which is the state-run liquor store. In Norway, a beer at a restaurant can cost in upwards of $15-20. And in Denmark… well in Denmark they are a bit cooler, so it’s not such a big deal. Anyway, I find it interesting that European countries take such different approaches to the governance of alcohol. What I have witnessed is that there are more out of control intoxicated people in Scandinavia than in Germany (locals I mean). In Norway they practice something called “vorspiel.” It involves drinking heavily before hitting the town because liquor is so expensive. Same thing happens in Sweden. Even more interesting is that the Germans, French and Italians seem to “control” their consumption better. I can honestly say that I have not seen a drunk French or Italian person (ok, I have seen some Germans having too much fun :)). In the EU, Scandinavia has some of the lowest per capita consumption of alcohol, however, I would argue that the way they consume is more unhealthy compared to their neighbors (yes, that was a huge generalization).

Systembolaget store in Sweden

Systembolaget store in Sweden

Categories: Denmark, Europe Travel, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Swedish Living | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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