Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hej Då, Sverige: Pt. 6

What's better than a list? A list in a list!

Hej Då, Sverige: Pt. 6: Gothenburg's Public Transportation System, Västtrafik

10 Reasons I'm Obsessed With Västtrafik

10. Cutest trams (oh, sorry, sparvagn) ever. Seriously, they look like they're straight from a Playmobil catalog.

9. Except for the tram I take into the city center. It's so mad!

8. Fittingly, I once saw someone get stabbed on the Angered tram. Couldn't decide if I was more frightened by the incident or amused by the wordplay. Also, I'm not sure how this ended up on a list of reasons that I love Västtrafik. Always exciting? Never a dull moment?

7. They run above ground, so you can see them coming and sprint the last 200 yards if need be. No more running down a broken escalator (WMATA...) at the last minute. No more Schrodinger's Metro.

6. ALWAYS. ON. TIME. Seriously, it took me a solid month to not leave 10-15 minutes earlier for things just in case the tram was late. DC Metro has given me a complex. But seriously, people start grumbling if the tram is even a minute late. The other day our bus came 30 seconds early, I kid you not, and Dusjan was like "See? They're never on time!" Swedes would die in DC. They'd see the infinitely blinking footlights and the looming ARR sign and keel over from a heart attack induced by lack of structure and punctuality. Even better, Västtrafik's website has a great route planner that is astoundingly accurate, allowing me to leave my apartment three minutes before I need to catch the tram. Glorious.

5. Did I mention they still run on time in the snow?

4. The honor system of payment. You can buy a tram/bus pass at any convenience store around the city- one day, three days, one month, or three months- but it's not necessary to touch your pass to the card reader each time you get on, since you have unlimited fare. Every once in a while the controllers come around in their massive ski pants and boots (seriously, they look like they just got back from a trip to Lapland) to check passes; the fine is around $200, which is more than a three month pass, so it's definitely worth it to not try to beat the system. Plus, the looks of disgust and silent public shaming you'll receive from the oh-so-honest Swedes is punishment enough. What this means, though, is that if you realize that you don't have your pass or you dropped it somewhere or whatever, you don't have to worry about getting stuck at an exit turnstile and having to deal to angry public transportation workers. And, since you have unlimited rides on your card, you never have to beg fellow tram-takers for spare change for your exit fare. It's a very people-friendly system.

3. The tram passes don't magically deactivate when you put them next to your phone. WHAT IS THIS MODERN TECHNOLOGY???? This list is quickly becoming a rundown of the Top 10 Reasons I Hate WMATA as much as it is Top 10 Reasons I Love Västtrafik.

2. Amazingly well-designed route layout:

Gothenburg is a city of 500,000 people, yet it has 12 tram lines, and about a gazillion more bus routes. At least 4-6 trams and busses run along the same route in the city center, which means that to get from point A to point B, you never have to wait long, and aren't stuck transferring 5489675467 times just to move eight blocks east or west, thanks, New York. Also, you're never more than a five minute walk from a tram stop, so you're never stranded in the city and/or snow.

1. Primo people-watching spots. Best time and place? The 9 on a Friday or Saturday night. Nästa: Vomitstorget.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hej Då, Sverige: Pt. 5

I didn't get a chance to post yesterday (sorry!), so today's entry will be dedicated to the reason for my absence. It is also dedicated to all those who have ever found themselves without a wine opener and have been so desperate as to try, in vain, to hit the bottle against a shoe, use a key as a wine opener, or jimmy rig a drip spout with only a pen, bobby pin, and sheer determination . You are not forgotten, fallen soldiers.

Hej Då, Sverige, Pt. 5: Screw Top Wine Bottles

There are no words. One of the greatest inventions of our time, right behind birth control, automatic ice makers, and texting. David Bowie may not have believed in modern love but, oh baby, do I ever.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hej Då, Sverige: Pt. 4

I have, on average, about one optional lecture per week here at University of Gothenburg, with a four-page "final essay" at the end of each month. All of this free time has given me the opportunity to explore all of the cultural gems that Gothenburg has to offer, including watching the entire series of Sex and the City. After watching the show, I found that I could really relate to the characters. HAHAH sike. I just have no point of reference for many of the plot lines. Yeah, I really hate being a single woman in my 30s when all of the people around me are getting married. Wow, sorry about your divorce. I can't believe I have to go to yet another baby shower! Who will watch my kid while I work my 60 hour/week job as a partner at my law firm??? Why do men always want the hot young twenty-somethings??????? I actually let out a bratty, self-assuming little chortle while watching "Valley of the 20-Somethings," which I'm pretty sure guarantees my karmic fate as a 60-year-old cat lady bachelorette. Agism is a bitch. Anyways! There was one little vignette that did hit pretty close to home, and served as the inspiration for today's post:

Hej Då, Sverige, Pt 4: Secret Single Behaviors

In "The Good Fight," Aiden asks Carrie to move in with him (Ok, can we have another aside here? WHAT was Carrie thinking? How stupid do you have to be to leave a guy who makes furniture for you, has a dog named Pete, takes you on weekend getaways to the countryside where he wears a lot of flannel and looks damn good in it, and is an all-around nice person who treats you well and calls when he says he will? GOD, CARRIE, WHY ARE YOU THE WAY YOU ARE?), which prompted the mandatory cafe recap conversation amongst friends about Secret Single Behaviors, the things you only feel comfortable doing when you are completely in your own space. Continuing to be the Everyman (er, Everywoman), Carrie claims that she likes to stand in the kitchen at night and have a snack of jam and crackers. How is this at all secretive? Unless you are eating said crackers in a skyscraper of a stack and crumbs are being jam-glued all over your face and everything you touch after that is left with little residual sticky jam fingerprints like you're some sort of toddler, that so does not qualify as an SSB, sorry.

I've had my own place here in Gothenburg, which has been very nice, and a definite change of pace from being in a space where someone's walking into your room in the nude to ask you which tights she should wear today, someone's sobbing, someone's eating your Raisin Bran and talking to his girlfriend on the phone, someone thinks she's pregnant, and someone's running around yelling BLACK OUT OR GET OUT, and, oh yeah, someone vomited on your floor last night. I don't even know. Going from living with three (well, really, seven) girls to living alone was a difficult shift, and going from living alone to living with five guys this summer may be even harder. These are the Secret Single Behaviors to which I must bid adieu:
  • Let's get the obvious over with: walking around in little to no clothing. No more morning coffee in my underwear. 
  • In the same vein, wearing bizarro clothing combinations. Some days I just want to wear pink striped pajama shorts, a Star Wars t-shirt, a red hoodie, a floral headscarf, and rainbow striped socks. It's comfortable and I'm feeling it.
  • Wearing my retainer. There is nothing less sexy than orthodontia.
  • Doing my hair. Walking out of the bathroom. Deciding I need to redo my hair. Staring at my hair for ten minutes. Making model faces in the bathroom mirror in an attempt to find inspiration for my hair. Deciding that I need more eyeliner, too. Applying eyeliner and then realizing that I look like a hooker. Washing off eye makeup. Still not knowing what to do with hair. Yelling at my hair and face for not cooperating. Giving up and sitting somewhere until I feel good enough to try again with my hair and makeup. Repeat. Biting off the head of anyone who says "it looks good enough."
  • Trying on an outfit and then spending 20 minutes deciding whether or not it makes me look fat. Thinking that it kind of does, and then taking off said outfit to see if I still look fat without the offending garment. Much like a Choose Your Own Adventure Book, deciding that either a) I look hot or b) my hips are big enough to show up on a Japanese whaling ship's radar. Spending the next 10 minutes or so poking and pinching and sucking in. Experimenting with how far down I can bend my neck before I get a double chin. Biting the inside of my cheeks to see what I'd look like as an Olsen Twin. Getting to know my mirror very well.
  • Liz Lemon does the degrading self-talk better than I could ever describe. 10 second mark:
  • Listening to Ke$ha.
  • Dancing around my apartment and pretending I'm Ke$ha. Don't act like you don't do the same.
  • Overshooting my pasta portions but probably eating it all anyways.
  • Eating said pasta and then halfway through deciding that it needs way more cheese. And basil. Oooo, olives would be nice, too.
  • Not looking cute while eating said pasta. Spaghetti's so unruly.
  • Watching the mindless television. Guiltiest pleasure? Hannah Montana.
  • Sleeping with little dots of toothpaste on my face in an effort to ward off impending blemishes. I look like I have albino chicken pox.
  • Coffee and frozen berries at 1 AM? DON'T MIND IF I DO.
  • No, but seriously, I've grown a deep aversion for pants here. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hej Då, Sverige: Pt. 3

Hej Då, Sverige, Pt. 3: Fika

Fika is something that I've wanted to blog about for quite some time now, but it's such an integral part of life here that it always felt silly to reiterate it here. It's something that can only be described as quintessentially Swedish. It is a tradition that I'm positive will be part of my stock answer when I return home and people ask me how my trip was:

"It was great! Really cold and dark, but you know, still good. Had a lotttt of fika. Oh, what's fika? LET ME TELL YOU."

Conversation starters are swell. But seriously, let me tell you indeed!

Fika is the Swedish custom of having an afternoon coffee and pastry with friends, coworkers, family, etc. Yes, people drink coffee everywhere, but nowhere is this tradition more institutionalized than Sweden. It is so deeply ingrained in Swedish culture that work contracts often include fika breaks. Your boss will actually shoo you out of your cubicle if you haven't taken your afternoon fika. Between 1-4 PM, the myriad cafes in Gothenburg (seriously, you could probably go to a different cafe every day for a year and still not have hit them all) are bustling with fika-ers, all taking a breather from the day with caffeine and a sweet.

While it's a little disconcerting that Swedes are always in cafes and never, like, at work (seriously, do these people ever work? More on that later. Maybe.), I absolutely adore fika. I find it to be a great representation of life in Gothenburg: slow, friendly, and sometimes painfully cozy. For me, the best part about fika is the fact that it has its own verb in Swedish. I fika, you fika, he/she/it fikas, etc. I also love that it's so quotidian. Enjoying a hot cup of joe and a kanelbulle with a friend is no longer the exception, but the norm. You can see this way of thinking reflected in the cafes in Sweden. Almost no one ever gets their coffee to-go (or, as they'd call it here, "take away"), and it's assumed that you will be enjoying your beverage and snack in an oversized chair for at least an hour or so. Don't mind if I do. As a former barista, it's interesting to see the difference in coffee cultures. There's no rush here, no crowds, no lines out the door, no collective sense of impatience. Just very happy Swedes, and one very happy American.

When the money started running out and the temperature started dropping, we started having DIY fika. I'd brew a monster pot of coffee, everyone would bring little cakes and cookies, and we'd sit in my room for hours, watching the snow fall in November December January February March April I'm not making this up May and shoot the shit for and hour or two or four. Fika is a way of pressing the reset button for the day. While AU life is obviously a bit more hectic, I would love to start fika-ing back at home. Don't be surprised if you start getting "Fika?" texts. Since SIS kids start growling at you if you sit on the couch at the Dav for more than 10 minutes at a time (cool your jets and read your Foreign Affairs elsewhere, I was here first), maybe I'll start a little fika place of my own. First things on the business to-do list: steal a few of those rollie armchairs from the first floor of the library, find someone who knows how to use Photoshop to create an image of Pikachu holding a cup of coffee for when I inevitably name the place Fika-Chu, import some lingonberry syrup to make lingonberry chai lattes. Any investors?

How did people live meaningful lives before the internet? I mean, could you imagine being like "I wonder what a yellow, rat-inspired Pokemon holding a cup of coffee would look like?" and not being able to just Google Image search "pikachu coffee" and have these results pop up? Think of all the things you'd miss out on in life. It depresses me just thinking about it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hej Då, Sverige: Pt. 2

Ok, so I was only planning on posting once a day, but TMI WARNING I am currently keeled over in pain from cramps and I exceeded my Aleve limit at like, 11 AM, and I am wearing my parachute pants and oversized tank top and sitting at my desk trying to write this essay while clutching my stomach in a ovulation-driven vice grip and groaning every once in a while. It's a sad scene tonight in Helmuts, folks. I was about to accept my Lady Fate (ATTN: new term for PMS, I expect each and every one of you to make it happen*) when I realized that, lo and behold, I had one more of these magical little packets leftover from Stockholm:

Hej Då, Sverige, Pt. 2: Paracetamol Tea

I'm not sure if paracetamol is available in the US; if it is, I haven't seen it, nor have I consciously used it. I'm an Aleve girl myself, and I don't trust any other painkillers. Having fallen ill in Stockholm (damn you, Stockholm!), however, and confronted with shelf upon shelf upon shelf of indiscernible medications ("Is this my head cold talking, or do none of these labels make sense?"), I wasn't given much of a choice. Mustering what little voice I had and wiping away the snot from my general face area just long enough to ask the pharmacist what I should take, he recommended Panodil Paracetamol Pulver, a blackberry menthol powder to be made into a tea. Ta-da!

Isn't she lovelyyyyyyy

At first, I hated the stuff. Loathed it. Abhorred everything about it. It would take me an hour to force down a mug of it. Blackberries are great and menthol is amazing, but together, they are a shockingly jarring flavor combination. It's like: BLACKBERRY. MENTHOL. GRIMACE. REPEAT. The more I drank it, though, the more I didn't hate it. In fact, by the time I left for Amsterdam four days later, I was chugging cups of it at the airport like it was a Dav Dirty Soy Chai before an 8:30 AM chemistry exam. Why, you ask? Because paracetamol is magic. It's like a cross between a cough drop and an IV drip of Demerol. The menthol soothes any nose/throat issues you're having and just generally makes you feel refreshed and minty, the paracetamol numbs you not only physically, but mentally as well, leaving you just loopy enough to not notice any residual pain, and the blackberry adds a fun little pizazz to the whole mixture. Fruity! I am drinking a giant mug of it right now, and I already feel a million times better. And sleepier. Mmmm.

Good god, I love that mug. It was a Secret Santa gift from Tara because she knew how much I missed oversized hot beverage portions from all the Amurrrrrrica bitching I'd been doing, and it might be my most prized possession here? Like, the one thing I'd grab if there were a fire, which is actually pretty probable, considering how many Spaniards there are living in my building who feel the need to smoke to in their apartments/the hallway while speaking with a lisp? The mug is bigger than my face, but then again, paracetamol is bigger than all of us. 

There's an ever-growing list of things I need to take back to the States, and blackberry-menthol paracetamol tea is definitely making the cut. In the spirit of Oprah, you're all getting a box (holler in the comments!). You get paracetamol tea! You get paracetamol tea! EVERYBODY GETS SOME TEA! 


Hej Då, Sverige, Pt. 1

It's hard to believe that I only have 17 days left in Sweden. That's crazy talk! While five months ago, as I sat in my bed watching the sun set at 3 PM, popping vitamin D pills and desperately clutching to my last iotas of sanity in twenty layers of thermal underwear and ski socks, I mostly likely would have accepted a one-way ticket back to the United States of AWESOME. Now, with less than three weeks to go, I'm more than tempted to sell my return ticket and put the money towards one of those super cute Swedish houses with the red roofs, and maybe even a pair of high-top white Converse. Yes, folks, the Study Abroad Syndrome (SAS) is creeping in. I'm beginning to feel the emerging symptoms of hyper-nostalgic sentiment and romanticization of all things abroad. SAS is breathtakingly (that's my new favorite adverb!) obnoxious when it manifests itself at home. No one really wants to hear how much better the food/partying/progressive attitudes/weather/light bulbs/cars/toothpaste/style/anything in your study abroad country is than in your home country. It's gratuitous and annoying, and I've rolled my eyes at many an ex-abroad wonk. I vowed never to become that person, because while I have grown to love Sweden, we have had, like any healthy, normal relationship, our good and bad moments, and I've realized more than ever that there is no place like home. I can feel myself moving into sappy territory, and I am no maple tree (Anthony...), so let me just say that, upon my return, whenever I talk about Gothenburg unprompted ("Well, in Gothenburg...), not only do you have my explicit permission, but I encourage you to punch me in the face. I don't remember a lot from PSYC-105, but I think that might help with the SAS.

Anyways, in order to work through SAS before arriving in Richmond, I've decided to get the nostalgia out of my system by dedicating the next week's posts to things I'm going to miss dearly from Gothenburg or just general abroad life. While it's totally rude to check out of a face-to-face conversation with me, if you don't want to read to my SAS-inspired posts, you can just x-out of my blog and I will neither know nor care. Isn't narcissism a beautiful thing?

Three cheers for the internet! Anyways, moving on. This post is already pretty long, so I'll keep the first installation brief :

Hej Då, Sverige, Pt. 1: Pourable Yogurt

Cereal will never be the same again. Everything after pourable yogurt will just seem so...wet. Soggy. Miss you already, ICA yogurt.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Clouds in My Coffee

I've been sporting the same thick-rimmed, rectangular-ish classes since I was a brace-faced, near-sighted spring chicken of only 15 years:

(not featured: braces. featured: ridiculously toned arms. teenage sarah, why you so hot?)
My glasses have served me well over the past six years, and we've been through a lot together. I will not list these happenings, since we then risk entering nostalgic montage territory, which is a veritable DANGER ZONE:

That clip is the samizdat. Anyways, after a long, happy life, my glasses have finally become too scratched to be even remotely useful. Wearing them is like that moment when you've put eye drops in your eyes and they haven't quite absorbed yet and you tilt your head up and everything is just a little distorted, but instead of lasting for a second or two, the feeling lasts ALL DAY LONG. So, partly out of necessity and partly out of the persistent, never-ceasing desire for adventure that defines a free and curious spirit whose proverbial thirst is quenched only by immersing oneself in new cultures, experiences, and perspectives (hahahahahahaha kidding! but how "AU Abroad" did that sound? So AU.), I decided to go 'head and switch the style up and if they hate, then let them hate, and watch the money pile up. Will you hate? Will the money pile up? This is a major life change, so obviously I need your opinions:

I crave your validation.

This post has nothing to do with traveling, study abroad, and/or peripateticness (peripateticosity? peripatetion?) other than my peripatetic parents and brother traveled all the way across the pond to a) explore and experience Europe, and b) bring me these glasses. Thanks, Haacks! Also, it's been a very slow week here in Sweden. After a delightfully sunny weekend of ballet-attending, bar-hopping, park-lounging, Varlborg-celebrating, champagne-swilling, parade-watching, tan-getting, ad hoc burger-grilling, May Day-demonstrating, and other fun springtime activities, this creature of a week has bared its fangs of ice and exhaled its frigid breaths of near-Arctic wind and unfurled its claws (from here on out, claws can be unfurled, deal with it tack så mycket) of general unpleasantness. I have taken this opportunity to catch up on all my shows, apply to a million jobs, read a book, make sushi with the gang, take more than a few naps, and eat a big ol' slice of lazy cake before class starts up again tomorrow morning. I know, right? Class while abroad? Abominable! Anyways, I guess I could write a post about eating cereal in bed while alternating between writing my final essay, making coffee, pretending I can rap along to Childish Gambino, and watching Cougar Town. It was definitely a party, a party to which pants were most certainly not invited.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


As dark as it was in Sweden this winter, the flip side is that it is now completely bright by 5:30 AM, and remains that way until 9:30 PM. While my internal clock has been feeling a little wonky lately (I no longer feel hungry before 10 PM), I've loved being woken up naturally by a lovely sunbeam spreading across my bed, or catching some rays on my walk home from a late-night yoga class. The ever-present sunlight, coupled with veritable springtime weather (I've been kicking it in shorts and a tank top of late, helll yeah), has rekindled my love affair with Sweden, a passion that was extinguished by six miserable months of winter.

This morning, I woke up to the sight of snow*. It is currently noon and the temperature has not yet reached 40º F. I think it's time to go home. Speaking of things that went home, I sent my winter coats, scarves, gloves, hats, etc. back to the States with my parents. You know what that means:

Time to hibernate.

*Today I woke up to snow, and yesterday I woke up to news of Osama Bin Laden's death. I don't even know anymore.