Monday, March 31, 2008

Goodbye, city life!

JoeThis morning marked the end of our residence on Dragarbrunnsgatan. It was actually a little sooner then we had anticipated—we were thinking we had the room through the night of 31 March, but it turned out we had to check out by noon that day. So Sunday night saw a little more frantic shuttling back and forth from Flogsta than originally planned, with the result that we set a new personal best: it usually takes us about five minutes after we move into a hotel room to completely trash the place, and this time the disaster zone was well under way a good twelve hours prior to our actual arrival. Yay, us.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Language Notes Part 3

JenniferOn Monday and Wednesday nights, I take the #18 bus out to the building pictured above, and attend Swedish A1 for Beginners. The class is offered through Folkuniversitetet, which is sort of like a nation-wide community college, with campuses (or buildings at least) in all major cities. My class of 11 people includes a Spaniard, a Moldavian, a Greek, a French, an Italian, a Chinese, a Japanese, and three Germans. The class is therefore taught in English, of course. How strange it must be for these other students, to learn a foreign language in a foreign language. But everyone speaks English, and most of them speak at least one more language as well.

Friday, March 28, 2008

What is "The Stuff"? (besides bad, I mean)

JenniferYou might recall that, when last I wrote, it was Tuesday, and I had gone in to work but had then been sent home, due to our little fire Friday evening. On Wednesday, everyone on my floor got an email from the boss advising us to just stay home this week. I quote her here: "... I spoke with the [university maintenance] and the clean-up company today and they will start with the corridors and put in some extra ventilation which will make it possible for everybody to work in the offices. But for the moment I would really recommend you to stay home and work if you can. It does not feel good to breathe "the stuff" and [E.] said that if you close the door and open the windows "the stuff" comes in under the door ..."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Light Fixtures

Joe This week's reason I won't want to leave Sweden when they inevitably kick us out: light fixtures. Seriously, light fixtures. In unfurnished Swedish apartments, overhead light fixtures are not always included. Instead, there's a standard ceiling fixture in each room, which has a tiny electrical outlet and a little hook. All the ceiling lamps in the stores are built to fit this mount: they have some kind of gadget to catch the hook, and they have a little box that the light fixture is wired to. All you have to do is buy a tiny cable which fits the outlet on your ceiling, clip the cable to the box in the light fixture, plug it in to the little ceiling outlet, and clip the fixture to the little hook. Voila! With no wiring, and no sinking anchors into your ceiling, you've got a new fixture. Want to move the dorky fixture the last people left into another room? It'll take all of three minutes.

There's something to be said for living in a nation of unapologetic apartment dwellers.

The standard plug-and-hook fixture.

The little plug cable.

The light fixture. Note the little bar which catches the hook, and the white box for clipping the wire in.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Waffle Day!

JoeAs if a four day Easter weekend wasn't enough holiday for one week, today Sweden celebrates Waffle Day! Actually, it doesn't have anything to do with Easter, it's just that this year 25 March happens to fall a day after Annandag Påsk. Why waffles? Well, 25 March is the Day of the Virgin Mary in the Catholic Church, or Vår Fru Dag, and the faster you say "Vår Fru Dag," the more it sounds like "Våffel Dag!"

The post "Post-Påsk Post" Fiasco Post

Jennifer I had originally intended the following post to follow Joe's Easter post:
Post-Påsk addendum: A quick addendum about Easter here—like kids asking for candy, there are some more Halloween-ish prank traditions associated with this holiday. At fika Thursday, V. mentioned that this is the week during which you are supposed to do silly things like sneak "Kick me" signs onto the backs of unsuspecting classmates or colleagues (I didn't notice anyone doing this, but I checked myself when I got back to my office), and Z. said mentioned that when she lived in a large apartment with several roommates, someone switched all the labels on their personal foodstuffs. The oddest thing that happened this week was that all members of my department got an email from the boss on Friday, written so she said from her husband's email address, saying that her office had burned down because her broom had backfired as she was on her way to Blåhall, so she won't be getting out emails for a while. The last last sentence from the mysterious email said that the firemen advised her to go home and drink something strong. It is not clear to me whether this is her joke on us, or her perhaps her husband's joke on her, but I guess I'll find out Tuesday, when the normal work schedule resumes.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Glad Post*

*That's a (very) little Svengelska joke. The traditional Easter greeting here is Glad Påsk, and the 'å' is pronounced a lot like a long 'o' in English.

JoeIt's Easter, as I'm sure you've noticed, and an early one at that. Just about the earliest Easter there can be, and the earliest any of us likely to experience or have experienced (Easter hasn't fallen on it's earliest possible date, March 22, since 1818, and won't again until 2285). Which reminds me, Happy Easter Birthday, Aunt P.! It's going to be a long haul until the next one for you (2060, I believe), but take it from someone born on Modal Easter Day, it's not such a big thing.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Junk food

JenniferSome weeks are long and stressful, and you're tired, and hungry, and in need of something quick, tasty, and greasy. Some nights, you just need fast food.

This week was such a week, and tonight was such a night. There is in fact a McDonalds just down the block from our current apartment—you can see it in this picture taken from our front window. It seems to be a fairy popular destination for local teenagers, but we haven't tried it, preferring instead to walk the extra block to a place called Max, in a nice old building next to the old City Hall in Stora Torget. Max is a Swedish-owned fast food joint that got its start in northern Sweden, and outcompeted the local McDonalds up there so completely that the McDonalds closed, and Max has since expanded southwards. Max proudly advertises the fact that all their beef and chicken products are grown in Sweden, and are therefore carefully regulated. (The Wikipedia entry for Max, as of today, reads more than a bit like someone in their own marketing division may have written it.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Grocery Shopping, Revisited

JoeTonight, by special request, I'm going to take a moment to answer a few questions about Swedish grocery stores.

Can you describe what the stores actually look like? For instance, do they look like Rogers? With one exception, the Swedish grocery stores of my experience have been significantly smaller than their American counterparts. This is, no doubt, partly due to the fact that we are still living downtown; however, the ICA a few minutes from our new place in Flogsta is no larger than the downtown ICA or the Hemköp across the street from me as I write this. Part of the size difference comes from the fact that grocery stores here sell little other than, well, food. Oh, sure, there's an aisle of paper goods and cleaning supplies, and a few toiletries, but no greeting cards, no pharmacy, no wine and very little beer (nothing with more than 2.5% alcohol, in fact), and no magazines other than a few at the register. Beyond that, though, the stores here simply don't have as many choices for any individual item. For example, any given store will only have about half a dozen varieties of Campbell's soup, and maybe only a dozen varieties of soup all told. Instead of an aisle of breakfast cereal, there's maybe 8 kinds of prepared cereal, plus some muesli and oatmeal and whatnot. Say you want to buy something like refried beans? Expect one brand of beans, available in one variety. For something more popular, like tuna, maybe two brands plus a generic, each in two or maybe three varieties.
Not so much Rogers as Zicks, in other words.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Bandy, bandy (la la, spela bandy)"

Jennifer The title of today's post should be sung to the opening line of "Monday, Monday" by The Mamas and the Papas (where spela means "play"). It's a sort of in-joke here, to sing a song about bandy (which has the reputation of being an old-fashioned sort of sport) to the tune of a popular, kind-of-hippie song. And the title therefore neatly covers the two big events of the day.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Apartment in a Box

JoeI spent a couple of afternoons looking at second hand stores around town. A couple of them weren't bad, and if we were willing to take a couple of months to gather the furniture we need, and if we didn't have to pay for delivery for each item, we could put together a pretty decent apartment that way.

Alternately, I could go to IKEA, pick all of our furniture in one afternoon, and have it delivered that night for 495 SEK total.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Welcome to Flogsta

Joe Last week turned out to be a bit busier than expected, but it's had a welcome result: we found an apartment. It's been a long hunt, with a bunch of near misses. The first place we looked at seemed fine to us, but some of Jennifer's coworkers were horrified. We're still not sure exactly what's wrong with the neighborhood it was in, but it seems to be the closest thing Uppsala has to a slum.

By a month in, it turned out that we weren't even using the right resources. We'd been looking mostly at the websites of large apartment companies, which do indeed advertise available apartments. The problem is, apartments are offered on a queue system: once everyone has expressed interest in the apartment, the person who has been waiting for a place the longest gets first stab at it, then the next person, and so on. It's all very egalitarian, sure, but it turns out that the average wait time to get a place is something like two years. So we could have a nice place by the time we leave.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Bandy! Bandy! Bandy!

JoeNext weekend the bandy finals are being held in Uppsala, and in preparation the town has been decked out in orange flags. Bandy, as I may have mentioned before, is essentially soccer played on ice, with hockey skates and sticks, and a baseball-sized
orange golf ball (well, that's what it looks like, anyway) instead of a puck. Anyway, we had been planning on going to the finals, possibly with a group of Jennifer's coworkers. Due to a little scheduling mix-up on our part though, we sort of double booked next Saturday, so we're not going to go. Yesterday, though, N., who had been talking about arranging a department outing to the final, offered instead to take the two of us to one of the semi-finals, which was played today in Stockholm. He even offered to drive, making it a very easy trip indeed. So, despite the dismal overcast skies and threat of rainfall, we hopped into N.'s car this afternoon and hied towards Södermalm and Zinkensdamms Idrottsplats, storied home of Hammarby Bandy.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

I survive a conference

JenniferLast week, I attended a two-day bioinformatics conference that was held at the Evolutionary Biology Centre. The conference was jointly sponsored by my department, another department at my university (The Linnaeus Centre for Bioinformatics), and another university in town that I haven't mentioned yet, which is Sweden's agricultural university (Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet, or SLU for short—if you can imagine UM and MSU sharing the same town, you pretty much have the idea). 

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Language Notes Part 2

JenniferConsider the following joke:

"A termite walks into a bar, and says 'So! Where's the bartender?'"

If you laughed, or groaned, or wished you hadn't read it at all, you are probably a native English speaker. 

At Tuesday's afternoon fika, V. and another student, Z., and I got into a discussion of puns, which I accidently started by referring to the polls that had just opened on the east coast. V. gave me a very strange look, then his face cleared and he said "Oh, polls, polls. Right. I thought you meant poles, and were referring to the East Pole or something." V. said he considers puns a high form of humor. So I asked if he'd like to hear a really bad one, he said yes, the worse the better, so I whipped on the one above. 

Sunday, March 2, 2008


JoeToday we got up bright and early to watch the televised coverage of Vasaloppet, a 90 km cross country ski race held once a year in Eastern Sweden. The race commemorates Gustav Vasa's flight from his cruel Danish overlords in 1521. He had been traveling the countryside of Dalarna seeking support in his bid to overthrow the Danes. When the people of Mora turned him down, he was forced to flee towards the Norwegian border, but a couple of days later they changed their minds and sent a delegation to catch him. They caught up with him in Sälen, and he returned with them to Mora, where he started his two year campaign to win Sweden's freedom from Denmark.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

… but the men, they were kind of cheesy.

Joe Since reading an article in the Local a couple of weeks ago about a recent reinterpretation of medieval Viking women's clothing, we'd been wanting to go to the University Museum in the Gustavianum building to see the exhibit. Today was too cold and wet to make our planned trip to the Vaksalatorg outdoor market sound very appealing, so we decided that today was Gustavianum day.