Wednesday, December 31, 2008

As Swedish as Äppel Paj

JoeWe spent this afternoon in our favorite Uppsala café, Ofvandahls. I say "our favorite" like it's some great secret we discovered, but the truth is that (according to the Swedish wikipedia entry) Ofvandahls has been a popular student hangout since it was opened in 1878. It's a cozy place, with at least a half dozen small rooms filled with mismatched tables and chairs, broad planked pine flooring, and a seemingly never ending supply of customers. It also happens to be a great place to go for a baguette sandwich lunch, a bit of pastry, or even a marzipan Linnaeus head.

Monday, December 29, 2008


JoeNaturally, we've been somewhat remiss in keeping the updates coming during the Christmas holiday. Never fear, we fully intend to make up for it over the next few days by covering Christmas one topic at a time. To start things off, a brief discussion of walks in the wintery woods. Once when discussing the Swedish national character, one of my professors, Anders, said, "Swedes think they walk in the woods more than other people. They may not actually do it, but they like to think that they do." I can't speak to the difference between the idea and the reality, but I can say that Swedes do seem to enjoy their walks in the woods. This has been especially in evidence this past week: on Julafton we got a light covering of snow, and since Christmas it's been cold and clear every day. There still isn't much light, but between the hours of 11 and 3 it has been gorgeous out, and every day there have been Swedes out taking advantage of it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Nerd jul party

Jennifer A lot of social stuff has been happening in the last couple weeks, along with the usual frantic increase in work as everybody tries to get projects completed before the holiday break and the new year. I was as busy as everyone else, but did manage to turn two manuscripts over to two completely different sets of co-authors on the day before Christmas eve. So here's some catching-up.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Joe Now that finals are over (whew!) it's time for me to start catching up on what's been going on the past couple of weeks. So, in celebration of the Jul Season, I'll jump back a couple of week's to a Sunday afternoon when we took part in a long-standing Swedish Christmas tradition: the Julbord. The Julbord is basically the Christmas version of the smörgasbord, the Swedish version of the buffet. It refers to the large meal that Swedish families normally lay out on Christmas Eve, but in more recent times it's also been popular for restaurants to have Julbord seatings around the holiday season.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


JoeHad my second final yesterday (at 8 am, ridiculous, sun was barely up by the time I finished at 9:30), and have been working all day today on my last thing for the semester, a take home final for Human-Computer Interaction, had two questions to go after dinner, answered the first one but then was feeling tired, so I had a cup of coffee, which I never do anymore, answered the last question in like an hour, 'cause caffeine makes me smarter! So now I'm all done for the semester. Guess I'll stay up and watch late night television. What's on Swedish television tonight? "Who was James Bond?", "Love Actually," and the "The Net." Wow, from that I might as well be living in Cleveland…

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Every Swedish girl's dream

Jennifer As we were driving back from Harkeberga Church a few weeks ago, the conversation turned to the approaching holiday season, and I asked about what were particularly Swedish things to do and see. "You must be sure to see the Lucia celebrations," said P., "It's very beautiful, and quite a big deal." A pause. "I was never chosen to be Lucia in school," she added morosely. "It has scarred me for life. I sometimes think my whole academic life has been an attempt to overcome this."

Every year across this great nation, on 12 december, a girl plays S:t Lucia. The duties of this girl are to wear white robes and a crown of candles, sing the S:t Lucia song, and look angelic. What girl? you ask. Mostly it's a school thing—every class chooses a Lucia, and generally every city and town does too. But Lucia's not just for little kids. There's an official, country-wide Lucia, who is the winner of a combined talent and beauty contest. This year, Sweden's Lucia is a student from the ag school just down the road, so she's an Uppsalabo, a fact that the local paper went to some pains to point out at every possible opportunity.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Will it always be like this?

JoeToday was my first exam for the period, and while in many ways it was very different from my exam last period—I've been meaning to write a post about how different this half of the semester has been from the first half, but there simply hasn't been a spare moment; I'm hopeful for next week—in one critical way it was exactly the same: the morning of the exam was the morning when my bike broke down.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Temptation's Advent

Jennifer You all may laugh at fika, and scoff at me when I say that it's difficult to have to go to a coffee break twice a day. But the social pressure to go really is rather intense: I thought I'd skip it last Monday, but V. and E. ambled by my door and asked if I was coming for coffee. I said "Sure, in just a minute," by which I meant "No." But they took it at face value, and when it became clear that they were not going to leave until I did, I gave up and headed downstairs.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thanksgiving Hamkey

Jennifer We had planned to have our Thanksgiving dinner sometime last weekend, but what with all the excitement of the julmarknad on Saturday, and then the trip to Gävle Sunday, we just didn't have time. So we planned to have Thanksgiving on Monday. Joe had made mashed potatoes, baked root vegetables, green bean casserole, and the turkey leg that he mentioned before. I tried to make gravy from the few pan drippings, but it was bitter and didn't work at all, which we both blamed on the fact that the veggies also dripped on the pan.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Jag är en bock. Brinn mig.

I am a goat. Burn me.
JoeSunday was Forsta Advent, which apparently is a big holiday in Sweden, not that anyone told us that in advance. I suppose lacking Thanksgiving as an indicator that the Christmas season has begun, they are forced to rely upon the ecclesiastical calendar. In any case, we already had plans for the day: we caught a ride up to Gävle to witness the Invigning of this year's Julbock.

For those not in the know, in December 1966 someone built a big straw goat in downtown Gävle. At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, it burst into flames. Thus was born Gästrikeland's most beloved Yule time tradition. Over the years the goats have gotten larger (topping out at just under 15 m high, before settling to a happy size of about 12 m, and 3 tons of straw), and just over 50% of the goats have burned down. For the past two years the goat has been successfully fireproofed, but the chemical caused the goat to turn a dull brown. This year the fireproofing has been discontinued, so that the goat can once again stand proud and yellow (and, no doubt, so that the goat will burn once more and get Gävle back in the news). What's more, the straw was specially donated by Gävle's local whiskey distillery, Mackmyra, so I suppose it must be extra flammable.