Weird Swedish food…

Just like Thailand and its fruit, Sweden has its own weird, weird food. I have been inundated with these oddities since I arrived, and after four months here I can tell you that some of it is good, some palatable and some downright nauseating.

The first installment of what will become a regular feature on Urban Pilgrim falls into the latter category.

I can’t make this stuff up. It’s caviar in a tube. They spread it on hard bread (knäckebröd). They squirt some on hard-boiled eggs. They drizzle a little on ice cream. Ok, not the last one. But this company makes a variety of caviar in a tube, including banana flavored and egg flavored. Yum.

But Swedes didn’t stop there. They have looked for every opportunity to put some combination of fish and cheese in tubes. There is a wide array of products mixed with soft cheese, including other cheeses, in a tube. You have your basic shrimp cheese, lobster cheese and crayfish cheese. Or if you can’t decide between fish cheese and caviar, have them both with a lovely lobster, crab and dill flavor.

They have tube cheese for different moods too. Feeling a craving for some meat cheese? Try the ham cheese or even the smoked deer meat cheese. Wanting to go veggie? Grab the mushroom cheese or olives, garlic and mozzarella cheese.

Sweden even has cheese in a tube that rivals Baconaise, America’s most revolting condiment. Yeah, you guessed it. Bacon cheese.

However, there is one that is perfect for those days where you need to unwind, but don’t have the energy to pour yourself a stiff drink AND make a sandwich. Just grab a tube of blue cheese and whiskey and feel the stress melt away.

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Blizzard weekends…

I grew up on the east coast of the U.S. so I know about snow. We used to build snow forts in our front yard, and sled down the hills at our middle school. But the snow always seemed like a mirage; it would fall quickly and then melt just as fast, leaving us with brown sludge.

But in Stockholm, the snow falls and falls. And the sun comes out for 15 minutes. And the snow comes again. Sometimes horizontally. It hurts my face a little.

The snow has been falling for three days and the forecast says it will continue for the next two. Last weekend saw just as much snow. But Swedes are resilient and don’t let a snow storm stop them from taking their dog for a walk, running errands or just getting fresh air.  And this much snow gives Swedes an excuse to break out their favorite walking accessory: ski poles. I wish I haven’t seen seemingly intelligent Swedes walking down a popular shopping street or through a snow-covered park looking like ski mimes. Apparently someone told them it enhances metabolism, but left out the part that it makes them look nuts. Swedes: Consider this a public service announcement.

As only a semi Swedish speaker, it seems to me that Swedes just take the weather as it is. But I am assured that the media is covering this winter’s unusual intensity with just as much fervor as the American media covering the east coast’s massive blizzards. Trains are interrupted, buses are stuck and cars are running off the roads. Rooftops are also caving in, including the roof on one of the biggest tennis halls in Stockholm. Pedestrians fare the best, but the thick layer of ice under the snow makes walking feel like ice skating in boots.

It’s hard to even say how much snow we get because the snow has not melted since early December. In January, the temperature in Stockholm didn’t rise above freezing, the first time that has happened since 1829. And predictions are that the snow will not abate for the next month.

I suppose that instead of dreaming about Sweden’s two months of heat (can 25/75 degrees be considered “heat”?), all you can do is stay inside, watch the athletes brave the cold in Vancouver and watch the snow pile up against the window.

Biathlon: The only time Swedes love their guns…

Every time it comes on, I giggle. I can’t help it. To me, it is a bit absurd. Skiing cross-country and shooting a gun? Jerry Seinfeld’s words ring in my ears…

“In the Winter Olympics they have that biathlon that combines cross-country skiing and shooting a gun. How many alpine snipers are into this? To me, it’s like combining swimming and… strangle a guy, why don’t we have that? That makes absolutely as much sense to me. Just put people in the pool at the end of each lane for the swimmers.”

The sport, which is actually incredibly difficult, began in 1767 and was a form of military training for the Norwegian military. And despite not being in the Olympics until 1960, it is immensely popular in Europe and in Nordic countries in particular.

I had never really seen the sport before, but after watching it several times on Swedish television this winter, I can say it’s actually pretty impressive. Though the distance they ski varies, when they cross the finish line it’s like hitting the power button; they all collapse to the ground, breathing heavily with their faces covered in slobber (no time to wipe I guess).

Swedes, in particular, love this sport. I received constant scolding from my boyfriend when I laughed, a habit I still cannot help despite understanding it a bit more now. But the only thing funnier than the sport itself, is the song that Swedes sing to root on their countrymen:

Heja Sverige friskt humör, skjortan hänger utanför!

Which translates to: Go Sweden healthy mood, his shirt is … hanging outside?

Ummm… ok.

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

What do citizens have to worry about when they live in a country with a lower homicide rate than Luxembourg and when the biggest criminal threat comes from pickpockets?

Icicles. Big, scary icicles.

The Swedish news wire service TT reported Friday that worried residents lodged a record 1,800 complaints with the city’s “icicle hotline” about ice and overhanging snow they feared could fall from building rooftops and threaten the safety of pedestrians below. In case you thought you read that wrong, I will repeat: the city has an “icicle hotline.” Now we continue.

It is such a concern here, the city mandates that property owners clear the ice and snow from the top of their buildings. I can attest to this as every morning I make a wide arc around the cordoned-off sidewalk as snow and ice fly at alarming speeds toward the pavement. There are even signs on every street warning passersby about falling ice, a dangerous phenomenon I have only seen when property owners are shoveling it off their roofs.

I mean to mock this lightly because in 2003, a 14-year-old boy was killed when an icicle fell on his head on the downtown shopping street Drottninggatan. But for someone from a country with a pathetic gun-control policy that leads to daily front page reports of shooting deaths, the extreme danger of falling icicles just doesn’t get me all worked up.

By the way, the two women injured by the falling frozen water that prompted the concerned news article are okay. I am assured that one of the women who received 10 stitches on her head is healing nicely at home.

I’m still alive… just cold and lazy

It’s been nearly two months since my last post. I know. I feel the guilt.

This is the second big move overseas and now, without a doubt, am aquainted with the various stages and adjustment one goes through. Months 1-3… exciting and new. Months 6 and on… comfortable and established. Months 3-6… tough.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy living in Stockholm, which I do, or that I am unhappy, which I’m not. It’s just the hardest part of moving away, especially overseas. It’s the time after you see your new home through virgin eyes and revel in the excitement of your new life. You settle into an apartment, a job and a routine. You have to start making a life. And that’s where it gets tough. Having to start over is never easy, but creating the friendships that define your life in that new place is the challenging part that tests your patience and your resolve to stay away from the friends and family you have left at home.

Another thing that tests my patience… the lack of sunlight. Having a large lunch as most Swedes do and seeing the sun set at 3 pm everyday is a recipe for only one thing… a nap.  Those living in any country that experiences winter can identify with this to some degree, but most also have the benefit of a few extra hours of sunlight. And despite the sun staying up longer and longer it is still dark. And cold. If that’s not a recipe for a sullen face and copious red wine consumption I don’t know what is.

So there it is, my excuse for not writing. But to make it up to you, here is a cliff notes version of my last month and a half. 

– Moved into our new apartment in Vasastan and subsequently discovered the charms and pitfalls of buying a 1920s apartment. Lovely architectural features, not enough hot water for a shower.

– Bought my first real Christmas tree and carted it down the street impaling pedestrians with its long top branch. Got it into the stand and put a star on the subsequently crooked long top branch. Convinced myself it gave the tree character and wanted to have a Christmas tree in that corner always. Boyfriend vetoed that idea.

– Spent Christmas Eve in Sweden with my boyfriend and his family. Had a white Christmas for the first time in perhaps a decade or more. Learned how to sing festive Swedish drinking songs while taking shots of snaps with his 80-something year old grandparents, who are better sports than me at swallowing a liquor that could clean a car engine. Successfully avoided eating all of the following: raw herring (smelly), raw fermented herring (smellier), pig feet in gelatin and eel. Couldn’t avoid eating: smoked moose.

– Finally got on board with Swedes love of a walk. Walked to boyfriend’s parents house on Christmas night in snow/rain and below freezing temperatures because he said ‘the beer will taste much better then.’ He was right.

– Spent New Year’s Eve drinking champagne by the water at Norr Malarstrand and watching an incredible fireworks display. Later spilled beer on my boyfriend’s shoes at a bar. I blame the champagne.

– Spent a weekend painting our entire apartment from ceiling to floor and have subsequently aged 10 years. Can you have arthritis at 27?

– Went home to suburban Philly to visit my family and spent quality time with the people I love and miss. Ate childhood meals like chicken and dumplings, that I haven’t had in years. Also went up to see friends in NYC and discovered there is a colder place than Stockholm. During the visit, had a realization that no matter how tough it has been to move here, it was the best decision I ever made.

– Came back to Stockholm, looked in my boyfriends eyes and realized I was really home. Also gave him Swedish Fish. He laughed. They’re just fish here.