Having just read an article by Sheryl Eisenberg in This Green Life, a publication of the NRDC, I felt compelled to reply to her story. Sheryl’s introduction states that “Legs, not cars, are the human form of transportation, but we’ve lost the habit and art of walking, and with them, a piece of ourselves.” I found it so timely for me, because not only have I enjoyed rediscovering the art of walking these past few weeks, but I have also been walking with purpose and connectedness. In the event you won’t read her article, here’s the response it evoked from me.

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What a perfectly-timed piece! I just moved to Sweden three weeks ago, and one of the things I was looking forward to most was NOT having–or needing–a car. For nearly a year I’d been looking forward to getting away from the metropolis traffic I had to endure twice a day, every day to simply get to and fro work. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Even though I am fairly fit, but granted hadn’t worked out in a while, I was still surprised how just after a few days or so of walking and tramming everywhere, my body began to ache. But it was the glorious ache of natural, physical activity.

Because I don’t yet know the language, every walk is a walk of “radical intention.” I am fully in-tune with my surroundings and where I intend to go. And, perhaps mostly with where I’ve been so I know how to get back!

I’m no longer glued to a smartphone with music, email, and GPS. I am spending time with my environment, and myself. And I rather like it. But I know the day will come when I find this environment commonplace and I begin to tune out again. I don’t really look forward to that day. But for now, that day is far off and I will continue to enjoy my walks, albeit only some take place in woods, but right now, this new city is my forest.

This will be a running list of things I find odd, or a bit different about every day stuff. It’s not necessarily new stuff as I may be familiar with it from TV, movies, et al, but perhaps living with it every day now makes it seem odd. And maybe they’re not odd to you, but this is my list. Feel free to suggest additions if you have experiences. I may even find that over time they are not so odd, but perhaps it’s something I just haven’t figured out yet. In which case, I will update the list as I learn new details.

  • Bed sheets: They don’t use fitted bottom sheets here. Although I saw one used in a sitcom the other day for comedic effect, they don’t seem to be available in real life. Actually, I haven’t found any sort of bottom sheet yet. I bought some new sheet sets the other day but a “set” here consists of 1 small pillow case and 1 duvet case/cover.
  • Beds: Are basically one size, or two, depending on how you look at it. They start with a single/twin and put two together to make a double-sized bed. I haven’t seen queen or king, but that makes buying the aforementioned linens much easier because there’s only 2 sizes from which to choose. It’s hard to go wrong. Also, they don’t use separate box springs, they are built into the bottom of the mattress. And they all have the same built-in cutouts to add legs. Maybe this is an IKEA creation, but from my limited experience, it seems to be pretty universal. UPDATE 2012/04/20: OK, saw an advert for beds and they had 4 sizes listed. But I’m cynical and still want to see them in person.
  • Shoes Off: Some people do this in the States too, but I think it’s either regional (you live in Wisconsin), or cultural (non-US natives bring the practice with them). The moment you walk in the door, you take your shoes off. It took me a short while to figure out it’s because of the weather and not wanting to track dirt, ice, snow, etc. into the house and not some cultural or religious ritual. Hence, my comment that folks in the colder climes of the USA might also commonly do this.
  • Drying Rooms: Clothes dryers are limited. In lieu of dryers, they have drying rooms where you hang your clothes to be dried by forced hot air.
  • Eggs: Eggs are packaged 10 or 15 to a carton. Sometimes you can find 6, but no dozen (12) like in America. Also, large or XL is SERIOUSLY large, you can use 1/2 the usual amount.
  • Parking: You pay for car parking, even at your own apartment. This is not very cost-effective so you’d then want to rent a garage instead. However, covered bicycle parking is free and in my particular building, they have bicycle “garages” (an indoor, ground-level room) for each building. What’s cool though, when parking in-town, they have digital boards that display the number of available spots before you get there, so you can select an alternate lot, if need be.
  • Would you like a bag with that?: When shopping, you pay for the bags. Most retail stores seem to allow one small free bag with purchase but additional, or larger bags cost around 1kr each. An excellent way to encourage reuse & recycling.
  • The Switch Up: Light switches are UP when the lights are off and down when the lights are on. Give yourself a minute; you’ll realize this is backwards.
  • Week 18, when is that?: Swedes, and perhaps others in Europe, count calendar time in terms of weeks. This is mostly used when discussing a future event, or providing an ongoing schedule. An event doesn’t just happen on a certain date, it takes place in a week number such as 18 (or 10, 17, 32, etc). Even my mobile phone calendar shows the calendar by week. I don’t know if the natives or long-term residents inherently know when a week occurs but I certainly have to consult the calendar and count.
  • Push Me/Pull You: Just because a door handle is on your side, doesn’t mean you pull to open. Stores, businesses, etc. seem to have handles on both sides of their doors.
  • Can You Help Me? Yes, but not so fast. Take a number. Banks, government offices (no surprise there) and many retail stores (especially electronics it seems) use a ticketing system. At first I found it frustrating, but now, I think it’s great to not have to stand and wait in line at the bank. Instead, you sit comfortably and wait for your number to be called. Something Americans are only used to at the DMV and similar offices. And in retail stores, you don’t have to fight for attention, so it’s a good odd.

When living in a Swedish apartment, laundry day is an interesting activity. Not exactly time-consuming as you only have a 3-hour window in which to get it all done, but that in itself seems to add unexpected pressure. I actually do like the idea because at home in my own house, it could take several days to finish laundry simply because I would start, then go out or get lost in time doing other things.

The laundry schedule board

The Plinko-style laundry schedule board

That said, doing laundry now requires a certain amount of planning. First, you have to preselect a day and 3-hour time block in which you plan to wash. At home, I just did it on the fly when the laundry basket piled too high. Miss your window and good luck finding an empty block to reschedule. There definitely won’t be one the same day (unless you want to go at midnight), and most likely you’re looking at another two weeks out.

This being my first laundry day, we chose a reasonable time on Sunday morning (10:00 – 13:00). Can you find my lock on today’s date? Anyway, once inside, you have two, which I discovered was actually three, washing machines and one dryer. What?? I know right, only ONE dryer for three loads of wet clothes? Ah, but the Swedish apartment building has a secret inside… We’ll get to that in a moment. So, on first intro to the laundry room, E tells me there are two washers and two dryers. Ok, sounds like enough since we have the room to ourselves for three hours.

He attempts to help me understand the Swedish diagrams and text to select water temperature and wash programs. He puts the soap powder in one of the top slots; neither one of us really sure if it’s the correct slot or not. Mind you, he’s just moved to this building as well and as such, is also unfamiliar with these particular machines. That’s the only slack I’m going to allow him because I figure he should still be ahead of me on figuring this stuff out. The poster on the wall only explains how to use the dryer. So, he’s off to run an errand, leaving me to face these formidable front-loading foes alone.

Not to be deterred, I stand there watching the machines spin, wondering when the heck the windows will get soapy and certain he put the powder in the wrong slot. Our clothes will go through the final rinse cycle with soap, I fear. After standing there for five or so minutes, I decide it’s safe to leave. When I return some 40 minutes later to move the clothes to the dryer, I discover that “dryer 2” is actually “washer 3.” I was watching the water flow into the side trough as the washers finished their spin cycles and realized there were three sets of pipes, not 2, coming from the wall. BING, light bulb moment: this is a washer too! I hope the guy from the time block before me didn’t notice me taking the clothes from a finished washer and putting them into the “dryer” as he came to retrieve his final batch of drying clothes. I had also used the wait time to look up the operating instructions online. Fortunately, the maker of the machines is in the UK and the instructions were in English. We did use (sort of) the correct soap dispenser in two of the three machines.

OK, so washer/dryer sorted out. Now, how the heck do I dry all of these clothes in one little dryer? Enter The Drying Room! I have no idea what it’s actually called, but that name seems to make the most sense to me. When the previous time block guy came in, he opened this door, from which I’d been hearing a loud blowing noise. Now, I discovered, this is where you hang your clothes and set the timer on the wall for 1-4 hours. It’s basically a dry sauna for your clothes..or a wet one for you if you stay in there long enough. There are two of these rooms, and unlike everything else where you have a personal key; on these you take the key with you while you’re using it, then leave it in the door when you’re done. Fascinating concept indeed. Almost made doing laundry fun. It certainly made it interesting. But, our three hours up, we had to leave with a few damp items.

Lessons Learned

  1. Schedule laundry day no more than two weeks apart so as not to have so much to do at once.
  2. Separate differently. This is not just about colors and whites anymore, will have to also pre-plan what items go in the dryer and what items hang in the room. I’m thinking heavier items like denim, towels, sheets go to the dryer.
  3. Don’t miss your day!
Baked eggplant by Sharise

The first supper from my Göteborg kitchen. Baked eggplant with meat sauce and a simple salad.

So the other day I noted how the act of grocery shopping has changed for me. The other side of that same coin is how cooking has also changed. I only have come into my own as a cook in the last three or fours years anyway, so this is part fun, part frustrating. Sometimes I cook by feeling and taste, sometimes by recipe.

Never mind that I’m working with the limited tools of my husband’s bachelor-style pad, and my limited travel budget (aka, no cashflow yet) so I can’t outfit the kitchen the way I would like just yet. I’m operating with one skillet, one pot, and a myriad of mismatched dishes and cutlery. Feels a bit like I’ve stepped back into college days, although thankfully the food itself is more substantial.

I have purchased a few essentials such as a couple of cheap tools (veggie peeler, timer), and a rather nice baking dish. Fortunately, he still has the two chefs knives I bought last time I was here. The timer is crap but the least important. I’ve noticed that the inexpensive knives and peeler are much sharper and work much better than the fancy brands I bought back home.

So now, I must also convert every measurement from tablespoons and teaspoons to milliliters and deciliters. Ounces to grams. Cups to…what again? The onlineconversion.com website is my constant companion in the kitchen. I keep saying I will print out the standard conversions and tape them up for easy reference but have yet to do it. Maybe this weekend.

OK, so my ‘mise en plas’ is established and I am finally ready to fire up the pans…err, not so fast. Now I have to adjust for electric cooking (yes, I know this could happen in the USA but I’ve always had gas ranges), having only three burners and an oven with cryptic pictures of God-knows-what, telling me God-knows-what. Oh, and that temperature setting? Convert it from Fahrenheit to Celsius!

Despite all of these obstacles, I’ve actually turned out some pretty good tasting meals, from my first dish of baked eggplant with meat sauce that looks more overcooked than it tasted,  to tonight’s Moroccan Meatballs with baked sweet potato sticks (can’t really call them fries), cous cous and sauteed zucchini. Yum! This is actually fun for now, but when I start to work again…

So, finally did something today I’ve been wanting to do, but was also dreading. I went shopping for makeup. In the interest of luggage space and needing to start a fresh collection anyway, I trashed “all” of mine before leaving home.

Why have I been dreading this womanly right of passage, you might ask? Doesn’t every woman live to shop for makeup and clothes? Not so, my friend. Not so. And those of you  who know me, know I keep my makeup-wearing to a minimum. And even when I doll it up, it’s just the basics. I’m an all natural, jeans and T-shirt kinda girl from Jersey. I am not a cast member of a stupid Jersey show with over-poofed hair and garish makeup. So, I was dreading it for the mere act of having to do it at all.

Second reason is…well, I am a woman of melanin. Swedes are not. Now, in fairness, there is a reasonable African population with a smattering of other color-enhanced cultures here, but by and large, they are not catered to. So, I was wondering what sort of expedition I might have to go on to find the right foundation for my complexion. I had been stalking the familiar counters like L’Oreal, Clarins, Maybelline, etc, but their color palletes stopped short of various versions of pink caramel.

Finally today, I decided to end the individual hunt and had the courage to engage one of the sales ladies and ask for a recommendation. She was admittedly embarrassed that L’Oreal did not have a wider color selection. She said they should, nice whether she meant it or not, I suppose. But she also was professional and tried to deflect my attention toward their mondo-lash mascara and some other products instead.

I asked if she could confidentially recommend a brand that might have more colors. She did. I found them. That girl was lovely as well and managed to sell me 1345 SEK of products. Plus, I wandered over to another self-service brand and managed to spend another 506 SEK. This was my big splurge but I am now ready to be European Fabulous!

Today I got to meet a couple of E’s friends. The wife is Swedish-Finnish and the husband Turkish. For their privacy I won’t mention names. We went to visit, not necessarily for Easter, but just because it was a day when the workaholic hubby was going to be home. I felt a little self-conscious that everyone was speaking English (mainly) for my benefit. I asked if they would be speaking Swedish if I weren’t there. The answer was “yes.” But throughout the evening, snippets of conversation occured in Turkish, Swedish and Finnish amongst different pairs of us (or, I should say them).

We literally walked in the door, took off our shoes (as is common here) and sat down at the kicthen table for food. I had no idea we were walking into an instant buffet. Although the meal itself was quite simple; baked chicken drumsticks, salad and rice with a curry sauce, she has now set the bar quite high for when they come to visit us. It’s not that I don’t know how to play hostess; it just isn’t my thing. In nearly 11 years in my own house, I may have had invited guests a maximum of six times, and that includes holidays and special occasions. I don’t mind planned visits, but I don’t like planning to make food, etc. I prefer to have an open kitchen where people can go grab what they want and I’ll provide the homemade margaritas. But, I now have to at least provide one meal in return.

I mentioned my first dish made here was baked eggplant and she said she likes eggplant, so I’m thinking that will be a winning choice when the day comes for me to return the favor.

After the meal, we spent the rest of the evening talking, laughing at her husband who was the butt of too many jokes, and playing backgammon. Wow, I haven’t played that game in years and had to watch a few matches to relearn it. It’s simple enough but I also had to take note of differences in play, such as what happens when you roll doubles. E indulged in ryki, the national alcahol of Turkey, while she and I drank the equivalent of wine coolers. So, no buzz for me but E was entertaining enough for both of us. Her hubby was abstaining for some reason, perhaps the stories of his puking in the kitchen floor after two small glasses of ryki, which he claimed was half a bottle, deterred him from inbibing this time.

As we wrapped up the evening, we said our goodbyes and gave hugs. E and I walked out  into the evening rain and walked to catch our tram. It was a fun day.