Thursday, March 12, 2009

Swedish Love

Don't get any ideas about this entry from its title. I merely mean that I'm going to be giving the Swedish, as my generous hosts, a little time on my blog. It is a good time to do this, since I've been here for awhile now. I also promised you I'd write before I leave for Oslo on Saturday.

What are my feelings right now, you ask? Well I haven't felt homesick since the first week here, but I would obviously love to see some BC or L.A. friends. This can wait until summer or fall, though. Right now, I am in Sweden.

Before I get to my Swedish brothers and sisters, I have to go on a small rant about something in the US. Forgive me.

Uppsala University has been disorganized, to say the least. There is no central location to pick classes; it's all by department or professor. However, Boston College should be absolutely ashamed of its treatment of exchange students (or at least me). With its infinite e-mailing lists and technology, surely it could sift through the garbage that it dumps in my inbox. Every day I check my e-mail, and I'm flooded with information on internship interviews that take place tomorrow or information about studying abroad next fall. All the information I want to get – either about housing or class selection for the fall – either doesn't get to me or gets lost in the dump. Seriously, BC? And to add insult to grievance, they have the gall to tell me that my inbox is 90% full. Now the third sentence in this worthless paragraph made quite a full-bodied statement, and therefore, I must back it up with something more important (money) than a petty e-mail rant. Swedish students attend Uppsala University for FREE. Yes, no money is required to get a degree, and I can't imagine that BC has to pay much to send me here. So why on earth am I – and by I, I mean not I – paying full BC tuition. Disgraceful.

Okay, now back to a more insightful and pleasant topic.

Swedish Personality
The personality of most the Swedish I've encountered has been slightly off-putting. They are shy and tend to keep to themselves, which in the US is seen as arrogant or selfish. I constantly have to remind myself that this guy or girl isn't mean or not fond of me (catch the double negative?), or maybe they are. When I do speak to a Swedish cashier or attendant, they are always very nice and helpful, and when I get to know a Swede, they are friendly, if not more so, than most Americans.

Swedish Language
In my life so far, I've been able to pick up a decent amount of Spanish and had a relatively easy time speaking the bit of German that I learned freshman year. Swedish is extremely difficult to learn, to pronounce, and to understand. I cannot just read a word how it looks and have a Swede understand me. I cannot understand anything in Swedish. There are 9 vowels: a, e, i, o, u, y, å, ä, ö; each has a distinct sound. The rhythm of spoken Swedish is difficult to get down. It doesn't make it any easier to learn that I can get by EASILY speaking just English. Everyone knows English.

Swedish Stores
The Swedish supermarket is very much like American supermarkets. The Willy's supermarket near my residence even just introduced a fresh-baked bread section. I guess the only major differences are that you have to buy plastic grocery bags if you need them and that you have to bag your own items – hardly illogical. The Swedish also love their lines/queues. Most of the time, you must take a number to be served, such as at the Apoteket (state-run drugstore) and Claus Ohlson (hardware store).

Swedish Government
Well, I'm going to be honest. I don't know much about the Swedish government that has its reputation for being socialist and a welfare state. I do know, from my Swedish History class, that the welfare system is crumbling due to complaints about high taxes and stagnation of the Swedish economy (not just in these times). How many Swedish businesses do you know outside of IKEA or H&M?

Swedish Fish/Meatballs
Okay, to clear this up once and for all, I have NOT been able to find Swedish Fish, and if they do exist in Sweden, they are most certainly NOT called Swedish Fish. As for meatballs, EVERYONE eats meatballs. Most students purchase frozen meatballs and defrost them with gravy and potatoes. I bought some and put them in with pasta. Delicious.

Swedish Weather
Everyone asks me how cold it is here. Yes, by definition Sweden is cold. However, I actually enjoy the climate here in Uppsala more than that in Boston. It is a lot less windy – therefore, no windchill – and the temperature is more temperate (capische?). It never really dips below 25˚F and stays nice and below 40˚. Not terrible. There are a lot less sunny days though. I think right now, there has been 5 cloudy days in a row. Before that I was in Copenhagen, so I don't know.

Small Problems (come on, did you really think I wouldn't complain at all?)
Problem 1: The important webpages (Google, YouTube, and, of course) load in Swedish by default. This gets rather annoying, but I know the Swedish word for preferences now, inställningar.

Problem 2: I can't find any of the typical American drugs in Sweden. Nyquil? Nope. Tylenol? Nope. Cocaine? Nope. Okay, but seriously, I'm not addicted to any of the three, nor have I ever used the latter, but it would be nice to know they are there. I've heard you can get most by prescription, but I don't want to see a doctor. Thanks, Mom, for sending that Nyquil.

Problem 3: The infamous Systembolaget, or state-run liquor store. Thankfully, one can qualify at the ripe old age of 20 to purchase alcohol from here, but the prices are outrageous. In Copenhagen, I paid about half as much for a bottle of rum as I'd have to pay here. In addition, there are no convenient six-, or thirty-packs of beer. I go to a pub most of the time anyway, so this doesn't bother me too much.

Problem 4: Daylight. This one is killer. My biological clock is in ruins at the moment. When I first arrived, it was still rather dark at 8 am. Today, I woke up at 5 am for some odd reason and there was more daylight than at 8 am before. The sun rises earlier each day, so I think I'm going to have to purchase some blackout curtains for my room. Otherwise, I'll be waking up at 4 pretty soon.

That's it for my Swedish culture lesson. I need to go to battle with the laundry machines again (see here), and I leave for Oslo, which I hear is the most expensive city this side of Jupiter, tomorrow. Other than spending my future children's college funds, it should be fun.

Song: "All My Loving" – Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe soundtrack)

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