Archives for the month of: October, 2010

I’m afraid of tap water. There, I said it.

I’ve had to defend this on a number of occasions, and yes, I know that it’s stupid. I know that most bottled water is just tap water in a pricy plastic container. I know that regulations for purifying tap water in most states and many other countries are far more stringent than the rules for bottling. I know. But I grew up with well water, so my little toddler spongebrain learned at a young age to equate all taps with smelly, unpurified goo from my own backyard. (This is not even to mention the many teenage hair crises I faced as a result of the hard water.) As with any lifelong phobia, it just is what it is now…I’m terrified of the sink.

Now let me tell you about Sweden. These folks la-la-la-loooove their water. It’s rare to sit down in a restaurant without the waiter mentioning — in some flowery, exaggerated way — just how delicious it is. Some of them will even stand at your table to watch you take your first sip, waiting for the OMG, this really IS the best water I’ve ever had! reaction, which you do sort of feel obliged to give them. I mean they’re just standing there.

We’re a few days into Week 9 now, and I’m still grappling with an iron fortress of sick psychological barriers that keep me from truly enjoying this free OMG water. And so yes, I do still find myself in the supermarket a couple times a week, ogling (sometimes touching) the pretty 1.5 liter bottles of my old beloved companion, Evian. But I will say this — there is one surefire way to cure a phobia, and that is poverty. The smallest bottles of water here are 20 kronor, and depending on this fickle exchange rate, that can be almost $3. For the little ones!

So I drink the tap water.

Most of the time. Ok, not really, I still buy bottles a lot. But under the watchful eyes of waiters, I’ve been drinking a ton of this tap stuff. And for the record it does taste fine, and I do believe them that this water is among the most rockstar amazing liquid, anywhere, ever. But I feel like just admitting that is enough for now.

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I’m morally bankrupt enough to admit that among the things I miss here in Stockholm are bad reality shows. I especially miss you, Bravo, with your Millionaire Matchmaker and your 437 cities chock full of nut job Real Housewives. When so many of the bright shooting stars of reality TV have flickered and sputtered out too soon (yes, you, Shot at Love with Tila Tequila), your network has always been there to lobotomize me whenever I need a good drool.

Tomorrow marks eight weeks of reality detox, and as if explicitly to torture me, the Swedish television execs have scrambled to cast and shoot a new season of their own TV trash: Paradise Hotel. Why torture? Equal parts Bachelor Pad, MTV Spring Break and Dating in the Dark (confession: I’ve never actually seen that one but I have enough to go on from the title), Paradise Hotel is just about the stupidest and most wonderful possible programming that you could hope to find on one of your two functioning channels. And according to the promos that have been running every 11 seconds since I got here in August, it was scheduled to start this week! Yay, right? No! Not yay! Despite the English title, the whole show is in Swedish! I can’t understand a word they’re saying, and it turns out that reality TV is actually intolerable without the ridiculous sound bites. Go ahead, watch the clip. Behold how they’ve stolen all of the joy.

Central Station (farm4.static.flikr.com)

I gave in and bought a metro card yesterday. I was trying so hard to avoid doing this while I’m here, first of all because they are friggin’ expensive, and second, because it’s an obvious sign of weakness. The metro is for people who are lazy and uninspired, poor lost souls who prefer the convenience of cramming their bodies and belongings sardine-like into a tiny moving train six stories underground, rather than just putting one foot in front of the other and enjoying the fresh air and scenery on street level. The metro is for wusses.

But now I have joined their ranks, because folks, it is just too effing cold out there. I can’t do that walk anymore, especially now that the party is over and it rains every day. I did everything I could to prolong this moment…I tried walking varied routes to and from work to keep it fresh and fun; I made a game of finding delicious new cappuccino spots along the way; I even bought really adorable brand name, not-affordable rain boots so I could better play the part of the seasoned and fashionable Stockholmer who scoffs at the very sight of a metro station. But I’m weak.

I bring this up because I’m afraid there are implications. I have someone else’s butt now. I found it when I wasn’t even looking for a new one — just minding my own business, walking three or four miles a day on steep terrain — but it’s mine now, and I want to keep it. It is the behind of a spry little teenager who kicks and jumps just for fun. It’s unexpected and wonderful. And now it’s in jeopardy. How can I possibly hold on to the glory if I start taking the train to work? This is bad, guys. I might have to give up my sour cream and onion chips.

Here’s a question for anyone who lives in Stockholm, has spent an extended period of time here, or just knows things about things: Why can’t I find a loaf of bread – anywhere, of any variety – that will last longer than three days? Most of the bread I buy doesn’t even make it to the expiration date. What am I doing wrong? It’s really cutting into my grilled cheese economy of scale. On a related note, though, I have absolutely mastered the making of those gooey, cheesy, delicious sandwiches now. I challenge anyone to make a better one. Nay, I double dare you. I will dominate all of you.

The “new” has settled into more of a livable routine now. All of the cute and seasonally inappropriate dresses I brought have been neatly tucked away in a closet I never use, and a rotation of jeans and warm sweaters have taken their place. Grocery shopping is down to a science (made easier by the recent grilled cheese infatuation), and my projects at the office are real and familiar work now – not busy work, as they are wont to be at the start of a new job.

This comfy routine has also given way to a few revelations:

1. Apparently I like sour cream and onion chips, because I’m averaging a bag a week. I’m pretty sure that the last time I actually purchased a bag of potato chips in Florida Life, I was a teenager, but here, they’re a part of my day and I rely on their crunchy goodness.

2. Away from my own furniture and my “stuff,” I’m not nearly the neat freak I usually am. The same girl who scoured the kitchen every single night at home has yet to think twice when the dishes pile up for three days here. I still clean my bathroom regularly, but I’ve not picked up the vacuum once yet. Its buttons are in Swedish, though I do realize that turning one on is pretty universal, so this is a weak excuse.

3. Even with only two channels and rarely anything interesting on TV, I still haven’t touched the two ab workout DVDs I packed with good intentions. Apparently, these are a last resort no matter where you live or how many times you’ve seen that same episode of How I Met Your Mother.

4. I drink way more cappuccino than is healthy or advisable for my size – even more than my previous twice-a-day Starbucks trips at home would imply – and I eat far fewer vegetable servings because they cost four times more here. No matter my relatively healthy lifestyle in Florida Life, it’s been surprisingly easy to return to a college diet when the price is right.

5. And it turns out I really don’t miss my closet full of clothes, or any of my belongings at all, but I do miss these guys. A lot.

Here’s something they don’t tell you when you’re a bright-eyed little American who’s selected to move to Sweden for the GROW program, and you’re so friggin’ excited about all of the European travel opportunities you’ll have over there that it’s all you can do to not lose your shit: You won’t be getting any new stamps in your passport.

Ok, sure…when you first arrive at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, you’ll stand in line forever at customs, and they’ll give you a gratis little stamp for your trouble, but it’s not much to speak of. It’s kind of a boring one. Oh, but! you will think to yourself as you lug your 14 suitcases to the cab, I have so many other trips planned while I’m here! I’ll be filling up these last few passport pages in no time! I can’t wait to see what all of the other stamps will look like!

Oh, you dumb American. You’ll be wrong, as usual, and the sooner you can let go of that stamp delusion, the better. The truth is you won’t be getting any more passport love or attention while you’re here, at all, ever. You are used to traveling around the Caribbean for work, with the MIA airport gestapo tracking your every move. But in Europe, the borders are wiiiiide open, and with neutral, lovable old Stockholm as your departure point for all of your side trips, people will care about you even less. I mean, look at you…you’re clearly no threat to airline security because you’re coming from SWEDEN. You might as well be coming from Switzerland or Neverland.

When you land in Latvia, there will be no customs agent grilling you about where you plan to stay, and when when you go to the Czech Republic, no one will check your passport at all – coming or going. You will be able to print out your boarding pass at a self-service kiosk without ever having to show an ID – even when passing through security, where the only thing they’ll actually look at is the crumpled up boarding pass you just found on the floor.

While I’m spilling travel secrets that will give TSA an aneurism back home, I might as well confirm that you won’t need to take off your shoes or put your liquids in a little baggie at security, either. You won’t realize this ahead of time and you’ll be the only one to take your boots off, and people will stare at you, but who knew?

And so after months of traveling, you’ll be left with fond memories of new places explored, but a burning existential question will linger, because you are a petty person: Without the stamps to prove it, did you actually go anywhere at all?

Annnnd, without further ado…the ugly photo collage: Prague edition is here! And well worth the wait, eh? Yep. These just get better and better.

I know, I know…two days ago I promised another installment of the ugly photo collage, and then I totally let you guys down by catching the death flu, staying home from work and filling my Friday with a marathon of Swedish Idol and the Simpsons, and now you’re mad. I know. I failed. But here’s a pretty picture of Prague for now, and you’ll get your collage in a minute.

First though, I wanted to write about my latest project. This one has nothing to do with foreign rights, or translating Swedish manuscripts, or really anything to do with Sweden at all. This project is the result of unexpected inspiration – the kind that sneaks up on you when you least expect it, while surfing the web, eating a free banana from the break room, minding your own business.

Yesterday, through a series of random clicks (and really, who knows how we find half the stuff we do online), I stumbled on a Facebook photo album of some of the cutest little puppies and kittens you’ve ever seen…

Wait, come back. Your eyes have glossed over and you stopped reading this because I said cute puppies and kittens – I get it. But let me just interject here that, despite that last sentence, this is not a sparkling rainbows and magical unicorn glitter post. It’s a little bit gritty, ok?

So, back to it. The album actually contained photos of 53 animals currently living in an animal control center in North Carolina, all of whom were scheduled to be put down today unless people came forward to adopt them. And yes, earlier I did say “puppies and kittens”…they were pretty much all little babies. This particular shelter is so overcrowded that it euthanizes every Friday, and this was the latest group of lives on the line – on a Thursday afternoon. Break my heart.

For the last seven weeks, a handful of volunteers has been putting together these albums in their spare time, all in an attempt to put real faces to the problem of overcrowded shelters like the one in North Carolina. And let me just say that OMG, it works. Who hasn’t heard the whole “spay and neuter! control the pet population! blah blah blah!” thing? – but seeing the real faces of the little ones who ultimately pay the price is an entirely different (bad pun) beast.

Now if you know me at all, then you already know of my proclivity to adopt animals without thinking twice. It’s why, even on a bit of a budget now, I have three kick-ass dogs and a wonderfully flamboyant cat, Sparklemonkey, and why at one point my old roommate and I (looking at you, Ashley) were fostering two ducks and 10 cats until we systematically badgered our friends and coworkers into adopting them. We also had a foster goat in middle school, but who doesn’t?

But despite what you’re thinking, I didn’t adopt another pet yesterday. This post is about inspiration, not madness. Instead, for the first time I actually recognized the ongoing problem…that this album of adorable little babies-in-need was from just ONE kill-shelter, in one county of one state, for that one week of the year. And so I asked myself: What can I, sitting thousands of miles away, actually do to help?

This is not a save-the-world blog, because the problem is way bigger than the slight efforts of a travel editor working abroad. But I realized that these volunteers were on to something: Posting real photos of the animals, with a real (and urgent) deadline, and sharing it worldwide via the powerful, free and potentially viral social media at everyone’s fingertips – well, you can see some pretty incredible results that way. But at the same time, these volunteers aren’t really social media mavens – just people with enormous hearts. And so, rather naturally, I found my place in the big picture, my small way of helping.

I contacted one of the volunteers and offered some ideas and suggestions – ways to enhance their social media pages, streamline their photo albums and improve their contact system – and now I’m already at work (and happy to be) on planning a new blog and some content for them. Adopting made a difference to my four pets at home, but I realized I could make a bigger impact just by doing what I do for a living, and offering my multi-media skills to something I believe in.

And btw, this story has a happy ending: All 53 little schmoopie woopies were pulled from the shelter this week, and they’re on their way to new homes and rescues as I write this. Score another one for social media!

(Send me a note if you’d like more info on this particular shelter or any of the rescues that help. And when I inevitably find myself with a dozen new foster pets and need to find them homes, dear coworkers and friends, just be warned.)

Well, my number was up this week. It was, unfortunately, my turn to grace the front of our company newsletter with a dorky photo and a GROW bio that – despite the fact that we get to write our own quotes – still always manages to embarrass while providing fodder to friends and coworkers for days. I knew this was coming, and I dreaded the moment ever since I saw my friend‘s goofy Estonia photo last month – but there was nothing that could be done. It was my time in history. And now I’ll be forever immortalized on the Internets for having uttered the sage words “It’s cold in September! In Florida, we’d still be going to the beach…”

Yep, true words of wisdom to share with my fellow employees, and the world. It’s why they pay me the big bucks, folks.

Sometimes when you stop blogging for too long – say, to travel around Europe for a week, and then to catch up on a marathon of Cops and Family Guy on Swedish syndication when you’re back – you lose your motivation to write. It’s not for lack of stories to tell – in the last week, I’ve been in three countries and I have probably a hundred things I could write about here. I could even fall back on another ugly photo collage to fill some bloggie space. Oooh, actually, maybe I’ll make one after this…

But the point is, I feel rather out of shape. So let’s just agree to consider tonight’s post a training blog. I will write some stuff that isn’t particularly compelling or organized and with absolutely no theme or story arc, just to get back on the wagon here, and you (three people who read this) will support me in that. You will!

So first thing’s first, because most of my posts have to contain some variation of this topic (I don’t make the rules): It’s freezing here. Like really, really cold, and not just because I think temperatures in the 60s are chilly. Lately, I’ve been conducting my usual 2-mile commute-on-foot in morning temps of around 30 degrees. 30!! And we’ve barely scratched October. November is going to be a long month, folks.

Also on the weather subject, I should mention here that all week long, there has been an ice cream truck blaring its universally creepy music outside my apartment at around 9 PM. Every night. This seems not only an odd season for it, but also time of day, and neighborhood, because everyone in Östermalm is retired and old and looong asleep with their pomeranians by that hour. And yet, I too am always in my pajamas by then, so I never make it downstairs for a push pop either. That’s right, I’m really living it up Euro-style these days. 29 is the new 80.

On a slightly less lame note, I’ve had grilled cheese for dinner four nights in a row now (I said slightly less), and I have just enough cheese left for another one tomorrow. This may sound sad to you, but with all the $26 meatballs and heavy cream sauces I’ve been eating every day, I am LOVING grilled cheese week. And so is my credit card. This is a trend I actually plan to continue until I pay off the Prague trip, so don’t expect any exciting “OMG I had the most delicious fois gras last night” posts in the near future. Or ever, because fois gras is gross.

Ok now I feel like doing the ugly photo collage thing so stay tuned.