Tuesday, November 9, 2010

There you are, November

November 2010 has, thus far, lulled me into a false sense of complacency.  Last year, November yielded not one sunny day.  It was the single most depressing month of weather I had ever witnessed - and I'm bearing in mind a five-month stint in London in 2001 where I counted four completely rain free days.  Swedish family and friends have told me that November is the generally the most depressing month of the year weather-wise.  So this year I have joyfully welcomed the daily dose of cool, southerly November sun and I have walked and/or run over half of this beautiful city during the last week trying to absorb enough vitamin D to sustain me during the coming months of darkness.  I even showed up for a lunch last Friday in my running clothes because I couldn't resist the urge to make my way there and home on foot. 

Today November, "the real November" (as I have taken to calling it) returned.  At times like this, I wish that I were half the photographer that our friend Alex C. is because words cannot adequately describe the weather in Stockholm.  Our building sits next to a normally calm lake and most days we have a clear view from our living room window across the water to Tantolunden, a cute section of Södermalm dotted with tiny cottages and lots of greenery.  Today, the view from our living room window brought to mind the intro sequence from episodes of Deadliest Catch.  Okay, maybe not quite that bad, but I still blinked several times to make sure that my eyes were not deceiving me.  There were breaking waves.  On a lake.   The fierce winds drove the freezing rain and snow in every direction, such that I could not distinguish between heavy precipitation and fog, much less the direction from which it was coming.  One moment it snowed.  The next it rained.  I sensed that the comfortable fall weather was duking it out with old man winter somewhere in the troposphere - and losing.

I know winter is coming.  The story is as predictable as an episode of Scooby Doo.  Yet, contrary to what my grey mood today may indicate, I'm looking forward to the season of brisk, dry air and blinding white snow.  It's the transition from one season to the next that I dread.  So, grudgingly I welcome November.  May it leave as quickly as it came.

A Trusting Nation, Part II

In my last post, I talked about a stranger in a coffee shop in Stockholm who asked me to keep an eye on her sleeping newborn for a few minutes while she went to the bathroom.  This shocked me to my core because this is soooo not the norm in the United States.  I have never once been asked to look after a baby under similar circumstances in the U.S., not even in my hometown of approximately 15,000 inhabitants in rural Pennsylvania.  

That post generated some wonderful commentary on Facebook and in my email inbox and I thank everyone for contributing their points of view.  I find it fascinating that several cultures, including Sweden, Turkey and Armenia, have adopted an "it takes a village to raise a child" mentality.  Under that rubric, parents are able to quickly assess a person's character and, having done so, to feel comfortable allowing that person to care for (i.e., not to kidnap or bring harm to) a child during the time it takes for the parent to, say, use the restroom.  

Perhaps it boils down to a perception of risk issue.  Whether and to what extent the perceived threat is real or stems instead from media fear mongering, I cannot say.  I do know that in Sweden one rarely reads of a domestic child kidnapping or murder.  Whereas in the United States it seems that one reads a scary headline about a missing or murdered child nearly every day.  In recent years, the U.S. government has even implemented a system to quickly notify the public when a child has gone missing, and it is used quite often.  Personally, I would never leave a child with a stranger even for the time it takes to go to the bathroom. That goes for Sweden, the U.S., or anywhere else in the world.  I know that it's statistically unlikely that the person sitting next to me at a coffee shop would kidnap or harm a child but I still perceive a risk, a risk that I would be unwilling to take.  

At the same time, I admire the Swedes for their ability to trust in one another.  (And not just on this issue.  Examples abound and some will surely make their way into future posts.)  While I will never reach the point where I would entrust the care of a child to a stranger, I hope that, among the many lessons from living here, I will gradually learn to have just a little more faith in my fellow humans.  

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Trusting Nation

This afternoon, I seated myself at a small table at my favorite local coffee shop and began settling in to read the new edition of an EU law textbook.  (Much has changed in EU law over the last year.  Every single textbook I bought last year during my master program is now outdated.  The part of my brain which works out the conspiracy theories wonders if the EU lawmakers are in cahoots with the EU law textbook publishers.  But I digress.)

The woman seated at the table next to me asked me in very polite Swedish if her infant's baby carriage was in my way.  "Of course not!" I said, smiling at the sleeping newborn.  "He sleeps like an angel" I told her.  "You should see him when he's awake" she quickly replied.  We laughed and then returned to our separate tasks.  A few minutes later she said "Excuse me, but do you mind keeping an eye on my son while I go to the restroom?"  I was sure that I misheard her so I asked her to repeat her question.  Nope.  I heard her correctly.  She asked me, a complete stranger, to keep watch over her child!  From my brief interaction with her, I judged her to be a reasonably sane and loving mother.  That made me wonder if this is a common occurrence in Sweden.  Is this country of nine million people so closely knit that they trust one another to look after each other's children?  If so, this may be my biggest "culture shock" moment yet.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Speaking the Same Language

"It's really fun to get to know you all over again in another language" my husband said to me playfully in Swedish as we strolled through Gamla Stan, the old city of Stockholm, on our way home from dinner on Friday night. It is one of the nicest compliments he has ever given me:  I can now speak Swedish at a level where my personality has begun to shine through and where he actually enjoys speaking his native language with me.

We normally speak English together at home, owing equally to habit and laziness. But in Gamla Stan, in that beautiful restaurant which has been in existence for over 400 years, it seemed that only the tourists were speaking English.   (The semi-annoying couple at the table next to us underscored that fact.)  So we did it. I set my perfectionist self aside and spoke my unique version of Swedish, while he found the patience that he has sometimes lacked on similar occasions in the past and we spoke the same language.  

Monday, October 18, 2010

Stray Cat Strut

In the Mediterranean, cats seem as numerous as people.  When my husband and I visited Malta last winter, we were overwhelmed by the number of fuzzy felines who craved our attention and our food.  Two friends of ours, an American expat couple who live in Turkey, often post pictures of the stray cats in their area who depend upon the kindness of the neighborhood's cat lovers for sustenance.  Here in Scandinavia, it's a different story.  Temperatures can dip below freezing for about six months of the year, making outdoor living difficult to impossible for a domesticated animal.  In most areas, residents neatly dispose of garbage - so there is not a ready supply of food for homeless animals.  Against this backdrop, my husband and I were very surprised to spot a lonely kitty standing outside of our local subway station tonight.  This slightly skittish fur ball tried to give us the impression that he was streetwise, but he betrayed himself when he was nearly run over by a bus.  We had no idea what to do.  In the US, we would call animal control.  Here, we don't have a clue.  The cat appeared clean and well fed.  Most likely, this is someone's pet.  At least I hope so.  He followed us for a while, but after a few minutes he appeared to have reached the edge of his comfort zone.  If he's still there tomorrow, we'll take him in and make sure he's fed.  

Friday, October 15, 2010

The First Frost

I've lived in Stockholm, Sweden for a little over a year now.  Having survived one long and brutal winter, I'd like to think that I can handle anything the Nordic weather gods throw my way.  Still, the prospect of facing the first night of "minusgrader" (temperatures which fall below 32F/0C) in mid-October is a bit depressing.  It's as if my mind views the previous winter as some sort of ultimate challenge, like climbing Mt. Everest or trekking to the South Pole.  It's nice to be able to say I've done it once, but who in their right mind would choose to do this AGAIN?  As quickly as the thought enters my mind, the answer comes: Me.  That's who would choose to do this again.   (Whether I'm in my right mind in so doing remains a subject of debate, I guess.)  Stockholmers complain about the weather all the time, but they accept it as part of the the deal:  endure long, dark winters in exchange for clean air, a comfortable life where most people work to live rather than live to work, and six weeks of vacation every year.  Oh, and publicly funded healthcare and education.  It's at this moment in my thought process that I realize, I'm becoming one of them.  I've accepted the deal.