Just a quick note to say happy Hallowe’en and All Saints day to my very-soon-to-be Swedish neighbours. I thought about writing up a brief history of All Saints, but the good folks at The Local scooped me before I could go to press. I was going to trace its roots back to the Celtic festival of Samhain, the interweaving of secular, pagan, and Christian symbology, the de facto black and orange colour scheme, the meddling of 8th and 9th century popes, historical references, current controversies, and the origins of the all-too-familiar “trick or treat” chants, and somehow, brilliantly and deftly and entertainingly, close the loop by making surprising but irrefutable links with Canada, Sweden, hedgehogs, my wife, the T-bana, köttbullar, Pirate Bay, ABBA (e.g. Their hit Waterloo shares its name with a town a short distance from where I grew up. PLUS, ABBA has 2 sets of repeated letters – AA and BB – as does Hallowe’en – LL and EE. Coincidence? Spooky coincidence, maybe), and Celine Dion (the worst thing to come out of Canada and a massive blight on its international reputation). But that all seemed too obvious, too contrived. So instead, I’ll end with a festive skit by my favourite Muppet, and a beloved ambassador to plushies and Swedes alike: The Swedish Chef, cårven der pümpkin.
Archive for October, 2009
You’d have to be a back-woods hermit living a completely Luddite existence not to have heard about the recent, daring heist at a Stockholm-area cash depot. In September, a gang of ballsy lads stole a helicopter, flew to Västberga, hovered above a G4S building, smashed through the ceiling, blasted their way into the vaults, hoisted out an as-yet unspecified amount of moolah (rumoured to be into the hundreds of millions of kronor), clambered back onto their pilfered bird, and flew off into the early morning darkness without a shot being fired, no injuries, no hostages, and no mid-air or ground-based police chase. (A collection of articles on the caper can be found here.) Since then a number of suspects have been arrested, an international manhunt has been launched, suspicions of organized crime involvement have swirled around, G4S has offered a 7 million kronor reward for information, and accusations of slow police response, prior intelligence being ignored, and lax security have been leveled against all sorts of parties involved in bringing this gang to justice.
This situation is blatantly criminal, outrageous, unacceptable, and deserves swift and appropriate resolution in order to bring the guilty parties to justice. No argument here. However, am I the only one who, in some ways, respects these ne’er-do-wells, not for their actions per se, but for the meticulous, calculated, and ultimately violence-free way in which they executed this plan? I’m not saying I condone it, but had they gotten away with it, I think this would go down in Swedish lore as a clear example of nefarious – yet admirable – planning at its best.
Think of the now decades-old, unsolved case of D. B. Cooper. Back in ‘71 this unassuming gent boarded a plane in Oregon, told an attendant mid-flight that he had a bomb, demanded $200,000 and 4 parachutes, and after receiving his booty during a brief stop – and releasing all 36 passengers – he jumped from the plane somewhere over Washington, never to be seen or heard from again. He reportedly was very cordial and calm throughout the ordeal, paid for his mid-hijack drinks, and even requested that the flight crew be provided a meal during the stopover. Theories abound as to his fate, identity, and motives, but after so many years of false leads and dead ends, D. B. Cooper has become a revered legend, not some whack-job who hijacked a jetliner for a few bucks.
Sure, both capers had elements of terror involved. People were threatened, scared. Ill-gotten gains were spirited away, baffling authorities and creating a public buzz of speculation and water cooler gossip. But as was the case with D. B. Cooper, this latest heist saw no injuries, minimal property damage, and a level of cunning that, while perhaps abhorrent and inexcusable, can be respected and viewed with amazement.
Do I think these lads should be congratulated, admired, or even acquitted of their guilt (if proven) just because no one got hurt and they evidently sport balls of steel? Of course not. Justice should be pursued here, whatever that entails. But, had they flown off that morning, ditched the ‘copter, and disappeared into the mist, I would have given them a subtle thumbs-up. If you’re going to plan and execute a daring, multi-million kronor heist, that’s certainly a decent example of how to do it right.
Being an expat brings certain expectations. In exchange for gaining worldly experience and knowledge, immersion in new cultures, and fascinating stories to tell over pints or blog posts, there is a flip-side. To immerse oneself in a culture, one has to be willing to abide by its laws, customs, idiosyncratic oddities that define that new environment. Those, by and large, are part of the fascination and frustration of living in a foreign land. And of course, language plays a big part in that equation. Being surrounded by speakers of a different tongue, obscure and indecipherable street signs, confusing product packaging, and TV programs with (hopefully) English subtitles only reinforces the notion that you’re ‘not in Kansas any more’, so to speak.
It is refreshing, then, to find some linguistic sanctuary where one can easily understand what the hell is going on, and not feel like the foreigner that he or she is. Take, for instance, The Local. This site is great – and I say that unreservedly – for those of us with (as yet) a tenuous grasp of Swedish. We can learn about the goings-on, participate in the social debate, communicate with others in the same boat, and generally feel a part of the greater social fabric as we try to pick up the language skills. I spent a few years in the Middle East, and as much as I enjoyed learning a functional amount of Arabic, it was nice to kick my feet up on a Saturday morning and read the news, the gossip, the announcements, etc. in English. It made me feel less home sick, less of a foreigner, and eased the transition into my newly adopted stomping ground.
Recently, however, I’ve noticed a number of ads appearing on The Local that only appear in Swedish. Having worked many years in marketing communications, advertising, and media, this is surprising, even a little humourous. Today, for example, there’s an animated ad for Telenor, advertising products and service bundles that arguably, most people would be interested in – phone service, internet, etc. And yet the copy is all in Swedish. Clicking through to its website, everything is in Swedish with no option to toggle to English. Why, then, would the company spend all that money – and media ain’t cheap – to advertise on The Local, billed as ‘Sweden’s News in English’? The technical component of the creative is there – the Flash animation, the click-through functionality, etc. All it would take is a 5-minute translation, and their message would be instantly more appealing to ALL of The Local’s readership, not just those who are fortunate enough to speak the country’s official language.
Pushing further to its main site, Telenor could conceivably increase its market appeal – and thus sales – by providing visitors with a language option. With the state of the economy and the dearth of available jobs, it can’t be too difficult to hire a part time translator to provide accurate, compelling copy in English. Hell, at the bottom of The Local’s main page there’s a link to ‘translation and copywriting by local experts’. Some media properties – e.g. The Local – even provide this service as part of its advertising program. So why, then, when I go to THE premier source for information on Sweden (in English), do I encounter an ad that SHOULD speak to me, but doesn’t?
Given the economy, most companies (in this case, Telenor) are struggling to squeeze every öre and kronor for maximum return. The Local is in a great position to help them – and countless others – by providing access to an attentive audience, in its specific language, and thus provide a cheaper – or more efficient – media alternative. Maybe it can bundle translation services into its pricing – I’m sure a few copywriters out there would be more than happy to pick up some translation work – or at least recommend that on an English site, with English content, English information, and most importantly, English speaking users, the ads would best be presented in English.
Because at this point, the Telenor ad is just an obscure and indecipherable animated box. And that ain’t inspiring me to part with my kronor.
In exactly 21 days (and three hours and 37 minutes) I will walk onto a flight in Toronto, bidding farewell once again to the Great White North, and jet off for a new life, new adventures, and new experiences in a foreign land. After a brief stop-over in one of my favourite European playgrounds, I’ll arrive in Sweden, for what is to be my second – but most eagerly anticipated – stint in the land of blondes, snaps, ABBA, surströmming, the midnight sun, centuries-old architecture, staggering cultural fare, diacritics and diaeresis and badly mangled rikssvenska (on my part, at least); but most importantly, I will finally, after a year in frustrating exile in my homeland, be rejoining my phenomenally awesome wife, and our equally awesome hedgehog (igelkott), for all the trappings and opportunities that Swedish life has to offer.
21 days… 21 days to sort out what I’ll bring, figure out how to jam everything into the impossibly inadequate luggage allowance range, bid farewell to my city, my country, my friends and family; 21 days, as many sleepless nights, until I’m there, we’re there, together at last. What opportunities lie ahead? What challenges, what experiences, what blunders and missteps and fumbling attempts to ‘grasp the concept’ and integrate into the Stockholm scene do I face? No idea. But that, in my mind, is part of the fascinating adventure.
So why is this blog, soon to be filled with ramblings and bombast and moderately incoherent attempts to understand this new life, entitled “Stockholm Syndrome?” For one, it was the most obvious choice - I’m surprised no one else had snagged the name. The term was also coined the same year I was born – seemed like an interesting coincidence. But really, it is not meant to denote any nefarious intent or undue burden. I am held captive – or more accurately, am captivated - by new experiences, new culture, new places and buildings and societal oddities and history and gastronomical fare and art and language and surprisingly similar modes of etiquette. I spent 6 months in Stockholm last year, and only scratched the surface. In 21 days, and for how long thereafter I as yet don’t know, I want to see it all, experience it all, understand it all – and, over time, identify with it all.
So no, there really isn’t a succinct focus to this blog. It will be the product of my functionally insane, pseudo-ADD riddled brain, of a wide-eyed, people-watching, lanky, camera-toting Canuck having the time of his life. (And, it should be noted, there will be many – many – posts about Baxter, the African Pygmy hedgehog, a recent expat from Canada as well, and soon to be the most popular, most photographed, hedgehog in Sweden. Maybe Europe. Hell, maybe the world.)
Stay tuned (actually I really wouldn’t recommend it) as there will be more to come.
21 days… 21 days…