Boston Blatte

Raised in Boston, remade in Sweden

Archive for June, 2010

Two pricks: The Swedish umlaut

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

How do I say the two pricks over the O and A?

I’ve been asked that a number of times. Most often with a crooked smile and a wink by the Swedes doing the asking.

Call it an umlaut. Umlauts are trendy
That’s my standard suggestion while giving reference to Motörhead and Häagen-Dazs


However, the pricks (ok, you can just as easily and less controversially call them dots, though the “Swede’s joke” comes from the direct translation from Swedish; två prickor to describe the dots ) are not accent marks (as we English speakers might be inclined to call them.) The Å, Ä and Ö are now regarded as completely individual letters (and tag on to the tail end of the alphabet.) And thanks to the popularity of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling trilogy umlauts are returning to their trendier status among popularized punctuation.

A friend linked (via Facebook, my lifeline to the world) a wonderfully humorous New Yorker short “The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut” by Nora Ephron to my page. It’s fabulously written though the “native(ish)” Stockholmer in me would like to tidy up the travel description of getting around Stockholm. (Sorry, but you just can’t “Take Stora Essingen and Gröndal into Södermalm” while you can drive Essinge Leden via Gröndal into Södermalm)

I haven’t read the books yet. Might have to pick one up and wander the streets of Stockholm through Larsson and Lisbeth Salander’s eyes.

I’ll read it in Swedish, but I’m pleased to know that the pricks remain in the English translation.

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Sliding into Swedishness: Beyond the point of no return?

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Midsummer celebrations have been mildly disconcerting. There’s irrefutable evidence that I’m Swedifying and I fear it’s potentially beyond the point of no return. I now like salty candy, have actively competed in throwing varpa stones and am a bit disappointed that midsummer was completely rain-free in the outer Stockholm archipelago.

I’m most concerned that the unimaginable happened. I ate and, (here’s the scary part,) liked salty Swedish candy. Blåfisk isn’t the hardcore salt liquorice (not salted at all but flavored by salmiac or ammonium chloride) since it’s milder and not so salty tasting, but it’s salty fish
In nearly 17 years in Sweden the closest I’ve come to liking salty candy is throwing back candy-flavored snaps (Both Blåfisk and Turkishpeppar make rather tasty snaps popularized and trendy in the 90s.) Until now.

Second revelation.
Our new tradition to celebrate midsummer brings us to our friends’ new summer house on Norrö.The island residents (I think nearly all are only here summer season) organize a fabulous midsummer celebration. Beyond the expected ring dance with little frogs and sleeping bears there is the varpa competition. Last year the Swede joined in and nearly knocked out the local favorite (last year’s varpa blog entry.) This year our gang convinced me to join. Not even knowing the basic rules, in the spirit of trying things new, I threw my varpa in the ring.

Out of nowhere it appeared that I was both good at it and the crowd’s safe bet for the winner. When I was just a newbie amusing myself and our friends the competition was fun. When people started whispering that I would be the likely winner I got nervous.

Thankfully I had no idea that I was breaking one of the many punishable rules (17 page pdf -In Swedish- of official varping rules, regulations and punishments here. ) of regulation varpa. I was doped. Driving and varping have the same legal alcohol limit. No need for the blood test since I choked in the semi-final round. My ouster went on to win the competition so I felt slightly better about losing. But only slightly. I’m still replaying my throws in my head. I think I’m hooked. varpa stoneNow where can I find my very own varpa stone to practice for next year? Revenge shall me mine. And yes, I intend to dope myself again.

Finally. We got no rain. Not even a rain cloud. How can I be satisfied with my Swedish midsummer celebrations without a single drop? The table was set in all its permanence out on the veranda. Not a once did we shift the table to under the rooftop and we could audaciously leave water-sensitive items out on the table as we threw our varpa stones. The direct taunt to the rain gods produced nothing. I somehow felt pleasantly disappointed that we had a most glorious midsummer in glorious sunshine.

Ah, Swedish midsummer. It’s no wonder you’re Sweden’s most beloved holiday.midsommar

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BP & Swenglish: “Small people” comment is gonna cost

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Speaking Swenglish normally results in giggles rather than public outcry. But if you screw up your picturesque speech and call the millions of people in the Gulf affected by the oil leak “small people”…well…don’t forget to duck. (here’s a link to the video of the gaffe.

After all, most Americans have no idea that the colorful language “Sweglish” exists and it should be found charming at best and silly at worst. It still makes me crack a smile when I hear some refer to the CEO as the VD. My all time favorite Swenglish anecdote is when a beautiful Swedish woman offers to pluck a canape off a waiter’s tray for an Englishman and to be polite asks if it’s ok to “Take it with my body.” (They ended up marrying, true story)

In the end the native-Swedish CEO and Chair, Carl-Henric Svanberg did apologize (link) but this one he is just never, ever, ever going to live down.

Maybe the little guy will eventually forgive him.little guy

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Grand romantic gestures: Locked in love (No, not about Vicky and Danny)

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Love is in the Stockholm air. To a certain extent it’s suffocating. (If you’ve managed to escape the Love Bombardment, Love 2010 is the lead up to the Crown Princess’s wedding June 19th.)

On the other hand, why not? A little more love can never hurt and one Love 2010 event has even sparked the somewhat lacking spontaneity in the average Swede; the drop-in wedding.

Skansen, an already popular tie-the-knot backdrop for couples, came up with a rather unprecedented drop-in concept for getting hitched. How utterly un-Swedish to have a monumental event without eons of planning. In all seriousness, Swedes will reserve dates to grab a cup of coffee with you weeks down the road.

But in true Swedishness, even spontaneity requires a little planning ahead. For the 357 couples (according to SvD) who dropped by Skansen last Saturday to say “Ja” (translation for “I do”) they did have to come with the legal forms for getting married already approved and in hand. Then it was only a matter of taking a queue ticket and waiting for their number. queue ticket
(I wonder if they had a LED display or if someone just called out the next number – one of those beeping/flashing paging systems would work great so the couples could roam Skansen while waiting.)

Whatever the case, my sincerest congratulations to the newly wed couples. And here’s to continued spontaneity.

Speaking of wedlock, a second sign of love locked me in the other day while crossing Västerbron (my favorite bridge in Stockholm.)

A new grand romantic gesture had locked on in Stockholm. Love padlocks are increasing on the railing at the highest spot on the bridge. Sources say they first arrived in January 2009. The idea is that a couple attaches a padlock (preferably marked with the couple’s names or initials and/or a date; some of the newer padlocks were formally engraved) and together they toss the keys into the lake.

I’m kind of wondering how long before the “master key” is used by the city.bolt cutter

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Keeping tradtions: Taking the student

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

We were invited to our neighbors’ house for a party. Their daughter “took the student”. That’s a literal translation of the Swedish way to express the formal event of graduating from high school (I’ve never quite figured out the closest equivalent in the UK, so sorry, can’t offer a British term).

While American highschoolers march solemnly in caps and gowns to receive their diploma, shake someone’s hand and gloat jubilantly that they made it; Swedes just “run out” utspring Well, so I’ve heard. I’ve been invited to two (including today’s for the neighbor daughter) but haven’t witnessed on myself yet.

Contrary to the gown idea, there’s no formal wear for graduates. Their outfits are made up of something nice to wear and though certainly their student caps. I like those caps but I can’t help but expect to hear the Popeye the Sailor man theme. Regardless, they seem a whole lot slicker than the funny cardboard platform we wear
graduation cap

Had I been among the masses of family and friends watching the “out run” I would have seen the numerous plaques with giant photos of the graduate as a baby. The cuter the better apparently. Though it kind of looks more like a happy protest sign.

The best thing going for the Swedish students, at least around Stockholm is the parade ride through the city center.
They get to choral into large containers on the back of heavy trucks and jump and sing and spray near-non-alcoholic beer on people (and themselves) while these trucks create traffic backup to the displeasure and dismay of those who work and move around central Stockholm this time of year. Swedes are very safety conscious most of the time. That need for safety does a big scadaddle with these float/parades.

I know they’re a nuisance in downtown Stockholm but I am charmed by the suspension of the strict adherence to all rules (as is rather Swedish) to let newly graduated teens shake their groove thing.

It does go to show that Swedes are indeed known to bend a rule now and again. Good for them.

And congratulations Ida.

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