Boston Blatte

Raised in Boston, remade in Sweden

Archive for the ‘All about Blatte’ Category

Stockholm steely street smarts: “I grew up in the suburbs”

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

I had an irate father in my face this morning. Real aggressive and invading my personal space. Knowing the background and having checked my facts, I stood secure and cozied on in to his face. To be fair, I was only staying put and not leaning in. But I’ll admit, a little confrontation on a brisk September morning gets my blood flowing. And you get so little confrontation in Sweden, so you take what you can get.

In brief, it’s a tiny matter between our sons. My 8-year old said a mean thing about his 9-year old’s shop project. His son bawled his eyes out. But they’re kids. Mine was clearly wrong and had already apologized. I thought the matter was closed. But no, back to the school yard kids.

The little spat carried on in most uneventful manner (well, in proportion to its being an overblown altercation over boys being boys and that this was literally in the school yard and he even threw out a F-bomb) until the father used an interesting expression to indicate that he was a bit street smart, hardened around the edges and ready to go the 15 rounds.

He expressed the thickened skin on his nose as, “You know, I grew up in the suburbs.” It completely caught me off guard because I understood what he was trying to articulate but I was confused by the reference. All I could do was think about my Watertown, MA upbringing at the time and say…”Me too.” And then the irony struck me; we were IN the suburbs. Both his and my kids are growing up in the suburbs. But that’s not what it was about.

He was referring to one of the “undesirable” suburbs. The ones around Stockholm classically associated with a tougher breed of folks, immigrants. The places where things are viewed as not all peaches and rose petals. Places with names like Rinkeby, Akalla or Skärholmen which are districts of Stockholm outside the center.

Reflecting back on the event after it simmered down I giggled at the contradiction. What we Americans would attribute to an inner city upbringing, i.e. tougher, wilder and more savage streets, he characterized as [specific] neighborhoods in the suburbs of Stockholm. Because unlike most American cities, the inner city of Stockholm is the most desirable property and consequently, the priciest.

So, if in Sweden you want to indicate that you can handle the meaner things in life, you tell people, “I grew up in the suburbs.” That ought to get their knees knocking.

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Slice of Stockholm: Finding Pizza in Stockholm via The Local and Boston Blatte

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Ever hear the one about the Italian American who walks into a Stockholm pizzeria after reading a blog? Well, today, I just did. Hearing it reminds me of what a small world Stockholm really is.

Apparently if you google “stockholm” and “little italy” the first hit is one of my old blog entries, Pizza Feud: Stockholm’s Little Italy, is the first hit.

That’s what an Italian American did. He was in Stockholm for four days on business. According to Baristan of Dellos...cough…VIP at Hornstull an American walked in one evening. In flawless Italian, albeit smothered in thick Dixie drawl, he explained how he had found Very Italian Pizza. He had read about the feud, yep, right here on blatt radio, and decided to check it out.

This is one of the things I most love about life in Stockholm. So many unrelated things in my Stockholm existence eventually intertwines.

The copy cat pizza place seems to be still in business though barely. I hear it is for sale if anyone’s looking for a bad investment.

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Stockholm Commuter Rail v. Car: What do you think?

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

You can take the girl out of Boston, but it’s hard to take the [Boston] driver out of the girl.

I’m a big fan of public transportation. 43 years ago, my parents chose their house based on its accessibility to pubic transportation (Waverly Bus to Harvard Square) after leaving Porter Square and their 2-minute walk to the T. My father commuted by T to downtown Boston every weekday until he retired just over a decade ago.

We chose our suburban home based on its 4-minute walk to the pendeltåg (Stockholm’s commuter train) after leaving central Stockholm and our life of exclusive usage of bicycles for getting around Stockholm.

And yet just a couple of years into our suburban Stockholm life, I drive. A lot.

This past weekend we needed to get to Nynäshamn for a cozy cruise on the Utö Express to our friends’ summer house in the gorgeous Stockholm Archipelago. The boat departs a 90-second walk from where the commuter train pulls in.

So in the spirit of saving the planet and all that environmentalist enthusiasm, we smugly opted to travel green and adventure by commuter train. It’s a big deal when braving the inconvenience of lugging a whole mess of gear (life vests for children, sheets for the whole family, beach towels, swimming floatie and 2 fishing rods plus specially ordered food provisions) while simultaneously tagging two tired children in tow.

The trip, while more than 1.5 hours by commuter train, would be nearly direct from our door to theirs (with a few hop off/hop on changes of trains and boats). Friday afternoon, ahead of schedule we excitedly awaited our arriving and on-time train. All systems were go and we were green.

Sparing you the boring details, I’ll summarize: we missed the boat. Our gracious hosts came to pick us up in their own boat after we arrived by a later train. All was not lost.

Recharged and a few shades tanner, we had nearly forgotten the averted disaster of a missed ferry and began our commute home optimistic that the return would be smooth and validate our decision to forgo our family wagon and ride the tracks.

Again, sparing you the boring detail, due to a child’s bad tummy we had to jump off the train a few times to find public facilities. And because the traffic is every 30 minutes, we lost nearly an hour. Obviously not SL’s fault this time but the final straw breaking our public transport with children spirit.

I will end on the Swedish hubby’s words of wisdom: “Kids & Cars works much better than Kids & Trains.”

Take a wild guess how we’ll get to Nynäshamn next time?

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Midsummer in Stockholm: Stuck in the city

Friday, June 24th, 2011

‘Tis the night before the night before midsummer and instead of swatting mosquitoes on an archipelago island, we’re home in our ‘burb just north of Stockholm.

There are surely some relieved varpa champion hopefuls (see 2009 misummer blog entry ) knowing the Swede will not challenge them for the trophy this year. He still hasn’t won it, but he got close again last year.  In fact, I nearly took home the women’s trophy last year. I seem to be some sort of Viking rock tossing natural. We have  year to gear up for next year.

Tomorrow is Midsummer’s Eve and while it’s not an official public holiday (also known as a “red day” in Sweden), it is THE day to celebrate midsummer. Schools , preschools and most businesses are closed and everyone and anyone with a summer cottage to escape to has left the city.

The major highways leading away from Stockholm were bumper-to-bumper already at 4pm. Eerily enough the streets around Stockholm are nearly deserted  in the twilight.

One midsummer eve six years ago we drove home to our condo on Södermalm after the day’s dancing around the maypole. Normally finding a parking spot outside our front door is on par with winning the lottery. That night we had the entire street of parking options to chose from.

This year we have guests from the US visiting us and we’re still unsure where we shall dance like ducks around the midsommar pole.

Skansen is always an option, though I think we’re going to try to find somewhere closer to home.

At least I’m certain we won’t eat our midsummer lunch at McDonalds as we did 3 years ago.

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Groupon Coupon Stockholm: Today’s deal

Monday, February 28th, 2011

I bought my first Groupon Coupon today at an 80% discount.

80% sounds too good to pass up (even if I am skeptical of how much the original price normally is.) Groupon, if you’re not familiar with it yet (and haven’t clicked on the link,) is a deal-of-the-day website offering collective bargaining power.
Boston was the second city market (after Chicago) to kick off about 2 years ago. After signing up for the Boston deals (since I’m there regularly) I discovered that Sweden has its own Groupon and its Dagens deal.

So I went for broke (thinking that I really might be just throwing away money if I never use the coupon or if it doesn’t work out or some other pessimistic disastrous eventuality) and took today’s deal.

Don’t laugh, it’s a hair-removal treatment using some fancy-dancy-schmancy thing-a-ma-bob. hair
I’m not all that hairy, but if I can be rid of the tufts of unwanted hair forever…all at an 80% discount, I’ll be a Groupon addict from here on in.

I’m afraid to consider the alternative.

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The culture of dying: Swedish v. N. American clashes

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

I just got home from Stockholms Sjukhem which is a hospice in central Stockholm.
E, the husband of a close friend, M, is expected to die during the night from liver failure as a complication of cancer. I can’t sleep.

I have been considering posting about this for several months because of the many cultural clashes and questions and misunderstandings and similarities of how dying and death mix between people from each side of the big pond (aka The Atlantic). I think back to the surreal moment just after M told me that there would be no more chemo treatments for E and I wondered if the carton of milk I was holding in the supermarket would outlast E. Gratefully E outlasted that milk by nearly 3 months.

We already tiptoe around the topic of death. No one truly feels at ease with it when it involves people you know, have eaten dinner with and been a part of your and your family’s life and there’s (thankfully) not many occasions to practice or discuss the shoulds or shouldn’ts of death and dying etiquette for family and friends.

I can even feel the clash through how my husband and I have viewed and view my role in this evolution of events. I want to be omni-present for M. I have brought them food, helped coordinate a fabulous extended network of volunteers to cook food (some of the volunteers don’t know E and M personally) started a Facebook page for friends and family of E and M where support, well wishes and requests for help can and have been posted cared for. My Swedish husband is always concerned that I could get in the way.

It’s understandable that as a non-family member I am probably not the person expected to be at the hospice on a night like tonight, but circumstances are complicated. M isn’t from Sweden and her closest network of relatives are not here. Her mother has arrived, but she is caring for the young children at their home. And so I was there, and yes, probably a bit in the way. Definitely by Swedish norms (and maybe even by N. American norms –but I don’t know, I have never lost anyone close to cancer.) I am comforted that M was grateful I was there. She has gone through most of this on her own with only very little help from her in-laws (which E didn’t think was odd –culture clash classic.)

It seems the N. American view is that friends, neighbors even unknown volunteers, pitch in to give a hand and the Swedish view is to keep a respectful distance –in other words, the polar opposite. I hope E’s Swedish family can accept the oddity of my/our actions and choices which go against what seems to be “right” the same way M is trying to accept that the actions and choices of E’s family which go against what seems to be “right to us Americans and Canadians.

I think the true clashes are yet to come with the planning of the funeral. In Sweden there are no wakes as we know them in the US. I wonder if M decided to organize one how it would be received. I plan to post about it since funerals are very different than what I have experienced in Boston.

NB. Please understand that as this is a very sensitive and personal experience I will simply delete any and all inappropriate or insensitive comments.

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Donating Blood in Sweden: A bloody difficult task

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

The Swedish Blood Center finally took my blood, or more specifically, collected 470cl of it; more fondly and nostalgically known as a pint.

blood drop

Third time is a charm (from the Swedish expression, Tredje gången gilt) This was my third attempt to donate after I “qualified”. Sweden is self-sufficient for its blood supply so I guess as they are most often “bathing in blood” they can afford to be picky. According to their own site, in brilliant English I might add, states, “To become a blood donor in Sweden you must speak and understand Swedish, have a Swedish identity number and be a healthy person between the ages of 18-60.” The argument to support this screening process involves a prudent requirement for the donor to understand all the questions and the consequences. And certainly all of this could be provided in English, but Swedes are equal opportunity –and if they can’t translate it into all languages of potential non-Swedish-speaking donors, they shouldn’t favor one over the other. Or something like that.

Being gay is no longer a deal breaker for donating blood. Apparently if you are a gay man and can establish (or maybe if you just swear) that you haven’t had sex in over a year, you can donate blood. I can’t imagine there are many men who are so utterly devoted to the opportunity to donate.

I don’t really fully appreciate why they make it so hard to donate blood. They can turn you down if you have backache (which was one reason they rejected me on a previous try) because apparently you need your blood more than they do. A woman sitting beside me today was turned away for this reason. She didn’t take it well (and I empathized) because it was the 2nd time she was refused. I never knew that aches and pains were so blood-thirsty.

Today, donating felt more like I was sneaking around or getting away with something. I didn’t dare answer any questions which could raise a flag. I wasn’t admitting to any sniffs or sneezes let alone a fictitious secret fantasy to test out the life of a sexually active gay man.

One box of chocolates (A Christmas treat), one losing Triss Lott and two Festis boxes later I descended the Blood Bus triumphant. A Swedish blood donor.

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Snowy Stockholm Thanksgiving: Easy fixings

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Today may as well be Christmas instead of Thanksgiving with the snow still coming down. I’ve never hoped for a white Turkey Day but bam, that’s what we’ve got. Snow is early even for Stockholm but it’s messing with gathering my Thanksgiving Day fixings (we’re feasting tomorrow, today’s a work day.)

On the other hand, I have to say I’m grateful for the improved availability of some of the “must haves” of Thanksgiving, cranberry sauce for instance.cranberry sauce

Word on the cyber street of Stockholm is that cranberry sauce in a can and fresh cranberries are available in a number of local supermarkets. I managed to get a few boxes of frozen cranberries yesterday (though no fresh and no cans.) What a departure from the original Stockholm I moved to 17 years ago when even the Swedish word for cranberry, tranbär, only produced blank stares when I asked for it as a juice in bars (cranberry juice was THE mixer of the early 90s back in Boston.) Yesterday, the very helpful staff of a few supermarkets were conferring back and forth using “cranberry sauce” as the name food item interspersed in their Swedish in a surreal Swenglish dialog. Cranberry has come a long way.

And pumpkin pie no longer needs black magic. Pumpkin-in-a-can (the easy route)pumpkin can is still a prized commodity, but the elusive evaporated milk (to mix with the filling –even if made from pumpkin scratch) no longer requires a reconnaissance mission. The local Willy’s is my supplier.

Last year the lovely folks at Taylor & Jones delivered our bird to the doorstep. This year I decided to take The Local’s offer on a 10% discount buying from Ingelsta Kalkon, our original supplier. Looking out at the snow falling I’m thinking the smarter choice would have been T&J’s. Next year. (No snow please)

Happy Thanksgiving (how many shopping days ’till Christmas?)

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Ball at the Blue Hall: Not the Nobel party, but close enough for jazz.

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

The men were all suave and debonair in their white tux tails (Swedes call them “frack” and I’m sure the British have some other name for them as I’m pretty sure none of the men were wearing suspenders).

The women were primped and stylish in ball gowns and evening wear. The event at the Stockholm City Hall (Stadshuset) Sunday evening could easily have been mistaken for the Nobel Prize Banquet except the King and Queen weren’t in attendance. We did, however, have a Nobel Laureate among the guests.

We were attending the 100th jubilee celebration for the mechanical engineering faculty at the Royal Technical Institute (locally better known as KTH or Teknis) and I knew that this is the closest I’m ever going to get to something like the Nobel Banquet.

(Overview of the actual evening’s dinner guests)100 år KTH

This evening’s event was close enough that the staff have used it as a training opportunity for the newbies who will be working the true Nobel Banquet on December 10th. Our dinner had “only” 750 dinner guests. During the “real deal” there are over 1200 waiting for their hot meal. Amazingly they manage to get out the hot meal in a matter of minutes (I can’t remember the exact number but 3-4 minutes sounds right.)

Also magical was finishing up the evening dancing to the same orchestra, On Cue, who will play for this year’s Nobel Banquet, so we got a little preview on that too. They were fabulous and 3 of them (all 3 played the sax funnily enough) are also former alums from the mechanical section and the ME section’s big band orchestra Osquar Mutter.

Here’s a shot from their perspective of the guests toasting the 100th birthday moment at midnight. champagne toast

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Named and shamed: Safe for us blatte to go out again?

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

It seems they’ve caught the Malmö killer. News that they’ve apprehended and remanded a suspect in a criminal case spun as a immigrant-hating-serial killer has immigrant-looking people in Malmö saying they’re feeling safer. So I guess me and my black head o’ hair ought to feel smug as a bug in rug in Malmö. Most likely.

However, with electing into parliament an openly immigrant-unfriendly political party, Sweden Democrats (SD), and the controversy around this Malmö case and the way the police and media are handling it, we blatte, the black-headed immigrants (old fashioned svart skalle) are in the crossfire figuratively and literally (though perhaps not now with the alleged shooter behind bars.)

So where does that leave us non-Swedish looking types? I’ve somewhat intentionally left alone the discussion of the election of SD into parliament. I don’t understand the supposed “shock” expressed by many Swedes that they were voted in (they were polling over 4% –the threshold number to get seats) coming into the election and I am disappointed that Swedes haven’t figured out that if you want something to go away you can’t just ignore it. I have been trying to discuss the discrimination and latent (and mostly unintended) racism towards the non-Swedes for nearly 2 decades. The most common rebuttal is a denial that it could exist since most Swedes are kind-hearted and well-intentioned. I don’t refute that for an instant. But if you don’t want to address the spin-off effect, even as unintentional as can be, you will never be rid of it. So, I kind of feel it’s the same story just later on.

But there are even other newer developments within the Swedish society now. Swedish media has in general a tradition to not publish names and faces of suspects. In fact, convicted criminals also normally enjoy anonymity at the hands of the media (a huge debate in and of itself). However, now one of the main newspapers, Expressen (and The Local too) have released both.

One thing is for sure, the term “blatte” ain’t gonna be less used anytime soon. Sigh.

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