Not Keeping It Down

Every winter in Sweden people cower in terror as the vinterkräksjuka (calicivirus) sweeps across the land like a plague of angry ducks (or whatever image appeals to you). I’ve watched people for years as they scatter in terror, washing hands frantically, avoiding workplaces, avoiding breathing, to avoid picking it up. And I’ve wondered – bloody wimps, what’s wrong with them? Shure it’s only a bit of puking.

Thing is, I’m immune to the vinterkräksjuka. Or at least I thought I was.

Enter early Friday morning, when the contents of my stomach emerged from my mouth, going the wrong direction, and kept on doing that for a day. I lay on my couch, staring up and pitifully groaning, too ill to sleep or read or Netflick (that is the verb, I’m calling it). All I could do was dribble enough water into myself so that I could puke it all up again.

not-knorrAfter a while, all I looked forward to was the vomiting itself, and the associated twenty minutes of feeling kind of okay that followed, before I descended into the valley again.

At one point, I really felt I needed to puke, but couldn’t face the old fingers down the throat. So I thought about bread. Just thought about it. And the floodgates dutifully opened wide.

Finally, a day later, it stopped. And some time after that, I felt I might try some food. Which I did – Knorr’s dried vegetable soup. It was like eating salty rainbows rolled in communion wafers. Marvellous.

Now, somewhat later, I am ready for the world again, wiser and a bit thinner. But I guess I learned my lesson – if you want to vomit, just think of bread. Mmm.

Interesting fact 1: People in Sweden pronounce the silent K in Knorr. It’s adorable.

Interesting fact 2: Pronouncing vinterkräksjuka is one of the required steps in becoming a Swedish citizen, along with inserting snus one-handed, forcing yourself to like dill, and incorrectly pouring a pint of Guinness. So get on it, would-be Swedes!

Interesting fact 3: Yes, I known it’s not Knorr, I can see it on the box, can’t I, but I needed that for Interesting fact 1 so just get off my back, will ya?

/ paddy

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The Swedish Flag

This Friday there was an awful truck attack in Stockholm, where four people died. I wasn’t personally affected, even though it was just up the road from where I work, although I know several people who were scarily close to it. For the people who did lose somebody, it must be the worse thing in the world, and I can’t even grasp it.

A horrible situation, although on the day after I made damn sure to get into town and do the whole carry-on-as-normal thing. If life doesn’t go on, then we’ve lost.

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The view from my office after the attack

A few positive things came from the attack, though. One was the immediate and professional response from the police and emergency services, closing down the city and catching the guy a few hours later. The police were getting hugs and flowers from people all weekend, which was great to see in usually-reserved Stockholm.

Another was on social media, where the hashtag #openstockholm took off. People were offering accommodation and help and car rides and company to people stuck in town as a result of the attack and subsequent shutdown. It brought a tear to the eye, this random kindness on a massive level. Stockholmers, it turns out, have a great ability to react to crises, and will throw their doors wide open when needed.

Then people started putting Swedish flags on their Facebook profile pics, as one does after something like this. That’s when it got a bit strange for the Swedes.

flagHere’s the thing. Swedes are often embarrassed to fly their flag. They are generally damn proud of their country, but they don’t show it much. My Swedish workmates are much happier flying an Irish flag on St. Patrick’s day than flying a Swedish flag on any day, ever. It’s part of their “no boasting” mentality, but also because the far right have mostly claimed the Swedish flag, and the average person doesn’t want to be seen as a neo-nazi. You might see the blue and yellow on a bus on Sweden’s national day, or at a sporting event, or fluttering over a summer house, but that’s it.

It’s something that immigrants like myself find very odd. But after this attack, maybe it will change. I do love my adopted country and I hate to see them squirm and not show that love too. You’re awesome, Sweden, so go get your flag back. Remove it from the grubby hands of nationalists and “patriots” and fly it high and proud.

/ paddy

Sunshine and Sneezes

You can’t beat a good sneeze. Especially now that the pollen season is upon us, which sees me doing it quite a bit. However, when it comes to sneezing, I have a superpower.

I am cursed / blessed with a photic sneeze reflex. Which means that when I emerge from an interior space to a brightly sunlit exterior space, I will sneeze. Violently. Usually twice. It also means that if I feel the tingle of a sneeze that doesn’t quite want to arrive, I can shove my face into a lamp and bring the sneeze on. Very handy.

For years I thought this applied to everybody and was quite surprised when I found out  it didn’t. Some mere mortals, apparently, only get to sneeze when the sneeze is good and ready. There are theories about why the photic sneeze reflex works, to do with nerves in the brain and such. Even Aristotle noticed it, when he wasn’t busy incorrectly counting women’s teeth. But work it does, and when it comes to sneezing, I’m no slouch.

genes-for-achoo-syndrom-sun-sneezingI like my sneezing so much that I am amazed by the number of people who block their sneezes. They clamp their noses, sending the sneeze booming around the insides of their skull, in a way that sounds physically painful. I’ve always wondered – why on earth would anybody do that. Is it a fear of contaminating others? A terror of seeing snot and spittle? Or a religious conviction that sneezing is too much like sex? Fuck knows, but lots and lots of people do it, in my workplace as well as in the great wide world in general.

If anybody knows why people do this, please share it. Because I fully expect to one day be a witness to a head boinging off, or an eye popping out and dangling from its fleshy wire.

In Sweden, by the way, you say “Benny!” when someone in your vicinity sneezes. The proper response to that is to yell “Björn!” and then go put on spangly trousers.

/ paddy

Springtime For Sweden

The first signs of spring have come to Stockholm. There are snowdrops sprouting, there are drinkers sitting outside of Snaps in Medborgarplatsen, wrapped in blankets and grimly pretending to be having a good time. And there are people standing against sunlit walls in every corner of the city, with their eyes closed, basking in the rays like vertical seals.

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Here we see a few, snapped by myself yesterday. In this shot we have two proper baskers, two semi-baskers, and a tanned guy who knows exactly what I’m up to.

This behavior will continue on into April, until that first hot day when it is agreed that Stockholm may now shed its black coat and don its skimpy summer things, even though it’s really a bit too cold for that yet, but fuck it.

And for the sake of disclosure – yes, my coat is black. It’s just the rules, okay?

/ paddy

The Arse Tobacco Anecdote

I was in a pub a few weeks back, attending a concert, when I felt a pressing need.

I entered the toilet space, and read the notice on the inside of the door, which warned about the dodgy lock. Check it several times! it yelled. I checked it several times, gave it an extra tug, checked it again. All seemed in order.

I removed the clothing around my crotchal area and sat down for the commencement of my business. Said business was underway when I noticed that somebody had left a little container of snus on a shelf just within reach.

snus-2Note: Snus is Swedish mouth tobacco that people shove up under their upper lips, giving them stained teeth, a slightly deformed face and, one supposes, good feelings. It is banned in the EU, except in Sweden, as they really REALLY wanted Sweden to join. So they got themselves a mouth tobacco exemption.

Anyway, there I was on the toilet, reaching for the snus that wasn’t my own, out of boredom. It was further than I thought so I had to raise my buttocks from the toilet to reach it. Grabbing the container, I idly opened it to check if anything was inside, hovering over the toilet seat as I did so. I had taken out a snus portion (basically a small teabag) and was sniffing at it curiously when the door suddenly opened.

The person who’d defeated the dodgy lock was a young woman. For a second she stared at the man who was leaning forward with a snus clamped between his fingers, looking for all the world like he was about to shove it up his arse.

The unfortunate lady gave a terrified squeal and bolted. After a portion of numb silence had passed, I scuttled forward, trousers around my legs, shutting the door with sweaty fingers.

When I left the bathroom and crept back to my friends, I spotted the lady in question across the room, holding onto a beer glass with a glassy expression. As if she’d looked upon the face of evil and knew that nothing, ever again, would be any good.

I hope she one day gets to tell her own anecdote. I suspect she might.

/ paddy

Orange Ladies And Beardy Boys

I came back to work last week and two things were immediately apparent.

First, all the orange ladies on the subway. This is a yearly phenomenon – the Swedes returning from their summer-houses, showing off their newly scorched skin. You notice it most on older ladies. Their skin is practically orange, wrinkled and leathery and disturbing. Some of them are so lined they look like fucking Yoda, but, you know, more orange.

While I understand that the Swedes grab whatever sun is going, I fail to see why they would want to damage their skin like this. They lounge around in the parks and beaches, in blazing sunshine and without sunblock, and then wonder why they get skin cancer. Deeply wrinkled, sun-blasted skin isn’t attractive, or healthy, and doesn’t even show status, as summer houses are seen almost as a human right over here.

So why do they do it? Beats me. But if you want to see one, now is the time.

Then there’s the beards. I’m now in the minority at work regarding facial hair. Most men in my office are bearded. It especially noticeable among men in the 25 to 32 age range. Two thirds of them now have beards. It’s like a bloody seventies folk concert.

This thing with huge beards on younger men has taken off to a ridiculous degree in Sweden. It was very noticeable when I went to Herräng dance camp for a week, and saw young men from lots of countries. They were all much less beardy than the young Swedes. It brought home again what a terribly conformist place Sweden can be.

Why is it like this? Because beards on young men is trendy, and Swedes go for trends in the same way that sharks go for icebergs made of spam. They claim to cherish their individuality, which they then express by striving to look exactly the same.

Not the same as each other, mind you. Just the same as whatever subculture they’ve decided they belong to. Be it punks, hipsters, slackers, whatever. You can be unique here as long as you are unique in a very clearly defined way.

Now I’m a big fan of facial hair, but this is all just a bit sad. If you like beards, then have one, regardless of what the rest of the world is doing. Just stop shaving, and presto.

I give it a couple of years. Once the football players start shaving, young Swedish men will shed their facial hair. Beards, after all, can be removed. But I can’t say the same for the swarms of young women with colorful and messy tattoos sleeves on their arms and shoulders. They might have a tad more trouble getting over this particular trend. And let’s see how those things look when they’re pushing 60.

As for the idiots with the discs in their earlobes … well, let’s not even go there.

/ paddy

Beware of Race

As one wanders the streets of Stockholm this week one is reminded over and over again to watch out for foreigners. Not just any foreigners, but those of a different skin colour. Non-white Swedes too. All people of other races in fact.

Pause for effect. Reveal punchline. Introduce photo.

Well actually that’s not how it is (surprise). The snow and ice are melting on the roofs of Stockholm and for some reason there are no systems in place up there to take care of it. So that means that great slabs of snow and ice and T-Rex tooth sized icicles are plummeting to Earth with great velocity. And if you get caught under one, well, nice knowing you.

So in order to avoid taking responsibility and actually removing said snow and ice from the roofs, the building owners are putting up signs like the one here. The text “Risk för ras”, you see, means both “look out for falling or collapsing stuff” and also, at a stretch, “risk for race”. Which, you know, is vaguely amusing. And slightly scary given that the far-right Swedish Democrats are now in the government for the first time ever.

What is not amusing is the fact that we all have to walk on the street to be sure of avoiding brain-smashing blocks of ice from above. And that we get gravel in our boots. Plus the frozen dog shit of the winter is making its annual re-appearance. And the fact that it will all freeze over again in a few days and continue to tease us with a spring that never comes.

I, however, am looking forward to buying a new hat. And that’s all the cheer I need.

/ paddy