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

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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 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. 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

A Short Guide to Swedish Politics

Politics is only interesting when it’s happening somewhere else, like in Africa, or in a Fantasy novel. But when there is a general election raging, it’s just the most atrocious bore imaginable.

There is a general election brewing in Sweden now and you can’t walk through town for ten seconds without some intense idiot in an over-large t-shirt shoving leaflets at you. So this is probably a good time for a quick primer on Swedish Politics for all you foreigners, or for you Swedes who haven’t been paying attention.

There are two blocks in the running for this election, plus a scatter of smaller parties. The “Alliance” block, currently ruling, consists of the four governing parties – The Moderates, Centre Party, People’s Party and Christian Democrats. The “Empire” block – sorry, the “Red-Green” block – consists of the Left Party (socialists), the Social Democrats and the Greens. Damn, it would be fucking sweet if they WERE called the “Empire” and the “Alliance”. Why didn’t anybody think of that earlier?

The Moderate’s leader, and Sweden’s PM, is Fredrik Reinfeldt, a man who looks like a giant baby. Other politicians of note include the woman vying for his title, leader of the Social Democrats Mona Sahlin, a woman with a speaking voice so boring it could curdle milk and whose deepest, darkest secret is paying for candy on her government credit card.

The Greens, meanwhile, claim that they don’t have “leaders” and insist on rolling out two “spokespeople”, one male and one female, any time they appear on TV. The political correctness of that just makes me shiver and is one reason why, although I’d like to, I just can’t vote for the Greens. The other reason is that they are unrealistic new-age wimps in many issues. However, it must be admitted, their spokesperson Maria Wetterstrand is HOT.

Then we have the hated Christian Democrats. Hated by me, at least. These bozos have the nerve to call themselves “democrats” even though they clearly accept the infallibility and universal dominance of an all-powerful dictator who can never be voted out, will never die, and can do whatever the fucking fuck he feels like with no consequences. In what possible way can these people call themselves “democrats”? Loonies more like.

And they, like all the other parties, have the nerve to refuse to be in the same room as the far-right Swedish Democrats, even though their stance on “values” is actually very similar.

Shit, this is all giving me a headache. I hope it’s over soon. Can’t we just do a game-show where the politicos get put on some island and have to eat slugs and crawl through mud and get voted out until we pick the one who runs the country?

Yeah, let’s do it! Politician Island. Right now.

/ paddy