So Christmas was fun. It was greatly enhanced by Suraya visiting, bearing Marks and Sparks cake and the best socks ever. Her presence was particularly appreciated when providing expert pavlova testing and carol singing in the car at 6am on Christmas morning.
Yes, you read that right. 6am in the morning. Us. We went to the special 7am Christmas mass (Julotta). Apparently in the good old days in Sweden they used to race their sleds to church and the winner of the race would have the best harvest for the coming year. We arrived at church at the ungodly hour of 6.30am, so we all firmly believe that we deserve an excellent harvest.
The service was at an enormous church in the middle of the countryside. It was terribly gothic, arriving in the dark and the rain, with the looming black skeletons of trees all around. Inside, the church was stuffed with branches of greenery and hundreds of real candles in polished chandeliers. There were even kindly people offering pepparkaka (ginger biscuits) and plastic cups of glögg (low alcohol mulled wine). I enjoyed the service, because I understood almost everything the priest/pastor person said. Mostly because of the way she stopped and paused after every word. Patrick thought she was dreadful, but I stopped to say a heartfelt thank you on the way out.
Patrick's family fed us very well indeed and we rolled home to lie around groaning and play another board game with Jenny. She won, proving either her superior intelligence or Christmas stamina, I'm not sure which.
Since then I have been extremely lazy and eaten a lot of chocolate. I've started on some sewing projects, like a green stripey top with very long sleeves and adjusting a beautiful red and gold dress, but I haven't actually finished anything.
Lynni told me the other day that I should really be making my own moisturising face masks. I only accept such advice because she literally looks about half her age (and that doesn't make her in her teens). Unfortunately I suspect that's something to do with superior genetics. I think 27 is much too young to be getting wrinkles, but they started sometime while I was in India. Like magic, or too much sunshine.
So here's the face mask recipe:
1 egg white
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
I cheated on the olive oil and put in less. It was fairly disgusting to put on, but my skin does feel nice now. Just another little holiday project, to put off all the things I should really be doing.
It looks like I might have a white Christmas after all. Thank you, Santa!
Right now it's snowing the biggest snow I've ever seen. It really looks like a very large feather pillow is being emptied slowly over the street. My apartment is on the top floor, so there are dormer windows directly across the street from me. They have lit-up stars and candles in the window, and it's terribly picturesque watching the snow fall around them onto the black roof.
Today I will be staying inside in the central heating, very thankful indeed that I finished my Christmas shopping yesterday. I'm making a pavlova for tomorrow, to bring a little bit of the NZ Christmas spirit here. I'll be listening to my new Tommy CD (okay, I cheated and opened one of my presents early...), warm and cosy. Nothing like a bit of snow to make staying home suddenly feel very fun.
I'm also looking forward to Suraya, aka. the salt-and-vinegar crisp fairy, arriving today. We'll all be spending tomorrow with Patrick's family.
I really hope that it is wonderful (or at least not too painful, depending on your situation) for all of you, especially all of the Stonesoupers around the world. I'm imagining everyone in their different countries, catankerous beet visiting home, musical in the 'Burgh, kiwigirl and grlloutthere in Japan in the snow (perhaps it's big like feathers there too?). I'm fondly imagining the rest of you going to the beach and having barbecues, or staying home and eating tuna as the case may be.
Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, Christmas greetings with love from Sweden.
You know the best thing about living in different countries? Nope, neither do I. I find it hard enough to pick out one thought clearly from the welter of likes and dislikes, the culture shock and the 'oh that's just the same as home'.
But one of the things that is interesting is experiencing first-hand the effects of different government policies and current events.
It's one thing to read in the Economist about the number of re-used needles and AIDs cases in India. It's another thing entirely to go to a hospital in Varanasi and see the doctor rush from the seriously injured accident victim in the next room to prod your friend's wound without so much as washing his hands. A much scarier thing.
Coming from New Zealand, it's interesting to speculate about employment law and regulatory policy changes and to wonder how NZ would have been different without them. It's another thing again to live in Sweden. I am constantly surprised by the political and economic power that unions wield here.
We read in class that an average Swede is a member of four or five föreningen (förening basically means means association, the word covers many different types of get-togethers). One of these will be a fackförening. ie. This translates to 'union' in Eithne-land. The fackförening will get a certain amount of your wages, and in return will give you: about a year's paid unemployment benefit at 80% of your salary, negotiated group wages, and benefits.
The other föreningen might be only what I would call clubs. eg. for sports, games, crafts, or they might be like the housing organisation - which negotiates rents and living standards on behalf of the residents.
In a way that seems utterly bizzare to me, from a New Zealand perspective, these föreningen are funded via the government. For example, apparently you get funding from the state for starting a förening, and the state will continue to pay your union dues whilst you are receiving unemployment benefits.
These unions are strong. We were talking the other day in class about job interviews. I asked when it is appropriate here to ask about the moolah. Apparently, if you are interested in such a crass thing, you should nevah ask the employer. What you do is get straight on the blower to your local union and they will tell you what you are worth - in fact, there's a reasonable chance they have already negotiated your wages for you.
Yes, this is good. Sweden is a country with traditionally a high standard of living, a highly educated population, and a history of social democracy. If you must be poor and/or sick and/or disenfranchised, here is probably a pretty good place to do it. I had a lovely example of that. A friend from school here grew up in communist East Germany. One day he held up his sandwich, and said 'here is why capitalism is better than communism'. Apparently growing up he would always have butter and cheese on one piece of bread, with the other piece plain on top to make the sandwich. Here his Swedish girlfriend made it with so that both pieces of bread have a layer of butter and cheese, with salad in the middle. ie. it's better to be poor in a rich country than in a poor country. (Hence, I guess, the saying 'to want your bread buttered on both sides' ).
On the other hand, it doesn't seem like a coincidence to me that I can't find a job here. I think the downside of all this regulation is that things are slow to change. There are much higher costs involved in starting a business etc, and I assume therefore less new employment is likely to be created.
I'm not sure what the real unemployment figures are like here, as they don't count people on government training schemes etc. But here's a crazy fact - "Since 1950, the public sector has accounted for most of the net job creation in Sweden". - Thank you Swedish Government.
Once someone is in employment, well there they are, protected like buggery, with very few incentives to actually do much. I feel that this is part of the reason that I find customer service to be distinctly lacking here. Although yes, I do realise that it's a cultural difference that one does not make small talk at the shop counter...
I won't even get started on the schemes where you can choose to take the unemployment benefit for a year, while another person does your job. It feel like logicality taken to its excess in a way I've never seen before. We don't have enough jobs? Well hell, share them around. It's a truly beautiful piece of social engineering. Dammit, if I could get a job here, I'd never leave it . . .
Ha. I'm really feeling that I am required to start from scratch if I wish to suceed here, in terms of education and work experience. Not happy. And yet, I only have to compare myself briefly with the people around me (there are quite a few refugees on my course), to have a new-found respect for the easiness of my life. Sometimes I despise myself for constantly feeling like it's not enough. The other day I was trying to explain to someone from Poland precisely why I left my job with the NZ government. Part of the problem was that we were speaking in Swedish, and part of the problem was, well WHY would I leave a reasonably well-paid, secure, high-benefit job to bum about the world? Not to mention, do I realise that I am one of a small proportion of the world's population who has the disposable income and the correct passport to do so? (If the present economic and societal trends continue, still no more that 7% (!) of the world population will have access to international travel - World Tourism Org, 2001). If that passport came from Iraq or Peru, I sure as hell wouldn't be sauntering casually through the green line at the airport.
I know I'm lucky. But as always, there's a big difference between knowing you're lucky and feeling lucky.
Disclaimer: I don't speak Swedish (although I can read more than one news article a day now! Yay me!). I don't know anything about Swedish politics. I can only tell the story the way I see it. Am I ranting? I'll stop now.
I know you don't need new ways to waste your time on the computer, but this site is even more fun than fridge poetry:
I've been having flu all week. Luckily this happened the week after we studied Health in class, so it's been a good chance to practice my medical Swedish (bet _you_ don't know the difference between the word for mucous and the word for snot in many other languages, huh?).
Unfortunately, being sick here has been frustrating for a couple of reasons. One reason is the way that you can only buy Strepsils and paracetamol from Apoteket, the government pharmacy monopoly.
Yes, in some ways I approve of this restriction, because I think painkillers are over-marketed and over-used in New Zealand and Britain. I do know they're not lollies, but at the same time what am I supposed to do if I'm dying and it's after 3pm of a Saturday afternoon?
I guess make myself a hot lemon and ginger drink and think happily of the kiddies who aren't slaving away over a hot stove in a speed factory as a result.
(I just thought that reference might be a bit obscure - I'm assuming if I can't get paracetamol, the bad people wot make speed would find it pretty difficult to get hold of much pseudoephidrine - an ingredient in lots of legal cold drugs and a main ingredient of the illegal one - as far as I know).
In other news this week, it was St Lucia Day on Monday. Patrick and I took our coughs and colds down to the Stortorget ('the Big Square', which I've just found there's a web camera on, dammit - check it out, it's pretty at night!) to see the parade and the pretty girls with candles on their heads.
Unfortunately there were no real candles, instead they had some pale battery-powered imitations. Here is my favourite site about Lucia day, because of this line - "In Sweden we do not wear candles anymore because before girls caught their hair on fire very often." Jenny tells me that in the good ol' days they used to wear a thin wet towel under the candles, and there'd always be a responsible adult standing by with a bucket of water. Ah well, just another fun tradition safety-proofed out of existence.
At least there was a lot of pretty lights and singing, and they arrived in these amazing olde worlde european carriages that looked just like they'd popped out of Cinderella. I had a good time. They even sang some Christmas carols in English. Yay.
I just added some previous entries, which I started and never finished. ..
It was Jul skyltning (aka Advent Sunday or Skyltsöndag) on Sunday. Sweden doesn't seem particularly religous to me, so it's a surprise that these days are so traditional and important. It's traditionally the time when one puts up the Christmas decorations and starts going to church.
So the council performed its yearly magic of turning Malmö into a winter wonderland. Seriously. That might sound a little hackneyed, but I don't have other words to describe it. I come from New Zealand, y'know. Our trees stay green in winter.
Which means we don't need to . . . thread them all with fairy lights to cheer ourselves up. . . or spend a developing country's food budget on enormous outdoor candles and fountains of fire in the main squares.
I love it. Looove it. Everybody, but everybody has seven tiered (electric) candles in the window and every tree shimmers and struts. Our landlord even put up a dedicated Christmas tree in the courtyard, in addition to the resident tree covered in fairy lights. I couldn't resist the spirit and bought myself some fairy lights for my bedroom. They are most tasteful (yes, they are! Okay, mean people?).
I'm a sucker for sparkly things, and goodness this town sparkles at the moment.