Back from Sweden, expenses are expensive!

Warning: The events described below represent one man’s understanding of Stockholm. This is in no way exclusively indicative of the type of living in the area. Any similarities between this discussion and a real world experience is entirely coincidental.

What’s up people? I’ve been back from Stockholm for the past week and I’m finally getting through my expense report. (I had a little trouble getting logged into our expense system and I’m sort of a procrastinator when it comes to these things which is why it took until now.) Sweden was cold. Not the people, they were pretty fly… the climate. Hi, I’m Cliff. You’re here reading my site from the warmth of your office or home where you don’t feel as chilly as I did a week ago. So back to Stockholm. I spent the first couple of days walking the streets getting familiar with the area. It has a lot of amazing views. There’s the ships in the harbor right out side my hotel, there’s the statues and monuments sprinkled here and there. The most interesting part is the people. Lots of friendliness in town. People help you when you look like you’ve been transplanted from a random location 3000 feet beneath the sea wearing yellow’ish greenish shorts with purple splotches and a dumb grin. D'oi I felt a general sense of acceptance even being from sorta outta town. The people were a chill bunch of folks. However, there’s an interesting thing that happens to a singular-languaged American visiting a European country. You go from age 34 to age 2. More on this below.

Day 1 (Learning to walk)
Even more subtle but equally interesting are the places. They have these different kind of places. There’s places to go when you’re hungry, places to go when you run out of clothes, places to go when you’re bored… all different kind of places. I label these places generically for a reason. My first foray into the city drew me to these places. From my hotel I could look out in any direction and see places. Places looked interesting. It was night when I first ventured out so places emitted a glow. It was an inviting glow… Almost as if to beckon you towards places. That’s the interesting part. For one reason or another the more I walked toward places the less I saw places. It was almost like the hallway in Poltergeist. You can see where you wanna go you just can’t get there. I walked towards places. Then I had to cross various streets. I would look left or right and see more places the glew. (The past tense of glow?) I would become distracted and walk toward new places. There would be more streets to cross. Places were just over there. Places were cold when viewed from the exterior. Ooh look more places over there! Lets cross a few more intersections. Places. When I finally arrived at places (approximately 2-3 miles worth of walking that originally looked like it should have been 2 blocks) the night air drove me back toward my hotel room. I’d never done anything so unintelligent in my entire adult life. Beginning with a destination attempting to walk towards said destination, eventually reaching the destination, then finally no longer wanting to be at the destination. Never mind the fact that it took approximately seven hundred thirty six thousand four hundred ninety three steps where it should take a typical adult exactly fifty something normal sized strides.

Day två (learning to read)
Jet lag had settled in. What should have felt like fatigue the night before became narcolepsy on my second day in the city. I awoke thinking I must have slept until about forty-nine o’clock. My first instinct was to grab my coat head downstairs and see what the heck is up with these places. On day 2 both people and places became really interesting. Clever this time around, I headed in a slightly different direction which eventually took me down my original path from the night before. I noticed places with statues that looked interesting. This time I tried to read places. “Who is this person depicted in the statue?”, I thought. “Oh look! A write up…” I grew to love the writing on places in Stockholm. You see there are letters but they’re all dotty and spotted on top; syllables are jambled together with consonants combined in new and interesting ways. While I mentally tried to pronounce the “sgs” sound from my current reading something caught the corner of my eye. Places look so much closer now in the daytime. Lets walk. (By this time you, the reader, will have noticed a certain pattern whereby the author can never come to terms with what exactly is supposed to be done with one’s self in a foreign city. This is intentional.)

Day två (learning to make friends)
I walked toward a lady who looked more lost than I. She was holding some folded paper that resembled a map approaching while looking directly at me. Her mouth was positioned in the typical “could you tell me how to get to” shape while I pondered if I should point in a random direction, pretend I don’t notice her, or plead the 45th. The sounds emitted from the lost lady were as puzzling as the look on my face. Have you ever had the experience where the thing you expected to happen was totally opposite from what is currently happening? Imagine pointing the remote at the TV, mashing the button and hearing the toilet flush. Or even better. Imagine flipping the light switch and having it trigger your car’s engine causing it to crash into your living room. My immediate response to what was obviously not English because I was obviously nowhere near England was a nervous, “sorry no English” which I mumbled with my custom type of foreign twist as if that would help in the translation of a sentence that didn’t make sense to begin with. What was I thinking anyway? No English? Did I want to continue the conversation in what sounded like Swahili? And why throw in a fake accent? Was I expecting my nervous roll of the tongue to transform me into a native? Oh but I was outwitted! The lady switched gears mid-sentence and pushed her English button.

“Sir, Would you like to read some literature?”

She shuffled through the folded papers which were no longer resembling maps and revealed the “Watchtower” logo. “You gotta be kidding me!” I thought. Out of all the people in Sweden I could run into! Still rattled from my own original nervous comment and slightly amazed that actually have Jehova’s witnesses so far from Pennsylvania I continue nervously in Cliffenese to explain that I think I’m Baptist as I continue to pass the lady. Yes, that makes much more sense. I “think” I’m Baptist. I attended a Methodist church for a couple of years but now I think I’m suddenly Cliffenese-Baptist just as the lost lady interrogates me. An ordeal which only lasted a few minutes will stain me for a life time as I continue the streets of Stockholm. More places to see. More things to read. “Sgs!”

I finally made my way to the heart of what I found glowing the night before and began to relax. I don’t have a map, or an internet connection on my iPhone. (AT&T will never pull $2k from my wallet for roaming fees! HA!) I no longer recall which direction the hotel is in after walking and winding my way through several streets. But I was in the military before so I’m tough enough to figure it out. Who cares anyway because I’m in the heart of the places! In typical geek style I saunter into the first tech store that catches my eye. The name was something illegible that had me repeating “sgs” silently to myself. Ahh foreign technology! They had iPad and iPhone cases that I had never seen before. There were toys and trinkets that were familiar and other things that looked like they had been invented exclusively for this country. The prices seemed like… prices. I couldn’t tell if things were reasonable to rip-offs. Honestly, brick & mortar for tech shopping is so dated so I’m not even sure why I bothered coming in. 224.50 SEK for an iPhone case? When you consider that 1 SEK (Swedish Crowns) is equal to $0.1566 US then it doesn’t sound as bad I guess. But who wants to do the math? Places eventually made me hungry so I decided to eat.

(Learning to order out)
What to eat? I walked by a Chinese restaurant and decided to see what was on the menu. To see a chinese menu rendered in Swedish with English translation is to truly live. Should I have the Chichen sa-dei or the Chrimp salad? Maybe ethnic food wasn’t on order. “Sgs!” I had so far been to Talinn, Estonia and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. During these trips I had eaten food I never knew could be cooked and consumed. There were plenty of good dishes and some I’ll say were more ethnic than I could handle. By this time I was craving a cheeseburger. I found a place opposite McDonald’s which looked acceptable. Now someone during my outings had told me that the majority of people in Swedish businesses could speak English. However my apprehension had built after a few encounters with some not-so-fluent-toungued natives. By now I learned to rely heavily on body motion for communication. That combined with awkward grunts seemed to get my order across to the Swedish cashier. Something like, “I want dat one… uh-uh! Uhnn! No dat one!!” went our brief discussion. The man was fluent but accented and I was untrustworthy. My tummy was in recovery and needed grease. I was totally unwilling to patiently conjugate the wording for ordering number seven and I’m not even sure how to say seven. (I recalled all the phonetic counting I could from French like, “un, doo, twa, fah, suh” but even that falls short of seven.) Leaving the restaurant I have trouble with the door. Duh! I tried to “Drag” when the sign obviously says “Tryck”! (Drag was on the opposite side.) There were more places with interesting letters. “Sgs!”

Day åtta
Days 3-7 had so far merged into the one workday and I was at the end of my one week stay. There were a couple of uneventful nights out at the bar alone. There was an incident were I thought I was catching deep vein thrombosis from the 5,000 hour plane ride only to stumble into a Swedish CVS equivalent not knowing how to order or ask for aspirin. Then there were that last two nights out with the fellas from work. Those were really fun. We talked about culture, and Japan, and marriage. I tried to explain why it takes several years of pain for a guy to realize what a wife is and how it takes several more years for a couple to have the maturity and experience to communicate effectively. I spent the remainder of the night using ineffective communication with my new buddies.

I’m now back in California wishing I knew how to use the expense reporting system and wishing I didn’t have so many receipts with different currencies and spotted letters. I learned so much from my European journey. I saw a pub that wasn’t a pub, found an interesting way to delineate the men’s room from the ladies room, encountered names I wouldn’t have thought of for businesses, and managed to order dinner for two for one. (I’ll save that last story for another time.) All in all it was a good trip.

2 thoughts on “Back from Sweden, expenses are expensive!

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