29 May 2009

Obligatory Complaint

I had a list.

I usually do, but this one was different because the opportunity to purchase the things on the list had a limited window.

Five weeks.

With very little shopping time to myself, I think it is important to note.

Because my time was limited, the list was long, and I stayed mostly with families who lived far from the centres of the cities I visited, I knew it was important to tell my hosts what I wanted to buy while I was in Sweden.  Without me telling them, how would they know?  Generous hosts, all, but mind readers they are not.

My first day in Sweden, I explained to host #1, A, that I wanted the following before I left Sweden, and that I thought mailing these things home was the best way to go.

1.  Harry Potter, books 2-7, in Swedish.  I already own the first one in Swedish, and reading books like HP are helpful in retaining my language skills.  Nothing too challenging, I'm not reading Proust, ffs.

2.  Metric measuring cups.  I bought a set when I was 17, because even then I liked to bake cookies and make dinner.  But I bought cheap plastic measuring cups, and they've been through the dishwasher about eleventy billion times.  They're getting brittle.  So I wanted a metal set.  Natch, all of my Swedish cookbooks are in metric measurements, so of course I need metric measuring cups.

3.  Swedish pop music.  Yep, bubblegum Brittney-esque pop, by artists like Kent, Carola, Lisa Nilsson, stuff that is repetitive and frivolous.  For the same reason as the HP books; listening keeps my language skills active.

4.  Solstorm, by Åsa Larsson. [Sunstorm]  This has been translated into English, and I read it in translation a few years ago.  Good book; I've been trying to get my grubby hands on the original Swedish since I saw the book on the library shelves.

5.  Geisha, chocolates made by Finnish candy-maker Fazer, for my sister.

6.  Digestiv (brand name) crackers.  Mmmmmm.

7.  Stig Larsson's "Männen Som Hatar Kvinnor," [Men Who Hate Women] which was published in the US as "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo".  No relation to Åsa.

8.  Billinge cheese.  A long shot, but a hopeful one.

9.  Swedish coffee.  Lots and lots and lots of it.  The Swedes drink far stronger coffee than we do, roast the beans to a darker hue.  Gooooooood stuff.

10.  Orange marmalade.  Yes, I know it can be purchased in the United States.  I don't care, I wanted a specific brand.

11.  Dalahästar.  I have one of these traditional symbols of Sweden of course, but I wanted a few to give as gifts.

My host A told me that she'd need to stop at a grocery store on our way "home" that first day, and I mentioned a few of those things.  "Ah, you should be able to find everything there," she assured me.

I doubted that; in my experience, Swedish grocery stores were small, especially in the smaller towns like where she lives.  

I had a bit of a shock when she parked the car in the parking lot of an enormous department store.  Bigger than a Super Wal-Mart, this place, an ICA Maxi Stormarknad made me feel like the country cousin in the big city.  It had everything.  Shoes.  Clothes.  Books, magazines, small appliances, groceries, just about anything you can buy at a Super Wally's or SuperTarget.

I picked up the Harry Potter books, measuring cups, the Digestiv crackers, and some coffee there.  I found the music later that week while in the big city.  I mailed everything except the fragile crackers home to the US the first Saturday I was in Sweden.  

I looked for the rest of my wish list throughout the rest of the time, and found most of it, too.  I bought Swedish organic honey in addition to the marmelade, more coffee, (hey!  I have to stock up when and while I can!) Solstorm and even found Geisha and mailed it to my sister in New York.  I never did pick up the Stig Larsson book, but someone else did, and agreed to trade Stig for Åsa when I finish reading it.  

The weeks flew by.  I stayed with a divorced lady in her 60s, a family with older kids (20s-ish), I stayed in an apartment that I shared with another team member, a retired couple who were both on marriage #2, and then the most fun, a "familjen Svensson", typically Swedish family.

Where we would be talking about the average American family in the media or in conversations, the Swedes talk about "The Svensson Family".  2.5 kids, house in the suburbs, both parents with full time jobs.  My Familjen Svensson were a hoot.  It is important for me to note here that I really liked all of my hosts, and they were all very pleasant to live with.  All were very welcoming, extremely generous, helpful with my inability to navigate anywhere on my own, and tolerant of my foibles when I speak Swedish.  When I say they were the most fun, I mean Familjen Svensson had the sense of humor that most matched my own, and the parents were about my age.  Agh.  I'm botching that explaination.  


In their guest bathroom, they had some wonderful soap, bliw Björk & Äng.  Bliw is the brand name, and it took me more than a week to figure out WTF 'bliw' meant.  Not that brand names need to mean anything (Xerox, anyone?) but 'bli' is one of the many "to be" verbs, and so I thought it had to mean something.  Yeah.  It does.  Print b-l-i-w on a piece of paper, and then turn it over and hold it up to the light.  (small letter b, alltså) b-l-i-w backwards is W-I-L-D.  Duuuuuh.  "björk" is birch, and "äng" is meadow, or heather, depending on your translation source.  It smells wonderful.

So I bought some of that, too, and decided that I was carrying it home rather than shipping it.  I bought a 300 ml pump soap dispenser - 300 ml = about 1-1/4 cups - plus a refill for the dispenser.  Both made it home just fine, in a suitcase that I ended up checking.  Tripple-wrapped in plastic.  Just in case, y'know.

As soon as I had a chance when I got home, I Googled BLIW.  Here's a shocker: a scented soap that I love, and can use on my sensitive skin.....is available only in the Nordic countries: Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, & Greenland.  Grrr.

I did not find Billinge cheese, either.  Rather, I did find it, but weeks before we were due to come home and it would have gone bad before I got back to the States.  So I opted instead to wait, and that was folly indeed, because I never saw it again.

I didn't buy nearly enough coffee, either.  (Cosmic question:  is there such a thing as 'too much' coffee?!?) 

When does that next flight back to Scandinavia leave?

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