Friday, August 04, 2006

Hej Hej: The Nottles go to Sweden

As many of you know, the Nottles (a mythical creature that is part-Notkin and part-Tuttle) have written about their previous extended travels outside of the United States. Here begins our newest saga – Sverige, Sweden.

In the months preceding our sabbatical, we took a handful of Swedish lessons from our friend Ylva. We focused more on culture than language – Ylva is an anthropologist. Ylva told us the three specific virtues in Sweden are being punctual (plikt), doing nothing in excess (lagom), and being thrifty (spara). These each have associated vices, such as being wasteful (slösa). The cultural trait that Ylva said is most important in Sweden is punctuality. Swedes should arrive about 10 minutes ahead of the start of events, she said. If they arrive exactly on time, people are a bit put out.

Since Cathy is often late, she asked how to call ahead and say, “I will be late,” and how to say, when arriving, “I am sorry I am late.” Ylva was horrified and said, “You just can’t say that,” and her hand shook as she wrote down “I will be late” in Swedish. It turns out since Lund is a university town, everything starts a precise and very academic 15 minutes late, according to our friend Görel. We will let you know if we are late.

Ylva also taught us that the Swedish word for “gullible” translates as “blue-eyed.” We still wonder if Ylva was telling the truth, or taking advantage of the gullible Nottle clan.

While we were waiting to move from Seattle, we started dealing with our Swedish life. (We were also hard at work getting our house cleaned and ready for our renters, a British couple with two young children, who will visit UW from Brussels). We first had to find a school for Emma – to make a very long story short, she will attend Katedralskolan (Cathedral school), the oldest school in Scandinavia. It’s over 900 years old and was founded in Denmark when southern Sweden was part of Denmark. Emma will be in a pre-IB (International Baccalaureate) program, taught in English. She’ll be taking beginning Italian, and she chose drama over music and art. We’ve visited the school grounds, and Cathy and David think the buildings and courtyard look just like Hogwarts. We haven’t chosen Akiva’s school yet. From what we understand, he can go to an English-speaking school, Swedish schools that specialize in nature or in arts, a Swedish as a second language school, or a Montessori school that has classes in Swedish, English, and French. We’ll talk to principals next week when they get back from vacation.

A huge challenge turned out to be getting our visas, which we needed because we’ll be here for a year with kids in school. The forms weren’t especially complicated, and David sent them off in early June. The forms and our passports went to the Swedish Consulate in NYC. At the consulate they checked the forms to make sure that they were filled in properly, and they were. Then the forms were transferred, electronically, to the Swedish Migration Board, in Sweden. Repeated calls to the Consulate were kindly answered with a consistent message: “They are very busy at the Migration Board, and we don’t know how long they will take.” This caused Cathy to cancel a long-planned trip to a conference in Spain, and then stopped Cathy and Akiva from heading to Sweden early. The visas did arrive, however, about a week before we finally departed on July 30. It turns out that the real reason the visas took so long was that Sweden essentially closes for vacation from the last week in June through the first week in August. We definitely found communicating with our friends, colleagues, and landlord was much slower in July than in June. So the consulate was telling the truth – the Migration Board was indeed very busy in July, since most all of the staff was on vacation!

The trip itself was very easy. Emma was amused when it took Cathy and David a long time to make a call from the Copenhagen airport to Sweden – we had to find out that one dials “00” to make an international call between Denmark and nearby Sweden. Emma wondered, “How many parents does it take to make a phone call?” “Only two,” she decided, “but it takes them a loooooong time.”

When we left the airport for the taxi ranks outside the airport, we had to choose between one queue for a Danish taxi to Sweden and another queue for a Swedish taxi to Sweden. We could have taken a one-hour train that leaves three times an hour directly from the airport to the Lund train station, a five minute walk from our house. But we decided on a taxi instead, due to our luggage. Let’s just say that despite the best of intentions, we didn’t travel with just carry-on luggage.

Our friend Boris met us at our apartment. He had picked up the keys from our landlord (they are acquaintances). We’re in a building nicknamed the “iron building” because of its distinctive shape. We’re on the second floor of the building, right at the point of the iron. The apartment is lovely and indeed bigger than expected. The ceilings are more than 3 meters high, and there is a ladder for changing light bulbs, getting into high storage areas, etc. But we still could use a bedroom for Akiva. We only have two bedrooms, so we’re trying to figure out how to carve a space for him from the giant living and dining room areas. Maybe he can sleep under the Steinway baby grand piano.

We’re 200 meters from the country’s best hospital (called a “sick house” in Swedish), and we’re directly across the street from a vegetarian restaurant run by (primarily Polish) Hare Krishnas. We’re on the main street in Lund, called Bredgatan (Broadway), with many buses, a few cars and taxis, and lots of bicycles. There are some limits on personal cars in this area that we don’t understand yet. There is a law that people under 15 have to wear bike helmets. It seems that not many adults choose to continue wearing them; it might be wise to do so, especially since many people smoke and talk on their mobile phones while biking. At night it gets quiet enough to hear insects chirping. Perhaps this will change in three weeks when the university students flood back into the city once again.

Emma thought that Lund would be old, but it’s even older and more ancient looking than she expected. Even newer buildings have an old feel. We’re near a famous cathedral that was built in the 12th century. It chimes the hour on the hour, and a single chime on the half-hour. This is great for jetlag. We can figure out exactly what time we are awake without looking at a clock.

Our University hosts and long-time friends, Boris and Görel invited us for dinner at their house the night of our arrival. They have two boys, Måns and Björn Måns is about two years younger than Emma, and Björn is about two years younger than Akiva. All three boys have birthdays in early October, when they’ll be 12, 9, and 7. Måns has taken English in school for three years, and he is quite good although not yet comfortable with it. But, as always happens, the kids figured out how to communicate. The four kids played a lot of soccer in the yard while we parents sat around reminiscing. The kids all took a swim in their pool before dessert, too. The boys showed us their rooms, Cathy started a stuffed animal fight, and then we headed back to the apartment to stay awake listening to the cathedral chimes early into the morning. (The next day Cathy was playing hide-and-seek in our apartment with Akiva. A few minutes after Cathy hid, Akiva and Emma came to David laughing hysterically, because Cathy said she needed help getting out of her hiding place -- on top of our refrigerator!)

Cathy spends a great deal of time in front of the nearby public library next to a statue of Carl Linnaeus. (The picture on the left is captioned, "Linnaeus has a hotspot for Cathy.") The statue of this most famous son of Lund is in a lovely setting, but even more important is that sitting on the bench next to Linnaeus is an internet hot spot. Our apartment was supposed to have internet service, but it is late being installed. Perhaps the installers are on vacation. David and the children choose usually to sit in the library café for their internet time. We feel pretty cut off from everything without internet. In addition, we don’t have any telephone service yet. Basically, we can’t get our phones until we get a very important Swedish identification called a personnummer.

So how does one acquire a personnummer? First, find the tax authority office. Then, fill out a simple form and provide passports and visas. Then walk home and get the childrens’ birth certificates and bring them back to the tax authority. Then wait three days and the personnummer comes in the mail. Of course the personnummer needs to be registered with the central authority before the mobile phone company will issue a phone number. So we are still waiting for a phone. Don’t call us and we won’t call you (or send you email).

We’ve walked everywhere so far. We plan to buy bicycles soon. Even though Lund is a small town, we aren’t used to hours a day on foot. We’ve decided not to buy a car – in part because gas prices are nearly $8/gallon and also because we like the opportunity of being car-free.

Our next adventure is tomorrow morning. We do our laundry. It turns out, according to Ylva and to Boris, doing the laundry is a topic of great interest in Sweden. We share a laundry room with the other eight apartments in our building. There is a sign-up sheet that is taken very seriously, with people signing up weeks in advance, often more than once each week. We wonder how clean the clothes will get in this basement laundry room with very little light. We’ll keep sharing our dirty laundry with you.


At Mon Aug 07, 06:05:00 PM GMT+2, Anonymous Joe MFEM said...

A beautiful start to your storytelling! Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.

At Mon Aug 07, 07:05:00 PM GMT+2, Anonymous Rachel Pottinger said...

Sounds good so far! Perhaps Ikea sells an under-piano tent kit? If not, perhaps we should suggest it to them. According to the Internet and my Swedish dictionary, there's one in Malmo, which looks to be likely close by train, but I could be completely making that up. ;)

At Mon Aug 07, 07:58:00 PM GMT+2, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic! I can practically hear the church bells. -- Lyndsay

At Mon Aug 07, 08:37:00 PM GMT+2, Anonymous Sondra said...

I look forward to the next serial installment (perhaps cereal installment, based on laundry stains).

At Mon Aug 07, 08:45:00 PM GMT+2, Blogger Debbie said...

It might amuse Cathy to know that Linnaeus was quite a character: people used to go out of their way to please him, even though he was prickly and difficult, because if he didn't like you, he named a weed after you.

Sounds wonderful! Hug everybody for me and keep up the good reports!

At Tue Aug 08, 07:53:00 PM GMT+2, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, it's going to be a pleasure to follow your adventures. I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful time. CalGal (back on the 'board')

At Sun Aug 27, 05:25:00 PM GMT+2, Anonymous Anonymous said...

About your daughter going to Katedralskolan:
GO KATTE!!! :P I'm taking the last year of the IB Diploma programme there and it's a really nice school (and lund is an adorable city) and the teacher's are great even though some of them aren't directly native english speakers, so to say...


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