Monday, August 14, 2006

The laundry turned out to not be a problem. Cathy has been afraid to go into the laundry dungeon. David says it is easy. Assuming you’re signed up for the time you want. Assuming you don’t hit your head on the door going down into the basement. Assuming you can figure out that you have to throw a switch on a separate electric box for each washer. Assuming you can figure out that you need to turn the separate water valve on to use the washers. Assuming you don’t really care what settings you wash and dry your clothes on (because you don’t read Swedish). Assuming you remember, at the end, to turn off the water valve and the electric switches. And assuming you don’t slip on the ice and snow in the courtyard on the way to the laundry in the middle of winter. No problem.

Our friends very kindly lent us their car over the weekend. We needed a few things for the apartment – some end tables, a mirror for Emma, a bathroom mat, some utensils for the kitchen, and even clothes hangers! So we decided to go to nearby Malmö – the third largest city in Sweden – where we were told we could find a great store to get most of these things. And a wonderful, amazing store it was. It’s huge, with more items that you can imagine. It has good quality merchandise at very good prices. It has great and inexpensive cafés and restaurants. It has a ton of parking (including special “family parking” spaces for folks with babies). It’s exceptionally well-organized. It’s really something that should be exported to the U.S. The name of the store is IKEA. Actually, we have heard that many Swedes are just sick of IKEA stuff and many now go to a Danish chain store named ILVA. ILVA will probably end up opening in Renton as part of the Sonics new arena; oops, that’ll be Oklahoma City, more likely.

The next day we took advantage of the car once again to go to the beach. We drove about seven miles to a small town just south of Bjarred (where we had briefly considered living). It’s amazing how quickly you get from Lund to the countryside, much of which is farmland with acres and acres of wheat. Getting to the beach would have been an easy bike ride on dedicated bike paths. In any case we drove out on a beautiful Sunday and found the beach easily. The beach has camping associated with it –- a bunch of trailers (mostly small hitches and no American giant RVs) were parked with a great view of the water. The kiosk (ice cream, soda, etc.) is separated from the beach by a grassy area, and the beach itself is another 20 feet away from the grass to the water. The water goes out hundreds of meters and stays at about ankle depth with feathery lemony-yellow seaweed. Everyone on the beach slogs out until the water is waist-high, dunks, and slogs back in. (Apparently in Bjarred there is a long pier that allows you to walk out on and jump into deeper water.) There were a few sailboats out, and views of Malmö and the Oresund bridge that we took from the Copenhagen airport to Sweden when we arrived. And yes, some Swedish women go topless at the beach – we’re absolutely certain that this indicates that Sweden is a pagan nation with no moral fiber that will fail miserably. Of course, our country is led by a boob with a shirt but no brain, and look where that has gotten us.

Everyone in Lund speaks English, at least everyone we’ve met, with most of them speaking it better than your average American (and certainly better than the boob at the top). The clerks in the supermarkets, the baristas in the coffee shops, the man in the game store, the people in the bike stores, and even the drunks in the park who told us (based on watching Akiva play catch) that he would be excellent at handball, and we should take him to Lugie’s in Lund. OK, we’ve found a few people who don’t speak much English – another drunk (in the park, where drunks are found the world over), one cashier in a mall, and a fellow in the library who tried to speak to us in several languages (including Swedish and German) before giving up. But for sure everyone speaks more English than we speak Swedish!

One item we tried to get at IKEA that we thought would be universally used throughout Sweden during the long nights is full spectrum lights. These lights are for SAD folks, afflicted, like Cathy, with Seasonal Affective Disorder. After coming up empty at IKEA, Cathy went to the art supply store across the street to look for the lights. The owner didn’t have the lights but recommended Cathy go to the local electrical supply store. The electrical supply folks hadn’t even heard of full spectrum lights and recommended Cathy go to the pet supply store and get a light for a snake. Cathy might do this as long as the snake doesn’t come with the light. Speaking of reptiles, our neighbor Chris has a tortoise wandering around his house. When we go to Chris’s house we are always carefully on the lookout for the free-range beast. We used Chris’s internet hookup late at night while he was on vacation with his family last week – he and his wife Katja don’t own a car , so they took their two toddlers by bus and bike to the east coast of Sweden.

One impulse item we got at IKEA was a ping pong set with a net, two paddles and three balls. The net fits across our dining room table, and with our huge room with high ceilings, we can play killer games, as long as we compensate for the oval table. It's great except when someone is eating at the table! Our current family champion is Akiva, and the game is a hit with visitors too.

When we returned our friend’s car – after driving to IKEA and the beach – we of course wanted to return it with a full tank of gas. The tank was about half empty and cost about $75 to fill. There is a good reason people bike in Sweden. Another reason people bike is that the tax on purchasing cars is huge – 25% in Sweden and, believe it or not, 108% in Denmark. And of course, people bike because it is easy – the traffic laws favor bikers, there is bike parking everywhere, and there are lots of bike lanes. But we do wish adults would wear helmets.

Hey, we finally got our cell (mobile) phones! It turns out that the problem wasn’t registration of our personnummers, but rather with our lack of a credit history in Sweden. They let us get two phones, after all, but it took documenting of our income to allow us to get a third phone for Emma. We still need a credit rating before we can use our phones outside of Sweden. And, finally, “we’ve got Internet” (in our apartment). Although we miss visiting Linnaeus, it’s nice to have full access to all applications without a time limit: web browsing to look up schools, maps, activities, work information, etc. only for an hour at a time, followed by a required 10 minute break, was getting kind of tiring. The recent rainy weather would have made Linnaeus a less pleasant venue, too.

Next week Lund, a city of about 50,000, will add another 40,000 university students. Since our apartment is basically located on campus, we are interested in how this will affect the traffic and the noise from passers-by late at night. We’ve heard one of the biggest problems is speeding hordes of bicycle riders since all of the students ride and ride quickly. We’ve all been practicing our bike riding skills this week to prepare for the onslaught. Another potential problem is from hazing the freshman class – the older students like to play practical jokes that may get rather wild, especially when the jokes are played by various “nation” houses – fraternity-style houses associated with each region of Sweden.

We haven’t seen very many atypical people around. Most folks we’ve seen are relatively conservative in dress and movement. We haven’t spotted any weird piercings or hair colors. We did see one slightly eccentric young man on a bicycle with an orange top hat and tux and one transvestite -- but school hasn’t started back yet. We shall see what 40,000 people under age 25 bring to Lund.

How do you tell a Norwegian pirate? He’s the one with two eye patches. Thanks to Björn, that was our introduction to the jokes that Swedes tell about Norwegians! Now who tells jokes about Swedes? We’ll let you know.


At Sun Aug 20, 05:34:00 PM GMT+2, Blogger Debbie said...

I would be happy to mail full-spectrum lights if you would like.

Hugs to all!

At Tue Aug 29, 10:27:00 AM GMT+2, Anonymous Henrik Jernevad said...

Perhaps you already know, but IKEA actually has stores in over 30 different countries, including 28 stores in the US of which one is in the Seattle area (Renton). I bought my bed there while I was studying at UW. :-)


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