Thursday, August 31, 2006

We now have now a feed -- ( sorry, we couldn't get the atom feed to work).

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sprinkled throughout are some bonus photographs or our apartment buiding (with the tall spire -- Cathy's art nook is the window you can see on the second floor), the herring aisle at the supermarket, and farmers selling their organic produce at the weekend market.

Cathy and David headed off to meet each other at Gerdahallen, Lund University's student/faculty/staff gym. As David was making his way towards the lobby, he was accosted by a student speaking Swedish. The student quickly realized David spoke no Swedish and explained in English that he and his group were new students who were on a kind of scavenger hunt, and one thing they needed was a picture of a "great beard." So they posed David in front of a fountain (shockingly, based on a statue of a nude woman), while several of them put their arms up to make a kind of tunnel. This picture met three of their scavenger requirements, and they went off happily (while instructing David not to let the next group take his picture!). Alas, they never sent the picture as they had promised, so you'll just have to use your imagination. Apparently there is a long tradition of having new students at Lund University do various pranks. There are a number of large tanks outside some of the engineering buildings, each of which is painted like a different kind of beer can; this was apparently one of the pranks awhile ago. We've seen a number of students walk by in drag or wearing Viking clothing., and we've heard lots of chanting and some fireworks as well. No rolly-chair races so far, though.

Cathy and David took a look at th
e classes offered at the gym. There are the usual weight-lifting, aerobics, stepping and spinning (indoor biking). And then there are a large assortment of various levels of "Swedish gympa." Cathy took a gympa class to see what it was like – a bit of running and jumping to get the heartbeat going, some resistance training with bendable bars, some yoga stretches, and a relaxation. There is gympa for fit 20-somethings, and gympa for people over 55, even gympa for families and babies. Cathy also tried a "Power Yoga"class. In the class she took, about 60 people worked on mats in an air-conditioned gym lit only with candles. The teacher was hooked up to a wireless microphone and breathlessly announced each yoga pose, and then, in a sultry voice said, "Bra (good)," after each pose was finished. We'll enjoy keeping in shape in Sweden.

It has been raining a lot in Lund. We are talking big thunderstorms with very heavy rain here. We knew we were getting quite soggy but our friends Boris and Görel told us how soggy – they had had to release water from their backyard swimming pool because it had rained about seven inches in seven days. Boris and rel also have another unique feature in their house (in addition to the swimming pool and sauna, which we haven't seen yet). They have, or will soon have, a house heated by geothermal energy. This is a fairly common energy source in private houses in Lund. It turns out that during the winter, the groundwater under Lund is warmer than the surface temperature so surface water is piped down to the groundwater, heat is exchanged and energy is transformed through a heat pump that will soon be installed in Boris and rel 's basement. Boris and rel had a pipe drilled in their front yard last spring to reach this slightly warmer groundwater. It astonished us that the pipe was 201 meters long. Recently, the city of Lund tried to reach an even warmer groundwater source that the city thought might help provide energy for the entire region and ended up drilling down into the earth for 3700 meters before giving up on the project.

There is a Swedish election coming up in mid-September at both the local and national level. We haven't seen a lot of signs or advertising in the paper – or political junk mail, at least as far as we can tell. However, the Lund town squares really are being used like town squares and electioneering by candidates speaking in front of little kiosks is a common sight. Today Cathy noticed that people who stopped to talk to candidates at the Liberal Party booth were given a mylar balloon, the Social Democrats will give you a whistle, the Greens will give you a red rose, and communists appeared to be asking for donations. We also saw the communists out recruiting in Göteborg when we took a brief vacation there.

Akiva and David headed off in the middle of August to Malmö for a baseball practice with the “Baseball by the Bridge” group. 15 minutes by train and another 15 by bus put them at a huge complex of sports fields, including (we think) baseball, soccer, American football, Australian Rules rugby, and more. We had some extra time since we weren’t sure where we were going, so we looked for a snack. Just down the street was a golf complex – golf, a driving range, miniature golf, a café and clubhouse, etc. That fortified us for practice. There were 7-8 kids at the practice, most (but not all) of them either from the U.S. or with an American parent. The coach, Charlie, is a writer from New Hampshire who has been in Sweden for many years. Practice was very go
od and well organized; they were preparing for a baseball jamboree a few weeks later. Given the distance, Akiva decided not to continue practicing with them, shifting his focus to fotboll.

Akiva registered at the Lunds Bollklubb – LBK – in the "kids born in 1997" group, and he started soccer or fotboll practice the following Monday. We biked to the field (a wonderful achievement for Akiva, who has learned how to bike from getting his balance to good control in city traffic in less than two weeks). There were nearly 20 kids, all boys (although three of them had long hair, like Akiva, and we wondered at first if they were girls). Akiva did drills and scrimmages with the others for the full 90 minutes. The kids spoke little English (although most have taken a year of it at school), but the coach and the assistants were fluent. Once Akiva has a few weeks of school and goes to more practices, he'll likely be chattering away. His first game was supposed to be this past weekend, but it was cancelled because the field (in Hjärup, several kilometers away from Lund) was unplayable due to a flood.

The kids started school today. We biked with Akiva to his school, the Bilingual Montessori School of Lund. There was, as is often the case at the beginning of a school year, both excitement and confusion. Akiva is in the 2nd-3rd grade class. It's largely a shoes-off school (as are homes in Sweden), but this rule was quite relaxed on the first day. In any case, parents and kids were all herded out to the playground, where the headmistress greeted everybody and introduced the staff, all in Swedish. So, English is the second language, right? Well, no. As Dave Barry used to say, we're not making this up: the school is "bilingual" in Swedish, English and French. Parents and kids were then herded to the classrooms, where the teachers laid out the structure, some rules, did some more introductions, took attendance, etc. – this was done in Swedish and almost all was translated into English. Then off to the playground for something to eat and drink, with the kids hitting the jungle gym, the sandbox, the mini-soccer field, the basketball court, and so forth. Akiva is enrolled in "fritid", which is the after-school program that is universal in Swedish schools. After school he spent two hours with his Japanese tutor, Ayumi-san, who is making sure that Akiva doesn't mix up his Japanese with his English, Swedish and French. Just wait until he starts Hebrew in preparation for his bar mitzvah.

Emma had a great start to school. She's got about 30 kids in her class in the first year of the English-based pre-IB (International Bacculareate) class at Katedralskolan. She is the youngest in the class – some of the kids are 17, and most are 15-16-years old. Almost all of the kids in her class are Swedish (except one American who has lived in Sweden for many years), but all have passed an English competency test so that they can take it pre-IB classes. We are a little concerned about how much English the kids know, however. On the first day of school, Emma and a new friend asked a few of their classmates if they were registered for Italian class. It must have been Emma's accent, but all of the kids they asked about the Italian class looked at their watches and told them what time it was. Emma will take Swedish classes and also is taking the Italian class – taught in Swedish. But she is not sure what time the class is.

Sending a letter or a postcard from Sweden to the U.S. costs 10 kroner (about $1.40). But don't move to Denmark in the hope that we'll send you more postal mail – it costs the same to send mail to Denmark as it does to send mail to America! So keep posted here and we will tell you all we would have written in that 10 kroner letter.

Take a peek at the following, which we found on the net, describing how you know
you've been in Sweden too long. If you don't find them entertaining, you haven't lived in Sweden! Can you imagine someone winning the Nobel Prize but declining to go the ceremony because it's during the time they scheduled to do laundry?

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.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Errata: Ylva says: "although plikt actually means duty...punktlig means punctual." All errors are the responsibility of the Nottles, not of their teachers!

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.