Well it has been over two weeks since my last blog post, and I vow to start posting them on a more regular basis from now on. Since I last wrote, I have settled in, attended many courses, visited almost every student nation, traveled elsewhere in Sweden, and celebrated my 21st birthday. I even managed squeeze in my first ever trip to IKEA. Let me catch you up!
Today marks four weeks since I arrived here, and I am still waiting for time to start running normally. It feels like the days fly by and that there is no way I have done as much as I have in such a brief period of time. I am still finding everyone to be friendly and forthcoming, and I meet new people all the time. It is difficult to improve my Swedish because everyone speaks fluent English, but I don’t mind that too much. Although I am failing to pick up Swedish phrases as quickly as I’d hoped, I have noticed a few interesting aspects of the culture that differ from the United States. One huge custom that I have to mention is that of Fika, which is basically coffee and a cake (I think it is called Kanelbula) of some kind. It is similar to ‘having tea’ in England in that it is not just about the drink, but taking some time to sit and sip and enjoy a small sugary treat with a friend. Apparently if you ask someone in Swedish to ‘go out for coffee’ it means you want to take them out as a date, but asking someone for Fika is more casual and friendly.
There is also a pleasant practice of starting almost any planned event (including classes) at 15 minutes after (kvart över) the hour. Apparently this is so widespread that when a professor of one of my Swedish hallmate’s classes tried to get them to arrive on the hour, nobody showed up until a quarter past. He couldn’t get them to arrive on time for the whole semester, so he had to give in to the tradition. This is not the wildest difference, but I do like the origin story. My friend tells me that before the days of wristwatches or even pocketwatches, everyone told time by the chimes of the cathedral (domkyrken) belltower. So students would hear the chime at the hour, and know they had fifteen minutes to get to class. I think it is so appealing that this has never changed.
Things are more expensive here, but not as bad as I had heard they might be. If you order a beer inside of a student nation, the least you will pay is 27 kroner or about $4. Outside of a nation, in a bar or restaurant, the cheapest beer you will find is probably about 60 kroner or $9. Alcohol is pretty heavily taxed though, so you can find some cheap meals for only a dollar or two more than you would pay back in America. I am liking the fact that this has forced me to get better at cooking! I would say I make at least one meal for myself 6 days a week. The flipside is that flights to other areas of Europe are incredibly cheap. I have some friends who bought a round trip ticket to Poland for $8. One night in a nation, after spending 216 kroner (31 dollars) for 3 drinks, my friend told me that he had found tickets for a cruise to Finland that cost 200 kroner. The drink did not taste nearly as good once I realized I could be in a different country for the same price! I am planning to go to Finland this weekend and meet up with my sister in France the weekend after that. I want to visit as much of Europe as possible while I am here and free.
Last weekend I went to Stockholm, and it was the most unique and beautiful city I have ever visited. It is composed of multiple islands (15 or 20) connected to each other by large bridges. None of the islands are separated by much water, so the city doesn’t have the fragmented feel that I imagined it might. Areas of the city have managed to avoid integrating almost any modern architecture, giving it an ancient feel unlike anywhere I have been. Uppsala just has the lone cathedral that dominates the horizon, but Stockholm is scattered with spires of cathedrals all over the city. While I am on the Uppsala cathedral: I just learned that from the start of its construction in 1230 until 1970, it was the tallest building in Sweden. I love it- not just because it is as glorious as it is intimidating, but because I am terrible with directions and it always serves as a point of orientation wherever I find myself in town.
On the day of my 21st birthday, I had the pleasure of attending my first Swedish Gasque- a feast hosted by my nation that mixes formal tradition with, well, alcohol and singing. Everyone sits at long tables and is seated next to a member of the opposite gender, who is their ‘date’ for the evening. After any speech or song, you pick up your glass of schnapps and raise it to your date, then the person across from the table from you, then the person on the other side of you, and then sip. There are many, many speeches and songs so this process gets increasingly difficult, even with the added practice. We each received a leatherbound songbook, and tried to sing along in Swedish to their traditional drinking songs. Occasionally we sang one in English, and I enjoyed knowing which parts I was supposed to laugh at. By the end of the night people stand on their chairs to sing. People write messages in each other’s songbooks, but you are not allowed to read them until the next day. You can also bite into someone’s book, so you can tell how long someone has had one by how many teeth marks are embedded in it. The gasque ends with everyone leaving to dance in the nation’s nightclub. It was a successful birthday! I did not dwell on the fact that the day before, I received a ticket for riding my bicycle with no lights on it. It will cost me about $70, about half what I paid for the bike itself. I learned my lesson and will try to resist ‘riding dirty’ from now on. Off to bed again, but I will post another blog after I return from Finland next week!