Aegean, the Modern Day ‘Hermes’

The mythological Greek god has changed name and as opposed to flying via divine power it uses jet engines

I deliberately chose to fly to Athens with the Greek airline Aegean to have a taste of Greece from the moment I stepped on to the plane in Stockholm and I was not disappointed.

Privetly owned company they sell tickets at comparable rates to their competitors who operate the same route, but they offer you a top quality service that was standard throughout the aviation sector up until the beginning of the 2000’s.

Pre-departure sweet for your ears not to pop, full hot meal included, TV with subtitled documentary, free drinks (including beer and wine) and an overall very good service. It is not surprising that they won the prize ‘best regional airline of 2017’.

Amongst other things they also do recycling and have a policy that all food that has been left unopened would be given to a charity to feed the homeless!

How is it possible? They must be loosing loads of money or getting big state subsidies? Well, no.

They are not even a ‘flag baring company’, which would entitle it to special privileges as it would be representing the country and get special deals but they still manage to fly and make a good turnover too.

This paradigm goes to show that there clearly can be a way of maintaining good quality service without compromising the price. Undoubtedly it is more expensive than Ryanair but if you choose to not fly with a low cost airline you also are prepared to pay a bit more in exchange for a better service.

All other big European companies have cut down on what they serve, last of these was British airways who stopped handing out free sandwiches and started to selling them.

Long live the godly service of the Greek airline and may this be an inspirational message for the other carriers that if they want to give a good service, they can!

This strong message which flies around Europe with blue and white colours is paradoxically important. The thing I struggle to understand is how such a beautiful country with so much history, natural beauty, tasty food and great produce can be in such an economically unstable situation?

Greece seek from the plane seams to be truly a living paradox.

Hungry Hearts – Athens /Day 0

Looking for a place to eat when you are tired and hungry on your first day in a new place, isn’t great.

After going around in circles encountering many cafes and hipster bars all I really was looking for was something traditional, cheap and possibly tasty.

In one of the bars I passed I stopped to ask if they had food and the waitress said they only served quiches. When I asked her if she knew of any place in the vicinity with more variety the lady crossed her arms and looked offended; mental note: these are independent small places people take a lot of pride in their work.

After asking for advice to a local I ended up in xx xx a small cozy place with home made traditional Greek food and more. I think it might be the closest I will get to eating at a Greek’s grandma’s for dinner.

It was rather late and not many people were there except this trio of tendentiously posh accented British ladies and two Italian old school Casanovas, this scene reminded me a lot of the Marigold hotel. Flirting has no limits of age and class, it is nice to see that people in their seventies perhaps use a touch more sophistication and cultural topic ice breakers but the art of chatting up is clearly there.

It is in that very moment in Athens, eating moussaka and sipping wine, that I realised that I’m very much like those men; the only difference is that I also make a habit about putting this into writing and I’ve done so for the past 4 years here on Lost in a Cup.

Many Swedes go travelling as part of their ‘soul finding quest’, wether they succeed or not is another matter, now I finally see what they mean.

Shadows of War

“I see by your gravestone you were only 19, when you joined the glorious fallen in 1916..”

This month Lost in a Cup dedicates a series of articles to explore the concept of ‘War’.

 

It is, by all means, not a new topic but it remains unfortunately a very current one. The uncertainty of global politics, a very controversial President of the United States together with rising tensions with North Korea and an international race in increasing manpower in the different armies does paint a potentially alarming scenario  which none of us dare to imagine.


Song extracts from Eric Bogle ‘No Man’s Land’ (1976). Full list of songs connected to this month’s theme can be found on the dedicated Spotify playlist ‘Lost in a Cup of War’.


The culture of fighting each other over power, control and resources is not new and from ancient Greek mythological anecdotes of ‘the battle of Troy’ to the recent war in Afghanistan and Iraq some elements are transnational and trans-historical.

“And I can’t help but wonder now Willie McBride
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you the cause?
Did you really believe them that this war would end war?”

William McBride was the name of an Irish soldiers who died in 1916, one of the many who fought a battle which most likely they barely understood and served the glory of an empire that did not fully represent him. It was this ‘war to end war’ idea that was maybe the most painful element of the ‘great war’. History shows us how unfortunately it was clearly not the end of all suffering as only a few years later the world would be plunged once more in a global conflict which caused even greater death and destruction to a much higher number of civilians too.

The distinguishing element of WWI from WWII is that it was mainly a fight between soldiers who were male individuals leaving most of the population out of the direct impact of the violence. The fact that teenagers were deceived and forced into cutting their lives short spending their final days living in torturous conditions  and suffering mental agony still makes it an awful chapter of history.

It to these lads who suffered and died in this war and all the ones that followed that I dedicate this month of the blog. Understanding war, is the only thing that might help us prevent more ones from happening.

 


More articles on this month’s thematic can be found at: lostinacup.com/war

World Mental Health Day 2017

Today is the official day  which the United Nation’s World Health Organisation has dedicated to raise awareness of the existence of mental illness.

Unlike breaking a leg or a more commonly known medical condition such heart problems or cancer mental health can rarely be diagnosed through scientific tests.

Many think it is an excuse, a lie used to manipulate situations or a good way to get paid sick leave from work. There might be cases of people abusing the system but this is something real.

It is a serious illness which can be deadly mainly for the sufferer but sometimes there have been cases of people committing mass shootings, especially in America.

Not recognising these conditions, making them worse by othering those who come out and talk about it is not good.

Being a bully and causing people to suffer because of your attitude is not good either and this sort of attitude can worsen or even trigger episodes of mental illness.

Stockholm hip-hop rapper Lorentz wrote a really catchy song called ‘Demons’ in which he talks about fighting inner demons. Unfortunately I was unable to find a music video for it but this is the link to the song on Spotify 

If you wish to share a story on mental illness and difficulties experienced surrounding it feel free to leave a comment below or write in private via the contact form.

Today more than ever, don’t be afraid to express yourself

// Part of the #EspressoYourself campaign //

 

The 8:30 War

8:30 said the clock on the wall when I came in, was it morning or evening? No idea, this episode lies outside of any tangible time frame.

Exactly 8:30 was the time I left that room. What happened? Did time freeze? Did 12 hours pass, or maybe 24? It sure felt like it but could it have only been two and a half hours? That would be impossible.

Where was I? Not sure, some sort of square, windowless office in a building. What nation was it in? It was in all the nations yet in no single one; in a place that is more of a non place than an actual place. By all means, it physically exists but nobody really sees it or knows what really happens within its walls. You might think this paragraph is  plagiarised from J.K. Rowling’s latest book but unfortunately it isn’t. Mainly for the fact that there is no magical element in this story.

A square table, there were three more people in the room, the numbers of chairs was double the amount needed, everyone sat there, door shut, sense of tension mounting, the meeting started.

Information, accusation, false information, unfounded accusation, accusation, assumption, conjecture, more accusations and a little more misleading information. Like a machine gun fast, sharp, heavy, painful words were unilaterally fired, the clock kept staring helplessly at the degenerating scene indicating it was still 8:30 and 22 seconds.

Short chance of a response from the receiving end, on occasion interrupted by the accusing party, but not much of a chance given the fact a ‘fait au complete’ final bullet word had been fired, there was no going back. The decision was made by the office/officer court composed of the CPO/General and the two directors/ Major + Brigadier who had already had multiple board meetings in anticipation of this event and had already written the verdict.

Unlike most trials the verdict was announced after the execution and the receiving end was only allowed a chance to defend once the bullet words had already been fired and the verdict announced.

The fact that the jury’s verdict was led by the judge was normal. The fact that the judge was also the accusing party was less normal.

It was still 8:30 and 22 seconds.

In that non-passing of time bullet words, verdicts and feeble attempts to seek a defence were made. The hope of countering the pre-written verdict and heal the wounds opened by the fast succession of bullets and restore some form of fair, rational trial soon faded.

The accusing party (the Major) underlined that he had been very humane and spent a lot of time studying the accused very carefully to psychoanalyse me and try and understand my personality, he admits he failed to understand. The accuser’s failure of properly understanding was deemed by the judge, who looked exactly the same as the accuser and sat in exactly the same seat at the same time, as further evidence that the conclusions of the pre-written verdict were fair and used it to underline the irreversibility of the decision made.

 

The judge was however undoubtedly humane and magnificent and little did it matter that his academic background meant he had worked with more rats than humans, more lab reports than cases but we shall not judge the judge. After all, we would not want to dare to question his authority or would we?

 

The trial ended at exactly 8:30 and 22 seconds with a magnanimously humane gesture of the judge who decided to have mercy and postponed firing me to the end of the year as opposed to firing me with immediate effect. Many questions remain unsolved; Who am I? Am I a victim or a perpetrator? Was I working for an office or was I an officer? Was this a 21st century trial, a court martial or was it instead a medieval-time Spanish Inquisition ‘trial’?

 

These final questions will never be answered but all we know is that this event did occur at exactly 8:30 and 22 seconds, in a square windowless room that is not in a nation yet it is in all of them at the same time.

 

It is fascinating to find out about accounts from the magical secret, parallel world of student life.

Ghost Villages (5/5): Social and Medical Services, focus on the elderly

If Sardinian authorities centralise everything in three of four cities for the entire island, it would make life even harder for those who would like to remain in the rural communities dotted around,specifically inland.

Previously I mentioned technology as an instrument to bring services into people’s houses and make them accessible using a PC or even a smartphone, which is really important when considering bureaucratic affairs but also the health service. A non emergency helpline, chat service and extensive websites with information in Italian, Sardinian and English on different medical symptoms and first stance remedies could be of great help for the local population as a first step to take before going to the GP or a medical centre in a bigger municipality. The British NHS is a good example that offers this high standard digital/remote service. Obviously many of the elderly would not be able to navigate the system, so to complement the digital portal there should be a hotline where nurses provide initial screening and arrange for the local GP to call them and possibly book an appointment or arrange further care plans.

Another very good thing that Sardinia could learn from the NHS is the way in which Scotland distributes resources on providing localised healthcare. For some aspects parallels can be drawn between Scotland and Sardinia, both in terms of economy, historically agricultural and farming of sheep especially; victims of a failed industrial plan; trying to invest resources in tourism and services; remote communities which are difficult to access; an ageing population. Also historically they are ironically connected as the king of Scotland became king of a united Britain in the same way as the king of Sardinia became king of a united Italy nearly 300 years later.

The strong families and the admirable culture of caring for the elderly within the ‘clan’ (the network extended family plus close friends) allowed the health system to sort of take advantage of the spirit of solidarity found in these rural communities and never really developed a system designed for them.

An improved series of social services and a medical system need to be obviously accompanied by an improved public transport network, as elderly people should not be forced to drive when they do not feel comfortable in doing so and it is also dangerous for some as the golden years have slow reflexes which is not ideal for driving down country lanes.The alternative to driving would be relying on a relative to take you to the bigger centre but why should one have to do that?

With the amount of tax the average Italian citizen pays, it is outstanding to see how public services are lacking. Perhaps government believe there should be a relation tax- in order for Italy to provide a similar standard to Scandinavia or at least Britain, but this is clearly not the case.

More information about ghost villages in Sardinia and Campus Omodeo.

#Pointless or #Powerful use of Social Media within Academia Today?

Having given myself the title of ‘Social Media Manager’ in the Swedish language school I was working for this Summer #UISS2017, much to the amusement of the director and many within the school, I have earned myself the reputation of ‘social media man’ which I honestly don’t know what to make of.

I am of the ‘social media generation’ and I witnessed first hand the transition between nothingness and the digital world we live in today and if I stop to think about how much has changed in so little time I find it is almost scary.

There are two ways one can look at this revolution:

  • on the one side, one’s personal privacy is never going to be like it used to be as everything you have said or published on the net can be discovered using an elementary browser search.
  • On the other hand, debates have no limits or borders and things written can be picked up shared, commented on and ‘go viral’,capturing thousands of people around the world. Freedom of speech and openness are key in modern digital debates. Those philosophical debates a few intellectuals would once have had sitting around a table in a ‘Cafe d’Art’ in la Bella Epoque or over a millennium earlier in the public toilets in Roman times,now occur in offices, bedrooms, streets, trains, universities and anywhere an internet connection is available, thanks to online publications, blogs and forums.

Becoming a ‘digital intellectual Cafe’ is the new goal for LostinaCup which started as an exchange student’s blog, and then became a personal website with ‘Social Cultural observations and other random stuff’, to then take a step further now in 2017 and undergo a series of changes that are still taking place beginning with the passage from the .org to .com. Improvements in graphics together with the increasing number of sections available and things you will soon be able to do, make this a real ‘Cafe’. To be fair from the very beginning in February 2013 this has never been a ‘moppy woppy’ platform of narratives on ‘how lovely new friends from all over the world are’ or how ‘OMG, it is so nice to see so much snow and have Fika afterwards with all the cute Swedish pastries…’

Four years of work ‘putting myself out there’ via the blog and social media channels connected to it has not really changed things that much from the long dinner table discussions I used to have with my family while I was growing up. Now the debate extends way beyond the four walls of the dining room of my parents’ house in Sardinia and anyone can take part in it. However the reality is that only my 87 year old grandma, who lives in London, has effectively been included in the discussions to which she often contributes with comments which I really appreciate.

This just goes to show how even if you try as much as you want to create a broad debate over many years, you sometimes still lack the readership and interest from the public. It could be down to uninteresting content, bad communication and distribution or the fact I’m not a academic, journalist or politician who is able to say things with a voice of authority. Who knows? Then again, the web is often quite simple minded and this is reflected by the fact that Justin Bieber and cats playing piano are the biggest sensation on Youtube.

But if the # taught me something,it is that one does not need qualifications or electoral mandates anymore to be able to rule a country as long as they are good at Tweeting. Take Trump as an example, even before being elected admin of @POTUS he had been tweeting and hashtagging away attacking people left, right and centre in a very ‘politically incorrect’ manner or another case:- the former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi who was democratically elected as mayor of Florence and after internal political decisions within his party became the leader of a State of over 60 milion inhabitants with his charismatic touch and pungent tweets such as #staisereno (don’t worry), but no electoral mandate from the Italian people.

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a hashtag, is a good guy with a hashtag (*).

There is no escaping the fact we live in a digital era and hashtags are changing the way people think and communicate across the world. That little previously unused character on your keyboard has now become a vital connection between my 145 characters to the ones of everybody else who is covering the same topic or has taken pictures of the same location.By connecting people social media gives the user a broader perspective on a topic which is often strongly dictated by able politicians, journalists and mainstream media channels who set the agenda and have the loudest voice.

It is our duty, as students and academics to bring out our nerdy knowledge, observations and thoughts to the table as we are more able than others to connect dots and draw broad cross cultural comparisons so it is our duty not to shy away from controversial debates, but instead tackle them full on. With the use of our previous research, passive and active knowledge and writing skills it is our duty to serve the broader population and, with a respectable voice, put all the people who lie and manipulate the masses via social media back into place. Let us prove them wrong with 145 pungent characters, a little bit of sarcasm every so often and back our tweets with external content such as URL links to longer posts, articles or books without forgetting to also connect to other Tweets with a proficient use of hashtags.

If you too believe it is time to feel in a similar way, share this post and let’s make the hashtags #AnthroTaggers (Anthropological Taggers) and #AcaTag (Academic Taggers) into something viral.

This is my third day of my ten week internship in #AntroUU and I am curious to hear what the professors, admin staff and lecturers think about my call to # within Anthropology and Academia.

 

#WhyNot

——

(*) The original quote is from the head of the US National Rifle Association, Wayne Lapierre who used used the same catchphrase in 2012 to justify people carrying guns after yet another school shooting.

Must have apps for an Uppsala Student

Uppsala student specific

Nationsguiden (or nationsguiden.se) is an app to get all the information about everything that is going on in the Uppsala student nation scene, from cafes to pubs to clubs and gasques. Sometimes the app doesn´ t work properly (at least on my phone) so alternatively you can always access all this information from an internet browser by following the link.

Mecenat App: Mecenat is the company that issues all Swedish university students with a student card and in Uppsala also with a nation card. The app allows you to find discounts for students that you are entitled to, but most importantly allows you to have a valid digital nation card that you can show the person at the door together with your normal ID. Unfortunately the app is only available in Swedish but for the purpose of setting it up and finding the student card it´ s fairly easy. To set it up you need the code which is in the letter, sent  with your card. If you have lost it, try contacting them either via the form on their website  or by chatting to them via social Facebook.

UL (Upplands lokaltrafik) is the app in which you can find all the information about public transport timetables and bus routes in Uppsala and the surrounding areas. You can also connect a debit or credit card to the account and buy tickets from the app (providing you have an internet connection).The price is 22 kronor for local bus journeys as opposed to 35 kronor if you pay by card on the bus.

 

Transport for all over Sweden 

SJ the app of Swedish National rail which gives you the timetables of all trains in Sweden often including buses to integrate your journey. Create yourself a profile on the SJ website and start earning points each time you travel. Also you can have your details saved and buy train tickets directly from there!  

Taxi Kurir is a taxi firm which has taxis in all major Swedish cities. You can download the app and get quotes for journeys and if you create a profile and connect it to a debit or credit card, you can also pay for your ride directly via the app which saves you money compared to paying in the car. Also available in English!

 

For practicing your Swedish language skills

Both these apps can be used on a internet browser from a PC or tablet .You create a profile with a username and password and can login from more than one device to the app and use it. The best part is that they are free of charge, easy to use and fairly fun.

Duolingo. Probably the most famous language learning app worldwide offers you a fun and easy way to learn new words in Swedish.   

Memrise: even better than Duolingo, in my point of view, Memrise allows you to learn useful sentences in Swedish which is more advanced than Duolingo and more useful on a day to day basis.   

Google translate: really useful as you can copy and paste long texts into it and it will translate in a matter of seconds from Swedish into English (or any other language really).

Saving money

A really good website which has also a free app available for download is Pricerunner. It is available for several countries but it is useful for comparing prices for a certain product in many shops both on the highstreet and online.

ResQ Club is an app that aims to reduce food spoilage at restaurants and cafés. When you download the app you are able to see which food establishments in your vicinity that have leftover food they are planning to throw away, that you can buy for half of the original price! A great way to save both the planet and your lean student piggy bank.

Stalking

Sweden is a stalker’s paradise as the laws that regulate the right to public information are much stronger than the privacy protection laws. If you know someone’s name and surname you can find out the address where they live, who they live with, their date of birth, their mainline and mobile number and even how much they earn! There are several websites and apps that allow you to gain this information for free. Among the most popular ones are hitta.se and eniro.se so if you have a telephone number you can find out who it belongs to and viceversa.

Original article published in ‘Ergo’, Uppsala’s student magazine, on 17th of February 2017.

Guide to Student Life in Uppsala

Uppsala is one of the best cities to be a student in Scandinavia and possibly in the entire world. With a really old university, founded in 1477, it has centuries of traditions and is centred around academia and student life. It is the fourth largest city in Sweden (after Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö) and has a population of around 150 000 (in 2015) of which more than 45 000 are students.

If you are reading this article, chances are you may be one of those 45 000 students, perhaps even one of the new ones, in which case the next part could be of use to you as I will try and give you tips that could come in handy:

Buy a bike! Might sound silly in the midst of winter. Right now, many rely on buses and just walking as the roads may be too icy or it may be simply too cold to ride a bicycle, but when spring comes everyone will have one and you do not want to be ‘one of those people’ who forces everyone to walk or who has to ride solo on a bus. There are many ways you can buy bikes second hand either via Facebook groups or dedicated shops.

Lock your bike, always! Not only lock it but make sure it is secured to something like a lamppost or a bicycle rack. Apart from people stealing bikes (which apparently is one of the most common crimes committed in Uppsala), many drunken students have the nasty habit of throwing bikes into the river so beware! A really big hotspot for this is in front of Norrlands nation.

Use your bike ‘the Swedish way’: make sure you have a working bell, a front and a back light (also led ones will do) and use the designated cycle lanes. If you do not follow these rules you could get fined 500 kronor each for every transgression on the spot! Also remember not to walk in cycle lanes, may sound stupid but you would be surprised about how many people tend to do this and get angry reactions from the cyclists.

Become a member of a Student Nation! There are 13 different ones and each one represents a different area in Sweden. You can join any nation you like (unless you are Swedish in which case if you do not have family ties to Södermaland or Nerikes regions, you cannot join Snerikes. But for all the other ones no problem). Joining one nation gives you access to all 13 of them, even when they sell alcohol (so during pub and club nights). Each one gives different perks specific to that nation. Most give free entry to their club for members (except Kalmar and Upplands who only give 50 percent off) while others also give you discount on food and hot drinks at their pubs and cafes. Most also give their members priority for buying gasque tickets with them. You can join as many nations as you like; I’m currently a member of 2 but debating if I should to join a third one too! The membership fee is paid once a semester. If you want to join you need to speak to the 1Q of that particular nation and bring ID and proof of studies (Swedish personal number or T-number should be enough).

Get involved in the Nations! If you just go to the nations for fika, the odd pub and weekly club I feel you may be missing out on a big part of  ‘Uppsala student life’. Working in the nations is super easy; you meet new people, get the chance to practice your Swedish, learn new skills, eat good food and so on. The best thing is that for most nation jobs no previous experience is required so you can try out making hamburgers in a busy pub kitchen, pouring beers and mixing drinks at a bar or even just checking ID and student cards (ideal if you want to read a book, study or watch a film). Most nations do not pay for the work you do (even if they do it’s peanuts as 35 kronor per hour is nothing compared to what a normal waiter gets which is a minimum of 90 kronor) as it is part of the spirit ‘students 4 students’ in which, by working for free, we allow people to have a really cheap meal. You do however still get rewarded for your work and the sort of reward varies from nation to nation. It could be anything from a card to skip the line and get free entry to the weekly club for one month, (like in Stockholms Nation) to a free staff dinner followed by an afterparty in Östgöta Nation (both of which you get if you work three shifts). Mainly one does it for the social life and to meet Swedish people who, for an international student, are not always the easiest people to socialise with in normal situations, at least in my experience.

Download these must have apps! There are some essential free apps that one can dowload to make life easier both in Uppsala and in the whole of Sweden.

Join one of the Student Unions. They fight for our rights and are there to support us if we have any sort of problems within our department or in our student life in general. They also offer a lot of services (from sexual health advice to a student wellbeing centre) and when you join Uppsala student union they give you a free tote bag and you get a ten percent discount off books and merchandise in Studentbokhandeln. To join just head over to their headquarters during office hours and while there help yourself to information leaflets on the city of Uppsala and student life in general, pick up some free goodies such as notebooks or condoms. Though Uppsala student union is the biggest and oldest student union in Uppsala, there are several other student unions you can join as well, depending on your field of study. You can find all of them listed here.

Flash your student card in shops and restaurants! Many of them offer student discounts, and even if they don’t – it never hurts to ask. You can find a list of all the discounts offered to you at mecenat.com (unfortunately the page doesn’t have any English translation, so you might have to ask your kind Swedish-speaking neighbour or Google translate to help you understand it).

Make the most of Student Deals on mobile phone rates! When I first arrived in Uppsala I got given the free sim card in the university welcome pack but after almost a year living here I realised that paying 49 Kr for 0.5 GB was extortionate even for ‘expensive Sweden’. After some research I found Vimla! which is a start-up based in Södermalm that instead of investing heavily on marketing campaigns rely on the mouth to mouth system. So if I refer someone I get 10 Kr off my monthly fee and so do those that I referred. The monthly fee is  90 Kr which gives you: 2 GB (3 GB if you are a student or over 55) | 60 min. for nationwide mobiles and landlines | 600 SMS | 20 GB extra data. Unused data, minutes and texts role onto the next month if you have not used them all! Plus the first 3 months you pay 40 Kr instead of 90 Kr and there is no binding time! To sign up and get 10 Kr off each month (paying 40 and eventually 90 Kr as opposed to 50 and 100 Kr) follow my referral link: https://vimla.se/?201705101301370838 Only problem is the website and the free app are only available in Swedish but if you use the translate function on Chrome you should be fine and if you are not just ask them for help via chat, they all speak English and are all very friendly and helpful.

Going home for a few days? Use the coach (yellow bus number 801) to go to Arlanda airport. It might take longer than the train (40 minutes as opposed to 20) but tickets are also half the price of trains. You can also buy tickets for the bus on the UL app mentioned previously if you want to save a few extra kronor. It operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Go to Uppsalingo! If you want to practice your Swedish and are willing to teach your mother tongue language in exchange this is the place for you! There are regular meetings held in a nation pub where people are divided according to their mother-tongue language and sit at tables.The first hour is dedicated to Swedes teaching Swedish and in the second hour you swap and you teach the Swedes your mother tongue language (so, for example, if you are Italian you will sit on the Italian table and teach Italian). This semester it is held in Gotland Nation’s pub every Wednesday from 18:00 to 21:00 and you need to bring ID and your student card as they sell alcohol.

Be in Uppsala over the Valborg period! Valborg is the best student party in Sweden and its heart is here in Uppsala. Students from all over Sweden and beyond congregate in Uppsala having massive parties in public parks and squares and flooding the student nations which will all be open and jam-packed with events and people. The period is between the 27th of April and the 1st of May. A more specific guide on this important festivity will be published here (in English) closer to the time.

Original article published in ‘Ergo’, Uppsala’s student magazine, on the 7th of March 2017.  Latest revision done today.

Sweden, all the little things

When living In Sweden one notices an infinity of small things that people do here on a daily basis which are odd for most people around the world, but are perfectly normal in this country. One could write entire books on the topic, but I will do my best to squeeze in as much as I can into this article.

Pedals on fridges

You would not even notice they are there unless someone points it out to you, but once “enlightened”, you can never go back to the old way of opening a fridge. Apparently it is done to ensure the appliance lasts longer as pressing the pedal releases air so that the door’s rubber isolating layer does not get ruined.

Supermarkets

Most Swedes carefully place their shopping on the conveyor belt so that the cashier can scan the items, taking extra care in aligning everything so that the barcode faces the scanner. There are two schools of thought on why they do this: some say it is to make the transaction faster and be able to reduce to minimum the contact they are forced to have with the person serving them; whilst others instead believe that they do this to help the cashier as they are such nice people. I follow the latter school of thought, as Swedish people tend to be kinder rather than introverted and this just underlines how extremely kind they are.

Splashing Out

On the 25th of every month all Swedish students in full-time education get ‘CSN’ that is money from the government around 3000 SEK in the form of a grant and up to 7000 SEK in the form of a student loan. On that day, Swedish students from Malmö to Umeå go absolutely crazy and start spending like there is no tomorrow, so you will find massive lines outside clubs and hordes of booze-craving Swedes raiding System Bolaget (the only place to buy liquor in Sweden).

‘Inappropriate’ Songs

One of the major causes of mortality amongst young people in Sweden is suicide. Many people call on the government to invest more resources in creating a special department within the public health system to address this issue. One would understandably think that this would be a taboo topic in Sweden, instead it is not. On the contrary, there are even some chart topping pop songs with lyrics that talk about dying young. To mention two: ‘Shoreline’ by Broder Daniel and ‘Some Die Young’ by Laleh. These songs are regularly played on Swedish radio and in clubs; what better song could you choose to show off your moves?

Food

Swedish cuisine tends to be rather healthy, but there are some peculiar dishes which one can only find here. One example is meat with jam such as the traditional meatballs served with lingonberry jam. A more recent invention is the ultimate fast-food and all-time favourite pizza in Sweden: the ‘Kebab Pizza’. As odd as it may sound, it is a simple Margherita base (tomato sauce and mozzarella) with a full on kebab on top of it. From personal experience it sounds like a recipe made in hell but it is rather tasty, definitely a top-notch hangover cure. What I cannot culturally accept is pasta with ketchup. They say that Swedish ketchup is better than the one you find elsewhere, but as an Italian I refuse to even consider trying it.

Bastu!

Sauna culture in Sweden is a big part of the folklore, not as big as it is in neighbouring Finland but still something everyone does regularly. People have private saunas for their block of flats, at the gym or there are public ones. Most of them are sex segregated but there are some that are mixed. As a true Swede wearing a swimming costume or underwear is a big No, so one must enjoy the sauna completely naked. One would believe that the stereotypically awkward Swedes would be even more reserved when in their birthday-suit but oddly they are not. On the contrary, many engage in conversations with strangers, even if they are completely sober.

English Accents

It is rare to find a Swede with a truly Swedish accent when speaking English, which in my opinion is a real shame. At least that tends to be the case amongst the younger generations. Most of them pick-up the accent used in their favourite TV series or if they have had the experience of living abroad either on exchange or just working and travelling , they most likely will have the accent of the English-speaking country they have visited. It is amazingly funny when a Swede tries hard to put on a posh British accent, which is considered really cool of course.

No small talk.

Small talk with strangers or even acquaintances such as neighbours is not the done thing in Sweden. Waiting in line in any given situation or going to a café must be done in total silence, unless you are with someone you know. Your Mp3 player and big, antisocial headphones become your best friends.

Personal space, please!

When in Sweden respect standard personal space and double or triple it. When sober, Swedes like to keep distance.

SwEnglish – Swedish ways of communicating whilst speaking English

Some, mostly the older generations, tend to gasp when having a normal conversation. At first one is taken aback by this way of communicating and believe it may be related to something said that particularly shocked or scared the Swede. Most likely that is not the case, it is just a way of showing interest and understanding when someone is talking. To express mild surprise Swedes say ‘jaha’ (a combination of Yes and ‘Aha!’) and this often makes its way into the way they speak English too. To an to a British person ‘aha!’ might sound mildly sarcastic but in Sweden it is not meant that way. It shows interest. In the north of Sweden people say ‘yes’ by breathing-in sharply and briefly; the first few times you experience this it is quite amazing.

Dealing with Stress

If a Swedish person had to choose between dealing with Satan in person or a stressful situation the choice is easy, Satan all the way. Stress is seen as a quintessentially negative thing in Swedish society so when someone says ‘I feel stressed’ it is a big deal here in Sweden. The first contact I experienced with Swedish society was in a London airport boarding my SAS, Stockholm bound flight. It was one of those rare occasions in which it was snowing rather heavily in England and as it is so rare, nobody knows how to deal with it and everything is absolute mayhem. The Situation got so bad that they were planning on shutting the airport and grounding all flights at which point a SAS stewardess made an announcement on the intercom and I quote: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen good morning and welcome on board this SAS flight to Stockholm! We don’t want to stress you, but please take your seats as soon as possible as they are threatening to close the airport and we really want to get back to Sweden’.  She said this with a slight note of panic in her voice; one cannot blame the poor soul for wanting to get back to Sweden as the thought of being stranded in London for an unspecified amount of time with a full-on snow storm is anyone’s idea of a nightmare. The key point is that even with apocalyptic weather (for English standards) the stewardess felt the need to make sure that nobody had to stress whilst hurrying up.

Snus

The drug many people are legally high on in Sweden. It is basically tobacco in a sachet that people put under their lip which releases a nicotine fix up to 10 time stronger than the average cigarette. It also gets to your brain much faster as the sachet releases its ‘magic power’ through the gum straight into the blood stream. It is apparently very bad for your health and it is illegal to sell in every other EU country, but when Sweden joined they asked to be exempt from the ban as part of the conditions for joining the Union. Some people are heavily addicted and get through more than a pack of 20 a day. The fact that Snus is legal, readily available and fairly cheap (average price for a box is around 30 SEK) is something worth looking into. Both Snus and Cigarettes are fairly cheap considering the average wage, whilst alcohol is super taxed and other drugs including ‘recreational ones’ such as Marijuana are banned with punishment for those found in possession very high. Why is this? Well, my theory is that cigarettes and snus are not heavily taxed as a nicotine-fix makes people less stressed and most of all increases their efficiency levels. On the other hand, if somebody gets drunk, the next day they will be hungover and that would have a severe impact on their efficiency, which in Swedish society would be totally unacceptable.

Forget being a gentleman.

If you go on a date and wish to pay for your Swedish partner, even if it is just a cup of coffee and a cinnamon bun, you will be in for a surprise. Women here feel very independent and the idea that a man must pay for them makes them feel ‘inferior’ or ‘in debt’, so they would rather go halves as opposed to getting a free ride. If you offer to help a lady with carrying stuff or executing a physical chore they might get offended; you might hear answers such as: ‘do you think that only because I’m a woman I cannot cope?’. Some might say this jokingly with a smile on their face, others might take serious offence and give you a lecture on feminist propaganda (the latter tend to be a minority referred to by some Swedes as Femi-Nazis).

Donald Duck at Christmas

On the 24th of December at 3pm every year the exact same episode of Donald Duck, dubbed in Swedish, is played on national television and everybody watches it. It is truly an institution and people have compared it to the Queen’s Christmas message which in Britain is broadcast every year at 3pm on the 25th on national television.

 

A tool for everything

Every Swede has an ample set of tools in their house and each has its specific function. Some are unique to Sweden or rarely can be found anywhere else (except possibly IKEA). A Cheese-slicer, how else is one supposed to cut cheese, surely not with a knife? A Spray for dish washing, A shoe-horn and the list continues…

 

Putting Effort but Not Showing it

Taking ages to comb hair to make it look perfect, not only for women but also men, is a normal thing in Sweden. The key is making it seem as if they have made no effort and that it was a natural look. Stockholm guys did not pick-up on this social cue and use tons of hair gel to go for the combed back hair style (some controversially refer to it as ‘brat look’).

 

 

Standard Swedes

Standardisation all the way, people of Sweden tend to conform quite a lot. Here are a few examples: where does everyone buy furniture from? IKEA. Where do people get their music? Spotify. Clothes? H&M. Underwear? Björn Borg. Cars? Volvo. Phone/Laptop? Apple. Bags? Fjällräven. Shoes? Adidas, All Star or Timberland (for winter). Alcohol? System Bolaget / Booze cruise – Viking Line (from Stockholm to either Helsinki, Riga or Tallin).

Tak for idag!

Translated literally ‘thanks for today’ is something I first heard when helping out at the Fika at the end of a shift and it is really nice to hear that from your bosses as it makes you feel appreciated. You then notice that people say it in many other situations too, such as after an outing, when leaving a pub (in which obviously everyone paid for their own drinks) or after a night clubbing.

 

Article originally published in ‘Nya Gamla Phosphorus’ Östgöta nation’s periodical magazine in December 2016.