Showing posts with label Sweden. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sweden. Show all posts

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My 7 Links Blog Project

Thanks to Miss Footloose (aka Karen van der Zee) I've been invited to participate in the My 7 Links project organized by Tripbase, the wonderful organization that has recognized both our blogs with Expat Blog of the Year awards.

In this post, I am sharing 7 of my old posts you might not have discovered yet, at the end I list five other bloggers I've nominated to do the same.

My Most Beautiful Post - This is from one spectacular afternoon overlooking the Vltava River in Prague with my friend Sher. If you know nothing about Prague, this will help you understand why people fall in love with it. A Springtime Stroll Around Letna Park

My Most Popular Post - I'm deeply committed to doing what I can as an individual consumer and citizen to prevent climate change.  So I decided to sell my car and live without it.  Then one day I realized I had survived just fine without it for quite awhile. Starting My Third Year Without A Car

My Most Controversial Post -Looking back, I can't say I write very controversial posts. This one might not be the kindest one I've ever written, and I did try to put the behavior I was describing into historical  context. Little Corruptions

My Most Helpful Post - The American lifestyle has a cost structure that feels unsustainable to me. In this post, I try to help Americas imagine a lower cost structure. The Czech Republic is the same size as South Carolina.  Imagine if you were able to travel around a state the size of South Carolina for $400 a year.  How the Czech Government Delighted Me As A Consumer

The Post Whose Success Surprised Me The Most - Who knew a visit to a gift shop would generate such discussion? My post The Swedish Tourist Attraction That Did Not Attract Me ended up featured on the Displaced Nation Blog where ABC News Royal Correspondent Jane Green and I debated the idea of monarchy. 

A Post I feel Didn't Get the Attention It Deserved - Is it my idea? Or my blog post? What do I need, pictures? I only received two commented on this post, and I still like my idea.  Why not give the opposite of a Nobel Prize to countries that could use, well, an intervention?
Does the World Need the Opposite of a Nobel Peace Prize?

A Post I am Most Proud Of - In 2009, I was struck how my Czech friends felt their opinions were ignored on a proposed American missile system that was slated for installation in their country.  I wrote a blog post asking President Obama to come to the Czech Republic and either sell them on it or announce it would end.

He came, gave an amazing speech, and won the Nobel Prize. And the anti-missile system moved away from the Czech Republic. What a win/win.  All because of my blog post!

I hope you're smiling here. I don't actually believe President Obama came to Prague because of my blog post. But I was contacted by the BBC to provide commentary about his speech (didn't happen due to logistics) because their producers had been reading my blog.

I do feel I showed my Czech friends, feeling their way through their new democracy, that taking action makes you feel better rather than being paralyzed.  They marveled that I felt I could effect positive change.  They didn't (which is exactly what politicians want you to think cause then you'll leave everything to them).
Dear President Obama, Please Come to the Czech Republic

I live for comments so tell me what you think!

Here are the links to five blogs I've nominated to join the project:

Adventures in the Czech Republic

Black Girl in Prague

Blogging Gelle

Ricky Yates

Senior Dogs Abroad

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What Did You Think of the Royal Wedding?

 The Royal Kiss

We're having a big discussion over at The Displaced Nation. Come in and contribute to the conversation. Jane Green, chick lit author and ABC News Royals Correspondent is celebrating the traditional fairy tale. I'm asking the question that formed in my mind while visiting the Swedish Royal Palace gift shop: how could women get all the story, fashion, glamour, and romance of the royal wedding without the existence of monarchy?  There has to be a way. Contribute your thoughts!

Photo and links were added at a later date due to Turkey's ongoing censorship of bloggers.

Monday, February 28, 2011

If It Were My Home: Comparing Sweden to the United States

In my final post about Sweden, I'd like to share a wonderful Internet site that appeals to the geeky librarian in me for its beautiful presentation of data and ease of understanding for the reader.  This site is called ''If It Were My Home.''  It allows readers to compare two countries side-by-side.  I'm glad to see the instincts telling me Sweden is outperforming the United States were correct.  I wish I was wrong, alas, no.

The only category where we are outperforming Sweden is in income.  Given that our wealth is at the top, and Sweden is 25% immigrants, it feels much wealthier than America when you're there.

 Click on my title to go to the real site with extensive informatıon. Compare any two countries you want! Wouldn't it be cool if our countries felt competitive with each other about their statistical performance and started to compete on performance on our behalf?

Related posts:

There Is No Need to Save Face In Sweden

If This Is Socialism, Sign Me Up!

What Idea(s) Captured Your Imagination in 2010?

The Swedish Tourist Attraction That Didn't Attract Me

Monday, February 14, 2011

Visiting Sweden: If This is Socialism, Sign Me Up!

Sweden wowed me when I visited for one week last November.  I was stunned by the general prosperıty of the population, and to be honest, I didn't quite understand it.  For example, I spent time in Örebro, the 7th largest city in Sweden.  It's the same size as a city I lived in America whose downtown had been hollowed out and decimated by the move of manufacturing from America to China. Why hasn't Sweden had the same trouble competing?

In Örebro, every downtown shop was rented and many were selling magnificent fashion. There was one fashion boutique after another.  Imagine the best brands: Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren, Burberry, etc. all being on offer in the downtown of an American manufacturing town.  I can't. I could only assume the wealth hadn't 'trickled up' enough to move out-of-town.
 Surely I would find poverty in the public library.
Where are the homeless people
trying to stay warm?
 They weren't sitting in the cafe
all day either
Wait...nope just a sculpture.
I went into the public library of Örebro to count how many homeless people I could see.  If it matched a downtown library of an American manufacturing city on an equally frosty day, I would estimate in advance, that there would be about 20 homeless people.  I couldn't find one. NOT ONE! I went through every nook and cranny of that library too from the top floor to the basement.

I couldn't take my eyes off of Swedish old people over the age of 70.  I wish I had thought to take pictures.  Swedish old people are aging beautifully.  I saw person after person looking 10 to 15 years younger than their actual age. The Swedish universal health care system meant that the entire population was better cared for their whole life and they must have had the faces and bodies and teeth and health they deserved.  Not only did the old folks look great they were dressed fashionably in stylish clothes.  As I was chatting up one older gentleman in Sweden who told me he was seventy, he said with a mischievous twinkle "yes, but if I start speaking French, I'm a mere 60!"

Human beings aren't the only part of Sweden that looks great.  So does the land.  In Turkey, every ounce of topsoil and all the trees are gone from my neck of the woods - quite understandable given 8,000 years of continuous civilization.  In Sweden, the forests went on for miles and miles and the air and water were very clean.  Swedes say they are very lucky because they didn't pay the price other European countries did during WWII, but they aren't giving themselves enough credit for being incredible stewards of the environment.

When I would compliment Swedes on their nation, I would hear "oh, but we have terrible problems with income inequality [the link shows they really don't, at least compared to everyone else, Swedes must be comparing internally]. Plus, it gets dark too early in the day and it is cold." Now would a statement like that about income inequality come out of an American's mouth? I don't think we would even think such a thought.  Yet, our nation has more income equality than at any time since 1928.

I didn't actually get to see this but a friend in Stockholm told me there was an extensive series of tunnels underneath the City of Stockholm so that no neighborhood had to have a multi-lane highway going through it.  Just the idea of being willing to spend tax money on underground highways so as to not impose that on anyone (in America, above-ground multi-lane highways would get imposed on poor neighborhoods) stunned me.

Visiting Sweden I couldn't help but think of American intellectual Cornell West. He has a phrase for our current American experience: "we have become well-adjusted to injustice." If Sweden represents the socialism that is so often derided back home in America, sign me up!

Related posts:

A Week in Sweden

There is No Need to Save Face in Sweden

Daydreaming at Stockholm City Hall

Visiting the Nobel Museum

The Swedish Tourist Attraction that Didn't Attract Me

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Swedish Tourist Attraction That Didn't Attract Me

During my week in Sweden, I could tell one aspect of Swedish culture that had wide appreciation among Swedes and foreigners alike was the Swedish monarchy.  Recently, there was a royal wedding between the beautiful Princess Victoria and her physical fitness trainer Daniel Westling.  Reportedly, their relationship was quite a love story warming the hearts of all lovers of fairy tales.

The Swedish Royal Palace gift shop was barely maneuverable due to tourists snapping up the merchandise related to this event. I noticed my complete lack of interest in this recent royal wedding - a reversal from my twenties.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles

When I was twenty-two years old, I fell head over heels for the fairy tale of my time: Prince Charles and Lady Diana.  I delighted in every minute detail of the wedding planning. I could not consume enough pictures of every fabulous thing Lady Diana said, wore, or did.  I got up at 3 a.m. to watch the entire ceremony. When I was married the following year, I asked my florist to reproduce EXACTLY the bouquet Diana had carried down the aisle. 

Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s relationship all turned out to BE a fairy tale.  In other words, a fictional story designed for public consumption that wasn’t true.  It was merely good for business and marketing a nation.  I feel naive and silly, in retrospect, for having expected that it should be otherwise.  Royal marriages don’t even have a tradition of being about love.

This female fantasy women have of being a princess doesn’t even need to be projected onto a specific woman. There's a famous business legend about a guy hired to help the Walt Disney Company grow their business.

As the new consumer products division chief, Andrew Mooney attended his first "Disney on Ice" show. While waiting in line, he found himself surrounded by young girls dressed as princesses. “They weren’t even Disney products. They were generic princess products,” he mused. Soon after realizing the demand for all things princess-related, the Disney Princess line was formed.  In 2009, that "Princess" division grossed an estimated $4 billion.

As a pure business proposition, the Swedes chip in under $2 a piece to support the royal family.  For their $16 million, they get a photograph-able family that can generate publicity and interest in Sweden more than any prime minister could.  

What I DO find myself attracted to in Swedish culture, is this group of people who have banded together to proclaim the idea of kings and queens a ridiculously outdated notion.  You can read about their ideas here.

Think about it, if we as human beings have gotten rid of stupid ideas like serfs and slaves, why haven’t we yet rid ourselves of the obsolete notion (on the other end of the spectrum) that chosen human beings should serve as "Truman Show" figureheads above the rest of us?

Maybe women have a deep-seated need for princesses.
What is a princess? I would define her as a pampered girl, indulged in consumption unavailable to others due to her birth rather than her innovative ideas or labor.  Her power isn’t exercised directly because she doesn’t, after all, have the responsibility to produce anything.  Her job is merely to “be,” not to “do.” Why? Because by being fashionable, beautiful, and of high birth she's...worthy. Ick.

That's why we women fall for it...being deemed worthy. But why do we need hereditary monarchy to be any of those things. Why do we need to be a princess to be fashionable, beautiful, of acclaimed parentage, or worthy? 

 Can't get enough pictures
of Michelle Obama's dresses!

I'm not saying I don't turn into a girly-girl the minute Michelle Obama's State Dinner Dress photos come out.  Hey, I am woman. I love pretty dresses. What got Michelle Obama there? The power and audacity of the ideas represented, not dated institutions that have outlived their Medieval existence.

I was bemused at yet another way I find Scandinavians to be global thought leaders. This group of Swedish people (called the Swedish Republican Association) made me think and I'd like you to think with me. If princesses didn't exist, what would young women dream of being? Could it likely be a healthier idea for humanity and relationships? A more realistic idea?  Can you imagine people of the future laughing at us for even allowing the idea of undemocratic monarchies to exist? For needing the “idea” of princesses?

What would you dream of being if princesses didn't exist?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Visiting the Nobel Museum

Freezing yet Cheerful
I'm in Stockholm!

A scientist friend told me once that a Nobel Prize in Sciences was a dated concept.  He said most breakthroughs require an ensemble, a team, and the idea of one guy toiling passionately for years in his lab until one day he says, "Eureka!" is overly dramatic.  He felt it was not the likely way big discoveries will happen in the 21st century.  

That may be, but I found, like most tourists, that visiting the Nobel Museum was #1 on my list of things to do in Stockholm.  To me, the Nobel Prize represents goodness over evil, enlightenment over superstition, knowledge over anti-intellectualism, and excellence over mediocrity. 

I respond to the innovation and thought leadership I see from the Scandinavian countries. Having figured out what works for their countries and developed themselves to the highest degree, as societies they seem free to operate as aristocrats who no longer have to worry about earning a living and can move on to higher, more noble concerns such as how to advance the human race. The Nobel Prize is just the most prominent example.

A beautiful reclining Buddha
displayed as part of an art exhibit
at the Nobel Museum
celebrating the philosophy
of the Dalia Lama

Beautiful and inspiring sentiments
on a garden bench
also part of the art exhibit
Sculpture formed out of
discarded Manhattan phone books

I loved not only seeing the art exhibit but the short movies about each Nobel Prize winner and the other movie about creative environments that breed innovation and excellence without apology.  There wasn't an exhibit on how to raise a Nobel Prize winner. I suppose by the time people win, their parents aren't alive to celebrate with them and to be asked how they did it.  That's probably not so important.  I don't know about you, but I've always observed there is no shortage of worthy scientists, instead there's a shortage of funding for all their great work.

The Nobel Museum is in a stately old building set amidst Old Town Stockholm.  I had to tease the front desk clerk that the big clock in the middle of the exhibit space was dead and not working in a building devoted to celebrating excellence. "I know, she grinned, we've tried for three years to get it to run properly. No luck."  The irony made me smile. Maybe they should offer a prize.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Daydreaming at Stockholm City Hall

 Stockholm City Hall
photo by Yanlin Li
 I can't think of anything in the world more prestigious than a Nobel Prize, can you? One of the great pleasures of being in Stockholm was to see the sites associated with the yearly Nobel Prize event.  One of  the places used to celebrate humanity's most illustrious achievements is Stockholm's City Hall.
The Blue Hall
at Stockholm City Hall
Photo by Yanlin Li
I don't know why I find everything associated with the Nobel Prize deeply romantic, but I do.  Probably because while the Prize goes to one person, you know that someone doesn't achieve something like that without incredible help and support. I found myself reacting to all of Stockholm's Nobel glory with schoolgirl wonder.

One night in Stockholm, I watched new members who were going to be inducted into the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences arrive at City Hall in their white tie and evening gowns. It was such a beautiful moment to see, knowing that this had to be one of the happiest moments of their lives.  Bravo! Brava!

Now that I think about it, it wasn't just seeing Swedish scientists arrive for dinner and dancing that made it all seem so fanciful.  I do know why I find it all so dreamily romantic.

I've always had a serious crush on CalTech scientist Richard Feynman who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965. Feynman would now be over 90 but he died in 1988. I think back to his wonderful essay "The Value of Science" which is so breathtakingly beautiful, it has the ability to make every humanities major question their choices.

I went through a period where I read every single book Richard Feynman wrote for a general audience.  While I had never taken physics in school, his enthusiasm for the subject always made me realize "I am missing out somehow!" He had such a flair for showmanship when explaining physics.  Most people remember him not for his Nobel Prize, but for explaining very simply, using only a glass of water on the table, how the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up.

 The Swedish Flag
Hanging in the Blue Hall
More Swedish Pride
The Blue Hall is the largest room in Stockholm City Hall and it is most famous for being used every year for the Nobel banquet every December 10th. Every year 1,300 people squeeze themselves into this beautiful space with just 40 inches of space between them.  So what if you have to eat with your elbows close to your sides, this is one of the most exclusive invitations on Earth, no?
Table service for the Nobel Dinner

Two beautiful bas relief sculptures
in the Prince's Hall
within Stockholm City Hall
where receptions are held year round.
These window sculptures
overlook the harbor and a
terrace about as European and romantic
as terraces can get.

The Golden Hall
at Stockholm City Hall
where laureates go to dance.
Isn't it fabulous?
Photo by Yanlin Li
 The Golden Hall at Stockholm City Hall is done with a beautiful golden mosaic that could best be described as Picasso's Byzantine Period. Picasso didn't have a Byzantine period, you say?  I know.  But if he did, this is what it would look like.
 What? You say your City Hall
back home isn't quite this cool?
Yeah, same here.
The architect gave the artist a mere two years to finish the entire job, something the mosaic master felt would take at least 6 or 7 to do properly.  One of the very fun stories the tour guide relates is pointing out a headless Swedish patriot at the top of one mosaic, surrounded by equally headless friends.

"Why Mr. Artist, did your patriot get put up there on the wall minus his head?"

The artist said, "well, that's due to him having lost his head to the enemy in battle.  I didn't portray him with his entire body and head, but left the head off as he lost it in service to his country."

"Yes, but Mr. Artist, why then are there a couple other characters without their heads at exactly the point where the wall meets the ceiling?  Could it be you forgot that there would be 4 to 5 feet of benches at the base of the wall and the entire mosaic was raised 5 feet?" Ouch.

One would never pick these mistakes out on one's own - or even want to, actually.  It's the Swedish strength and ability to laugh at themselves, that makes these very human tours possible.

Oh, and look what I found.  Richard Feynman dancing in white tie during his Nobel weekend.  That is one lucky girl.
Richard Feynman and his wife Gweneth Howarth
Photo from the CalTech Archives

Saturday, January 15, 2011

There is No Need to Save Face in Sweden

Can you see the people near the bottom
of the magnificent Vasa Warship?

There were so many things that impressed me about Sweden but one of the most fun to experience was that a couple of the top tourist attractions in Stockholm all involve human mistakes.  And the Swedes are OK with that!  They not only don't hide them, they tell you the fun stories behind each one.  

The most prominent human mistake on display in Sweden is the Vasa Warship Museum.  A couple of hundred years ago, King Gustavas of Sweden wanted to go raise hell in Poland and had one fine warship built for himself to use invading Polish harbors. When he had it built, he spared no expense in putting all kinds of colorful, scary carvings on it intending, of course, to have Polish sailors peeing in their boots when they saw it coming.  The Swedish king wanted to use it to sink every Polish ship in their harbor and block all activity.
 Restored carvings
showing how the ship was painted in
full color that
conveyed the King's might

Unfortunately, someone's shipbuilding math was off.  Had the entire ship been one meter wider or less top-heavy the ship might have had a fighting chance to complete it's mission.  It looked unstable in the harbor but none of the king's advisor's had the courage to keep it from sailing.

When a strong wind hit it shortly after launch, the ship leaned enough to one side that water starting pouring into the open windows used for the cannons. It sailed all of 20 minutes before sinking, blocking the Swedish harbor, not the Polish one.

Three hundred years later, a Swedish archeologist decided that Sweden needed to bring the ship up from the depths of the mud and now the whole thing is on display.  I'm not a guy, but when I entered the museum and saw this giant, gorgeous instrument of war, even I got a testosterone rush.  It was 17th century shock and awe.

Scary and beautiful carvings
on the back of the ship
sans their color

Hearing about how bad math doomed the ship reminded me of Henri Petroski's wonderfully readable book about the role of failure in design called "To Engineer is Human." Doctors bury their mistakes, but poor shipbuilders, builders and engineers have to experience all of their failures publicly.  VASA museum tour guides are very used to the giggles that come out of tourist mouths like mine as we contemplated how embarrassing it all must have been.

I ask you though, hasn't the Swedish bravery in showcasing their mistake given that warship a higher purpose?  Kids, look what happens when you don't do your math homework!

You might also enjoy these other posts on Sweden:

A Week In Sweden

Daydreaming at Stockholm City Hall

Visiting the Nobel Museum

Visiting Sweden: If This is Socialism, Sign Me Up!

What Idea(s) Captured Your Imagination in 2010?

The Swedish Tourist Attraction that Didn't Attract Me

If It Were My Home: Comparing Sweden to the United States

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Week in Sweden

 Starting a fun day of sightseeing
at a cold beautiful overlook of Stockholm

 I recently had the opportunity to visit Sweden.  I went in November, an unusual time to go close to the Artic Circle but it was when I had time available.

 A beautiful woman who helped with
directions in the central city.
Can you tell she's Swedish?
She is.

It was my very first time in Northern Europe.  I felt like I had returned to my childhood! Having grown up in the center of Iowa, I had been surrounded by Norwegians and Swedes.  They were proud "Scandinavians" eating lutefisk at Christmas and displaying their bright red wooden Swedish horses and candelabras.  My mother had learned how to cook Swedish tea rings from our Scandinavian-American neighbors and my whole family did our best to encourage that borrowed ethnic specialty in our house. Warm, fragrant, gooey, cinnamony, frosted tea rings are delicious!

 This young woman was
on my tram in Stockholm.
Can you tell she's Swedish?
She is.

I delighted in all of the ethnic Swedish names.  Say these out loud, they're so beautiful:

Astrid and Ingrid and Märta and Linnea
Einer and Anders and Liam and Mattias and Nils

and these last names:

Eriksson and Olsson and Gustafsson and Lindberg and Eklund and Lindgren and Lundin and Nordstrom

 A Swedish Royal Palace Guard
Can you tell he's Swedish? He is.

Being exposed to all of the glorious first and last names common throughout Sweden made me realize some friends back home, especially those living in Northern Illinois, were of Swedish origin.  I had never considered their ethnic origin before that moment.  It was fun to discover.

Contemporary Swedes have an open heart. It's not always easy to do so, but they do.  They have opened their country to immigrants from other countries and are now learning terrific food from them like I learned about Swedish tea rings and lefsa back home in Iowa.

This polite young man came to Sweden
from Somalia when he was six.
Can you tell he's Swedish?  He is.

Can you tell this man is Swedish?
OK, he's half Swedish.
The other half is Zambian.
I admired the Swede's open hearts because when everyone is sooooo ethnically similar, it has to be disconcerting to have people with different religions and traditions and values and ideas integrate into your society and start to change things by just being their normal selves going about their normal daily lives.

In one grocery store, I asked an immigrant helping me find cranberries where he was from.  "Kurdistan!" he said, with all of the fierceness he could muster.  I had to think about it for a moment and then realized the reason I didn't know where it was is because it is an area within Iraq.

Knowing that there are all kinds of people like him scattered across the globe in an ethnic diaspora, is a reminder to give all of these people a break. I was glad when he dissolved into a surprised fit of giggles hearing me give him an Turkish "tessekur ederim" (thank you).

Complimenting a Swedish lady about her country's openness to immigrants, she said, "but who can say who is Swedish?  My grandparents are from Poland!".

We Americans should be especially grateful for the Swedish open hearts because they are the world's people most gracious enough to take in Iraqis fleeing strife cause by the war and occupation the Bush Administration started in Iraq.  In 2006, Swedes took in more Iraqis than any other country in the European Union.  Christian Iraqis, fearing persecution in their homeland, make up a large part of that influx after Iraq occupation in 2003.

Sweden, this little tiny nation of 9 million, has taken in 100,000 Iraqis.  America, with a population of 310,000,000 has only taken in 350,000-400,000 Iraqis from a war we started.  If you meet a Swede, America, you might want to say "thanks."

Or, we could do even better, we could crack open our hearts a little.
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