Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006:
Bouncers in Helsingborg

What I think:

It kinda freaked me out, the first time I went to a bar on a Friday night here. There are these guys with yellow sweatshirts (or jackets/vests in colder weather) standing at the door, deciding whether or not you deserve entry. And some of them have official-looking badges; almost like the ones coppers wear. These are the bouncers in Sweden.

I had a chat with a guy in a pub recently about this. Let's call him Johan (because that's his name). He's a part-time bouncer at a pub somewhere in deepest darkest Helsingborg. I asked him what the idea behind this uniform is. I mean, what's the story with the Fascist-state badge anyway? My beer-fuelled enquiring mind wanted to know. (I think it's only fair to point out that he was off-duty at the time of questioning, and that I was feeding him alcohol, poor guy.)

Johan explained that there are two kinds of bouncer-guys who wear the yellow tops. One has the badge, and the other doesn't. Apparently, the guy with the badge has to have seventy hours' worth of police training, specifically designed for this kind of work. Johan says that this training covers a variety of subjects, including:

- Self-defence and restraining techniques
(My interpretation: Getting your mate to sneak up behind the potential assailant, grab his arm, and bend it behind his back - while you casually and oh-so-coolly slide your shades on, get your 'cuffs out, and snap 'em on - all in one impressively smooth motion. Magic. It's like CSI Helsingborg, or something)
- Detecting drug abuse
(I read: If he's got red eyes, he's been on smack and ecstasy since birth. Ban him immediately, and forever.)
- Psychology; the art of speaking to, and reasoning with, drunk people

(Hhhmm. More like: Having a few pints before work; getting on the "same wave-length". (Actually that's not fair, most of the Swedish bouncers I've met have been totally sober while at work. But most have still behaved worse than drunken arses anyway.))

After this rigorous training, these beefy chaps not only have the power to frisk people at will ("ladies, this way, please"), but they may also detain, and even "apprehend" people; basically arrest them until the so-called "real" police arrive. I put the word "real" in quotation marks because I challenge the Swedish police's competence (that is, until the Swedish government does something about this blog, and sends some cops round to have some stern words and meatballs with me (this combination's quite popular here, according to Swedish cinema - but that's another blog entry.)).

Anyway, these bouncers also have certain "obligations":

Keep a look-out:
- They must intervene when they see a crime taking place.

These happy bouncing people must detain non-bouncing club-going people when the latter are suspected of possessing drugs (a word of advice to my American and British readers: Keep your flu remedies at the hotel, if you're a visitor).

This crime-watch rule only only applies when crimes take place within the bouncers' jurisdiction, and when the safety of the pub might be jeopordised, i.e. when it's on their territory (around, and close to the pub). Sad bastards. We'll just skin up elsewhere.

The badge-guys must also see when things are getting rough in the pubs they're hired to protect.

That's where the blokes without the badges come in...

About the blokes without the badges

Swedish law dictates, according to...what was his name? Oh yes, Johan (it's great, I can blame everything on him), Johan says that the guys with the badges are supose to step in and take control of a drunken, or drug-fuelled situation. But this is not the case. Nope, not at all.

You'll find that if there's any trouble whatsoever, it'll be the non-badge-wearing guy who's sorting everything out. He's the man. Officially, he's not allowed to do anything at all, but in reality (in Helsingborg anyway), he'll be the guy dishing out that particular pub's (or nightclub's) brand of abuse. Could just be a talking-to, could be a shove, could be a kick.

Helsingborg is a nice city, but there's a lot of unnecessary knocking about of people in pubs & clubs here (by bouncers without badges), and it's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Big scary thing in the basement

A view of something in the basement of my building in Helsingborg.
It has a room pretty much all to itself.
I suspect that it might be laundry-related.
I'm hoping that someone will post what it is in the comments (below)...Anyone?

Friday morning, February 24th, 2006:
Culinary quirks in Sweden
Part Two: Morning Bread Rolls

What I think:

Taking a morning break at work, and watching the ritual of people in the office for their morning coffe and bread rolls. These are actually half-rolls, with a choice of white or whole wheat, with or without different kinds of seeds on them or with that baked on cheese, top half or bottom half.

For the "filling" (and I put the word in quotation marks because it's actually more of a "topping", but one usually says "filling" when talking about sandwiches of any sort), you've got a choice of cheese, ham, processed turkey slice, or some kind of salami.

Then there's a small bowl of sliced cucumber from which you can take a couple of slices to put on your roll. But there's also a little bowl of strawberry jam that some people put on their cheese rolls. I found this quite odd at first, but it doesn't taste bad, actually.

The "open-top" sandwich is a pretty common thing here, and it's not something I enjoy or approve of. And I bet the Earl of Sandwich is doing triple-inverted back-flips in his grave. I believe that a sandwich (and especially a bread roll) must have both a top and a bottom half. You need the upper part to hold onto and keep the filling in place.

People here look silly clutching the sides of their half-rolls, and making sure to bite through their "topping" very carefully (while holding onto the cucumber slices with one finger) to ensure that the whole thing doesn't slide off and slap them in the chin.

Swedes must learn that a proper sandwich consists of two parts bread, and however many parts of FILLING is desired. It's the right thing to do, and it's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The time @ The Local

What I think:

The time on the discussion forum at www.thelocal.se is an hour fast. It's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Saturday, February 18th, 2006:
Some culinary quirks in Sweden
Part One: Ketchup

What I think:

I like to cook. When I first moved here, I tried to get acquainted with what foodstuffs are available, and how they should be used. This was not very easy at first; partly because most of the stuff I couldn't identify was labelled in Swedish, of course.

But the variety and selection in Helsingborg, especially of dry foods, sauces, and meats are quite limited in comparison with what you can find in, say, the UK. For example, lamb is not readily available, nor is turkey. You need to go to butchers and specialist shops for these. There does seem, however, to be more in the way of dairy products than I'm used to. And there are quite a few things that I'd not encountered before as well. I've just been informed that some other larger Swedish cities have more of a selection, by the way.

With today's entry, I hope to start a little series on some of the differences I've found between cooking/eating habits here in Sweden, and those that I've known in England and Canada. And I'd like to start with ketchup.

I've always felt that an obsession with ketchup was very much an American thing; they smother their chips (US/CAN: fries) with it, they usually have it with hotdogs & burgers, and many even put some in their "Kraft Dinner" (cheap macaroni and "cheese"). But it appears that the Swedes share the ketchup obsession, and in certain cases to an unacceptable level, in my humble opinion.

Soon after my arrival here, I managed to find a good selection of ingredients for a nice spaghetti bolognaise sauce. I prepared it lovingly; chopping all the veggies to perfection, stirring in some carefully blended herbs, even adding a generous splash of a deliciously robust red wine. The point here is that I made quite an effort to create something to be proud of, something really tasty with a focus on a richness of both flavour and texture. And I was indeed proud of the result.

So, the scene was set; the table laid, the candles lit, the soft music playing, and the wine poured. A very nice atmosphere, with an enticing aroma permeating the entire setting. Perfect. Dinner is served.

What happened next came as an absolute shock. The person for whom I had so painstakingly prepared this culinary delight, went straight to the fridge, grabbed a big plastic bottle of ketchup, unceremoniously pooped a huge blob of ketchup onto my precious sauce, and started mixing it in.

I just sat there, open-mouthed and totally aghast. She hadn't even tried it before deciding that the taste needed to be "improved". My mention that it actually tasted quite nice without ketchup, and that others might have been slightly offended by such an act, was greeted with a shrug.

I was talking to my friend Johnny down the Charles Dickens pub last night, and we were talking about cooking. Not very macho, I know, but we know each other well enough to know that we're both extremely macho anyway, and we don't have to prove anything to each other, even when we're discussing the art of flower arranging or hairdressing. So anyway, this ketchup thing came up, and it turned out that exactly the same thing had happened to him. He'd cooked a lovely sauce, only to have it drowned in bloody ketchup.

Johnny pointed out that many Swedes will make some plain pasta to go with their meals (as an alternative source of carbohydates, instead of potatoes), and will often just add ketchup to give it some flavour.

Fair enough, but on a carefully and lovingly prepared sauce? Puh-lease!

Ketchup belongs on fast food. People should not be allowed to contaminate others' culinary efforts with it, and it's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.

The news today (oh, boy)
From the world outside:

Libya: Worldwide Cartoon Protests: Protests against cartoons satirising the Prophet Mohammed are continuing worldwide after 10 people died in a demonstration in Libya. Around 1,000 demonstrators set fire to the Italian consulate in Benghazi and hurled rocks and bottles. Police with Kalashnikov rifles fired live ammunition and tear gas at the angry mob but could not get them to disperse for six hours. The riot was sparked by Italian cabinet minister Roberto Calderoli who wore a T-shirt featuring the cartoons.
Sky News

US: Four killed, thousands without power in winter storm: Thousands of people remained without power Saturday after a winter storm packing wind gusts of up to 77 mph rolled across the Northeast, downing trees and power lines. Four people were killed. In New York, officials said it could take two days for utility crews to fully restore service to as many as 300,000 customers. Shelters were opened in hard-hit areas as temperatures plummeted.
From CNN

Sweden: Second bronze for Pärson: Sweden's Anja Pärson won her second bronze medal of the 2006 Winter Olympics in the women's combined alpine event in San Sicario Fraiteve on Saturday afternoon.But the day belonged to Croatian favourite Janica Kostelic, who battled a bout of flu to win gold, adding to her three Olympic golds from Salt Lake City.
From The Local - Sweden's news in English

Monday, February 13, 2006

Monday, February 13th, 2006:
Toilet paper in Sweden

What I think:

Chris from Scotland wrote to me and pointed something out that he noticed during a recent visit to Gothenburg. It was one of those things that you notice when you first move here, but just get used to and eventually forget about. It's about toilet paper in Sweden.

Now, the Swedes are very efficient when it comes to recycling; so much more so than in the UK (see my entry for December 30th). Although I find all this recycling a very noble thing, I feel that there is no need to make something look & feel that it's made from recycled material, unless absolutely necessary.

The bogs (US/CAN: cans/johns) in many offices, bars/pubs/clubs, and even hotels here in Sweden have thin, uncomfortably rough, textured toilet paper in their bathrooms (unbleached, of course, to give that true recycled look).

Personally, I don't see "dropping the kids off at the pool" as something to look forward to, or to savour or enjoy. Nor do I find it necessary to have a triple-quilted, cottony pampering as an integral part of my visit, but what I don't need is to finish off the experience with a near-sandpapering of my bottom.

I'm convinced that it's totally possible for companies to remain responsible to the environment, without making people have to suffer a scraped bum in the process. Toilet paper manufacturers should be reminded that part of their responsibility is also to ensure that their customers have happy behinds.

It's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.

The news today (oh, boy)
From the world outside:

UK: Blair Wins ID Card Vote: The Government has won the first two Commons' votes on controversial ID cards. The first victory was on whether to make the cards compulsory, following further legislation. The second, more contentious, was on whether it would be compulsory to register individuals' details on a central database.
From Sky News

US: Northeast digs out from snow: New York buried in white stuff; airline travelers suffer delays: Residents were digging out Monday from a winter storm that dumped more than two feet of snow on some parts of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, forcing travelers around the country to change their plans. The storm snarled air traffic nationwide Sunday as several major airports shut down for much of the day, affecting more than 2,000 flights. Most airports had reopened by sundown, except New York's LaGuardia, which resumed service at 6 a.m. ET Monday.
From CNN

Sweden: Palme evidence 'was destroyed': Police destroyed evidence that may have been linked to the still unsolved 1986 assassination of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme, a new documentary about the murder alleges, reports said Monday. The film, titled "I Saw Palme's Murder", claims that four months before the crime police found the same type of bullets used in Palme's shooting at the home of an acquaintance of the main suspect, the Expressen daily reported.
From The Local - Sweden's news in English

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Saturday, February 11th, 2006:
Åse's Birthday

What I think:

It was my girlfriend's birthday today. She's now older than she was before. But she doesn't look it. She's one of these Swedes who doesn't look their age. OK, I'll give you a hint: she's still under forty (i.e. younger than me).

I really wanted to share a photo with you on this special occasion, but Åse is very camera-shy. Fortunately, I managed to get a really good shot of her when she wasn't expecting it. Here it is:

Quite a babe, eh?

I did the laundry today, and washed some dishes. Then I made the birthday girl a nice roast chicken dinner, with roast potatoes and carrots, a tasy gravy, and the mandatory greens (for good Olde English tradition's sake).

By the way, chickens in this country are really small. It's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Extra: Lively Swedish bar debate at The Local!

There's an on-line 'newspaper' in Sweden called The Local (Sweden's news in English). There's currently a lively debate about 'Swedish pub/bar etiquette/customs' in their Discussion Forum (initiated by one Andrew Robertson of Manchester, England). Check it out; it's quite amusing.

Definitely lots of food (and drink) for thought for the Swedish government there...

What are you waiting for? Go there now.

Wednesday, February 8th, 2006:
How to get cheap beer in Helsingborg?
Go to Denmark. Almost.

Pictured below: A view of the place where cars queue up to get on the ferry from Helsingborg (in Sweden) to Helsingör (in Denmark).
In English, Helsingör is Elsinore. And for all you Shakespeare fans, Elsinore Castle is there, right across the water from Helsingborg. Note the next ferry to leave at 14:50 is called Hamlet.

"There's something rotten in the State of Denmark"
(like newspaper cartoonists who like to provoke Muslims, for example).
Isn't this an amazingly educational blog?

What I think:

The ferry crossing takes about 20 minutes. It's a good place to buy beer. Sometimes I'll buy a single (foot passenger) ticket (US/CAN: One Way) and not get off in Denmark; Just buy a case on board, and do a round trip.

It's so much cheaper than buying a case in Sweden, and you get to take a little trip as well! The ticket's only 24 Kronor (£1.80 / US$3.10 / CAN$3.55 / AUS$4.17 / €2.60). Bargain.

So one of the best things about living in Helsingborg is buying beer on the way to (or from) Denmark, and never having to actually set foot on Danish soil. Brilliant.

You know, if beer were cheaper in Sweden, less people would make this trip, and the Swedish government would ultimately make more money. And it would be so much more convenient as well.

It's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tuesday, February 7th, 2006:
Hair on Swedish telly

What I think:

I'm normally not too bothered about hair. I'll have mine cut rather short, then forget about it, sometimes for a bit too long, according to some people. When it starts getting in my eyes, I start to consider maybe getting a haircut. When it starts getting in my pint, that's a pretty good indication for me that it's definitely time.

The same goes for other people's hair. I'm not really too interested in hairstyles. Sometimes, people will "have something done" with their hair, and I won't even notice. (Well, I have to admit that I'm not too fond of that sort of wannabe mohawk - you know, that thing that David Beckham had for a while when his real mohawk grew out a bit; the kind of longer-sticky-up pointy thing on top, with the sides only a bit shorter. That's pretty popular with some guys in Helsingborg. Still.)

But what I find annoying is when people who present the news or weather have outrageous hairstyles (or clothes, for that matter). Where newsreaders or weather presenters in the UK usually have a relatively neutral look, with sensible hair (or none), and fairly tasteful yet unremarkbale clothes, many here in Sweden seem to go out of their way to be try look bizarre or at least overly casual and un-news-or-weather-like . I've seen some of the oddest ties and weirdest hairdos on news programs here.

But the Swedes seem to love it.

On one of the main national stations, for example, there's a weather guy with long-ish hair. It's not particularly messy or anything; it just feels like he should be playing guitar in a rock band instead. Then I found out that that's precisely what he did before presenting the weather. Hmm...I can't honestly comment on his meteorological credentials. I just wonder what his band was like (insert your favourite weather-themed cover song here).

So anyway, this ex-rock guitarist weather guy once decided to cut his hair a few years back. Apparently, as soon as the Swedish public saw him on telly, there was a huge national outcry. Calls & letters came pouring in demanding that he grow his hair back at once. Which he did. Well, perhaps not all at once, but after much hard work and concentration (and a month or two), he got there in the end. Have a look if you want. (Oh yeah, you'll have to scroll up a bit.)

There's another guy on the same station who has big curly hair. Sometimes he lets it grow a bit long in the back to make what the English call a "mullet" and what North Americans call "hockey hair". This guy looks like a poodle. It's a bit difficult to take him very seriously. (Newsreader: "That's all the news we have for this evening. Now here's Mr Fluffles with the weather.") Click here to see him.

There's also a woman who reads the news (and sometimes chairs discussions) who's hair is in constant turmoil. She's having a bad-hair life. But she's actually famous for it. It's true. Look here for a nice selection of photographs of her. I saw a discussion with her and a few other people on telly the other night, and there was a guy there whose hair looked Kramer's (off Seinfeld). For a second I thought I was watching The Muppet Show.

You know, we non-Swedes have enough trouble trying to learn the language. But if we try to pick up some extra Swedish and make an effort by watching Swedish news on telly, we can't pay attention to what's being said because we focus on funny clothes or hairdos. (Look at this weather guy as well. Yes, he's for real.)

Although it can be very amusing to watch, it's distracting, and we miss a lot of what's being said because we're driven to distraction. It's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.

Monday, February 06, 2006

February 6th, 2006 - A view of the entrance to my building, and the road in front.
In Helsingborg.
I thought this crap was over with.
A view looking out at my balcony in Helsingborg, on February 5th, 2006.
More snow? Boody Hell, It's February, already. Cut it out.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

A view of the entrance to my building (to the left of the bio-rubbish shed)
Helsingborg, Sweden.
Yesterday (Friday, February 3rd, 2006)

Saturday, February 4th, 2006:
Appropriate office footwear in Sweden

What I think:

One really cool thing about Sweden is that many companies have a very casual dress-code. I think it's so nice being able to go to work and feel comfortable, and not have to wear a jacket & tie. It's perfectly cool for me to go in wearing black jeans and my "Boldly Going Nowhere" t-shirt. It's pretty laid back that way. To have that kind of freedom is a good thing.

Or is it?

There is one thing that I find bizarre, and even slightly (dare I say?) unprofessional-looking. Quite a number of people, upon arrival at work, remove their shoes (or boots), and put on sandals (leaving their socks on, of course).

Now, I totally understand not wanting to wear big winter boots all day long, and of course people in Canada take off their boots and have shoes that they wear at work (probably some people in northern Britain do as well), but sandals? In the office? Hhmm.

I believe that this is taking the comfort thing a bit too far. It looks plain silly.

And I bet there can be Health & Safety issues as well, come to think of it. What if you spill hot coffee? What if there's a fire and you have to go straight outside, only to get frostbite on your toes? What if you get a smack in the face for looking so stupid?

Don't even get me started on summer office attire. To the blokes who wear those pastel-coloured light cotton trousers that only go halfway down their lower legs: Look, I'm really not interested in seeing your hairy shins & calves, thank-you-very-much.

While I appreciate being comfortable at work, there should be just a few basic, common-sense rules to follow. I mean, what's next? Pyjama bottoms and bunny slippers?

Sandals (with socks, of course) worn at work are a blight on the fabric of Sweden's society, and it's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Thursday, February 2nd, 2006:
A view of Knutpunkten,
Helsingborg's central station for trains, buses and ferries to Denmark and Norway.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Wednesday, February 1st, 2006:
Beware the walkways of Helsingborg

What I think:

Ever since I moved here I've admired the quaintness of the many cobblestoned roads, and the wide variety of different kinds of pavements (US/CAN: sidewalks). It all adds a very cozy feeling to this fine old city, and complements the architecture, both old and new, in such a pleasant way. It's just so much nicer than the usual uneven paving stones that we all trip over on the way home from the pub in Britain, or the dull, never-ending, greyish-white lengths of cement we have in many parts of North America. It's nice.

For the most part, that is.

There is one type of walkway that I really hate here, mainly in winter (or wet weather). They have these tiles, for want of a better word, that don't seem at all suitable for walking on outdoors. They look like they belong on the floors (or even walls) of posh Greek restaurants, with chubby bazouki players called Stavros Oesophagusopoulous. Or maybe in McDonald's restaurants. (Have a quick scroll down to have a look.)

My point is that they can be very dangerous. These tiles seem to be made of almost totally non-porous ceramic (they're probably not, but they seem like it), and they get very slippery in icy or even wet conditions.

You know how those pimply blokes with the mops at McDonald's plant those big "Warning: Slippery When Wet" signs on the floor as they're getting into doing their thing? Well, they should have those here as well (the signs, not the pimply blokes; there are plenty of those to go around, thank-you-very-much).

Sweden could save a fortune on hip-replacement surgery on those poor tumbling old dears if they would just choose the material they use for the pavements a bit more carefully.

It's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.
A view of the pavement (US/CAN: sidewalk)
just outside my flat block (US/CAN: apartment building)
on the evening of February 1st, 2006, in Helsingborg.
It can get bloody slippery (US/CAN: damn slippy).