Friday, 26 October 2012

Week24: Subtle Differences - Size Matters?

So what have you found? What are the differences between England and Sweden? People keep asking me, but the further I get into my Swenglish project the harder it gets to answer the question.

Apart from the obvious differences like the climate (it snowed last night in Stockholm!) there are the more subtle differences that I find interesting. They can be hard to discover, but last night I found out that size matters - or not.

I was at a film/poetry/music event with my host and I was going to order wine at the bar. ’Would you like a small or large glass?’ I asked. My host looked at me, not quite understanding. In Sweden there’s only one size when you order wine, generally large. Whereas in England you have a choice between 125/175ml or 250ml in most places.

It’s the same with beer. I was out in a bar when I stayed in Malmö and my host asked if I wanted another beer. ’I don’t know,’ I said. ’Perhaps a half.’ My host looked confused. In Sweden there’s only one size: ”en stor stark” which means ”a big strong one”. (Although in some places, like British or Irish themed pubs you can get different measurements.)

So what does this say about the cultures then? That the English are more nuanced with their difference sizes? And that Swedes just want to get more drunk? Or perhaps the English are just more fuzzy, bothering about size? Personally, I miss being able to order a small glass of wine or half a pint, because sometimes a big glass or a pint is too much, especially at the end of the night.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Week23: Community Life

This week I’m staying in the first and only community during my Swenglish journey. Four adults (five with me), two kids, one cat and one horse are part of the household. The house is from the 1850s and is located in the countryside outside Umeå. The forest is everywhere and it’s quite close to the sea. Every day vegan food is served. Some days they eat together, sometimes they don't. There’s a ”cleaning spinner” to share the chores, but it’s not in use anymore. Despite that it’s as tidy as it can be with small children in the house. It’s not at all as chaotic as in Lukas Moodyson’s film ”Together” ...

In England I stayed in some households with four or five people, but that didn't make it into a community. Just because you live with more than one other person who is not family or close friend it doesn't automatically become a community. In England, at least in Brighton and other bigger cities, people live together because they have to. Not only when they are students but also when they get to their 40s or 50s. It’s common that people who don’t know each other at all put their names on a contract and move in together.

In Sweden it’s much more common that people live on their own and if you live together with someone you often choose to do so, and then it’s not for economical reasons as was my experience in England. There are communities in England as well of course, and like in Sweden they are often based around  political or spiritual beliefs. But what I’m trying to say is that in Sweden it’s not as common to live with several other people if it’s not a community and people here readily call a household with more than two people a community even if it’s not. (In Sweden we don't even have any words for "housemate" or "flatmate".)

So what makes a community into a community? Why isn't it enough just to live with several other people? I haven’t yet got a good answer, but the thing about having the same ideology and values seems to be a criteria. My host who is a "leftie" could not imagine living with people who are right-wing even if she has good discussions with them when meeting them out. She wouldn't be able to live with people who eat meat at home either. Why is it that it’s almost always left-wing people and very often vegetarians that live in communities then? Why have conservatives and meet eaters not discovered community living?

I’m now well into my twenty-third Swenglish-week and have lived with so many different people in so many different places that I think I need to live completely on my own for six months just to find out what my own life-style and my own habits are. All my life I've adjusted myself so much to the people I've lived with that I don’t know if I’m tidy or messy, if I’m an owl or a lark. Although after I've tried living on my own I’m not against the idea of a community. If only I've got a room where I can lock the door and write, things usually work out. It’s quite nice having people around, being able to choose if you want to have company or be on your own. And if people have kids there are extra baby-sitters. (In Sweden the word for baby-sitter is "child guard" ... to guard someone doesn't sound quite right!)

This week I don’t have a room of my own. But I've got a partition wall so I can have some privacy as people pass my sleeping space to go to the toilet. All in all it has been a very varied week. Yesterday I was up on the horseback and the other day I first went to an ”open nursery school” and then watched my hosts when they rehearsed with their punk band. Tomorrow I’m going to a design market and I've also discovered that they sell very good vegan sausages at the Pressbyrån newsagent

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Week22: Up North

If someone had told me a year ago, when I had not yet come up with the Swenglish idea, that in a years time I would be in Umeå following an archaeologist for a week, I would have laughed.

I was stupid enough to go to the City of Birches without a winter coat and with boots that leek, so the first thing I did was to go shopping for welly boots with fleece soles. The seasons are more distinct in Sweden compared to England, maybe because there are more trees. I've never been so fascinated by autumn before; I can’t stop looking at the leaves that shimmer in yellow, orange and red. The seasons is something many of the people I have stayed with would miss if they lived abroad, but last week’s host said it would be enough to have winter every other year ...

If it wasn't for this project I would probably never have ended up so far North. Already when I changed trains in Sundsvall the air on the platform was like a curtain of ice. A bit like travelling from the South of England to Scotland. And it feels like I’m as far from my hometown as when I’m in England. In fact it takes the same amount of time to travel from Nässjö to Umeå as it takes travelling from Nässjö to Brighton.

The pace is more peaceful here. People speak more slowly and says ”fara” (”journey”) instead of ”åka” (go). Every time they’re going to visit a friend it sounds as if they were going travelling. Probably because of the distances up here. I've also learnt a new word: ”he” that does’t mean ”he” as in English: it’s a word for ”put” – a word that doesn't exist in the South.

What is it like following an archaeologist then? Well, a bit like hanging out with a living history book. I've followed my host to places where she’s been digging and they've found cooking spots from the iron age. But next week, when the frost comes it will be hard to dig. Now we’re going to journey out in the swamplands to pick cranberries!

PS. I'm up North for a bit longer, next week I'll be staying in a community a bit outside Umeå.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Week21: God = Aliens?

I spent the weekend at a conference with the Raelian movement as last week’s host is a Raelian. What is a Raelian? They look like you and me and they want to make the world a better place through technical development that will free society from work. They believe that we were created by people on another planet that is 25 000 years ahead of us.

Apart from meditating, watching video clips about future technology and UFO sightings we had a lot of fun as you can see in the picture. Competing in the Swedish national sport ”throwing the welly boot” isn't very high-tech, but the Raelians are so peaceful they forgot to count the scores ...

At night we went up the ski slope (no snow yet!) to watch the sky. I was happy to see a shooting star (my first ever!), and my host said that for him it’s not important to see an UFO; he believes they’re out there anyway, but that the aliens have better things to do than flying by the earth all the time.

The Raelians believe that it will be possible for us, human beings, to create life both here on earth and even on other planets, in a not too distant future. Perhaps I should go and live on another planet so I don’t have to choose between Sweden and England!

PS. Simplified life forms have already been artificially created on earth. In 2010 a group of researchers at the J Craig Venter Institute created a new functioning DNA-code that was introduced in a cell.


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Week21: Elks and Xbox

During Week10 of Swenglish I made fun of the fact that the English family I stayed with took me to a British Wildlife centre, but the wildest English animals we saw were otters and badgers. At the moment  I’m staying in Lilla Edet, just an hour outside Gothenburg and on the forest walk my host took me on we saw two elks! (A mother and a baby.)

This is Week21 in total and the sixth week of my Swedish part of the journey: just like Week6 in England I got to try something new: gaming. But whereas my English host let me try a shooting game on the computer, my Swedish host let me have a go at an Xbox game where I rafted down a river, using my whole body. My host uses this activity as a substitute for exercise in winter when it’s too cold and too much snow to go running in the forest.