Monday, April 27, 2015

The biggest differences I've noticed in Sweden: Vol. 5

Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden  | The biggest differences I've noticed in Sweden: Vol. 5 on afeathery*nest  |
Start times:
Even after a year here, I've still not gotten used to staggered TV lineups. In the U.S. programs always start on the :00 or the :30. Here it's a free for all, with some programs starting at :05, others at :15, etc. I don't watch that many cable shows here (thank goodness for Netflix), but if I did, I don't know how I'd manage to watch shows back-to-back on different channels when they don't start/end at the same :XX.

You've got mail...eventually:
Just before we moved to our new apartment we started keeping an eye out online for things we'd need to buy, like a new set of pots and pans. What we quickly learned was that receiving shipments in a Swedish city is nothing like receiving shipments in the American city we'd moved from—the minimum wait time for every single delivery so far has been 14 business days, and usually it's been more like 20.

And apart from letters and very small packages (the size of a deck of cards), packages are delivered to your nearest authorized depot, which could be a grocery store, the local tobacco shop, or an office supply store. You receive a little slip with your mail that tells you where to pick up your package and how long they'll hold it for and then you have to get there yourself to pick it up—given that apartment buildings don't have doormen in Stockholm this makes sense, of course, but it's considerably less convenient.

Thank goodness considerably bigger items are delivered to your home, but only as far as the building's entrance. A delivery company's responsibility doesn't extend inside—you'll have to maneuver it through the front doors into your lobby, to the elevator and into your apartment yourself.

Customer (dis)service:
And because I would generally grow impatient with wait times, especially since the fine print when ordering always said delivery was within 14 working days, as soon as the wait ticked over to Day 15 I was on the phone or e-mailing the company and every single time it took days to get a response. Someone would say they'd call back, and they never did. Or an e-mail went unanswered for days until I e-mailed again (and this holds for other kinds of e-mails seeking guidance or help, too, including those I've sent to the Tax Office). This was especially shocking to me (even though I had prepared for it) after moving from a culture where a query sent during business hours is usually replied to the same day.

(The slower e-mail response rate is true in other non-customer service situations, too, or at least so far as I've experienced. When interviewing I would generally wait a full two weeks between "rounds"—which actually isn't so much a comment on e-mailing habits as it is on modus operandi, which is another discussion entirely.)

We're living through a(nother) perfect example of Swedish customer service right now—we ordered a bed just shy of 8 weeks ago and were told that it would be delivered between 6 and 8 weeks, so last week, as we rolled into Week 7 I gave the store where we ordered it from a call (and then three more after that, since I was always rolled over to someone else who said they'd call me back and never did).

When I finally spoke to someone they sounded very surprised to hear that we'd not received our bed yet and said they'd take care of it. The next day a delivery company called to arrange a time to drop it off. A few hours after that the original retailer called back to tell me they were working on a solution and were surprised to hear I'd already been contacted by the delivery company—there apparently wasn't a way for them to see in their system that the bed had been found and slated for delivery.

And then of course today we waited at home for 4 hours—the delivery slot's length—only to have no one show up and a phone call to the delivery company after waiting 4 hours and 15 minutes revealed some problem on their end which no one thought to call us about and now, theoretically, it's meant to arrive tomorrow, within a 2-hour time slot.

A few weeks ago we received a piece of furniture that was damaged but endless e-mails and phone calls to rectify the situation went unheeded until finally someone got in touch to say they could offer a 5% discount on future purchases, which clearly doesn't help with our damaged furniture. I brought that up and they said they were sorry, but there was nothing else they could do.

In the U.S. I'd always been able to have a nice little chat with the customer service representative in situations like that to receive some sort of partial refund.

(It's not just me who finds these situations surprising—even R, hailing from a different system entirely, has said how much he misses American-style customer service.)

(I always feel a little bit proud when he says that!).

Queue'd up: 
Of course it's not all so grim—some aspects of customer service are much better here, like the queue system. Anywhere you go, the standard operating procedure is to press a button on a little ticket machine to receive a printed chit with your number on it. I've seen this everywhere, be it the Immigration Office, the Returns/Exchanges department of a retail store, the office supply store to pick up your waiting package, etc. On the phone, too.

Instead of waiting for who-knows-how-long on the line, most (not all) places you call to make an appointment with or to get help from will have you confirm the number you want to be called back on, and then let you hang up so you're not listening to endless recorded messages reassuring you that you'll be helped soon. You can just go about your day and when it's your turn someone will call you back. So much more civil.

*A few more Swedish differences:
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4

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One year ago: Breakfast with a view
Two years ago: Supposedly sweet Hudson Valley high & Fratelli d'Italia & Goings on

Friday, April 24, 2015

Cowled city cape

Purl Soho City Cape  |  Cowled city cape on afeathery*nest  |

Just in case I needed any more proof that large-scale knitting projects aren't for me, this fairly easy-to-knit City Cape from Purl Soho, which I started in November just before I left for NYC, took me until last week to finish. Six months is a bit of an exaggeration, especially since 90% of that time this poor in-progress-knit was left wrapped in a silk bag, but, luckily, it ended up coming together quite well.

After months and months and months of creamy knits, it was so nice to dig into a new project with this fresh emerald green (but clearly not so fun that I kept to my usual nightly'ish knitting marathons). And the 10 teensy hanks of Cascade Yarns Cash Vero that was being discontinued just as I placed my last yarn order before moving to Sweden was exactly enough to finish this cape.

Purl Soho City Cape  |  Cowled city cape on afeathery*nest  |
Although, I did panic halfway through thinking I wouldn't have enough, which means I made it slightly shorter than the pattern called for as I planned to make the collar a cowl instead of the pattern's turtleneck finish, which would require more yarn (fellow knitters, see my modifications here). Besides being a bit shorter than I would have liked, I also didn't overlap the front halves enough before binding them together under the cowl, so it gapes open a tad more more than I would have liked, but, I still love it, especially the completely unintentional bell flare at the back.

Now that I've gotten it out of my system, though, I think I'll go back to my little bitty knits—the fairly instant gratification is too addictive to give up.

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One year ago: An island unto myself & Postcard from Tropea
Two years ago: Waking from a deep sleep & Mamela & Fresh and springy knit napkins

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A faraway farewell

Stadshuset and Riddarholmen Stockholm  |  A faraway farewell on afeathery*nest  |
During my summer internship in NYC the year before I graduated from university I often took the bus out to NJ to visit family on the weekend. Spending long, lazy days at their home felt like being on a proper vacation—there was always something on the grill, Latin music playing from the outdoor speakers so people could salsa on the deck, tons of fluffy beach towels to wrap yourself in after emerging from the pool, and tons of channels to scroll through when the heat and the food and the chlorine got to you and a nice snooze in the air-conditioned house while sprawled on the comfy couch and some action-packed movie or goofy comedy played in the background was required. With lots of other family dropping by toting heaps of covered foil trays piled high with hamburgers, hotdogs, and chicken that had been marinating since early morning and every kind of salad and grilled vegetable kebob set-up imaginable, plus gaggles of kids running through the house, it was always a party.

On one of those weekends he was in the garage tuning up one of his motorcycles, the colorful, slick, racing kind, and asked me if I wanted to go for a ride. I shot him a look worthy of my early-twenties know-it-all-ness (which actually outlasted my twenties) and said, "Are you crazy?".

I had grown up in Virginia, where bands of big, brawny men and tough, don't-take-anyone's-nonsense women sat astride Harley's and rumbled their way down the main streets, encouraging cars, trucks, and trailers to move out of the way.

They weren't frightening or aggressive—but they made an impression. The glint of hot summer sunlight off of gleaming steel, the creak of leather pants and vests, and the impenetrable reflecting sunglasses they wore which meant you could never see anyone's eyes all spun an aura of awe around them.

Sometimes they were a bit of a nuisance, though, like when late at night after a rollicking dinner at the barbecue restaurant next to my parent's store a group of friends all strolled out to their motorcycles and simultaneously revved their engines after hopping on. The vibrations would cause everything in their vicinity to tremble, including the glass windows fronting our family business, which would inevitably set off the alarm and cause the police to call our house after midnight, waking everyone up and forcing my dad to stumble out to the garage, get in the car, and drive the 20 minutes each way to shut it off.

So when it came to that July day in New Jersey and a question about whether or not I'd like to ride a motorcycle for the first time I emphatically said no.

But then I was persuaded to give it a try, and after a quick lesson on how to sit, lean, and balance myself on this speed machine that had nothing behind my seat to keep me from flying off of the back, I agreed to let him take me out.

I can't say I had fun the whole time—I was quite terrified at the beginning, but I did have the courage to do it and only because I knew that nothing would happen while he was driving. When we roared back up the driveway he said, "I don't want you to ever ride with any other man...unless you know you can trust him completely."

+ + +

A few years later on a street in Sicily I walked up to R, the owner of the boutique I had met a few hours earlier when I happened inside it, and asked if the motorcycle he was standing beside was his. I asked him because I knew, knew already, that he was someone I could trust.

The next morning R attempted to give me a motorcycle lesson so I could learn how to drive one myself, but after quickly deciding that I'd much rather be a passenger, our lesson turned into a ride down to the beach for lemon granite—with him driving.

Four years later he moved to the US, we got married (not once, but twice), he became an American, and soon after we moved to Stockholm together.

+ + +

Last week my brother called to tell me that he was gone.

I knew the call was coming. I knew there wasn't much time left after the doctors had sent him home. They said there was nothing more they could do for the sickness that was attacking his body.

But knowing that, knowing that after a year of pain he was free of it, didn't help at all. All I knew was that a man that I had been close to growing up, but less so after he and his family moved 4 hours away by plane from NYC and then a few years later we moved abroad, a man that wasn't immediate family technically, but had for the majority of my life been the only and best family I knew, a man that by every count ended up being one of the most important in my life, was gone.

The next morning after brunch with friends in Södermalm, R and I took a long walk up and across to Gamla Stan, around the teeny island of Riddarholmen, crossed over to Kungsholmen and perched ourselves on a bench at the foot of Stadshuset where tour boats were bobbing and we could hear the bells from Kungsholmens church tolling. Sunlight had finally come back to Stockholm and we were completely drenched in it, our faces turned up to the light. I had been quiet as we walked, thinking of him and how I wouldn't be able to say goodbye, not really, at least.

So as we sat I pulled out my headphones and R took out his phone, swiping to his music to play the song I had requested, one that reminded me of him. We each stuck an earbud in and I began singing along as the song started.

And in doing so, I said my goodbye.

Everything dies baby that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on fix your hair up pretty and
Meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Friday, April 10, 2015

Weekending every day

Tranebergsbron, Bromma, Stockholm  |  Weekending every day on afeathery*nest  |

I've figured out what it is I like best about our newest little nest (aside from its size, making it a not-so-little nest, at least according to NYC standards): walking in after being away for the day feels the way I imagine it would feel like when you leave on the last train out of a city at the end of a long, trying week and finally arrive at your weekend place.

Except we get to come home to this every day.

There's something about us being towards the top of the last building by the edge of the water, looking out from fairly big windows directly over said water, and having tongue-and-groove wood ceilings that all combine together to create an atmosphere that is not at all unlike being on a boat (to further draw out my relaxing, weekending analogy).

I was worried about feeling isolated, and true, I still haven't gotten used to grocery shopping requiring a 40-minute round-trip stroll and not having a coffee shop around the corner to pop into, but putting up with that is ever so much easier when daily life in your apartment feels like a vacation.

So much so that I can also forgive the dated bathrooms and not having the required direct sunlight on our balcony to make reenactments of my old morning routine possible.

Although, I could just step right outside and achieve the same effect:

Ulvsundasjön Bromma Stockholm  |  Weekending every day on afeathery*nest  |
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One year ago: Back in Sicily
Two years ago: A taste of spring

Monday, April 6, 2015

Almost spring

Rosenbad on Norrbro in Stockholm  |  Almost spring on afeathery*nest  |
A little smorgasbord of an update, in list form:

+ The office that I've been working out of recently is in Gamla Stan (Old Town), and let me tell you, there's something quite special about popping off the subway on the island there, walking into an old (as in, more than a few hundred years old) building, heaving open a vault-like door and climbing up stone steps to a quaint little broad-wood-plank-ed office complete with a vintage, typically Swedish fireplace (a kakelugn, something like these) to work for the day—with a stroll around the island at lunchtime to watch the boats bop around.

+ I have a habit of scrolling around and zooming in along the coastlines of Stockholm on Google Maps to find interesting places for a fika or proper meal. I've had good luck before and last week I struck again with Bockholmen Hav och Restaurang, a quaint little cottage named for the teensy island it stands on in the northern part of Stockholm. I made reservations for us to have brunch there last week. The only problem was that it took some doing to get there—and it was raining. But a quick bus ride, then a subway ride, plus another two bus rides and a brisk stroll across a bridge later, and we were there. Brunch was a buffet, Swedish style, and super charming and cozy as we sat at our candlelit table with a view of the rain-lashed landscape outside.

(But we took a cab home).

Sunday brunch at Bockholmen Hav och Restaurang  |  Almost spring on afeathery*nest  |
Sunday brunch at Bockholmen Hav och Restaurang  |  Almost spring on afeathery*nest  |

We had Easter dinner this year with family in Vasastan on Saturday, complete with a rounds of snaps, Swedish drinking songs (which I haven't learned just yet), and a yummy meal of scrambled eggs two ways served in eggshells, sill (pickled herring), Janssons frestelse (that yummy creamy Swedish potato dish), and a delicious, perfectly marinated lamb roast.

+ With Spring 2.0 coming around (since this year's first attempt at spring didn't quite stick) along with a drastic change in temperature, everyone at R's work including him have been hit with a seasonal bug, which I took as an excuse to whip up a batch of my chili, ginger, spring onion, and garlic-laced Mexican chicken and avocado soup—which ended up being our actual Easter Sunday lunch and dinner. It hasn't seemed to work its magic just yet, though, so perhaps time for Batch 2.

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One year ago: Stockholm: Day 1
Two years ago: Easter Dinner 2013

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

365 days ago

Gamla Stan from Norr Mälarstrand, Stockholm  |  365 days ago on afeathery*nest  |

With all the recent hoopla—like the big move, assembling that blasted sofa and settling in to our new neighborhood, plus a few other things I didn't get a chance to mention last month, like "graduating" from Swedish language school and starting to work again (at least part time for now)—I almost let this date slip us by.

It's already been one year since we packed upleft NYC and landed in Stockholm.

How is that possible?

On the one hand, we've done so very much in just a year of being here in Stockholm—and in Europe in general, i.e.,
On the other hand, seriously, it's already been a year?

I'd thought that after twelve months I'd have something deep and philosophical to share about living in a foreign country, but really, all I can say is that I have no regrets about leaving New York.

While there have been some odd and not-so-beautiful things I've experienced since moving to Sweden, a country that really wasn't even on my radar until a few years ago (and never did I once as a child imagine living in Scandinavia), I'm still enormously glad to be here.

And now that we've got our little nest set up, I think we'll find ourselves feeling more settled, secure and "legit" here in Sweden, which should make for an even better Year 2.

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One year ago: 
What I'll miss most about NYC/the U.S. &
What I won't miss at all about NYC/the U.S.

Two years ago:
So worth itA taste of spring