I was in Stockholm for a meeting just before Christmas – perhaps the last one now that the simulator has been accepted. As Betty Louís latest set of classes had ended, we went up the weekend before and I took off the Friday after the meetings. We had originally thought of staying the next weekend too, but found out that nearly all the hotels were closing Friday to give their employees more time with their families; most wouldnít open until after New Year! I figured that was a good indication that tourists wouldnít find much else available either.
The ultimate in sticker shock is going from Prague to Stockholm – from a full course dinner including aperitif, wine and cognac in a gourmet restaurant for $10 – to a plate of sausage and potatoes with a beer in a shopping center restaurant for $25. Well, all right, the "Galleria" was chosen as "European Shopping Center of the Year." The banners didnít say which year. And crystal, renowned in both cities: from a set of 6 cut glass liqueur glasses for $10 to a single equivalent one for $50. Swedes on the project claim their pay hasnít kept up with inflation; and they pay 60% in income tax.
A coworker from the German subcontractor has developed his own version of the cost of living index. Heís noticed that the price of a hotel in Sweden is the same as in Germany – each is worth 30 beers. However, a beer that costs $2.50 in Frankfurt is $7 in Stockholm.
The high price of alcohol in Sweden is because of the political influence of a few teetotaler organizations. However, the state-run liquor stores waste no time separating the sinner from his money. You take a number when you enter the "Systembolaget" and every few seconds a chime sounds announcing that one of the dozen or more counters is ready to serve another patron. Large electronic signs display the ticket number and the corresponding counter. In the big department stores, we found the same technique being used at cash registers to prevent long lines of Christmas shoppers from blocking the aisles.
We have now been in Stockholm at its seasonal extremes. Stockholm is ten degrees farther north than Frankfurt, which is already eight degrees farther north than Washington. This summer, I found it difficult sleeping in Stockholm when the hours of darkness were only from 10:30 to 3:30. When the winter mornings got light enough it was usually to show fog, which some days would burn off by early afternoon in time to reveal the sun. However, by then it was so low that within a couple of hours it was once more below the horizon. Around Christmas thatís not such a disadvantage however – the city is filled with decorative lights which can be enjoyed all the longer.
Although English is the universal language, itís not true that "everybody" speaks English in Europe. There have been several occasions when knowing a certain amount of French and German have been lifesavers. In Sweden, however, itís as close to being true as anywhere, perhaps even in England. Not only do all Swedes study English in school from third grade on, we were surprised at how many speak with an American, not British, accent. (Thatís the reason for my comment about England – I remember one night we stayed with a family that rented out a spare room in Whitby, the town on the east coast of England where Dracula washed ashore. That night we watched television with the children and found their Yorkshire accent to be as impenetrable as they found our American speech.)
Sweden has obviously decided that itís useful for people to be exposed to other languages. All TV shows are broadcast in their original languages and subtitled. So, in addition to "Mr. Lucky" (!) in English, there are shows in Russian, German, French, even some that sound very much like Swedish to me. However, since they also are subtitled, I guess it is Norwegian. Quite a difference from Germany, where even J.R. advertises yogurt on TV in German and when I first arrived Kojak, lollipop and all, appeared on big posters touting the Frankfurt subway system in German, except for "Baby."
Although the Swedish language has its quirks (this time I took a careful look at the cover
Stockholm white pages
and saw that it included the entire alphabet: from A to Ö) in many
respects itís much simpler than German. For example, the present tense for all persons is formed by
replacing the "a" with which nearly every infinitive ends with an "r!" And although
there is also a familiar and a polite form of "you," there is no agonizing over when you know
someone well enough to be able to switch from one to the other without being thought insulting – the books
say to use the polite form until you have been introduced!
Crumpet, our 19-year-old cat,
has frequently travelled with us on the Continent – hotels are used to
pets, although usually theyíre dogs. (Her name came from her mother being Muffin – weíve found that something
gets lost in translations.) However, Sweden, like other island countries that havenít yet experienced rabies,
has a prolonged quarantine that effectively excludes four-footed visitors. In Sweden, the cost of keeping a pet
(vet fees and required licenses and shots) are high enough that people who want them generally buy purebreds.
I guess Crumpet would never have been born in Sweden. However, once you have a pet, youíre expected to treat
it properly – a man who viciously beat his dog was recently sentenced to a six-year prison term!