Timst’s Happy Place

Distinguishing Scandinavian Countries for Dummies

by timst on June 27, 2016

Ok, so I’ve been around Scandinavia for four years (three years in Sweden, nearly one in Norway), so I’m starting to appreciate the differences between the countries. However, if you’re anything like me before I moved here, you’re probably thinking, “Wait, there are differences? I usually just use the names interchangeably, as in “It’s so cold in the apartment, I feel like I’m in <Finland>!” or “Bernie is going to make this country more equal, just like in <Sweden>!””. Well, as it turns out, yes, there are some quite stark differences in some aspects! Though you’re right, overall it is pretty cold (and equal).

First things first, a table of comparison:

Country EU EEA Scandinavia Nordics Nordic family language

I’m obviously mostly familiar with Sweden and Norway, so I will focus on that. However, you can already notice a few things:

  • “Scandinavia” is not a synonym for “Nordic countries”. Nordic countries are often lumped up together (even here: I “taught” a Swedish friend about the distinction some years ago). But strictly speaking, only Sweden, Denmark and Norway are part of Scandinavia proper. The extended deck – often referred to as “Nordics” – also includes Finland and Iceland, along with Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The widest definitions even add in the Baltic countries, who have been trying to join the club (and get away from Russian influence) for some time now.
  • The language situation is a bit more complicated than usually pictured. As I mentioned before, Swedish, Danish and Norwegians are mostly intelligible (with some caveats; see below). Icelandic is of the same family, but so far removed that understanding more than a few words here and there is very hard for most Scandinavians. Finnish is something else entirely, in its own family (“Uralic languages”) with Hungarian and separate from the Indo-European languages of the rest of the continent. So yeah, Spanish has more in common with Swedish than Swedish has with Finnish.
  • Norway and Iceland are not EU countries and are doing pretty well, a fact that was often used by the Leave side during the Brexit campaign. They, are however, part of the “EU-lite” that is the EEA, meaning that most EU rules and rights still apply here. In fact, even Norwegians were quick to point out that this is actually a pretty shitty deal, as they still have to apply the majority of EU regulations, without having any say in them. Ah, and they also pay into the EU budget. Hilarity will certainly ensue when Britons realize that the same will apply to them if they want continued access to the single market.

Now, let’s explore more in details some differences between Sweden and Norway:


This is Oslo during the Norwegian national day on the 17th of May:

OSLO 20070517: Barnetoget gÂr oppover Karl Johans gate i Oslo 17. mai. Foto: Kyrre Lien / SCANPIX .

Photo: Kyrre Lien / SCANPIX.

Now, imagine that, but repeated over the entire city. Add a marching orchestra of school children. Add fifty more orchestras of school children. Add thousands of national costumes, millions of champagne breakfasts to kick off the day, and an amount of flags that even Kim Jong Un would think is over the top.

Compare with the Swedish national day. I won’t post a picture because haha, there is no such thing. I mean, yes, there is an official national day on the 6th of June, and there probably are some small-scale celebrations in Stockholm, but for most of the country and most of the people, it’s a complete non-event.

Though Swedish people like their flag poles, it’s as far as it goes in term of patriotism, at least in most circles. Norway, on the other hand, is hardcore. Anecdote: my (Norwegian) girlfriend was studying in France for a year. When came the 17th of May, she took a train down to the southern town of Toulouse, and joined hundreds of other Norwegians to march in the streets for the occasion. I have to say, not once did it occur to me to do the same here.

I’m not a historian, but I think this fierce patriotism likely results from one thing: while Sweden was the region’s top dog (or co-top dog) for most of its history, Norway has always been a colony, vassal, dependency or otherwise subjugated to Danmark, Sweden, both, or, for some time – while Sweden was happily profiting from the trade opportunities – Nazi Germany. The famous 17th of May marks the creation of the Norwegian constitution, which made Norway mostly independent, save from a limited union with Sweden that was dissolved in the early 20th century. Now that they’re fully autonomous, this is a proud people indeed, and they never shut up about it.


Both Norway and Sweden are rugged, cold and relatively resource-poor countries, and indeed have been fairly miserable for most of their history. Sweden managed to pull its own after a while thanks to the aforementioned war trading and some very successful entrepreneurs (where did you buy furniture most recently? Yeah, exactly). Things were tougher for Norway with its mountainous terrain and low population. And then, in 1969, this happened:



Photo: Jarvin, Wikipedia


And boom went the economy:


Nowadays, Norway’s GDP is almost equal to Sweden’s (513 vs 580 G$ as of 2013), but with almost half of the population (5.1 vs 9.6 M). And it shows. Wages are extremely high: in 2014, the average yearly revenue after taxes was 3 347€ (compared to 2 578€ in Sweden, 2 524€ in the US, 2 225€ for Germany, 2 180€ for France, and 756€ for Poland). This, combined with a great regional attention to income equality (both Norway’s and Sweden’s Gini coefficient are in the mid twenties, the among the lowest in the world), means one thing: most Norwegians are loaded.


And it shows. Taxes and prices are high and nobody complains about either because everybody can afford them without issues. The streets are rampant with Tesla S (sticker price: 50 000 – 130 000€) and other expensive cars. The west side of Oslo is chock full of expensive restaurants, fancy bars and specialty shops. A beer in a pub costs 9€, a meal for two in a mid range restaurant with wine easily reaches the 100€ mark, and it goes on and on. I also got the impression that donating to charity is something of a national sport here: around Christmas time, the airwaves get flooded with NGO ads. It’s hard to walk anywhere in Oslo without being pestered by countless Red Cross, UNICEF, or Amnesty volunteers asking for donations. TV channels unite once a year to organize a huge charity event that benefits a different cause each year. In 2015 it was the rain forest, and boy, even without a TV, it was absolutely impossible to escape the massive coverage this thing had. I’m going to go ahead and guess the large quantities of disposable income that most of the population enjoy have something to do with that.


Now, I’m not saying that Sweden is poor (see the above comparison of wages: they’re still a good 15% above western Europe levels), but it’s definitely a step lower, to the point where a popular activity for stingy Norwegians is to drive over to the border to shop for cheap meat and alcohol (yes, Swedish alcohol is seen as cheap there). Conversely, Oslovian (demonym for Oslo. I know, right?) cafés are inundated in Swedish waiters and baristas coming to make a quick buck. In many ways, the dynamics between the two countries are similar to the US-Mexican one, or, in a less extreme example, the border area between France and Switzerland.


This is your average Swedish landscape:


Meanwhile, in Norway:



And now, here’s a map in (exaggerated) relief:

Photo: Anton Balazh

Photo: Anton Balazh


All those pictures of Scandinavia you see with mountains and fjords? Probably Norway (unless the mountains are spewing smoke, in which case it’s Iceland). The ones with snow-white forests and plains? Sweden (or Finland).


Now, there are of course some mountains in Sweden. The Åre skiing resort (that borders Norway) is popular even among Norwegians. There also are flat areas with some good farming happening in Norway. Overall though, Norway is much more mountainous than its neighbor. That had (and still has) some important effects, notably on linguistics (Norway has a much greater variety of regional variations and accents, with two different written forms and an uncountable amount of dialects) and sports (Norwegians love cross-country skiing and ski jump; Swedes are more about ice hockey and floorball). Also, if you’re afraid of tunnels, don’t come here. You can’t go anywhere in Norway without going through a hundred tunnels, including the longest road tunnel in the world.

What about Denmark?

I haven’t lived here, so I’m not an expert, but you can also find some small differences. Off the top of my head:

  • Though the written language is extremely similar to (the most common form of) Norwegian, the spoken form is very different, and widely made fun off in the region. As a result, spoken Norwegian feels like a synthesis of Danish and Swedish, or, as the saying goes, “Norwegian is Danish spoken in Swedish”;
  • Denmark is the most southern country of the group, not only geographically, but also in temperament.
  • As a consequence (maybe?), Denmark has more relaxed alcohol laws than the rest. You can buy liquor in supermarkets!
  • Denmark also used to be an important world player, but unlike Sweden who lost some but still ended up in a pretty good position, the Danes really ate it. Borgen, the famous Danish TV show, opens up on a quote by Danish author Johannes V. Jensen that reads “The Dane is a skeptic, because Denmark’s history is the story of the downfall of a powerful tribe”. Speaking of which…
  • Danish TV is really good TV. Borgen, Forbrydelsen and Bron/Broen have had huge successes both locally and internationally. The same cannot be said of Swedish and especially Norwegian TV.


Beyond those and the unbalances that remain in their relationship (Swedish pop music, TV, literature and society in general are quite popular in Norway; the opposite… not so much), the countries are very similar and fit most Scandinavian features you can imagine, including deep respect for nature, great gender equality, low corruption, freezing and dark winters, awful food, etc. Indeed, all three of the countries (and their Nordic companions, Finland and Iceland) have spent most of their history alternatively conquering, occupying and uniting each others (which is to say, Sweden and Denmark did, while the rest were the subjects of these events), so there has been a very large amount of cross-pollination of culture, ideas and customs.


There is probably a lot more that remains to be learned though. I look forward to get deeper!

1000 Days in Sweden (well, almost)

by timst on June 28, 2015

This weekend, I’m celebrating my thousandth day – nearly three years – in Sweden. Or am I? I took a look at my calendar and realized that this is not exactly accurate. Instead, here is where I spent my last 1000 days:

Sweden 747
France 149
Norway 31
Belgium 16
Finland 13
Poland 10
Turkey 9
Portugal 8
Denmark 6
Italy 3
Lithuania 3
Hungary 3
Latvia 1
Estonia 1

So in actuality, I only spent three fourth of my time in Sweden, well, IN Sweden. Add another good chunk of time spent at home (during summers mainly), and the remaining 10% has been spent anywhere else. A lot of Norway, of course (I’ll explain why later), but also a bit of everything. Surprisingly, I’ve only visited Denmark three times, despite it being by far the closest country to Växjö. In this Ryanair era we live in, closer countries are not necessarily the easiest ones to reach.

This is a good time to reflect on what I’ve done during those near three years. The table above is a great example: of all those countries, before coming to Sweden, I had been to two (not counting France). Mainly through ESN, I have been able to see all those places that I will likely not have the occasion to see otherwise.

Sometimes I stop and think about how international my life has become. So here I am, a French guy living in Sweden, about to move again to his Norwegian-Polish girlfriend that he met in Lithuania, talking to his friends in Australia, Switzerland or in the US, traveling with them to the glass facades of the European Parliament or to the Luís I bridge of Porto… My world has become a blend of lands, languages, and landmarks.


This 1000 days milestone will be the last of the “xxxx days in Sweden” series, as I will be leaving the country within the next two months. “Oh! Are you returning to France?” is the question that usually follows here. Answer: no, I won’t, at least not in the foreseeable future. Instead, I’m going to Norway. A bit “more of the same”, but I have good reasons to go there.


Not pictured: 30 minutes of custom check on the norwegian side. Leaving the EU has disadvantages...

Not pictured: 30 minutes of customs check on the Norwegian side. Leaving the EU has disadvantages…


Now this comes with some challenges, not the least of which is that I have to sustain myself there. This will be difficult because even though Norwegians – like Swedes – pretty much all speak English, most of the jobs require Norwegian. This is how, even in IT, and even with a degree, you can end up struggling. So far I’ve sent 55 applications. How many positive answers did I get? One. Otherwise, it’s no reply, or a form rejection mail.

Although at least rejections mail are swift. This answer I mentioned above ended up being three interviews for a major company regarding a very exciting position. Every time I accessed another step, I felt more and more confident that I would get it. After one month in the process, you end up imagining what your life will be once you get it. You know you shouldn’t, but you still do it – thinking about so many small things, like when you would start, where you would eat lunch, or which bus you would take in the morning. Then the rejection comes and this world you’ve built bursts like a soap bubble.

As I’m sure many readers will confirm, applying for jobs is hard on the soul. Every application takes effort, and those efforts very often go unrewarded. Some jobs seems boring for the get go, and applying to them is a chore. Others look exciting and interesting, and then it hurts that much more when you get the bad news later. It’s a depressing enterprise.

But anyway, det löser sig (“things will be alright”, sort of, in Swedish. Should research the Norwegian equivalent…). It remains that those days are exciting ones, and that I would rather struggle here than live a boring life at home!

Time Management

by timst on November 30, 2014

Today we’re going to talk about a favorite topic of mine: time. The end of 2014 is rapidly approaching, and that got me thinking, as those milestones often do, about how fast everything is going. I realized that a long time ago of course; I think I was actually 16 when I first noticed that not only things were going faster and faster, but that they had started to get too fast for me. Time felt like a conveyor belt, carrying my life, and me with it, along some unknown path heading to some unknown fate. I pictured myself trying to slow down the belt by planting my feet on the ground or grasping at the passing landscape, but there was nothing to do. In those moments I clearly visualized each second and each moment tipping from future, to present, to past. Hey I even bought a watch on that very topic:



Source. It was less expensive when I bought it, I’m sure you can find it somewhere else for cheap.


I used to have a sort of game every time vacations rolled around when I was in school. In France, school vacations were these 2 weeks-long chunks of bliss every couple months of classes (yes, in retrospect this wasn’t a very strenuous rhythm. Standards too change, I guess), and whenever they started, it felt like they would extend for all infinity. Two weeks! Two. Weeks. Yet I remember myself thinking, on the first day of those seemingly-endless stretches of free time: “you’ll see; this too shall pass”. And sure enough, the endless vacations would eventually come to an end, and I will think again about my own words two weeks prior, and chuckle to myself. Nothing resists Time.

But as I said, the problem isn’t so much Time as the fact that it seems to be getting faster and faster each year. When I was a kid, the time between christmas and my birthday (7 months) felt like a trek across the desert. I would count the day to the next Big Thing and couldn’t wait for things to happen. Nowadays, my thoughts are more along the line of “It’s my birthday in one week? Huh. How did that get there”, and I have no doubt that one day it will be more like “oh shit, already?”.

I also remember going to my grandma’s place when I was a kid. Their house was something like 200 km away, and the ride took on average two hours and a half. It was purgatory. I felt like I would never, ever get out of this car. My dad’s car might as well has been one of those Sci-Fi generation ships sent on a 1000-year mission to colonize another solar system. It seemed like the road went on, and on, and on, forever. Now… over the past two years, I went to Stockholm, by bus, maybe ten times. It’s a six-hour drive, plus a one hour lunch stop. For the younger me, this would feel like the Odyssey in slow motion. For the current me, it’s painless. Sometimes I even bring a book or computer to have something to do, and end up not even needing them. It’s really surprising how those things changes.



Note that I can still find ways to make even short period feel like an infinite hell.


Part of it has a scientific explanation, of course. As we age, each period of time becomes a smaller part of the whole. When you’re five, a new year is 20% of your life. When you’re twenty, it’s just 5%. Things get repetitive too: unless it was a particularly eventful day, can you remember your Christmas of three years ago? I can’t. Now imagine your 30th november of three years ago. Yeah.

Which brings me to this point that I’ve decided to name Tim’s Magical Solution to Slow Down Time, so that if I ever want to monetize my blog I will have a catchy thing to sell. Basically (and it’s going to sound very americany self-helpy, and I apologize), the idea is to experience new things. While writing the above paragraphs, I realized that I hadn’t had those thoughts in a while – ever since I left for Sweden, to be precise – and started wondering why. While I wouldn’t go as far as saying that if feels like time has slowed down (it’s been two years already??), it at least feels less absurd than it used to (high school was SIX years ago???). The reason is that those years have been filled with novel experiences: while there has of course been a fair share of identical experiences (an example: the welcome and goodbye party we organize every semester for international students. I’m not attending the next one since I’ll be elsewhere, but if I would, it would have been my tenth nearly identical dinner) and other daily grind-type things, I also had the occasions to do things I’ve never experienced, and likely never will again. I mentioned some here, and there has been many more since. I’ve been farther north, farther west, and farther east that I’ve ever been in continental Europe, and so many places in between. I have been awake every hour of the day, and my life has gone to weird places that I would ever have imagined before leaving my home. I have seen the world, and the world has rewarded me with a lifetime of experience.



So like that, but without the terrorism.


So yeah. I really don’t want to end up on such a cliché and obvious lesson as “life is better with new experiences”, but well, it’s true. There’s nothing more forgettable than routine. Two summers ago, I spent 3 months working at a minimarket and seeing no one, so I can basically condense that whole period as one day, and sum up that day in one sentence: “I sold bread to tourists. It was ok, I guess. The boss was a dick”. There, that’s a full quarter of a year, summarized in 15 words. By contrast, I feel I have been everywhere and back last April, to the point where I wouldn’t know where to start. That time where I was in a giant pool party in Milano, maybe? Or that time climbing up a Norwegian glacier? Those are the most “show offy”, but I could think of maybe half a dozen more things, events great and tragic. The point being, in a month’s worth of time I experienced more than I had in an entire season. It’s not about the time. it’s about what you do with it.

(500) Days of Sweden

by timst on January 12, 2014

Yes sir, 500 days. A little bit less than a year and a half since I left Nantes and settled in Sweden. Time for a retrospective of the past few months.

Where am I now? As I announced earlier, I am not actually on the last stretch of my studies, as I have switched my Comp. Sci. master for a more… grounded program: Social Media & Web Technologies. I won’t bore you with the details, but basically it’s about the modern tools and usage that allows us to create modern, powerful websites likes the ones you use every day. For now, it’s going fine. Sometimes I’m second-guessing my choice to study IT (“fuck everything and start an MBA” is the new “fuck everything and leave to Sweden”), but at twenty-two I’m not getting any younger* so I guess I’ll have to finish what I started now.

(*Yes, that statement was specifically designed to piss off my numerous older friends. How did you guess?)

On the side, I’m still a board member of the VIS student association, and it’s the cat’s pajamas (best expression). There’s always something to organize, a process to improve, or new ideas to implement. It sometimes feel more like a startup than like a student organization, and it’s really rewarding to be able to work on real projects that have a real impact on the world, compared to the make-work projects I have to complete for the uni. It doesn’t put bread on the table, or credits in the student file, but I’ve never been that enthusiastic and persevering with a project than now, so I’m pretty happy about it.

It’s thanks to them that I had the chance to participate to two of the best moments of the past semester. First, I went to Tampere, Finland to take part in the Norther European Platform of ESN (VIS’ “parent org”), during which people from all over Scandinavia and the Baltic countries come to talk about how they do stuff. What it really means is that the days were filled with workshops and plenaries meetings (ESN is a pretty sizable organization, so there is a certain amount of red tape to go through), while the nights were devoted to what was euphemistically named “social activities”. Many great memories here. Tell you what, when you have taken part of a 4 hours dinner during which you sang “L’internationale” in Swedish while drinking snaps, you have pretty much led a good life.


Next we have the kinda famous ESN Sea Battle. It goes like this: ESN rents an entire cruise ship, fill it with 2000 students from all Northern Europe, and make it go from Tallinn to Stockholm and back during three days and night of party. It’s pretty hardcore, especially since the ship has a duty-free shop with alcohol cheaper than anywhere else in this region. As a result, ESN and Pernod Ricard (a company that apparently owns, like, all the alcohol) created last year a project called Responsible Party, which tries to encourage student to… well, party responsibly. Needless to say, cheesy PSA posters have a limited effect on students who already forked over 150€ for the specific purpose of getting wasted for half a week, so our most successful activity was the one I was put in charge of: transporting a backpack containing a 10 liter bag of water through the ship, and giving free water to students (the water at the bar costed 1€). Huge, huge success. That being said, it was a pretty peculiar experience to walk around at four in the morning like one of the Big Daddy from Bioshock (complete with another volunteer that guided me through the ship), especially since the backpack leaked and the boat was seriously rocking. Still, worth it, if only to see the face of people who all looked like they spent a month in a desert when I arrived and gave them a glass of the precious liquid of life.

Next semester has a few other good moments waiting for me, in particular a new trip that I and some other VIS board members created: we’re going to Norway! 4 days of fjord visits, glacier hikes and $15 Big Macs (no, seriously). We spend the first night in Oslo, and then it’s Mountain Time:

map of norway

Right in the Sogn og Fjordane traditional region. Fjord central. It doesn’t get more Norwegian than that short of going to the Lofoten islands, but the road is long enough as it is: 15 hours by bus from Växjö to Jostedal, our campsite’s location. Something to look forward to. Still, I’m thrilled to see how the trip will be, especially since I contributed to its creation, so it’s doubly stressful.

In other news, I started learning Swedish more assiduously. Until then, I was just absorbing it by osmosis, but that’s not exactly a quick or efficient process, hence why I’m still pretty much unable to have a conversation. So I decided to kick it into high gear by acquiring this:

Essentials of Swedish grammar

A very good book, summing up everything there is to know about how to speak Swedish. My first impressions after reading half of it is that Swedish is a quite simple language to learn from a structural point of view, with for instance only five tenses. So three more (depending on how you count) than English, but, like, 15 less than French (for instance, see all the variations of être, “to be”. And yes, I commonly use almost all of them). As a result, the book is pretty short with a measly 160 pages, whereas the french equivalent is a three-volume bible of 300 pages each. The time I save learning the grammar is likely going to be lost learning the pronunciation, though: I’m already pretty bad at English pronunciation, as my friends take great pleasure in reminding me almost daily, so Swedish for me is, like, dragon speak. It’s all about practice, I suppose.

One question I get from time to time is “so, are you going to go back to France after your studies or are you going to stay here, marry a swede, grow old, die and have your ashes used to polish Ikea furniture, as is the local tradition?”. And my reply so far has always been some kind of variation of “I don’t know”. I have no interest in going back to France, which is a nice place but with a number of critical flaws that I can’t get over. But I’m not sure that “jag vill leva, jag vill dö i Norden” either, as the Swedish anthem goes. Maybe I’ll move to another place, elsewhere in Scandinavia, perhaps. Most likely, I’ll to wait to see what opportunities present themselves.

Going through life with no game plan sounded a little frightening at first, but the truth is, there is no predicting the future. It’s better to face things as they come, and that’s what I intend to keep on doing through 2014!

Aside: How I write

by timst on December 23, 2013

Some people have asked me about my writing process. I am by no mean a professional blog writer, or a professional writer, or really any kind of writer at all. I just type things and hope they don’t sound weird. But when I do that, however, I usually use some external resources. I’m going to write about the ones that I use for writing in a language, and the ones I use for translating between tongues, but obviously there is some overlapping.


Google. This might sounds obvious, but Google is my number one reference for… for everything. It’s like the Swiss knife of writing. For one, since I’m not a native speaker, Google allows me to get an instant poll on which expression is the most “natural” — that is, which one is most likely to be used by locals. Or which one is grammatically correct. I simply write both sentences between quotes and run them on Google, then the one with the more hits is likely to be the “correct” one. When the number of hits are similar, it helps to look at which kind of websites are returned for each. “appropiate” might have almost 2 millions hits, but a quick glance at the results quickly reveal that what you’re looking for is really “appropriate”. Another useful feature of Google is its variety of calculating tools, to convert units or currencies for instance (“100 SEK IN EUR”, “15 km=mi”…).

Wiktionary. There is obviously a variety of dictionaries available online, but usually I stick with Wiktionary for the same reasons I stick with Wikipedia: it’s trustworthy (even more so than Wikipedia, since there is only so much lies you can write on a single word definition before people call your bullshit), and its open-sourceness means that it’s usually way more complete than commercial dictionaries. Also, it’s international, so it’s easy to find the equivalent of a word in other languages, a feature that will become very useful in the next section. Both are part of the Wikimedia project, which also contains Wikiquote, a useful (if at times incomplete) repository of quotes.

Thesaurus.com. Or any thesaurus really (I usually google “thesaurus” [word]” or “synonym [word]” and click whatever comes first). Very useful to avoid repetitions and to get a word with the proper “feeling” for the sentence.

English.stackexchange.com (along with french.stackexchange.com, spanish.stackexchange.com, etc.. Do note that those sites are always in English, but they are about different languages). StackExchange is a network of high-quality Q&A sites that originated in computer programming and then expanded to cover a variety of other topics, in this case the usage of English or other languages. Unlike other websites like, say, Yahoo! Answers which tends to be… less focused, SE uses an elaborate system of points that favors precise, accurate answers to well-defined questions, rather than aimless chatter and haphazard “maybe it’s that?”-type answers. As a result, this can be the ultimate buster for a tough usage or grammar question, but you better check that your question is well-written, on-topic and not already answered if you don’t want it to be butchered by the site users.


You might not have noticed it since the website automatically detects your browser language, but this blog is actually written in two languages, the other being French. I usually start by writing an article in either language, depending on my mood (in this particular case, I started with English for instance), then roughly translate it, usually adding ideas if something comes to my mind while rewriting and adapting the content to the local culture and intended audience (my french readers are usually family or friends from high school; my English readers are likely to be swedes or other people I met during my stay here). It’s usually a straightforward job, but sometimes I can be unsure about the meaning and overtones of a word or idiom, or translate from a language I’m less proficient in.

A big challenge is to find what the “real” translation of a word is; it’s important to distinguish between a translation of a word that is valid but incorrect in this context, a translation which technically works but sounds strange to a native’s ears, and a true translation. For instance, let’s say you want to advertise a 5-room apartment in French. Google Translate offers three words for “room”: “Chambre”, Salle” and “Pièce”. All three are technical translation of “room”, except the first one, “chambre”, usually refers to bedroom only. Your flat most likely doesn’t have five bedrooms and nothing else. The second translation is even more tricky: “salle” can refer to any kind of room, and thus sounds like a good fit… except it’s simply not the one that would be used in this context, and “Un appartement de 5 salles”, while understandable, would sounds off. Only the third one —pièce— is the true translation of your meaning. Obviously, it would be very hard to know that without being a native speaker, so it’s probably impossible to have a truly natural writing in your second language unless you were raised in it or something. Nevertheless, you can try to approximate it with the help of those websites:

Google Translate. Obviously. But GT (as nobody calls it) is usually more useful with simple words that have an unambiguous translation. If you’re trying to translate something like “bed” or “house”, you can probably trust whatever comes out on the other side. For more complicated words, it can helps to average out the answer with the different results offered and to then google the result to see if it fits (googling a sentence and seeing if many hits return is a great way to test the “authenticity” of a sentence). If you’re translating a block of text from a language you don’t speak and the result is unclear, it can sometimes be useful to cross-check with other automated translators like Bing Translator. But again, this will only help for simple cases; for more ambiguous situations, you’re going to have to try…

Wikipedia. No, really. See, every Wikipedia article is linked with its international equivalents. By checking the articles in the other language, you usual get the true name of whatever concept or item it is you wish to translate. It’s particularly useful when trying to translate words that have several separate meanings in your language. By writing the word without context on Google Translate, you run the risk of the translation of another meaning being returned. By looking up linked article, you’re sure to at least talk about the same thing.

Linguee. This one only works for 5 languages (english-french, english-spanish, english-german and english-portuguese), which is unfortunate, because it’s the bee’s knees. Basically, it’s a search engine that looks through existing translations of texts. It’s very useful to find the equivalent of an expression or phrasing. For instance, you want to find the translation of the expression “la balle est dans son camp”. A literal translation would be “the ball is in his/her camp”, which sounds familiar but not quite right. Typing the sentence in Linguee reveals that the correct translation is actually “the ball is in his/her court“. Be careful, however, when using it to translate to french: many sources are from canadian website, which sometimes uses words or sentence structure that will sound unnatural to french ears. Similar caveat might applies to spanish and portuguese, depending on where the texts originate.

Wordreference. I don’t participate in this community myself, but their threads are usually the top google results when looking for the translation of some sort of word or idiom. It’s frequented by users of different nationalities that helps each other with language, so it’s also a great way to find what locals would actually use, despite what the dictionary and phrasebook says.


And that’s pretty much it. Again, all those won’t replace having a great grammarian or a native speaker of the language you’re translating to at hand, but it’s a start. It helps to remember that most languages are flexible anyway, especially English and French who have a lot of regional variations. As long as it’s understandable, it is my opinion that language rules shouldn’t limit you to the point where it impairs your ability to express yourself (and also to make sick jokes).

Make It Three/A Word About Language

by timst on October 14, 2013

Heya. So remember when I said that I was going to be there for two years? Yeah, I lied. It’s three years really. But why?

You see, I can safely say that everything in my life is more or less better since I’m here. Everything except my studies, which is kind of a problem considering that this is, after all, a university. I come from a fairly technical background with a healthy dose of business studies mixed in. For years I’ve been studying how to make things. Things that people would want to use. The study path I chose, however? Computer Science. Hardcore, theoretical, no-actual-computer-needed Computer Science. Which turned out to not really be my thing, as I explain on my technical blog. Then I just kind of let go. I started working hours every day on VIS-related stuff instead. Well, I achieved a lot, and I’m not ashamed of that. But it was obvious that it was but a diversion that I created to busy myself.



There were… other distractions.

Realizing that, I ran away from one of my lecture during the break, went home, and sent a mail to the head of the Media Department. Some more mails, a quick appointment, and a lot of soul-searching later, it was official: I am now a Social Media & Web Technologies student. This has a certain number of side-effects, the biggest one being that I now have to extend my stay by one year. So I’ll leave Sweden (if I leave it) in 2015 instead of 2014. It also means that I’ll graduate at the same time than most of my friends here (but one year later than my friends in France), which I guess will bring a better sense of closure. Despite this start of semester having been really, really weird for a variety of reasons, I still feel more at home here than anywhere else, and I’m glad to be able to stay longer. If anything, this will clearly help me to gain a better understanding of the country.


Speaking of which, and considering that there is not a lot more to say about me (plus, who cares?), I’m going to take a look at some points of interest in the Swedish culture, and how they compare to what I knew previously (ie, how they do it in France instead). Today for instance, I’m going to talk about language.


Oh yeah, I'm coming for you

Oh yeah, I’m coming for you


One of my challenge for this year is learning Swedish. You see, contrarily to what you might expect and as I said before, Swedish isn’t necessary in Sweden. At all. You can get by indefinitely (a teacher told me he knows a guy who have been here 8 years and still doesn’t speak the language) with English alone, considering that everybody speaks it (#1 country on the EF English Proficiency Index). Written mediums —like letters from the government— are the hardest obstacles, but usually it’s not too complicated to deal with them (hint: start by learning the Swedish for “Please pay this to the following account”).

Swedes that don’t speak English are extremely rare, and are usually senior citizens (or bus drivers, or both). I don’t think I’ve met a single local student that did not speak English. Even the worst speaker I know has better English skills than 90% of the French of the same age. And they will all be happy to practice their English with you at the slightest occasion. So yeah, Swedish? Accessory. Or so it seems, of course; in practice, for most jobs, you still need to deal with people who obviously intend to primarily communicate in their native tongue. Which make learning it all the harder: looking around you, there is no tangible evidence that you need to, yet you will forever be trapped under a glass ceiling if you don’t.

But let’s talk about what it means for culture. It’s interesting to see that France still has some influence abroad, beyond the usual clichés (unlike Sweden in France and much of the world, where it’s usually reduced to “sexy blondes and Ikea”). The French language is much admired, to the point that it’s common to see wall decorations with random french sentences written on them; some french movies get shown here, like Intouchables; and most amusingly, they like to slap the “fransk” adjective on a bunch of stuff, even when they have nothing whatsoever to do with France. My favorite remain the “french hot dog”, a sausage stuck into half of a breadstick. Needless to say, few things are as un-french as a hot dog, and that french hot dog idea would probably draw a lot of mockery back in the homeland. Which would be a shame, since it’s actually pretty tasty.


France: the country of human rights (and of everything that involve a baguette)

Further research reveals that this is actually a danish creation. Weather, prices, girl, hotdogs. Is there a single area where Denmark doesn’t outshine Sweden?

It’s rather interesting to see two nations with such different approaches to culture. Sweden openly embraced US influence, to the point where you can watch an unedited Discovery Channel while eating Cheetos and gulping Dr. Pepper (and indeed, I know some swedes that indulge in that lifestyle), whereas France led a (partially successful) resistance against it. Don’t get me wrong: fast foods and blue jeans are still ubiquitous in France, but at least we escaped The Jersey Shore.

We paid the price in terms of multilingualism ability (our position in the aforementioned EF index? #23), though, and our influence is fading every day anyway. Danish author Johannes V. Jensen said that “Denmark’s history is the story of the downfall of a powerful tribe”, and that’s doubly true for France. When you see the big picture, you realize that the government has been fighting with all its might to maintain an influence sphere that started evaporating sometime at the beginning of last century.

We now have ridiculous language laws (no foreign words in ads, mandatory 40% of french language music on the radio, no lectures in English at the university until 2013…) for the sole purpose of slowing down the inevitable encroach of English. There is an entire international organization with a 80 M€ budget called “Francophonie” whose only aim is to promote and defend the language abroad. They made projections that 8% of the world population will speak french by the year 2050, instead of 3% now. This sounds ridiculous until you look more closely and realize than most of those projected speakers will be in Africa. Now, I’m no social studies teacher so I’m not going to start throwing accusations of neo-colonialism left and right, but yeah, this certainly paint the whole thing into another light.

Another difference between the two countries is the treatment of regional languages: there are a lot of dialects and accents in Sweden. A LOT. Basically every region has its accent, and we’re not talking about minor differences, considering that people from the south of Sweden can (more or less) understand Danish whereas people from Stockholm (more or less) can’t (though apparently everyone can understand Norwegian. What is this magic?). In addition, a lot of places have old dialects that are sometime so removed from Standard Swedish that it cannot be understood outside of the region.

Now, France also has regional languages, some common one being Corsican, Alsatian or Basque (all of which have no shared root with English: Corsican is derived from Italian, Alsatian is a dialect of German and Basque is pretty much its own thing). The difference? While the Swedish government support its regional languages, the French one has spent a lot of energy suppressing its regional variations, and has only recently (and begrudgingly) accepted them, notably by signing —but not ratifying— the European charter on regional and minority languages. Too little, too late of course.


Members of the Académie Française, hard at work pretending other languages do not exist

Members of the Académie Française, hard at work pretending other languages do not exist


I can speak from experience on that one. I come from Brittany, an area that spoke the Breton language (of Celtic origins) from the middle ages to the XXth century. Then the government enacted a bunch of anti-Breton laws along with a social onslaught (ridiculing the kids that spoke Breton in school, for instance). The result? My great-grandparents spoke exclusively Breton. My grandparents spoke Breton between themselves, but French to their children. As a result, my parents understood Breton, but almost never spoke anything else than French. When I was born, they obviously saw no interest in teaching me how little of Breton they remembered, so I don’t speak a single word of it. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how you kill a language within 60 years.

Nowadays there is some renewed public interest in Breton, but the harm is done, and the same laws that are being used to curtail English also apply to regional languages. You can’t for instance have an ad in Breton without translating it to french. Considering how few people speak Breton in the first place, it’s rather pointless to even go through the trouble of using valuable ad space for this. The practical result is that there is a single language in France, and almost no accents (the strongest one being the southern, which is very intelligible accent, and that’s pretty much it). This “linguistic oneness” has been instrumental in unifying the country, but again, at a cost.

So yeah. On one side, a country whose main language wasn’t even official until 2009. On the other, a state with an official language inscribed in the constitution and specific rules to limit the use of other languages, including regional tongues.

On one hand, a nation that openly embrace English, to the point where 9 citizens out of 10 speak it. On the other hand, a place where barely a third of the population speak English, and even fewer than that will accept to speak it.

This summer I worked in a service job with a guy who, even though he spoke English adequately, never addressed tourists in English unless asked a direct question, even when it was obvious that they didn’t understand him. This was in startling contrast to a LOT of foreigners who bothered to learn at least enough French to order two croissants and a bottle of milk for their breakfast.


This guy: “Alors ce s’ra quoi pour la p’tite dame s’matin?”
Tourist: “???”


There is a real problem of opinion at every level of society in my country regarding English, and in the current economic landscape, this is threatening to go from “semi-cute cliché” to “huge liability” really fast. Let’s hope the people there will take a page from Sweden’s book and stop watching those awful dubbed TV shows. No seriously, this is terrible, stop doing that.

So you’re going to study in Växjö

by timst on July 22, 2013

A lot of people are understandably troubled about how it’s going to be when they step out of the plane and arrive in Sweden. Now, there’s a wealth of information available, but that’s super boring and you don’t have time for this. Instead, read this quick guide about the do’s and don’ts of your first 48 hours in Sweden.

The airportairport

I’m going to assume that you’ll arrive from Copenhagen airport, because if you’re going to do something wacky like coming by car, using that weird train/boat combo from Germany, or god forbid, directly landing at Småland Airport, you’re already resourceful enough to survive without this guide.

When you arrive, your first thought will be “Woah, I’m in Denmark!”. Your second thought will be “Fuck, is that coffee 6 bucks?”. Don’t linger to admire the functionality of danish architecture however; instead, go to the train station and nervously look everywhere to determine whether you’re waiting for the right train. Stare at the strange blue circle device on the platform, wondering if you should use your ticket on it.


DO: Ask an obvious question at the info desk, ignoring the dozens of signs, maps and notices surrounding you.

DO: Feel disappointed when your phone rings and it turns out it’s just your carrier welcoming you to Denmark.

DON’T: Buy danish crowns, since they will be worthless in two hours (more on that later)

DON’T: Buy anything really, unless you want to blast half of your grant money on the first day


The arrival


If you’re an exchange student: step out of the train, let the combined powers of the VIS, Linnéstudenterna and LNU guide you towards a better life.

If you’re a freemover: depending on when you land, you might have up to 12 hours of light before the night arrives and the wolves come out. Immediately start running toward the south. If a bear attacks, dive into the lake (there is always a lake) and stay there until the beast loses your scent. Finally arrive at the university after spotting a VIS van and running after it for two kilometers. Spend one hour wandering aimlessly around campus before realizing that you forgot to pick up your keys. Discovering the bus system, climb into one and try to pay with your credit card. When it’s declined, get a 100% additional fee for paying by cash. Call your parents to complain about this bullshit. Have your call terminated mid-conversation because you forgot about the roaming charges.


DO: After dropping your luggage, immediately go to the supermarket and post an instagram picture of that weird tubed ham.

DO: Bring a box of chocolate for the VIS drivers (in a pinch, a small folded banknote discreetly slipped into their hoodie will work)


The exchange officeforex

Since your money is no good here and you didn’t think ahead, you have to wait in line half an hour so you can get actually usable bills and coins while losing a quarter of your money on commission. If you’re from the Eurozone, say “it’s like 2002 all over again” and fondly remember the time when you had to change your money every time you crossed a border. If you’re also kind of old, fondly remember the time when “crossing a border” was actually a thing.


DO: Exclaim “Hey it’s the university guy!” when looking at a 100 kr bill.

DO: Look at the group of Chinese kids who just entered with stacks of 500€ and 100$ bills in their hands, since you will most likely never see that much money directly in your life again.

DON’T: Keep staring at them until they put the bills away and reach for the pepper spray.

DON’T: Skip the line like a dumbass because you’re still not used to this whole queue thing.

DON’T: Ask the locals when “they’re going to switch to the euro already, geez”


Your flat
lyan 3

So you finally found your building after crisscrossing the campus twice, got your keys by signing an undecipherable Swedish rental agreement and threw your luggage on your bed. What now?

Start by meeting your roommate/corridormates.  Open the conversation with your nationality, because this is obviously the most important thing about you, and don’t forget to freak out the whole time, wondering “Are they going to understand my English? Did he laughed because he didn’t get what I say? It’s the accent, isn’t it? I knew it was going to be the accent”. If you’re a native English speaker, struggle to dumb down your speech enough so that everyone can understand it without using your “talking to a child” voice.


DO: Turn on the TV and look for a typical Swedish show. Give up after 10 minutes when you realize that it’s only subbed american sitcoms and Discovery Channel series.

DO: Claim a shelf of the fridge, while passively noticing that there is only 7 shelves for 8 rooms. If you’re in a two-persons shared flat, spend half an hour drawing up a roommate agreement like you’re Sheldon Cooper. If you’re in a single apartment, find a suitable place to hide the mountain of gold you’re presumably carrying on your person at all time.



Realize with delight that the campus comes with two student pubs. Comment on how this is so different from your home uni! (Unless you’re american, in which case you’re welcome to appear jaded by the whole experience). After re-reading the survival guide to try to understand which associations you need to belong to in order to get into the clubs, start throwing cash left and right and amassing memberships cards until the bouncer at Sivans stop rejecting you.

Once inside, glance at the prices, convert them in your home currency, think to yourself “that can’t possibly be right”, then break out your phone and re-convert it on the calculator. Sigh when your fears are confirmed. Conservatively buy a beer and look around you. By now you should have heard “Don’t You Worry Child” approximately four times. Try to spot one of those sexy Swedish chick/dude you heard so much about. After a while, realize there’s no sexy swede around, and that the percentage of exchange student seems anomalously high. Jokingly say “Maybe they’re afraid of us” to someone who have been here for some time. Watch as they shuffle uncomfortably and start saying “Well…”

At one in the morning when you’re starting to get into the mood, wonder why the music suddenly stopped. Look at the people orderly exiting the club, and ask around whether there is some kind of fire emergency. After realizing that it’s actually closing three hours after the sun went down, join the people outside and start shouting “After party at [BUILDING]!” (note: it doesn’t matter which building you pick, it won’t happen anyway). After a while, try to follow people until you end up at a lame after-party at PG with music coming from an iPhone plugged into 20$ speakers. Get bored and leave, and enjoy an 8-hours sleep. Wake up at ten in the morning.

DO: Go to a Lyan party instead. Don’t forget to ask the 5 ritual questions: “What’s your name?” “Where do you come from?” “What are you studying?” “One or two semesters?” “Exchange student or freemover?”. Immediately forget 85% of the people you’ve met.

DON’T: Expect that there will be booze at the party you’re joining and that you can simply bring a bag of chips and that’d be cool. No sir: this is an exclusively BYOB country.

DON’T: Request “Don’t You Worry Child” at the after-party.



There. Settling down and partying, that should get you started. If you have additional questions (When is Stallarna open? Where can I buy this super-specific item? Where’s the girls at? Who let the dogs out, woof woof woof?), ask your buddy, or send a mail over at Tim from VIS: info@visesn.org. Tim. Cool guy. Check him out.

200 Days

by timst on March 23, 2013

Heeeeey, I’m still there! I’ve been wanting to do this post forever, but I didn’t have enough things to say. Then my laptop got stolen. So, you, know, that was inconvenient. But now more stuff happened and I got a nice Bluetooth keyboard to go with my excellent Nexus 4 smartphone, so I think we can make this work.

So what exactly happened? Well, first of all, the first semester gave way to the second semester. I planned to write about that, but it was a pretty sad time and all in all, there wasn’t much more to say than “Everyone I know is gone, it’s a strange combination of old places and new people, I feel so weird”. Luckily I got closer to my VIS colleagues who tend to stick here, but other than that, all my closest 1st semester friends packed their things and moved, so I was really lost for some weeks.


Speaking of VIS, I was involved in the organisation of two trips this semester. The first one was a 3 days trip to Stockholm. I haven’t been to the city in six years and, needless to say, things had changed. It was an entirely different feeling and I had trouble recognizing even the most obvious landmarks. But I’m not surprised since I know that, while travelling, I tend to put the emotional and social side of the trip on the forefront and let the scenery become… well, a backdrop. By coming here for an entirely different reason with a different group and different expectations, I ended up with a completely different experience, even though I’m sure most buildings were already there when I visited in 2007.


The second trip took place in Lapland. Specifically, Finnish Lapland. Specifically, there:



I like the warning about crossing through the Aland Islands. Thar be dragons ere!


It lasted for nine days (including, and I’m not kidding, SIX days of travel), and involved crossing the arctic circle, visiting Santa Claus’ tourist trap village (complete with tax-free reindeer fur shop), sledding for hours, freezing for hours, not seeing the northern lights (but almost), and going all the way up to the arctic sea to take a bath. And by bath I of course mean “diving and then jumping the hell out of here like a cat in a bathtub”.

The landscapes were out of this world. It was also really interesting (if painful) to experience sub -20°C temperatures, and the never-ending bus travel by night was one of the most eerie moment of my life. Racing at 100 km/h toward north for hours and hours on end in the middle of nowhere, seeing hundreds of kilometers of forests, radio towers and old bus stops and wondering what the hell they were doing there, driving past an old lady pushing her bike in the dead of the night, and staring in disbelief at a gas station shop containing an entire shelf of pineapples and watermelons. There is a guy, right now, whose job entails driving every week to the arctic circle to deliver 3 watermelons to a gas station.


2013-03-12 02.19.44


But that was probably the last big trip I’ll take part of, at least this semester. Next week I’m going to Warsaw, but that’s unrelated from VIS, as I go there to meet some friends from last semester. And by some friends, I mean “one friend”. Yeah, those relationships don’t age as well as you think they would. Enjoy them while they last, folks!

Getting involved

by timst on December 23, 2012

As I said before, my lessons are very sparse and that leaves me with quite a lot of free time. Now of course I have a ton of work to do, but it wasn’t the case some weeks ago, during a 20-days hiatus between two courses, so I took a look at all the student life on campus and said to myself “Yeah, let’s get involved”.

Turns out an opportunity would appear almost immediately. ESN (Erasmus Student Network) is one of the biggest student network in Europe, with more than 12000 volunteers and 400+ local sections. Its goal is to help international (not just Erasmus) students in their discovery of another country. VIS (Växjö International Students) is one of those local chapters, specifically the one on our campus. It has more than 800 members and organize every semester a dozen of big events, like a trip to Lapland, to Russia, to Stockholm, a welcome dinner and party, and so on. Every six month they organize elections to renew part of their board, and this was precisely this time of the semester. I applied, interviewed and got elected as Advertising Responsible.

This means that I’ll have to create posters and other advertising material for the VIS events, along with organizing and participating to trips like the other leaders. For instance, I’ll be the main responsible for the “VIS evening”, a night during which every new international student can meet, mingle and register to trips and events. It sounds great and I’m looking forward to it… except that I have no idea why they chose me for this position (I originally applied for something entirely different), since I have essentially no knowledge of advertising and graphical design in general. Most of the time I just use Paint when I want to do something, and in some rare case I can go as far as to use Gimp, but I’ve never opened Photoshop or InDesign in my life, and now I’m supposed to replace someone who used it professionally for years. Not really reassuring.



My new family now, I guess?  

I’m not getting involved only with the VIS though. Every year the Japanese students organize a big dinner for everybody on the campus. And I mean big: 250+ guests, a rented room, several dishes, dances, slideshows, songs, the works. Now, despite being a huge fan of Dr Koto’s Clinic and occasionally being dramatic on a level that could secure me a role on an Evangelion movie adaptation, I was obviously not Japanese enough to participate in this, but I went there anyway as a guest, and it was grand. And that was when my suppressed patriotic sense kicked in and I decided to organize a french dinner on our own.

Now it took some time, but this idea has gone from concept to reality, as I’ve assembled a team of frenchmen around me (a small and unreliable team, but still), conducted research on what we could have at that dinner, organized meetings, contacted room owners around the campus and generally trying to push this thing, despite the holidays, semester coming to an end and general apathy. The result? This:


buffet francais (3)

(I didn’t do the art, Boris did. What, it’s not like I’m advertising responsible or anything) (Click for bigger!)

Yup, it’s very real, and we actually printed that thing and plastered it all over the uni. As you can see we transitioned from a dinner to a buffet party, and we’re expecting 70 guests in less that 3 weeks. Exciting stuff! Also frightening, of course, but we’ll do our best. If it works, it will be fun. If it fails, I will probably be branded as responsible, drove by a mob to the forest and hanged for my crimes, but well, no pain, no gain.


All in all, I’m pretty happy with myself, at least on that topic. It’s been almost 4 months now, and things are definitely different from what I expected. My social life has become incontestably better, although more superficial at the same time (I’ll talk about this soon). On the other hand, my school results took a pretty big hit. Not enough to make me change my habits, because of course, but sometime I’m worried about the future now. My personal life has gotten… weirder.
I guess all in all it was the right decision and I would do it again if given the chance, but the results are definitely less black and white than what I expected. Well, there’s still maybe 18 months to come, so let’s see what’s going to happen.

90 Days

by timst on December 1, 2012

It still amaze me how adaptable we are. Human are creatures of habits and tradition, and yet we have an incredible capacity to change, so incredible in fact that we don’t even think twice about it.


I used to spend most of my life in the same 300 km² area, talking to the same people, and speaking the same language. Then all of a sudden, here I am, spending my days talking only in english like it ain’t nothing, cooking alongside Germans and Turks, dancing with Japanese girls and eating fajitas made of tikka masala sauce and meatballs while listening to British folk music. Everything around me is foreign in every sense of the word and yet I take it all in stride, not even stopping to think of how spectacularly different everything here is, when compared to my previous life.



Bus lights

For instance, I’m still not quite used to be beamed with a 10 000-lux lamp while waiting for the bus.



Outside it has started snowing. It’s 3 in the afternoon and tiny specks of snow are whirling around in the setting sun. I come from a town by the sea where snow is almost unheard of, and as I mentioned before, being in the dark in the middle of the day is also very strange. And yet it seems normal, somehow. I think of the Asian exchange students that must discover an entirely new culture, or of US people living in a place where politics are the polar (pun not intended) opposite to what they know, but they seems to be adapting well too, eating turkey with chopsticks and watching their college football games via internet.



But who am I to criticize, I eat my swedish ramen with a fork.



Everything is a bizarre mixture of local flavor and foreign traditions. I have a roommate from the south of France that still enjoy his Pastis apéritif now and then, only the bottle is labeled in German  because it was smuggled from Hamburg. My local supermarket has half an aisle dedicated to Thai food, and another aisle with boxes upon boxes of frozen salmon.


And thanks to Sweden’s lax migration policies and the EU, I’m almost a Swedish citizen. I recently got my very own “personnummer”, a unique number used to identify Swedish nationals. I got a birth certificate in Swedish. For all intent and purpose, my life is here now, at least for the foreseeable future, and yet it seems both real and so fake at the same time. I’m feeling like a foreigner, but not like I’m out-of-place. Like a fish out of water, but not gasping for air either.


Also, did you hear the news? Christmas is coming!