Monday, October 21, 2013

Being Jewish in Sweden

The subject is a difficult and complex one, but I thought this article in The Local was well worth checking out.  One of The Local reporters spends an afternoon wearing a Kippah or Yamaka in Malmö and writes about the experience.

At the end of the day, most Jews in Sweden get by without a hitch because they ‘pass’. Most do not wear kippahs or a huge Star of David, they go about their day like everyone else. And they talk about religion as little as any average Swede.

Many blame the rise of anti-Semitism in Sweden on the growing Muslim population, but I can say I have heard many blonde haired, blue eyed Swedes say things I would interpret as Anti-Semitic, including things like ‘Stop being such a Jew’ when someone wanted to buy a cigarette off of my friend and the price was to high, to ‘I don’t want to look at that f-n Jew!’ when Seinfeld came on TV once.

So yeah, there is a problem here, and it is not just imported Middle East tensions.

What is the answer? No idea. But read thisarticle to get a sense of just how troubled we should all be about the situation. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Is Sweden today like 1950s America?

Part of the reason my rather politically conservative dad is actually happy I am living in a socialist wonderland, is, bizarrely, because he thinks Sweden today is like 1950s America – at least the good stuff 1950s America – minus the fun design, giant cars, and sexism.

It is an interesting perspective, especially given a lot of the different cultural baggage. Do you agree?

Obviously the similarities do not include the role of women in families, but instead the attitude towards family – or in his mind the idea that:  

Everyone gathers around the dinner table at night, over a home cooked meal. It doesn’t matter who cooked the meal, or that both parents work, but that everyone is home around 5 pm and can relax and enjoy family time together. Also, restaurants are for special occasions, or lunch, not for every single meal.

Children play outside. In our neighborhood you see kids of all ages jumping on bikes (OK, now with helmets) and riding to school by themselves. You see kids in groups stopping strangers and asking to pet their dogs. Kids are dirty and climbing and running without a parent in sight. There is a freedom to childhood that he remembers, that he tried to give us, although already then a bit limited, which has almost disappeared from American childhood today, that he sees kids here enjoy.

Middle management is AOK – Most Swedes my dad has met have a comfortable middle class existence. They have worked hard and they have a good job and are happy. They are not trying to ‘climb their way to the top’ – they have settled in the middle. They do not need to ‘earn their keep’ they are valued employees. The idea that you can have a rewarding career and life and ‘settle’ for middle management seems to have evaporated from the radar for many Americans… especially those in larger cities. As salaries and benefits for middle managers disappear, you have to climb higher and higher just to live a middle class lifestyle.

You can retire at 65 – Many of my Dad’s Swedish friends (yes he has a few, he’s been coming to visit for a long time) have all retired. My parents have not. They could not survive where they live on their pensioners income alone, so they continue to do a bit of work on the side in order to maintain their lifestyle. Yes it is a choice, mostly because they chose to be self-employed, but still, they don’t have the pension to fall back upon that their Swedish friends have.

Can Sweden maintain this 21st century meets 1950s vibe? I find chinks in the armor every day, but I certainly hope so. And I guess I kind of agree with him, and am glad he likes where I live and understands why we chose to live here. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Alice Munro Nobel Prize Laureate

Now I have been living in Sweden long enough to realize that no one is a Nobel Prize winner, they are all Nobel Prize Laureates (ok, I know that many Americans know this too, but I am not one of them).

But while The Swede anticipates the science awards, I sit around all morning to watch the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

As a big reader, I am always happy when the winner is someone I have actually read before. And while I know the point of the prize is to bring attention to writers others may not have heard of before, I always get a little disappointed when the prize goes to an English writer that somehow slipped through my fingers.

But Alice Munro has not. As a regular reader of the New Yorker (or as regular as you can be, as a subscriber to the e-magazine I spend most of my time trying to catch up on last months magazines than getting the most up to date issue), I am certainly familiar with Ms. Munro and her amazing stories.

And also how great that the award went to a short story writer, a story telling form which is often underappreciated, but is such an incredible art form.

So basically, what I am saying is, GOOD CHOICE SWEDEN! And YAY for Ms. Munro and the short story!

ETA - Yes, I realize I spelled the name wrong... I am going to blame my head cold and my sick kids for that one -- or make an excuse for trying to lure all of the google searchers who spelled the name wrong. Sorry!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Cinnamon bun day and the powerful Swedish baking lobby

Today is Cinnamon bun day, a day when Swedes get together and eat ‘lagom*’ big cinnamon rolls without cream cheese frosting to celebrate this fabulous bun that takes up so much space at many a ‘fika*’.

But is there a dark side to this wonderful tradition?

Why exactly do we celebrate the cinnamon roll on this day, of all days? What is it about October 4th that says ‘let them eat cake? Or buns?’

Well, it seems there is a terribly powerful lobby group in Sweden known as the Home Baking Advisory Board (my own translation of Hembakningsrådet), oh and guess who this innocently named group is actually owned by? Yes, that is right, Big Sugar.

The brains behind Cinnamon Roll day is Big Sugar – or some Swedish sugar company or other.

What does this all mean? Why are Swedes so much more welcoming of a new tradition sponsored by a sugar company, then say, celebrating Halloween? (Oh, I know, no one goes begging for cinnamon rolls, but we are pressured to make or buy them today)

At the end of the day, I am more supportive of Big Sugar, then say, Big Guns, but only to a degree. When you pay for everyone’s health care universally, you don’t want Big Sugar to get too big.

And it seems like every major food group is getting a day or two, and that could get pretty expensive, calorie and wallet wise. Here are just a few:

January 1st – International pizza day (OK this makes sense as big hangover day). If you don’t eat cheese, check out January 29th – Vegan pizza day. I’m sure there will be a gluten free pizza day next year!

March 9 – tomato sauce day

April 9th – Gin and Tonic day (I’m there!)

May 24 – Cheese day (I did not know this, I will never miss it again)

June 6 – Fresh potato day (well timed with Swedish national day)

*Just in case you missed it:

lagom means, approximately, 'just right' ala goldilocks and the three bears
Fika is a traditional Swedish coffee break

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How rape is really dealt with in Sweden

Ever since Julian Assange’s rape accusations Sweden has been portrayed, for better or for worse, as a country with the strictest rape laws in the world. This seems strange if you are a foreign woman living in Sweden, because in actuality, the laws play out very differently, if you are to believe the newspapers.

So here is the latest rape case that was overturned by the Swedish Supreme Court, because in Sweden, ‘no’ is not enough.

A 15-year-old girl goes to an apartment with a friend and meets a group of guys. Her friend gets very drunk; the girl does not (if she had, she might have been able to get a rape conviction). She consents to have sex with one of the guys, but then he invites his friends in and 5 more people have sex with her.

She tells the police she said no, that one of them held her down, but she was too afraid to do anything. She had not met these people before. She was alone. She was 15. She said ‘No’

The men threatened the girl on social media. There were reported videos made of the act.

But none of that matters. Why? Because the girl did not show enough physical resistance to the act to make it rape. By not fighting back, by not being injured by her attackers, she was thus giving her consent. Her ‘no’, even if the court believed it, was not enough.

She had no bruises, she was not too drunk to defend herself, she is to blame for the situation because she did not defend herself.

This is what rape law looks like in Sweden. Yes, there is a new law, but this case was covered by the old.

When are we going to start protecting our kids? When are we going to start saying to them that you are not responsible for other people sexually assaulting you.

Sweden is not a country where feminists have won the battle. It is a country where we still have a long way to go.