Monday, October 31, 2005

Swedish Beer: Wisby Pils

Flavor: 2/5
Palate: 4/5
Drinkability: 3/5
Price: SEK 11 per 33cl bottle

From the island of Gotland comes Wisby Pils. It's a beer that wants to be Czech, but unfortunately for it, it is Swedish. It's too refined, bland, and creamy of a pilsner to be Czech, however bad it yearns to be so. But why not strive to be the best? Czech beers are all the rage in Sweden and also with this sloth. Some of my favorite golden beers are Pilsner Urquell, and Staropromen.

Wisby Pils is named after the capital city of Gotland, Visby. The 'W' in the name of the beer comes from Sweden's constant confusion about their own alphabet. Why this confusion? I don't know. They mix up their W's and V's like the Dickens. And don't even get me started on the J's and Y's . But they probably say the same thing about us.

I first went to Visby on Gotland when I was 11 years old. I got drunk a few times surreptitiously but never on this beer, which didn't exist at the time. It's more of a microbrew, even though it is distributed by Spendrups, the largest beer company in Sweden. Drink it if you are in Visby or if the bar doesn't have any Czech pilsners.

Summary: This beer may be a Czech pretender, but it's still better than most Swedish beers.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Aristocrats, A Drunken Post

Been seeing a lot of movies lately. I normally don't like films but for some reason in Europe they are a good way to keep in touch with the best of American culture without watching TV shows, which I refuse to do.

Recently saw a move called The Aristocrats. Probably didn't play in too many theaters in the USA because of the strong intellectual subject matter. No media companies want to be associated with that stuff. Worse than terrorism, it is. The last thing they want is consumers thinking. The cast was good... everyone from Cartman to Don Rickles to Bob Sagat was in it. 75 jokers in all, all of them stand-up comedians.

I love stand-up. I think Woody Allen, Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks are three of the best I've seen. I never understood what was so funny about Lenny Bruce, even though I realize he was sort of a godfather of modern comedy. Sometimes it's true that you had to be there. So much so that the actual originals sound boring because they are so copied that everything they say sounds like a cliche.

A literary example is Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "Julie, or the New Heloise", which I had to read in a Literature class in Paris and was so bad it made me want to jump off the Eiffel Tower instead of reading it. When I told the professor how bad I thought it was he actually agreed and said that because we are Modern we cannot read such things because we live them day to day and take we take them for granted.

What's the name of this post? Oh yeah. The Aristocrats. Funny joke? See for yourself. It's not a knee slapper but a perfect metaphor for the human condition. If you don't get it well then you gotta go see the entire film where they tell the joke 50 times and then evaluate it from every possible angle.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Swedish Welfare State

Warning: Second Educational Post in a Row

The typical Swede (Sven Medelsvensson) of today is almost an entirely different species than his ancestor Erik The Viking.

In the past, Erik and his hairy mates would drink grog and cohort for months until running out of money. Then they would jump in a boat, travel to Poland, the Baltic States, The British Isles, or France and proceed to rape and pillage the shit out them until it was time to come home and drink some more.

Today the typical Swede works a white-collar job, lives unmarried with his partner, has kids, and has a house or apartment of his own. He has traveled all over the world, speaks good English and perhaps another language (such as Spanish), and enjoys boating and other outdoor activities. He still drinks but only on weekends and no foreigners usually get hurt.

But that was all very recently. Sweden was of course heavily influenced in the Middle Ages by its teutonic neighbor to the South, Germany, Sweden's largest trading partner for hundreds of years until after WW2 (today its the USA). As late as 100 years ago, Swedes were notorious for beating their children, drinking enough vodka to make a Russian blush, going to war at every opportunity, starving to death due to bad politics, and being so Christian as to make unmarried women and their children enter a special door in the church. And due to Sweden's homogeneous racial profile, it tended to land on the xenophobic side of the fence.

How xenophobic was Sweden? Only Nazi Germany had a larger per capita Eugenics program than Sweden. Sweden sterilized people up until 1970. As late as the 1950's they did this for even trivial reasons: such as belonging to a motorcycle gang, being an unclean race, being retarded, being an unfit parent, etc.

But how did this transformation happen? And why is it unthinkable for it to happen again? Why do typical Swedish children pick flowers and berries while English kids are throwing rocks and American kids are shooting each other with semi-automatic weapons? My theory is the twin blessings of the death of organized religion (intellectual enlightenment) and the rise of the social welfare state which came with Sweden's growing wealth after WW2.

Sweden made BANK during and after World War 2 by supplying Hitler with raw materials for his war machine in exchange for being left alone. And after World War 2, while the rest of Europe was decimated, Sweden was booming with a trained workforce and an intact manufacturing base.

So wealth is almost certainly one of the reasons. But I would not discount the death of organized religion as a contributing factor. In Sweden, going to church is seen as the intellectual equivalent of losing a war to Poland. Swedes (and me) share a mix of embarrassment and horror when politicians in America use the G word in speeches and Presidents like Reagan and GW Bush mention publicly that they talk to God.

What are the benefits of living in a country like Sweden? It is against the law to beat children, jobs are so cush you get a month off per year and get this... you get paid MORE FOR VACATION TIME than you do when you are working (I'd like to see someone suggest that in the States) and wait, there's more... socialized medicine, free higher education, permanent unemployment benefits, and more.

Despite its industrial base, Sweden ranks amongst the best countries in terms of clean air, water, and recycling. Rumor has it you can drink out of Lake Mälaren that encircles Stockholm. I've swallowed water swimming in that lake but I personally wouldn't want to drink it on purpose. That being said... the rest of the world could learn alot from studying this place.

Just remember to separate the green bottles from the clear bottles or they might revert and cut your nuts off.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Sami People of Northern Sweden

Sami People

This is going to be one of those educational posts for people who don't know much about Sweden. For those who already know or don't give a shit I apologize in advance. You have been warned.

Back in the Viking days when the Swedes first came to Sweden, the area was already inhabited by an indigenous people. These Sami people were nomadic people who followed the herds reindeer around, killing them for food, clothing, and shelter.

In the rest of the world these people are popularly known as Lapplanders, but in Scandinavia that's not PC and so they call them the Sami people. At first I thought the Swedes were calling them the "Salami" people and I had one of those Homer Simpson moments I occasionally get (mmm... Salami people).

But the Sami people are not a renegade crew of Italians who were sick of hot weather and Chianti. Their exact origin is unknown, but they have been living in the Northernmost part of Sweden for over 2,500 years. Had the Sami people been tall and blond like the Swedes they most likely would have been left alone. But alas, they are small and dark.

So the Swedes didn't just let them freewheel hippy around the North of Sweden chasing the reindeer in peace. Just like the Americans did later, they tried to convert to them Christianity, kill them, make them pay taxes, and all that good stuff.

Eventually they made peace. Why? Why not? The North of Sweden is just like the North of Canada. Not much up there but snow, moose, reindeer, and Sami people. Plenty of room for everyone.

How did the Sami people get from from Asia to Northern Europe? How can they have such a similar look, lifestyle and architecture with America Indians who lived so far away? Bering Strait I guess. Who knows.

The Sami people don't speak Swedish. They speak Sami, which is totally unique, although a lot of words are borrowed from Finno-Ugric languages like Finnish and Hungarian.

For more information about the Sami people of Northern Sweden see


Mmm... Reindeer Burgers
The Holiday season is not far away. This year, why not forego the normal Christmas roast or turkey and feast on lovely reindeer meat? How nice would it be to sing songs in praise of Rudolph after chowing down on some hamburgers made from his relatives? Rudolph Burgers are 100% Guaranteed to be free from noses, glowing or otherwise.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Club an American Today!

Now normally I wouldn't do cheesy things like join an American Club abroad. I mean, I don't really like America that much, and I did leave it behind... so why travel 8,000 miles away and then pay $30 a year in dues to surround yourself with a bunch of Americans again?

Well many reasons, the first of course being jobs. Not blow jobs, mind you, but the regular kind. As a freelancer you need contacts. Because contacts means money. Networking is new to me, but all it really means is drinking, eating greasy food, and trying to make each other money. That's not so bad. I can do that.

Secondly, after living in Sweden now for six months I do miss hearing English. Of course I hear foreigners speaking English... first and foremost Swedish English and second most the other eurotrash English dialects, and then British English (who technically aren't foreign English speakers by the way), but now and again a bit of American twang really soothes the soul. And all Americans do have twang, not just the southeners. Although they definitely have the most twang. By far. Like the banjo in Deliverance.

Thirdly, if that's a word at all, Swedes all speak English... but they don't really LIKE to speak English in Sweden. They like to speak Swedish in Sweden. So to them it's always a bit of a chore to get them to speak with you. Some don't like it when they are at a party and you come up to them (normally drunk) and start speaking English. Some Swedes are hesitant to begin speaking, and then once they get started they never shut up. Some of course can speak in moderation, and those people are my friends. I need friends, man. No man is an island. I forget who said that but he was right on.

Fourthly, Americans living abroad, that is, expatriate Americans, are the best Americans there are. To me, the fact that George Bush had never left the country before being President (besides of course whoring in Mexico) and Hemingway lived 20 years abroad says a lot. Who would you want to hang out with? Hemingway or George Bush? Maybe neither, but given a choice I'd take Papa Hem. I like my dysfunctional suicidal alcoholics literary.

Fifthly and lastly, The American Club of Sweden not only has casual bowling nights, pub nights, chocolate tastings, and business meetings... but also two or three black tie events per year which gives you a chance to go out and meet other crazy, neurotic people like yourself, drink champagne and smoke cigars... and try to find work contracts. I got three so far, not bad for Fall in Sweden.

So if you're a yank in Stockholm, or a Swede who did time in America, check out the new website, American Club of Sweden. At 200 Kronors per year to join, it's cheaper than beer and wings at most American restaurants here.