Tuesday, March 31, 2009

World's largest Ikea and the Swedish Royal Family

Even in America, every Ikea store is incredibly huge. The closest one to where I live has the distinction of being the largest in the world. I visited a couple weeks ago and spent a few hours getting lost in the maze. I bought some candles, hangers, and what I believe may be the best pillow ever. Oh yes, and I ate dinner in the cafe where they have one of the best deals in Stockholm: pizza slice and a drink for 12 kronors (about $1.50). I don't know if they have it in American Ikea stores, but here they sell Ikea brand cola and other flavored sodas including lingonberry, a Swedish staple. I was excited and wanted to try both the cola and lingonberry soda, so of course, I ended up drinking too much of it.

This is a 3-story sign on the building that says "New! Open 10-8 every day" ... Um, excuse me, how late are you open? What about tomorrow? And Sunday? Is that new?

More gigantic words at Ikea that say "entrance."

This Ikea is near the Skärholmen area in a neighborhood called Kungens Kurva (the King's Curve). The area got its name after a car chauffeuring the King of Sweden ran off the road there in 1946. That king, Gustaf V, was the grandfather of the current king, Carl XVI Gustaf. The King was not injured in the accident, but still today there are endless rumors about how the car actually happened to run off the road. Apparently, "something" may have been going on in the car between the King and his chauffeur. These rumors went along with other allegations and scandals at the time relating to the King's sexuality. He was kind of a twink and had a fancy mustache, so I don't know, maybe he was asking for it.

Just after I arrived in Sweden, it was announced that the 31-year-old Crown Princess Victoria had become engaged to her longtime boyfriend, a 35-year-old personal trainer and businessman named Daniel Westling. It is no overstatement to say this was HUGE news in Sweden. Every TV channel, the cover of every newspaper, every magazine, et cetera. Pictures of the ring, the press conference, the couple sitting awkwardly on a fancy sofa making the announcement, and later, more awkwardly at a table with the King and Queen. It was everywhere, I tell ya.

Of course, Sweden has a prime minister and a democratically-elected parliament, so the Royal Court's duties are now ceremonial. But like the British, the Danes, and others, people are still fascinated with royal families, and this engagement is big news not just for the obvious reasons.

In 1980, Sweden became the first country to change its rules of succession to equal primogeniture, meaning that the oldest child would become the head of the monarchy regardless of their gender. Victoria, born in 1977, then became heiress apparent which was historic. It means if the King passes away or abdicates the throne, she will be the first regnant queen of Sweden in nearly 300 years.

A queen regnant is a female who is the head of the monarchy. The current queen, Silvia, is a queen consort, that is, she is the wife the reigning monarch but she could never become the sovereign leader. The last queen regnant in Sweden was Queen Ulrika Eleonora whose short-lived rule ended in 1720 and there were only two other female heads before her. Those reigns ended in 1412 and 1654. Surprisingly, none of those broads were even in the same family as the current lineage of royals.

Get this: An entirely new family was shipped in from France in 1810 to take over the throne. During 1809 and 1810, there was a quick succession of four kings in Sweden. The reigning king was overthrown in a coup and temporarily replaced by his uncle who had no children, who was replaced by a prince from Denmark, who died the same year.

So the Swedish Ståndsriksdagen (the people in charge of filling the vacant seat) actually elected a French general named Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte to be the new king. This guy was Napoleon's sister-in-law's sister's husband. Napoleon liked this guy because he kicked some ass in the French Revolution and the Swedes wanted to pick someone the little guy would look favorably on. So there you have it, the Swedish Royal Family is from France.

The current queen, who married into the family, isn't natively Swedish either. Queen Silvia has a Brazilian mother and a German father. She met the King at the 1972 Munich Olympics. It's important to a lot of people here that Princess Victoria's husband-to-be, even though he is a commoner, is from a proper Swedish family. It gets more Swedish blood back into the lineage, especially if they have children.

Oh, one more thing about the Swedish Royal Family: the King's picture is on all the coins here. Weird, right? A guy who is alive has his picture on the money. The paper currency is not like that. It has pictures of artists, writers, and musicians, but I'll write about that soon. Swedish paper money is interesting and beautiful enough to get its own story here. I'll save it for a rainy day.

A few things that have reminded me of Louisville

This is a photo of a guy we ran into on March 4th who looks like he could be my brother's stunt double. On the left you can see Iida's hand holding a photo of the real QB.

I saw this typewriter in a shop window. When I was a little boy, my mom had the exact same Remington Quiet-Riter. When I began publishing my own magazine in the neighborhood in the early eighties, that's what I used, along with scratch-on letters.

When I saw this one in the window, I was kind of hoping it had unusual keys on it for Swedish characters, but this one appears to be just like the one we had in Kentucky. I do remember that the one in our house had a hard suitcase-style carrier that was fuzzy and green on the inside. A Google Image search turned up one like that: link. I remember taking it out of the case, taking the ribbon out, and generally disassembling it. I had a bad habit of that when I was a kid.

After a few years of printing my first magazine, Cosmicpolitain, the folks took me to Service Merchandise on Shelbyville Road and I upgraded to a "modern" electric Olivetti typewriter. That one used cartridges instead of ribbons and had the amazing delete function which made Liquid Paper obsolete! I mean, obsolete for correcting errors. It was still useful for painting names of punk bands on stuff... and it smelled great!

Since our doggie Barney died back in 1994, I have had his Jefferson County dog license tag on my keychain. I'm happy to report that it made the trip with me and is now among my Swedish keys. Many of the keys here look like they are from haunted houses, again, presumably because Swedish people are vampires.

I riled up some religious types a few years ago when I launched a website called SaintClinton.com and started selling merchandise with a hybrid image of Bill Clinton crossed with Jesus. I received so much hilarious hate mail that I put together a book of the best ones.

I saw a book in a store here that had a similar idea on the cover that is not as offensive to Christians, but I think the illustration is much better and funnier than what I did. Here's Bill Clinton crossed with Elvis Presley. Awesome... and not that much of a stretch, really. I heard a comedian say once that when he was working on his Bill Clinton impersonation, he just ended up trying to do Jimmy Carter and Elvis at the same time. It think that's about the size of it!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Clarion Hotel Sign

Jesus, it took me forever to find the Clarion Hotel. The sign on the building should be a little more obvious.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Louisville fans: it's all my fault

Tonight I had to send some apology messages to Louisville because I think I jinxed the basketball game against Michigan State.

You see, the only basketball that I watched all season was the second half of Sunday's game. I tuned during halftime and watched the second half live via the CBS website. It was basically tied when I picked up the game. I think there were two points difference between the teams.

The good news is that the picture and sound quality were really pretty amazing. While I was watching it I was thinking that this is what the internet is supposed to be able to do - show me whatever I choose, as it happens, with quality as good or better than television. It was free, so I was blessed with all the US network commercials during time-outs.

The bad news is that it didn't seem like Louisville could hit a basket or pick up a rebound during the entire second half. Michigan State didn't have any trouble with either of those issues. Did Louisville turn off their hustle for Earth Hour? (My, what timely commentary! He's using basketball terminology with an awareness of current events.)

The game wasn't a total loss, though. I took advantage of the opportunity to use some of the Swedish profanity I have learned. Maybe we can all learn something from this:

Fan = fuck
Helvete = hell
Jävel = bastard
Skit = shit
Jävla Louisville! = Fucking Louisville!

The E-Snuggie?

Spotted yesterday in Stockholm, is this a new version of the Snuggie?

The Snuggie, of course, is the infamous "blanket with sleeves" for lazy Americans who sit on the couch all day. Because they need their hands for the remote control and feeding their snack hole, a traditional analog blanket just won't work. The Snuggie website shows people having family time together, reading a book. Don't believe the hype. The website itself is heavy reading for the people who have these things.

I guess Europeans are more productive so their blankets have a place for a computer. Oh yes, and they leave the house.

I'm still convinced the Snuggie was invented by a drunk guy who put his robe on backwards and passed out on the couch. He awoke to a flash of "genius" and now he's a millionaire. A drunk millionaire. "What do you mean I'm not on the guest list?! Do you know who I am? I invented the fucking blanket with sleeves!"

Update: After watching the Snuggie commercial, Erik said, "...or you could get dressed."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lördag kväll: Saturday night

Tonight I went out on the town with some friends and ended up drawing on people. The city was alight with excitement because there was a big soccer game tonight: Sweden vs. Portugal. A lot of the bars had signs out front advertising that they would be showing the game. It was a qualifying match for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Not quite the NCAA Basketball Tournament, I know, but in any event the final score was 0-0. That's right. No points were scored during the entire ninety minutes of the game. Yeah, I don't get it either, and I don't know how that qualifies either team.

We were at Debaser Medis, just up the hill from Debaser Slussen. In 1999, before this place was the club it is now, I played a solo acoustic show here, opening for Lost Patrol, the solo project of Dennis Lyxzén of Refused and International Noise Conspiracy. This is also about three blocks away from Kafe 44 where Metroschifter played in the nineties and I also did another solo show back in the day.

Iida "Junebug" Hellström (whose nicknames also include "Wednesday" because she looked like Wednesday Addams ten years ago when Metroschifter played with her band The Sorted)

Anna "Cookie" Hesselman (whose nicknames also include "Bead Princess" because she runs a bead store and "Hazel Dude" because that's a loose translation of her last name into English). Most girls in Sweden are named Anna or Emma.

A guy named Henrik who I don't know, but who wanted a Sharpie tattoo of one of his favorite Swedish bands, Loney Dear. He gave me his email address to contact him to possibly do some artwork. I asked him why he was drinking Budweiser and he blamed it on his friend. I would, too.

Johanna Westling (who has the same last name as Daniel Westling, the guy who is engaged to Victoria, the Princess of Sweden - they are unfortunately not related) This says "I heart Iida." It's true. Johanna hearts Iida.

God, I miss my iPhone

In addition to learning a new language, the metric system, how much everything costs, and adjusting to a new culture, possibly the most difficult part has been being forced to return to T9. You know, sending text messages with only the number keys? Remember that?

As much as I love the iPhone, when I arrived in Sweden, my iPhone was still tethered to AT&T in America. Using it here with that contract was simply crazy expensive. It was okay to visit with, but living here with it was too much. Unfortunately, because the phone was locked to AT&T, I couldn't just switch to a Swedish provider. Now that I have cancelled my AT&T contract, the phone has been reduced to being a very nice iPod with WiFi. I initially thought I might be able to unlock the phone to use it with a different provider, but that turned out to be impossible because I had updated my phone to a version that - at least for now - is not unlockable.

Unlimited data on the iPhone in America got me spoiled really fast and it's amazing how much the thing became a part of my life: email, internet, texting, taking pictures, making notes, and even recording things, which some of my friends found very annoying.

In any event, I had to get some type of local phone to communicate with friends, so I got on a pre-paid plan with Telia, one of the big providers. Above is a picture of the phone I bought used from a guy from Dubai that I found on the internet. He has a "shop" where he is resetting and unlocking old phones. Surprisingly, this Sony Ericsson phone I bought is not unusually antiquated. I have been shocked that qwerty phones and Blackberry devices are pretty rare here.

There are two companies in Sweden that offer the iPhone, but both require a personnummer (the Swedish equivalent of a Social Security number) to sign up. If I want to get an iPhone with cash and go the pre-paid route, the phone itself is about $700. That's a cost I just can't justify at this early stage of my time here.

Long story short, I still use my iPhone all the time - it just doesn't send and receive calls or texts any more. All the apps still work, though some require a WiFi connection. One of the few apps I actually paid money for is an English/Swedish dictionary. It has 56,000 entries and is fully self-contained, that is, it doesn't require a connection. I use it all the time.

I also have become obsessed with checking the US-dollar-to Swedish-kronor exchange rate several times a day. All my clients are in America and I'm being paid in dollars, so what I'm earning is worth different amounts every few hours.

Refrigerator poetry

Today's arrangement of the nine words I took off the dead refrigerator a couple weeks ago:

Beautiful electric blood lover
Hungry woman
Refrigerator face

Friday, March 27, 2009

Charts and lists

My friend Johanna is writing an article about my decision to move - and the accompanying adventure - for Sweden's biggest printing and graphics magazine. That's pretty exciting. It will be published in May in Aktuell Grafisk Information.

Over the past week or so she gave me the third-degree through an interview and getting my pictures taken for it. I'm used to being on the other side of the interview.

While trying to come up with some illustrations to go along with the article, I made some charts and lists. I don't know if any of them will actually be in the article, so I thought I'd post them here so if they don't get used they won't go to waste.

I made Top Five lists of my observations about what I love and don't love about Sweden, as well as what I miss and don't miss about America. The charts that go with them are kind of the same ideas.

I added the parts in italics to explain a little bit here, so the italicized parts are just for you.

For example: Djungelvrål is very salty licorice candy that Swedish people are crazy about. It's impossible to eat without making a face, but wholly different than Sour Patch Kids, if you can imagine. Knäckebröd is very thin, hard bread that would be like a cracker, except it's not salty and it is bread size or bigger. Before I moved here, one of the Swedish language instructional recordings I listened to had the phrase "Alla svenskar älskar knäckebröd" which means "All Swedes love knäckebröd." It's true. They do.


1. Clean, safe, quiet, beautiful. The culture has a respect for nature, even in the urban environment. The society seems to have an awareness of our impact on the environment that is accepted and not treated as activism.

2. Public transit can take you pretty much anywhere in the city. The trains and buses are always on time and public clocks are accurate.

3. People are incredibly well educated. This makes a big difference for everything.

4. There is an attractive, simple design aesthetic to almost everything. Of course this includes architecture, signs, furniture, and appliances, but I also see it a lot in clothes.

5. Everyone I've met is incredibly friendly and curious about things around them and interested in my story.

6. Okay, I said I was doing Top Fives, but I have to add a Number Six on this list: I love the ideas of lagom and the fika. It's like they were invented for me. These two words could really replace our entire conversation about why I moved here!

"Lagom" is a Swedish concept that basically means "just enough." It's prevalent in everything from the design of furniture to how hard people work. It is kind of like the idea that there's no need to go too far or to do too much. Less is more. - "Fika" is the afternoon coffee break, which for some Swedes lasts a few hours. It's usually accompanied by some sort of baked treat, bun, or similar snack.


1. The extensive variety of food available, especially Mexican food and other spicy foods. Maybe the fact that there is so much food everywhere in America is part of the country's problem with obesity, but I miss it nonetheless.

2. Stores being open late and America's 24-hour culture. If I want to buy a book, eat some food, get a drink with friends, or call to change my cell phone service, I can usually do any of these things pretty late in the evening and some in the middle of the night.

3. The availability and variety of alcohol: hours, locations, prices, choices, character of independent shops. All the beer and alcohol over 3.5% is sold by the state-run chain of stores called Systembolaget. They are open only until 7:00 or earlier and closed on Sunday.

4. Being able to understand everything anybody says.

5. Of course, my friends and family.


1. So much of the television programming is in English and from America and everyone in Sweden speaks perfect English. The prevalence of English makes it so much more difficult to learn Swedish and to use what little Swedish I know.

2. Surprisingly high number of people who smoke and use smokeless tobacco. This surprises me because Swedes seem so health-conscious otherwise and have a reputation for being healthy.

3. I feel pressured to wear black. Everyone is wearing black all the time. Sure, it looks smart and goes with everything, but a little color here and there doesn't hurt. Sometimes I feel like I stand out because my coat is dark brown!

4. The weather - for now - is cold and I miss seeing the sun as often.

5. Some people here seem to intentionally ruin their natural beauty with fake tans, too much makeup, facial piercing, or inconsiderate behavior. This is rare, but notable.


1. General noise: motorcycles, "high-performance" exhaust, car stereos, sirens.

2. Telephone poles, power lines, and unreliable utilities that come with them.

3. Corporate prepared food, fast food, and the sloppy lifestyles of the people who are duped by it.

4. Important decisions about society being made and defended by people who are uneducated about the issues, or those with a sense of entitlement.

5. Calculating sales tax when making purchases and tips (gratuity) when eating or drinking. Although the sales tax here is a steep 25%, it's not so noticeable or painful because it is included in the prices. If you don't study your receipts, you'll rarely see the amount of tax. It seems that tipping is basically rounding up if you feel like being nice. I almost never see extra money left on the table or handed to a server. Maybe because everyone is paid enough to survive.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tiger Lou

One of the bands Erik is in, Tiger Lou (video) played a benefit show tonight for Rädda Barnen, a group that helps children around the world. There were several bands who each played a few songs at the Debaser Slussen club. The club is underneath the street next to some locks in the water where boats pass through. The city of Stockholm is spread across fourteen islands, so the water is never too far away.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sunshine and blue skies

This is near Slussen (the locks) and you can see some of the same buildings that are in the Metroschifter cover photo, but with much different conditions in the sky. Although it was very cold - right around freezing - I sat here and soaked up some sun for a few minutes. One of the Tunnelbana trains is going across the bridge.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Drive-thru blizzard

While walking and enjoying a sunny (but cold) day near Skanstull on Södermalm, a snow storm breezed through. It lasted just a few minutes and some parts of the sky were still blue while it was happening. It was very surreal.

Clear night in Hagsätra

The Metroschifter

I finished the artwork for the new Metroschifter CD this week and got it sent off to Louisville. Noise Pollution will be putting it out and we are doing a pre-order offer so people can get it personalized with their name on the cover. The cover photo is one I took here in Stockholm last August on the same day as the main photo on this page.. I think it's another great example of what I was saying about the dramatic skies in Sweden. Of course, there's not usually blood all over the place.

Hört, Pat, and I recorded this new CD in January. More about that is on our website at metroschifter.com.

Monday, March 23, 2009


More snow

All my talk about spring colors and the melting of the snow was a bit premature. I guess that shows what I know about living in Sweden. I sat down on my bed to do some design work Monday evening and was there for a few hours. When I got up to get some food, I looked out the window and the world had been covered in white again. This is that scene from my bedroom window.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sergels Torg at night

One of the main plazas, Sergels Torg, Monday night.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Franz Ferdinand

One of my Louisville friends, Rachel, does music promotion work in London and got me in on the guest list to see Franz Ferdinand in Stockholm tonight. Iida went with me and we had very nice seats. The show was at Cirkus which has a capacity of about 2000. It is the same venue where I will be going to see A Camp next month.

The crowd was electric and it seemed that all the people there were totally excited about the show... except the band. They sounded fantastic, but their enthusiasm was that of a band whohad played the same songs for the thousandth night in a row.

Moving again in May

After just a few weeks in the apartment, my roommate has told me that he has decided to move back to Holland and sell the apartment. I will be moving in with my friends Iida and Erik on May 1st. They are a little farther from the city center, but their place is much nicer and bigger. They have a beautiful, eighth-floor balcony, big windows all around two sides of the apartment, a washer/dryer inside the apartment (a true luxury in Europe), wireless internet, cable tv, et cetera.

The biggest benefit is that they are Swedes and I am always learning and hearing more language when I am around them. My room will be, well, tiny and doesn't have any windows itself, but the common areas, kitchen, et cetera, are large (suitable for guests) and my moving in will make life cheaper for everyone involved.

The first signs of spring are here. We've had 3 or 4 sunny days in a row. Today it was a positively sweltering 6°C (about 43°F). Yeah, I'm not just learning the language, I'm re-learning money, temperatures, weights, and measures at the same time. I have lost a little weight, certainly not from a lack of eating, probably from walking so much more and not drinking so regularly.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Me with Friday's sunset out my bedroom window.

The sun

The sun. It is the closest star to earth, that's why it seems so bright, but it is really just a medium-sized star. It doesn't get as high in the sky since we're higher up on the curve of the earth, so there are lots of extra long long shadows and golden light during the mornings and evenings.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sergels Torg by day

A couple more scenes of Sergels Torg from Thursday with some blue skies. I'm not sure what it is about the sky here, but the clouds are always something interesting and when the sky is blue, it's soooo blue.

Almost spring colors

The snow has melted, the sun is peeking through, the grass is exposed, and colors are beginning to show.

What's missing in all these photos? Power lines! You almost never see them here unless they are holding street lamps or powering trains.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Public transit

Here are a few pictures of the public transit so you can see a bit of how nice it is. Yes, the buses have curtains! The blue and white sign in the window is an ad for their schedules which you can view on mobile phones. It says, "Pssst. We left a trip planner in your pants."

Inside one of the Tunnelbana (subway) trains. I live off the last stop on one of the lines so sometimes at night there are only a few people going to the end of the line. The seats are cloth and have little cartoons of famous sites in Stockholm like the old city hall, the harbor, Storkyrkan (big cathedral), and Globen...

This is one of the transit centers, Gullmarsplan, with Globen behind an office building in the background. Globen is a big indoor arena that is shaped like a gigantic white sphere. It looks like the future used to look. It's lit up with different colors each night. I'll try to get a better picture of the whole sphere for next time.

One of the T-bana stations. Each station was designed by a different artist and many of them are really retro, having been decorated in the 60's and 70's. This black and white photo helps that look but doesn't really show how long the stations are. The tiles in this station are all different shades of yellow. The advertisement is for SAS Airlines and says, "More cheaper trips than ever."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


This is a lady I saw on the train this morning in Stockholm reading Barack Obama's "Dreams of my Father" in Swedish. It made me happy.

The Swedish title is "Min Far Hade en Dröm" which means "My Father Had a Dream." Not exactly the same thing, is it?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Space Invaders

Secretly snapped photo of someone on the train with a Space Invaders bag.

NK department store

NK is one of the big department stores in Stockholm. These stores are enormous and pretty expensive. Another one, Åhléns City, is also 5 or 6 stories tall and takes up an entire city block.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ingen reklam tack

The mail slot on one of my neighbors' doors. Almost every mailbox says "ingen reklam tack" which means "no advertising please" - a request that is honored by law if you have it posted. These people added an extra line "but gladly Ikea catalogs!"

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bulleit Bourbon and Systembolaget

Bulleit for sale at Systembolaget which is the state-owned liquor monopoly. The price is 279 kronors (about $35) and it says, "Tasty, burned whiskey with barrel character, elements of liquorice, caramel and vanilla." It's actually cheaper than Maker's and Jack Daniel's. Of the seven whiskeys Systembolget carries, four are Kentucky bourbons. Noice! I haven't splurged yet. I may save it until May when Sammy and Alex are coming up from Germany for Derby Day!

Systembolaget locations are the only liquor stores in the country. It's a non-profit operation owned by the government and the products are taxed based on their alcohol content; so bourbon, vodka, and things like that are expensive while beer is affordable, but they're only sold as single bottles. You can't buy a "case" of beer, just a bunch of singles. They close at 6 every day and are closed Sundays. On Fridays you'll see everyone in the city and on the trains carrying their green and purple bags of alcohol. Some of the locations have an amazing selection (each shop is a little different). Because Systembolaget is buying alcohol for the entire country, they are one of the biggest purchasers or alcohol in the world, so some of the prices are quite good. I've seen a few good and rare beers that we paid $7 or $8 for at Rich O's going for around $2 or $3 there.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dressing the statues

This is a strange phenomenon in Stockholm. If someone loses a glove or jacket, instead of taking it or leaving it on the ground, people pick them up and put them in nearby trees or on statues to make them easy to find if the person comes back. It's pretty nice to see the statues keeping warm.
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