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Frosty windshields

January 15, 2013

In a country unaccustomed to regular snowfall, brits looked puzzled when confronted with their frosty windshields this morning. Back when I used to drive regularly, there would always be a CD case (or even a cassette cover!) around to act as snow scraper. And today? One can’t very well apply the sharp edge of one’s smartphone or mp3 player to an icy windshield. But on my morning trod to the tube, I noticed that although CD cases may be lacking, creative solutions are not. I was fascinated to see bare-handed Brits, finger deep in shredded frost, scraping away with their credit cards (or Boots loyaly cards, more likely)! Though I still struggle with the concept of how one even attempts to grip the steering wheel after such a hand-numbing experience….

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Life as livestock

December 6, 2012

Inspiration is flowing, and i may be starting a series dedicated to london tube travel. I am quickly adjusting to the claustrophobia of cramped spaces and building commuter muscles to keep me upright in even the shakiest of curves. And i find an almost perverse enjoyment in observing the suffering of my fellow passengers. As soon as a space on the train is secured, they all enter a zombie-like smartphone mode, playing cut the rope and catching up on the latest homeland episode. But as soon as the doors open, race horse mentality sets in and sharp elbows are extended. As livestock we are slowly ushered along towards our final destinations. My consolation rests on the fact that i do this three times per week, as opposed to five. people in picture are waiting to enter platform.

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Signal failure

December 5, 2012

If i could sit down right now, i would write this post. Wait, thanks to the buffer of tightly packed bodies, i can actually stand without holding on to a sticky pole. And thus write! (Though the 45 people involuntarily huddled up behind me are most likely reading along). This is the london tube. This is ‘signal failure’. Though no such explanation, or official excuse of any kind, has been offered for the extraordinarily cramped conditions this morning. My phone tells me that ‘good service is in operation’. Im sorry, i think we may need to redefine ‘good’ in this context…..
The priority seats, regularly reserved for those less able to stand, are shamelessly occupied by able bodied youngsters shielded by headphones and absorbed by their smartphones to avoid noticing the pregnant and senior passengers hovering nearby.
Normal tube luck may involve finding an empty seat. Under current conditions, luck first and foremost involves successfully shoving yourself into the train, and secondly anchoring yourself to a grubby handrail. Long arms usually come in handy here, but today i am swaying along unsecured and relying on the stability offered by limited personal space. Going with the flow, one might say, or performing a vertical crowd surf may be a more aporopropriate description. The only positive reflection i can extract from this experience is that the remaining challenges of the day will appear relatively minor!

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Notions of cold

November 16, 2012

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Brits act as if they were somehow immune to cold. Although their climate is relatively mild by north European standards, there is really no need to confront 5 degree winters and bone chilling winds without gloves or proper boots. How can it be that you see runners in Hyde Park dress in shorts and t-shirts all year long? Why is it that Brits prance around with bare legs in the off season, and consider hand-warming apparel superfluous? For swedes there is no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing. We are a population that takes proper precautions to ease the pain of cold, and it is perplexing to realize that others may not share this sentiment. Well, I see two possible reasons for this ascetic behavior. One is that Brits are simply used to freezing, in their poorly insulated and lofty mansions of bygone times, and thus are not overly inconvenienced by goosebumps and clattering teeth. Another more plausible explanation is that agony is, as the Brits famously claim, ‘character building’. In Britain, you see, suffering makes you a better person.

London litter

October 9, 2012

Normally I try to stay positive and see everything in the best light. But riding on the London tube for 45 minutes with a decomposing banana peel in my hand puts things into perspective. The waste disposal solutions in this city are shockingly insufficient. In other words, there are no trash cans. Or litter bins – though i don’t see the point in having a British term for an object that doesn’t exist. Swedes are pre-programmed not to litter, and experience intense feelings of borderline criminality when trying to sneak an empty Starbucks cup under a train seat. So in the absence of adequate waste disposal possibilities, we carry our garbage around with us. The bottom of my handbag is thus a sea of receipts, train tickets and wrappers. And I’m the person transiting through the tube catacombs with an empty coffee cup in one hand and a putrid banana peel snuggled up with my iPhone in the other. It’s not ideal.

Brits are shy(er than Swedes)

September 21, 2012

I have been observing the fellow inhabitants (mainly Brits, surprisingly for London) of the apartment building where I am staying. Awkward moments in elevators, close encounters in halls and stairways and the persistent silence that lingers between occupants of tightly packed treadmills in the basement gym. In contrast to other cultures I take the liberty to express my views on, Brits seem uninclined to engage in smalltalk. Although I consider British people approximately one hundred times more polite than Swedes, the latter commonly force themselves (no matter how excruciatingly embarrassing it may be) to exclaim a muffled greeting or at least a nod in your general direction upon close encounters with strangers. Imagine mounting the treadmill next to the sole other individual in the gym (practically elbow to elbow) without being greeted with as much as a glance!? And I who held the misconstrued notion that Brits took every opportunity to chat about the weather!! Not so much, according to my latest findings.

To the left, to the left

September 12, 2012

You can tell a lot about a culture by its drivers, according to my inspiration for this post, Herman Lindqvist (though credits for the title go to Beyonce). Judging based on Lindqvist’s criteria, the Brits are an exceedingly polite and cautious set of people. Despite the inevitable outlier, driving culture in the UK condemns risky lane switches and cutting others off. Drivers even go as far as stopping to let cars pass in front, something I have never experienced anywhere. Now, if driving were purely based on culture, this would be the perfect place to get behind the wheel. The only problem is that the wheel is not where it is supposed to be! Everything is opposite and counter-intuitive. Though you do get the hang of it somewhat quickly, at least when there are other cars on the road to follow. In cases of deserted roads or the unlikely emergency, you may need to fear where your right-hand reflexes would take you. By the way, being left handed does not unlock the secrets of this bewildering left-side world. Come to think of it, maybe drivers in this country are so patient and forgiving due to the prevalence of perplexed foreigners on the roads. Brits have learned to show great appreciation to those that simply stay on the right (meaning ‘correct’ in this context) side of the road.