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Daylight cravings

August 27, 2012

In summertime Sweden, the populace indulges in abundant daylight. The sun may or may not be hidden behind a veil of clouds, but regardless one thing is certain: there is plenty of light. This is of summa importance to the swedes since enough light must be absorbed to sustain them through the crepuscular winters. The amounts of this essential source of luminous energy are carefully tabulated in the daily newspapers, in the weather reports to be precise. Whereas other countries attribute substantial importance to predicting climate features such as rain (hot and drought-stricken places like Brazil) or the potential for a brief spell of sunshine (the United Kingdom), swedes carefully monitor the number of hours of daylight. We even celebrate the longest and shortest days of the year as if they were more important than the resurrection of Christ (Easter). Though if there were a way to accurately predict the sunniest or rainiest day of the year, I am certain that this would be equal cause for celebration in some countries!

Smiling at strangers

August 3, 2012

Uma Sueca na Suecia: A Swede in Sweden – Groundbreaking observations

This time around I was pleasantly surprised by my homeland. It were as if my compatriots had been to charm school in warmer latitudes. Not once was I accidentally or intentionally elbowed in the ribs without a profuse apology, nor did any service persons try to convince me I was wrong. No cashiers cast murderous stares in my direction as I slowly bagged my groceries. Hell, I was even addressed in the formal version of you (“ni” – though that may just be old age catching up with me).

Contrary to my misconceptions, a swede helped to stow my oversized carry-on, I encountered flexible payment options (when HSBC -the world’s local bank- decided that Sweden was not a safe place for my financial transactions), and perhaps most surprising of all, NO QUEUE and helpful attendants at the Tax Authority (skatteverket). If that is not proof that something is up, then I don’t know what is.

So what has happened? During a cultural exchange with another visitor (from a happy country), we concluded that the notoriously frigid northerners can be defrosted by one simple facial grimace: the irresistible warmth of a smile. Disarmed by an unexpected grin, the swedes reciprocated graciously.

Thus, I encourage swedes and visitors alike to test this hypothesis and show some teeth. Especially Swedes, because beyond the obvious dividends owed to the fellow taxpayers for their dental investment (essentially making teeth – and smiles – a public good in Sweden), it just may shorten the impending winter and brighten gloomy afternoons

Bond country

July 18, 2012

It has come to my attention that Brits are disproportionately crazed with racy sports cars. You may be assuming that I have been hanging out with the golden boys (meaning the “oiligarchs”) of Knightsbridge or Belgravia, and thus adopted a skewed perception of British mobility. I am pleased to reveal that there are no such misconceptions, and that my hypothesis has been formed within the strict confines of Putney, a relatively diverse and somewhat representative part of London. Never have I seen so many flashy red Ferraris and sleek Maseratis parading up and down the high street, with fairly drab-looking banker types behind the wheel. Now, there are only two conclusions that I can draw: either the banking segment of society is desperately trying to spend the proceeds from the libor scandal by splurging on pimped-out rides, or Brits are realizing their long-time boyhood dreams of being secret agents. My gut feeling is that English lads grow up with 007-like aspirations. In other words, a racy car is simply at the top of the priority list – because it gives off the illusion that you may actually be an international man of mystery.

Coffee culture

July 16, 2012

Although my long-term intention is to not drink coffee at all, I must be a conscious consumer until then. In New York, coffee culture norms dictate that you should frequent your local café, which tends to be independent, serve deliciously strong brews (none of that frappuccino-skim-caramel latte crap), and subscribe to a fabulously hip clientele of local film stars, writers and students. As far as the big chains go, Starbucks obviously dominates, with some sporadic appearances from Pret (a Manger). London on the other hand, is overtaken by Starbucks, Costa, Nero and Pret franchises. This is where Londoners get their caffeine fix. My question is: which one is better? If I have to frequent one until I kick my caffein addiction, which one should it be? I tend to discard Starbucks for purely rebellious (and ideological) reasons, and because their coffee is on the weaker side. Other than coffee quality and ideology, I base my decision on the availability of real ceramic cups and reliable wifi, which I believe is offered by all big-chain competitors. Although I find Pret to make the best coffee (organic and all), it may have to be excluded on moral grounds considering that it is a McDonalds subsidiary. This leaves Costa and Nero still in the running. I am inclined to adopt Nero as my go-to coffee place, but maybe that is just because they gave me a loyalty card…. after all who doesn’t enjoy collecting stamps!?

Rain

July 15, 2012

After a week in London, all I can think to write about is r-a-i-n. It has apparently not stopped since April, and all records (since record-keeping began however long ago) have been broken. What is interesting about this is that if I were in Brasilia right now, I would be famished for precipitation. Worse than the bone-chilling Swedish winters, the sweltering NY summers, and the incessant London rains, the Brazilian droughts were the most offensive. I don’t expect anyone to believe me until they have experienced six months of cloudless skies and scorching sun, with the accompanying “unbreathably” dry air and omnipresent layer of red dust. This is the image I project as I battle down the London high street with wind and rain mutilating my umbrella and bieberfying my hair.

Fashion and fumée

July 15, 2012

I was recently in Paris, and made two sweeping observations. And this may be a “coming to Europe” moment, but from my perspective there was a shockingly high incidence of smoking at side-walk cafés and bars. In New York, and to some extent even in Brazil, smokers are restrained by murderous stares (in addition to the fact that it is illegal to smoke in restaurant and bar establishments, whether inside or outside). In Paris, my semi-annoyed glances were quickly subdued by intensely disagreeing looks, from the smokers. I clearly had to put my glare-tactics aside and accept the fact that smoke is part of the outdoor Paris experience.

My second observation is that Parisian children are fabulously well-dressed. Although the adult populace of the French capital may be known for their veneration of fashion, I would say that they dedicate relatively larger efforts in outfitting their children. In contrast to their Brazilian and US counterparts, girls do not wear pink and boys blue. Nor are gender roles reinforced by garish cartoons, tv characters and sports heroes. Although younger generation of Stockholmers can be well-dressed, they are almost always colorfully childish. Just like the parents, Parisian youngsters are elegant and highly understated.

Pretty fly for a wifi

June 27, 2012

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be cruising down manhattan on a bus. Bored to tears after a sleepless 4 hour ride from Boston (without wifi or internet), the allure of watching the city that never sleeps through the window should have been a welcome distraction. But no, I was finding entertainment by intently staring at the names of the available wifi networks on my phone. This is an enormous source for amusement, and I will probably never be bored again… Well, many wifi networks are pretty standard with names like myplace and johnsmith, or the basic belkinxz541 and apt4b. Some are even hostile, such as not your network or nowifi4u. However, it starts to get exciting when inhabitants allude to their personal characteristics, including house of foos, landofAA, Southern Hospitality (password protected network, thus not so hospitable), and I even came across the douchebags. Out of all the descriptive wifi names, the most creative ones popped up on my list as we descended through harlem. At first, I thought it could not get any better than the plushbottoms, that is, until I came accross pretty fly for a wifi.