It’s article like these that desperately makes me wish that David Lynch would make a movie about Sweden

(CNN) — A $22 martini. And this wasn’t a martini served with gold flakes and unicorn eyelashes, either. In fact, it was barely a martini.

It was two oily Kalamata olives covered in an ounce of gin and an ounce of something that wasn’t vermouth.

It was the worst thing-called-a-martini I’ve ever had. And the most expensive thing-called-a-martini I’ve ever paid for. And I won’t let myself forget it, because it’s the only thing I found wrong with the entire city of Stockholm.

I know what you’re thinking: Surprise! A travel writer likes a place that he visited.

And it’s true, travel stories tend to be as hard-hitting as a Dick Cheney interview on Fox. But believe me when I tell you that a short visit to Stockholm in the summer will have you seriously thinking about applying for a job at IKEA … in Sweden.

In fact, Stockholm is so attractive and so user-friendly that your feelings about it will toggle between admiration and jealousy. It’s like the neighbor with the groomed yard, the successful career and the loving family. Part of you aspires to be her. Another part wants to start negative rumors about her and tear up her yard by doing donuts on it in your unwashed Toyota Camry.

“Well, it’s really expensive over there,” you think. “At least they have that going against them.”

And it’s true it ain’t cheap (See: aforementioned thing-called-a-martini), but it’s kind of like dining at a baseball stadium: If you avoid boozing and be smart about where you eat, the prices won’t make you cry.

I found a intercontinental flight to Stockholm from Croatia for 60 bucks. And for lodging, I used Air BnB, a newish website where people rent their homes when they are not using them.

My girlfriend and I found a one-bedroom apartment in central Stockholm for $650 a week. It included a kitchen where you could save money by cooking and a comfortable couch where you could save money by watching Swedish television and pretending you are actually walking around Sweden.

“Venice of the North”

“You Americans?” asked the guy sitting next to us. He was a just-this-side-of-handsome middle-aged man sitting with his long-blond-haired, red-bearded, modern Viking friend.


“We’d like to buy you a drink.”


“Because we feel bad that you lost your ‘A.’ ” Earlier that day, Standard & Poor’s had downgraded America’s credit.

So much for overcoming my attraction to Stockholm by dismissing the Swedes as cold and humorless.

The Joker and the Viking were just back from their month and a half summer vacations out on the islands. And lest you think my girlfriend and I had fallen in with Sweden’s wealthy elite, you should know that almost everyone on Sweden speaks English, everyone has a minimum of five weeks vacation, and most people have vacation homes — with 600,000 summer cottages, it has the highest number of second homes per capita in the entire world.

This would be a good place to tell you that Stockholm is part of a 24,000-island archipelago. Many of the country’s summer cottages are on these islands, and Stockholm itself is spread out across 14 of them.

The city has been dubbed “Venice of the North,” which (save for the fact that the water is clean and you can swim in it it and eat fish from it) seems apropos. The whole city is infused with maritime culture. Viking relics are strewn across the town’s near 100 museums.

A painstakingly restored 64-gun warship from the 17th century is the centerpiece of the beloved Vasa Museum. And mountains of incredible seafood abound, both figuratively at classic Swedish restaurants like Tranan and Pelikan and literally at the city’s food markets. The most stunning is Ostermalm Food Hall, where the ice-packed fish counter looks like Atlantis at low tide.

The Joker and the Viking taught us something else the night we met them: Sweden is in the middle of the “vodka belt,” a ribbon of countries in Europe whose natives really like vodka a lot.

Perhaps not surprising for the home of Absolut but still an adjustment for visitors from the wine-with-dinner belt.

Living the good life

Sweden’s also awash in beer of varying colors and varying strengths. And that night, with the help of our new friends, my girlfriend and I consumed all of the above until the sun came up. Which is less decadent than you might think, since in Stockholm during July, the sun rises around 3:30 in the morning.

The next day, we skipped breakfast and went directly to “fika,” a noun/verb that means “break,” as in coffee break. A coffee break that is usually accompanied by sweet baked goods. The cinnamon bun is the local favorite, but I fell hard for cardamom buns, which have all the same gooey texture as cinnamon buns but with a hot edge courtesy of the cardamom.

“Fika” is a big part of Swedish culture. Blending work with coffee breaks with friends and colleagues is one way to achieve “lagom,” another hardly translatable Swedish word that roughly means “just enough.” Not too much. Not too little.

Some say the word is a contraction of “laget om” (“around the team”), a phrase used in Viking times to specify how much one should drink from the horn as it is passed around in order for everyone to receive a fair share. Everyone receiving their fair share is a philosophy that lies at the root of Swedish society.

A coffee shop is a good place to witness the practical affects of “lagom.” Amidst the pastries and the (extremely attractive!) people, one finds lots of men with one hand cradling a coffee and the other rocking a stroller.

On-duty dads are everywhere. This is not only because Sweden takes feminism very seriously (“lagom”) but because Sweden has some of the most generous paternity benefits in the world. Families receive 13 months paid paternity leave per child, and two of those months are reserved for fathers so they too can raise their child.


The rest of our trip was filled with these sort of frustratingly beautiful and pleasant truths about Sweden: public transportation that was clean and on time. More vibrant neighborhoods than you are able to explore in a week, from schmancy Ostermalm to the medieval splendor of Gamla Stan (Stockholm’s old town). Superb design everywhere, from light switches to community bikes (!).

Our last day there, we ogled people and boutique shops in trendy Sodermalm and saw a hare the size of a bumper car while strolling through one of the city’s many parks. This all happened under a sky so electrifying — a mottle of purple, blue, gray, white, orange and yellow — that every hour or so, you found yourself standing still and staring up.

We ended our trip at a broad terrace bar overlooking the city.

“What’s not to like about this place?” we wondered. Then I received my $22 thing-they-called-a-martini

Thanks to Jingwei for the find.

Osama: Clearly your visit to Falun did not do you good

Was it in Falun that Osama discovered his hatred for the west?


Quite possibly… apparently he’s number two from the right.

My take on Swedish election – Why intolerance is not the answer, by anyone…

I just started taking a distance course in ICT for collaborative communication. It's quite interesting and started with an "assumptions" game, where we were making assumptions about our fellow classmates virtually based on very limited information. It highlighted both how assumptions can be a useful tool, but also how they (especially cultural ones) can go wrong.

An assumption many made of me is that I'm disinterested in politics. I guess it was my international classmates' perception of Swedes in general that formed them (and they wouldn't be completely wrong – at least not with the people they had engaged with from the engineering faculties). Compared to India, Swedes are definitely disinterested.

Well, in order to challenge that assumption, I'll make a comment about the current political situation in Sweden. Yesterday was the parliamentary elections in Sweden and a right wing, anti-immigration party called the Swedish Democrats (SD) got 20 seats or 5.7% of the vote. It's quite an upset because this means that neither of the other main political blocks have an outright majority and thus cannot form a government. 

So, what has the response from people been before and after the election to this? Well, I haven't been able to follow Swedish media very closely, however I have downloaded my Facebook feeds daily and read them thoroughly and my conclusion from that is that the response, overwhelmingly has been one of intolerance

This frustrates me, and while I don't believe the least bit in the opinions or aspirations of the "Swedish Democrats", I do think they have the right to express their opinion. Likewise do people have the full right to vote for them. Period. 

Comments of intolerance against the party or the people who voted for it just doesn't ring very correct to me. 

The response, rather than being "get those bastards out of parliament", "shut them up" or whatever it might be, should be "what is the driver behind the opinions that people have expressed by voting for this party?". Democracy is about dialogue. So instead of demonizing (or asking the people who voted for SD to "move somewhere else" as I saw an enlightened Facebook post say), I'd ask to engage in dialogue. If engaging in dialogue with the party itself is too much for you to stomach, then engage with people around you, with people you don't know, and with people who voted for the party. 

A failure on your behalf of expressing or engaging with the issues or problems that makes people choose this party is well, a failure on your part. The answer to such a failure is introspection about why your story (which is about a multicultural society I assume) isn't reaching those 5.7%.

Not to try to "eradicate" SD, nor to get the people who voted for them to "relocate". 

What drives us to do what we do?

As a leader of a non-profit organization (AIESEC) driven mostly by volunteers, you get to see and learn a lot of interesting things about motivation. Since there is no direct monetary profit of being a part of the organization (unlike business etc. where I’ve also worked), The reason for investing your time and energy into it and making it grow, needs to come from other places.


Our international president, Aman, recently posted a question to all the other presidents from AIESEC in different countries about what this motivation really is, and he posted two videos on TED (Science of Motivation and Why We Do What We Do) as input to the discussion. In the discussion some early comments came up that there is a major difference between people who are leaders and have stayed a while in AIESEC, and people who are new to AIESEC. Many shared that they felt that as you spent more time in the organization your motivation changed – from initially being focused on what you can get – you tend to move to a focus on what you give. I think this shift in focus comes from the fact that you become aware of and connected to a community.

I find that, in my country Sweden, many students I meet initially talk to me a lot about their motivations for themselves, their degrees they want to take, their aspirations for jobs, career, money they want to get. However, they rarely speak about their aspirations for their communities, what they want to achieve for others. Once they have been involved in a community like AIESEC for a while, new desires and drivers are uncovered and motivation starts coming from a new source. We become connected to moving a community forward – rather than just ourselves. By moving the community we’re in forward and ensuring that all people involved grow, learn, develop the community thrives. By extension – if the community thrives, so will we, it’s members.

However, this is not an automatic process. It is something that we as leaders and members of communities can stimulate or retard. One of the basic tools to use is to engage in dialogue with people around how their drivers and desires connect with what the drivers and desires are for the community.

At a recent training we held we discussed Steven Reiss’ 16 basic desires. This theory, based on over 6000 interviews, shows us that motivation essentially is personal. But, by understanding the drivers of our members, and connecting these personal drivers to their work in the organization we can help them see the link between a thriving community and themselves as thriving individuals. Thus, the motivation is no longer only individual – it becomes a motivation for making the community grow.

Picture by Tom@HK.


Swedes love alcohol, this is a pretty commonly repeated stereotype right? Well, come Midsummer, it’s quite easy to proove this reputation… Check out the queues outside of Systembolaget (Swedish alcohol monopoly).

Having shared that here’s the briefing on how to celebrate midsummer:

  • We erect a pole symbolizing fertility (through it’s definite male genitalia shape)
  • Dancing ridiculous dances around it is mandatory
  • Food are the standard things for any Swedish festival – boiled potatoes, sill (raw flavoured herring) and meat balls
  • Drink is schnaps with acompaigning traditional songs

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