Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Culture Mash-Up: Thanksgiving in Sweden

No party is complete without the Photo Booth!
Last time I wrote a little about Swedish traditions, but until December, there really isn't too much going on - other than kanelbullens dag (cinnamon bun day) on October 4, and Gustav Adolf-bakelse dag (Gustavus Adolphus Cake Day) on November 6. The Swedes love their food holidays just as much as Americans do, however, there isn't the gathering of family and friends to celebrate with. When I was visiting last year, I brought a bag dedicated to all the things I would need to put on a successful Thanksgiving dinner for all my new Swedish friends. Needless to say, TSA was confused about my boxes of canned goods, and everything was inspected. 

I had never actually thrown my own Thanksgiving, and the task was a bit daunting. That's where my friend Crystal came in. She is a Friendsgiving veteran (and the author of the Swedes Are Sweet blog), and was able to help me put together a bit of a timeline of cooking, decorating, and she did a fantastic job with the turkey. We packed over 20 people in our little apartment, and had an absolute blast! The night before the party, Crystal and I sat drinking glögg (Swedish mulled wine), watched old episodes of Allt för Sverige, and made the beautiful hats and masks that you see in the picture above. It took us back to the days of crafting in grade school, and was a fun conversation piece for our friends. The three Americans at the party tried to explain the origins of Thanksgiving, and more importantly, how the holiday has evolved through the years. 

This year we will be hosting Thanksgiving again (with the help of Crystal), but I don't have the luxury of bringing everything from home this time. I have had to order some products from the American Food and Gift Store in Uppsala, and I've found recipes for things like stuffing on Pinterest, so I can make it myself. The turkey has been purchased (on sale), and the dinner music playlist has been made, so now all that's left is to gather all the ingredients, create some new decorations, and prepare for our most intense dinner party yet! 

I know there are many American expats here, and there are so many discussions about the holiday on forums, and in Facebook groups, but I wonder how our Swedish friends feel about the holiday, and how the Americans feel about their ability to throw an authentic dinner. Does it make you sad to have to change your traditions for your new home, or do you enjoy the challenge and the inspirations you get to make the day your own? What really got me thinking about this was an article that Crystal sent me called "The 17 Rules of Friendsgiving", and I realized that those rules really can't/don't apply to anyone throwing a Thanksgiving dinner outside of the US. Sure, you can ask your Swedish friends to bring side dishes, but stuffing isn't really a thing here - and if you asked someone to bring a pie, you will get something more like a tart or a cobbler (not to say they aren't delicious - but it's just not the same).

Thanksgiving is beginning to become my favorite holiday, and it makes me feel even more festive being able to share my homeland traditions with my friends.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Swedish Holidays and Traditions

Swedish Traditions by Jan-Öjvind Swahn
I realized that I hadn't written anything about the Swedish holidays that I have experienced since moving here. Last year my friend showed me her copy of Swedish Traditions - which she bought to show to her family back in Canada. It was beautiful and helpful, and I decided that I really needed one for myself. Unfortunately, it has become rather hard to find, but if you are able to get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend purchasing it!

An interesting thing about some of the more popular traditions - like the crayfish parties that started in August - is that a lot of Swedes have forgotten why they celebrate them. Swedish Traditions gives you a little bit of history and some tips and hints on how to celebrate the right way. If you can't find the book, you can also check out Sweden.se for videos and articles that can also help answer your questions.

This year I was fortunate enough to not only arrive in time for midsummer, but I was able to celebrate it in one of the "most Swedish" places possible - Dalarna.

Midsummer 2014

My first midsummer!
Jonas and I were invited to celebrate in the small town of Falun by his sister's friend, Ebba, and I will be forever grateful for that. It was a fantastic weekend, and I really don't know how I will ever be able to top this iconic Swedish holiday! We started the day by gathering at the public Midsummer pole, and gathered wildflowers to make our crowns, while we waited for the pole to be raised. Once it was up, the crowns were made, and the coffee consumed, we gathered around the Midsummer pole and danced to songs like "Little Frog".

Afterwards we came back to the apartment, and prepared our lunch/dinner/midnight snack. Since we were so far north, the sun never actually sets, and it is amazing to see. When we weren't eating, we drank elderberry snaps, played games and sang drinking songs. Many people in Sweden are able to play instruments, so it's not strange when you go to a party and are presented with a book of songs, so you can sing along. 

The next day (after we recovered from our late night of reveling), we headed up to the Dala horse factory in Nusnäs. What is a Dala horse?

THIS is a Dala horse!
The Dala horse started out as a simple toy for the children of Nusnäs, and the farmers then started selling their horses while they sold their produce at the markets. They have become a Swedish icon,  and can be found in every tourist shop, and even in IKEA. If you are headed to the northern parts of Sweden, it's definitely fun to see where these horses originated.

The rest of the weekend involved resting, eating candy and watching a Norwegian movie about zombie Nazis. Yes, zombie Nazis. I can now say that I have seen every kind of zombie out there.

So that was the big holiday of the summer, and it is quite an experience. If you are planning a visit to Sweden around midsummer, you may want to take into account that the larger cities will be mostly shut down because everyone has left to the countryside to celebrate. 

There aren't many more holidays until Christmas starts, but I am thinking of throwing a Thanksgiving party in November, since the one Crystal and I threw in January was such a big hit. I have recently found a webstore in Uppsala that carries many of the American necessities for Thanksgiving, so I will write more about that as I am putting it together. 

Have a great week!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

83 Days

Everyone made it safe and sound.

Has it really been nearly 3 months since I moved? I apologize to those looking for updates, and I will do my best to be more diligent in posting. So what have I learned in my first months of being an immigrant? A lot.

1. Be prepared for the language barriers.

If you haven't already, make sure you have a good app to help you translate what you don't know. This is important for things that you wouldn't think about until it's too late - like going to the store and realizing that you don't know what things are in Swedish. It can make a simple trip to the store completely terrifying, especially if you do not have a working phone yet. Sure, there are people all around you that speak English, but they don't always know the English equivalent to what you are looking for (i.e. cilantro = koriander and cereal = flingor). I personally use google translate (great, but not always entirely accurate), bab.la EN-SV, and I have made it a point to try and translate my shopping list prior to my trip.

2. Find the offices you need to get your life started.

The first office you need to find is the Migrationsverket, which I have mentioned in past posts. This is where you will get your fingerprinting done, and they will take your picture for your residency card. The next is the Skatteverket, where you will apply for your person number, and your Swedish ID. I highly recommend visiting these two offices on the same day. Since your ID requires you to have a person number, you will have to visit this office twice, but I just ask about that when you are there. Finally, once you have received the letter with your person number, you will need to go to Arbetsförmedlingen to sign up for SFI. This office is also the unemployment office, so you will go here to help find a job once you have learned Swedish. Swedish for Immigrants is not actually through Arbetsförmedlingen, but through a department connected to them. Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of the department, and I was unable to find much information online, but you can find out from your local Arbetsförmedlingen.

3. Substitute, substitute, substitute.

Luckily, you will never be the only person in Sweden who has tried to use an old American recipe, and realized that a key ingredient cannot be found here. There are many message boards dedicated to cooking substitutions, and these will be very helpful to newbies. Some of your ingredients will be nearly impossible to find, or very expensive when you do. For example, there is a local Asian store in town that sells Siracha, but it's a bit pricey (49 SEK = $7 USD). Baking soda is impossible to find on it's own, and there isn't any Crisco. These are things that you may want to consider bringing from home if you can, until you are comfortable with a substitution.

4. You are an immigrant.

I think this is the most important thing to remember. You are new here. You will make mistakes. People will forgive you. So don't be too hard on yourself, and remember to let people know right away that you don't speak Swedish, and may need some help. You will be surprised at how helpful people can be. One way I always make sure people know that I am an English speaker is to say "Nice to meet you." whenever I am introduced. It's an easy way to let people know that I don't understand Swedish, and give them a quick transition if we speak again later. I have often been told that it takes a minute to think about switching languages at first, but it gets easier.

This is a very short list right now, and I will write more soon (I promise).

I hope you are all enjoying your summer!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Countdown

I remember the day I booked my flight and there were 75 days until I left for Sweden, and there were so many things that I had left to do, I couldn't imagine that this day would come up so quickly. Since there is only a month left until I move to my new home, I thought I would run down my list of things that I have done, and have left to do to see if it will help anyone else with their own checklist.

What I have done so far:
1. Booked the original flight.
2. Looked into flights for the cats.
3. Looked into agricultural guidelines for moving cats.
4. Ordered/downloaded paperwork for the cats.
5. Booked vet appointments for microchipping.
6. Booked vet appointments for vaccinations.
7. Booked vet appointments for the "Fit-to-Travel" paperwork before the cats are shipped.
8. Cancelled the original flight.
9. Booked a new flight.
10. Booked the cat's transport.
11. Looked for options for moving my clothes/shoes/etc (found some big, cheap bags on Amazon.com).
12. Made my appointment with the Migrationsverket to arrange for my biometrics.
13. Called the IRS to get more information on filing US taxes as an expat (International Tax Department phone number is (267) 941-1000, open M-F 6am-11pm EST).
14. Located and reviewed IATA requirements for pet crates.
15. Purchased a kennel and crate pad from PetSmart.
16. Purchased metal bolts from Home Depot (required for airline travel to ensure the crate doesn't come apart).
17. Called the Skatteverket to find out what I would need to do to make sure I am legal to work for an American Company in Sweden (Skatteverket phone number is +46 771 567 567).

What I have left to do:
1. Sift through my clothes and shoes to determine what I will be selling/donating.
2. Choose a day to have a going away party to say "Hej då!" to my California friends.
3. Find an office space to rent in Jönköping.
4. Cancel my car insurance.
5. Transfer the title to my car.
6. Cancel my cell phone.
7. Look into registering for SFI classes.
8. Book an appointment with a Swedish bank.
9. Contact US bank accounts to change addresses/add "extended travel" to profiles so my current debit/credit cards don't get declined.
10. Determine what companies/organizations need my new address.
11. Find out what brands of cat food are available in Sweden, and what is comparable to the food they are currently eating.
12. Determine if pet food can be brought with me in my checked bag.
13. Confirm the kennel dimensions with the airline prior to the date of travel.
14. Determine how we are getting to the airport.
15. Pack.

There will be more that is added to this list, and I will try to update it with anything that I feel might be important. If there is anything that you think is missing, please feel free to comment and let me know.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Follies Of Moving Abroad With Your Pet

It's been a while since I last wrote, and that is because it came to a point where the stress of trying to figure out how to get my life to Sweden and finishing my degree was just about to make me lose my mind. So, I am now 5 days out of school (no, it hasn't hit me yet that I'm finished), and now I can once again concentrate on the next most important part of my move - my cats.

In my last post I said that I had booked my ticket, and then found out that I would not be able to take my pets on the flight with me. First was calling the Virgin Atlantic Cargo line, which I had to do during their slightly opening hours. The first night I tried to call at 1AM Los Angeles time, and their weren't open on time. I figured they were maybe running a bit late, and waited. By nearly 3:30AM I had contacted Virgin Atlantic Customer Service to figure out what was going on. They responded promptly, but the Cargo office just wasn't operating, and no one knew why. I guess they didn't feel like coming to work until after I had gone to bed. Of course when I woke up in the morning the office was closed, and I had to try it again the next day. When I was finally able to get a hold of the office, I was told that I would not be able to have my cats transferred in the cargo to another airline, and they would have to comply with the UK health standards, so I really shouldn't even bother (Sweden and the UK are both using the EU standards for pets, and Sweden is one of the most strict countries for pet importing, but she didn't seem to care). She recommended that I look into sending them as cargo, but Virgin Atlantic doesn't fly to Sweden, so I couldn't use them. She was not very nice, or helpful. She recommended that I try British Airways, since that was the other airline that I would be using.

Then I called British Airways, and to send my cats, I would have to know the size and weight of my carrier - which I didn't have - and know the flight number that I would like my cats to be on - which I didn't know. So I told the guy to tell me what he recommends as a carrier for two cats, and he said that I would be able to take them in the same carrier for one price (yippie!), but there were two teeny tiny little problems. First, there was only one flight out of LAX that British transports pets, and once they get to London, they would have to have 4 hours of layover in order to be transferred to a plane to Sweden. Sounds okay, right? Wrong. There is no flight in the same day from London to Gothenburg, so I would have to have them boarded overnight, and pick them up a day later. This would be over 24 hours of travel for these poor dudes, and I have no idea if the boarding included a bathroom break and dinner, because they aren't allowed to eat 5 hours prior to their flight, and they don't get dinner service while they are traveling. Not ideal, but if I have to drop them off at the airport the day before I leave, so be it. Then comes problem number 2... It will cost $1,118 to take my two cats in a cage that is no larger than 26"x18"x19". That's nearly twice the price of my ticket, and it doesn't even include the cost of the crate (about $100) and the cost of a little trip through customs (about $300) that I wouldn't have to pay if I just brought them with me.

I did get quotes from a couple other companies who transported pets, and their prices were even worse. Up to nearly $1,900 in one case.

"Why don't you just take them in the cabin with you?"

I'm so glad you asked.

 I was blessed with two gigantic cats, who currently have the combined weight of nearly 40 pounds (18kg), so taking them in the cabin was immediately ruled out because they have to be under 8kg, and that's with the carrier! They are losing weight, but if any of you have had a fat cat, you know that they have to lose the weight very slowly, or risk kidney damage.

This is why I had to stop worrying about the travel until I was done with school. This process was so grueling, it nearly brought me to tears. Tears of frustration. I wanted to yell "You let babies on the flight! Just book me the front seat, and they will curl up in the bassinet and not bother anyone! I'll buy a pet stroller if you want, just please let me take them!" I don't care if I sound like a crazy cat lady, but those of you with pets will understand, I'm sure.

Finally I had the brilliant idea to just book a new flight that would allow me to take my cats in the cabin (or at least on the same plane), and I would have to just deal with the penalty fee (about $250) for canceling my existing flight. That meant traveling alone one more time, which was not ideal, but if it saved my sanity (and wallet), I would do it. I booked one flight with British Airways thinking I got the right flight, and I could get the smaller of the two cats on the flight with me (he could lose a kilogram or two in a month and a half, right?), but it wasn't the right flight, and the information that I found about their pet policies was only current for flights to Paris from New York.

This was a problem I ran into on a few airlines. There was no real information about pet travel on the airline's websites. It's very vague, and sends you on a hyperlink maze through FAQs. Trying to find the pricing was even worse.

I was put in touch with British Airways cargo people again, and I nearly booked the flight at $1,118 until they told me that I couldn't book it until two weeks before the flight, which seemed a little risky. If anything went wrong, or they ran out of space, I would be out of luck, as a lot of companies required no less than 30 days notice. The way my luck was going, I really didn't want to risk it, and I was back to square one.

Not to worry, this is a story with a happy ending. In comes the hero of our story...

Source: Lufthansa.com

On both of my trips to Sweden I have used Lufthansa. Not because of loyalty or anything, it just happened that they had the cheapest airfare on both of my trips. They were nice, although the flights I've been on have always been full, and I've been smashed in my seat because the person in the middle seat always happens to be a large man who wants to sleep the entire time with his legs spread open... Whatever, they have not been delayed, the flight staff has been okay, and they have fit my budget. In my flights I have also seen people bringing their pets with them, and I forgot about that when I was calling the other airlines. My Omi (it's German for "granny") reminded me that German people love dogs and there are a lot of places in Germany that are more dog friendly than baby friendly, so I thought I would take a look and see what I could find. 

After a few weeks of searching, I finally found a one-way ticket under $2,000 (why one-way tickets are twice as much as a round trip, I will never understand), so I called to check with Lufthansa to make sure that the flights would be able to accommodate us. There isn't a specific flight that the cats needed to be on, and they didn't mention anything about a long layover (although I did select a flight with a 6 hour layover, just in case), and the only thing they needed was the flights that I was looking to book to check availability. The woman I spoke with told me to call back when I had booked those flights and they would be more than happy to get me set up. Hurrah! I could book! I clicked the button, and POOF! My flights were gone. Panicked, I called Lufthansa Customer Service right back and got in touch with a wonderful gentleman (I really wish I had his name so I could send him a card, or name my child after him), and he checked my new flights for me. As he was still talking, I booked the new flights, and said "Wait, so I have my ticket number, can you help me with my booking now?"

Source: Lufthansa

Lufthansa Customer Service: "What size is your pet carrier?"

Me: "What size would you like it to be?"

This whole process left me feeling helpless and at the mercy of the airline and their seemingly arbitrary guidelines. The FAQ for pet travel Lufthansa was actually pretty darn helpful and specific. They have specific carrier dimensions online and their pricing, which was just fabulous! Not to mention that I was able to get all my questions answered, and the guy seemed genuinely happy to help. Another benefit of taking Lufthansa is that both of my cats are allowed to be in the same carrier, as long as they are familiar with each other, and their weight doesn't matter, as long as their carrier is no larger than the Lufthansa measurements for your level of pet, and is IATA compliant.

IATA is the International Air Transport Association, and has set forth regulations for shipping pets internationally in order to reduce stress on the animals, and to make sure they are as comfortable as possible. Some of the requirements include making sure that the carrier is large enough that your pet can stand up, turn around, sit with space above it's head, and space between the animal and the front of the cage when they are laying down. There are many more requirements that are specifically listed on their 40th Edition Live Animals Regulations brochure. 

These carriers are great for the vet, but are not IATA compliant.

I am now happy to say that my cats are booked onto my flight (for only $200!!), and their rather large kennel is sitting in my garage (it's large enough to hold a 50 pound dog). We are now mostly ready to go. All that's left is to find out what kind of food they can eat in Sweden, and if I can bring some of the canned US food over to transition their delicate tummies onto the new stuff. Oh, and packing my things, that's right, I'm moving there too.

Please remember that this information is all current as I am writing this, but time goes on, things change, and it's best to double check. Hopefully this is a helpful starting point, and I was able to answer any questions you have. I would be more than happy to answer anything else you would like to know to the best of my ability.

Thank you again to Lufthansa* for being so helpful, and thanks for reading!

*Please note, this is not a sponsored post, I am just a very grateful and satisfied customer.