"Telling old stories, and singing songs, that make me think about where I came from"

Posts tagged ‘Gothenburg’

Update from the dark side of the moon

It looks like I’m going to have to start every blog post by apologising for not having blogged in awhile. This is something that I don’t want to do, so I’m going to get it out of the way now, and then hope for your understanding in the future. My lack of posts are simply down to the fact that blogging has become the very last of my priorities. Documenting your life through jumbled words on a computer screen seems to, in some way, preclude actually going about your day and living that life. After getting through my ever increasing work load, perhaps going to the cinema, more often watching the local ice hockey team, or generally just relaxing with a book at the end of a day of studying, the last thing that comes to mind is engaging in the activity which I am involved with at precisely this second. But today I woke early, the morning light is streaming into my room, the tree outside my window has frozen again, and it really has been quite awhile since I last posted. Plus, I’m desperate for any distraction from having to start studying again. So, here I am.

Frozen tree

Just as a note, as I type these letters I am also engaged in a debate with a Councillor on twitter as to whether or not trees freezing is a uniquely Nordic phenomenon or something observable in Scotland, as well. I think he wins, but I have never noticed frozen trees until living in Sweden.

Slalom expert extraordinaire

Since my last entry I have experienced a lot more of Sweden. Skiing – no, not of the Nordic kind, but skiing nonetheless. Visiting Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city and comparable to Glasgow – if we insert Sweden into a sort of Scottish model (something I do on a regular basis). Watched ice hockey, professional and children playing in a school playground, eaten more meatballs, found out what that purple sauce on the meatball sandwiches is, promptly bought the purple sauce, experienced -15 degrees, gained an understanding of why Swedes remove their shoes at the front door, and picked up a little bit more of the lingo.

Firstly, skiing. Now I had skied once before, although it was about a decade ago, on a dry slope, and I quickly realised once I got to the top of that fateful hill two hours north of Uppsala, that I remembered nothing from that one time experience. So I think it should be discounted. I spent the morning on my backside, my knees felt like they were going to break, the gaggle of children on the slopes seemed to be infinitely better at this pursuit than I could ever dream of being, and we went for some lunch at the point when I was getting ready to throw in the metaphorical towel. The final straw was when I had to voluntarily collapse to the ground as I sped towards a small child, the look of fear contorting his face, and the impending guilt of having annihilated a toddler pressed heavy on my mind. Clearly I was not the first person to have ever done this, as his mother motioned to me and uttered in Swedish that I had dropped my goggles. What kind of mental pursuit is this?

After lunch I was like a new man. Well, so I like to think. In my mind a revolution occurred, all of a sudden I was an expert slalomist and I could skid stop in an impressive fashion. Now I am aware that the reality probably looked far different, and from my girlfriend, Julie’s, giggling at my attempts, I’m fairly sure I am on the mark with this one. But either way, I had markedly improved. As we took the lift to the top of an intermediate run, skied off, slalomed our way down, and I stopped without even a hint of a fall, I suddenly realised why people like to ski. It was a rush – but I am still left thinking that any recreational activity in which you take the greatest pleasure at not falling and almost killing yourself, is a rather odd pursuit. But I might just be on my way to becoming a convert.

Gothenburg - and my new lack of hair

Secondly, Gothenburg. My father decided to take a jaunt out to my adopted Nordic home, but since ryanair flights are far more convenient to Gothenburg than Stockholm – and we thought it would be nice to see the other side of Sweden – we decided to visit its second city. It reminded me a lot more of Scotland than Sweden. It was windy, there was no snow, we saw some homeless people drinking on the streets, almost tripped over beggars, and we kept coming across parks or streets named after Scottish industrialists; Keiller Park, Carnegie Street (or ‘Gatan’ to those versed in Swedish), and so on. When we visited the city museum, the nineteenth century section was more of a who’s who of Scottish capitalists than anything particularly Swedish.

I think this post is quite long enough, so I’ll leave it there. I could go on to tell you about the stuffed whale in Gothenburg’s Natural History Museum, the fact that the museum itself was like something from the 1950s and that you could almost imagine Carl Linnaeus himself hunching over the exhibits, or about the gender history that I am writing just now (who would have thought). But I’ll save these intrigues for another time.

One last thing; I really, really, can’t wait for spring.

Gamla Uppsala


A different ‘Scot in Sweden’

The year is 1812, Thomas Thomson visited Sweden and recorded his thoughts. I came across them and thought they might be of interest. Got me wondering if it has changed much…

“The principal merchants in Gothenburg are Scotsmen. In consequence of letters of introduction which we carried to several of them, we experienced from that liberal and respectable body a profusion of kindness and politeness which it was impossible to surpass, and which it would be very difficult to equal. The want of inns, and our ignorance of the Swedish language, would have made it very difficult for us to have procured dinner while we stayed at Gothenburg, but this difficulty was obvaited by the merchants, with one or other of whom we dined every day during our stay in that city. The entertainments which they gave were in the Swedish style, and possessed a degree of splendour at which I was not a little surprised. As the mode of dining in Sweden is very different from the mode followed in Great Britain, I shall give a general description of a dinner, that my readers may form some notion to themselves of the customs of that country.

The houses in Sweden are fitted up with great magnificence. The public rooms are usually on the first floor, and vary from three to seven or more according to the size of the house and the wealth of its master. These rooms always open into each other, and constitute a very elegant suite of apartments.The furniture though very handsome is not similar to ours. You seldom see mahogany chairs; they are usually of birch or of some other wood painted. As the table cloth is never removed they have no occasion for our fine mahogany tables, and as the dishes are brought in one by one, and the dessert and wine put upon the table before the company sit down, they have but little occasion for a side-board. Accordingly, except in the house of Mr. Lorent, who had a very splendid side-board made in London, I do not recollect to have seen one in Sweden, even in the houses of men of the first rank. The rooms are not provided with bells. This I am told is owing to the extreme cheapness of servants in Sweden, which enabled every person to keep such a number as rendered bells unnecessary. This reason, which I do not consider as a very good one, exists not at present, for since the loss of Finland the wages of servants have considerably increased. Bells, therefore, might now be introduced with the greatest propriety; and to a foreigner, from Britain at least, they would constitute a great convenience. I have sometimes been obliged to go three times to the kitchen during the course of my breakfast, to ask for things that had been neglected or forgotten by the servants.

The Swedes are fond of great parties. I have more than once sat down to table with nearly 50 people in a private house. The hour of dinner is two o’clock. After the company are assembled they are shown into a room adjoining the dining-room. In the middle of this room there is a round table covered with a table-cloth, upon which are placed bread, cheese, butter and corn-brandy. Every person eats a morsel of bread and cheese and butter, and drinks a dram of brandy, by way of exciting the appetite for dinner. There are usually two kinds of bread; namely, wheat-bread baked into a kind of small rolls, for I never saw any loaves in Sweden: and rye, which is usually baked in thin cakes, and is known in Sweden by the name of nickebroed. It is very palatable but requires good teeth to chew it.

After this whet, the company are shown into the dining-room, and take their seats round the table. The first dish brought in is salmagundy, salt fish, a mixture of salmon and rice, sausages, or some such strong seasoned article, to give an additional whet to the appetite. It is handed round the table, and every person helps himself in succession to as much of it as he chooses. The next dish is commonly roasted or stewed mutton, with bacon ham. These articles are carved by some individual at table, most commonly the master of the house, and the carved pieces being heaped upon a plate are carried round the company like the first dish. The Swedes like the French eat of every thing that is presented at table. The third dish is usually soup, then fowls, then fish (generally salmon, pike or streamlings), then pudding, then the dessert, which consists of a great profusion of sweet-meats, in the preparation of which the inhabitants of Gottenburg excel. Each of these dishes handed about in succession. The vegetables, consisting of potatoes, carrots, turnips, cauliflowers, greens, &c. are handed about in the same way. During the whole time of dinner a great deal of wine is drunk by the company. The wines are claret, port, sherry, and madeira. What they call claret at Gottenburg does not seem to be Bourdeaux wine. It is a French wine with a taste intermediate between claret and port. At Stockholm I drank occasionally true claret; but scarcely in any other part of Sweden. As all the wine used in Sweden is imported from Great Britain, our wine merchants can probably explain this circumstance though I cannot.

The Swedes employ the same articles for seasoning their food as we do, salt, peppar, mustard, vinegar, &c. I was struck with one peculiarity which I had never seen before: they always mix together mustard and sugar: I had the curiosity to try this mixture, and found it not bad. The dinner usually lasts about two hours. On a signal given the company all rise together, bow with much solemnity towards the table, or rather towards each other, and then adjourn into the drawing-room. Here a cup of coffee is served up immediately to every individual. It is but doing the Swedes justice to say that their coffee is excellent, greatly preferable to what is usually drunk in England. This is the more remarkable because the Swedes import all their coffee from Britain: its quality therefore is not different from that of our own, and its superiority owing solely to their understanding better how to make it. You can get coffee in the meanest peasant’s house, and it is always excellent. It is usually about five o’clock when coffee is over. The company separate at this time, either going home to their own houses, or sauntering about in the fields if the weather be good.”