Friday, September 09, 2005

The Allegory of the Elevator

The Allegory of the Elevator

I have thought a lot about this and this is my best shot at describing the national character of the 4 countries I work in.

I am walking through the lobby toward the elevator.  There is one man in the elevator who clearly sees me approaching.  In each case they will let the doors close making no attempt to hold the door.

The Finnish guy hides and pretends not to see me.

The Swede stares right at me, emotionless.

The Norwegian smiles, seems hopeful but makes no effort.

The Dane smiles, flips me off and then waves as the doors close.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


I think I spoke before about the beauty of downloading American shows while abroad. It has been a great way to stay in touch with some of that cultural stuff that lags 6 months or more over here. When I went back to the US in July, I cut off the download (no need when we have Tivo) but upon my return I have had to fire it back up to stave off serious boredom.

In particular, my final weekend stuck out here in Enkoeping (pronounced EN-sherp-ing) would have been unbearable with out Entourage. I can't like this show enough. On the surface its a bit fluffy (on casual glance its just 4 guys chasing girls) but subtly its incredibly well written. I have always been a Jeremy Piven fan and he is really at his best in this. I am little worried that the last episode I saw (which I think is the penultimate for Season 2 but not sure) was a bit 'Jerry McGuire' but I'll reserve judgment for a bit.

The thing I like best is the portrayal of friendship between the 4 guys. They are constantly talking shit to/about each other but in the end are honest with each other in a way that I don't think has been captured on tv many other times. Something rings really true about it. Guys that are good friends really do have short memories and are ridiculously forgiving (outside of certain situations involving women and money).

If we take this as the ideal for showing how guys really are with each their good friends, it makes me wonder if there is a show that gives a peek into how girls really are with each other?

I am slightly ashamed to admit that I have seen 2 entire seasons of Sex and the City. I claim partial immunity from ridicule based on my month of solitary confinement (Tina left them behind!!) but partially I was interested from an anthropological perspective. Is this really how girls are with their close friends? If so, I think they have us beat in the arena of talking shit about the opposite sex. On the topic of sex, they appear to be much free-er with graphic description but I'll assume that is punched up to make the show more edgy.

Exodus part 1

One day our buddy Ulysses (I prefer the Roman name just because of Tennyson) decided it was time to head home from his foreign adventure. Typical expat story I think, he had been gone too long and missed the wife and kids. On his way home he pissed off Posiedeon, the guy with the cows and a few other deity types and so everyone decided to screw with him and make his return trip long and painful.

Obviously its hubris (just keeping the theme going) for me to compare my petty hardships with some poor bastard who had to go to Hades (or whatever the Underwold was called then) and back but suspend disbelief for a minute and allow me to whine.

The plan was to leave Sweden on the 1st of September. This would be the 4 week mark away from home and the point at which I would be absolutely climbing the walls. I have learned something about myself on this trip and that is that I am useless on my own. I realized halfway through my sentence that I have never lived on my own. I went straight from my parents to living with a kaleidoscope of roommates through college to being married. I have no skills for surviving on my own in the sense that neither am I inspired to feed myself as a rational adult might nor am I able to stave off mind-crushing boredom. My diet has consisted solely of Indian take-out, frozen pizzas, sushi and lamb sandwiches. I think I have scurvy.

The bosses had agreed to the 1 September plan back in July when all were on vacation and no one was really paying attention. 2 weeks out from this date, I sent a reminder and there was rending of garmets, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Obviously I attribute this to my stature and prowess but in fact I think the plan was approved by an automatic approval button the bosses had setup through the Swedish summer so they didn't have to read mail. My #2 was being promoted to #1 and the handover had been ongoing since the spring but nonetheless, there was panic. Several meetings later, after they first proposed to keep me until year end (I think I blacked out at that point and when I came to was still shouting profanity like a Tourette's patient) we agreed on the 10th of September as the consensus date for my departure.

This kicks over several dominoes in a hurry. I have to get the work bureaucracy (lamely referred to as 'blue tape'...get it?...we are big blue....and its red tape...but its blue...get it?....if I ever use this in conversation kill me on the spot) going which is no small thing but its at least in English. I also have to get out of the apartment by the end of the month which means I have 10 days to arrange for 10 hotel nights, get the place cleaned out and handed back to the landlady.

Some kind of doctor's world congress is going on in Stockholm from the 1st to the 10th and every hotel room is booked. I know people say that sometimes all the hotels are full but I literally mean it. I will be staying most of those days at a hotel 120km outside of town. I don't know how far that is but it sound like a long way. I'll be taking an hour commuter train ride in to work every morning so that should be fun at least (the sarcasm is probably not showing there, trains are boring unless you are the Station Agent which you have not seen but should read about on IMDB). While setting this up (ok I don't do the setup, I have the admin do it but I do vicariously feel the frustration when she is frustrated) we found 3 nights where nowhere in a 200km (that sounds really really far) is there a hotel room to be had. I will be sleeping in a cupboard under the stairs of a colleague. With this many doctors descending on Stockholm, I recommend you not get sick or break anything for a while.

The hotel I wound up in is a pit stop for a cruise ship for Minnesotan's getting hooked back up to their Scandic roots. All are old, some appear to be dying rapidly (stroke of luck for them to be near Stockholm right now) and many are the 'ugly american' we read about. I do my best to not be that guy and I am sure it has not always worked but hanging with these clods is driving me to drink. Best so far was the couple in the elevator who by the way did not appear to be drunk yet, speaking openly about me in English while I am standing about 6 inches away. Part old people loss of volume control but partly assuming that English is some kind of code.

"Jeez. See now he doesn't look Swedish"

"Who? This guy?"

"Yeah, he is too stocky. Have you noticed they have alot of tall people here but they are all kinda skinny.

"I think he is probably Jewish"
(editors note: its the nose I know, I of course have no problem with this common mistake except that I missed out on the money and gifts when I turned 12) For some reason that was the final word for them. I was strangely not even a little tempted to turn around and do the "BAM...I know english too and heard you talking about me, What a small world, where you from...etc"

There are no restaraunts to speak of in this village so we are stuck w/ the hotel dining room. I will definetly eat in Stockholm tomorrow to avoid the hotel grub. Scandinavian food is so lame its hard to describe. The buffet had a tiny salad bar (at least it was some nice greens and no iceberg) and chaffing dishes w/ boiled potatoes (if I never see another small, peeled boiled flavorless potato I just might die happy), some beef chunks in ketchup that may have been some forgery of bbq sauce, chicken wings with no apparent spice or even attempt to flavor, plain white fish, chicken burgers with no ketchup or mustard offered and some egg noodle pasta w/ hamburger meat and ketchup side. Could not have sucked worse.

The saga of closing out the apartment has been an ordeal too. First I call the cleaning company recommended by the property management people and find out its going to be a bit over $600 (thats US currency and not a typo) to clean what must be about a 900 sq. ft. apt. I give them the key and tell them I am back at 6 so leave it under the mat. The poor Guatemalan guy didn't get the memo or something and ends up going home with my key. 2 hours later and after me screaming like a mad fool they finally send a guy they must have considered expendable to deliver me the key and let me back in.

To really cap it, the inspector lady doesn't like the job that they did and wants me to pay them to come back. She asked me this in an email and I think I summoned all my skills and powers and was able to write back the most professional but compelling version of a 'go perform an anatomically impossible act on yourself' email I have ever written. It closed the issue down and I have framed the email for the wall in my office.

I have 6 more nights to fight through. Really the only thing I can hope for at this point is to meet up with Circe pretty soon (I know I dropped the theme along time ago but wanted to close it out).