Thursday, September 10, 2009


I arrived in Stockholm! I have a new office, a keycard for the building, I know where the library is, how to use the printer, and my photo is on the Nordita website. I also have a mail slot. The only mail in this slot is a letter from Lufthansa, and contains my brand new frequent traveller card. This card qualifies me to bring along a golf bag for no extra charge. You see, my career is prospering.

Other things are progressing more slowly. Such it turned out that some centuries ago there was a summer student here with first name Sabine who is blocking my email address, and it's apparently impossible to get a phone contract in Sweden if you're not a native Swede in 3rd generation or a member of the royal family. Okay, I'm somewhat exaggerating, but frankly what business is it of the phone company if I paid taxes in Sweden last year.

Nordita is presently running a program on the Quantum Hall effect, from which I unfortunately didn't catch much because I spent the last days running through Stockholm filling out forms. I already have a bad consciousness about it. Amazing how fast things catch up with you. I miraculously managed to open a bank account even though I had been told it wouldn't work. The bank employer btw asked indeed if I have relatives in the royal family. So just to clarify the matter, I don't have relatives in any royal family, at least not back to the 16th century.

Other lessons learned this week
  1. An apartment without phone is very empty.

  2. You're not a person without a person number.

  3. Unless you're Swedish, "sju" (seven) isn't pronounced remotely as you think.

  4. Stockholm bikers get very upset if you run on the bikelane.

  5. Swedish tastebuds are evidently immune to salt, cinnamon and cardamom.

  6. Salty licorice is a prescription-free nauseant.

  7. The Swedish word for finished/out of stock is slut.


  1. Hi Bee,

    seems to be somehow funny and somehow ignorant there. The phone story is horrible.



  2. Hi Bee,
    Good to see that your sense of humor shipped with you, instead of that slow ship, the Stuttgart Express.

    I know where the library is
    You have your priorities straight! :)

    I may have mentioned to you George Mikes and How to be an alien. I think you could write such a book, too :)


  3. Good photo! It makes you look tall. There are places one should never put one's mouth. Salted licorice sits high on that list.

  4. Nice to see you made it through bureaucracy and survived Bee. Now you can sit back relax and enjoy the upcoming cold idyllic Nordic nights in the coziness of your home.

    I hope you have a fireplace:-)

  5. Hello Bee,
    with respect to nauseants, wait until
    You smelled "Surstromming".
    This Surstromming is a kind of
    biological weapon.
    BTW common Salt in high doses is a nauseant.

  6. low Math, Meekly Interacting9:17 PM, September 10, 2009

    I've had surstromming. I've also had lutefisk. My wife is of Swedish extraction (via the American Midwest).

    While surstromming might make you vomit, lutefisk looks, feels, and tastes more or less like it already was regurgitated from something. I am sincerely hoping that the modern denizens of Scandanavia have exported all their lutefisk to the hoards of crazed Minnesotans, who mysteriously derive some value in reliving the traditions of their starving ancestors.

  7. Gosh. I've had enough from something called "lax pudding." I mean, there are plenty of witnesses that I put high doses of salt on literally every meal without even having tried. Yet mentioned dish was so salty already it didn't taste like anything but salt.

  8. Hi Bee,

    In many cultures when someone is establishing a new household it is traditional to give them a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine and a box of salt. As it sounds you would welcome both the bread and wine, yet want to pass on the salt. Perhaps with what you are faced with on the culinary front a proper substitute might be an econo size bottle of Gravol :-)

    However, it does look that you are well on your way to becoming established, although access to money and a phone are certainly necessities. As a solution perhaps you could invent a coat of arms for yourself depicting a light cone with a h-bar superimposed over it as the graphic. This I would find to be quite appropriate for someone from the house of Hossenfelder:-)



  9. "Unless you're Swedish, "sju" (seven) isn't pronounced remotely as you think."

    You promised to stay away from the u's.

    sj is one the dozen or so ways to spell the sh sound. Others include sk, sh, skj, stj, sch, ch, and rs (as in Larsson).

  10. I didn't try to use it! I was just stunned to hear it. I tried to learn some words from a rather old "Swedish for Travel" book without CD, so I basically guessed how things are pronounced. I didn't guess very well...

  11. Low Math...wrote:
    My wife is of Swedish extraction (via the American Midwest).
    ...hoards of crazed Minnesotans, who mysteriously derive some value in reliving the traditions of their starving ancestors.

    You missed the idea! That
    is the way they test, whether You
    are serious about marriage and so on. That Sorstömming is bought
    as soon as a daughter is born, to have it ready
    when she brings home a presumptive
    bridegroom some years later.

  12. Low Math, Meekly Interacting4:47 PM, September 11, 2009


    By Odin, you may be right. Why didn't I see it? The first Christmas I was invited to visit with her family, her father first bust out the inglad sill, and then watched me eat it, only partaking himself after I'd downed a couple. Not bad, really.

    I didn't eat Christmas dinner with them that year, so apparently I was spared the full gantlet the first time around. Not so the next year. After the pickled herring came the dreaded surstromming, served Wasa crackers and gjetost. The putrid smell and overpoweringly rotten saltiness (even washed a bit...I can't imagine what it's like straight from the can) of surstromming made the gjetost (I'm told it's a goat cheese of some sort) seem downright pleasant by comparison. Normally gjetost strikes me as bland, faintly sweet, waxy, and mildly unpleasant. It's hard to believe it bears any relation whatsoever to a wonderful chèvre. Anway, I choked it all down politely. Again, now that I recollect us all gathered around the tray of, I think I may have been under the future father-in-law's watchful gaze. I made no obvious sour faces or retching noises, so that probalby worked in my favor.

    Lastly came the lutefisk. Or I should say, the lutefisk semi-disguised in a mash of potatoes, butter, and some absurd amount of spicy mustard. I actually made the mistake of asking to try a little of it plain. At least hidden in a mound of starch and condiments one only notices the texture, which is a bit like jello that's been floating in soapy dishwater for a few hours. Lutefisk, in its unmitigated form, is one of the most aggressively offensive "foods" I've ever encountered. I'm told the soapiness is a mistake, but I don't see how. It's an oily fish that's been soaked in lye, for eff's sake, saponification is what's supposed to happen! Whose idea was it to eat the stuff afterward? Seriously, mix snot, soap, jello, and fish odor together, and you get something a bit like plain lutefisk after a bit of heating and hydration.

    But I swallowed, smiled politely, and proceeded to drink a lot of wine. My eyes didn't water too much, which I'm sure worked in my favor.

    When I asked for her hand in marriage, my request was greeted warmly. Perhaps the trial-by-lutefisk had something to do with the joyful enthusiasm with which I was invited into her family.

    Now that we've been married a few years, the lutefisk somehow mysteriously left the menu, and the cans of surstromming are saved for meetings at the Vasa Lodge. I never asked why, for fear of how any acknowledgement of their existence might be interpreted. But now that I think about it, they're no longer needed. All the kids are married off, and hence all the sons- and daughters-in-law have demonstrated their worthiness. Perhaps my father-in-law is happy he no longer has to eat the stuff, and his apparent gusto was just a ruse.

    Truly devious, if true...

  13. Anonymous Snowboarder1:18 AM, September 12, 2009

    Bee- glad to hear you made it safely. the phone story made me laugh but mostly because of your comment about them needing to know if you had paid taxes (and presumably have a tax id). You know thats a very (N.) American way of reacting... remember, you're in Europe now!

  14. Dear Arun,

    Well, if I have a choice to despair or laugh, I try to laugh.

    Sometimes it makes me think... I went to 4 different phone companies and explained the same thing. They aren't affiliated with the government, so why do they care about anything but an ID and a confirmation of my billing address? And possibly an employment contract? How come I'm not trustworthy just because I happened to have moved here from Canada? What sense does it make I can open a bank account but not get a stupid phone contract? Weirdly enough, they all agreed with me it doesn't make any sense "but that's how it is." Maybe it's my German roots, but I think it's quite scary if people work within a system they think doesn't make sense without attempting to change it. (Recurring theme, as you will notice.)

    Anyway, this blog is kind of a spin-off of an early attempt to write up some of the anecdotes of my moves.



  15. Hi Kay,

    Yeah, ignorant indeed. I have gotten used to employees being touchy on mentioning that their service totally sucks and their policies lower their profit options. Or, as an extreme, that they are incompetent and I want to speak to their supervisor. The Swedes didn't care about any of that, and there was no noticeably difference between the employees and the supervisor.

    The actual problem is in fact very silly. If they set up a contract they have to fill in a form on their computer. If there is a number missing, it will return an error. There is always a way to work around these things, and in Germany, the US and Canada I've never had problems to find somebody who knew how to enter a dummy number or just fill out a paper form. The guys here didn't even acknowledge there's always an option to work around regulations that don't make sense. Best,


  16. Hi Bee,

    Even though you don’t have a person number yet, you already know what the first six numbers will be since it is your date of birth and the ninth will be an even number as you are female. The tenth number is called a check sum calculated with an algorithm dependant on the previous nine. So although those that require it to have you secure a phone may not be logical, the way it is arrived at is :-)



  17. Yeah, well. The Germans have a similar recipe to cook up the social security number. In addition to the birthdate it also contains the first letter of the family name though. Nevertheless, they managed to send me three wrong numbers before they finally got it right (they kept confusing my birthdate with my mother's which is the day after mine. Then when they got the date right, they messed up the family name).

  18. Hi Bee,

    One thing for certain you have a internet connection; and a fast one at that :-) Also I can understand not wanting to have your mother's birth date.



  19. It's not the internet connection that's fast, but me ;-) I was just writing a new post, it might be up later today or tomorrow morning.

  20. Hi Bee,

    Yes, being slow has never appeared to be one of your weaknesses and as always it will be interesting to see your new post. Sweden from the BackReaction perspective most certainly will prove to be enlightening.



  21. It's actually about a paper I read last week... I thought this blog deserves some content for a change :-)

  22. Hi Bee,

    So while fighting for an identity and scrambling to settle in, you managed to read a paper as well. Sometimes I question if you are one person and not actually identical twins; with the only difference being in charge and spin :-)



  23. Well, if things are up-side down I cling to anything promising normality. For example reading a paper, writing a blog-post, doing the laundry. You know, things one can do even in Sweden and without a person-number ;-)

  24. Hi Bee,

    The need for normalcy and purpose, this I can understand. When I’m feeling out of balance, I think of the product of the square root of five, plus or minus one all divided by two, and my sense of natural equilibrium is restored. So if I could choose a person number it would be 1-608033988 :-)



  25. Dear Bee,
    People are slaves to software.

    I send a subscription of the Scientific American to my parents in India; and for a long while it simply wasn't delivered. SciAm was trying to deliver it god-knows-where. After many postal letters and sessions on the phone, I finally got it - their address validation system did not recognize the Indian postal code I gave - its information was incomplete. It had postal codes of neighboring post offices, but not the one that serves my parents - though that post office has been in existence for more than twenty years!

    Not recognizing the input postal code, the SciAm system would simply pick something else.

    No one took any initiative to fix it or do a workaround, until I wrote a letter copied to the editors, threatening to cancel my longstanding subscription. I don't know how they remedied the situation, but somehow they did.


    I've encountered this mentality elsewhere as well, that takes software (mis)behavior to be a fact of the world, as unchangeable as the sun rising in the east.

  26. Dear Arun,

    Yes, in fact I had a similarly stupid problem when I moved from the US to Canada. The US postal service let me know they do forward mail to Canada. In practice however, you can't enter the address because the Canadian ZIP codes don't consist of 5 digits as the US ones. It didn't work online, the person in the office just tried to use the webform (even though I told them why I couldn't use it). They sent me to a different office, where they asked me to come back another time when their supervisor was there, he'd know what to do. Said supervisor then handed me a paper form, that I filled out. The mail did arrive. Best,


  27. Dear Bee, if you get upset about Sweden, try moving to Italy for a year :-).
    About the sju: swedish is very, very close to german. The only really hard part is the pronounciation.
    I used "Teach yourself swedish", which worked pretty well, and enrolled in an evening swedish course as soon as one started.
    By the end of the year, I could read newspapers and understand spoken language, if spoken slowly an clearly and to me.
    Also, you have to learn now a few useful sentences, like "Jag talar bara lite svenska".

  28. Hi Estraven, thanks for the advice. I find Swedish to be more of a mixture between German and English. I guess I could manage to read within a couple of months, but I have no clue how to pronounce things, and consequently can hardly understand anything. Like, I know what your Swedish sentence means, but I doubt anybody would understand it if I say it. I guess I'll take a course at some point. Best,


  29. "Jag talar bara lite svenska"

    This is usually a good phase to learn first in regarding such situations. In Bee’s case she just has to be careful not to have things confused and say instead “Jag är för litet att tala svenska” :-)

  30. Yes Bee,

    ...and the word for good is bra
    ah those swedes ;-)

    Hoppas att du kommer att trivas i
    alla fall, kom igen nu, du får väl ge lite komplimanger också!

    Re personal number,
    North Americans sometimes get processed wrong
    751105 is 750511 in Swedish/European connotation

    Would suggest taking a boat trip out in the archipelago, skärgården, before winter comes,
    a nice relaxing experience


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