"Europe 2004-05" story # 9

Umea, Sweden           July 19, 2004

I've been a working fool lately. I committed forty-six-and-a-half hours to the Swedish "grind" this past week.
     Unfortunately, I didn't get paid for twenty of those. I've been working the breakfast buffet in the hostel every morning. This earns me free housing and all the "sill" I can eat.
     Sill is a popular breakfast food here in Sweden. It comes in a jar. Basically, it's flimsy white cubes of herring meat, mixed in with black things that might be herring intestines, floating around in what might be herring juice. It's totally "acklig" (disgusting). Therefore, all the sill I can eat is none.
     I could also eat caviar out of a tube, if I pleased. Swedes like to smear salty caviar on their hard-boiled eggs. Superstitious Swedes believe they can increase fertility if they eat this snack before performing another act, but that part of this story is eggs-rated. Ha, ha, ha! What a great pun!?
     Now, let's get seriou - wait a second: "eggs-rated?" BAH ha ha wa wa! - serious for a second. I've been working on my Swedish here, and you should know that it's tone is subtly bouncy and silly-like-a-kid. My two favorite words so far are:
     "gorka" - cucumber
     "snarka" - to snore
     Cucumbers are also a part of -
     "Eggs-rated!?" Ahh ha ha!
     - a part of Swedish breakfasts, as well as cereal. Some people eat their cereal with thick, unflavored yogurt, instead of milk. It's too dry for me that way.
     Nevertheless, I'm the guy who prepares the breakfast buffet, and I give it to them how they like it. I guess you could say you know (if you know me) the Swedish chef. My preparation tactics consist of pulling my chef's hat down over my eyes, growing a bushy moustache, throwing a bunch of lettuce in the air crazily with a big knife, and singing: "Gorka borka schnorka bagorschka!" which translates to: "Cucumber borka schnorka bagorschka!"
     Actually, all I do is set up the breakfast buffet, sit around for two hours making disgusted faces at the sill, and clean up the buffet.
     I'm joined in my sitting around by the hostel's owners, Victoria and Anders. They both have good senses of humor, so it's a lot of fun ... except for the fact that I don't get paid.
     Victoria is twenty-eight and has a short haircut made up of spiky fluffs. It's kind of a haircut like the girl singer in Swedish pop-music-sensation Roxette had.
     Dark-haired Anders has a short buzz-cut given to him by girlfriend Victoria. It looks like the type of square buzz-cut a neighborhood kid would get from his mom. Anders wears glasses and used to be a computer technician. He likes slouching over his coffe or pinching a black lump of "snus" to put below his upper lip. Victoria, meanwhile, likes to sing, "Hello, you fool, I love you. Come'on, join the Joyri-i-i-ide!"
     Anders and Victoria both know I'm trying to learn Swedish. I stepped out of the hostel on a recent sunny day and told them, "Jag har en dejt med en lilla radharig flicka." (I have a date with a little, red-haired girl.) Of course, I meant "Pippi Langstrump" (Pippy Longstalking). The further I get into this kids' book, the better my Swedish gets.
     Anders evilly likes to give me kids' crossword puzzles and watch me struggle to complete them. Not to brag, but I'm very good at the clues that require two- and three-letter answers.
     But, then, Anders gave me a puzzle meant for the types of kids who could probably read Pippi Langstrump in a single afternoon. "This puzzle's impossible!" I yelled, convinced it was meant for Swedish geniuses.
     Anders has recommended I watch one tv show titled, "Fem Myror Ar Fler An Fyra Elefanter." (Five Ants Are More Than Four Elephants.) It's a kids' show, where they pronounce the words slowly so kids can repeat along. It sounds really good.
     Anders, for his part, doesn't watch "Fem Myor Ar Fler An Fyra Elefanter." He watches his favorite football team play. They're called "Hammarby" or "Hammerhead" or "Hamperbaby" or something stupid Swedish. Their team has a good chant, though. Anders taught me to say, "Bajen, Bars, och Rakade Bruder!" This translates to: "Our team, some beers, and shaved women!" In the past, Hammerby used to have a large fan base that were shaven-headed women.
     When I'm not doing chants and puzzles in the hostel, I'm often at my other job. I was totalling up the hours I'd worked at my other job, when I explained to Victoria that I still had to get paid for some of them.
     "They DO pay you there, don't they?" said Victoria, concerned.
     In a reflective voice, Anders remarked to his girlfriend, "We don't pay him."
     "They pay me more than nothing!" I barked.
     They pay me almost nine dollars an hour. I'm working as a laborer in the construction of the interior of a soon-to-be-opened restaurant. My boss is a blond, early-thirties playboy type of guy. He's quite nice. Almost everyone in Sweden is friendly and nice, though they're shy to start talking to someone they don't know.
     I don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to construction. My working style is a bit unorthodox. While doing my biggest task to date - assembling holding devices for the two-dozen tv's in the restaurant - I lay down on the floor while I assembled. "It kind of looks like you're relaxing," said the boss. He smiled, youthfully, friendly. "That's all right though."
     Today, the sawdust-filled restaurant needed to be vacuumed. "That looks like a job for you," said my boss. I'll bet it did! Vacuuming is practically the easiest job in the book. A construction chimpanzee could do it.
     So, I've been keeping busy in Umea, Sweden. I'm really liking this town and the harmlessness of its people. There are very beautiful places in Umea, too.
     There was a rock-music festival in the town's forest this last weekend. The maternal gentleness of the forest calls you home. Stepping through, you walk on cushy mounds, decorated with little plants with diamond-shaped leaves.
     The wild, cloudy-brown Ume River also ecompasses you with its peace, if you sit on its shores. There are all kinds of spots along forest trails where you can sit beside the river and see nothing but the river's flow and tree-settled islands. These spots are perfect for going to with a little red-haired girl.

"Gorka borka magorka bajorka!" - the Swedish chef

P.S. - A gray-moustachioed gentleman checked into my hostel room tonight. He was a rare Swede in that he didn't speak English. He and I had my longest Swedish-only conversation to date: about four minutes. My Swedish confidence is going up, slowly, but surely! Woohoo.

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