Swedish Girl In London

London Life: Bright Lights, Big City. Now what's on TV?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Hearing Voices

Hanging around London Bridge Mainline Station yesterday, as you do, I discovered that I have a crush on the man reading out the train announcements. He’s got that sort of deep voice combined with an Oxbridge accent that reminds me of Jack Davenport, who used to play Miles on This Life.

The 19.43 to Gatwick Airport will leave from platform five…”

Oh yes, take me with you, Miles! Let’s fly!

But posh, velvety voices aren’t the only ones that I have a soft spot for. Doc’s Scottish is quite cool as well, I have to say. He’s rather smug about it, always reminding me that Scottish is the most trusted accent in the UK – when he doesn’t say "Trust me, I’m a Doctor", that is.

And then there’s Irish! The soft lilt of Edinburgh’s pixie-like barmen!

So far, I haven’t developed the same dewy eyed response to your average London accent, but give me time – soon those “do you know what I mean”-voices will have worked their way into my heart.

I am also still not really convinced by the sort of American voice that ends every sentence on a high note? So they all sound like questions? Even though they are not?

But then again – I really like those female altos you always get on American sitcoms, like CJ off The West Wing or Ros off Frasier. I think I might even trust them more than a Scottish Doctor, but don’t tell Doc that.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Always Should Be Someone You Really Love


When it comes to chatting people up, the gender roles seem to be quite established:

  • Boys go boldly forth into the territory of cheesy lines & sweaty palms;
  • Girls are coldly cruel.

Come on, girls, admit it - part of the fun of going out is to snigger at those clueless boys... but if you had to do the hard work yourself, how much better would you be?

"Girls have it easy," Football boy opined when we were talking about in the pub. "Guys are just happy that girls speak to them."

"Even if they say something awkward like do you come here often?"

Football Boy assured us that he'd be happy to tell a lady the frequency of his visits to any locale.

"So what's your chat-up line?" I asked.

Football Boy looked smug. "I am Spartacus."

"Er?"

"I am Spartacus!" He looked at us. "Well, girls laugh normally, but you're a bit thick, I suppose."

"Sure, they laugh," la Señorita said. "They also move away, am I right?"

"You've got a point," said Football Boy, looking sadly into his pint glass.

"Ach, what do you care," la Señorita comforted him. "You're Spartacus."

Monday, November 28, 2005

Washing Dirty Linen In Public

It all started with a piece of incisive journalism regarding Spanish gender roles… oh, all right then, an article called Ole, Los Hombres Are Washing the Dishes” in Marie Claire. It was peppered by delightful quotes like Manuel, 34, explaining his housework expertise:

“I know how to put the clothes in the washing machine, but I don’t know how to make it go.” Oh bless!

La Señorita and I was scoffing at clueless Manuel, until I remembered several occasions in the past, when clothes have emerged from my own machine oddly reduced in size. I recall Doc holding up a miniscule sock and asking me suspiciously if we were expecting a happy event.

Somehow – don’t ask me to go into particulars – this later evolved into a discussion between Doc and myself regarding who does the most housework around our own place.

“Have you ever cleaned the doors?” I asked triumphantly.
“No, but they are manky, so neither have you”, Doc said. “Besides, you never put the washing machine on. You’re worse than Manuel; you don’t even put the clothes in there. And yet you have clean clothes. How? Because I wash them for you.”
“Only because you are washing your own clothes,” I huffed. “I have to wash clothes much more seldom than you. I have more of them and they are smaller.”
“That’s a mathematically rubbish argument,” Doc said. “I’ll give you the bulk argument, but the amount of clothes doesn’t matter.”
“But if I have five pairs of knickers I need to wash only once every five days to have clean knickers,” I said scientifically.
Doc wasn’t impressed. “With the time element, each individual pair…”

I’m not sure what followed, because at this point that I glazed over. All I know is that his argument involved a lot of moving about of our pint glasses, but that’s standard procedure among males, as I have observed in the past… as is not listening to your interlocutor, among humans in general. Being a battle-hardened debater, I naturally wasn’t going to respond to his point, only repeat my own, but in a higher voice.

The discussion ended with me sulking: “If I say you are right, will you shut up then?”
”Sure will,” Doc beamed. “That’s all you had to say, baby!”

Let’s get one thing clear though – of course I’m not the sort of generous-minded person who lets someone else have the last word for the sake of diplomacy. It was just because the bartender was sniggering at us and I wanted him to believe that I, in contrast to Doc, was normal and didn’t actually get my knickers in a twist (ha!) over the mathematical implications of washing.

We took the argument outside.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

24 Hour Party People

The new licencing laws have kicked in, and English pubs no longer have to ring the bell for last orders at eleven o'clock. The tabloids are joyfully bellowing about "24 hour drinking!" but it seems that most watering holes have settled for the more modest closing hour of midnight.

Still, it turned everybody into social observers, scouring London for signs of sensational debauchery. It began on Friday morning, when I spotted a pair of abandoned sneakers by the bus stop. One of my fellow commuters caught my eye and shook his turban.

"24 hour drinking..."

"Do you think?" I said doubtfully. After all, the sneakers were orange with white stripes. It could be that their wearer had just suddenly regained his senses, looked down on them in horror and abandoned them on the spot.

Then, as it was Friday, I went out for lunch with come colleagues. Two of them ordered beer.

"See, it has started already", my editor told me mournfully. "Soon they'll be dancing on the tables, getting sick and knocked up and in all sorts of trouble."

Doc phoned me in the afternoon with the happy announcement:

"I'm out for beers with the blokes! 24 hour drinking!"

(Although he did come home at eleven, shaking his grey head: "The homing devices kicked in...")

When Doc and I went out yesterday we passed an off-licence where the shelves had been emptied. Only one bottle of Cava cowered in a corner.

"Stock check?" I asked Doc.

"Could be..."

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Pain, The Pain


The pain caught up with me today, after my work-out with Ben on Thursday morning. When it hadn’t arrived yesterday, I thought I had escaped it, but it was actually hobbling, jack-knifed & weezing, behind me all the time. Today, I – much like Maria Carey – don’t do stairs.

It feels as though I have been frolicking about like a bear cub in the first flush of youth, when in reality all I did was commuting back and forth on a rowing machine while Ben stood sternly beside me and asked:

“So how often do you plan to come to the gym?”
“Once a week,” I lied, to impress him, but he just looked astonished.
“Only? You need at least five 40 minute sessions a week!”

Then he put me on an exercise bike, clipped some thingy to my ear to measure my pulse and left me pedalling leisurely while he went out (probably for a smoke, the cheeky monkey). Luckily enough this is not Charleston, so no Argyle sweaters pounced on me.

So really why I am aching all over today is hard to understand. If this is how it's going be I, I might do the easy thing instead and join a fad diet. I hope the pain disappears before tomorrow when – wheeee! – I am living out the ultimate Anna Karenina fantasy. Yep, it’s true, Pingu & I are going ice-skating by torchlight at Somerset House.

I can’t wait!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Smoke 'Em Out

I’ve been smoked like a salmon. Everything on me smells as though it has been rubbed in the smouldering ashes of Ernest Hemingway’s humidor. My eyes, previously of a harmless green tint, have turned in the bloodshot look of the devil, and I’m not even going to mention my hair.

And the person who had the pleasure of smokin’ me out like this? It wasn’t me; it was an extremely pretty little Italian creature sitting next to me in The Midas Touch.

Now, she may have been cuter than a baby penguin in a bow-tie, but I still wanted to beam her to a galaxy far, far away.



What’s up with me? Am I turning into some boorish goody-two-shoes who should stay in with my Soduku and let the creatures of the night get on with their devil-may-care partying?

“Non-smokers are like vegetarians,” says Football boy. “Boring!”
“Red meat and red Marlboros is your style?”
“Too right it is.”

But what do you say? Are you with Football boy, or are you too secretly clamouring for that smoking ban the government has been bandying around for ages?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

In My Shoes

I have got a shoe crisis. It isn’t the usual one, where one of your heals suddenly falls off and leaves you limping all the way home with “Vanity Shall Be Punished” tattooed across your forehead. This is gym-shoe related, believe it or not.

When I renewed my membership at the gym last week, the girl in the reception told me that I would get three one-on-one introductory sessions for free. I suppose it is a little insulting that they think I need an introductory session after a year’s membership, but considering the time I flew off the treadmill (sad but true), I couldn’t really argue.

“Oh, I’m not sure that I want an introductory session,” I only tried weakly.
But it’s for free!”

Since I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it wasn’t the money that was bothering me, I am scheduled for my first appointment with personal trainer Ben tomorrow. I have seen him around in the gym before. He does a terrifying routine involving a very large ball, sort of like those bouncy ones with antennae that were around back in the 80s.

The thing is, I just remembered that my gym shoes are still languishing chez la Señorita. They have been gathering dust there since we played tennis in Battersea Park in June, to be precise. So now I have to meet Ben while wearing those sorts of leather sneakers that are marketed as retro, as in harking back to the days when sport meant a brisk walk in the park, or possibly a spot of croquet on the lawn. You know, those days when any garment not featuring a corset was deemed suitable for physical exertions.

Oh well.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

They Shoot Polar Bears, Don't They?

The scene: The till of a popular fashion retailer in Long Acre Street, where Señorita Mas Fina, about 66.8% of London’s population and I have gone for some pre-Christmas present scanning. (Presents for ourselves, that is.)

The shop-boy, sporting a skin-tight T, asks la Señorita: “You from Spain?”
Senorita starts beaming, proving beyond doubt that Swedes and Spaniards are very different. If two Swedes manage to run in to each other abroad, they hide behind trees, rubbish bins, large members of the public etc. Spaniards assume their best torero stance and start bonding. After five minutes, it has probably been established that their first cousins went to the same primary school in Zaragoza.
“Hombre, sí!”
“I’m Italiano,” winks Shopboy, and turns to me: “You’re not Spanish.”
“No.”
“English?”
“No.”
“Swedish?”
I’m a bit taken aback, because it normally takes a detour via Belorussia before we end up in dear old Scandinavia. “Yes!”
Now, Shop-boy turns back to la Senorita and tells her in a confidential voice: “Swedish girls are mad for it. Very caliente. I had one back home last night and…”
I start rolling my eyes, while the treacherous Señorita is laughing.
“Swedish girls all drink like a horse and fall over,” Shopboy continues his anthropological lesson. “They’re a bit.. you know…” More chuckling & winking, while I have taken to combine the eye-rolling with exasperated foot-tapping.
Shopboy, oblivious: “Easy-peasy, you know. Just give them a vodka and…”
“Oh for God’s sake,” I burst out and stormed off into the lingerie department to seethe by a rack of Snoopy knickers, while Senorita completed her purchase. (That showed him!)

Later:
“Hehe,” says la Señorita, “you’re really angry.”
“I’m not angry!” I say (angrily). “I just try to work against these stereotypes, that’s all.”
“All right, all right.”
“Caliente my foot! And who’s he to talk? Probably has a really furry chest and still lives with his mum.”
“Glad to see that you’re not one for stereotyping.”
“Thanks. What did you buy?”

The Future's Bright, The Future's Retro

Day follows night – or at least it does once you have left the Velvet Underground of Studenthood, where night has been known to follow night.

And in the same way, the deluge of glossy R’n’B of the early 00s turned into the Return of Britpop (But Different) that is blaring out of the charts now.

It’s like Britain collectively woke up one morning, sat up in bed and said:

“No more smoove grooves, please. We want guitars back. Or at least some good old angst & irony.”

And then there was light, and then there was Coldplay (angst) and then there was Franz Ferdinand (irony) and Cold-Weather Primates and whatnot.

Yay.

What’s the Next Thing, though? Perhaps we will bolt out of bed one of these mornings and go:

“Bring back grunge!”

Goaties and a beanie hat - coming soon to a teenager near you.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Not In My Book

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As I have already said, I am psychotically pro-Christmas – and yes, I do realise that the holidays should be about charity and not just about ka-ching.

But surely that should be proper generosity, not the kind that makes people leave “How To Live With Food Intolerance” manuals at book collections for your local, underprivileged primary school? This is a true story; evidence can be seen at Starbucks in Canary Wharf.

After all, that can’t technically even be charity, but should be filed under creative rubbish disposial. I may be wrong, of course. Perhaps little Bobby-Bo’s eyes will brim with childish delight as his teacher reads aloud about gluten-free food – kids are odd, after all. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, bloggards and blogettes, I am off to donate “American Psycho” and “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.”

Sunday, November 20, 2005

You Live, You Learn



Apparently, it's not cute to pull up the hood of your boyfriend's jacket and cackle:

"They killed Kenny!"

At least not if you do it more than ten times.

Oh well.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Oh, Those Jingle Bells In My Head

"It must be Christmas," Chocolate Girl writes from Spain, "because dad has put the manger out on the balcony again."

Apparently the Holy Family becomes bigger every year. This time, Chocolate Dad has invested in a life-size, bearded Joseph, a particularly snipey-looking Holy Virgin and a scary Baby Jesus, complete with inexplicable, blonde mullet hairdo.

"I won't sleep soundly until New Year," Chocolate girl e-mail grumbles.

And it must be Christmas in London too, because all of Regent Street has been turned into a demented, dizzying disco of flourescent lighting - just like in old Bethlehem - and is probably visible from the moon.

You know those annoying people who download Jingle Bells as their ring-tone? Who hush people angrily if they talk while the M&S Christmas ad is on telly? Who sink into reverie in front of the gilded window display at Liberty's? Those odd, possibly hypnotised people who wrap the whole house up in tinsel and poke your eye out as they lug their Christmas tree home on the bus?

"Christ," you think (and not in a let's-remember-the-reason-for-Christmas way), "who are those people?"

Well, they're me, actually. I am that person. I love Christmas and am already gearing up for a real marathon of schmaltz and retail loving. After all, rampant consumerism and cheap sentimentality is my gig most of the year, and I see no reason to make an exception for December.

Don't blame me. It's those jingle bells in my head.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Bite Me

Science is making impressive progress in our fridge. We now know what happens if you leave a Brie to its own devices for long enough, for example. It's interesting in a yucky way, but I still think I should go to Waitrose tomorrow.

In Strasbourg, I used to go to a super market named Attac. Respect to the French for their issuing this sort of no-nonsense advice to their customers. It did go a long way to prepare me for the predatory behaviour necessary to bring food back to your lair. Yup, to attack, les enfants de la patrie!

But boy, was it worth it!

"Everything looks so much yummier in French supermarkets," my sister used to say when we raided the joint in Marine Squad fashion.

Don’t be fooled by the chic countenance of those tiny, Hermes-scarved French girls. Non monsieur, they know how to manoeuvre a trolley along narrow aisles, and if you ever want to reach the till, you have to be prepared for baguettes at dawn.

Sometimes I miss that jolly old anarchy. Still, it is more restful to shop in London. In my local Waitrose, the food-foraging-experience has been extended to include a juice bar, coffee bar, sushi bar and wine tasting bar. I always feel that you are supposed to glide around the isles, humming Euro lounge tunes as you select your olive oils and low-fat yoghurts.

Once you're about to pay, though, the muzak-induced zen disappears. Instead, the checkout tills are more like pit stops in a Formula One race. A squadron of super-efficient ladies (and the occasional gentleman) scans up your goods faster than the Ferrari team can change Michael Shumacher’s car tyres.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

At Least They Get Along

Me to Doc: "We just saw something that la Senorita and I found distressing and that Football Boy thought was very funny.”
Doc (immediately): “Oh, small child falling over?”
Football Boy (animated): In its pram! Because the parents had hung too many heavy bags on the handle!”
Doc: “Hehehe”.
Football Boy: “Hahaha.”

Guide to Sweden I


Whenever a Swedish person says:

"Isn't it cold?"

you should immediately call their bluff by replying:

"But you're Swedish!"

- because, actually, underneath their clothes, Swedes don't have normal human skin. They are covered in fur, like Chewbacca, and cannot feel the cold.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Winner Takes It All

If the loser really is standing small, as my compatriots once informed us, then I am quite tiny.

Since about a year back, I have entered absolutely every competition I have come across, theorising that sooner or later, Lady Luck would find me.

I have gone into close combat for a safari in Tanzania. I have fought it out for a case of fine wines. I have filled out those endless questionnaires where people actually seem to believe that you have fully formed opinions on different brands of teabags, only becasue a Japanese teapot was up for grabs.

Then I won a biography of P.G. Wodehouse. It is possible that I was the only competitor.

Things could have been worse, I suppose. I could have won a year's supply of toothpaste in an online competition I entered in a moment of madness. Still - I am worried. Does this mean that I have fulfilled my Winning Competitions Quota? Will I never win anything again?

Then You'll Sing a Different Tune

As I stomped through my early teens in a pair of tartan Doc Martens, there was only one belligerent question to ask potential partners in delinquency:

"Do you like Janis Joplin?"

If the answer was "Never heard of her", the guy would immediately be filed away under "close but no cigar".

My sister trailblazed through Cool Musicdom, and I adoringly followed. Early Blur, Motown, Beetles... People had to know, or go.

But do we still use that convenient shorthand?

[Pause to stare Carrie Bradshaw-esque into space.]

Blogging about i-pods made me realise how ill-suited I am myself to any such musical scrutiny these days. Nestling among respectable old favourites are a new breed of CDs, bought at various Russian markets both near & far. Their backs (mis-)spell out Gwen Steffan* and Chicago! The Musicall - because, all of a sudden, all I want is a jolly tune to rock my rockin-chair to.

So what's that sound? It's not the beat of a White Stripe drum. It's a ghostly pair of tartan Doc Martens, rattling ever further into the past.

*She ain't no halibut girl.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

So What Have You Been Up To?



The University get-together went ahead last weekend, and Alias Aurora and I drank and made merry with about ten acquaintances from our Strasbourg days. And it was fun!

One thing has been preying on my mind, though (how did you guess?): When you meet old Uni mates, do you talk yourself up or down?

Because it seems that you have to choose. I try to be a wonder of matter-of-factualness, but it’s not possible. Either I end up implying that I am…

A) a big, fat failure – only days away from turning into a bitter crone who dwells in a cardboard box and throws gravel a pigeons for kicks

or

B) an über-achieving Wunderkind of the Zadie Smith variety, jetsetting from metropolis to metropolis, leaving a trail of champagne and canapés in my wake.

Being Scandinavian, I of course prefer the first alternative. Nothing massages the ego like modesty, after all. But what about the poor person you’re talking to? The more disparaging you are about your life, the more they feel like they have to do American Sitcom Duty and come out will all sorts of vague encouragements – not what you want while you’re sipping your gewürtstraminer.

So should I switch to B – or just try to be mysterious?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Oh, Pod Off!

"What used to be the first thing you checked out in a guy's flat?" Pingu asked me the other day.
"Oh, easy. His record collection."
"Exactly!" Pingu stabbed her chop-stick in my general direction. "But those days are over, pet."
"Oh, I suppose we're a bit more mature nowadays," I said hesitatingly. "We don't judge people by their music taste anymore."
"Oh, rubbish! Would you date someone who likes James Blunt?"
"Well, no... but Doc does have a penchant for Scottish folk-rock Runrig..."
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that," Pingu said. "Anyways, my point is that record collections are disappearing. It's all I-Pods now. People have got their music downloaded and hidden away in their computers."
"Hm." I stole a deep-fried shrimp from Pingu's plate. "You're right."
"Of course I am. So what are we supposed to do now when we snope around people's places? How are we supposed to judge if people are sane or not?"
She was definitely on to something. "Yikes! So guys might be hiding Shakira collections and novelty rap in the computer, where we can't see it!"
"I know!"
"Thank God I'm not dating anymore."

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Lost


Do I know the way to San José? Well, no, I'm afraid I don't - and neither do I have a clue if this is the way to Amarillo.

"Fair enough," you say, "why should you?"

Unfortunately the same goes for places right on my doorstep. Parachute me down on a random street in Soho and ask me to lead you to Leicester Square, and chances are I'll take you on a spiralling trekk down dodgy backstreets, looking more and more confused. Finally we'll end up at Tottenham Court Road.

I will probably soundtrack this journey with musings like:

"Have they moved Seven Dials? It should be to the left of the angry Chinese granny;"

or

"Didn't we just pass that shop?"

To put it shortly, I'm not really up there with that posh woman who talks to you via your Road-finder. But does this stop me from giving people directions?

I just can't resist the feel-good urge of helping some hapless tourists on their way, and they must sense this. They always approach me with their maps and their cute accents, and I immediately spring to life and start pointing in different directions. None of that boring nonsense of "take left at the third traffic light" for me! (Who on Earth counts traffic lights anyway?) No, I'm all for making snaky arm-movements with the palm of my hand to draw out imaginary maps. This is normally met by blank stares, which turns me into Balletic Traffic Cop, swivelling around, flailing my arms around the compass.

In the end, the poor tourists depart with many thanks and a dazed expression, while I shout some last-minute instructions after them. It's not until a couple of minutes afterwards that it normally strikes me that I've sent them off in the opposite direction.

It must be the same know-it all reflex that makes me utterly unable to say "I don't know" when someone asks me the statistical percentage of Swedish GDP accounted for by agriculture, and instead answer confidently:

"4.5."

In the future, I think the safest thing will be for you all not to believe a word I say.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Commuter Gauntlet

On my way to work today, I was approached by the following people:

A) A jovial guy at Aldgate Station was trying to hand out flyers from a nearby gym to the grey-faced somnambulists passing through the tube gates (also known as commuters). He seemed quite resigned to the hopelessness of this preposterous task, and had taken to entertaining himself by shouting "free day at the gym, free da-a-a-y at the gym" in an operatic voice*.

B) A shifty-looking fellow adorned with three-day stubble was mumbling "Marlboro Lights, Marlboro Lights" in people's ears by Farringdon Station.

C) At Farringdon, various aggressively upbeat people also lay in ambush, armed with clipboards and the question if I had a moment for the blind. When I shook my head and dove into a coffee shop instead, I could feel the hate vibes tickling off my back. Poor things, really. Next time I'll stop.

D) That sweet little man is still offering people free copies of City A.M. in Canary Wharf, but looking more and more forlorn with each day passing. His mantra of "Free for you, sir" has turned into a puppy-eyed silence, imploring people to accept a copy. I hope they do.

And last, but not least:

E) The Scientologists have set up camp by Tower Gateway, cheerily offering to test your stress levels. They must operate according to the theory that these would be relatively high at eight o’clock on yet another November morning, as we Londoners set forth to hustle the city and earn our daily take-aways.
Well, thay may be so, but this is one soul that they won’t snare - because before ten o’clock my pulse is still around the Olympic Swimmer mark and nothing, but nothing, can set it racing.

(Clearance sale at Waterstones, did you say? Half-price offers at Reiss? Stella at H&M? No, kids, you have to do better than that. Give me a time-machine and teleport me away to fin-de-siècle Paris, and then we’re talking. But I digress…)

*This must be false marketing. Free day at the gym? There's no such thing. You'll pay for your ardour later, folks.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Modern Persuasion


Would you mind awfully if I indulged in a bit of tiresome Battle of the Sexes Rhetoric? I promise to keep it brief.

The battlefield: The dusty floor area just in front of the DVD player.
What's at stake: Chosing how to best spend two hours of a rainy Wednesday evening.
Weapons of choice: BBC adaptation of Persuasion versus gory film Se7en.

Doc (looking like he's really cottoned on to something, when in actual fact He and The Point are about as far removed as the Earth and Pluto): "Aha! See, you pretend to be this emancipated Swedish woman, but really, you just want to get married."
Me (scowling): "What's that got to do with anything? Gimme back my DVD!"
Doc (getting into pseudo-scientific swing): "But Persuasion is all about this woman who finally gets her man down the aisle, right? It's all about marriage and nice frocks."

Now, I said one of the following:

A) "So what? Just because it's about a woman getting married, it doesn't mean that's my secret dream. You want to watch Se7en, right? Does that mean that you want to cut off Gwyneth Paltrow's head and put it in a box?"

or

B) "Awww. Grrr. Ouch. Oh, all right then, let's watch your movie."

But which one? Well, I'll let that remain shrouded in mystery.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Switchboard Safari


Recent features have led me out on a safari into the jungle of corporate switchboards. Believe me, you have to be top of the food-chain to survive, not to mention reaching your intended interviewee.

Switchboard Music and Messages - National Differences:

1. “I Just Called To Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder. Top marks to the Italians for style and charm.

2. Bagpipes. The French know how to make you stop wasting their time and hang up.

3. Digital Vivaldi. The Germans get your inner conductor going, although it does startle you a little bit when a beepy stanza is interrupted by a teutonic “Ja?”.

4. “All our lines are currently busy, an operator will be with you shortly.” Now, I won’t reveal what nationality this is, because I have to accuse them of lying. It pains me to say it, but there you are.

An operator will not be with you shortly. An operator might possibly pick up the phone when he or she has finished grounding the coffee beans, steaming the milk, pouring the cappuccino, sprinkling chocolate in a heart-shape, asking Betty if Andy in Accounts is ill, discussing what illness it could be, ruling out meningitis and finally putting the coffee-cup back after carefully washing it out. Then, and only then, might the operator pick up.

Not that I particularly mind. It gives me time to swivel around in my chair for a while and review my interview strategy.

5. Unidentfied Latin pop. Venga España!

Strangers Re-United

An acquaintance from my Uni in Strasbourg is setting up a get-together next week and wondered if I wanted to come along. To my surprise, I heard myself replying that sure, I would be there.

“Good old Strassers,” my acquaintance said wistfully. “Those were the days!”

“Oh yes,” I agreed, trying to remember anything we had actually done together in Strasbourg, apart from occasionally indulging in some awkward foreigner-in-France cheek-kissing when passing each other in the corridors. “Who’s going to be there?”

“Just the usual crowd,” acquaintance said and went on to list a number of names, out of which I only recognised one as possibly belonging to a girl who used to dance around with a whistle. I wasn’t sure if I should enquire about the whistle, since she probably wasn’t still doing that.

In the end I decided on a simple: “See you next Friday, then!”

Some e-mailing with Alias Aurora, who I also met in Strasbourg, led to the conclusion that we should go.

“I’m not sure if I’ll recognise them, or if they recognise me,” I deliberated, “but I suppose I can always keep my ears open for the sound of a whistle.”

”Don’t be a party-pooper again,” was Aurora’s brisk reply. “It’ll be fun!”

I’ll keep you posted.

Top of the Poppies


It's poppy time again.

Suddenly, every British news reader, aspiring politician, bus pass holder, business woman and random old codger worth their salt has a poppy corsage stuck to their lapel.

Last year, my sister even noticed the poppy phenomenon from her posting in the Balkans: "Why is everybody wearing small tomatoes all of a sudden?"

All I could answer was: "I'm not sure, but I think it has something to do with the war."

Further research yielded that yes, indeed it did have something to do with the war. The Poppy appeal was set up to help out veterans of WWI. It turns out that what you want, when you return one-legged and gas-lunged from the trenches, is not bronze statues celebrating your valour. It's food, housing and a prosthetic leg.

I won't be wearing a poppy, because it would somehow look phoney on a young Swedish woman. A small donation couldn't hurt, though.

This is Sweden

Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Don't Use the C-Word


Doc has cut his hair again.

This is always a bit of a drama - not for Doc himself, of course, who is very businesslike and manly about it. It's I who silently grieve for those beautiful locks.

"If I let it grow, I just look like Ernie from the Muppet Show", Doc says reasonably.

"No, you don't!" I say, and then venture: "You look cute!"

Doc glares sceptically at me.

"Did I say cute?" I start back-pedalling. "I meant cool. Or dangerous. That's it - dangerous!"

But we both know that after the c-word, there is no going back. The crew-cut appears the very next day.

At least, since Doc got a job in the City, he can't do the hooligan trim anymore. Once he turned up at the airport, after a prolonged absence, sporting a diabolical goatie but no hair on his head at all. Since he is also very tall, he looked like a bouncer. He was very pleased with himself, but I could hardly talk to him. It was too upsetting. I kept expecting him to whip out my ID and bark:

"This is not you! What's your star-sign?"

Because, even though it's been some time since I had to sneak into Stockholm's bars on the shaky grounds of a borrowed ID card, the fear never really goes away.

Temper, Temper

Excuse me, sir, but who are you calling rude? Oh, right. Apparently it’s me.

All of a sudden – or rather, right in time for Christmas – the promo tables of the bookshops are laden with volumes dedicated to Manners, and our Lack of Them. According the general consensus, Brits (and especially Londoners) are just downright bloody offensive.

But is this really true, or just the usual cantankerous litany of “it were all better before, so it were”? I’m not so sure.

Elbowed/mugged by loutish youths? Never happened to me, and I live on the mean streets of the East End.

Bothered by loud telephone conversations? You must be joking - I have to strain to eavesdrop on people’s mutterings.

Ignored by surly checkout girls? Quite the contrary – they are surprisingly polite considering the dreary parade of microwavable Chicken Kormas passing underneath their scanners day in & day out. My corner shop lady has been baptised Grumpy, it’s true, but I put that down to her Slavic Soul more than anything else. Besides, her grouchiness is cancelled out by the sunniness in the shop down the road, where (you guessed it!) Cheery works.

As for shoving, pushing, swearing? Nope, nope and nope again.

If this is rude, then I’d like to see polite. Maybe the writers of these books expect a return of Versailles court protocol. Maybe they want us to start greeting each other with distant bows again, though of course only addressing people we outrank. Or maybe they just don’t know what they are on about – but I would be loath to tell it to their face. After all, that would be ill-mannered.

In the end, what astonishes me is not how seldom we are polite, but that we take the trouble to be polite at all. Who’s to stop you from hogging the last bus seat from just under the nose of that old lady? What would happen if you marched into Eat and barked out: “Cappuccino! Quick, my man!” and omitted to say please? Any law preventing you from sneezing right in the face of the postman, for that matter?

And still we don’t do it, most of the time. We don’t even want to. In the end, humans are flock animals, and flocks work better with a little bit of kindness. Just ask those heroic penguins, who take turns huddling against the winds at the outer end of the colony.

So once again – me, rude? Bah. Like I care.

Monday, November 07, 2005

To Market, To Market!

Anyone for some moules marinières and fresh scallops, followed by a kumato salad drenched in posh olive oil? Those are the dishes that will supposedly grace our dinner table tonight, ladies and gentlemen. (While the TV blasts out Top Gear.)

See, the lure of Borough Market proved to much for us this weekend. All that delicious, funny-looking food! The fresh chicken burgers! The smoothies!

“You can never have too much cheese,” Doc said and purchased a parmesan chunk bigger than a king-sized pizza.

“Or weird preserves”, I added, investing in some cloudberry & whisky marmelade, while Señorita Mas Fina and Football Boy stocked up on sausages and Lanarkshire Blue.

So now our fridge is bursting with organic, fresh produce.

Hang on, what was that? ”But Borough market is on Saturdays,” did you say? “And today is Monday.”
"Shush!"
“Why haven’t you already cooked what you bought?”
"Er… "
“Be honest now, what did you eat yesterday?”
“Chinese take-away.”

Saturday, November 05, 2005

What A Glorious Feeling

Rise out of your coffins, children of the night, we've flip-flopped our way safely through summer and arrived, finally, to this wonderful season of rain, mist and wind.

I do love autumn, and shopping with Señorita Más Fina yesterday only served to remind me of this fact. After all, no bikini will ever make you feel as good about yourself as a big, furry Anna Karenina hat. I just have to hear the satisfyingly martial click of an umbrella being opened, and I feel like I belong in this world again.


(Vaguley related anecdote: I really have to buy a new umbrella, though. Doc is unreasonably reluctant to carry the bright pink one that I'm using at the moment. In Regent's Park the other week, his chivalry only extended to holding it as long as no-one else was in sight. The minute a distant dog-walker appeared, he shoved it back into my hand and tried to dis-associate himself from its pinkness as much as possible.

"This is ridiculous," I hissed. "You're about half a metre taller than me. I look like Mary Poppins brandinshing the umbrella like this."
"Not half a metre. 30 centimetres. And you don't look like Mary Poppins."
"You're just saying that."
"You look like a crazy tour-guide."
"Hmpf.")

Friday, November 04, 2005

Just A Little Crush

Tomorrow I’m going shopping with a friend I’ve decided to blog-tize Señorita Más Fina, on account of being Spanish and very fina.

This is going to be a whole lot of fun, but also slightly risky. The thing is, I have a style-crush on la Señorita. You know what I’m talking about – her outfits always make me go “ooohh” and want to dash to the shops and get clothes just like them. I seem to recall that this phenomenon was analysed in a film called Single White Female, but let’s not go there.

Besides, I think we all get them – style crushes, I mean. Suddenly you forget that your friend is, say, a delicate Vietnamese girl, while you are a stately Nigerian, or that you’re an ethereal Celt, while your girl’s a raven-locked Turk, or… OK, you get it. I don’t need to go through the entire Bennetton catalogue.

The point is, it somehow eludes you that what looks good on her, won’t necessarily do so on you.

So even if Señorita Más Fina can pull off the whole R&B vibe, I should probably steer clear of the hoop earrings myself. I mean, seriously.

Blame the Name Game

Anglosaxons have really got the hang of nick names. They happily refer to their PMs and presidents as Tony and Bill, and it only takes them five minutes of acquaintance to come up with a new pet name for you. (Normally, all you have to do is cut the name in two & add the endings -ster, -ie or -er.)

"Hey, Billster! Fancy a pint?"

As a Swede, I’m incapable of this easy familiarity. I mean, just calling people by their first name makes me feel a bit like an American presidential candidate, for Pete’s sake.

It’s not that we Swedes don’t want to call each other by nick-names. We try our best. But all those cute monikers tend to stay in e-mails, I’ve noticed, when you feel less self-conscious about using them.

Anyway, this maybe goes some way towards explaining why my blog-nicks are so uniformly rubbish. Just look at my own signature! “Swedish Girl”, for crying out loud! It sounds like you are either

A) jumping up and down and shouting – “look at me, look at me, I’m blonde and tall!” (I am neither, but in the blogosphere, who can tell?)

or

B) severely lacking in imagination (oh, but that I am!).

And then my friends get stuck with naff labels like Señorita, Aurora, Le Français and Doc.

But wait a minute - perhaps I shouldn’t blame this on my Swedish-ness? After all, I’ve come across a plethora of cool Swedish nicks since I started blogging. Oh bugger, that’s my last line of defence gone. Normally, if I’ve done something stupid, I always plaintively say: “But we do it like that in Sweden.”

Thursday, November 03, 2005

This Much HE Knows

Science According to Tiresome Office Boy

1. As long as you start the sentence by "To be honest with you", it doesn't matter if what follows is bitchy. After all, you're being Honest, which is a Good Thing.

2. Also, following up by saying "Where's your huuumour?" will immediately make your (miffed) interlocutor go: "Hang on! Why am I upset at being labelled an incompetent donkey? It's actually very funny!"

How little Office Boy knows of women.

Sound of Music


The wonderful thing about living in this metropolis is that you can go to any number of cool gigs every night of the week, discovering…

…oh all right, then, you got me! I’m fooling no one. The truth is that I almost never go to gigs, no matter how many “Next Big Things” prance around Camden’s sweaty stages, trilbies at rakish angles, and sneer for Brit-Pop.

Gigs, I don’t dig – OK?

It’s not that I hate music. I don’t. I’m actually rather fond of it as a pastime.

But gigs always seem to involve sore feet, disappointment, bewilderment and a necessity to whoop self-consciously. Take the time we went to see Rickie Lee Jones at Stockholm Jazz Festival, for instance.

Rickie, she’s such an intriguing chick on CD, her little-girl-lost voice humming the saddest, happiest songs you have ever heard. Rickie on stage, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. She was the sourest pill I have ever come across, snapping “please, be quiet” angrily after each applause, before racing through her next number. Afterwards, she galloped off stage like a pony in the Grand National Derby and never returned to do an encore.

Rickie, Rickie!

Then there was the time Tini took me to a gig at the student union of St Martin’s College. The entrance fee was in support of their graduation show, so I had to go, in the name of Graphic Design. Oh, and they served cheap G&Ts. Happily, we had quite a few of those before the music started up. I’m not really sure why it took such a long time to install the instruments, seeing that they consisted of…

A) a harmonica & strange, rubber-like feet, operated by a guy in a Medieval hair-cut
B) an out-of-tune guitar, strummed with more passion than talent by a geezer who also served as a very gravely vocalist.

Now Le Francais wants us to go to a gig on Sunday. I believe some friends of his are playing. They have worryingly been described as “funk-fusionists with an indie edge”. Au secours!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sweet and Sour

Bluffing it - that's what life is all about after high-school, kids, and yesterday I bluffed it as Briony McNamara, a name I can hardly pronounce. Alias Aurora had to attend a corporate event at a hotel, and brought me along in the place of a poorly colleague (owner of the complicated name).

"It'll be easy-piecy," Aurora told me as she pinned the Brinoy nametag to my fluttering busom, "we're in marketing so nobody really knows what we do, anyway."

"Oh right. How do you pronounce my name again?"

It turned out Aurora was right, though. Since we were mainly there to see if the hotel would work as a venue for corporate events, all that happened was that people plied us with drink and gave us tiny wee kebabs. If you've read my blog before, you'll know that mingling is not my glas of freebie champagne, so you won't be surprised that I had soon retired into a djungle-like flower arrangement.

Still, the mingling found me, in the shapely shape of a Slovenian girl with a fur-trimmed coat dangling nonchalantly over her arm in a way that immediately made me feel like I belong in a queue for beet-roots in Stalinist Russia.

The Slovenian girl was well versed in the art of conversation and had in an astonishingly short time weedled a large amount of personal information out of me. She also thought that everything about me was sweet, and particularly living with my boyfriend. She herself had a hard time staying with one guy, because so many different men were interested in her. What could she do? When they kept pursuing her? But it was so sweet that people like me could sacrifice excitement and fun like that.

For some strange reason, I was seized by an acute desire to tell her that nothing about Doc & me was the least bit sweet. That in actual fact, we spent the days growling at each other, only pausing to throw some crockery when the debate grew especially heated.

Before anything like that could happen (which, if I'm honest, was probably never), Aurora found me and dragged me away to nick more kebabs off a trolley.

"I'm starving! Let's go for food."

And so we did, and as I left my name-tag in another ferocious flower arrangement, I realised that I didn't need to feel bad. It wasn't me who was a frumpy housewife. It was Briony McNamara.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

This Much I Know

Science According to Swedish Girl:

1. You won't get harmed when crossing at a red light, as long as you hold your hands over your head and make a high-pitched noise.

2. Writing tidy To Do-lists absolves you from actually Doing the Things.

3. Similarly, having fresh veg in the fridge means that you don't actually have to eat it.

4. If someone phones you after ten o'clock, it means that your entire family has been kidnapped by crazy astronauts and sent into orbit around the moon for the next ten years.

5. Pulling your hair will probably make it grow quicker.

6. People carrying Marks & Spencer bags are always trustworthy.

7. "Would you mind if we watched What Not To Wear instead of Shark Attack?" is synonymous with "Give me the remote control this instant, or I shall lay hands on it through violence while howling like a warewolf."

8. It's not stealing as long as you consume it within the store.

9. Leaning forward in your seat, biting your nails and mumbling "come on, come on" under your breath will speed up the progress of your taxi through rush hour traffic.

10. The tiny people inside the TV box can hear you when you shout at them.