The Scandinavian Coat of Arms – A SATW Comic Drawing

The comic Scandinavia and the World is my favorite. It is epic hilarious and awesome.

You must read it, you’ll be crying yourself silly for more.

This strip, about the lions on the coat of arms of the countries is by far my most favorite. EPIC.

satw comic coat of arms

The real coat of arms in Scandinavia

coat of arms denmark
Image via wikipedia

coat of arms sweden
Image via wikipedia

I think the lions appears a bit retarded with his tongue hanging out and running with an axe…
coat of arms norway

coat of arm finland - retarded lion with flowers

Om nom nom nom nom … flowers!

Q&A on American and Swedish Christmas Traditions

I’ve been thinking about what makes Swedish Christmas different from American Christmas. After emailing with a friend back home in America, I realized there’s so many Swedish traditions not found in America and vice versa.

I put together a list of questions and answers on how Christmas is celebrated in each of the countries. This is thanks to my friend EC who bombarded me with similar ones by email and chat.

When is Christmas celebrated?
United States – 25th – Christmas Day. In the morning families enjoy sticky/cinnamon buns for breakfast. After breakfast they open presents, starting with the stocking. Stockings are the large “socks” hung over a fireplace. They have small goodies, especially candies and favorite snack in there.

Christmas dinner is similar to the Thanksgiving dinner. There is mashed potatoes, stuffing, bread, pies, cookies, but instead of turkey most families have a honey baked ham.
Sweden – 24th – Christmas Eve. Families start the festivities by watching Kalle Anka Önskar God Jul, a Disney collection of songs from the last sixty years. During the show, they eat pepparkakor and drink glögg (Swedish mulled wine). Then for dinner, Swedes partake in the famous Christmas smörgåsbord called Julbord; which is a collection of different foods.

On Christmas Day Swedes rest and enjoy a smaller meal.
christmas stockings
Do you go caroling?
United States – Yes, it is common in neighborhoods with children that kids and parents go door to door singing Christmas songs. At the end of the evening, the group gathers at a home for hot chocolate and cookies.

Sweden – It’s very uncommon. But, in church, families gather to sing songs.

When do you put up the Christmas tree?

United States – The weekend after Thanksgiving which falls on the first Advent.

Sweden – On the third Advent or after. It is not uncommon to put up the tree just a few days before Christmas Eve.

What are the most popular decorations?

United States – Wreaths, Christmas lights, and stockings. And when it snows, there’s always Mr. Snowman.

Sweden – Christmas stars to represent the town of Bethlehem and candle lights. Both are displayed in the windows.

What kinds of sweets do you eat?

United States – Cookies are most popular during the holidays. Everything from traditional chocolate chip to peppermint bark to decorated sugar cookies. Candy canes are well known to hang on the tree and of course eat.
Sweden – Swedes are not big on cookies but they enjoy other treats. The only cookie exception is gingerbread cookies called pepparkakor. The Swedish version are thin and crispy and more spicy and flavorful than the American counterparts, which are chewy-soft and sweeter.

Saffron buns, or lussebullar, are soft rolls made with saffron, kesella (quark), and touch of sugar. Swedes also enjoy a hard candy called knäck, literally meaning crack. It is hard toffee candy and can be flavored with almonds or exotic spices.

sticky buns for christmas

What kind of drinks do you have?
United States – Eggnog is a classic love-hate Christmas drink. Made with eggs and cream and flavored with anything from rum to cinnamon, eggnog is one of those drinks you imagine Auntie Georgia getting smashed on.

Similar to Swedish glögg, there is mulled wine and mulled cider. They are flavored with the traditional Christmas spices: cinnamon, clove, cardamon, star anise. For children there is hot chocolate with whipped cream and/or marshmallows. I’m a total kid; I love a dollop of whipped cream with dark hot chocolate.

Sweden – Glögg is the ubiquitous choice of drink to have on any cold afternoon or evening. Drop a few raisins and blanched almonds and you have the perfect strong drink to survive the Swedish winter. For toasting and Christmas dinners, there is aquavit or snaps. Children and non-drinkers can enjoy julmust, a Christmas cola soda, or a non alcoholic version of glögg.

What food do you leave out for Santa (Jultomten)?
United States – Cookies and milk. Any sort of cookie will do but most popular are sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and gingerbread cookies.
Sweden – Risgynsgröt. It is a rice pudding with cinnamon and brown sugar. Some tales call for a pat of butter on top of the pudding to ensure Jultomte does not break out in a rage.

What does Santa (Jultomten) look like?

United States – The American version of Santa can be credited to the Dutch’s Sinterklaas, cartoonist Thomas Nast, and folklore from other countries.

The modern version of Santa we know today is based on Coke-Cola’s creation by Haddon Sundblom in 1931. He based the modern day St. Nick on Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (commonly called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”) and Nast’s work from 1862.

Santa Claus is seen as jolly, fat, well tempered and with a large white beard and red outfit.

Sweden – Santa is known as Jultomten in Sweden and julnisse in Norway. Jultomten derives his name from tomte, a small man living in a farm who worked using magic. The tomte could be very kind and bestow gifts but also very moody and sometimes borderline sociopath. In folktales he’s known to kill a cow out of anger for not receiving his pat of butter on risgrysgröt and beating those who do not keep the house/farm well.

Jultomten however has a better temperament than the tomte. The name Jultomten came into use somewhere around the 1500-1600s. He rides on a giant goat, like Thor, and hands out presents.

Today’s Jultomten are similar to the American Santa Claus who is a fat, jovial, old man riding a sleigh. But you can still find the traditional jultomtar statues in the store; big hat, lots of hair, little nose, and faceless.

Note: Anyone who has more knowledge about how Jultomte derived his name from tomte and what he looked like in Sweden let me know. It’s tricky finding good information about jultomte in Sweden.

You can guess that our home is an amalgamation of both cultures with a dash of Indian (lots of color!) and Jewish (rugelachs, latkes and when younger, dreidels).

christmas in north carolina
More reading on Christmas

Interview with Christopher Grant – The Daily Photo

Today I’m interviewing a very good friend of mine, Christopher Grant. He’s a photographer, hiking master, and overall amazing photographer and friend.

We meet a few years ago via Facebook when I was looking to meet other photographers in Sweden. And there he was! He’s a veritable road-warrior who has traveled the world for photographers. He’s met everyone from President Clinton and Carl Bildt to little tent mice to tribal leaders.

When I got married early this spring (sorry I’ll share photos one day), I asked him to be our photographer. While he was reluctant at first to shoot a seven day wedding, he was the right man to be the pusher. Wedding photography is guerrilla warfare after all.

Today he works with private clients who are models looking to bolster their portfolio or normal people looking for private portraits of an artsy nature (not sexy, but not necessarily non-nudes). He has a full plate working with private clients, shooting for the Daily Photo, and working hands deep in gum printing. In 2012 he will delve deeper into the New Topographics movement and exhibiting his prints.

Christopher also runs the a collection of photographs from his town, Sweden, and the world. Personally, going through his photographs is mesmerizing.

Check out his timeline page:

How you can not be addicted to every photo? Each of his photos has a short story and through them you observe a slice of life in the Great North.

The man himself…on the left not right.

Even though we speak on a regular basis, it has been a long time since I bothered about Chris why’s and how’s of photography. Here’s an interview I had with him.

How did you get into photography?
I don’t believe I was ever out of photography. Even at a young age I was making photographs with my mind, imagining snapshots of life. I didn’t begin making a living out of it though until I befriended a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer who started me along my own path.

Why did you start Daily Photo?
It’s important to complete work, which I’m horrible at. On it’s a sort of canvas for everyday projects that never get finished, but it trains me to try.

How do you focus to get that “one shot”?
When I wake I look for the emotions inside me and try to find inspiration in the world that expresses those emotions. The stronger the emotions the stronger the focus for the photograph.

What is the most amazing place you visited?
Deception Pass, Washington State. I recovered a bit of my soul there.

What three tips do you have for budding photographers?
Shoot cliches.
Get good at it.
Then, never shoot a cliche again.

If you were a tea, what tea would you be? :)
Fo Cha, but I drink a far more mundane variety.

Check out Christopher’s sites
Christopher Grant Portfolio – English / Swedish
The Daily Photo – English
Ezine – Sign up – Focusing on the best photographic moments, the magazine will be published quarterly starting in the winter of 2011. Sign up to receive the ezine for free.

Scandinavian Clubs in the US

I put together a list of clubs and organizations in the United States for Scandinavians (Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland). Most of the time you have to be a member or member’s guest to attend but there are several open events.

You all should be able to get culturally immersed and maybe find a lovely Swedish man or woman.

YSC in San Francisco Bay Area
Scandinavian Club in Connecticut
Scandinavian Club of Hawaii
Scandinavian Club of Columbus, Ohio
American Scandinavian Society of New York, NY
Swedish Cultural Center in Seattle, WA
Norwegian National Club in Chicago, IL
Danish Clubs and Associations across the United States
Icelandic-American Organizations in America
Swedish Organizations in America

If you know of a Scandinavian/Nordic community in the US that should be added to the list, please let me know.

Domestic Terrorist Attack Kills 92 in Oslo, Norway

Update, July 24, 10AM: The shooter, Anders Behring Breiviks, also produced a book on how plan a successful terrorist. This information was first released by It is available on Piratebay and several other sites. Aftonbladet and DN have short Swedish translations here and here.

Please beware the book is disturbing and promotes terrorism, violence, and chemical warfare.

He also posted a video on Youtube about the European Declaration of Independence from the Knights Templar. The video is gone now but possibly available at other sources.

Update: Earlier in the afternoon, a shooter opened fire on young teenagers on the small island of Utöya, west of Oslo. He has killed several teens and many jumped off the island and swam away. The shooter is now arrested though his name and motives are not released.

Two bombs went off in the government quarter in Oslo, Norway. Two people are confirmed dead and 15 injured.

No terrorist groups have claimed responsibility but the attacks appear to be directed towards the Norwegian government.

Last week, three bombs exploded during rush hour in Mumbai, India. No grouped claimed responsibility. However, security officials believe it was the work of Pakistani terrorist group.

You can read more in Swedish at DN, DN photos and Svenska Dagbladet. In English, you can visit Reuters and The New York Times.

Jantelagen – Equality, Equality, Equality

I’ve been reading a lot about jantelagen. Jantelagen is a system of principles on behavior. Aksel Sandemose wrote his observations about his town (fictionally called Jante) in the 1920s. From here he observed how people behaved in society.

This principal is a fundamental of Scandinavian culture. Here in Sweden, many people consider jantelag as the reason why smart students don’t get ahead, companies don’t have brand values, people don’t care to do better.

How has jantelag affected you as a Swede and foreigner? Where do you think the system comes from? I wrote a long article about my views of jantelag, but before publishing I’d like to know what you think. Has jantelag destroyed or saved Sweden?

How has jantelag influenced your life?

View Results

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The World’s Most Expensive Cities

When I was doing research about the cost of living in Stockholm, I found a neat article from Business Week about the world’s most expensive cities. It’s not unusual that all the Nordic cities appeared on the list but rather amusing how much we pay for some basic items.

Norway, was as usual, epic in pricing with Oslo ranking in at number two and Stavanger, the oil capital, at number 6.

Number 2: Oslo, Norway
FOOD: Lunch at a restaurant: $43
Can of beer from grocer: $4.71
One kg of rice: $5.66
One dozen eggs: $6.72
ENTERTAINMENT: Movie ticket: $16

They forgot to mention a BEER at a restaurant is $12 and a pizza for one costs $20 (at least in Narvik). Goddamn Norway.

No. 6: Stavanger, Norway
FOOD: Lunch at a restaurant: $33
Can of beer from grocer: $4.76
One kg of rice: $5.71
One dozen eggs: $6.34
ENTERTAINMENT: Movie ticket: $15.50

No. 8: Copenhagen, Denmark
FOOD: Lunch at a restaurant: $36
Can of beer from grocer: $2.10
One kg of rice: $4.85
One dozen eggs: $6.99
DVD rental per night: $8 <--WTF?! (Perhaps rent a dvd online for cheaper?)
ENTERTAINMENT: Movie ticket: $15
APPLIANCES: Washing machine: $1,196 <-- seriously, WTF! I hope happiness is free there.

No. 14: Helsinki, Finland
FOOD: Lunch at a restaurant: $25
Can of beer from grocer: $3.02
One kg of rice: $3.42
One dozen eggs: $3.54
English magazine: $8
ENTERTAINMENT: Movie ticket: $15
APPLIANCES: Washing machine: $780

No. 21: Stockholm, Sweden
Rank in 2009: 80 <-- due to the strengthening kronor, wow FOOD: Lunch at a restaurant: $15 Can of beer from grocer: $2.07 One kg rice: $3.77 One dozen eggs: $4.36 Beer bar: $9 ENTERTAINMENT: Movie ticket: $14 APPLIANCES: Washing machine: $865 Sucky rental market – Priceless

Some things to note: ECA International based their rankings on a basket of 128 goods that includes food, daily goods, clothing, electronics, and entertainment, but not rent, utilities, and school fees. Their guide is geared towards expatriate employees so some cities like Kinshasa or Luanda are technically not expensive cities to live rent-wise.

War and Peace at the Nobel Ceremony

It’s that time of year again, Swedish Christmas decoration, endless supplies of glögg, and the Nobel Prize awards ceremony.

Most notably is the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Mr. Liu Xiaobao, presented in Oslo. Last year the committee awarded President Obama the peace prize, a controversial decision considering the President’s short time in office. This year, there has been fierce opposition of the committee’s decision to award a criminal dissident of the peace prize.

The decision cost not only uproar and vitriolic anger by the Chinese government but also the loss of diplomatic ties and trade relations (too bad Wikileaks has no diplomatic cables on the past weeks discussion between countries) with Norway. China went so far to say that countries who attend the ceremony would have repercussions and be a black marks. Besides, said the Chinese government, the Peace Prize is an American conspiracy and the prize itself is “an anti-China farce” run by “clowns” in Norway.

China’s way to win over countries: threaten them.

Mr. Xiaobao is in prison for eleven years and his wife is under house surveilance and unable to leave home (or China). For the first time in 75 years, since Hitler ruled Germany (and prevent the Nobel winner), was there no person able to receive a prize himself/herself or even on behalf of someone. Never thought China would be in the same sentence as Hitler when it comes to political democracy.

I support giving the prize to someone who has fought, and continues to fight, the right to freedom. For that I dedicate this post to all citizens around the world who have battled with their soul to better the lives of people around them.

As the head of the Norweigian Peace Prize committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, said: “It is no coincidence that nearly all the richest countries in the world are democratic, because democracy mobilizes new human and technological resources,” he said. “China’s new status entails increased responsibility. China must be prepared for criticism, and regard it as a positive, as an opportunity for improvement.”

For Mr. Xiaobao, who strives for peace, his award sparks war in the country he lives.

Smelling Pickled Herring in the Wikileaks Arrest

When Wikileaks released the nearly 400,000 documents about the Iraq war, I was ambivalent. I did not like the idea of innocent civilians being exposed and possibly killed because of the information that leaked out. Or, having national security paraded on the internet. Then the diplomatic cables released and I thought the Wikileaks founder was a ballsy man willing to take the risk to get the truth out.

Around the same time, Julian Assange, the founder, engaged in alleged sexual molestation and rape, in which two Swedish girls came forward. And today, a week after the diplomatic cables were released to the public, he was arrested in London pending extradition charges to Sweden.

What bothers me most, is someone pulling the marionette? Did Sweden miraculously create a functioning legal system? No, because the first time they tried to the execute the warrant, it was filled out wrong. And in a country where less than 6% of extreme crimes are ever solved, the Swedish police now have a case against Assange? Is this the same Sweden which agreed with the CIA in covert and illegal operations to take a suspect in the middle of the night on a plane? And the same Sweden where municipalities equate hemp body lotion to drugs?

Two girls, of which the names cannot be released, claimed he stopped wearing a condom, ergo sex was nonconsensual. Why not call the guy a douchebag and leave? Since when was a man being an idiot and not wanting to wear a condom demand attention from the Swedish police and Interpol? And separate incidences of nearly the same nature? If this was a case of serial rape, why has Assange never been arrested before?

I smell pickled herring. Actually, I smell surströmming stinking out of the prosecutor’s office that organized the arrest. The city of Stockholm does not even have functioning street cameras, installed for security and safety, and they have evidence Assange committed a crime? The crime unit which tests crime scene materials for evidence took three months to test my husband’s jacket and scarf for blood and hair stains. But making a case against Assange took only a couple weeks. The line of reality for little people versus persecuting the famous seems to be dark and bold.

A computer programmer being beaten by a crazy with a gun is less important to solve for the people of Stockholm than some guy who didn’t wear a condom and is in charge of leaking documents of unimaginable proportions to the world.

Or is that the point? The little people, us, don’t mean crap to the security of the state. But a guy who leaks documents? We need to get that bastard at any expense. Did the Swedish government concont this story? How do we know those girls are real (not decoys)? How do we know those girls even met him? (he admits to meeting them but not saying anything else) And how do we know this is not a dirty trick to set him up? This guy can be an idiot and committed the crime, he’s known for being unstable. But the timing? It is just too perfect.

If you cannot arrest Julian Assange for espionage and treason, why not arrest him for not wearing a condom and call it molestation and rape?

The Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, said “that sounds like good news to me.” and Paypal have cancelled commercial ties to Wikileaks (grace à Sen. Joseph Lieberman). Twitter is supposedly suppressing wikileaks and cablegate hashtags from making the trending topics; though idiotic garbage like #twetot and #lemmeguess is at the top at 16.21 EST. Conspiracy, coincidence, Sveriges Demokraterna’s racism against Australians? We do not know, but we have responsibility to find the truth.

The Swedish justice system will either be hailed by the world for saving themselves against thousands more pages of sensitive information on the web; or, be considered a joke, unable to make a real case and make it harder in the future for victims to pursue real rape crimes.

There’s surströmming and it’s about to blow its top all over Sweden and the United Kingdom. Be sure to wear a gas mask. Or a non leaky condom.

Voting Bias & Sweden’s Fail at Eurovision 2010

I love Eurovision. After months of torture on national television to vet the “best” singer/group to represent their country, it culminates into a three night debacle of entire Europe fighting for the top song rights.

This year, Sweden had a massive train wreck. It was so bad that voters killed the Swedish singer, Anna Bergendahl, with the song, This is My Life. Definitely her life but not the life European voters wanted. Maybe she was not that bad, but in a contest where text message voters determine the best of the train wreck to the worst, we’re looking at a low barrier.

Listen to Sweden’s Eurovision 2010 song entry

And Sweden’s failure to enter the Eurovision 2010 finals means for the first time (in the new voting system that is five years old), Sweden does not have a finalist. At least Anna will be forever remember as the singer who could not get Sweden to the finals. Poor girl, there’s always another Melodiefestivalen next year.

Still, I watched Eurovision this past Saturday, forgoing parties and purple beer bags for silly clown outfits and out of tune depressing songs at the European finale. Think American Idol marries Survivor and ends up with a show broadcasting to one billion people.

The best part of Eurovision is not the songs but the voting. Eurovision is the platform for peaceful voting to gain political extra credit points with other countries. Research done by Dr. Derek Gatherer collects the voting results from 1975 to 2006. Here are the major voting blocks:
derek gatherer eurovision voting pattern
No real surprises there. Iceland gave its douze points to Denmark, though Denmark snubbed Iceland and Norway by giving its douze points to Germany. Bosnia Herzagovina gave 12 points to Serbia and vice versa. Cyprus and Greece are always accused of favoring each other. Russia gave its douze points to Armenia and 10 points to Georgia. Georgia, with its ongoing ethnic cleansing wars with Russia, gave zero points and awarded 12 points to Belarus and 10 points to Armenia. I guess Russia is trying earn some brownie points.

For the full voting results you can visit wikipedia or see this voting results chart.

Oh, who did Sweden give its 12 points to? Germany! Denmark really got the kick out of them.