Friday, March 18, 2016

A wrong call and the next 10 minutes

"Hej, det är Lisa..."

I'm sure that is not the proper way to answer my phone in Swedish, but that is my American-English-translated-into-Swedish greeting and it has become automatic—proper or not.

"Umm, hallå. Det är ________ och jag har jobba i Tumba....<<undecipherable Swedish mumbling>>... (long awkward PAUSE)"

My mind is racing and all of these thoughts ping through my brain like the small white ball in a pinball machine. Ding ding ding.

He must be waiting for my response. Oh shit, I didn't catch his name or who he works with. Where is Tumba? Isn't that south of Stockholm? Why is someone from Tumba calling me? This has nothing to do with the kids because I would recognize their doctor's name. No...this may be someone calling for our house? I don't know. Someone always seems to be calling about our house, asking for money. Does this guy want money?! We don't have any. Should I hang up now? The pinball machine ball stops pinging around for a second.

"Förlåt, jag kan prata lite svenska, kan vi prata med engelska nu?" This should nip it in the bud. He'll switch to English once he learns I can't speak any Swedish...

...he continues in rapid-fire Swedish

"<<more Swedish words I don't recognize>> kompaniet....bolaget...(long pause)"

Is it my turn to speak again? Jeez! I have no idea what this guy is talking about. I'm registered as a sole-trader so maybe he has a business question? I don't know how bolaget has anything to do with this conversation. Gah, I wish I understood more Swedish. Normally they switch over into English by now but this guy won't quit.

"Förlåt, jag förstår inte." I'm sorry, I don't understand.

"Uhhh, hejdå..." Umm, goodbye.

The call ends and the hang-up is weird. I wasn't sure what had happened. Did he really need to talk to me and just gave up because I couldn't understand his Swedish? Ahh, screw it. This chick can't figure it out. Let's give the post-card lottery to another lucky winner. Or was it a misdial? I needed to figure this out. I CAN do this. I will!

With a flash of renewed enthusiasm and perhaps too much desire to right this wrong, I open up Google Translate and type in all of the words I think I heard during our very weird interaction. I reverse Google his phone number—yes, he has a business of two people in Tumba, doing what I'm not sure. The business name is generic and uninformative. No clues there. Moving on.

I type the equivalent of, "So sorry, my Swedish is horrible. You called me before and now I am prepared to answer your questions." into Google Translate. With my fingers poised over the empty Google Translate box, they are ready to translate our conversation as it happens. My fingers will attempt to transcribe the conversation so that I can keep up with it real-time. I am NOT an idiot. Technology will save the day!

As I press redial, I'm already smug. I was caught off-guard before but now I'm set. I have a tool at my fingertips and I practiced my little apologetic phrase twice. I even improved on the inflections provided by the Google Translate robotic voice. Easy peasy.

"Hej, jag är Lisa Ferland. Du ringde mig? Jag förståd inte innan men hur kan jag hjalpa dig nu?"

"Oy, nej. Det är okej. Jag ringde fel."  --- Oh no. It's okay. I called the wrong phone number.

And that, my friends, is how someone wastes 10 minutes trying to decipher all of the communication during a simple "Oops! Wrong number!" phone conversation.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

By the Baltic—an Insider's Tour of Åkersberga, Sweden

Upon first glance, Åkersberga (pronounced like "oakers-bear-ya") is a rather unremarkable—some may even say ugly (wasn't me!)—suburb of Stockholm, Sweden. But if you spend some time here, like an onion, Åkersberga reveals its beautiful layers to you over time. We have lived in Åkersberga for 2+ years and continue to discover new hidden treasures.

Åkersberga is a 48-minute tram ride away from central Stockholm. The tram ride is scenic with wooded forests flanking the tram line, a few scenic lakes, and quick stops every two minutes at various quaint suburbs. There is even a prison along the tram line (the tram doesn't stop there, though), which would normally be considered an eyesore, but instead, it has a beautiful view of a lake. How rehabilitating it must be to have nature at your doorstep even though you are serving time in jail.

The Beach

Osterakers havsbad in summer—go windsurfing!

The tram will take you all the way to the Baltic Sea if you don't hop off at the specific Åkersberga stop. Our favorite beach, Österskärs havsbad, is located at the terminal station. There is a nude beach a few minutes down the road, but we were greatly disappointed to learn that only old wrinkly seniors sunbathe nude—even in Sweden—the land of everyone-is-so-beautiful-it-has-forever-warped-my-standards-for-beauty. Our beach—not the nude one—has a very nice restaurant, Solbrannan, overlooking the water sporting amazing views and delicious food. For Jon's birthday last year, I bought him a 2-hour windsurfing lesson. He absolutely loved it! The beach is enjoyed year-round with families eating their weight in ice cream in the summer and cozying up around their warm cups of coffee in the winter—soaking in a view of the Baltic frozen under a blanket of snow.
Osterskars havsbad in winter

Forests and Lakes

If the beach isn't your thing, Åkersberga has plenty of nature reserves and wooded areas for exploration—we have stumbled upon many new lakes this way. Due to Sweden's Right of Public Access, you can pick all of the blueberries or mushrooms you want in any of the nearby woods. During our summers, we usually alternate beach days with forest/blueberry picking days, and it is perfect. Nobody gets too sun-bleached, and we get to have wild-blueberry pancakes and pies all summer long.

Ahh, the lake
One of nature's best playgrounds, Domarudden, is a hiker, biker, walker, skier, runner, and swimmer's paradise. There are trails that criss-cross through the beautiful forests and a sparkling blue lake that warms up as a perfect swimming spot in the summer. There are cute red cabins for rent to plan a family getaway, business retreat, or mini vacation. The playground will challenge your child's balance, climbing ability, and imagination. It is a great place to feel like you are "away" from it all.

Another beautiful natural playground (I don't even know its name) is very difficult to find for the uninitiated. Neither Apple Maps nor Google Maps could accurately locate the GPS pin from my friend. She pinned her exact location while she was standing in the playground and yet we were still off the map! Eventually, we stumbled across it after blindly biking in the opposite direction and keeping our fingers crossed. It was worth the trouble because this playground is amazing! Our four-year-old loved navigating across the wooden balance beams, climbing on the ropes, and hiding in the teepees. I enjoyed relaxing in the recycled rubber hammock under the yellow and orange falling leaves. My two-year-old kissed every woodland creature—or rather, carved wooden statues of bears, rabbits, foxes, and cats.

Much balancing happening here

So many carved cow kisses

Gotta hold the princess dress high so you can see your feet!
While Åkersberga may not have the immediate "wow!" impact of Stockholm, it does have numerous redeeming factors. Children can safely ride their bikes or walk to school on the numerous pedestrian paths that run alongside the road, and the neighborhoods are friendly. Just drive 10 minutes from the Baltic and you're in beautiful green pastures with horses chewing on grass, manicured golf clubs, and picturesque farms. Yeah, life is pretty good in Åkersberga.

Horses, green grass, and blue sky
Ersatz Expat

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The robber of daylight

One eye creaks open, stuck with sleep, and spies a bright star twinkling through my curtainless, naked bedroom window. The night (or is it early morning?) is like heavy velvet. Without my glasses on, the lone star is just a bright blur. What time is it? It can't be time to wake up yet, it is still pitch black outside. I check my phone. It is 6:05 am.

It is late October and not even Daylight Savings Time—the antiquated rationalization to save energy—can stop the oncoming Swedish high-latitude darkness that defines winter. Click here to continue reading over at Medium.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Our favorite non-Halloween spooky books

[UPDATED] It is so nice to get into the spooky spirit when the days are getting colder and darker. The gray skies are slightly more ominous and as the trees lose their leaves, a regular forest suddenly turns into a haunted one.

There are tons of fun fall books on the shelves but these are just some of our family's favorite books for this season. They are not Halloween-based but are perfect for this time of year. We love reading them throughout the year. Click on the book icons if you want to add them to your own child's library.

1. Room on the Broom by Julie Donaldson

This book, by far, is our favorite of all. The witch is a gentle witch and takes in castaways of all kinds. Netflix has an animated short that brings this book to life.

2. One Witch by Laura Leuck

Another witch book - this one collects odds and ends to make a burbling stew in her large cast iron pot. Though a bit spookier than Room on the Broom, the kids love this one and enjoy counting the spooky creatures on each page.

3. Spooky Old Tree by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Not surprisingly, the three bear cubs find themselves in a Spooky Old Tree and running for their lives! So much excitement!

4. Horns Tails Spikes and Claws by J. Elizabeth Mills

This is a board book that is segmented into flippable pages to allow your child to mix and match body parts to create a ton of new monsters. No words means that your child can enjoy it on their own.

5. The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty 

Who is stealing all the stories? There is a mysterious creature in town and everyone's books are going missing. The fall setting and element of surprise and mystery is perfect for kids who want to play detective. 

6. Even Monsters Need Haircuts by Matthew McElligott

The main character in this book is not only fearless around monsters, he cuts their hair! This book introduces typically scary characters by revealing their more "human side." Just don't look at the Medusa page or you may turn to stone!

Happy reading!