Fika off

My round at the coffee machine

I’m about to be deported:

I don’t drink coffee. Bye!

Hmm… seems like I’m still here… I’ll continue until the police arrive.

In Sweden, drinking coffee is a cultural institution. A fika — drinking coffee and eating cake socially — is the primary way to bring people together.

This is so important that it has even become a verb — fikar — meaning ‘to have a sociable coffee together’. You can tell from the length of the English translation that this concept does not exist back in the UK.

The hipster Swedish dude above has a coffee in one hand and a kanelbulle — cinnamon bun — in the other. Buns / Cake are also a critical part of the fika.

Without them, your coffee tastes sad and lonely. And you will soon be sad and lonely too, because by not including bullar you will have committed a serious social faux pas.

On my first day at work, I felt I must absolutely join the post-lunch fika. Coffee makes my brains shake, so I figured I would compromise with tea. I’m English not Italian, I can get away with that.

In my experience, tea comes in a teabag — but there were no tea bags, only a set of apothecary’s jars with loose leaves rustling around inside them. So I tipped some leaves into my mug and poured in the water. Hold on a minute. That doesn’t look right, why won’t it blend together? Apparently loose tea is not like a milkshake, you can’t just mix it in…

Truth is, I don’t drink tea either.

If I am deported, I may be unwelcome in England too.

/Todd

Working upside-down

When is the boss not the boss?

One recent morning I passed a newly-erected whiteboard on which a diligent member of the HR alliance had created an org chart. Three levels of seniority, from top down: overall boss, then managers, then team.

An hour later I passed the same whiteboard and it seemed that a revolution was underway. The main body of the team now captained the ship, the managers were in the lower-middle, and the overall boss was now the underall boss — moved right to the bottom. The org chart had been turned upside-down.

A passing revolutionary explained: “The boss’s role is to support and enable the team. The team does most of the work. The boss can guide them in what to do, but the team chooses how they do it, because they know a lot more than the boss does about most topics.“

I just googled ‘Swedish revolution’. The top result is ‘a Christian Dance/Dubstep/Worship album’ on Soundcloud. So Google could not help. And Vladimir Ilich turned in his glassy grave.

But this workplace revolution really is happening, even if it has so far escaped the Eye of Silicon Sauron.

Empowering teams, devolving authority, and supporting individual ownership are all common themes here — and not just in a handbook or a fast-forgotten training course, but every day in the real world. The ‘how’ is taken very seriously in Sweden. About 70% of discussions are on what to do; the other 30% are on how best to work together to do it.

At first I was surprised. There has not been a revolution in England for almost 400 years.

But this collectively conscious way of working is a huge improvement on the traditional top-down approach, and it suits me very well.

Assuming that I am not first against the wall, I shall report back soon. Viva la revolución!

/Todd

Aggressively Healthy

Activewear, Everywhere

 

The slip-slippery ice coating every pavement in Stockholm creates a genuine hazard. If this were the UK, the council’s Health & Safety jobsworths would be working dangerously long hours, setting up Take Extra Care signs to warn innocent citizens of the perils beyond the doorstep — and, of course, to offset any claim by a litigious local that his bruised behind was the sole and sacred responsibility of the nearest authority figure.

In Stockholm these signs are either entirely absent, or have been swallowed whole by the relentless ice. Maybe Swedes trample them unwittingly, and the signs stare mournfully upward from an frozen tomb.

Ice presents a challenge for the inexperienced foreigner. Expats must navigate the city with chameleon eyes swivelling in opposite directions, wary of a double danger: not only the slippery surface underfoot, but also the sprightly legion of sure-footed Swedes who gambol across the ice with little regard for their less able cousins.

Just yesterday, one sprinted past me on the footway near our apartment. She was a vision in a dream, walking on frozen water: feet floating, arms swinging, hair fluttering gamely beneath a bright-pink hat, long legs whirring in easy locomotion. She even hummed a few bars as she swept through the gap between me and the lamppost I was about to grasp for support.

I wonder what she thought of me as she passed? Perhaps she felt sympathy, a youngish man turned frail geriatric, in whose every step you see hear the future echoes of the melancholy phrase: “He’s had a fall”. Maybe she appreciated my Bambi On Ice audition.

Thankfully for the nervy expat, it is easy to spot the tormentor’s approach. The playful, ice-loving Swede will invariably be sporting items from a very singular branch of the fashion family tree: Activewear.

Not since my brief but colourful stint as a rower (two outings, three nights out) have I seen so many grown men in lycra. The present trend for 80s retro seems to have sprung from the tightly-girdled loins of the Activewear Alliance, as neon shapes, slickly ironic patterns and baggy-top/tight-bottom combos are the sign and signal of a confident ice-runner. They can recognise one another with vibrant speed, and no doubt at a great distance. Perhaps their retinas respond faster than ordinary humans’ to electric blues and acid greens. When they mate, what new colours are born?

I certainly cannot beat them, so last week I decided to join them. I found a pair of yak tracks — detachable shoe spikes — and carefully affixed them to my sturdiest boots. I tramped happily to work. But my colleagues laughed: yak tracks are for old men. This is the wrong kind of Activewear. I slipped off my spikes, and slid away.

/Todd

Image: Van Vuuren Bros (YouTube)

Trouble in Paradise

Right-wing thugs are raising hell in the Garden of Tolerant Eden

A gang of up to a hundred black-clad masked men marched in central Stockholm on Friday evening, singling out and beating up immigrants, and handing out leaflets threatening further violent attacks against unaccompanied refugee youths

Sweden, the snow-kissed paradise of the north, appears to have swallowed something rather nasty. A primal stench has escaped the bowels of the capital city as pseudo-Viking savages ran riot and swung at any immigrant within clubbing distance.

‘Immigrant’, in the eyes of the savages (and apparently in the pages of the local press), means specifically ‘non-white immigrant’. Luckily for us, my fair-faced wife and daughter could pass for pure-bred children of the snow, and a gradual graying underlines my pallid pinkness.

But for a newly-landed colleague, with Creole parentage and what a savage might see as a suspicious skin tone, this feels far from the paradise in the guidebook. At an anti-immigrant march the previous weekend, he saw first-hand a Viking vs. Policeman wrestling match. This sounds like a fight at a Village People concert but on camera (he was close enough to film it), it looked rather grim. Thankfully it was only a few seconds before The Policeman pinned his opponent to the ground. The Viking seemed resigned to his fate. He had forgotten his horned helmet and axe, and went to Valhalla with minimal fuss.

The most obvious trigger for the pseudo-Viking outbreak was the murder of a Swedish social worker at a refugee centre. The hooligans’ leaflets proclaimed that they were rampaging to protect “våra svenska kvinnor” (“our Swedish women”. A rampage of honour. History’s first chivalrous rampage?

Many Swedish women were unimpressed. Nevertheless, refugee youths have been warned to stay indoors. For some reason this advice has not been extended to those who might resemble immigrants in the eyes of a thuggish Rightist. Perhaps a little thuggery sharpens the eyesight, like eating carrots. If you ever see a Rightist with an orange tinge, steer clear — he is doubly dangerous.

This is not the Sweden of the guidebook. But every country is a refuge for idiots. With luck the nascent Sun will scare them back into their caves.

/Todd

Quote and picture from The Local.

Full Swede Ahead!

I’m going to send some Letters From Sweden.

I’ll post them here periodically, but also on Tumblr and on Medium.

Enjoy!

– Todd

Living Abroad II: The Nordic Saga

10 years ago this week I moved to Germany.

After six fantastic months in Köln, I was blessed with a humbling send-off from the friends I had made – singing a traditional Kölsch farewell song to boot.

That experience was a formative, transformative one for me. And now I’m living abroad again – this time in Stockholm.

I’m starting to write about the experience – will add the posts here soon.

Hej då for now,

Todd

Top 5 posts on toddmgreen.com in 2015

Here are the top five new posts from this site this year:

  1. How One Tiny Text Tweak Helped Me Meet My Wife 
  2. What I learnt from tracking my body fat % every day for six months
  3. One call away from Cambridge
  4. BBC
  5. Three Years of Running Data: 1,153km with Nike+ and Mind

#1 is quite remarkable – it was only live for a few days! But I posted it on Medium too, shared it with work friends, and – well – it’s a pretty compelling headline…

This blog is 5 years old tomorrow. Thanks for reading. See you next year :)

~ Todd

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Image: Erin Quigley

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What makes a popular post on toddmgreen.com?

Frog

Tomorrow I’ll publish the top 5 list for 2015. If I look at that list next to the top lists for 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, some patterns emerge.

The most popular posts have at least one of the following:

The first group are my favourite. Those are the ones I see as really adding something to the world – offering an unusual insight based on an unusual experience.

I’m just finishing a month of very frequent posts: 31 in 31 days in December. That seems to have been totally the wrong strategy. Much better, in fact, to write deeper posts even though that means publishing less often.

More on that to follow. Cheers!

~ Todd

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Image: delfi de la Rua

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Blog #10, I guess I just like writing…

This is my tenth blog – I guess I like just writing…

Those blogs have covered many topics:

  • Discovering something new (art attack!)
  • Uncovering my own tastes (Cool Design Scrapbook, inspired by Sanna Annukka’s artwork for Keane’s album Under The Iron Sea)
  • Poems (Occasional Haikus – now defunct)
  • Bad jokes (Glutton for Pun-ishment- now defunct)
  • Posting something cool once a week (toddmgreen time machine)
  • Something I knew very little about (ebooks – now defunct) – silly idea
  • A blog which I think would be great, but for which I’ve only ever done draft posts (Project Post-Mortems – never launched)
  • Training for a new sport (The Ping-Pong Notebook – now defunct)
  • A co-authored blog about our wedding (Todd and Emma are getting married!)
  • And then I have the one where you’re reading this, labelled ‘occasionally interesting’ – on which I have written about many things personal, professional and pseudo-philosophical…

This is my longest-running blog. It’s the one I’m most proud of. And it’s 5 years old on 1 January! Over the next couple of days I’ll reflect on which posts people seem to have enjoyed the most.

Thanks for reading :)

~ Todd

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The First Time I Nearly Died

The first time I almost died was in summer 2002, aged 19, when I nearly fell off a waterfall on the Isle of Arran.

My friend Ben and I had scrambled up the side in shorts and flip-flops and we were about 140 feet up. We were about to leave but I wanted to have one more look over the exhilarating edge.

At the edge itself was a rocky ledge about two feet deep, and to get down to it you had to lower yourself about five feet down off the huge shelf where we’d been standing. The water wasn’t flowing fast, and we’d even been able to swim in a natural pool that had formed in the rock of the main shelf.

So I lowered myself gently down, but for some reason I let myself fall the last 6 inches down onto the ledge. As I landed I slipped – my £3 flip-flops did not have a lot of grip – but thankfully I slipped sideways rather than forwards.

Sideways meant I landed with a crash on my left arm and ribs. Forwards would have meant plunging down the 140 foot waterfall, and into oblivion.

I lay there for a moment, stunned by the blow to my side and by the narrowness of my escape. My face was less than 6 inches from the edge of the waterfall, and I stared downwards into the void and at the water spilling past and over me into it.

For six months I would wake up in the middle of the night with that flashback in my head: staring over the edge of the waterfall where I had nearly died.

Life lesson: never buy cheap flip-flops.

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Photo: Fotolia/AP