Sunday, October 30, 2011

"You are very welcome to Sweden!" - Part I

My goal for blogging during my rotation in Sweden (and likely the same while in India and Uganda) is to write once to twice a week. I think it's a reasonable goal that I can realistically maintain and have enough to add so that it's not "read yesterday's blog...that was pretty much today." There is a lot to say after my first week of rotations at the hospital Södersjukhuset. I am hoping that by the time I leave Stockholm, I will be able to pronounce that correctly. I'm getting there but still don't have it down. Pronunciation is one of the most difficult parts of the Swedish language. The way things are written is definitely not how I would think to pronounce them. Also, they have some additional letters like ö, ä, å. I'm not giving up, but Spanish is so much easier by comparison!

The weekend between returning from Paris and starting my rotation, I did some window shopping in Stockholm as well as grocery shopping in Södermalm. Stockholm is a great place for shopping. H&M is a Swedish company and there are some blocks that literally have an H&M on every corner. There is a great mix of boutique shops as well as what look like more corporate chain stores. They also have a large department store called Åhléns which has a grocery store (Hemköp) in the lower floor. Basically it's not hard to find what you want to as far as clothes, shoes, toiletries. Grocery shopping is an entirely different matter. For one, I am not a good cook - I'm not even an adequate cook. In fact, I think my cooking could be classified as mediocre-poor. I don't really enjoy doing it especially when cooking just for myself and so I haven't really ever learned how to approach cooking - I don't just think of things that would be good together. I literally have no ideas when it comes to making food. Add to that the fact that all of the grocery stores are in Swedish, so things that I would have difficulty finding in a grocery store at home are all but impossible for me to find here. In addition instructions for cooking are written in Swedish and in metric measurements - I have no idea what 115 grams is in terms of cups. Also, I'm pretty sure canned frosting does not exist to my great disappointment. I do know how to make frosting, but sometimes you just want to buy the can instead of all the ingredients especially when I'm only going to be here for 7.5 more weeks. The end result is that my meals are incredibly boring and repetitious - yogurt with granola for breakfast, PB&J sandwich with a fruit or vegetable for lunch, and typically some kind of pasta with sauce for dinner or cous cous with veggies. I did find some frozen pizzas if I want to switch it up :) Oh well. Good thing I'm not too picky with my food except that I am absolutely refusing to go to a McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, or TGI Fridays (these are the American restaurants I have seen so far in Stockholm).

Another difficulty comes with trying to do laundry. Thankfully there are free laundry facilities on the floor of my dorm. Not so thankfully, the machines are all written in Swedish and only a partial translation is provided on the wall near the machines. I also tried looking up the words in my Swedish/English dictionary which only helped a little - I figured out which were the cotton settings, but I don’t have any clue what is meant by the Swedish word that is translated to “beat.” There are three levels of “beat” indicated by these teardrop-shaped icons. Which setting I want to dry my clothes at is beyond me. Good thing I didn’t pack anything difficult to wash with me. Although if I had to pack again, I would pack much differently. For one, the hospital is connected by an underground tunnel to my dorm so I actually don’t have to go outside. It’s a nice feature. Also, we are not allowed to wear personal clothes - all hospital personnel has to wear the lovely provided scrubs. So, I dressed up my first day and my first day alone. By the end of the first week, I was wearing sweatpants and a long-sleeve t-shirt on my walk over to the hospital to change. Definitely more my style! So, I would have only brought one nice pair of pants with maybe 2-3 different tops and would have instead brought some slippers (I bought a pair because my feet have been cold), a pair of tennis shoes for the OR (they don’t have shoe covers from what I’ve seen so far), another sweatshirt, and more work-out clothing. At least with free laundry, I don’t feel so bad doing a load once a week.

From my walking around that first weekend, I got a little bit of my directional bearings set for the city layout. Stockholm is a city made up of many islands connected by bridges or by ferry so you never have to walk far to find water. It also is a very natural looking city - it’s like the city was laid out so as to be within the natural setting and not like a human destroyed the natural setting to build a city in it’s place. In a nutshell, this is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever lived in. There are abundant parks, ample sidewalk space for walking, bike lanes on every road, and a good public transport system. Plus I’m surrounded by water and gorgeous trees that right now are in the midst of changing colors. Despite the fact that the days are getting shorter (and will be quite short come December), it is a really beautiful city that would be quite easy to live in. Most everyone at least understands English and can speak enough that I can easily shop or get done what I need to get done or find my way somewhere. The only thing that has been a bit of a disappointment is that Netflix does not work here and neither does Hulu, Pandora, or any videos from US network TV station websites. I have some TV series on a portable hard drive that I can watch while I’m here if I’m in the mood for a night of mindless entertainment, but this is for sure a change. It also means that I have spent a lot more time pleasure reading. I am currently reading Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which takes place in Sweden (mostly in Stockholm). It’s really cool to read it while I’m here because I understand his cultural and directional references - I have been on many of the streets he’s mentioned and inside many of the stores that he talks about. It’s a good change of pace.

The city is also very active. On the weekends when I have gone out walking, I have noticed tons of people out walking and biking. This past weekend, I walked past a cyclo-cross race which was like an obstacle course for bikers. Very cool. I need to do some more research and start doing some touristy things on the weekends, but so far I’m liking what I see. Stockholm is a very livable city and if it weren’t for the fact that I would miss my family and friends so much, I could see myself living here.

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