Friday, November 9, 2012

The Hammer Man

Transportstyrelsen, the Swedish DMV, requires all cars to have a yearly check-up at the government-run garage called Bilprovningen, which means “car testing.” But Mats calls it “the hammer man,” because if you have rust under your car, they will test the body strength with a hammer. He had an orange 1988 Saab when I met him and he dreaded the yearly hammer man appointment, uncertain if it would pass inspection.

We recently had our appointment for the Prius. Being the second time, I knew the drill. I registered on the computer in a little closet of a room, then waited outside the grey warehouse building in my car. At exactly 9:50, the scheduled time for my appointment, my license plate number showed on the electronic sign so I knew which numbered door I should drive into when it opened.

I was told I could wait in the room next to the open garage where there are hot drinks, newspapers and magazines. I had tea and peeked in to see how my car was doing.

They checked the angle of the headlights (not too high, not too low), fluids, wheel alignment, that you have a spare tire and warning triangle in trunk, and a bunch of other things that are beyond my mechanical understanding.

Then they took the car for a fast spin around the parking to test the steering, brakes, and horn.

The man returned through the back door, my car now parked outside.

He said in Swedish that the car was approved, but I had a hard time hearing what he’d said. I explained I was learning Swedish and he said it a little slower so I could understand.

“Where do you come from?” he asked, still in Swedish.

U.S.A., Kalifornien,” I answered.

“Near Sacramento?” he asked.

“Well, about an hour away. Have you been there?”

“No,” he answered, “Three years ago I bought a car from there, had it shipped over.”

“We had our car shipped here from California too!” I exclaimed, not sure why this obscure link to home was so exciting.

“Yes,” he said, looking at the computer screen, “I see your car is foreign.”

“Was it an old car?” I asked. For those into classic cars, it’s popular to buy old American cars and have them shipped over.

“A 1950’s Chevrolet, from Sacramento.” He smiled proudly. “Only had two owners, and was barely driven. It’s in almost original condition.”

We talked about the car and then I thanked him as he handed me my keys and a computer printout - approval for one more year of driving here in Sweden. Until our next hammer man appointment.

I got into the car and adjusted the seat forward again for my short legs. The grey rainy day felt brighter with a little California connection. I started the car and the newscaster on the radio reported on American politics. I understood something about the polls showing a tight race between Obama and Romney. The rest of the discussion was lost under the sound of rain and my limited knowledge of political vocabulary in Swedish.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Enter Winter

November was not the best month for me. My sons and I had played passed the virus for a few months, and then I lost a dear uncle. I felt so far from home. The weather was dreary, and my California brain thought that spring must be right around the corner even though in reality, winter hadn't even begun. And I never realized how important a holiday Thanksgiving was, until I was away and there was no mention of it. So I flew home for a quick visit, which was just the warm and fuzzy fill-up I needed before winter here.

When I returned it was December; I'd forgotten how beautiful Lund is when Christmas takes over and there are gingerbread decorations and electric candles everywhere. Walking around town feels like you're living in "It's a Wonderful Life" as the decorations hanging over the cobblestone streets are likely the same as they were 75 years ago.

After last year's snow storms, our boys have been disappointed with just a few "dustings" this year.  The minute it started snowing, Lucas ran to get his sled. He didn't like hearing that he'd have to wait until there was more.

Candles, candles, and more candles. In the dark of December, light is very important. There are electric candles in almost all windows which gives a cozy feel as you walk around all bundled up. Each morning we would light the advent candles, which is just a part of December here. Along with practically every other Swede, my boys would watch the (non-religious) advent program on TV every morning or evening, and then open the accompanying calendar window. The kids would talk about it at school, and the adults would discuss whether or not this year's program is a good one. (It was.)

St. Lucia is celebrated on December 13th, and both boys' schools had celebrations where the kids dress up and sing Lucia and Christmas songs. (And then afterwards we all eat saffron buns, gingerbread cookies, clementine oranges, and drink hot cocoa, coffee and Swedish glögg.) Both boys chose to dress as gingerbread men.

Christmas is celebrated on the 24th, as it is in most of Europe, and Mats and I made our first turkey. Santa even visited, but the boys said, "That was Papa!"

For dessert, it was the traditional devouring of the gingerbread houses. (Hernik's was a home-made gluten-free gingerbread "present" as he'd requested.)

Each day it was important to get outside for some fresh air and to greet the sun (and a funny tree.)

And now it's January. The electric lights start to disappear from the windows, but the sunlight hours are longer. Today was the boys' first day back to school. I usually don't love January, but this year I look forward to my goals for the year, and greet 2012 with optimism.