Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I don't like winter and am not a big fan of Christmas.  Probably because I spent most of my life in Chicago and it is very cold and unpleasant there in the winter.  The wind is like a knife and subzero temperatures can last for a couple of weeks or more.  Christmastime is stressful for many, with too much to do and involves buying a lot of stuff.

But I am enjoying this winter time in Stockholm.  There are a couple of inches of snow blanketing everything and a very light snow has been falling most of the time for three days.  It is very pretty, but not very cold and not windy at all.   Very few people are driving anywhere--most are walking or taking public transportation.

Stockholm occupies 14 islands-- a few tiny-- and most are a few square miles.  There are attractive bridges connecting them--no interstate highway type bridges--with sidewalks on each side.   They have an old city section, with buildings from around the 1600s and  a huge park that was the royal hunting grounds.  The rest of the city has very tasteful low-rise buildings, no real eyesores except a Ramada and Sheraton Hotel. 

I have been walking around the city for six days now.  I have looked in the shops because I am enchanted with what I am seeing although I am not a person who ordinarily enjoys shopping.  While Swedes are out in the shops, they are carrying very little.  Most of the outings seem to be about looking at decorations, meeting in cafes with friends and buying some food or decorations.   Kids are being pulled through the center of the city on sleds and dogs are everywhere, mostly wearing little coats.    Today I saw a couple with a medium-sized dog approaching an escalator in a department store.  At the bottom, the dog paused, the woman scooped him up and dropped him off at the top.  They did this two more times before they arrived at the shoe department, where the dog napped under a chair.

Most of the goods in the stores look beautiful and interesting and very artistic.  For example, children's toy stores are popular and they are filled with lots of books, puzzles (especially world map puzzles), wooden toys, such as railroads, blocks, dolls, (but no Barbies--these are little girl and boy dolls like Pippi Longstocking), quality action figures of zoo animals, warriors, and doll houses and furniture.   Young girls do not dress in sexy clothes and most women wear sport clothes and are slender and athletic-looking.

There are computer and phone stores, of course, but there doesn't seem to be much interest in all the electronic equipment that Americans have.  People seem to do a lot of reading--book stores are everywhere-- and almost everyone speaks English, but with a Minnesota accent!

Swedes are known, of course, for their beautiful modern furniture and home designs.  Turns out there is a lot more than IkEA, which is a Swedish company.   For a country that is smaller in population than Illinois, they have a lot of companies doing business in the international market--a few that most consumers know about are IKEA, Ericsson (cell phones), Brio, H&M, Electrolux and Astra Zeneca (drugs). 

Walking around different neighborhoods (the city is only a little over 1 million people), I am really impressed.  The quality of life seems good, people look healthy and fit, I don't see any rundown neighborhoods or even cars in bad conditon, most people take public transportation, the buses are new and gleaming and run on natural gas, escalators stop running when no one is on them and start again (slowly) when one steps on them.

I don't see much of what we refer to as "stuff from China".   Swedes seem to buy less and of higher quality.  I am sure some of the IKEA stuff must be made there, but many of the goods here are made in Scandinavia and Germany.

Tomorrow I leave this beautiful, snowy place and fly to Malta, if the Stockholm airport weather cooperates.