Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Back to School!

I blogged recently about Swedish life in London. The things that most excited me were filmjölk and Scandinavian restaurants.

Sooz, however, had a much better idea. She decided to take advantage of the educational (as opposed to culinary) opportunities and study Swedish.

She has started a course at the University of Westminster to brush up her language skills. She's skipped the beginners courses and is an intermediate learner. She now has a student ID, which I think is really cool. I can now brag that I'm married to a college girl!

Who knows? I may sign up myself one day. I would, of course, have to start at the very bottom, but I'd love to be able to have even the simplest conversation in Swedish with my neighbours.

I will try to get Sooz to blog here about her experience. Stay tuned over the coming months.

UPDATE 16 Feb: Sooz has left behind a Swedish note in the comments!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Longbranch Cabin

Grant sent me this one- it's a cabin on Puget Sound in Washington state. What makes this one a little different is that it's been added to, bit by bit, since it was first built in 1959.

It's a testament to the skill of the architect, Jim Olson, that the house stays a unified whole after all those years, and not a mishmash of different styles.

Many of the houses on Aspö share this expansionist design.

Olle is always working on a new project at his house: a new deck, a sauna, guest houses. Our own house is different seven years later: the guest house redesigned, the addition of the shed, the walkway between houses, and most recently, the big deck. I admire the way this cabin has managed to add on so many new parts, but still maintain its cool look.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Shopping in Södermalm

The southern part of Stockholm, Södermalm, is one of those areas that has transformed from a rough-and-tumble part of town into a hipster enclave.

When I worked in Sweden 25 years ago, I had a colleague who lived in Söder, and I remember everyone's reaction to his living in such a dicey area. His rebuttal was that it was far cheaper than living further north!

Margaret's son, Callan, who is a naturally hip guy, lived in Södermalm a number of years ago when its revival was just beginning. Now that I think about it, maybe he was one of the people who helped start the transformation.

Totally Stockholm has a long article about Söder and the taxonomy of hipsterdom.

The reason I'm writing on this is that my friend Rob sent me a New York Times article about shopping in that area. It also references shopping in Shoreditch, an area of London that has gone through a similar hipsterfication. Sooz and I have visited Shoreditch a few times and we really enjoy it. I know we're too old to be hipsters, but we can visit at least!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cashless Sweden

I have found that, over my years in Sweden, every place I go accepts debit cards. I've paid for hot dogs at a kiosk, and my taxi boat through a wireless dongle while on the high seas. I've sent money electronically all over Sweden for all sorts of business and personal reasons.

The New York Times has written recently about Sweden's progress in becoming a cashless society. Old-fashioned physical money represents just 2% of Sweden’s economy, compared with 7.7% in the United States. The Guardian has a similar article, pointing out that robberies have fallen in line with the lack of money available to steal.

Although I haven't seen it yet myself, apparently many ATM machines have been removed due to lack of use, and some bank branches no longer keep cash. It's not just credit cards, too. Camille uses an iPhone app called 'swish' to send and receive small amounts quickly and easily.

It's not just the citizenry that endorses going cashless. Skatteverket, the Swedish tax authority, loves eliminating cash transactions. The high tax rates in Sweden give ample incentive to tax dodge when possible. Paying a workman in cash in an undocumented transaction avoids the payment of VAT, which can be as high as 25%. Of course, Skatteverket does a great job of chasing down such activity.

Despite such work, the shadow economy in Europe is still huge, nearly a half-trillion euros last year. In Bulgaria, 31% of the country's economic activity is off the books. In Sweden it's still over 13%.

As more transactions take place online, more taxes can be collected, which is something the Swedish authorities love!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Micro-Apartments in New York City

I read recently in the New York Times about a new apartment complex in the city.

Much like the legislative changes to address housing shortages in Stockholm, laws have been changed in New York to allow much smaller flats to be built.

These flats are around 350 square feet (32 square meters), and are filled with space-saving design features. One touch I like is the 9-foot ceilings, which adds a sense of space to a small flat, much like the high ceilings in our little stuga.

Another innovation is Ollie, not our dog, but rather the trademark for a set of amenities designed for micro-living. Ollie provides a number of shared facilities, and along with conveniences and services to make it easier to live together in small private spaces.

Ollie seems a bit fancy but I endorse the idea. On Aspö, we have shared facilities and events on the Midsummer meadow, and the sense of community is quite strong. Who needs a trademarked New York idea when we have island life?

Friday, January 1, 2016

Photos from Annika and Olle

A trace of snöThey're out on Aspö for New Years' and have sent me a bunch of great photos from yesterday and today. I've added them to my page of their Flickr photos.