Europe Day

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Every street looked like this, every street.

When I was in New York City, I was very surprised how I didn’t feel it was very crowded. I had expected the city to overwhelm me with its many inhabitants and tourists, to give me some kind of claustrophobia with all the people and skyscrapers. It didn’t at all and after being in downtown Düsseldorf a sunny Saturday today, I start realizing that maybe it’s because this town has made me used to crowded spaces and people everywhere. I don’t even know where all these people come from in Düsseldorf, it feels like all of the Netherlands come to visit and every single local citizen also takes out to the street of the Old Town. It’s literally more crowded than New York City – how is that even possible?!

But I will admit, if it had been 20 % less people, this would have been a perfect day. Suddenly, unexpectedly, spring returned today and bathed the cobblestone streets in sunshine, bringing out the lush trees in the alleys. I didn’t have time to sit down at one of the crowded restaurants until late in the afternoon though because I had agreed to help with promoting Sweden at the annual Europe Day. I borrowed a folkdräkt from a friend, put on my Tre kronor charm Andrea once gave me and was ready to sell dozens of cinnamon buns.

It was an interesting experience: a Dutch young man, probably part of a stag night, stopped and sang for me, an old lady told me her story of interrailing to Narvik as a young girl, another lady asked me why Crown Princess Victoria wasn’t there (“She’s so nice, she’s so incredibly nice!”), a Frenchman who had lived on Söder tried his Swedish on me and people asked us, somewhat accusatory, why we were not all blondes.

It was not that easy to sell the buns because when Europe gets together, there is serious competition: Belgian waffles, Portuguese natas, British fish ‘n’ chips, Spanish churros. Whatever you say tomorrow, Marine, I’ll always love being United in Diversity.

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Becoming German

 

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Quite a few of my friends and acquaintances have changed nationality these past years. Some time ago, many European countries changed the rules about naturalization and no longer make you choose whether you want to be French or Finnish,  Swedish or Spanish, Danish or Dutch, Belgian or Bulgarian. This is an interesting psychological issue because I have never met anyone so far that would readily have relinquished their original citizenship despite the fact that it wouldn’t actually disadvantage them in their lives that they live in another country than their home state anyway. Dual citizenship is now the thing to have, it’s like the prolongation of Erasmus in a way. Just like I’ve almost never been to a wedding where two people from the same country married each other is an effect of the internationalization efforts of the EU so is the taking on new passports.

Now it was time for my friend Anthony to take that step. Coming from Britian almost ten years ago, he has integrated in Germany ideally. He married a German girl, he learned German up to level C2, he keeps a large map of Germany in his study, he recycles his garbage like a pro and he hands in his taxes on January 1st. I told him that if he, in the process of applying for German citizenship, needed someone to testify that he was a very suitable to become German, I’d gladly be called to the stand.

With Brexit upon us, he applied to become German last summer and it almost took a year for them to grant him citizenship. Hello, what happened to German efficiency? Now finally, however, he is one of us. A national, allowed to vote! Last Monday we went out to celebrate this milestone. I made him a card honoring this special occasion that was heavily inspired by the card I received years ago from my dear friend Malin when I acquired my personnummer in Stockholm. I also threw a big party then, something I am still trying to convince Anthony to do, too. In the meantime we celebrated with burgers at my new favorite bar. They charge 18 euros for a burger, which we noticed afterwards. Talk about a worthy celebration!

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This is what a German looks like, I guess!

Spring in my step

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Every day on my way to work I pass two magnolia trees. I didn’t even release this until this week because suddenly, the trees are in bloom. Suddenly, they are bursting with color, showing off their gorgeous pink that you already spot from afar.

Suddenly, the evenings become light. The weather is in double digits degrees. I changed my winter coat for my spring coat and these past days, I didn’t have to care about gloves at all and instead had to remember my sunglasses. Spring is here and hopefully it will stay. I have seasonal dementia, I always forget what the different seasons feel like and so every year, I am also equally delighted by spring and realize it’s so definitely my favorite season.

At work today, we opened the windows to let in a light breeze and my co-worker said, “Så skönt med  lite ljummen fläkt” (How nice with wafting breezes) and as “ljumma fläkt” is my cue, I started humming, only to be joined by the intern, proclaiming summer spendlor.

And while I at the same time suffer from spring tiredness and not everything goes my way (you don’t even want to see that negative list), I have a bit of spring in my step. Maybe it’s also because in two days, I’ll get to go on my first work trip to Stockholm which will prolong into a weekend of seeing many of my dear ones.

“It was the coldest winter we had ever known. But with the sun finally warm again, against her skin, Kristina grows stronger every day. She tells me how exhiliarated she feels to hear the first drops of melted snow falling from the roof. And how joyous to see the first tender blades of grass! She says she has never felt more alive.” (Kristina från Duvemåla)

Citatsamlingen del 29

När det var tentaperiod och jag pluggade tittade jag mycket på Sagan om Ringen. För Frodo hade det alltid ännu värre än jag.

Han har lite Helentendenser.

Ich muss gucken, wie meine Laune ist, ich hab dafür so eine App.

Jag är lite autistisk med mitt skrivbord. – Jag skulle säga du är drottningen över din arbetsplats!

kollega 1: Ja, vad är ditt favoritlag då, Helen?!

– Elfsborg!

kollega 2: Jag kan ingenting om fotboll men det där köper inte ens jag.

Wir sollten von dem Mantel nicht verlangen, was er nicht leisten kann.

Die beiden Teile sind aus der selben Farbfamilie, haben aber nicht die gleiche Temperatur, deswegen solltest du sie nicht kaufen.

Never gonna give EU up

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Today marks two important birthdays: Ingrid‘s 29th and the EU’s 60th. I love them both. Acutally I love the EU so much I attended the March for Europe today with my choir friend. All those marches in D.C. have reignited my political spark. Thank you, Donald.

It wasn’t a march at all which was a bit disappointing (then again, this Saturday there is so much gong on in downtown Dizzel, you can’t possibly march anywhere) but it was a nice manifestation that there are still people who care whether we are a strong union or lots of small nationalistic states.

We also became the interest of almost every attending photographer/cameraman, both professional and amateur, because we were the only ones refering to the 60th birthday. So now not only does the EU give me money, rights and friends – even fame!

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photo: Rheinische Post

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Also happening today: start of the countdown to the Grand Depart of the Tour de France which will be in Düsseldorf, of all bike-unfriendly places

After speeches (not the best way to enthuse the masses for the EU) and European pop music (minus Bob Dylan’s song), the university’s choir and orchestra appeared and performed the European anthem, “Ode to Joy” that we were asked to sing along to. As we, next to the river Rhine connecting five European countries and Switzerland, chanted “What routine has split asunder, thy enchantment will rebind”, lots of blue balloons with golden stars were released into the perfect blue sky. We didn’t manage to get a hold of one as there were too few. At the very same moment, the same thing was done in 50 other European cities. “We sent 200 balloons to Bucharest”, the host on stage informed us. “So that they could do the same”.

In the rain

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Yesterday, intense rain in Düsseldorf. A woman can’t continue her way and seeks shelter under an awning. A businessman with a huge umbrella comes by and calls, “Also to the central station?” Together they move along to the train.

 

 

Adventures with auntie

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Dizzel got some snow this week but it didn’t stay

You know when your blog intervals have become too long when your parents write to you asking if you are still alive. I am but terribly busy. Like the kind of my-fridge-is-empty-and-I-haven’t-replied-to-my-whatsapps-in-5-days-busy.

Last weekend, I had my aunt visiting which was fun. Once again, Düsseldorf suddenly becomes much nicer when I have someone I like with me and that person sees Dizzel through fresh eyes. That weekend, I had also planned to take my aunt to Cologne because I had tickets to the radio choir concert. The Western Germany Radio Choir (WDR Rundfunkchor) has a Swedish conductor and they sang a concert called „Northern Lights“ with only Swedish choir music. Of course I had to attend!

The Deutsche Bahn whose a main sponsor I probably am by now had sent me a voucher inviting me to bring along a friend for free on a train ride. Great, I thought, let’s use that on the way to Cologne, we’ll even be able to take the fast train ICE without it costing much. On the train, my aunt told me a gripping story of a bike theft in her youth, and I looked out the window occasionally to check where we were. Köln-Deutz, very good, I thought, next stop is ours. But when the train started moving again, they announced, „Ladies and Gentlemen, our next stop is Frankfurt Airport“.

I have seldom felt so trapped in a vehicle. Most long distance trains around Dizzel stop all the time because there are just so many major cities everywhere. Not this one. This one went straight for an hour to a different federal state. And we were on it with concert tickets for Cologne.

An hour later we got off the train with pouding hearts and sprinted to the next platform to board the train back immediately. It only cost us 100 euros to go back…But we made it in time for the concert! The ”Northern Lights” were, mildly put, very modern. No „Vänlig grönska“ or anything in their programme, mostly spheric sounds. On the way back to the central station, we popped in the famous Cologne Cathedral – like I almost always do when I’m there and it’s always worth it. I don’t find the cathedral pretty or anything, but there is some kind of special energy in it. And special events. That night, a Saturday at 10 p.m., they had ”Nightfever” going on which essentially was Eucharstic Adoration. But if they’d call it that, I assume a lot less young people would attend. Now, there was lots of young adults coming in, sitting down, listening to the live music and enjoying the many, many candles.

And to get even more Catholic I am now on my way to Munich. We’re having an event there that I’ve been arranging and let me tell you calling the catering down there felt like calling abroad. ”Grüß Sie Gott!”, they would chirp into the phone with their massive accent. For breakfast, we’ll eat Weißwurst (Bavarian veal sausage).

This week we hosted a very successful after work event with our juniors, I booked a flight for a work trip to Stockholm in March and I found a beautifully lit building on a secret mission

Even on the train we work of course, here I’m proofreading / We have a new intern! We nicknamed him Lil’ Pesto and chuckle everytime we call him that. He’d rather be called praktikantjäveln but that name was taken (voluntarily) by his predecessor. (Lil’ Pesto originates from the meme that suggests your rapper name is the last thing you ate with Lil’ in front of it. Kind regards, Lil’ Müsli.)

Citatsamling del 26

På väg till tågrestaurangen: Alltså jag känner mig så kontinental som ska äta på tåget nu!

Der ist vielleicht gar nicht so farblos wie er erscheint. Innerlich ist der vielleicht ein menschlisches Holi-Festival!

A weekend with mom

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My advent calendar this year is this candle from Liljeholmens

Mamma är här! My mom is visiting this weekend and she’s practicing hard to brush up her Swedish, reading aloud from Drömhus och Trädgård, (voluntarily!) watching Julkalendern with me, pulling out Uttalsboken to improve her pronounciation and singing Nu tändas tusen juleljus without my assistance.

This must be the first time that my mother experiences Dizzel in non-rain – we actually have splendid sunshine, but oh so cold. After visiting a friend of hers today in the suburbs, we waited some 20 minutes for the train and felt like we were freezing to death. Luckily, I have very recently fulfilled one of my long held wishes – a Klippan blanket made of lamb wool. It’s so wonderful, you crawl up under it and have a hot cup of tea and no cold outside can harm you anymore.

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We had breakfast at the “Lantern” which is the top of the former Castle Tower, giving you a 360 degree view of the Rhine, lovely!

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A star graces the Kögraben waters

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Tomorrow I’m singing my first concert with my new choir at the church, an advent concert of course. It was rather difficult to acquire a simple black folder to my notes (obviously all should have the same color in the choir), but we suceeded at last.

At work I’ve been busier than expected, after the gala is before the next event and also the next issue of our magazine had to go into print. But amidst all the busyness I made time to decorate the office, too. I have a little (just a little) too much Christmas stuff for just my apartment but I just extended my decorational realm to my workplace. I think my co-workers don’t mind having a Christmas star in our window.

 

Poor Helen!

The embassy called me the other day. “I just walked out of our press officer’s room and she said, ‘Poor Helen’ and I just had to agree, “Yes, poor Helen!”. What my dear cooperation partners at the embassy meant was not my lack of suffrage in the Swedish elections 2018 or the fact that one of my lamps in the kitchen does not work. They know it’s gala times and they know what that entails for the person managing the event.

It’s true – writing sweet emails to people that you are almost positive want to attend but miraculously failed to register, handling the not overly competent caterer, and juggling a participants list that keeps changing (“Can my co-worker come too? But I am not really sure she wants to come, actually”, “I never signed up”, “I just changed my mind”, , “Please state the title of the person I’m bringing as  ‘spouse'”, “I’ve become a vegetarian that only eats quail”) is stressful. But it’s also fun! The closer the day, the more adrenaline keeps my spirits up. I probably like my job most in this phase (even if I rant a little at my desk sometimes). So I don’t think I’m that pitiable even though I very much appreciate the omtanke from Berlin.

In my private life as an active citizen, I attended the city’s yearly participation forum  about the bike infrastructure. I had hoped to hear what’s going on and why literally every traffic light is set to give the cars a ‘green wave’ and make cyclists stop everytime. (I counted 17 lights on my 3 kilometres to work. Four were green. I stop every 230 meters!) I also wondered why the city doesn’t give the cars that constantly park on bike lanes tickets. Or why the existing bike lanes are are so  kaput. Well. At that event, they spent most time telling us how great it is that they know have a logo for all things that have to do with bike infrastruce and that they managed to paint two bike lanes (4,6 kilometers) in 16 months. When it came to other questions, I heard more than once that “That’s difficult because we can’t inconvienence the cars drivers”. Eh, okay, but if you want better conditions for the cyclists…well, nevermind. I got a free high-vis waist coat at least. It looks perfectly ridiculous but I kind of want to survive dark winter nights.

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Our assistant handwrites 158 placement cards. So beautiful!

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I went to pick up the award certifcates that we have framed at the local art gallery. They give you a very special looking bag to carry it home. People glance at you when you walk with it. My co-worker explained why, “In Düsseldorf, carrying a Conzen bag says ‘I am rich. I got art’.

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Fall is upon us with lots of rain but also some sunny, leavy parts.

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And occasionally dramatic skies.

Otherwise, Emily and I have booked our hotel in Manhattan this week which feels absolutely thrilling and also very grown up (I mean, a real hotel, in Manhattan!)  To get into the American mood, I will not sit down with a cup of tea and watch the latest Grey’s Anatomy episode. (Yes, I still watch that, after all this time.)

Del 20 (!) i citat-samlingen

Jag gillar inte äldre män… som har åsikter.

Hundertprotzentigen Alkohol kannst du gar nicht kaufen. – Doch, da musste ins Darknet!

Hon bor i Sandviken. Där får du ett hus för två miljoner och då är det ett hela jävla mansion.

Funkar det här som titel, Digitalisering, bankernas död eller finansfantasi? – Alltså varför låter det alltid så porrigt när du läser upp något?

 

 

Hotel Helen is open

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„Helen, I am waiting for new blog content!“, I was texted last night. Give them an inch and they’ll take an ell, eh? I gathered lots of content, actually, but time is a ridiculously scarce ressource right now. Maybe because I spent the weekend in Amsterdam, am travelling to Sweden this next weekend and along the way opened Hotel Helen for the public.

Yes, Hotel Helen, or Domicil Lux if you’d like, was busy these last nights. On Thursday, my friend Svenja and her husband Burak came to visit as they were travelling through Dizzel International Airport.

Before I met them, I attended a gathering of the Dizzel Business Club where they talked about just this airport that has over 22 million people in 90 minutes’ radius and no less than 700 departures and arrival every day. The only thing that impressed me even more at that meeting was that the gender balance was totally off with about 5 % of the attendees being female. I guess working in Swedish business contexts has spoiled me (despite the fact that even we don’t usually come up to more than 30 %).

Svenja and Burak’s impression of Düsseldorf was very interesting to hear. I’ve gotten used to quite some things by now but they looked at the city with fresh eyes and – closing the circle to the above paragraph – stated, „This place feels very masculine“. They thought that because there is a disproportionaley high number of men’s outfitters, many men on the streets, a lot of cars and I added that I actually think the architecture is somewhat male. How can architecture be male, you’re wondering, and how can this gender studies graduate say something this un-gendery? Oh well, I don’t t know, come to Dizzel and see for yourself!

The next guest was Anna. When we were holidaying in May and talked about school with her not being too fond of history, I said next time she has to write a history exam, I’d help her study for it. No sooner said than done, I got an email with the subject line „History exam“ and on Friday night, we sat going through Hitler’s ideology. That’s one way to spend a Friday night. Personally, I have lots of objections to how and what students are taught in history in German school. Like at her school, they started the A-Level preparations with the late middle ages, to then move to displacement after 1945, continue with the 1870s and then teach about Hitler. You don’t have to be a historian to figure out that that is widely confusing. (Also, since ages we are taught every fricking detail of Hitler’s sick thoughts but the prelude, the Weimar Republic, is often neglected.)

The last topic in their A-Levels will be ”myths”. No more info on that. What’s that even supposed to mean? It’s like saying, „We’ll study war. Won’t tell you which one, which time period and who against whom.“

The next morning, I interrogated her on ideology at the breakfast table when my former co-workers‘ cousin from Denmark arrived to check in at Hotel Helen for the night. I handed her the keys and an extensive manual („the grocery store is here“, „the tram leaves here“) and dashed off with Anna to the central station to take the train to Amsterdam. Amsterdam! Excuse me but how wonderful isn’t Amsterdam? I don’t know if it is the kamikaze cyclicsts, the super crooked houses, the beautiful water everywhere or the fact that one of my favorite cousins lives there – but I really like the city. We also had great luck with the weather which was both good when we strolled through town on Saturday and when we visited the Rijksmuseum on Sunday because bad weather would’ve meant huge crowds, I guess.

I have been wanting to go to that museum for a while. It is a Dutch national museum dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam, founded in 1800. The building itself is absolutely lovely and the collections are impressive. If I find some time, I need to study the Dutch more because it is certainly marvelous how a small nation managed to produce so many outstanding artists during their Golden Age and to attain such global significance. My cousin told me that the Dutch East Indian Company was the most valuable company that ever existed, even by modern standards.

So finally I got to see The Nightwatch. Actually, it impressed me less than The Milkmaid, The Jewish Bride and the Swan which was the very first painting the museum acquired. It is quite peculiar how I recognized lots of paintings and I am still not sure if my arts education was simply very good or if anything from that time looks alike and I just thought I recognized it.

We made a point out of paying attention to small funny details in the paintings. My cousin even photographed every drunk person in the art, I think he’s planning to make a drunkard collection or something.

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Helen meets the Night Watch

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You can even get The Milkmaid as a playmobil

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Love and appreciation in this painting

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“It seems a little extreme that they would have flown off the ship like that”, said my cousin

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A happy bat!

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Cousinquote. “His outfit makes me slightly uncomfortable”

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Even the baby is tipsy, huh?

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The ceiling in the museum’s atrium

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Cousin and I play Maarten and Oopje. Rembrandt painted the marriage portraits of the newly-weds Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit in Amsterdam in 1634, when he was twenty-eight. They are most wanted and least exhibited Rembrandts in the world.

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Cousin and his university

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I thought this was art, too, but apparently they just marked the spot where you should put your bins, with “household garbage”

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This is Anne.

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The Wu-Tang Quarter of town.

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Del 11 i citat-samlingen

“Om ett barn heter Tina, varför måste man ge det ett nytt namn och kalla det Zahara bara för att man har adopterat barnet från Afrika? Det är som om jag kallade dig Vättern.” “Men jag vill hellre heta Tingstädeträsk då.”

“Köpenhamn är lite som Stockholm, det är fint men man vet inte vad man ska göra där.” “Va? Det stämmer ju inte alls, Stockholm har Stadshuset och Skansen och Vasamuseet…” “Du är en sån pensionär.” “Nej, jag är Stockholmsambassadör!”

“Om du är så upprörd, skriv en insändare då.” “Nej, jag måste göra nåt större. Kanske twittra.”

“Visst räknar man fem glas champagne?” “Per person?!”

“Auf Schwedisch heißt Batman Läderlappen.” “Zu Batman habe ich geforscht! Im Folterkontext.”

“Das Wort fika ist gleichzeitig ein ett-Wort und ein en-Wort. Die wollen einen fertig machen mit ihren Artikeln.” (Kollegin, die angefangen hat, Schwedisch zu lernen:) “Aber ich lass mich nicht fertig machen! Ich lern das einfach auswendig!”

“Det är så många nya ställen i Stockholm nu. Jag kände mig som en lantis!”

“Düsseldorf is not that bad. It has museums. And…grassed areas.” – “Are you in sales by any chance?”

The Dizzel charm

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When someone tells me – and that happens – “Let’s go to the Old town!” I instantly have these horror scenarios of the infamous Bolkerstraße before my inner eye: bachelorette parties parading in silly costumes, drunk village youth staggering on the cobble stone and one beer and burger place next to the other.

But today, my co-worker took us all to Hausmann’s which is on the other side of the Old Town and which is in such a charming location that it partly reminded me of my childhood days in Heidelberg-Neuenheim. We were there for our intern’s farewell dinner – he is already leaving and it makes us sad. Luckily, he’s still here for two more days, helping us with the jubilee celebrations, but we decided to already do all the goodbye stuff today because we won’t have a moment of peace for the next 53 hours, that’s for sure.

My first work duty tomorrow morning is to buy helium balloons with the intern, something I have been looking forward to for months now.If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for helium balloons. I will buy a large 1 and a large 5 and maybe some more. It will be a wonderful shopping spree!

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Today, we drank to our intern and gave him some goodbye presents, among them a ‘letter of reference’ in which I among other things wrote, “Han visade även upp sin utomordentliga researchförmåga när han efter bara några veckor upptäckte handledarens privata blogg och bidrog till att alla kollegor på kontoret nu kan delta i Helens liv i bild och text” and “Kollegorna misstänker att han egentligen har skickats hit av Region Skåne då han har jobbat väldigt aktivt med upplysning om södra Sverige. Kollegorna fick ta del av utförlig information om både kultur, historia och det skånska språket”. We’re going to miss him!

After the first bottle of sparkling wine literally exploded in my co-worker’s hand, we found another one that we safely opened, thus preparing for the singing rehearsal I forced the other to have. At the jubilee dinner, we will – of course – be singing songs and we don’t all know all songs so we practiced a little. Our assistant who has just started learning Swedish was very sceptical and when we introduced a song as the national anthem, failing to mention that it was just the melody of the anthem, she said, “Am I getting this wrong or is the anthem seriously about ‘cola and rum’?!”

Yesterday was the big Pax day. I had to work from home because the Pax builders were supposed to arrive some time between 7 am and 2 pm. I could not sleep that night because I was so excited and after a while I wondered if I was crazy because I cared so much about a piece of Ikea furniture. My friend Emily reassured me though, “A PIECE OF LIFE CHANGING FURNITURE!”, she texted, in caps. Working in a home office in a living room completely full of clothes and shoes was quite special. And now I own a Pax! Everything is orderly and even has lightning. It makes me as happy as helium balloons!

Del 8 i random-citat-från-jobbet-samlingen

“Jag behöver få vatten i mig. Jag känner mig som en vissen blomma.”

“Ebba von Sydow är gravid!!!” – “Jag vet, jag hörde redan från kollegan att det var det första du sa när du kom in på jobbet imorse.”

“Bara i Tyskland har de en karatär på barnteve som är ett deprimerat bröd”. – “Vi har ju snippan och snoppen…” “Det är för att vi är moderna!”