Miss Helen goes shopping


A very interesting way of spelling my name, almost a little Chinese?

So I have already shared with you (and basically every local I met) my enthusiam for the American supermarkets. My love for consumerism does not end there of course – on Valentine’s Day I took to the clothes stores!

Emily had given me some tips and I had also done my research. The shopping tour might actually have done most for my sense of orientation in DC, with Macy’s being my true north. But it was not Macy’s or Nordstrom nor Forever 21 or Loft that captured my heart. It was Dressbarn, a shop I just passed by on the way to another one.

Gallery of unbought dresses


Emily’s reaction my my disclosure of the price tag of the blue dress (middle)

Dressbarn is described as an old ladies store, essentially a tantbutik. Apparently I cannot escape my own inner style compass because even in Sweden, I always end up at what my friends call the old ladies store. I walked into Dressbarn at 6:33 p.m. (closing time 7 p.m.) and because they had so many dresses I loved, I had to come back the next day. By then, I apparently had risen in their esteem because I was now adressed with my name. “Miss Helen, let me take those to your fitting room”, the sweet shop assistant said every time I accumulated another six dressed on my arm.

I could really have maxed out my credit card. Instead, being a sensible (then) 28-year-old, I joined all their clubs to get 30 percent off and only picked three dresses. So frugal!

The American Quote Book

Helen jaywalking. Emily: “Now look at you! Assimilating so well!”

Stockholm is not only the inner city

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Here’s the thing about blogging: if I don’t do it right away, discipline cracks as exhibited this week. But now I’m back in humid Dizzel where the trams only go every 153 minutes (or so it feels) and I shall report.

The second half of my Stockholm week was just as delightful as the first. On Wednesday, I met Linus for lunch and got to see his (and my friend Nicola’s) workplace: nothing less than the German radio and TV’s correspondents’ studio. So cool! I am an excessive listener of NDRinfo, one of the channels they produce things for and it was such fun to meet the journalist who does all the reports! We chatted for quite a while and I was shown around everywhere. The media junkie I am, I loved it!

While Linus and Nicola worked in the afternoon to make sure German viewers/listeners are informed about what’s happening up north, I set out to promote Swedish economic development. You know, someone just has to do it so I sacrified myself, like everytime I set foot on Swedish soil. Because shopping is so exhausting, I divided the job into three tours, the first with Bianca, the second alone and the third with Magdalena in Vällingby. She takes the prize for best comments during a shopping spree (looking into the mirror, she exclaimed, “I really like my butt”, going through the racks, she stated, “There is no such thing as a bad size” and when I put on a dress, she said, “Everything looks better when you wear it”). It might be a coincidence that I have always been going to Stockholm the first week of July the past years,  when it is always rea, summer sale. I bought quite a lot and one third of all I bought is striped. .

In the evening, we watched France defeat Germany. Our only French friend was the only one who was happy, I guess. Oh, well.

On my last day, I got to see my friend Martina’s new apartment (so pretty!) and meet her new boyfriend (so nice!). Hanging out on their lovely balcony in the brilliant sunshine in the middle of Kungsholmen – my idea of perfect. Perfect was only increased by Farsta’s nature that I got to see in the evening when I visited my friend Marita. She also has a new apartment. Sometimes I wonder what I am doing wrong: all my friends live in these super fancy places now and I don’t even own a wardrobe? (But many dresses.)

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At the book store, they inform customers that the books on this shelf demand more of the reader than the normal ones. Nanny state?

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Not sure but I thought Pride wasn’t until August? Nevermind, it still looks great!

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Marita and I took a walk by the water in Farsta while the sun was starting to slowly set – which is significantly later than in Dizzle, actually it never really sets. After I already discovered Vällingby with Magda, I now got to know Farsta better: Stockholm är inte bara city, Stockholm is more than the inner city, you know. I could elaborate on the whole urban planning concept of ABC-towns but then what would ArkDes’ job be? Farsta offered wonderful views, some mosquitos and an elegant swan who just came by in the right moment to be photographed.

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I really made use of my SL card, too, because I travelled the entire green line on Friday night. It might be the longest possible ride to go from Farsta strand to Råcksta and at 6 a.m. I already left the house again to make my way to the airport. It’s never easy to leave Stockholm and I think I’ll have to increase the frequency of my travels there again (it’s been 6 months this time!). Also for the light, for the shopping, for the familiar spots and streets – but mostly, most of all, for you. You know who you are!

“The Ki”: A funny abbreviation

I do not have a photo of The Ki yet so you get a photo of the Old Town skyline. In Swedish, you call this fulsnyggt (uglypretty).

I do not have a photo of The Ki yet so you get a photo of the Old Town skyline. In Swedish, you call this fulsnyggt (uglypretty).

Update [August 6, 4:34 pm]: My friend Linus, a Hamburg expert and almost-native, has informed me that people do say “Let’s meet at the Burger King on the Mö”.

The most famous street here, as I have mentioned, is Königsallee. It is a boulevard on two sides of a small stream and Düsseldorf’s finest address. All the fancy shops with their golden doors are on Königsallee and the people sitting in the cafés often have come there driving in their Jaguar or Porsche (which they, embarrassingly, sometimes show off by speeding, making weird sounds, as soon as the traffic lights turn green). I have learned that Königsallee is an orientation line between the city center and the old town. However, people very rarely call the street by its full name,instead,  they say “Kö”. Not only is that funny to me because that means “queue” in Swedish, I also have to think about if other cities did that. What American town would nickname its King Street “the Ki”? (By the way, are there even King Streets in America? Was not the point with America to not have emperors and kings?)

Hamburg’s shopping street would become Mö, in Bremen, you would say “I’m off to the Ob” if you go to town and in Stockholm, you could run your errands on “Sve” or “Dro”, or maybe occasionally on “Väs”. Yes, it does sound weird with any other street name but it works well Düsseldorf’s most famous street.

“Oh no, is tomorrow a holiday?”

How do you know there is a holiday coming up in Germany? By the lines at the grocery stores.

This weekend is Pentecost weekend which means all of Germany has a free monday. Pfingstmontag is a Feiertag. Since everything in Germany is closed on Sundays and public holidays, this means two days without the option of dropping into the store and getting some cheese. Forty-eight-hours of not being able to shop those onions you need for the cooking you planned. Two nights during which you will not be able to buy any toilet paper.

It was much easier to get used to everything being open in Sweden seven days a week, 363 days a year. (If I remember correctly, only Midsummer and Christmas are sanctified.) I know of more than one non-German’s plans that were toppled upon learning that if you want anything, you better get it now or you’re on your beam ends for two days. 

Maybe this is where the Germans’ good sense of planning in advance originated. In Germany, the pre-holiday-anxiety starts building up already days before the actual event comes around. (“I have to remember to buy plastic wrap before Saturday, I must not forget, I must not forget!”) And I am not alone, all the Germans flood the stores like they have to bunker food for the apocalypse.

In Hamburg, being a big city, you can of course buy stuff even on Sunday and holidays in two stores that have a special sale permission. However, this either means travelling a long way to Altona or paying three times the price at Hauptbahnhof. [Also, they are not allowed to sell anything frozen.] Is your cheese, your onions, your toilet paper worth that? No. You try to prevent this situation by stressing out each Saturday night, “do we have everything for the no buy day?”.

When I was a child, things were much worse. Stores shut their doors at 6 pm sharp on week days and everything closed at 2 pm on Saturdays. Today, you can do your emergency-shopping as late as 23.55 on a Saturday.

There are probably really good reasons for closing everything on Sundays and public holidays. Or maybe it is just an important tradition in Germany. Perhaps the unions want it to be this way. But really: I have a hard time getting used to it again. You’ll excuse me – I’m hitting the supermarkt now. 

Five things I have not adjusted to after three months in Germany: Packing groceries


Last week was my three month anniversary being back in Germany. Given that I am executing a repatriation challenge here, this prompted me to reflect on my integration process. I have pretty much mastered the art of riding metro line 3 (i.e. I only go to the wrong platform but realize before getting on the train that this is the wrong direction) even if it still happens that I call it the “yellow line” because Stockholm’s metro lines are colored, not numbered. I have successfully re-registered with the German health insurance, a process that took several months. I have even gotten a hold of an apartment and moved! Furthermore, I am not surprised anymore that people speak my native language around me and I always greet people correctly, avoiding the cheerful “Hej!” in all places that are not the Swedish Church.

Are there things I still have not adjusted to? Oh yes, there are many. Welcome to my series of Five Not Yet Readjusted posts.

Number 1: Not yet readjusted to  The stress when packing your groceries

 When you grow up in Germany, you learn a lot of very, very useful skills. You learn to think and discuss thanks to good education, you learn to work hard and goal-oriented, you learn to respect your parents, you learn to not spend money you don’t have. And you learn to pack groceries. Very fast.

As a little girl, I always accompanied my mom to Aldi, the cheapest store with the quickest cashiers. Aldi is the place where the above mentioned skills all unite. (Except for the thinking because you do not question why Aldi is so cheap.) When you stand at an Aldi checkout, or actually any German grocery checkout, the cashier will swipe your stuff so quickly that you have to be trained to pack it all into your tote bag (plastic bags are for people who have no ecological conscience). Not only does the cashier stress you, there is also very little space to pack the things and 25 % of the German population is waiting in line after you, giving you the evil eye if you are not gone within 10 seconds. Ingrid says, she feels particularly German at the cash register. “I feel proud when I am faster than the others, superior when other customers are slow”.

I never realized this could be a problem for anyone because obviously you put your things on the belt/conveyor (what’s the word for Warenförderband?) in the correct order right from the beginning: canned foods first so that they can go into the tote bag first and eggs last so that they won’t break. When you are two people shopping, you have beforehand decided who is Chief Financial Officer (handling the negotiations with the cashier and payment) and who is Junior Packaging Manager (packing up everything). Of course you position yourselves according to your responsibility and manage to be out of the way for the next customer within seconds. Is there anyone who does not do it that way?

Eh, yes, Swedes. At ICA (and also at Lidl), you relax in the queue, maybe checking your phone, and when the cashier does her work, you observe, letting your food slowly glide away. The first months in Stockholm, it freaked me out to be standing there, doing nothing.

Now, I usually notice when the first products are scanned that AHHH I need to put my hands to work here! Everyone is eyeing me suspiciously wondering why the girl up there does not move but just stares at the cashier. And she even has a plastic bag. Geez, she must be a dumb foreigner.