Bowling Take 2

This week for our Thursday social  we went bowling to use our 1 hr free coupons.

While I still think bowling is really boring I did have quite a lot of fun. We had 3 lanes and were all able to bowl 2 complete games. We even ended up using extra coupons and continuing to bowl for a 2nd hour. After bowling we ended up going out to dinner at a Spanish/Mexican food place around the corner. Now I ate Mexican food a total of 5 times when I lived in Chicago (5 years…not counting food I made myself). Once was for a work lunch, and the other two times were to try a few places. However the Mexican food there was neither TexMex nor the type of spicy meat sauces I like from Mexico…it was mostly lightly spiced dry meat in tacos etc. Now none of the food I tried was truly terrible but neither was it really what I wanted and since Mexican is cheap to make at home I stopped eating it at restaurants. This restaurant wasn’t traditional Mexican food or Spanish food but it was well spiced and the meat was cooked well.

We had a fun, really nerdy discussion about the type of video games we all like to play and grew up playing. As the friend of one of the guys’ girl friends said at the bowling alley (they didn’t come to dinner) it was like we were in the episode of The Big Bang Theory. I don’t think she thought this was a compliment.

As we ordered in the resturant the waitress kept responding in Swedish when anyone spoke in english (some of the guys from other european contries dont speak Swedish). So I decided to order in Swedish…I am supposed to be practicing right? The guys were all ordering beers and I asked the waitress “vilken typ av tequila ha du?” to which the waitress looked at me like I was crazy. When I repeated in English “what type of tequila do you have?” she still looked at me like I was crazy. Well apparently most people order liquor off the menu without knowing the brand, all the places we have gone have said: vodka, tequila, ….. The waitress didn’t know what types they had and had to pull out all the bottles and show me. Obviously,since I don’t drink a lot of beer, I will have to get used to the crazy looks as I continue to ask “vilken typ av tequila ha du?” “vilken typ av vodka ha du?” “vilken typ av whiskey ha du?” …


the fab food find

Every trip I take I am on the lookout for the fabulous food find. I have listened to some podcasts and done some research online about the food and food culture in London. I was looking forward to the spicy middle eastern food and was hoping to try something I haven’t had before but most often the fabulous food find comes where you least expect it and when you are not looking. Today I had a very long day and was not feeling up to exploring much tonight. I decided to head back to the hotel and after dropping off all of my stuff I seriously considered buying a boring sandwich and crashing early. However I decided to brave a few block walk to a place that had really good reviews in my restaurant app.


The Fab Food Find: Casa Malevo, Cocina Argentina

Ordered: 1 glass Malbec, 2 empanadas: 1 beef, 1 corn, Lamb chops with “anchovies” salsa verde and flan

The anchovies salsa verde was really amazing. As someone who is not fond of overly fishy things and who doesn’t really like anchovies in particular it was really a great mix of spicy chilies, sweet/smooth olive oil and meaty/slightly smoky anchovies. Plus flan…

The next time you take a trip try to be on the lookout of the fabulous food find. If you are on the lookout you just find more than one.

London Day 2-books & British comedies

As Eddie Izzard says “they say that the US and Britain are the two languages that are divided by the Atlantic ocean … you say ‘erb and we say Herb, because there’s a **** h in it.”

While I know a lot of Americans that like Monty Python, most I know don’t “get” British humor. Now I have a weird sense of humor. I have always liked British comedies that are a little more off beat. I have watched BBC news and TV programs for years because I love the subtle humor. The comedians I like tend to be in your face or more subtle story tellers. I don’t often laugh out loud but instead a small sarcastic smile from me is a huge win for someone telling a joke at a party. One of my goals for this trip to London was to try to get half price tickets to a ton of shows, especially some that were well regarded, and to try a British comedy live. Today I did both, twice.

This is my second day in London but the friend I am meeting from the US arrived today. Her flight landed around lunch and I was anticipating receiving a message from her after lunch. So I decided to start the day in the British Library and then hopefully meet up with her later in the day. I love Libraries. I love reading and I really love the smell of old books. I started at the library by going to the treasure room and learning about the Gutenberg bible and other beautiful old historic pages. Using the first of my Rick Steves Explore London podcasts I had a great, very informative walk through the journals of Newton to modern British novel writers.

I love Rick Steves podcasts. They are my newest cheap travel tip. When I visited Italy in 2010 with 2 friends we downloaded Rick Steves podcasts for all of the major sights (they are free in iTunes). Then using these podcasts we were able to save the 10+€ at each major museum and sight by not paying for the audio tour. In London a lot of the museums are free but having a guided audio tour is really a great way to get an overview of any museum.

Ok so done with sales pitch. After finishing my tour I got a cappuccino and sat next to the King’s Library reading my current book on Kindle. I had a very relaxing morning. But at this point I hadn’t heard from my friend so I decided to head back to my hotel so I would be close to her hotel so we could meet up. Now neither of us has a British phone. My Swedish phone has working GPS and connections to wifi but I didn’t pay to be able to use the phone out of range. I have an app that I use to txt with people who have US phone numbers and it works via wifi so my plan was that we would be able to txt via wifi. Unfortunately I forgot that my friend was staying in a Hilton (i.e. didn’t have free wifi in her hotel). After finally getting in touch with my friend we met up to discuss planning. She is in London on a trip with her old university to march in the New Years day parade and they had some planned trips/tours etc. Of course they had changed the times of the meetings, and the tours and …. After chatting we decided that I would swing by the hotel again around dinner since she didn’t really know any of the answers about the group schedule yet.

So after £4 of underground trips (to hotel and back out to the old city) I got a ticket to a well regarded comedy show (The Boy with Tape on His Face) for the matinee and then I went wandering through covenant garden’s market until the show started. The show was great. Definitely would recommend it but the best part was that the family sitting behind me. As I came in to sit down the mother said “Sometimes I wish I could come to a show with lots of shopping bags like a tourist.” Ouch. Then the mother sent the son to buy some bottled water and they had a long discussion about if the candy he got to eat were jellies, gummies, or something else. After this long conversation the son turns to the daughter and complains about the mother and the sister says “she is your mother, and besides you started it by correcting her.” OMG I have found the British copy of my family.

After the show I grabbed the underground back to my friend’s hotel and we had a quick planning meeting while I ate some “Texas Nachos” which were neither Texan nor nachos but were the only thing that were not deep fried on the sports bar menu.

So again after £4 of underground trips I was back in the theater district for another show. I saw Yes, Prime Minister. Which I think that if you know nothing about British politics (ahem, Americans) would be slightly funny, in a slapstick comedy way but wouldn’t be actually funny. It was really hilarious and incredibly well acted.

Overall a great day in British comedy, with a few too many underground trips.

Work Christmas Parties ? Why?

One of the biggest questions I am seeing answered on other blogs this season is about what to wear or what to take or how to act at a work holiday party. While these are all good questions to get answers to (see end of post for some of my favorite links) here I will just touch on my history with work holiday parties. In an academia sense there are a few types of work holiday parties. First there is a research group party, a department party, a school wide party and then even some smaller groups with in the university also have parties (like our juniors bowling party last week:

In undergrad I attended the department holiday party and the 2 years I was in a research group I went to the group holiday party, then some of the clubs I was part of had parties. All of these were pretty fun. The department party was sponsored by the department so the food was pretty good. The club parties tended to be pizza but sometimes had a fun activity. The research group I was in at the end of undergrad was really small the first year and it was just a potluck, hang out type party. The second year when we were larger we went to a fancy bowling place for food and bowling (which our boss completely paid for) but as I am not a huge fan of bowling and this happened right before I needed to take all my finals I didn’t stay long.

When I got to graduate school we were officially accepted into our research groups right around thanksgiving so the holiday party was the first big event to get to know your research group in a social setting. I of course attended both groups’ holiday events, the department holiday party, and the graduate school holiday party each year. Now the department party was food, alcohol, and some kind of drawing or raffle with some music and games some of the years. I always dreaded going but it was a good time to catch up with friends in other groups who I didn’t see often and I always ended up having a pretty good time. The graduate school party was often at a nice location (the alumni club right on the lake downtown for 2 of the years) and the food and drinks were good. Since it was free as long as you signed up on time I often combined this with a shopping trip at some downtown stores, plus good free dinner. Finally the two research groups I was in were large (>25 people at all times, up to about 45 in one of them). This makes planning holiday parties more difficult. One of the groups (the larger one) had the tradition of going to a fancy restaurant for dinner. The first few years we had a prefix menu where everyone paid ahead of time and you got 3 courses. This cost about $30-40 per person but I would just budget this into my holiday expenses. Then the group started picking other restaurants and the method for paying became more and more messy. I don’t mind splitting a bill with people but graduate students are cheap and no one would pay their share with out being forced to. Plus splitting a bill with 40 people is just a pain…even when we split between 6-8 at a table it was a pain depending on who you got sat by. The biggest problem I had with this type of party is that you actually didn’t get to meet anyone in your group. You sat by people you commuted to the restaurant with (i.e., the ones you knew) and then you couldn’t move around to talk to other people so you were stuck with the same people for hours. My other research group had a holiday celebration that I enjoyed much more. This event was a whole weekday in Jan or Feb at our boss’s house. We would show up around 9am, have some bagels and coffee and then have a day full of fun science talks. Sometimes they were project ideas that someone had just tried thinking they would never work, sometimes they were talks on how to use a useful tool (I did an in depth end note talk a few years in a row) and sometimes they were talks from group alumni about what they were up to now. Then after  lunch (Chicago pizza) we would go outside and have  snowball fight, build a snowman, or just fool around for a while. After the rest of the talks we returned to campus around 5pm. This structure was nice because it offered multiple hang out times to talk to people. Of course some people sat in one place or talked to only their friends but I was able to use the food and coffee breaks to talk to people about what they were working on and I started 2 different collaborations at these events. As an added bonus this event being in Jan removed it from the stress of the rest of the holiday season.

As I have explained before I have a go to the holiday party even if you don’t feel like it policy so when the sign up sheet for the holiday party went up in the coffee room, I signed up. Then when I learned from a discussion by others at lunch that we had to bring food…I said I would bring cookies. No one corrected me so when I saw the sign up sheet for the food and the only options were traditional food for the Julbord I was a little miffed. After deciding I could cook meat balls (I make Swedish meatballs often to eat myself) I realized the problem that the party was a Monday after work. How was I going to bring warm meatballs to the office then? Were they going to be able to heat them up? what was the plan? I kept asking these questions of the guys I eat lunch with and never really got any answers so I decided to cook my meat balls at my apartment on Monday afternoon and take them straight to the party. Of course they wouldn’t be hot but at least they should be warm. Turns out they had decided on a way to reheat the food onsite (sorta) and the schedule was much more complicated that I knew.

First there was a talk which I had never seen on the schedule, then everyone went upstairs for dinner. Dinner was a Julbord buffet that was a mix of all the food people had brought. There was a lot of food but also a lot of people so the organization of where the food was, what was hot and when people should get in line wasn’t great. After the dinner started there were signing groups, drinking songs, and a trivia game during and after eating. After all of this they announced a treasure hunt. Since the party had already lasted for 3 hrs and I had planned to do some work before I went to bed, I snuck out to head home.

What I learned is that scheduling a holiday party is always difficult and there is probably no good way but just like with any social event making it cheaper for the planning group just puts the costs off onto the guests, either in actually money, time, or inconvenience. A good party balances these costs and work parties are always a mess.

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Holiday Party Attire Links

Festive Attire (That Won’t Make You Cringe) – Sociology of Style

Things That Make You Sparkle – Sociology of Style

5 Outfits of Christmas – Sociology of Style

Casual Party Attire – Capital Hill Style

Two Ways: Holiday Party Looks – Capital Hill Style

Two Ways: Holiday Red Pants – Capital Hill Style

Some Good Coworker or Friend Gift Links

Holiday Hot Coco – Capital Hill Style

Gifts for Co-Workers – Capital Hill Style

May your work holiday parties be classy and at least not boring 🙂

Bowling and Christmas Table (Julbord)

Bowling…why is bowling a group activity? I don’t understand why people want to go bowling or skating in groups. I don’t find either of these activities particularly fun but I will suck it up and go when the group is going. The “juniors” in the department announced that it was a holiday tradition to go to a bowling place in the city and then eat at their attached restaurant with a traditional julbord.

So what is Julbord? It is the traditional Swedish Christmas dinner. From listening to the guys at work discussing it and seeing all the adverts for different locations posted all over the city (at bus stops) it seems like it is pretty popular for groups to go out to have a Julbord for holiday parties. Julbord consists of a large buffet with many types of sil (pickled herring), smoked salmon, eggs and then a large selection of cold cuts of ham, and salami, cooked potatoes, and meatballs. Obviously it is easier to go out for this kind of meal to get a larger variety in each type of food than if you are buying them for just your family at home. The place we were headed to for work was supposed to have 40+ types of sil (not that I was excited as I don’t like it but hey).

I am all for doing some traditional Swedish activities but the price for bowling and the Julbord is my weekly budget for food (most often it is what I spend for a week and a half for longer). OK well I have the policy that you do whatever the group culture is for the holiday parties so I sucked it up and went. On the bus ride to the city others in the group were complaining that more girls in the department didn’t come for bowling. I wanted to explain to them how much this cost vs. the benefit was not worth it so that was probably why.

When we got to the bowling we had to pay to check our coats (really?) and after changing our shoes, which is the first thing I hate about bowling…the ugly, uncomfortably flat, smelly shoes, we split up and went to the bowling lanes. I have always thought that group activities like bowling and skating our really divisive since you end up dividing into groups and especially with bowling it is not easy to change groups and mix with different groups of people. Our group was spread out over 3 different lanes and it was hard to talk to anyone at the other lanes as you felt like you weren’t paying attention to your lane or they were always calling you for your turn. We had paid for 1 hr of bowling. I did OK the first game (I am not horrible at bowling…this isn’t why I hate it), then I got bored and stopped paying attention to my turn 🙂

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After we finished bowling we headed up to the Julbord. While the food was fine it definitely wasn’t worth the amount we spent on it. I am not sure why most gradschool guys have decided that buffets are a good value. I wish they would actually figure out how much they pay for the meal vs. how much they eat and that for 90% of people it is a really bad deal. I almost always pay 2x as much for food that is not as good as a plated meal when I go to a buffet. I guess if you eat a lot a lot it could possibly be worth it but seriously you shouldn’t be eating that much of the kind of food that is available in buffet form. We did get free hour of bowling coupons so hey we get to this again in January, score.

Honestly the best part of this whole night was my 25 min walk home to my apartment through the snow covered city. I decided not to wait for the bus and instead wondered home with fun music blasting in my headphones :). I had so much fun wondering home and looking at all the fun old buildings plus I love the sound of a city at night in winter.

1st Thursday Night Work Social. Women in science be yourself!

Every Thursday evening the graduate students and postdocs of the Theoretical Chemistry Department have a social event. This is my first week and the activity was going to a pub, that the guys often visit, and having dinner and drinks. The pub was a German pub and like any good graduate student the guys were excited about the large amounts of food you got with each meal. In Sweden going out to eat is quite expensive and people don’t tend to do it often or if they do they go to sort of quick food places like Kebab or pizza. I thought this activity was great because it gave lots of opportunity to get to know some of the guys and a chance to hang out and talk.

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Unfortunately, while I knew there was an activity, I didn’t know what it was exactly before coffee hour on Thursday morning and I was wearing heals that day. Heals in Lund aren’t great because like many old European cities it has mostly cobblestone streets or at least sidewalks. Some of the major streets do have a path of cobblestones replaced with flat pavers wide enough to walk only on the pavers and avoid the cobble stones. Luckily I have a shoe obsession and so am quite good at walking in heals. Plus when I lived in Lund in 2006 there were many less streets with these pavers and so I am pretty good at walking on cobblestones in heals…it is all about spacing your stride so that your heel hits in the middle of a cobblestone.

After getting to the pub there was a long discussion about what to drink. Now normally I am not a huge fan of beer…it is ok but I don’t get excited to drink it. Plus I didn’t know most of the beers listed on the menu so I took advise from the guy in my work group and got a dark beer that was quite good with some Carmel notes. Then the food discussions began…I found fried Camembert with cloud berry jam on the desert menu and so was trying to find something sort of small to eat as the main dinner. Finally I decided I would just have desert 🙂 Of course this was not really ok with most of the guys because it was not mountains of food which is why they often eat at this pub. So I was talked into sharing a group plate with 3 other people. This plate was suggested for at least 2 on the menu but when our kilo of piled meat came it was obvious that this could have served 6. I had a few things and then stopped to save room for my desert. Of course desert took a while to get and by the time it came the female professor who was going to give me a ride back to the small village where I am staying with my aunt and uncle was ready to leave.

We had a great conversation in the car ride back to this little village about all sorts of things. Her kids and how much the younger one likes science. I suggested some fun and easy home experiments for kids from my days in Chicago with the American Chemical Society. We talked about the path to professorship in Sweden and she told me how the professors have this meeting every few weeks and the first time she attended they offered her beer or whiskey but she didn’t take anything because she had to drive afterwards. The next time they had the meeting she told them she would take whiskey but they would have to get some girly drinks now that she was one of the professors. I sighed and told her how much I would have loved a whiskey, a drink that I not only like to drink but always reminds me of my farfar and how my dad would buy a bottle of it in Duty Free and they would sit up talking and drinking whiskey our first night when we came to visit Sweden.  She was quiet for a minute and then said that she hadn’t thought about a woman really liking whiskey, and had only thought that beer and whiskey were really masculine choices. While I agree that these are often seen as “manly” why do women in science have to be either one of the guys or girly? I am definitely both. I like hanging out with guys and I love when they feel comfortable enough not to just talk about things they would say in front of their girlfriend or someone they have a crush on, and I also like making fun of them about how ridiculous they are. I like poker night but I want a cocktail not a beer.

It is hard to be the first women to do something, or to be the first or only woman in a group but sometimes it is easier because when there are two women they are often compared to each other. Until there are a critical mass of any minority in the group (many studies say this is 30%) then the minority group is often expected to be homogenous and therefore all the same. No two guys are the same and no one questions this. So it follows that no two women are the same and we should all be ourselves and expect to be accepted this way, but prepared to explain what our own need and wants are. I want a whiskey and my female professor wants a cider…

Big family dinners….in another language

A week or so before I came to Sweden my aunt sent me a very nice email letting me know that the family had talked and they had all  “reserved a couple of dates” in their calendars for family dinners. Some were related to the upcoming holiday season and some to family birthdays. I put this list of dates into my electronic calendar like everything else and hoped I would be able to make the one on November 10th, which was to be a celebration of my farmor’s birthday, the fact that my cousin sold his house/his sambo (which translates directly to attached, but means girlfriend/fiancée/significant romantic partner…one of my favorite Swedish words) sold her house/they got a bigger house together, and my PhD graduation. One of my favorite things about visiting my family in Sweden is they have these big family dinners with good food, lots of wine, and exciting conversation. When I lived here  a for a summer in college my Swedish was quite good and these dinners were a real test, many people talking at the same time, talking over each other, some people have fairly strong accents (and more so with alcohol) but right now my Swedish is not so good…

Growing up many friends would say “your going on vacation to Sweden…cool!” While going to Sweden was cool: my parents often gave us a treat on the plane ride over and we always did something fun an touristy, looking back my mother worked really hard to make going to Sweden fun, because honestly it was going to your grandparent’s house and sitting around all day and bonus they didn’t even speak the same language….so is it any wonder that my cousins often remind me how I was so “bored” all the time.

First, I would like to dis-spell the common American myth that everyone in Sweden speaks English and especially the myth that everyone in Sweden likes to speak English…it is my experience that everyone in Sweden understands English, normally very well via listening (they don’t dub their movies or TV but instead use subtitles) but just like all other European countries lots of Swedes are self concious about their English, or like me right now with Swedish, they don’t use it that often and therefore it is rusty and they have a hard time making whole sentences. What to play a trick on an unsuspecting everyday Swede? walk into a random store (not in Stockholm) or in a tourist museum and speak to them in English…9 times out of 10 they get flustered…now this is decreasing as the workers are younger and spend more time interacting online in English. So if you are traveling to common travel areas in Sweden, yes everyone will speak English and all of the tourist sites with have information in English; if however you are riding the bus between two small kommunen in Sweden…ask the high school or college kids riding the bus to help you if you need something.

Now when my whole family was in Sweden lots of the conversation at family dinners was in English. My cousins liked to practice their English (plus it was all my brother and I spoke) and my aunt used English often in her job and while my uncle always is a little uncomfortable speaking in English (and as he told me a this most recent family dinner at some point someone told him he wasn’t that good in English…which honestly compared to my cousin’s and my aunt his English isn’t as perfect…but I make fun of one of my cousins about when he mixes up good and well (like all the stupid Americans) …these are people who speak and pronounce English like native speakers…so really not as good as them is better than most others) his English is very good and the only errors he makes often are common non-native pronunciation (or pro-nounce-ciation) issues. Then I lived in Sweden and was trying to practice my Swedish. I would go out to dinner with my aunt and uncle and only speak Swedish for practice. The last few times my whole family was here I noticed that they spoke much more often in Swedish at the dinner table, switching from English to Swedish when the opportunity arose  I spent a lot of meals trying to translate what was going on to my brother who still doesn’t speak any Swedish. So how do you get through a whole day of family activities where 90% is in another language you don’t totally understand? You use your brain resources wisely!

That’s right: you can’t translate everything, you can’t follow every conversation, you can’t ask them to translate everything you don’t hear or don’t understand…So I used my most clean uncluttered brain to have 20min with my farmor before the masses arrived. Just the two of us talking about everyday things where I could talk in broken Swedish and talk around the words I couldn’t remember….I told her about how I was, my new job, my new desk at my new job, how my family in the states was, I asked her about how she was feeling about her upcoming birthday…It was great…then came everyone else. I listened for the most part, I participated somewhat, I nodded my head when I wanted to agree, and I sat quietly and ate my food. A few times they switched to English deliberately when asking me a direct question or describing the food, or one person would turn to me and give a break by having a private conversation in English for a few minutes. Trust me it was all appreciated. But sometimes after a long conversation in Swedish a cousin would asked me if I had understood the conversation or not…probably not…probably I wasn’t listening because you were talking too quickly or too loudly or too many people were talking…honestly, probably I was making a list of what of the night I should blog about :). But I wasn’t not listening because I don’t like you or don’t care…I was just saving my resources for when the conversation was important or when they would be most useful.

So big family dinner number 1 down, my cousin (actually my cousin’s husband=my cousin) cooked an interesting meal that was really fabulous and I got to see everyone and give them all hugs..I officially feel like I am in Sweden. Goal for next dinner…speak up in Swedish more, don’t always switch back to English when responding.