Virgin America update: I received an email from Central Baggage stating that they would look for my Kindle during an inventory on Thursday, which was yesterday, but I never heard anything back. I sent them another email, so we’ll see what happens. Was my social media shaming for naught?
Despite the fact that NBC renewed “Welcome to Sweden,” they seem to be giving the show the brush-off. It was pre-empted on Aug. 14 for the two-hour “Last Comic Standing” finale (I lost interest after the great Joe Machi was eliminated!), then two episodes (#6 and #7) were aired on Aug. 21, the eighth episode was not aired at all (NBC posted it on its web site), and #9 and #10 both aired tonight. Sorry, but that is not the way a network treats a show that it has a lot of faith in. Maybe Season Two will air in the middle of the night, after “Last Call with Carson Daly”?
Anyway, since I’d missed last week’s episodes due to jet lag and readjustment to Pacific Time, I decided to binge-watch the back half of Season One. But first, a correction: my brother points out that Hassan (Bruce’s Iranian friend) was likely using Misbaha and not rosary beads, as I speculated a few weeks back. I had never heard of Misbaha. The more you know…!
Bruce’s parents pay Bruce a visit, and he meets them at the Evert Taube statue. I was there last summer, and took a photo. That’s Stockholm’s City Hall in the background.
Surprise surprise–Bruce’s folks are clueless, unpleasant Americans. “You’re not blonde!” exclaims Bruce’s mom, Nancy, to Emma’s mom, Viveka. (Lena Olin may not be blonde, but I’d classify her hair as “very light brown.”) I’ll admit that I’ve heard that question myself a bunch of times. I always say my dark-haired ancestors came from France to Sweden hundreds of years ago, which I recall my mom telling me once. But seriously folks, not all Swedes are blonde.
Not one but two Gevalia coffee ads aired during this episode! If we Swedish-Americans are the only ones still watching “Welcome to Sweden” at this point, I can assure Gevalia that we already know all about their product.
Bruce’s folks visit Viveka and Birger at their summer cottage, and Bruce’s dad Wayne asks Birger if it’s safe to be so far out in the country. “What would happen if you had a heart attack?” THIS IS CALLED “FORESHADOWING,” PEOPLE. Birger assures him that he’s “healthy as a…”–he can’t think of the final word. “Horse?” Wayne adds helpfully. “No, as a nut,” replies Birger. That would be “frisk som en nötkärna,” by the way. Which literally means “as healthy as the kernel of a nut.” Hey, it’s really no stranger an expression than “healthy as a horse,” right? I love the way Birger struggles with the English language. In another scene, he tries to tell Wayne about his career as a captain who worked for the “kommun.” That means “municipality,” but Wayne assumes it means “communist,” and Birger just goes along with it.
There’s also a subplot about Emma thinking she’s pregnant, but no, it turns out she’s just gaining weight. (Maybe she’s eating too much candy?) Oh, and Wayne thinks all the men in Stockholm are gay, but they’re just European… until he inadvertently winds up in a gay bar.
Bruce has decided to try and act more Swedish. One of the things he tries is walking with Nordic poles, which are indeed very popular in Sweden. Emma thinks he’s depressed and sends him to see Viveka, who is, of course, a therapist, leading to one of my favorite lines on the show so far: “Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between ‘depressed’ and ‘Swedish.’”
Aubrey Plaza, best known for playing April Ludgate on “Parks and Recreation,” is for some reason obsessed with Bruce and follows him to Stockholm. He takes her on a tour of the sights, including Skansen, the Vasa museum and Old Town. She hates them all (I’m not sure if Plaza is like this in real life, or if they’ve basically transferred caustic April to the world of “Welcome to Sweden”). They wind up at the ABBA museum, which she also hates, and Bruce gets in an argument with a guy about which one ABBA song was pretty good. (The guy is played by ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus, as himself. Bruce doesn’t recognize him; thus the “humor.”) Bruce finally remembers the ABBA song he likes: “Disco Inferno” (which, of course, was actually performed by Philadelphia’s The Trammps).
Bruce meets Björn later in the episode when he tries to resurrect his career as a “celebrity money manager,” this time catering to Swedish celebs. In one odd scene, he meets with Swedish author Björn Ranelid in a coffee shop. I must admit that I did not recognize Ranelid, but once I saw his name in the credits, I thought, “Oh, that guy”–I’m an avid Eurovision fan and he competed (unsuccessfully–he finished last) to become Sweden’s entry into the contest in 2012 with the song “Kärlek” (“Love”). Seriously, watch it. It’s cray-cray. Plus, he looks like the male version of the Tan Mom. (Ranelid once told a reporter, “All healthy people who are out in the sun will become sunburned. I am not so vain as others who hide in the shadows to resemble French aristocracy.”) And keep in mind that the guy is an author; it would be as though Michael Chabon popped up on “America’s Got Talent” to speak-sing his way through a disco number with a bevy of dancing girls gyrating behind him.
Björn Ulvaeus stuns Bruce by telling him that he doesn’t need to hire someone who can make him more money, because he already has enough. (This is true to his character–he could have saved many millions if he’d left Sweden for a tax haven like Monaco. But the guy loves Sweden.) Amusingly, Björn’s “office” in the episode is the replica in the ABBA museum; tourists gawk as he meets with Bruce.
Bruce revisits the café from the horrible, cringe-worthy semla incident in “Get a Job/Farthinder” despite the fact that he had promised to shun it forever. The same cashier (Swedish actress Madeleine Martin) is working there. Bruce decides to stop being “lagom” and asks for 10 sugars in his coffee. He was committed enough to Sweden, however, to turn down client Amy Poehler’s offer of $300,000 to come back to the U.S. to straighten out her tax problems. Naturally, once sensible Emma finds out that the jobless Bruce has the chance to make $300K in three months, she tells him they should go. Based on everything we’ve seen in this show to date, Bruce’s money-manager skills are abysmal, but maybe he suddenly becomes hyper-competent once he’s back on his native soil.
Bruce rents “Tootsie” from Emma’s uncle Bengt’s video store, and Emma dares call it “cheesy”! No way! Bruce rightly defends the greatness of “Tootsie,” a film that definitely holds up more than 30 years later. Emma’s globetrotting ex-boyfriend Marcus shows up to couch-surf for a few days, and Bruce develops a man-crush on him. Understandable, because Marcus is everything Bruce is not–competent, caring, charitable. Emma reassures Bruce that she doesn’t want to get back together with Marcus because he was her first boyfriend, and “your first boyfriend is never the one. You have to try a few to know who the real one is. When you’re young, you’re stupid.” Bruce later repeats these words of wisdom to Viveka when she asks him if he’s jealous of Marcus. For some reason, Viveka, who complained earlier in the episode about Birger’s lack of spontaneity and a sense of fun, takes them to heart and decides to end her long marriage–apparently Birger, that silver fox of a sea captain, was her first love. When she tells Birger she wants to break up, he has a heart attack on the spot. (See, I told you: FORESHADOWING!) Of course, Marcus knows CPR, and Birger survives to be taken to the hospital. When Bruce enters his room, Birger curses at him and tells him he wishes that Bruce and Emma had never met. (Birger will probably cheer up later, because there’s a Dala horse next to his heart monitor, and as we know from a previous episode: “That’s a Dala horse. It makes me happy when I’m sad.”)
In one of those “sad scene set to a melancholy pop song” montages so common in TV shows, Bruce decides to leave Sweden while Swedish singer Amanda Jenssen’s “Illusionist” plays plaintively in the background. Tears!! Woe! Will Birger survive? Of course, anyone who only watches “Welcome to Sweden” on NBC will have no idea about any of this going into Thursday’s show, since this pivotal episode was relegated to the web.
Bruce is back in the U.S.A. and orders the most American thing he can think of at a diner (two apple pies and a cup of weak coffee). Meanwhile, everybody who watches this on NBC and doesn’t bother following “Welcome to Sweden” on social media, which is probably 99% of viewers (“WtS” has just over 2,000 followers on Twitter and 6,300 on Facebook), missed the link to Episode 8 and is exclaiming, “WTF is Birger doing in the hospital?!?! And why is Viveka going out on the town in full cougar regalia?” (I have to say, though, that Lena Olin looked hot in her cougar get-up, despite the fact that Emma accused her of looking like one of the “Pantertanter” (literally, “panther ladies”–the Swedish title of “Golden Girls”). Viveka and Emma wind up at O’Leary’s, a sports bar in Gamla Stan. And we see more Gevalia ads; gee, why nothing from IKEA and H&M?
For obvious reasons, I loved this line from Amy Poehler, explaining the dubious investments she’s made without Bruce around to advise her: “I started my own record company, which was creatively satisfying but financially a bust.” Preach it, sister.
These last two eps were so plot-heavy that there wasn’t much time for beautiful Swedish scenery or new cultural tropes to discuss. My favorite thing about them was that with Bruce in the U.S., there was tons of dialogue in Swedish. My least favorite things: the nonsensical Aubrey Plaza subplot, and the even-more-nonsensical attempt by Bruce to buy a ticket to Stockholm. Supposedly Amy Poehler bought up all the tickets to keep him in the U.S., so he winds up routed through Bolivia and Switzerland. I realize it’s supposed to be comedy, but c’mon, all you’d have to do is buy a ticket to Oslo or Copenhagen, or even Frankfurt or London, and catch a connecting flight to Stockholm. As for the Arlanda escalator in the climactic scene, I’m pretty sure it must be in a domestic terminal because I’ve never seen it before.
All in all, I’d give the season a B-, but I’ll definitely be looking forward to season two, mainly for the awesome Birger and Viveka, the scenery, and the hope that Bruce (now that he’s admitted he loves Sweden and all things Swedish) will be less of a clueless jerkface. Greg Poehler could stand to learn a thing or two from his big sis about how to create flawed, occasionally unsympathetic characters without crossing the line into being too unlikable, not to mention coming up with situations that are hilariously funny, improbable, and yet somehow make perfect sense (i.e. the ongoing Pawnee/Eagleton rivalry on “Parks & Rec”). And while I love her as April Ludgate, for God’s sake no more Aubrey Plaza on this show.
Update: 15 minutes after linking to this post on Twitter, somebody from Virgin responded to me, stating that they “forwarded [my blog post] to our Central Baggage team at HQ” and that I should hear back tomorrow. Stay tuned…
There is nothing more tedious than trying to shame a company via social media, but the reason so many people do it is because it usually works. The company that ignores you or gives you the runaround via phone or email is suddenly ready to lend an immediate helping hand if you start posting on Twitter and Facebook about your bad experience. Will it work for me? I don’t know, but I’m gonna give it a try!
The culprit: Virgin America Airlines. I recently flew round-trip from SFO to JFK on Virgin. On my outgoing flight, I did something really stupid that I’ve never done before: I left my Kindle in the seat back pocket. Seriously, I’m the kind of person who never loses anything! And yet somehow I lost the Kindle. I had been reading Lee Child’s Never Go Back on the plane, and was at around 80%. (Luckily, I have the Kindle app installed on my iPhone and was able to finish the book.)
Now, this is an old Kindle, though it was state of the art when Joe received it as a gift in October of 2010. He passed it along to me when he eventually bought an iPad. Truth be told, I still prefer reading books on paper, so I didn’t use it a ton, but I always brought it along when I traveled. (Though I always bring a spare paper book in case of emergency; I’m reminded of that “Modern Family” episode where Jay Pritchett’s Kindle is accidentally destroyed in the airport right before he is to board a plane to Hawaii.) Besides the Lee Child book, I had the first two Gillian Flynn novels and some other “airplane reading.”
When I got to our apartment in New York and discovered the loss while unpacking, I immediately called the lost and found number listed on Virgin America’s web site, and left a message with my cell phone number. When I didn’t hear back, I filled out an online form on Virgin’s site. That generated a case number (140815-000165), but I never got a response. Finally, at the airport for our return flight, Joe asked an agent at the bag check to see if the item could be located. She took down his cell phone number and said she’d call us at the gate and somebody would bring the Kindle to us if it was found. (He offered to go to the lost & found, but we were told that was not possible.) We had gotten to the airport two hours early so I figured there was plenty of time. It turns out the agent called us as our plane to SFO was taxiing down the runway. Good news! They had found the Kindle! The agent hadn’t called earlier because “time got away from me,” but at least they had it, right? Though it would have been super convenient had we been able to pick it up there. Now it’s a continent away.
I tried calling Virgin “guest services” again, and was transferred again to the lost & found voice mail where I left a phone number, though at this point I suspect there’s .0001% chance anyone will actually retrieve the message and call me back. So I’m resorting to this.
While Googling “Virgin lost and found,” I discovered this Wall Street Journal article; sounds like Julie & Tony had a much easier time of it than I have:
Julie Del Santo and her husband Tony left an iPad onboard a Virgin America flight to San Francisco from Palm Springs, Calif., earlier this month… Twenty minutes after leaving the airport, she got an email on her BlackBerry from the airline asking her to call the local baggage office… The direct number was answered even though it was after midnight. After describing the device, she had Virgin America ship it FedEx to her office. “That was a class act,” she said. From past experiences with airlines, “it’s like pulling teeth to get something back.”
“We are seeing fewer phones left behind, but a lot more iPads and Kindles,” said Tim Thornton, director of airport operations and guest services for Virgin America… Kindle electronic readers are easier to reunite with owners than iPads, airlines say, because they often aren’t locked with password protection. That means email addresses can be retrieved. And carriers say Amazon has been cooperative at contacting owners based on serial numbers.
Since Virgin has had my Kindle since Aug. 12, I don’t think anybody’s bothered going to Amazon to see if they can find us based on the serial number. Is it because it’s an old Kindle and not a shiny new iPad? I guess I could just throw up my hands and say “forget it” and buy a new one, but I’m the sort of person who tends to use things until they no longer work (I drive a 12-year-old car, for instance–I’d rather spend my money on other stuff, like, say, trips to New York). So Virgin, if you’re reading this, please, please return my Kindle. I’m going to call you out on social media, but if you help reunite me with my lost property, I’ll thank you. And probably suggest that other folks who lose something on a Virgin flight try resorting to social media rather than going through the usual channels.
Special thanks to publicist David Brown at Simon & Schuster, who gave me a 600-page spy thriller called I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes while I was in New York. Despite the fact that it weighed a ton, I toted that thing on the plane with me and spent almost the entire flight from JFK to SFO reading it. Never have I been more grateful to receive a giant doorstop of a book. I highly recommend it, though if you’re considering it for your next airplane ride–which you should–may I suggest the Kindle version?
Unlike the past two Augusts, I’m not in Sweden–I’m in New York, so at least I’m closer to Sweden (only six time zones away!) than I am when I’m home in California. I decided to see if I could find a touch of Sweden in the big city.
1. The Mysterious Bookshop: Looking for Scandinavian thrillers? There’s a special section devoted to Nordic authors at this TriBeCa bookstore, now the last of its kind (i.e. an independent mystery bookseller) in the city.
2. Gudrun Sjödén: The Swedish designer sells “eco-conscious clothes meant for the mature woman,” in the words of the New York Times. There are a lot of airy tunics and wide pants; I figure that by the time I’m officially “mature,” I’ll have a whole wardrobe of Sjödén fashions–if I can afford it. They’re a bit pricey, but the quality’s good and I have gotten plenty of wear out of the items I bought in Stockholm. This was my first visit to the New York boutique; I hit the sale rack in the back and found a couple tops. Not sure if it’s coincidence or the start of a “Little Sweden” retail district, but I spotted two other Swedish retailers within a half block of Sjöden’s SoHo store: Boutique Acne and, surprisingly enough, Fjällräven, the purveyor of outdoor gear best known for their ubiquitous Kånken backpacks, carried by every Swedish schoolchild.
3. Sockerbit: Swedish lösgodis store, which basically means you choose from a selection of small candies in bins, scoop ‘em up, and place ‘em in a bag. Sockerbit, located in the West Village, charges $12.95 a pound for its colorful imported wares. I was hoping to find some of the round Swedish candy-coated mints I love, but no such luck; I wound up purchasing a few chocolate items, skipping the popular-with-Swedes salty licorice and sega råttor (gummy rats). There are also some Swedish grocery items, like mustard and lingonberry preserves, for sale, as well as Marabou candy bars.
4. Fika: I stopped by the midtown outpost of this Swedish coffee chain when I was here last year but the loud music sent me running out the door empty-handed. When I saw they’d opened a branch on the Upper West Side, I stopped by, and to my delight, there was no music playing at all. It was blissfully calm in the midafternoon. Sandwiches are named after Swedish cities, like Göteborg and Lysekil; I wonder if this is so the staff can quickly spot a Swede? No one not from Sweden would ever pronounce “Lysekil” correction (lee-suh-sheel, more or less). I was rather confused by the name of the sandwich I ordered–Burträsk (bewr-tresk)–until I Googled it. Turns out it’s a small town in the province of Västerbotten. There was Västerbotten cheese on my (delicious) sandwich. Mystery solved! I might go back tomorrow for some Princess cake.
5. The Swedish Cottage: I often make a point of walking past the Swedish Cottage on the western side of Central Park, despite the fact that it’s not all that Swedish-looking. It’s used as a marionette theater now, but was “originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia,” according to the park’s web site. “After the exhibit, Park co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted chose the rustic building for Central Park.”
6. Red Rooster: I was fortunate enough to dine a few times at midtown’s Aquavit restaurant during the tenure of Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef Marcus Samuelsson. (TV cooking-show fans may recognize him from “The Next Iron Chef” and “Top Chef Masters.”) His current project is Red Rooster in Harlem, and while it does offer Swedish meatballs, the menu primarily consists of Southern comfort food. I had cornbread and catfish, which are not Swedish in any way, but they were very tasty. Anyone looking for actual Swedish food should check out Smörgås Chef, where Joe & I dined last year. And Aquavit is still around, though the prices are at what I consider “expense account level.”
7. Scandinavia House: Not much going on there now, but they frequently show Scandinavian films and have exhibits and lectures during the non-summer months. They always show the official Scandinavian nominees for Best Foreign Film a month or so before the Oscars.
Thanks to the Stockholm Visitors Board for helping me ID the mystery location in Thursday’s episode of “Welcome to Sweden.” It’s Fjällgatan in the Södermalm area of Stockholm.
The reason it looked familiar is obviously because I’ve walked along this beautiful and historic street many times, but only during the day–and I don’t think there’s any denying that it looks a lot more glamorous at dusk. I had actually poked around this neighborhood a few times on Google Street View but don’t think I would have made the connection without the help of @VisitStockholm, since the colors are so washed out on Street View!
The yellow building is Sofia Småbarnsskola (preschool).
“Fjällgatan” means “mountain street,” and it is indeed high up, with some spectacular views. Take a look courtesy of 360Cities, which is the next-best thing to being there and enjoying an ice cream at Fjällgatans Kaffestuga.
I really, really disliked last week’s episode (“Get a Job/Farthinder”) and finally forced myself to sit through it again so I could take notes on it. If “Welcome to Sweden” had been “Welcome to Poland” instead, I probably would have bailed on the series at this point. And yet, those little glimpses of Stockholm sustain me through the awfulness.
Semlor (delicious cream-filled pastries) are out of season at the time this episode takes place (summer). They are traditionally served during Lent, but in recent years, they have gotten so popular that they turn up earlier and earlier. Still, you would really have to hunt to find a café serving semlor in the summertime. I’m not saying such places don’t exist, but it would be on par with trying to find a store selling candy canes and fruitcake in July–it’s highly unlikely.
Bruce behaves like a jerk to almost everyone in this episode: the beleaguered man in the employment office, the woman at the Swedish equivalent of the DMV, the woman behind the counter at the café, his best friend (who loses his job because Bruce can’t drive a car with a manual transmission). I don’t care whether or not he behaved like a jerk toward Gene Simmons, because I can’t stand Gene Simmons. And yet, Simmons’ cameo was probably the high point of this episode. Go figure.
Dala horses turned up in three places: the café, Bruce and Emma’s kitchen (on a potholder), and the employment office.
“Nollvisionen” (“Vision Zero”), referred to in the DMV scene, has been adopted by San Francisco. The goal is an end to all traffic deaths by 2024. Maybe if we all get those self-driving Google cars…?
Bruce laughs at the “Farthinder” road sign. It warns you that there’s a speed bump or similar traffic-calming device up ahead. “Fart” means “speed” in Swedish. It never occurs to me that words like “farthinder” are funny because I grew up with these words and they don’t register as odd or humorous. I remember that during one of my trips, a Swedish celebrity had just broken up with his girlfriend, and one of the tabloids bore the enormous headline “SLUT” (the equivalent of “It’s Over”). It took me a minute to realize why my American traveling companion found this so hilarious.
The boat scene is agonizing (callback to Bruce’s seasickness in Episode One), but at least we get a nice glimpse of one of the most beautiful parts of Stockholm, the quay near the Grand Hotel (Blasieholmskajen). That is indeed where many sightseeing boats depart. I read somewhere that one of the passengers on the boat is Greg Poehler’s real-life father-in-law.
On to tonight’s episode, “Fitting In/Vänner” (“Friends”). This episode is much better, despite the fact that it starts with Bruce joking that Emma and her friend sound like the Swedish chef. That would have been enough to get me to dis-invite him to all parties henceforth.
Perhaps one of the reasons I preferred this episode: there is so much Swedish dialogue. Americans are introduced to the following Swedish words: slipmaskin (a floor sander) and utbränd (burned out–a concept I wrote about a few years ago). There’s also a callback to Episode Two when Emma’s mom says that one of the only Swedish words Bruce knows is “bågsåg” (a bow saw or “Swede saw”).
I noticed in the past two episodes that Bruce’s Iraqi friend Hassan is always shown carrying rosary beads. Since less than 1 percent of Iraqis are Catholic, according to Wikipedia, perhaps that is why he left Iraq for Western Europe.
There are some fantastic scenes of Stockholm, including great shots of the Opera near Kungsträdgården (the King’s Garden) and the island of Skeppsholmen, where the boat af Chapman is docked. The only location I couldn’t recognize was the one below. Click on the images to enlarge:
I think it might be in Kungsholmen or Södermalm? In any case, it looks familiar. I’m hoping my aunt or my parents, who are in Stockholm at this very minute, can help me out.
Bruce calling Emma’s friend Lisa and Emma’s mom, using Google Translate to help him “speak Swedish,” is him at his most charming, but the spa scene is just as icky as the café scene in Episode Four. High-end spas are expensive–you’d think Bruce (who was too broke to buy a semla last week) would have thought twice before deciding to take his girlfriend’s mother for a day of treatments. The 5000:- (which she winds up paying) is equivalent to about $700 U.S.
Did Ace of Base really have the most successful debut album of all time? Of course, I had to look that up, and while they’re in the top 10, they were bested by the all-American Guns ‘n Roses.
Emma notes that Swedes are proud of Ola Rapace, the actor who appeared in “Skyfall” and was henceforth known as “James Bond-Ola.” This nomenclature is something I’ve always found pretty funny–the thing celebrities are best known for becomes part of their name. If your name is Erik and you appeared on the Swedish version of “Survivor,” “Expedition Robinson,” you would be known forever after in the Swedish media as “Robinson-Erik.” It would be as though we knew Kelly Clarkson as “American Idol-Kelly.” That said, I doubt any Swedes have ever referred to Rapace as “James Bond-Ola.” He’s successful for a wide variety of movies and TV shows, and also known for being married to original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” actress Noomi Rapace (they divorced in 2011). Americans may also recognize him from the Swedish “Wallander” series, which has been shown on the “MhZ WorldView” program in the States.
The shoe scene at the party is a bit uncomfortable, but funny. Yes, Swedes make you take your shoes off. It’s sort of surprising that Bruce wouldn’t have been clued into this by now, since he’s lived there a few weeks. I follow this tradition in my own home, but I don’t make our guests remove their shoes. In Sweden, it’s expected; here, it’s considered kind of annoying.
Bruce’s parents, played by Illeana Douglas and Patrick Duffy, are introduced at the very end of the show. Douglas is 49 years old. FORTY-NINE. Poehler is 39. For pity’s sake. The “reveal” of Duffy is a surprise that must have delighted the many Swedes who watched “Dallas,” which was wildly popular in Sweden. I would occasionally watch “Dallas” when I wanted to hear people speaking English (I never once watched it when I was back in the U.S.). This was a long time ago–nowadays there are numerous Swedish satellite channels seemingly devoted to airing reruns of American sitcoms, reality shows, talk shows and dramas. I just checked the listings, and if you were to flip through the channels at the moment I am writing this, you could catch “The Nanny,” “Frasier,” “90210″ or, God help us, “Wife Swap.”
For more “Welcome to Sweden” chat, don’t miss Slate writer Jeremy Stahl’s recap (he critiques it each week with his Swedish wife).
Note: Next week, there’ll be a special two-hour episode of “Last Comic Standing.” “Welcome to Sweden” will return on Aug. 21.
The three panelists on “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” are allegedly competing to see who can accumulate the most points by the end of the show. If you’ve ever tried keeping score at home, however, you will most likely become incredibly confused when the numbers don’t add up. That is because some of the questions the panelists answer always wind up on the cutting room floor. (A correct answer yields one point; the Lightning Round questions near the end of the show are worth two points each. The Lightning Round is more difficult, since there are no hints.)
“Wait Wait” is a game of improv for the panelists–most (but not all) of Peter Sagal’s zingers seem to be scripted–so obviously not every joke is going to be a gem. During Thursday’s taping at the Nourse Theater in San Francisco, the panelists were asked seven questions. The final four did not make it into the broadcast.
Here are the topics of the ones that were heard:
1. Nude artist’s models are threatening to go on strike in Paris
2. A wealthy man whose purchase of a $34 million yacht helped save a company from financial collapse
3. In a historic first, Cosmopolitan magazine offers smokin’ hot sex tips for lesbians (nope, sorry, I’m not going to link to that one!)
These four were axed:
1. The TSA is seeking input from passengers on how to speed up security lines
2. An ESL teacher was fired for writing a blog entry about homophones
3. Buddhist monks are stressed out about traffic
4. Playing “hard to get” doesn’t actually work for women
They seemed to use a lot of the Amy Tan interview. Listening to it today, I was surprised how much of it made it onto the air. One thing that I noticed: Amy had mentioned that she and her mother moved to Europe because her mom felt their house was cursed. That bit was heard in the broadcast, but not the reason (because Amy’s older brother and father had both died recently). Obviously that’s more of a tragic topic than usually comes up during a comedy show.
The “Who’s Bill This Time?” segment that opened the show, featuring a contestant named Tommy (leading to some “Tommy, can you hear me?” jokes), went on for a good 20 minutes. That part was really streamlined. Tommy’s job had something to do with experiential education, and there was a lot of banter about that.
Two of the panelists asked for do-overs for the predictions that ended the show. The topic: “Now that handshakes have been deemed unsafe, what will be the next common behavior to be declared unhealthy?” Alonzo Bodden initially said something about Starbucks that I can’t recall, but nobody seemed to get the joke, so he changed it to CrossFit. Paula said “sex,” and then switched to “choral music.” Neither answer was particularly hilarious, but after over 90 minutes of taping, it’s probably hard to still be firing on all comedic cylinders.
Anyone coming here for a “Welcome to Sweden” recap will have to wait a day or two, because I just got home from a looooong taping of NPR’s popular news quiz, “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” The radio show, which normally tapes in Chicago, is finishing up a three-week residency in San Francisco, and because the Bay Area is full of public radio superfans, the dates sold out in record time. I managed to snag two tickets to the final taping. If my friend and fellow WWDTM fan Vallery is reading this, I knew you were going to be in Ashland this week, which is why I didn’t get a ticket for you, and the previous dates were already sold out. Plus you would have been sad because Paula Poundstone was on the panel. (Paula is Vallery’s least-favorite panelist.) Happily for me, my favorite panelist, comedian Alonzo Bodden, was there, along with Maz Jobrani. Anyway, everyone should tune in (or download the podcast) over the weekend–I actually took a few notes during the show, so after it airs, I’ll tell you what got cut! The taping took about an hour and 40 minutes and needs to get reduced to about 50 minutes, so it will be ruthlessly pared down.
For anyone who did watch “Welcome to Sweden”: since I’ve already watched it once, a few months ago, I can say that it contains my least favorite “oh my gosh Bruce is such a jerk” moment of the series. But Gene Simmons, whom I dislike even more than Vallery dislikes Paula Poundstone, was surprisingly tolerable. More to come…
I joked to my mom recently that I’m planning to spend next summer in Stockholm doing “Welcome to Sweden” tours, similar to the popular Stieg Larsson walks, which take tourists past landmarks from the “Dragon Tattoo” books and movies. Of course, first I have to figure out just where Emma and Bruce are supposed to live. The establishing shot shows a view of the island of Riddarholmen, home to some of the city’s oldest buildings, including the church where Swedish monarchs have been buried since the 16th century. Here’s a gorgeous photo taken from the City Hall tower.
It’s possible that their apartment is located in Kungsholmen, where City Hall is located–that’s also where I lived for the first few months of my life! Even if they can’t see Riddarholmen from their apartment, beautiful views are only steps away. A walk along Norr Mälarstrand is a must if you visit Stockholm.
Despite the scenic views, there is some stuff in this episode that really bugged me. First of all, Bruce’s behavior when he is speaking to the official at the Migration Board is just dumb–why does he start talking about serial killers? Even if he’s nervous, it doesn’t make sense. (I do love the giant Dala horse on the office’s windowsill, though–the wooden horses seem to grow larger every week. I hope they eventually travel to Avesta so they can visit the world’s largest Dalahäst.) I also got annoyed when Emma had to give up her super cool minimalist furniture. At least she got to keep her Arne Jacobsen chair in the end. (They retail for over $6,000, so it makes sense that she would be upset about having to part with it.) Sweden is the home of IKEA–no one should have to ship furniture from America to Sweden! Though Emma’s brother did love that Barcalounger…
We learn some dubious facts about Swedes in this episode. Do Swedes truly believe that you should never have a bedroom that faces the street? I’ve never heard that, but then again, my aunt lives in a studio apartment. Unless you have a huge place, you probably don’t have much of a choice in the matter.
As for looking out the peephole to make sure no neighbors are coming–I’ll admit that’s exactly the sort of thing I would do, here or abroad. “If you care about Swedes, leave them alone,” says Emma. That’s true in almost any American big city as well. The American movie “Pi” featured a scene in which the protagonist looked through a peephole in an attempt to avoid interacting with his neighbors.
Bruce and Emma’s building has one of those tiny cage-shaft elevators that holds just three people. They’re common in old buildings in Stockholm, retrofitted into the center of spiral staircases. Even though you can look out, they’re not for the claustrophobic.
The beer Emma is shown drinking is Arton56, produced by Åbro Bryggeri. It was launched in 2006 to commemorate the brewery’s 150th anniversary.
Emma’s father brings “flyttgröt,” or “moving porridge,” when he comes to visit. This is an old Swedish tradition for when you’re visiting someone’s new home for the first time, though it doesn’t literally have to be porridge. Bread or a cake would work. If you want to try some genuine Swedish porridge, here is a recipe from the woman who cooked for my late grandfather toward the end of his life:
1.5 deciliters rice
3 deciliters water
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter
Mix these four ingredients and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes over low heat.
Add 7 deciliters of milk; stir. Simmer, covered, over low heat for 45 minutes. Do not stir the mixture at all during this time! When it’s finished, stir in a tablespoon or two of sugar. It might make a nice snack to enjoy while you’re watching the next episode of “Welcome to Sweden.”
I never thought I would hear the phrase “Nu ska jag knulla dig” on NBC. The word “knulla” was used twice in tonight’s episode of “Welcome to Sweden”–the first time, Emma’s dad complained that “ungdomarna har knullat sönder sängen. Fan också!”
“Welcome to Sweden” may censor bare butts, but they sure don’t censor naughty Swedish words! Please note: “knulla” is a very vulgar word. So are “fan” (literally: “the devil”) and “skit” (“shit”), which also turned up in this installment. I’m going to define “knulla” as “to have sex,” though Google Translate will give you a more, shall we say, direct definition.
Between the uncensored language, in this episode, Bruce learned Will Ferrell’s secret to mastering the Swedish language–a tape featuring a super-sexy narrator–and got indigestion from eating cinnamon buns. Cinnamon allergies are rare. Bruce’s gastrointestinal distress sent him to the outhouse, which for some reason is perched right on the water’s edge. This odd placement was enough to make my Swedish aunt stop watching the show, because no one would place an outhouse on a dock!
Incidentally, my mom grew up in a very, very rural part of Sweden, and their house didn’t have indoor plumbing when she and my aunt (her sister) were young. I remember her telling me that the man who emptied the outhouse buckets in their town had no sense of smell, making him ideally suited to the task. (This article has info about how outhouses were cleaned back in the olden days. “In general, it is best to clean it about once a week in winter and twice a week in summer.” Boy, am I grateful for flush toilets!)
This is the brand of margarine on Emma’s family breakfast table: Lätta. That means “light,” so it’s a low-fat product. I also spied a tube of Kalles kaviar on the table. Kaviar is a fish-roe spread that’s sold in a tube. I find it completely unappealing, but it’s an extremely popular product. The brand’s slogan is “En väldigt svensk smak” (“A very Swedish taste”). The tube depicts six-year-old Carl Ameln, the son of the CEO. Fun fact from the Kalles web site: “As a thank you for letting us borrow his face, Carl was given free caviar for the rest of his life. We deliver tubes to his door to this very day.”
How many Dala horses did you spot in this episode? There was one in the bedroom, one in Emma’s dad’s toolbox, and one at Will Ferrell’s house. While Will Ferrell is indeed married to a Swedish woman, art auctioneer Viveca Paulin, his wife in this episode was played by an actress, Sara Askelöf.
Emma’s brother Gustav has another money-making scheme, following last week’s taco truck idea. This time, he wants to open a reggae club. Reggae was popular in Sweden long before it made waves in the U.S.–if you want to see something really bizarre, check out Swedish reggae artist Peps Persson’s appearance on the popular variety show “Allsång på Skansen.” He sings in a Southern Swedish (Skånsk) dialect. His first reggae album came out in 1975, and he’s still alive and kicking at the age of 67, so perhaps he could perform at Gustav’s club!
Emma’s mother overhears her complaint about having to live in a “Friggebod” with her family. A Friggebod is a small house you can build on your property without having to get approval from the government. The maximum size of a Friggebod is 15 square meters, or about 160 square feet, so Emma is obviously exaggerating for effect.
She and Bruce wind up staying at the Hotel Diplomat on Strandvägen, which is one of the most elegant streets in Stockholm. There’s a beautiful shot showing the waterfront, with the Gröna Lund amusement park off in the distance.
See you back here again next Thursday, when Bruce and Emma finally move into their apartment in Stockholm, and Bruce tries to meet the neighbors!
I hope everyone tuned in to the premiere of “Welcome to Sweden” on NBC! A few days ago, I set a Season Pass on my TiVo to record it, selecting, as I always do, “first run only.” (I do this automatically, since some of the cable shows I watch are repeated zillions of times during the week.) Imagine my surprise when I checked and the TiVo was not going to record the show, because it was listed as a rerun in the program guide.
“Original air date: March 21″? Yes, that was the date it originally aired… in Sweden! Also, what’s the deal with the misspelling in the title? “Valkomen”? I can forgive the lack of an umlaut, but it’s välkommen, with two M’s. (That word means “welcome,” by the way.)
I was able to reprogram the TiVo and see the show. Overall, the content seemed identical to the Swedish version, although the ad breaks seemed oddly placed, particularly the one during the kräftskiva (crayfish party). The program airs on a commercial network in Sweden, but I assume the ads were placed in different slots there. And, of course, there was pixelating. So much pixelating! Heaven forfend that U.S. viewers see a bare butt! None of the butts were pixelated when the show aired in Sweden. Swedes can handle butts.
A few cultural notes:
It was great to see Arlanda airport and a Taxi Stockholm cab in the episode. Since I’m not going to Sweden this summer, it made me feel a little wistful.
Bruce gets seasick en route to Emma’s family’s summer house (his seasickness is a plot point that is also featured in a future episode). It turns out that you can also drive there, however. A gorgeous summer home in (I’m assuming) the Stockholm archipelago that is close enough to the city that it’s accessible by auto? That place would be worth a fortune.
Emma’s brother mentions that he wants to be an entrepreneur and drive a taco truck. Fun fact: tacos are hugely popular in Sweden. The phenomenon of fredagsmys (literally “cozy Fridays”)–eating tacos at home, usually made with store-bought ingredients made by Old El Paso or the Swedish company Santa Maria (nee Nordfalks)–is so well-established that it’s been the subject of academic papers.
I’m really glad that the John Pohlman joke stayed in–he’s the Swedish weatherman whose name sounded a bit like Amy Poehler’s (Greg’s sister in real life, but one of Bruce’s “celebrity clients” in the world of the show). For some reason, when I was a child, my family developed a fascination with Pohlman, who delivered the forecasts on Sweden’s state TV network for over 30 years. So that reference felt like a personal shout-out to me. (I’m sure Greg Poehler didn’t come up with that joke, since Pohlman retired years before he moved to Sweden.)
The time line of the show is a bit skewed, since it seems to be midsummer (Bruce comments on the fact that it never gets dark), but the family is eating crayfish. Nobody would eat crayfish at midsummer! Crayfish parties are held in August, not June. Swedes are very big on tradition. Of course, Emma’s family’s slurping of the crayfish is very funny, so I guess we’ll forgive this little lapse.
As Bruce learns, don’t drink alcohol in the sauna!
Keep an eye out for the dalahäst in interior scenes. Every Swedish home must have at least one. These painted wooden horses are an immediately recognizable symbol of Sweden. They are fabricated by hand in the province of Dalarna, and each one is an individual work of art. You will never find a plastic or Chinese-made dalahäst for sale in Sweden. They tend to be rather expensive, and now you know why.
Join me here again next Thursday, as Bruce meets up with Will Ferrell and tries to learn Swedish!
- “Welcome to Sweden”: End of Season Binge Watch!
- Dear Virgin America, Please Give Me Back My Kindle
- Looking for Sweden in New York
- “Welcome to Sweden” Mystery Solved!
- “Welcome to Sweden”: A Double Dose
- August 2014
- July 2014
- June 2014
- May 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- February 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- Sue on Dear Virgin America, Please Give Me Back My Kindle
- Linda on Dear Virgin America, Please Give Me Back My Kindle
- Gary on “Welcome to Sweden”: A Double Dose
- vallery feldman on No review tonight…
- Amy on No review tonight…