Cash no longer king in Sweden

Only two percent of financial transactions in Sweden are made in cash. Fitting then that King Gustav Vasa will be replaced by Dag Hammarsköjd in the new 1000-krona bill.

In their hit 2015 two-man comedy show Ägd, Swedish comedians Henrik Schyffert and Fredrik Lindström ran a bit about a Swede walking past a beggar and instead of giving him  or her money, she just pats her pockets and shrugs her shoulders apologetically as if to say she’d give some money, if only she had some cash.

It always got a laugh because it was so easy to relate to. It felt true not only because the citizens of this Scandinavian welfare state have a hard time confronting underprivileged people in person to begin with, but also because nobody in Sweden carries cash with them anymore.

If they can’t pay with a debit or credit card, then surely the seller will accept Swish, an electronic payment solution that connects the users mobile phone number with a bank account and enables quick and secure transactions between consumers.

“Only about two percent of all payments in Sweden are made in cash,” says Jacob de Geer, CEO and co-founder of iZettle, a seven-year-old mobile payments company known for its payment card readers.

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Suddenly Sweden

Now that Sweden made all kinds of news – fake and real – I’m sure the Stockholm Syndrome will also hit the headlines shortly. I first heard of the Stockholm Syndrome when I watched Die Hard. Now, the first Die Hard movie came out in 1988 so I probably watched it on video a year later because back then, it took at least a year for Hollywood movies to hit the video stores in Finland.

Also, what really made me pay attention to a weird psychological condition that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have cared about was that in the movie, they mistakenly called it the Helsinki Syndrome, a thing I had never heard of so I had to look into it. And that’s when I learned it was really called the Stockholm Syndrome.

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To be a role model (ain’t easy)

When I was a kid, and Mom wanted me to behave well with my cousins, she always told me that she counted on my being nice because “you’re their idol”. I’ve never been a troublemaker to begin with, but the flattery worked, too. Whenever dealing with my younger cousins – or young kids in general – I always tried to be on my best behavior.

I wanted to be a good role model.

And I wanted my Mom to be proud. Still do.

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Santa may be coming to town

Lately, Son’s gotten into politics. He’s dashing off to all kinds of meetings, and he’s arranging events and moderating debates, so much so that it’s hard for me to keep up. I do know, though, that he’s a smart and caring boy and that his politics are very warm and that he’s out to change the world for the better. He wants to help people, which is nice.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to me that he wants to get out there and make things happen. A few years ago, maybe around five or so, he ran a one-man one-cause campaign at school as he paraded the schoolyard with a sign that said, “BELIEVE IN SANTA – He is real.”

Now there’s a message I can get behind.

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Walk this way

Today’s my birthday. It’s good day, a happy day, it makes me feel special. Today’s my day all day long, so there’s a little more spring to my step, and my posture’s a little better than usual.

Some time ago, about ten years ago, I decided that I’d never work on my birthday again. Since everybody else was always telling me how it was my day, why not then make it my day for real. On December 8, I don’t do work – writing this isn’t work, this is just me talking to you – and instead, I do whatever I want.

(Almost. I mean, I do have to run Daughter’s ringette practice, and those garbage cans don’t move themselves onto the curb, do they?)

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His Izzyness

 Open the door, Homer
 I’ve heard it said before
 Open the door, Homer
 I’ve heard it said before
 But I ain’t gonna hear it said no more
— Bob Dylan, “Open The Door, Homer”

On the south side of town, there’s a small one-room office space that looks like a living room. It’s on the street level, in the corner of a big building, and with its big windows opening on two streets, it would be perfect for a small store. It’s not a store, though, it’s a folk music center. Or, rather, a Folklore Center. Or, even more accurately since we’re in Sweden, a Folklore Centrum.

It used to be called Folklore Center, way back in the 1950s when it was located in the Greenwich Village in New York, and when Bob Dylan used to hang out there. The founder, Izzy Young, produced Dylan’s first concert at the Carnegie Chapter Hall in New York in 1961 and when he moved to Sweden in the 1970s, he took the center with him and turned it into a centrum.

Basically, Izzy’s been a folk music legend for a good five decades, but up until last winter, I had never heard of him (and that says everything about me). Then I got a new colleague, Danny, who told me stories about Izzy – he helps Izzy run his small concerts in the small space – and we laughed, and then I forgot about Izzy and folk music again.

And then Bob Dylan got the Nobel Prize in literature.

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Psyched about words

“OK, pick a word,” Mika said as soon as I sat down.

I was a little out of breath because I had run all the way from the bus terminal in the middle of town to our school, and had made it to our psychology class just in time. I dropped my blue backpack on the floor, and sat down in the first row, next to him.

“Any word,” he added, like a magician, ready to amaze his crowd.

So I did.

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And don’t call me Shirley

Just as there are times when the Phantom leaves his jungle home and travels as an ordinary man there are times when this freelance writer dresses up for work. Instead of just jumping into a pair of jeans and pulling on a Back to the Future T-shirt, I may wear a shirt. With buttons and everything.

Last Friday was such a day. And when I left the house to pick up the kids from school – it was Friday, after all – I noticed my black dress shoes pushed to the side of our shoe rack and I picked them up. They looked good, really good, considering I had them polished in Las Vegas ten years ago.

I put them on.

There’s something about shoes like that that make me want to tap dance, and vow that one day, I’ll learn a few nice tap dance steps.

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From Sollentuna with love

Buses in the Stockholm county are red, except the ones that are blue. They’re so special that people refer to them as “blue buses”, instead of using their line numbers. In Sollentuna, an affluent suburb a 35-minute bike ride from downtown Stockholm only the 179 going to Vällingby is blue, the rest of them are red, including the 520.

mAbout 35 years ago, a fair-haired boy got off 520 at the Sollentunavallen stop. He crossed the street, and from the top of the hill, he could see the view over the 17th century mansion and the Baltic sea bay, a running track, and most importantly, the outdoor hockey rink.

It was his big brother who had got him into hockey to begin with, and the kid turned out to be so good that when he was seven, the instructors at the hockey school considered him too good to play with the other kids, and directed him to the youngest junior team in town. The others were two years older but he either didn’t notice it or didn’t care.

The track field got a bandy and skating rink next to it, and they built a new outdoor rink next to the old one. A new indoor arena was built but by then the fair-haired boy was already an international star and the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

His name was Mats Sundin.

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