Small things have been highlighting big differences between my life in Stockholm and Boulder — like having a garbage disposal in the sink. You can’t get these in Sweden, as far as I can tell. I have a friend in Södermalm who imported one after living in San Francisco for a little while.
Other tiny things remind me that I’m not in Sweden anymore: the first floor is the first floor (#1, not 0). The supermarkets here have cereal aisles bigger than the tiny shop across the street from our apartment in Stockholm. While Colorado has alcohol shops and only 3:2 beer in the groceries, something like the separate Systembolaget and low-test beer in the groceries in Sweden, the Boulder liquor stores are open all day and into the late night, unlike Systembolaget outposts, and the stores seem to be open on Sunday as well, but I have yet to confirm.
Most stores seem to have longer hours here than in Stockholm. More, more, more — there’s more food here, in the groceries and for eating out, which seems more common. There’s mountains on the horizon. And while there are monsoons, this place is a desert, so there is a lot less water, and more scrub and dry desert flowers that would drown in Sweden.
One big thing that makes me happy to be here in summer: farmers markets. Stockholm is sorely lacking in these, but no wonder — it’s sorely lacking in sunshine and a growing season. My god, the tomatoes here are amazing: thick juicy beefsteaks that have just the right amount of tang and dripping juices, perfect on a sandwich or alone with a dash of salt. Oh man. I miss ripe summer tomatoes. And my friend Big D introduced me to the joys of summer peaches from Colorado. They are like gold and taste like manna. Sooooooo goooood.
Some bigger things remind me I’m in the US: car culture is supreme, and the car is king. The main roads through town are wide and capacious. All the banks have drive-through ATMs.
One sunny afternoon, in the car with friends who have been helping me to settle in, we were driving down a main road through town, with three lanes going in each direction and a speed limit of, say, 45 mph or about 70 km/hour. A convoy of muscle cars zoomed up behind and around us, like a herd of fast-moving stampeding buffalo.
I thought for sure they’d be driven by caffeine-fueled teenagers, but no: gray-haired 40-somethings behind the wheel, weaving in and out as if it were a video game. Only it was real and on surface roads in the suburbs, with the requisite minivans. A few days later I watched a pedestrian crossing with the light in the crosswalk nearly get hit by a car turning left — the young woman walking literally jumped out of the way. The cop car behind the offending vehicle just zoomed by. Yuck.
Truly, the weirdest big difference is that there’s pot here in Boulder. There’s pot everywhere: sold in small storefronts, in ads in the weekly local news tabloid, and oh my word, the scent of it wafts into my apartment every day, multiple times, from the people who live in the apartment below me. It’s crazy. The other night at 2 am, I woke up feeling sick to my stomach and realized I shouldn’t have left the window open — the pungent smell of marijuana had crept into my bedroom. Double, nay, even quadruple yuck. It’s just … gross smelling. I’ve been pondering how to approach my neighbors, but I think I might just sit tight until fall comes and hope they smoke inside…
I cannot imagine this seeming at all normal to the Swedes I know, who have been educated that pot is pretty evil, let alone as illegal as harder drugs. They would definitely be alarmed at this particular difference. But I suspect they would suck up the sunshine — I’m told there are 300+ days of it here. That must be the biggest difference of all.