Postcards from Europe - 1: Touchdown

The first of a series of posts on my trip to Europe.

The sunlight streams through the airplane’s window as I peer out at the landscape below. The wrinkled silver surface of the sea glimmers in the slating sun rays, with dark irregular islands protruding through the water. Small islands of different shapes, most seemingly virgin. We are approaching Stockholm, an archipelago of around 24,000 islands, most of which are too small for inhabitation. Think of the islands as bread crumbs that have broken off the surface and are floating away into the sea.

We are soon above the mainland and as I scan the Scandinavian landscape I am struck by how absolutely green it is. The terrain is covered with dense ‘Christmas’ trees for the most part, with cleared stretches of crops that are just a different shade of green. Soon I can see bright colored cottages, red or yellow or green, with large prominent windows. Remember the little houses we drew as kids? The ones with an angular roof and bright colors and disproportionately large windows, set on a lush green expanse? Apparently they do actually exist.


The hour-long bus ride from Arlanda airport to Stockholm city gave me my first glimpse of Swedish countryside, and then of a modern European city. It is like stepping onto a large elaborate movie set, with narrow cobbled streets, lined with elegantly designed buildings, a wide footpath having several bistros along the way. The orderly way people move around, crossing only at zebra crossings, cars stopping for pedestrians, cyclists sticking to tracks made exclusively for them all seem carefully choreographed. The sight of a fully suited elderly gentleman, the kind you would expect to step out of a Mercedes, wearing a helmet and riding a bicycle is interesting. On the highway, I see the occasional motorcyclist riding a racing bike as fast as the cars. One whizzes past me with the rider in a black helmet, black leather jacket, black leather trousers, and black boots. Her long flowing blonde hair completing the picture.

At the Stockholm bus & train station, a Swede asked me directions in Swedish. Halfway through his sentence he realized I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I wonder what tipped him off. My black hair, or brown skin, or black eyes? Color is something that I am constantly reminded of here. If I were to paint the Swedes, I would quickly run out of the color yellow. The golden yellow hair, the yellowish pink skin, and the (slightly freakish) green eyes make you see real-life Barbies and Kens everywhere.

The fact that all Swedes speak English is a major blessing. And that they have an easy to understand American accent is even better. They, however, struggle to understand English spoken with any other accent. I have come to the disturbing conclusion that to be understood, I must speak with an American accent, nasal twang and all. Trouble is I feel all fake and uncomfortable doing that.

A pleasantly disconcerting observation is the over-abundance of beauty in this place. On any street, in any cafetaria, in any class, I can’t help but wonder what sets apart fashion models from those that are walking past me. Is beauty really that abundant? Is it so common place? Or have my eyes not yet adjusted to the sight of Europeans with their fair skin and blue eyes that make them seem more beautiful to me than they will once the novelty wears off? Time will tell.

I'll talk about Jonkoping, the university, my accomodation, expenses and the rest in further posts.

Pics: Streets of Stockholm from my camera

Comments

  1. Good stuff... looking forward to reading more... I feel very happy for you.

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  2. Interesting comment (and formulation) about "overabundance of beauty." I've wondered about that too. At least two things come to mind: 1) More people have the luxury to take better care of themselves with affordable superior products and 2) our unconscious societal conditioning for finding fair(er) skin more attractive.

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  3. Hey great comment about the language and real-life barbies :).That is the beauty of reading a writer's experiences.Really a great and timely interlacing of the words-"disturbing conclusion" and "slightly freakish green eyes".
    Friend you always bring a big smile on my face with your comments.
    Moreover i'd appreciate it if you can express your feelings about the behaviour and beliefs of the swedes.
    Well eagerly waiting for the amazing analysis of university and accomodation.

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  4. This is so exciting. I'm so happy for you and look forward to reading more!! And dont forget to post pics too :D

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  7. Ever felt very happy and very jealous all at the same time?? you have? then you'll know how am feeling right now :)
    nice post.. i love the way you describe things- it is almost as if one is seeing what is being talked about with one's own two eyes..
    looking forward to other posts about stockholm, more of sweden and rest of europe :)
    hugs

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  8. Nicely written as always. But am waiting eagerly for that excess of yellow and green in the pics. ;)

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  9. Nicely written as always. But am waiting eagerly for that excess of yellow and green in the pics. ;)

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  10. @Farah: Thanks! Now I know how you must feel in Australia..


    @ansari: 1) The superior products are hardly affordable! It is more to do with a mindset where personal grooming and fashion are considered necessary expenses rather than luxuries. A haircut here costs about a thousand bucks (rupees) and almost no one has simple straight combed hair. 2) It isn't all about skin or eye color either. They would look just as good (ok, almost) were they dark skinned.


    @Asif: Thanks a lot! I am actually feeling very aware of my limited ability to express my surroundings right now.


    @Azra: You bet its exciting! And yes, pics are on their way. :)


    @mystish: Yup, I'm feeling that right now. I'm happy about being here, and jealous about how well you write!


    @Maverick: Yea, I'll send you some pics of Swedish dudes soon.. :P

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  11. Haha..everytime Indians journey to mainland Europe, they seem to find the wide, clean, uncluttered streets and orderly traffic if not slightly unnerving, then atleast slightly notable.

    The overabundance of beauty? Well, beauty or what most people consider beautiful seems to be concentrated in certain places moreso than others. I had that same feeling in Kashmir where my shikarawaala looked like he cud outshine Hrithik Roshan and the buggy waala was so classically goodlooking he cud give George Clooney a run for his money..

    I suppose it has to do more with symmetrical, slightly chiselled, mostly angular features..thats why Ethiopians are so handsome looking..all of them, almost!

    This was a most interesting post..

    I, too, am looking forward to more..

    P.S. still a little jealous! ;)

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  12. @Tangled: Yup, I agree with you about the beauty thing.

    And are you sure you meant Ethiopians there?

    You've no idea how much I'm withholding to avoid pangs of jealousy in my readers. (I'm so thoughtful, am I not? :P)

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  13. Very well written...But with the population so small...it must be looking deserted...especially when someone goes from this part of the world...

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  14. yeah ethiopians..very goodlooking people..i mean the non-famished ones of course..

    iman is ethiopian and she's like a famous model na..

    they have beautiful high cheekbones and all..

    and so considerate of u! :P

    i guess that creepy amrikan accent thing is coz..like the rest of the world they watch hollywood movies and american tv!

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  15. come to think of it..i have lots of difficulty understanding brit accents but not much difficulty understanding even southern american accents..

    those people are omnipresent..

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  16. @Sameer: Yes, density is much lower here. But it's a pretty small town and the university area has a lot of students up and about all the time.


    @Tasneem: Welcome, and you comment lovely too. :)


    @Tangled: Had never heard of her. Had to google and check. She's somalian apparently.

    Arre, it's not a creepy accent at all. It's pretty cute actually (or was that becoz of the people I heard speaking it :P). Apparently, in some schools here they have a choice early on whether to learn the american accent or the british accent and are taught accordngly. So, there are some pretty neat British accents as well.. And I really like the British accent the best. So arrogantly sophisticated!

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  17. Fair skin is not the best skin in reality... prone to sun-damage and cancers... and if you ask these fair-skinned people, they would kill to have 'Indian skin'and they think Indians are more beautiful... so its all about perception in the end.

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  18. LOL!! I wish our teachers gave us that option in school..

    My English teachers had strong Portuguese Goan accents..and those are not even cute/sexy..

    somalian, ethiopian..all of them..i'd kill to have cheekbones like theirs..

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  19. @Farah: I'll find out and let you know about that. :)


    @Tangled: To each his/her own. :)

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