On a dark and stormy night in the year of our Lord, Nineteen-Hundred and Sixty-One, an infant lad entered the world and frowned. Well, that's how I sometimes imagine it. My birth, that is.
Naturally, I have no recollection of the event. And as for my mother, who should be the best source of information on this matter, her story varies with the degree at which she approves of my most recent undertakings. Still, there is this matter of "the frown" which appears to be some form of universal constant in her descriptions. So I guess it's the most relevant thing to know of my birth.
Now, those of you who are economists (or just after my scalp) probably aren't interested in all this "quatch", and just want the meat and potatoes. For your benefit, here's my CV.
The rest of you lads and lassies, let's unleash some stories from my life.
My early years seem to have been a series of accidents, some more serious than others. One in particular that I vividly remember is when I fell into a boiling pot of water. For those of you who think that the washing machine was invented by Leonardo (which could very well be true), well that piece of news hadn't reached the region where I grew up. Anyway, I literally ended up with 2nd degree burns and had to spend a week in the hospital.
Then there was the case of my first visit to the dentist. I was about 4 years of age and the kids around the block had told me frightening stories about how painful it was when the dentist drilled into your teeth and the big needles they stuck into your mouth. Since the word "anaesthetic" had no meaning to me at the time I had something of a self-control problem when my mother dragged me into the dentist's office and lunged me into that chair.
So how does a young lad get out of a "Kobayashi Maru" situation like that? Well, you don't analyse the different aspects of your problem, weighting the pros and cons of your options. No, my friend, you just do whatever comes into your mind. In my case, I bit the dentist's hand as hard as I could. The poor woman screamed, and when she had regained some form of equilibrium she told my mother that we were never to come back again. I guess there wasn't anything wrong with my teeth.
There are many more stories I could tell you, like how I had my first beer at six, how I nearly killed my big brother when I was eight, and so on. But I guess everybody has stories like that to tell, so I won't bore you with mine.
My primary school years were quiet with the exception of a few incidents. I was accused of kicking the girls on their ancles, jumping out of windows, and being too young to understand the concept of a partial derivative. My family had a tendency of moving every other year or so, but around the time when I was eight we settled down in the beautiful city of Strangeness, located an hours drive west of Stockholm. And I was to live in this mythical place for nearly 12 years.
Strangeness, or as the locals spell it Strängnäs, is a typical small town where everybody knows everybody. While I was living there it was primarily a city of teachers and serious looking men running around in uniforms. And there was this company that made icecream and sold it from trucks playing loud and very annoying melodies. When I was a kid, this was a very small company; today they're one of the major players on the Swedish icecream market. It may be of some interest to know that the message in this company's commercials today is: Awful music, good icecream. Well, I can vouch for the music.
As a basis for stability there was also a mental hospital, suitably located on an island directly north of the city. Ten years later I came to work at the hospital during the summers. On my first day, the woman at the recruitment office gave me an impressive looking set of keys, an order to take a three day crash course on the ins and outs of mental care (which I was scheduled to take after my first summer), and an attempt at an encouraging smile.
I'm getting ahead of myself here, so let's turn back the clock a few years. School. Yes, the first really valuable lessons I learned in school were "everyone is subject to censorship" and "people you look up to will eventually let you down". It was at the end of second grade and a girl in my class had gotten a poem published in the daily newspaper "Expressen"; it was printed in a column edited by the man who wrote the stories of "Pelle Svanslös" (Swedish kids stories about a cat who didn't have a tail). This guy's stories were and still are quite popular among Swedish children and I really loved them at the time. Anyway, my teacher thought that sending poems to this column was a wonderful idea and instructed all the kids to write one each. And when we had finished them she would send them to the newspaper.
All this happened on a sunny Friday afternoon. I was sitting outside in the middle of the football field wishing I could play football with my friends instead of writing a silly poem. Well, the sooner the poem was finished, the sooner I could play football. So I wrote down a 9-10 line poem about the things I saw around me. A green field with yellow flowers, bumble bees and swallows and so on. But then I came to the end, the last line, and I was firmly stuck. I soon became irritated with myself. Why couldn't I just write that silly last line? Well, there was a thought. So I just scribbled down something like "...and this is a really stupid poem".
Some weeks later my poem was published in Gösta Knutsson's column (yes, that's the dudes name). But the last line was missing. They had accepted the whole poem except for that last line. I was furious, of course, and felt betrayed. But to this day I don't know who censored me: my used-to-be-wonderful teacher or my formerly favorite writer. Still, I found out where the wozzle wasn't...
The years went by and school was just another job. Then after my first year in high school I got the opportunity to go to the States as an exchange student for a year. Now this was different. A chance to get out of the house for an entire year, meet new people, and learn how to talk like a real American.
A few months before I was to leave I received a letter from my host family. They sent pictures of themselves, of their house, of their cat and dogs, of their pool and told me about what they were doing. It all sounded great with a minor exception. The town, or village I should say, was so small I couldn't even find it on the map (National Geographic). Me, basically a city boy with no experience in farming, was going to spend a year in the middle of... Well, it was in New York State so civilization was just around the corner.
Despite an alarming lack of urban treasures like carbon dioxide and steam rising from wet concrete, I managed to survive a whole year surrounded by trees, farms, cows and pigs, and wild blizzards. I guess the main reasons were that I met some of my best friends and that I could drink as much beer as I wanted to. Admittedly, it was that sad excuse of a beer that frogs drink (if you wanna believe the commercial), but since I really hadn't acquired much of a taste yet (despite my previous adventures) they went by rather quickly; ah, the sweet innocense of youth.
One of the more bewildering experiences in the land of milk and honey (corn and burgers would be more appropriate) was this chant they rambled in school every morning before classes began - the pledge of allegiance, or whatever it's called. Being raised in a country where nationalism was more or less taboo, it was a very strange thing indeed to have to listen to people all around you pledging their total support to their country's nationalistic ideals. Where I grew up, waving a Swedish flag was, except at sports events, considered fascist and pretty close to treason - a logic that has always befuddled me.
Well, I finally got my high school diploma and went back to Sweden for my last two years of high school. By the time I was 20 I was finally ready to leave school and become a man - a year in the navy awaited me, whether I wanted to or not.
I had been selected to enter the Navy Chef School in Karlskrona - why they thought I or any one of my fellow "inmates" was well suited for such a job is still beyond my comprehension. The first ten weeks was boot camp and... in the middle of boot camp, a Soviet sub landed on a rock just around the corner from where we were crawling and playing the good guys fighting off the naughty red guys from the east.
The Russian tin can belonged to a class of subs called whiskey. So naturally the local population quickly tried to make money on this affair. For instance, you could buy a t-shirt with a picture of the sub and the text "Whiskey on the Rocks". Many years later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, some Swedish business man bought the old sub and put it on display in his tivoli. And you thought this only happens in Amerikka...
When I finally got out of the Navy I began my new career as an economics and business student at the Stockholm School of Economics; by their own claim the best business school in Sweden. It was time to show the rest of the world how exceptionally intelligent I really was...
The first month was a real killer. We were supposed to read a few thousand pages of introductory material in economics and business and then more or less simultaneously take three exams for almost no credit; now there's a good incentive. When I took the exams I realized that reading all those books would have been a waste of time. Although I don't mind wasting some time now and again, it bothered me that I had purchased all that literature; luckily next year there was a large group of uni(n)formed first year students that I could sell the lot to.
Other than that first month, my three years as and undergraduate student went by very smoothly. I eventually came to the point where I had to decide what to do with all this education. I thought long and hard and after many broonales I decided that what I really needed, more than anything else, well, almost more than anything else, was more education. As a wise man once said: "Enough...is never enough".
So off I went for another 5 years of hard training. This time I decided to skip all that business stuff and stick to economics. After the first 2 undergraduate years I had come to the conclusion that business was not my business, and, frankly, I've always been much better at buying things than selling them so the decision was quite natural. After 2 years of graduate courses I took off to the US again. This time to the friendly city of Minneapolis and the Department of Economics at the University of Minnesota.
I lived in a small apartment close to the Dinky town area. Next to my apartment building was a fire station and every night the sirens would go off. Sometimes only once, but usually twice, three times or four. It took me awhile to get used to that noise, but after a few months I had kinda adjusted to it. Then, in the middle of winter the smoke alarms went off in my building. Then the sirens at the fire station went off and a whole bunch of firemen, high on adrenaline, rushed over with their hoses and axes. It turned out that one of my neighbors had decided that baking at 3 A.M. was a very good idea, turned on his gas oven, and fallen asleep when whatever he was baking was starting to fill up the his apartment with a sweet smelling smoke.
One of the things I didn't know about Minnesota was that you can go skiing there. Now, I don't mean cross country skiing for which the Minnesota winters are... I was going to say ideal, but since the temperature is often below 0F your lungs may not agree with hard physical activity in the fringes of the fringes of the fringes of the Arctic. Anyway, I'm talking about downhill skiing. As awkward as this may seem, it was great fun for me. I got to teach all these Southern, Mediterranean, South American, and Asian folks how to ski. If I had been more of an entrepreneur I'm sure I could have made substantial money on it, but I usually settled for some brew.
By the end of 1990 I finally got out of school. Or more accurately, I was no longer an enrolled student. After 22 years, that's a pretty weird feeling. I was back in my home town and within a year I had landed a position as Assistant Professor at the Institute for International Economic Studies (IIES) at the Stockholm University. Shortly after this occured I took off for Copenhagen and Denmark.
Copenhagen is a wonderful city and the Danes are a lot of fun once you (i) get to know their language a bit, and (ii) can put up with their sense of humor. It took me about 3 weeks before I could have a conversation in Swedish/Danish and understand what the other person was saying; to most Swedes, Danish sounds like someone trying to talk with a fork stuck up their throat. After roughly two months I could even follow a conversation with more than one Dane; very impressive indeed. In the event that you're not familiar with the Scandinavian languages you should know that the vocabulary is similar but that the pronounciation differs considerably. Anyway, I think part of the reason why it took me so long to achieve a reasonable familiarity with Danish was all the good brew. It was the first time of my life when I was actually living in a country with decent domestic beer.
Danes have a particular sense of humor. If you don't understand sarcasm, you'll find Danes a bit wayward and quite rude. If you can't take it, don't go there! Having survived both the Swedish and the American style of humor I had sufficient armor for surviving the onslaught. For instance, one of my best Danish friends greeted me every morning...well it was sometime before lunch...with some phrase like "Hi, you dumb Swede. You want some chocolate?"
OK, I admit, not all Danes have much to offer in the humor department. Anyway, folks, that'll have to do for now. If you've survived this far you're either a very good friend or simply too tired to click on that "Favorites" button or you've got some other browser and can't find it.
Last Updated: November 11, 2011