Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Sweden, 1920

My mother recently inherited a collection of letters that belonged to her great aunt. A lot of the letters are from my great grandmother (Elsa Fredholm) and almost all are in Swedish. I have been translating the ones from my great grandmother for my family. The letter below was written by a friend who had returned to Sweden, I thought it was cool. It was also the only letter typewritten, which helped me immensely. Some of those old Swedes have some nasty handwriting.

March 18, 1920

Dear Carl and Lisa:

It might be fun for you to hear a little from old Sweden and especially from someone who has spent many years in the US and at the same time kept the old country in his thoughts most of the time. The old Sweden, or more correctly, the land of our youth no longer exists, believe me or not, it’s true. I never thought that I could feel like a stranger when I came home, but I really did. Big changes happen in 12 years, but how big they will be in the long time you have been away. To visit here is probably fun but to stay here is impossible if you haven’t hit the jackpot or have it on the line, in any case, you have to many of the worldly possessions that we, the small guys could get in the US. I understand very well your thoughts and feelings for old Sweden, but as I’ve said, old Sweden no longer exists for those who have been away for many years so forget the dreams of your youth if you come here or even stay in the US.

In the town of my birth, Gefle, I enjoyed myself quite simply, of the relatives who used to number 50 there is now only a few left, the same goes for my best friends, they have all dispersed around the world and some are with our lord. My youngest sister has managed to become happily married like you Elsa, and you can understand how that feels, so gosh darn how Gefle was boring. Here in Stockholm it feels a little more like the homeland and in some ways I can make some cash so I can probably learn to enjoy myself here, but it has to be my own little job otherwise I will turn back to the US.

I am now slaving away as a typewriter repairman at Underwoods General Agent and make 75 kronor a week, it sounds like a lot, but you have to pay 35 – 40 kronor a week for food at the cheaper restaurants and automats, and 15 to 25 kronor a week for room and then you can see that there is not a lot left over to clothe yourself and have some fun.

If you want to go out and have a good time at a nicer place I can say that 20 to 25 kronor disappears as fast as 4 to 5 used to and even so you don’t feel full of life. Here is a little example from Mosebacke. Three tickets to the review, two simple smorgasbord, which we share between the three of us, three cocktails, three pilsners, three steaks, three coffees, three after-dinner drinks (= 1 ½ old style), and three cigars and that little party cost 42 kronor, 75 ore and even so, you don’t feel a pang of regret or good humor. You can’t buy a cocktail, a grogg, or a glass of punch out these days without eating so people bring their liters home these days, and this is done through a ration book that you get if you can show that you’ve paid your city and royal taxes and then you get to buy 4 liters a month.

Normal Aquavit which is too weak and hard to drink, 6 kronor. Bad cognac is 7 kronor, normal cognac 12 kronor, punch 5 to 7 kronor—all for a liter.

I have applied for an alcohol ration book and like every foreigner I am eligible for one as long as my passport is valid except I can’t buy more than 2 liters a month, I hope the book comes the day after tomorrow.

How are things going in America now that it’s dry? I imagine that they have begun with homebrew, for I am sure there are thirsty folks left in the US, or have they all become sober and upstanding according to the wishes of the big wigs. Give my regards to Elsa and Acke as well as any other friends if you meet them, you can, by the way, send this note to Acke next time you write to him since I have many to write to and if he’s interested he can get a letter next time.




boredoom said...

That's åsom! It's fun how it gradually becomes clear where his shoe pinches (as we say in Swedish): the liquour prices are too high!

liberal elite said...

It's good thing he isn't around today.

boredoom said...

No, he'd be thrilled! If he bought a bottle of bad cognac every week in 1920, he'd be spending 10 percent of his income as a typewriter repairman.

If he made $800 a week today, he wouldn't need to spend $80 of that for a bottle of bad cognac, even in Sweden. At the very least, he would get good cognac. It's doubtful he would make $800 a week as a typewriter repairman, though.

boredoom said...

It's also interesting that he paid almost twice as much for his room as he did for food. For most people, the situation now is probably the reverse, probably a result of the continued mechanization of agriculture.

liberal elite said...

Although most people still don't pay that much for food, to be fair he was eating out, not cooking at home. Presumably if he could make his own meals it would have been cheaper. Funny too, I often think of people eating out as a contemporary thing. Though I guess what's different today is that families eat out more often, whereas he was a bachelor.

Neil Shakespeare said...

LOL! That reads almost like a Knut Hamsun novel. A little small talk...and NOW for the real problems. Bad, expensive booze. I get the feeling the guy moved back to Sweden because of Prohibition in the U.S. He seems astounded. "Dry back there?" Wonderful letter. All my ancestors are from Sweden. God's Chosen Few. Thanks for the post and best to you and yours in the upcoming...

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