Immigrant Child, Bilingual Household

My wife and I are a pretty obvious match: two bookish middle-class people of the same age. The big difference is that she was an immigrant child, arriving in Sweden with her parents and sibs at age 7. But this has been more of a boon than a problem for our relationship: we keep a bilingual household even though I’m not an immigrant. I’m not. Wait a minute, am I?

Long-term Aard readers know that I advocate multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism and have little regard for nationalism or patriotism. I grew up reading scifi about galactic federations, so narrow tribalism dividing some small part of Earth has never been my thing. I’m a little embarrassed though that it’s taken so long for me to realise that there may be a little more psychological conditioning behind my attitude than that.

Right around my 4th birthday we moved to Greenwich, Connecticut and I was plonked down into Kindergarten. There I learned to speak English and understand the ways of New England children by the sink-or-swim method. I remember trying to figure out rules for how to remodel a Swedish word into an English one that people around me would understand. I was an immigrant child for two years.

For part of our stay in the US a live-in nanny took care of me and my brother. This excellent, warm-hearted young woman came from a local Connecticut family, and when we returned to Sweden she came along, living with us for several years until my brother was old enough. One big reason that our nanny moved with us was to keep speaking English with us. I spent a big chunk of my childhood in a bilingual household. Our current one is in fact the second I’ve lived in.

So as I said, my wife and I are a pretty obvious match. In more ways than I have really appreciated until now.

January Pieces Of My Mind #2


My new desk decoration ♥️

  • It’s almost 15:30 and it’s still light out and the sky is blue!!!
  • The sex/torture device that Barbarella wears out is called the Excessive Machine, not the Orgasmatron.
  • Reading an insightful new paper by an academic about metal detector use. Details demonstrate however that the author has barely tried using a metal detector themselves. Well-known technical traits of these machines are reported as surprising insights gleaned from conversation with detectorists.
  • Sweet old neighbour lady suffers from dementia, has called me 13 times today. /-:
  • My castles book got panned by a reviewer in Fornvännen. But so far it’s gotten good reviews in Populär Arkeologi, Scandia and Medieval Archaeology, so I’m good. The Swedish edition will appear a few weeks from now.
  • Seriously, Polish nation. “You hear a dog” is Słyszysz psa?

January Pieces Of My Mind #1 – Polish Edition


  • “In November, North Korea threatened Japan with a ‘real ballistic missile’ and called Prime Minister Shinzo Abe an ‘imbecile’ and ‘political dwarf’, accusing him of mislabelling its latest weapons test.” /BBC News
  • My son goes to Tokyo for six months today. ❤
  • A Chinese acquaintance stayed with us for some days in August and left behind a lot of food. Including stuff that none of us really knows how to cook or eat. I am manfully working through the millet. Turns out you can cook a bland porridge with it that goes well with some butter, apple sauce and milk.
  • Saturate your home environment with ambient reading glasses.
  • żółw, turtle. zh-oo-w-v. żółw!
  • Checked whether this big Polish bank has any Swedish branch offices. It has one. Whose postal adress is “c/o Some Guy”. And whose premises are, according to Google Street View, a dry-cleaner’s. 😀
  • I blew the young waitress’s mind completely by asking for milk and then POURING it straight into my FECKIN CUP OF TEA like an INSANE PERSON!!!
  • Finished my annotated Nils Mattsson Kiöping translation, sent manuscript to prospective publishers!
  • Am I Polish yet? I’m eating kapusta (shredded fermented cabbage) straight from the package as part of my breakfast.
  • Museums are closed Mondays. Mixed feelings. On one hand, I can’t go to any museums. On the other hand, I am under no obligation to go to any museums.
  • Can’t tell the two houses of Polish Parliament apart? Oh well, sejm sejm.
  • Epiphany procession through city centre, huge number of people singing, wearing cardboard crowns.
  • The state student loan authority just broke up with me over email after more than 29 years together!
  • One snapshot of current urban Polish attitudes to Jews: Arthur Rubinstein’s statue is on Lodz’s main street and people touch his hooked nose for luck.
  • Germany and Poland are a striped region. Both countries have a poor and backward east half.
  • I learned from George Uki Hrab’s podcast that the Ukrainian national anthem begins “Ukraine is not dead yet”. Now I find that the Polish one, though the rest of the lyrics are different, begins “Poland is not dead yet”.
  • I’m on M/S Wawel, currently in the mouth of the Dead Vistula.
  • Had some excellent tripe & chicken soup from the ferry’s breakfast buffet.
  • Bheum bheum bheum bheum / I want you in my rheum
  • I’ve got the swell of the Baltic Sea stuck in my head after 18 hours on the ferry.
  • I’ve reached the point where Polish spelling is starting to look no weirder than Swedish. I mean, Swedish spells one single sound either as J, SH, SI, SJ, SK, STJ or TI for historical reasons, and which sound this is varies widely with dialect and sociolect. It considers ÅÄÖ completely distinct from AAO. As for Polish, SZCZ is just what every Anglophone says in ”fresh cheese”. Fresz czeese, everybody! That is, świeży ser.
  • There’s a tiny mosquito-like saxophone way back in the mix on one channel in the Stones’ “Brown Sugar”.
  • Movie: A Special Day (1977). Brief warmth between a disgraced radio broadcaster and an unhappy mother of six during Hitler’s state visit to Rome in 1938. Big reveal about why the man is disgraced falls flat in 2020. Grade: OK.
  • Pix from Łódź here.

Most-Played Boardgames of 2019

pic149765Here are the twelve boardgames that I played more than thrice during 2019. The year’s total was 75 different games.

  • Coloretto (2003, a new arrival on the list: a card game similar to Keltis and Lost Cities)
  • Kingdoms (1994, new: an abstract mathy Knizia tile game)
  • Hive (2001)
  • Spyrium (2013, new: worker placement and resource management with some neat twists)
  • 7 Wonders
  • Above and Below (2015, new: resource management and choose your own adventure)
  • For Sale (1997)
  • Keyflower (2012, new: worker placement, auction, resource management)
  • Azul (2017)
  • Heimlich & Co. (1984)
  • Pandemic (2008)
  • Tichu / Zheng fen (1991)

As always, the games on the list are mostly short ones that you can play repeatedly in one evening. But Spyrium, Above and Below, Keyflower and Tichu are longer. All twelve are highly recommended!

Dear Reader, what was your biggest boardgaming hit of 2019?

Stats courtesy of Boardgame Geek. And here’s my list for 2018.

Best Reads of 2019

189354Here are my best reads in English during 2019. The total was 41 books of which 44% were e-books. Find me at Goodreads! Dear Reader, what were your best reads of the year?

  • No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters. Ursula LeGuin 2017.
  • The Events at Poroth Farm. T.E.D. Klein 1975.
  • The Painted Veil. W. Somerset Maugham 1925.
  • Balanced on the Blade’s Edge. Lindsay Buroker 2014.
  • All Systems Red. Martha Wells 2017.
  • Tales from the Inner City. Shaun Tan 2018.
  • Code of the Woosters. P.G. Wodehouse 1938.
  • Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. Mary Roach 2013.
  • Radiance (Wraith Kings #1). Grace Draven 2014.
  • Someone Like Me. M.R. Carey 2018.
  • Barrayar (Vorkosigan Saga #7). Lois McMaster Bujold 1991.
  • Adventures in Unhistory: Conjectures on the Factual Foundations of Several Ancient Legends. Avram Davidson 1981-90.
  • Sharpe’s Tiger. Bernard Cornwell 1997.
  • Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991. Salman Rushdie.
  • Questioning the Millennium: A Rationalist’s Guide to a Precisely Arbitrary Countdown. Stephen Jay Gould 1997.
  • Exhalation: Stories. Ted Chiang 2019.
  • Judas Unchained (Commonwealth Saga #2). Peter F. Hamilton 2005.
  • Anatomy of Restlessness: Selected Writings, 1969-1989. Bruce Chatwin.
  • Spirits Abroad. Zen Cho 2014.
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Brian Selznick 2007.
  • Swords Against Death. Fritz Leiber 1970, stories published in 1939-63.
  • The Unexpected Truth About Animals: A Menagerie of the Misunderstood. Lucy Cooke 2017.
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything. Bill Bryson 2003.

Here’s my list for 2018.

I’m A Polish Research Professor Now


I have just taken up a steady research job at the University of Łódź, Poland’s third-largest city. I can barely believe it as I write those words. (A description of my tediously woeful previous experience on the academic job market is appended below.) For you Americans: there is no tenure system in Europe, but this basically means that I got tenure. It’s been my increasingly frustrated career goal since I was an undergrad almost 30 years ago.

Everyday teaching in Łódź is done in Polish, a language I began learning a few weeks ago. I’m going to continue my Scandinavian research and periodically do fieldwork with Łódź students, mostly working from Stockholm. But there’s a difference from before: I’m going to be even more productive since I no longer spend one day a week editing Fornvännen. And with time I hope to participate in the department’s projects as well.

As the crow flies, the distance from central Stockholm to central Łódź is 845 km (525 miles). This is a long commute for a European academic and would have crossed more than one language border if the Baltic Sea hadn’t been a big part of the distance. But to US scholars, it’s completely in the realm of the expected: roughly the distance between the capitals of the adjacent states Colorado and Oklahoma.

I feel like an extremely impatient sprinter who finally hears the starting gun. Oh, and the English way of spelling Łódź would be “Woodsh”!


Woes on and off the academic job market 2003-19

After finishing my PhD in 2003 it took me nine years of almost constant productive research (on a shoestring budget) before I got my first adjunct teaching job. For one month. In the following five years I had a series of temp jobs on four Swedish campuses and became all too familiar with the almost completely non-meritocratic hiring practices of Scandinavian humanities departments. In late 2017 I was passed over for yet another job in favour of someone who shouldn’t have been a contender, and I decided I’d had enough. Fourteen years on the Scandinavian job market for archaeology PhDs, over 170 publications, and the securest contract I’d had was for one semester at 55% of full time. Ridiculous. I finished the manuscript of my Medieval castles book, quit doing research, quit applying for funding, and went looking for any kind of job.

2018 proved highly varied. I didn’t get a single one of the jobs I applied for, but instead four employers contacted me and I worked more than full time for the entire year. While editing my four last issues of the journal Fornvännen for the Royal Academy of Letters, I first made maps for the Medieval Sweden project at the National Archives, then taught high-school Swedish and English, then worked as a canvasser for the Social Democrats in the election season, and was finally a heritage expert on an EU project at the County Archaeologist’s office in Linköping.

2019 has been less varied and less financially rewarding, partly because I’ve been unemployed for the equivalent of almost two full-time months. I’ve taught high-school Swedish, coordinated canvassing for the EU parliamentary election in May and done admin for the local chapter of my party. And again I haven’t gotten a single job that I’ve applied for except for the teaching gig.

From a scholarly viewpoint though, 2019 has been a good year. My Medieval castles book appeared in March, I’ve translated it into Swedish and that version will appear in February. I’ve also translated Nils Mattsson Kiöping into English and annotated his writings, a project that is almost completed and which I hope to see published this year.

Contract archaeology has had no work for me in these two years, partly because there hasn’t been a major infrastructure project near Stockholm. But also because my profile is off. I’m 47, I’ve headed years of fieldwork for research purposes, but I’ve only worked for three seasons total in contract archaeology. Two employers have told me that you can’t get into that business on the fifth floor. You have to enter at street level and walk up the stairs one season at a time. They can’t hire someone with my CV as a rank-and-file digger. And they recruit their site & project managers in-house. One fellow told me there would be mutiny among his tried-and-true hopefuls if he gave those jobs to unfamiliar research eggheads.

December Pieces Of My Mind #3

  • As I sit at my desk, a teenage couple are cooking their dinner, plucking a guitar, singing quietly together over in the kitchen area. ❤
  • I have bought an extremely large vegetable today that fills the house with a lovely seasonal scent.
  • Walked past an open window, heard a young woman crying disconsolately. “Hey, are you OK in there?” I called. The crying stopped. An older woman came to the window and said, “I’m fine thanks, how are you? I’m watching TV.”
  • Nacka church has a big honking mistletoe hanging unavoidably in the main entrance air lock. Well, their prophet did tell us to love one another…
  • Imagine if all D&D creatures fled when they’d lost half their hitpoints. Eventually they would all end up crowded, bleeding, into the last few rooms and tunnels of a dungeon.
  • When my buddy got married his father told an anecdote about his son at the dinner. Early 1970s, father is writing his PhD thesis in literary criticism, takes his toddler out in the stroller, and they come across a big tractor. Boy is impressed, comments “Absurd tractor!”.
  • I find it astonishing when right-wingers say “We believe in people’s innate ability” as an argument for low taxes and a poor public sector. People’s innate ability is amply disproven every day.
  • Of the books I’ve read through in the past five years, 30% have been e-books.
  • Current RoboRally rules are quite different, still fun!
  • Suggested to Junior that he might bring some fermented herring to Japan and trade it for natto. Replied he, “I don’t deal in WMDs.”
  • Movie: Big Fish & Begonia (2016). 100 mins of hallucinatory and disconnected fantasy anime. Much of it is beautiful, much of it is tackily saccharine, and none of it makes much sense. Grade: OK.

December Pieces Of My Mind #2


Left: the designers of Drakborgen / Dungeonquest. Right: the authors and editor of the new book about venerable Swedish boardgame publisher Alga.

  • Played the phrase “We like cookies” in Duolingo on the slow setting to hear the details, and the dude sounded like there was some really major innuendo going on there.
  • A daily recurring annoyance. I open a Google Doc and hit CTRL-F to search for something. However, Google Docs is not yet fully awake. So instead of getting its own search function that looks at the entire document, I get the web browser’s search function that only looks at what’s visible onscreen at the moment. Gah.
  • I’m travelling in January, and looking at climate-friendlier alternatives. The fastest non-flight alternative takes more than three times as long and involves sleeping on a bus and getting off it at 6 am. Don’t know the price. The fastest non-flight alternative that lets you sleep in a bed takes four times as long as flying and costs almost three times as much. I wonder what the prices would be like if government subsidies were moved from air to rail.
  • The modern Polish word for “a man” used to mean “several women”.
  • Karl Bartos gets annoyed by a judge on the train talking loudly and endlessly on the phone about a case. He starts to read ostentatiously out of Barry Truax’s book Acoustic Communication. She flees.
  • Napped in an easy chair at the library. Had to lean my baldy head against a cold and hard wall. Made an innovation: put a glove in my woolen cap as padding and wore it. This served two purposes: it made me comfortable enough to nap, and it made me look like a crashed-out homeless person.
  • What’s the main difference between elitism and meritocracy?
  • I wonder if lazy normal life adapted into extremophiles or the other way around. Relevant to the search for extraterrestrial life.
  • ESA will launch a Mars rover next year! Every Swede will be a co-owner!
  • Everybody, try the app AI Dungeon! I’m peeing my pants here! As my friend Martin F characterises the experience, ”It’s as if it almost understands what I say, but then it decides to smoke weed instead and ignore me”.
  • One of the many bizarre quirks in AI Dungeon is that it has trouble keeping what I do apart from what other people do. Several times I have threatened to kick another character’s ass, or even given the command KICK [THAT GUY’S] ASS, and that guy has responded with a reassuring “Don’t worry, I would never really kick your ass”.