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Anita Poli
Shop Manager

NK Boutique
Gripsholm and Kungsholm 1970 - 1974

Page 1

Anita Poli Olsson

Many thanks to Hans "Hasse" Gustafsson and Tommy Stark
for researching and writing Anita's story.

Please help us to identify the persons in the photos below.

Please email us if you can identify persons whose names aren't noted below the pictures. If you recognize yourself or a relative, and in any way are offended by the picture being published, please send an email and the picture will be removed.

The first shops on board the SAL ships were operated by the Gothenburg based department store Ferdinand Lundquist & Co. Most often referred to as Ferd. Lundquist, the department store was the leading store in Gothenburg, frequented by the upscale Gothenburg shopper, as well as the city's wealthy ship owner society. The company, which was founded in 1862, was acquired by HG Turitz in 1941, and subsequently sold to Nordiska Kompaniet in 1967.

The Swedish department store Nordiska Kompaniet, more known as NK, is located right in the center of Stockholm and has since its foundation in 1902 been associated with fine quality articles from the Swedish art industry, such as: crystal glassware, pottery, silver articles, design furniture, textiles and furnishing goods. In its early heydays, NK had subsidiary stores in Buenos Aires, Moscow and St. Petersburg. In NK-Stockholm’s French section Greta Garbo walked the floor as fashion model in 1923. And a few years later a small golf course was inaugurated on the roof terrace of the NK department store by a member of the Swedish royal family, Prince Sigvard Bernadotte who was also a renowned industrial designer. Many years later the same prince designed the Forward Lounge of the MS Kungsholm (1966), as well as its two Verandahs on Promenade Deck, in close collaboration with the ship’s architect Claes Feder.

In the early 1970’s, Anita Poli Olsson served some years as a shop assistant and shop manager in the NK-boutique onboard the Gripsholm and the Kungsholm. A selection of her memories and photographs has now surfaced to be shared here on www.salship.se. Anita has made available this material and her story with assistance from Hasse Gustafsson and Tommy Stark, two ex crew members who were onboard the MS Kungsholm 1971-73.

This is Anita Poli Olsson’s story:

How it began
Living in Gothenburg in the early 1960’s I started my career at sea with the Svenska Lloyd shipping company, signing on for a voyage to England aboard the S/S Suecia. At the age of 20 I was like many other youngsters curious about the rest of the world, of course. My first job, in 1964, was in the dish wash of the restaurant kitchen during a return trip to England. I was eager to find out whether or not the life at sea was something for me. All went well, and my career continued with the shipping companies Svenska Lloyd and Transatlantic, where I worked as a stewardess onboard their ships. And for a while I also worked on a freighter to the Mediterranean and Africa. My next step was to work on various passenger ferries: the MS Saga on the route Gothenburg — Tilbury in England, and the Sessan-Line to Fredrikshamn in Denmark, as well as the Stena Line to Kiel in Germany. Aboard the ferries I worked in the shops, with sales of miscellaneous articles.

I had sometimes seen the white ocean liners Gripsholm and Kungsholm at a distance in Gothenburg, and I remember thinking... ”imagine myself working on that kind of ship. That would be gorgeous! But it’s probably very hard to get a job there...!?”

However, I had heard some rumors that the SAL-liners had a NK-shop onboard selling rather exclusive articles to American passengers. OK - I reasoned - why not inquire if they need personnel for those shops?

Said and done. I picked up the phone and called a Mr. Larsson at NK in Gothenburg, and he invited me to come to his office for an interview already the next day. Mr. Larsson was head of the gift shop department at NK in Gothenburg, and also responsible for the NK-boutiques onboard the Gripsholm and the Kungsholm. Shortly thereafter, only a few days in fact, I was contacted by Mr. Larsson offering me a position in the shop aboard the Gripsholm. That was in September 1970.

Olsson meets Poli
The night before the ship was scheduled to leave Gothenburg I was out celebrating with my female friends who wanted to say their goodbyes to me before I left town “to see the world!” Late that night, after a great evening, being in a discotheque, I was invited to dance by a guy. At that late hour I was tired and also excited about the next day when the Gripsholm would leave Gothenburg with me onboard. How would I manage a full year away from home, not seeing my friends...?

As I hesitated one of my friends gave me a kick on the leg, implying ”Of course you will dance..!” OK then, I got up onto the dance floor, nice guy, and we continued to talk. It came out he too would depart on the Gripsholm next day. He was a crew member, returning back onboard again after his vacation leave. His name was Luigi Poli, and subsequently we became a couple, sticking together during most of my time on the Gripsholm and the Kungsholm. Later, when we both signed off in May 1974, we got married and moved to Italy where we had two children, and we lived together for twelve years. But that is another story.

The NK-boutique
The NK-boutique, also labeled the Three Crowns Shop after the SAL emblem, was my place of work on the Gripsholm from September 1970 to the summer 1972, and thereafter aboard the Kungsholm until May 1974.

The SAL cruise traffic was “...based on a very high standard aiming for the top layer of the American public: rich, choosy and demanding”, according to MS Kungsholm’s designer Claes Feder. And the select collections of NK and the professional service in its onboard Three Crowns Shop were of course a perfect match to that target group.

The shop was not very large. On the Kungsholm it was strategically located on the Verandah Deck’s forward starboard side from the Main Lounge, with large glass windows towards the sea. There were shelves across those windows, and also towards the passage outside the shop’s door where many passengers passed on their way to and from the ship's entertainment areas – the bars, the cocktail parties, the Main Lounge stage and dance floor, and the Auditorium with its lectures and cinema, as well as the libraries and the dance studio. There was always something going on and always a reason for visiting the Verandah Deck several times a day.

The work in the boutique was independent, varied and stimulating, including much contact with the American passengers. I had very nice, but few, workmates. We were only two of us in the shop, implying a lot of autonomy.

Prior to each visit in Gothenburg we had to make an inventory of all the NK articles that remained in various storages onboard. Stocks were always replenished in Gothenburg in consultation with Mr. Larsson at NK the headquarters ashore. I cannot remember his first name as he was always addressed Mr. Larsson only.

Additional articles for the NK-boutique were purchased by us in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Brisbane, among other places. We had guidelines on what to purchase in the other places, but the recommendations did not always work out well. After some time we learned, of course, what the American ladies appreciated and preferred in terms of clothing, jewelry, purses and crystal glassware articles.

Our contacts with Mr. Larsson at the NK head office in Gothenburg were always made by telephone and in very exceptional cases by radio telegram. Most of the time we managed the shop all by ourselves according to the instructions we had been given.

In stormy weather I often had to go up to the shop in the middle of the night to lower some of the crystal articles to the deck (floor), preventing them from falling down from the shelves in heavy sea. They were usually fixed onto the shelves with double tape which often dried, however, and did not stick well after long exposure to heat from the sun.

Manning and opening hours
The shop had a manager and a shop assistant. Both of us were employees of Nordiska Kompaniet, NK, and we worked according to the NK’s standard contract terms as regards salary, leave and holiday entitlement. But we also had to obey the same rules and regulations as all the other crew members onboard.

The personnel in the boutique were autonomous, without superiors onboard. It was Mr. Larsson in Gothenburg who was our boss in all regards. Nevertheless, during my time on the Kungsholm, we could ask questions and get some support from Chief purser Curt Dawe.

The manager and the shop assistant always worked together during the boutique’s opening hours, at sea 10.00 - 12.00 and 14.00 - 18.00. The shop was always closed while in port, due to customs regulations. Sometimes the ship would depart from a port already in the early afternoon, and then the shop would stay open an hour or two longer that evening.

The dress code for the staff of the NK-shop was a dark blue blouse and a white skirt in the summer, and in the winter a dark blue woolen dress with a jacket. And we carried name plates like the other service occupations onboard.

During our annual summer vacation leave the shop was manned by temporary substitutes who came onboard to work for a month or so.

Fashion show
On long-haul cruises, such as Around the World and the South Seas Cruise, the NK-boutique arranged fashion shows onboard in collaboration with the Beauty Parlor. Those were appreciated events. The models were mostly women from the crew and the service staff, and sometimes also young men from the crew were engaged for showing folkloric Norwegian sweaters. On some occasions also lady passengers seized the opportunity to take part. It was not unusual that the same women had a past as models in the USA. Their husbands really appreciated seeing their wives ”in action” again...!

Being woman onboard
The employees in the NK-boutique were young women, and we had our cabins on forward B-deck on the Kungsholm in the same section of the ship where the women from the Beauty Parlor lived. As shop manager I had a cabin of my own, while the shop assistant had to share the cabin with someone else from the group of women. We also had a dayroom that was reserved exclusively for the female crew members, and it was located near our cabins on B-deck. The same group of women had their meals in a joint mess on C-deck where also other personnel from the purser’s office and the health department had their meals.

My leisure time at sea I spent mostly with the other girls, and especially with the ones from the Beauty Parlor. We had a very good time together, and there were plenty of parties, masquerades and like events. When we went ashore in a port we always used the crew gangway. We who worked in the gift shop had permission to transit the passenger areas only from and to our place of work, but not otherwise. There was one exception, however, and that was the ship’s cinema: When new films were shown to the passengers we were also allowed to watch.

Being a woman onboard, among few other women and over four hundred men, was a peculiar situation. We were often courted onboard the ship. Single officers and groups of officers invited us to parties and we had fun together. But sometimes there could be jealousy between men who courted the same girl. Hopefully they got over it later...! On the other hand, it happened that men in the crew had visited a port previously, and when the ship returned there they wanted to pay a visit to a girl they had met before in that particular place. Such incidents could trigger a conflict with their girlfriend aboard the ship...!

Social life onboard
During my years on the Kungsholm I was an active member in the ship’s Swedish folk dance team, and I danced with my boyfriend Luigi. The folk dance team made performances for the passengers in the Main Lounge on all long cruises. Starting out as a folk dance rookie I learned and improved through much training and the many rehearsals we had in the gymnasium on Promenade Deck, right aft of the aft funnel.

Luigi and I socialized quite a lot together on our time off duty. Sometimes we bought club sandwich and a bottle of wine from the main kitchen to enjoy a pleasant Friday evening in the cabin...!

Luigi was Italian and a dining room waiter. In addition to his fellow countrymen onboard there was also a group of German and Austrian crew members in the dining room. We socialized across the national identities and had a nice time together. I also kept company with one of the Swedish girls, ”Babs” (real name Berit), who worked in the Beauty Parlor and for a period had a boyfriend, Roberto Mancini, who was a dining room waiter and a friend of Luigi. Years later, Roberto paid visits to us in Italy several times.

New York
The many visits to New York were something I really enjoyed. Luigi and I used to go ashore together, and often we went out in the company of other couples to eat in some nice restaurant. One such couple was Elisabeth and Erich. She was a nurse and he was chef de cuisine. We sometimes went to the Italian restaurants Giambelli on East 50 Street and Mama Leone’s on West 48 Street, and occasionally also the famous Chinese tavern Ho Ho. Afterwards we used to go to a theater around Broadway for a musical or a show. On daytime in New York, except when Luigi was off duty, I went shopping of course...!

Just before one of Kungsholm’s New York dockings, one of the high officers onboard asked me if I would like to join him to the Metropolitan theatre as he had tickets to the opera ”Don Juan”. That was obviously an offer I could not refuse. So I said yes! In the intermission we were discussing the first act over a glass of wine, when my escort notices a nice elderly lady by our side, and he started a conversation with her. It was Birgit Nilsson, the world famous Swedish soprano, and we were lucky to get a very nice chat with her.

Equator ceremony
There was an equator ceremony at least once each year on the Gripsholm and the Kungsholm. On those occasions I was usually one of the “hot” subjects that crew members wanted to baptize and throw into the swimming pool to honor King Neptune. Few others knew that I had already done the line ceremony in 1964 at the age of 21 aboard the cargo vessel MS Kolsnaren, while rounding South Africa. Already back then I decided that once is enough! But many crew members of both the Gripsholm and the Kungsholm had something else in mind. And consequently I had to keep out of sight on all those occasions. In my case it meant hiding inside the NK-boutique with the door locked from the inside, staying in a cabinet for a good while! And, yes - I managed to escape the equator ceremony each time, to the annoyance of many...!

Harem woman
A show actor on the Gripsholm, I think his name was Gerrit van Triest, arranged vigorous performances for the passengers in the Main Lounge. On some cruises he wanted to play the part of a harem, himself impersonating the sheik surrounded by beautiful Arabic women that some of us young female crew members were engaged to personify. To me it was also an opportunity to get a glimpse of the passengers’ evening life onboard. We who worked in the boutique seldom had a chance to be around that part of the ship after the gift shop’s closing hour.

Special places
Some ports of call have a special place in my memories. One of those ports is Buenos Aires where we made a stop during the Around South America Cruise with the Gripsholm in 1971. The experience of going up the river approaching the city, the pretty landscape, clean and tidy everywhere, and many nice people, was a great experience for me. Of course we also visited a very good “asado”, barbeque, in Buenos Aires.

During our visits to Rio de Janeiro I had another kind of special experience. I was instructed to purchase jewelry in Rio for the NK-shop from a prominent gemstone merchant company named STERN. Making purchases for a good sum of money on each visit to Rio, the NK became treated like a VIP customer. As a sign of gratitude from the gemstone supplier I was given two options upon our arrival in the city. The first option was free use of a pleasure boat with a captain and a filled-up fridge and bar for six guests. Evidently, I selected this option each time! And we went on great excursions in the surroundings of Rio de Janeiro with very nice stops here and there. The second option was a free car with driver for three days. I never considered the second option.

Another event that I remember took place during the ship’s arrival to Trinidad in the West Indies. Two officers had rented a vehicle and invited one of the girls in the Beauty Parlor and me for company to a desolate beach on the island, where we sunbathed, swam and had a good time together. Then, after a while, a colored woman with a small child approached us. We learned that it was her grandchild. The woman offered us to buy freshly caught fish, which she cooked there right on the beach in front of us. It was a lovely meal and a very nice experience.

The Gripsholm and the Kungsholm brought me around to many memorable places. The visits to Ireland, Greece and the North Cape are still very present in my memory.

After S A L
I signed off the Kungsholm in Rotterdam in May 1974. Me and my soon-to-become husband Luigi passed via Gothenburg, where I moved out my belongings, and shortly thereafter we set off to Italy where we got married and where I lived henceforward for twenty years. When I returned back home to Sweden again, I first stayed some years in Southern Sweden, in the county of Skåne, where I got a job as hostess on the interregional railway trains Öresundstågen and Kustpilen, trafficking all over Southern, Western and Eastern Sweden. When I retired several years later I moved back to where I grew up, to the county of Jämtland - a mountain district in the geometrical centre of Sweden, not very far from Norway.

Over the years I have always kept and preserved many lovely memories from my time aboard the beautiful ships of the Swedish American Line: Memories of the many good friends onboard; memories of many delightful passengers; and memories from a time of my life when I didn’t have to worry too much about anything.

From my years on the Gripsholm and the Kungsholm I have saved the farewell gift I was given when I left the S A L - an art sculpture in the shape of an iceberg from the reputed Kosta-Orrefors glassworks in Sweden. The piece was for sale in the gift shop when I worked there, and I have always appreciated it. Before I left the ship I also bought some porcelain and jewelry that I still have and feel happy about.

Nowadays I enjoy the magnificent nature and wilderness in Jämtland with all its treats in terms of fresh air, wild berries and mushroom picking.

Anita Poli Olsson

Advertisement in a passenger list from the 1960's.

Why not choose a handsome SAL tie as a gift?
This is one of the recurrent ads in the passenger lists that were
printed in the USA for the Swedish American Line.
Anita cannot remember selling even one of those ties...!

Crystal clear! World famous Swedish art crystal glassware
is of course available in the Three Crowns Shop.

The NK-boutique of the Gripsholm, 1971, and its personnel Anne Marie Eklöf and Anita Olsson.

Postcard showing interiors of the cargo vessel MS Kolsnaren
where Anita started as a stewardess with the Gothenburg-
based shipping company Rederi AB Transatlantic.

Anita Olsson got King Neptune’s blessing already in 1964
on this ship whilst crossing the equator carrying cargo for Africa.

NK is short for “The Nordic Company”
(Purveyor to the Royal House of Sweden)

Anita Olsson, manager of the NK-shop aboard the MS Kungsholm in 1973.
Behind her are big windows towards the sea on the starboard side,
and shelves with art crystal glassware on display.

The NK-boutique was located on the starboard side of the Kungsholm, on Verandah Deck.

Anita Olsson on the dock of Palermo, Italy, in 1972.

Gathering in the Beauty Parlor of the Kungsholm 1972 or 1973 in connection with a Fashion Show.
Bottom row, from the left: Bodil, Marie, Lilja, Majvor. Upper row: Anita, Birgitta, Bertil Anderberg, ”Babs” (Berit), Doris.

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