Monday, March 31, 2008

Sweden’s Summer Time

Well today is baseball’s Opening Day. Kind of. Opening Day seems to be spread out a little bit more. But today is the day that baseball opens up for mass consumption. Which means summer is here. Kind of.

In Sweden summer is also here. Kind of. Yesterday the clocks changed. To sommar tid. Summer time. From winter time. It was daylight savings. And all of a sudden it is still light at about 7:30 in the evening. Which is confusing because it is still March. And when it is this light it should probably be a little warmer and say… June. These northern latitudes are confusing.

Sweden is relatively new to daylight savings. Not until 1980 did they start implementing the time change. And now the whole EU is on a certain schedule. The last Sunday of March. Which is why it ended up being on March 30th this year. Almost three weeks after the US made the switch.

The idea for the start of daylight savings, at least in the US, was to take advantage of the daylight. No good having it light at 6 in the morning when most people aren't even up that early anyway. And it's just a waste of electricity and energy to keep the lights on late at night when all sorts of daylight has been wasted in the morning. So clearly the US is at the forefront of the green movement of utilizing daylight to save the world.

I'm just excited that the time difference is back to normal, I fear change and that one hour was really screwing me up when I tried to call the US. I'm also excited that I made it through a dark Swedish winter. That darkness had no chance against me. It is but a distant memory. And now the light is on its way.

In all honesty, it did go fast. It was rough for a little while but all of a sudden I'm staring at 13 hour days and those 6 hour days are long gone. It's nice to know that this is very doable. Because that's an intimidating amount of darkness. But the summer brings a glorious amount of light.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Swedish Jeans Fashion in Stockholm

Despite not being fashionable at all, being in Sweden seems to kind of lend itself to noticing some fashion trends. Swedes are all about being on the forefront of design and fashion. Sometimes they do an excellent job. Other times you see that the ‘80s are back or that jeans are so tight that you’re a little worried that someone’s junk is going to pop out. And take into consideration Austin Powers’ Swedish Made Penis Enlarger Pump (because what better way is there to judge the size of an entire nations sex organs than by Austin Powers movies?) and you realize just how tight the pants sometimes are.

And so, being thrown into fashion conscious Sweden I’ve started noticing something lately. Clearly I am a trendsetter in the Swedish fashion world. Because I wear jeans that I don’t need to peel off every night. Men’s jeans are getting looser here in Stockholm.

I have absolutely nothing to back this up. Aside from the last couple of days waiting for the train I’ve started noticing that my pants are starting to blend in much more. And not because I’m wearing tight jeans, but because the pants are getting a little baggier. And I am pumped. Now I can walk through town with my Levis on, bought in the US for a hell of a lot less than here in Sweden, without my clothes chanting USA! USA! USA!

What this means I don’t know. It means that I might fit in more with my clothes. It means that the Swedes might be moving away from the tightness of the clothes. It means I might be full of shit because I have no idea what I’m talking about and it just so happened I was surrounded by a few guys who also like their junk to have freedom. Either way though I was excited. It’s the little things really.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Moving to Sweden – Finding a Place to Live

In the continuing (and always riveting) series about Moving to Sweden comes: Moving to Sweden – Finding a Place to Live, which has now been updated!

Make sure to check out the other exciting how-to's:
Moving to Sweden – What to Bring
Moving to Sweden – The Swedish Language
Moving to Sweden – The Metric System and You
Moving to Sweden – Getting a Cell Phone
Moving to Sweden – Getting from the Airport to Stockholm City
Moving to Sweden – The Weather
Moving to Sweden – Swedish Citizenship Test
Moving to Sweden – Public Holidays
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden – Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden – Making Friends
Moving to Sweden – Cost of Living
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries

Because if you have decided to move to Sweden. You might need some help. So here it goes: Finding a Place to Live.

Start looking now. Seriously. It’s going to take you a while. If you even have the slightest inkling that you would like to move to Sweden start looking for housing now. Note that if you are looking to buy a house or apartment you are definitely talking to the wrong person. I’m a renter for right now. Because I am a free soul. I don’t want to be tied down. I want to explore. (I just tapped into my inner hippie… mostly I just don’t know where I want to live and don’t have enough money anyway.) And living in Sweden doesn’t come cheap. Stockholm is one of the most expensive cities in the world.

The rental market in Sweden is a bit different. There are various contracts you might find available. There is the first hand contract, which is like seeing a unicorn, that is to say, rare. At least in Stockholm. And then there is the ubiquitous second hand contract. This is where someone who is lucky enough to have a first hand contract decides to rent out their apartment. This is where you have the chance to swoop in. And finally, student housing. Which is also hard to come by but generally cheap with decent living conditions. Of course, you have to be a student. Or at least know a student willing to rent to you under the table.

Because the rental market is tricky, you need to know your rights. One of those rights is that the person you are renting from can not charge excessive rent. What does that mean? I don't know. But the courts do. And people use the courts for that. You can read more (in English) here at Hyresnämnden. Also, make sure that the housing company you are renting from hasn't been blacklisted on this (Swedish) site here. That would be bad.

Housing in Stockholm especially is rough. Renting is hard to come by. Waiting in line for a first hand contract can take about 15 years. I am not kidding. Honestly, your best bet is to know someone. If you don’t know someone start scouring the internet.

When DCP and I started looking we set a few parameters then went to town. Unfortunately town was full. (See what I did there?) We ended up checking out numerous websites, asking family and friends, and basically exhausting whatever the internet could offer. Some of the websites require you to pay to respond to their ads. We did not. But it did help us to get an idea as to what was out there. And if you find something you really like… paying might not be that bad of an idea.

Here’s a quick list of some of the websites we tried out, and it’s going to help to speak Swedish here… although some have English options. Here are a few that can help you get an idea as to what exists and some to help you actually find a place to live.

BoPunkten.se is a decent site which covers a little bit of Sweden. You have to pay to be able to respond to an ad; unfortunately this is a common theme. Despite the socialist leanings of Sweden they have a way of embracing capitalist motives. Like making money on this sort of thing. If you have the money though, there are plenty of places that will take it. I've heard mixed reviews about paying for these sorts of sites. Everything has a price though, so it's up to you. Here are two more sites that you have to pay to register:
http://bostadsportal.se/
http://bostaddirekt.com/

A lot of people use Airbnb when looking for a place in Stockholm. This is a pretty good option if you're only here for a short-ish amount of time or if you just really need something until you find a permanent place. Keep in mind that this can be a pretty expensive option, you might end up just getting a room with the owner of the place, who might end up being super sketchy as one of my friends experienced. Or you might find the perfect place. It's the sharing economy. It gets tricky sometimes.

Blocket also has apartment announcements. In fact, most places that you can think of that would have online marketplaces will have apartments like the newspapers. Find them. But beware of the black market that often occurs in the Swedish housing market. Sometimes you will be expected to pay a “fee” which basically ends up being under the table money to secure your place. Don’t do it. It might be a pain in the ass but you should be able to find something the legal way.

And of course The Local’s Noticeboard. This will give you ads in English which is always nice.

You can also use Blocket or The Local's Noticeboard to write your own ad letting people know you're looking for housing. Same thing goes for all of those announcement boards at universities.

If you’re a student in Stockholm get in line. You need to sign up for an account at Stiftelsen Stockholms Studentbostäder or SSSB. Do it immediately. Lines are long. And you need days to get a place to live. You have to be between 16 and 54 to sign up and within 90 days you need to be a member of a student union. This is there way of keeping people from parking themselves for too too long without actually being a student. Apartments are assigned by how many days you have been waiting in line. So if you try to snag an apartment with only three days you will probably be beaten out by the person with 300 days. Or more likely 1300 days. Seriously. Kind of. Check the waiting list rules for all of the details.

Finally, if you're a visiting researcher with a PhD, a PhD student, or a Post Doc at Stockholm University from outside of Sweden you're eligible for furnished (!!!!) researcher housing. There is, of course, a line to wait in, but it is much shorter than the student housing line above The housing is meant for one person, although some of the places allow for your family to come along. There's a two year maximum stay at these places. Check out Stockholm University's Accommodation for Visiting Researchers for more information.

SSSB is how DCP and I first got a place to live when we moved here back in 2007. Because DCP was a student. And I was piggybacking. They have last minute housing where the days are thrown out the window and it is the first person to sign up who gets it. You then have a fixed amount of time to pay the first month’s rent. We got lucky and got one this way.

And in the end maybe that is what it comes down to. Getting lucky.

My latest move in 2014 was a surprisingly easy process. I relied on friends. Of course, that means actually having friends, which can be difficult if you're moving here without knowing anyone. But reach out to anyone you might know. Or anyone you might know who might know someone. Because housing is so difficult, people seem generally willing to help. It's as if they remember just how hard it was to find a place and want to alleviate that pain for others.

It didn't take long and I had temporary (and furnished) housing for a good price while I waited for researcher housing to open up. And it did.

Here are a few more sites to choose from. Some good, some less good. Some pay, some free. But if you need a roof over your head it doesn’t hurt to check out everything.
http://bovision.se/Default.aspx
http://www.lgh.se/
http://www.ny-bostad.se/sokonskas.aspx
http://www.locationpartners.com/lazybee/default.asp
http://www.hyrbostad.se/
http://www.hyralya.se/

And for the student:
http://www.sokstudentbostad.se/startsida
http://www.akademiskkvart.se/?lang=eng
http://www.studentlya.nu/
http://www.studentochbostad.se/
http://www.kihousing.se/

Of course, check out similar sites for your university.

If you really want to get that first hand contract get in line:
http://www.bostad.stockholm.se/

And of course:
http://www.jagvillhabostad.nu/ which translates to Iwanthousing.now. Good times.

Good luck. And Welcome to Sweden.


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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sweden and the Plummeting American Dollar

The American dollar fell again today. It is now under six Swedish crowns for the first time in as long as I can remember. In fact I remember the good old days when a US dollar could buy a solid 11 Swedish kronor. The American discount. It was a beautiful thing. Now Europeans are enjoying the European discount. And I am confused.

I am confused because I am making European money. I am earning SEKs here in Sweden. Not many. But still. And according to the passport I have been traveling on I am European. But I feel very American. So much so that I am constantly checking the exchange rate. And doing conversions in my head. Despite not earning, nor spending, American money.

The dropping value of the dollar has lead to a decrease in European travel for Americans. In fact, Paris, the city which seems to give some sort of indicator as to how travel happy Americans are, has seen a significant drop in American tourists. About 6% last year, and over 10% this year. Which is solid.

Depending on your point of view, the dropping dollar is good. Europeans are heading to the US in droves. JaCal wrote a post about this that kind of blew my mind. A few pretty normal purchases, jeans, an iPod, and a digital camera will basically make up for the cost of the plane ticket. Which demonstrates two very important things. The dollar has really fallen. And Swedish stuff is ridiculously expensive.

The interesting thing is how this will impact the American economy. Tourism can bring in a lot of money. And a bunch of Europeans flocking to New York to buy iPods, digital cameras, and Levi’s can have a very positive impact. Granted not enough to stop the continued turbulence, but still. Money coming in from other countries is always nice. Of course the falling dollar also suggests some economic problems in the US and generally unstable currencies can be a sign of inflation.

Of course, a stable US dollar is much better for Americans but let’s look at the positive here. And by positive I mean purely selfish. I’m not earning or spending dollars anymore, and when I go home or buy things online in the US, I am getting the European discount.

That being said, psychologically, the falling dollar is killing me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Weather and Waffles in Stockholm, Sweden

Today’s weather forecast for Madrid, Spain: Partly cloudy with a high of 61.

Today’s weather forecast for Stockholm, Sweden: Mostly cloudy with a high of 37.

Back from Spain after almost a week. Arrived back in Stockholm last night. Late at night. And we were met with some different weather than what we had grown accustomed to while in Spain. And I am strangely ok with this. Because there was all kinds of snow on the ground. And it was still snowing when I woke up. Apparently my desire for a real winter trumps good weather. Especially in March.

I went outside for work this morning into the driving snow and the distinct smell of bacon. Both were glorious although the bacon smell was a bit confusing. The snow however was not confusing. So I walked to the train station in the snow. Deep, soft, silent, lovely Swedish snow.

On a side note, for all of you wondering. Sweden is today celebrating Waffle day. Earlier it was Semla day, today Waffle day. Swedes love their baked goods and even celebrate them by giving them official days. Which I honestly had no idea about until moving here. I’m not really sure how I missed this because I love baked goods also. And the bigger question is why the US doesn’t pick up on this. Someone needs to tell Little Debbie that America is ready for an official Twinkie day.

Anyway, waffle day came about because of an evolutionary linguistic movement. From vårfrudagen to våffeldagen. The difference being that “vårfru” is our lady, you know – Mary of the immaculate conception. And “våffel” is waffle. So instead of celebrating the Virgin Mary, Swedes celebrate waffles. I’m sure that’s exactly what God had in mind when he impregnated Mary with Jesus.

Welcome to Sweden.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spanish Observations by a Swedish American

Spaniards can smoke inside. Which makes me stinky.

Madrid is surprisingly clean. I was expecting more of a Roman feel. I was wrong. Well maintained and quite lovely.

The toilets (at least the ones I have used) have a little platform and aren’t filled with water. I remember running into this in Germany when I was about 12 and being fascinated by it. I still am. But it still kind of grosses me out.

Spanish kids love life. Everywhere. Running around, playing, laughing. It’s amazing. So much enjoyment.

Spaniards don’t speak much English at all. Which is kind of fun if you’re trying to work on your Spanish. But can also be rough when trying to ask the hostel lady if you can leave your luggage for the day.

Having lived in Colorado has taught me a lot more Spanish than I realized. Kind of interesting to realize that you have picked up a bunch of phrases and words having only studied Spanish for 6 weeks in 6th and 7th grade.

The Spanish sun is strong. Or stronger than the Swedish winter sun. And I am still sunburned.

Madrid has a pretty interesting history considering all of the wars (WWI, Civil War, WWII) at the beginning of the 1900s.

Spanish people are short. I tower over them. Both men and women everywhere often come only up to my shoulders.

Catholic processions for the Easter holiday can be kind of creepy. Mostly because they wear purple KKKesque robes. So while I stood towering over people able to see these processions I was creeped out. While the Spaniards saw this as a very religious and holy experience. Interesting perspectives.

I’m loving the little Spanish vacation.


Notice the creepy little cult member to the left in the picture.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Swedish American in Madrid

Made it to Madrid. It wasn’t easy. Arlanda was being a bastard. Actually Mikael at the SAS desk was. And I was not pleased. And we almost didn’t make it.

DCP and I have had a habit the last few times we’ve been flying of cutting it very close. Like 5 or 10 minutes close. Which is stressful. And exhausting. But we have yet to miss a flight. But this time we decided to be early. We left the apartment at 4:45. That’s am. Or fm. Or just damn early. And so we had plenty of time at the airport. We were flying into Warsaw on Polish Air, which doesn’t have a service desk at Arlanda. But since they are part of the lovely Star Alliance we used SAS.

So we got in line and were greeted by Mikael. And by greeted I mean he said hello and didn’t say a single thing for the next 10 minutes. It was awkward. And quiet. His next words? Jag klarar inte av detta. I can’t handle this. He then proceeded to tell me that I had to call United because Polish Air had rejected our tickets. Tickets that had been obtained using award miles over a month ago. Tickets that had seats confirmed and everything. He told me first that Polish Air didn’t accept e-tickets. He followed that by saying that Polish Air didn’t accept United Miles and only United Airlines would accept miles earned on United regardless of the Star Alliance. I asked him if he could possibly call United. No. Could he call Polish Air. No. Of course not. I had to do it. He then kicked me out of line. Couldn’t believe it. At some point I feel like I, as a consumer, relinquish some responsibility. The ticket has been purchased. I arrived on time. It seems like the representative airline should want to get me out. I was wrong. So I had to make the phone calls.

I called United and was greeted by Maria. Who was wonderful. Unfortunately for Maria, everything Mikael had told me was a bunch of nonsense. Not sure if he was just coming up with his own theories, lying to me, or just being an ass. But either way he was wrong on all accounts. So Maria worked her ass off calling everyone imaginable. And couldn’t find anything wrong.

Mikael in the meantime had allowed me into line with one of his colleagues. Of course, he was hanging over her shoulder telling her what he had already done. So when I asked if she could call he piped in and said no I had to do it. At this point he even raised his voice at me because I dared to ask him to call. I then followed by asking if we would even be able to get out of Stockholm. He said no. They couldn’t get us out. No apology. Nothing. Just a no. I asked if there was anyone that could override the cancellation. Well we could call Polish Air. Or try the SAS service desk 20 meters away.

So we were told that we had to go to the SAS service desk because he couldn’t even call them since he had already done it once. So we did. And frantically cut in front of everyone because at this point we had 32 minutes before take-off. And check in closes at 30 minutes Good times. Helena was able to get us to Warsaw. But couldn’t guarantee anything beyond that.

Fine. At least we were getting the hell out of Arlanda. And Polish Air was lovely. We arrived in Poland. And the lady in Warsaw said there was no problem. They accept e-tickets. They accept United’s Miles. The problem was in Stockholm. SAS and Stockholm won’t issue Polish Air e-tickets.

So we made it to Madrid. And I managed to sunburn myself already. And it is glorious. But I think I actually hate Mikael.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Swedish Olympic Team Gets Dragged into Tibet vs. China

Recent Swedish Olympic coverage from a Swedish American in Sweden.

Recent events in Tibet have brought up a lot of ill will towards the Chinese. Here in Sweden people have been demonstrating and in Stockholm protesting in front of the Chinese embassy. No one is too impressed with the Chinese record when it comes to human rights. And Tibet always seems to be a bit of a sore spot. The Chinese are accusing the Dalai Lama of being behind the problems so that they will sabotage the Olympics that are coming up in just a few months.

And the Olympics being in China are bringing up some strong opinions here in Sweden. In fact, some people are calling for the Swedish Olympic team to boycott the Olympics. I completely disagree. Sports and politics should not overlap. They sometimes do, but to use sports as a platform to promote a political idea is something I don't agree with. The beauty of sports is that they are simple. There is a winner and a loser. Nothing else matters in the end. But adding politics to the mix makes other things matter.

There are other, more productive ways of getting a political point across. Trade restrictions would be a good start. Diplomatic protests. Governmental protests. The Swedish way is to protest. But forcing a bunch of athletes who have trained for most of their life away with the goal of reaching the Olympics doesn't seem like the most effective way to do this. Plus it smacks of Cold War era attitudes.

And from a purely selfish, athletic stand point. It's just not fair to the athletes. Some of these men and women will never again have the chance to compete in the Olympic for their country. Because of something they can't control. While some of them are I'm sure quite politically active, others could probably care less. And that's ok. Just let them compete.

There is a good chance of course that everything will go on as planned. Sweden will take its Olympic team to Beijing and compete. But the protesters are getting louder. Should be interesting to see how it goes as the Olympics draw closer.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

The Swedish Winter Fights Back

After being taunted by spring the Swedish winter has struck back. The winter’s way of saying not to mess with it bitch. And it snowed. Or slushed I suppose is a better description. Because it was cold enough for it to stick but warm enough for it to turn into what can best be described as a pina colada slurpee.

The kind of stuff that seems to just build up without making the change to either water or snow. It wasn’t even draining into the sewers. Very interesting.

On the walk back I was soaked down to my socks. And the cuffs of my pants had a nice brownish hue to them. Despite this I am pumped. I’m hoping for the temperature to continue to drop. Because that means real snow. And real snow is hard to beat. And real snow would also signal what I have been hoping for. A real Swedish winter. You know, bad weather, cold temperatures, bitter near Arctic Circle weather. I have been sorely disappointed. But I have faith.

We’ll see how it goes. The only downside could be the commute tomorrow if the weather continues. Because despite this being Sweden. And being close to the Arctic Circle as I already mentioned. And despite winter coming every single year. SL, the lovely Stockholm public transportation system, has yet to figure out how to run trains on time when it snows. Or at least pendeltågs on time. Seeing as how that’s my main form of transportation I can’t speak for the rest of SL’s services. But the trains struggle.

But I’ll take it if it means winter hasn’t given up quite yet. Plus I’m heading off to Spain soon so Swedish weather can do whatever the hell it wants. I’m going to the Iberian peninsula.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Nudity in the Swedish Locker Room

I played squash today here in Stockholm. Kind of racquetballesque. It was quite fun. Then I did the very Nordic thing and rocked the sauna. Quite nice. But as I was in the locker room I was struck by something.

Let me preface this all by saying that in high school I worked at a gym. I was a janitor. I cleaned up after everyone. And I have seen more middle age naked men than any 24 year old should ever have to see. Because apparently middle age men enjoy flaunting their junk.

Let me walk you through a normal changing in the locker room. First, the old wrinkly man gets out of the shower. And dries himself. This is normal. However, at this point he usually goes over to a stool or bench (we had stools) and sat his bare ass down. And put on his socks. For some reason it was always the socks first. After that came the shirt. As he continued to sit with his bare ass on the stool. Following the shirt and socks you would imagine some sort of pants. You would imagine wrong. Because wrinkly men are vain. And in hopes of dewrinklifying they would often go over to the counter and use some lotion. Now the counters were right up against a huge mirror. Running the length of the wall. And like any normal person, the old men, in socks and shirt, threw their leg up on to the counter so they could really get that lotion rubbed in. Now every time you walked by the mirror, which was required if you had hopes of getting out, you were met by the reflection of old wrinkly man junk. Finally, after having lotioned up, they put some pants on. And I am scarred.

That being said though, I don’t really mind if you want to prance around naked. It’s the bare ass on the stool and the leg up on the counters that really got me. But today in the locker room I saw something that struck me as just a bit too strange. And I realize Swedes are pretty open with their nudity. And that’s cool. But there should be a limit. Because in the locker room, in the shower area, there was a table and two chairs. Facing the open shower stalls. Who decides that is a good idea? And who decides it is a good idea to sit there? Personally, I prefer not to have an audience while showering. But maybe that’s just me…

Welcome to Sweden.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Swedish Bureaucracy in the American Embassy

I got turned down for a job the other day. A job I applied for a while back. In September. That’s 2007. Back in my unemployed state (those were the days…) I wrote about looking for a job and the slow response I was getting. Most of the time it seemed like it was coming from Swedish companies. And I partly attributed that to the Swedish summer vacation but also to the Swedish work ethic and bureaucratic nonsense. But in fairness I had to write about my latest turndown. Because it came from the American Embassy in Stockholm. And because this is fair and balanced writing that I do here.

Keep in mind that I have a job. And have had one since the first week of November. And that I applied for this job in the last week of September. Of 2007. This is March. 2008. Count with me now. October. November. December. January. February. March. About six months.

That is ridiculous. What is even worse is that this was a temporary job. I think it was about 8 months or so. I’m assuming it was for either maternity or paternity leave. And it was a job I was actually qualified for. So I had my hopes up. Because working at an Embassy would be pretty cool. But as time went on I forgot about it. I got a job and started working. I received a few more rejections and an interview request here and there but all came around November after I had already accepted a job. And they weren’t that late after my applications had been sent in.

But this one blew my mind. A part of me is appreciative that I received an answer. I hate taking the time to apply for a job. Showing interest in a company and then not receiving any acknowledgement at all. It seems like common courtesy to respond. But maybe not. What drove me nuts was that this seemed to be a resounding theme here in Sweden. So when I did get responses, both positive and negative I appreciated it. But at the same time, this one was nearly six months late. It was almost insulting. Let bygones be bygones American Embassy.

Obviously I blame the Swedish bureaucracy seeping into the American Embassy. Osmosis if you will. Because why else would something as streamlined as a government representing 300 million people take six months to respond to a job application? Or maybe this is a common theme in all things big. Like large corporations. Or large country’s embassies. Either way, it’s not every day you get turned down for a job six months after having applied for it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Swedish Tax Burden

Sweden no longer has the highest tax burden in the world as reported on the radio, by some Danish media, and of course – The Local. Just the second highest. Denmark claimed the top spot after the "conservative" government here in Sweden lowered the taxes. As promised.

So Denmark sits atop the list with a tax burden of 48.4%. Sweden is reported to have a burden of 47.8%. But don't worry Reinfeldt says that that is old information and it is actually below 47%. Wooooo.

The tax burden isn't just the tax rate. It includes all the exciting taxes you might pay. My understanding that the burden includes your income tax, your tax on food, your tax on booze, your tax on everything. Which puts it up at nearly 50%. Ridiculous.

That means that a Swede is just barely living for himself. Just barely. When I say living for himself I’m talking about what a person gets to keep income-wise. Seeing as how a person works and gets paid they should get to keep some of that money. I would argue a clear majority of it. In my opinion 53% is not a clear majority. Taxes I understand. They happen. But when a tax burden is reaching nearly 50% that means that nearly half of what I do goes somewhere else. More importantly, not to me.

With a tax burden of around 47% only 53% goes to the individual, the rest obviously going to whatever the Swedish government deems fit. That blows my mind. That’s a whole lot of work that I’m doing for other people. That’s a whole lot of my hard-earned money that is going to other people.

What I wonder is if this has an impact on the working environment and a workers attitude. I would imagine it does. A sense of personal responsibility comes when you get to keep what you earn. And it follows, maybe idealistically but, that if you do good work you get better paid. Which is more money in your pocket. So if so much money is going into the governments pocket is there an economic incentive to actually do good work? Is this why customer service struggles in this country? Is this why I have had numerous people at cash registers talk on their cell phone while I paid? Is this why I am never greeted when walking into a store? Is this why I have to search for someone for help when I need it?

Welcome to Sweden. The country with only the 2nd highest tax burden.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Obama Wins in Sweden

A little late with this one. But as I already mentioned in my post American Election Thoughts from Sweden, Swedes love the Democrats. Even the “conservative” government here has given a vote of support to Obama. (Interesting to note that Sweden is always so proud of its wide political spectrum but has absolutely no real conservative party. And the Swedes complain that the Americans have no real liberal party. Food for thought.)

And now the Americans living in Sweden have done the same. Barack Obama won the Swedish primary. He pulled in about 70% of the Americans in Sweden vote. I was not invited to vote. Perhaps because I am a registered Republican. So Obamania has swept Sweden. And the rest of the American population spread around the world apparently.

Anyway, Obama dominated internationally. And because of this has secured a solid three delegates. My first reaction to this was that three was just kind of ridiculous. Three delegates? That’s hardly a dent. But it is close for the Democrats. Who knows… every vote counts.

My second thought was that I had no idea there were international delegates to be won. Kind of cool actually that it works like that. Gives a chance for all those Americans spread throughout the world to still have a little say in what’s going on back home. And I appreciate that it is just a little. Keeps that connection but also seems to acknowledge that these people are no longer living in the US and so shouldn’t have all that much say.

It’s been very interesting to see how big of a deal American politics is to the rest of the world. Or at least to Europeans. It will be even more interesting to see how it heats up as the election gets closer and the candidates are determined. I need to figure out if I can vote even though I have registered myself here in Sweden as a Swede.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Bomb in Stockholm

A bomb exploded yesterday morning in the middle of Stockholm. Around 7 am windows were being busted out and smoke was rising and a security company’s car was blown-up. I was safe in bed. Thank you for caring. And no one else seemed to be hurt either. But I saw the news. And read the articles. And immediately I realized something:

I automatically suspect some sort of terrorist act when I hear of bombs. Terrorism as in trying to blow up and kill lots of people. Not terrorism like a few kids setting off pipe bombs. Which was not the case here but still, just clarifying. Maybe it’s my Americanism shining through.

And a bomb in a central part of Stockholm after the demonstrations against the Mohammed round-about dogs and all the threats that followed have made people think a little bit more about possible terrorist attacks. But it is still Sweden. A country that takes an insane amount of refugees from all over the world. So they aren’t usually that high on the shit list. Although, Sweden does have troops in Afghanistan. Did just recently tighten immigration, specifically from Iraq. Did print pictures of Mohammed which, as Denmark already demonstrated, is frowned upon by the Muslim world.

This explosion follows a few arrests just a couple of weeks ago. Three Somalis were arrested for possible terror links, one of whom was later released. They were sending money to terrorist organizations. But apparently Sweden and the Nordic region is said to be a bit of a hotbed for terrorists. Not that they are hanging out here blowing things up. But that they are recruiting people. They are getting money. They are prepping. I was intrigued to find out that the far north of Europe was even involved. A bit surprising really. But at the same time, Sweden, and possibly other areas of Scandinavia and the Nordic countries, has taken in a large number of immigrants from the Middle East. People who are fleeing war. People who might be a bit angry with what is going on. And really who is going to suspect Sweden? They’re neutral remember?

But back to the bomb. They already got someone. We don’t know his name. Only that it is a he. And he is 29. And a bar owner in swanky Stureplan. Where I have yet to go out because the few times I’ve tried my clothing has been insufficient according to the doorman. Now you might question how one goes about owning a bar in the fashionable Stureplan area. Some people are entrepreneurial. Gifted. Driven. Others might be involved with people who think setting bombs and blowing up cars of security companies is a good idea. Sounds like maybe there was something else driving this young entrepreneur to become a bar owner at the age of 29.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Moving to Sweden – The Swedish Language

Make sure to check out the other riveting Move-to's:
Moving to Sweden – What to Bring
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Place to Live
Moving to Sweden – The Metric System and You
Moving to Sweden – Getting a Cell Phone
Moving to Sweden – Getting from the Airport to Stockholm City
Moving to Sweden – The Weather
Moving to Sweden – Swedish Citizenship Test
Moving to Sweden – Public Holidays
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden – Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden – Making Friends
Moving to Sweden – Cost of Living
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries

Here is the long awaited follow-up to Moving to Sweden – What to Bring. The second post about moving to Sweden. This one about the lovely language spoken here. Swedish. They don’t speak Swede. Or Sweden. They speak Swedish. It’s a Germanic language which in theory should make it a bit easier to learn if you know German. Or English (also a Germanic language). Theories are not always right however. But it’s good to learn Swedish.

To be honest though, knowing Swedish is not a prerequisite to moving here. In fact it is really not necessary at all. Basically every Swede under the age of 45 is fluent in English. You might even be able to argue that any Sweden under 60 is. And they do not hesitate to use their English. Some people even choose to study abroad in Sweden because they want the experience of going to a different country and not having to know the language. Which speaks well of the Swedes mastery of English.

However, if you plan on moving to a country you had better learn the language. No one wants to cater to you because you haven’t shown enough respect to learn the spoken language. It’s just rude. So learn the language.

There are plenty of options. Some people are proactive. For those people I suggest checking with a university near you. Some larger state schools offer Swedish courses; even some of the smaller community colleges offer Swedish sometimes. Check around. The U of O and CU definitely offer Swedish.

If you don’t have a university nearby but still feel proactive grab a do it yourself Swedish course.I’ve never taught myself a language. I have no experience here at all. But even just getting used to what words look like and the basics will help.

If you are less proactive and you already made it to Swedish without knowing the difference between “ä” and “å” don’t worry. Swedes are socialists. They want to teach you for free. And they will. Grab a class at a university in Sweden. Stockholm University focuses almost solely on grammar at first. Which makes it difficult to get that speaking thing going but gives an excellent base to work from.

There is also the Swedish for immigrants classes. Back in the olden days (i.e. when BGC dragged NBC here) they actually paid you to take these classes. Those days are no more. Although there has been talk about reinstating this plan. But nonetheless, these classes are designed to get people out speaking into Swedish society quickly. Depending on where you take these classes, and who you talk to they can be very good.

Both of the in-Sweden Swedish options are pretty solid. Some people will argue that the Swedish for immigrants is better because it focuses on getting people speaking quickly. Others will argue that the grammar is better because of the base it gives. I don’t know. Depends on what you’re looking for I suppose. Personally, already having a very solid base I would have opted for the grammar option.

Now that you’re on your way to learning the language it pays to be a stubborn son of a bitch. Because as I said, Swedes speak English. And they speak it well. And they want to practice. Or show off. And they will. So when they hear you speak broken Swedish they switch to English. Ignore them. Continue on in Swedish. Fight through. It might end up being a two-languaged conversation, but that’s ok. In fact, it’s pretty cool. You will find that immigrants are more willing to continue on with you in Swedish. Probably because they remember how it was. Relish that. And remember it when you become fluent.

One way to practice is to find a buddy. A language exchange if you will. Swedish for English. Swedish for Swahili. Swedish for whatever. It’s a good way to practice. And maybe even make a friend. If your only language is English it might take a while. Spanish, Russian, French. You’re sitting a little prettier. It all comes down to good old economics. You need to have something to offer, something that is not readily supplied. And unfortunately English is. But that’s ok. Because everyone wants that native speaker for that extra help. So put up a sign at the schools or even online. Someone will bite.

So while it might be tough in a country where the majority of the population is fluent in English. Where American TV dominates the airwaves. Where American movies rule. Where English-language magazines, books, and even radio is available with little to no effort. It is well worth it.

Moving to a different country involves a certain social responsibility. A social contract if you will. An important aspect being adapting, in some way, to the local culture. The best way of doing that is to learn the language. Without the language, you miss out on Swedish news from the source. On hilarious Swedish conversations in the train. On getting to know a person in their native language. You can’t truly appreciate a country, whether it is Sweden, or anywhere else you choose to move, without learning the local language.

So there it is. Learn Swedish. It’s worth it. And it’s pretty cool being able to say you speak another language. Even if it is only spoken by a few million people in the world. If anything that makes it even cooler.

Welcome to Sweden.



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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Swedish Fashion Blogs Dominate

Recently there have been some articles in some of the free newspapers here in Stockholm focusing on the blogging world. Metro, one of the newspapers, actually hosts blogs, so quite a few short articles end up in Metro about blogging. I am always interested to see what real Swedes blog about and what they read about.

And I am disheartened. Horribly. Because dominating the Swedish blogosphere are teenage girls. Which would be fine. Except there are a lot of them. And they all write about the same thing. Fashion.

I, as mentioned numerous times here, am not a fashionable person. I like my jeans a little baggy so my junk can breathe. I like not looking ridiculous with clothes two sizes too small. I like not worrying about accessorizing. Life is good in my fashion world. Mostly because it is simple. Obviously, many people don’t agree. And that’s fine. I’ll shake my head as you walk by, but appreciate you because you made me laugh. At you maybe, but laugh nonetheless.

Now in defense of the teenage girls they are clearly meeting a need. The economics of it all is impressive. Because there are numerous teenage girl fashion bloggers in the top 10 blogs in Sweden. So there is a demand. And the teenage girls are the supply. So good work there. In fact, I am not being critical of the teenage girl bloggers at all. I’m probably a little jealous. I am however, critical of the readers. Because while some of these teenage girls write very well, and can even make some interesting points about Swedish fashion, I just have a hard time believing that this is enough to launch so many of them to the top of the blogosphere.

What does this say about Swedish society? Is it a social commentary on the materialistic side of Swedes? A country that prides itself on social and political awareness throughout the world has to be just a little bit concerned when the top blogs are about something as benign as fashion. Granted, Swedes are also known for their design and fashion. But still. Someone has to be worried. Because, while some people struggle to accept it, blogs are an excellent barometer of what is going on in society. For the people, by the people. All that good stuff. So explain it to me Swedes. Explain the phenomenon that is Swedish fashion blogging.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Swedes Love Dildos

Yup. They love dildos. Enough that the state-run monopolized pharmacy, Apoteket, is going to start selling dildos in their stores. Once again, my good friends at thelocal.se have enlightened us all. (I don’t actually know anyone at The Local, I’m sorry I mislead you.) Anyway, their article “Swedish State to Start Selling Sex Toys” says it all.

Swedes have voiced their opinions. And dildos are what they want. And they want it now. Or at least by May when Apoteket will start selling them. Their reason being that sexuality is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. And that by selling them they will be removing some of the stigma of going down to the 8th Avenue Arcade to pick up your favorite self-pleasure wand.

Fair enough. Whatever floats your boat. But does this speak poorly of Swedish men? Or does it speak highly of the sexual needs of Swedish women? Or does it just open up the possibility that the Swedes are down for trying anything as long as it is sanctioned and controlled by their omnipresent government? I have no answers.

Again though, I am amazed by the sexual attitudes of this country. So open. But it does hint at some sort of stigma if they feel the need to legitimize dildos by selling them in the pharmacy. But nonetheless. So open.

I just can’t imagine my friendly neighborhood pharmacist hawking a dildo. Mostly because I have known him since moving to the US and hang out at the pool and go skiing with him. Although, he is a charming man…

Welcome to Sweden. A land where dildos can be found in the same aisle as contact lens solution. Which by the way cost me 95 SEK the other day, that’s over 15 dollars. For the contact lens solution. Not a dildo.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Stockholm, Sweden’s International Weather Report

This post goes out to BGC:

Here it is; your personal international weather report from Stockholm, Sweden. And it’s official. Spring has sprung (damn that was cliché… oh well). According to the Swedish government, or weather bureau, or whoever is in charge five days in a row of plus degrees means spring. (I think it’s five at least.) And parts of Sweden have already measured up. Mostly Skåne, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s good enough for me. Plus, there are flowers blooming.

Of course, for those of us who love cold and winter this is lame. Not because I hate spring, but because I hate that I never got a winter. This is Sweden. Stockholm, Sweden. Cold weather. Snow. Ice. Instead it was like Oregon. I left Oregon for a reason. That reason was rain. And hippies.

Some people are clamoring about global warming. And other, cooler, less reactionary people understand that aberrations happen. All I know is that there wasn’t a whole lot of snow. And I have yet to go skiing once. Or sledding for that matter. Which sucks. So I drove to work yesterday.

On a plus note though Sweden is getting lighter. Finally. Tomorrow we hit the official 11 hours of daylight mark. It’s gone quick. And I get to go to work in the light. And come home in the light. Which makes a world of difference.

And I learned something else the other day. Apparently SAD (seasonal affective disorder) can also strike in the spring. This was news to me. I was under the impression that it only got you in the winter when the light was fading and the blue skies were replaced by an endless blackness reaching to the Arctic Circle. I was wrong. SAD has something to do with the amount of light. Regardless of coming or going. So as the light starts streaming back into our Swedish lives sluggishness, fatigue, lack of motivation might strike.

Granted, the common Swede on the train in the mornings looks sluggish, tired, and seems more concerned with ways of taking advantage of the social benefits than actually working. But maybe that’s just my SAD talking.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Moving to Sweden - What to Bring

Make sure to check out the other exciting Move-to's:
Moving to Sweden – The Swedish Language
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Place to Live
Moving to Sweden – The Metric System and You
Moving to Sweden – Getting a Cell Phone
Moving to Sweden – Getting from the Airport to Stockholm City
Moving to Sweden – The Weather
Moving to Sweden – Swedish Citizenship Test
Moving to Sweden – Public Holidays
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden – Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden – Making Friends
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries

I’ve decided that it might be helpful to write a few posts about moving to Sweden. Seeing as how that is what I did. And what this blog is about. And from the comments and e-mails I receive it also seems to be something that is of interest to people. So I’m going to intersperse a few posts about the different aspects of moving to Sweden.

Of course this will all come from my 23-24 year old perspective. And with the idea that while I’m going to be here for a while it is not permanent. And also from the perspective that I was living with my parents after college and before moving here. Yup. Boomerang generation.

Obviously this will not be a foolproof guide. It probably won’t even be in any sort of logical order either to be honest. So feel free to leave comments, other suggestions, compliments for my glorious public service, you know… the usual. And I would love to hear from other people who have done the same thing. So here it goes:

Moving to Sweden – What to Bring
I filled two suitcases with stuff and shipped the rest. But those two suitcases are important.

Clothes. You are going to need a wide variety of them. It can be ridiculously cold here. It’s only a couple hours flight to the Arctic Circle. It can also be ridiculously warm here. The summers are spectacular and they can get hot. Plus, it’s a bit humid. So it feels even hotter.

Depending on the time of year you come pack your suitcase accordingly. Moving in June means pack the summer clothes and ship the winter clothes. Moving in December means pack the winter clothes, ship the summer clothes. You get the idea.

Furniture. Maybe you have an established life. With established furnishings. In which case you do what you want. As I said. I lived with my parents. I brought a couple of reading lamps. That’s it. I used IKEA and scrounged for the rest of it. Being in student housing allowed for a lot of free furniture from students who were moving out. Also, check blocket.se and eniro.se for good deals on used furniture. And of course, IKEA. That hallmark of Swedish ingenuity. Use it wisely.

Bedding. Bring something. A light set of sheets and a pillow is probably enough to start with. Then either ship the rest of your stuff or… IKEA. This will become a resounding theme.

Dishes. A few plastic dishes, maybe a pot or two. That’s it. Dishes are heavy and not worth it. Yup… IKEA. Cheap dishes that will last a while.

Books. I know… I’m a nerd but hear me out. It will take you a while to make friends. It will take you a while to get a job. It will take you a while to settle in. And books are a glorious way to pass those late, very light, summer nights when you first set foot in Sweden.

Toiletries. I love Old Spice anti-perspirant. It is the best deodorant I have ever used. And I am a sweaty man. They do not sell this product here. So I brought a few extras. Bring a few of those toiletries you really need. It will take a while to find everything you need over here and no one wants to be the stinky guy in a new country. And some things just can’t be found. Like Old Spice anti-perspirant.

Food. Peanut butter is like gold over here. Ridiculously expensive. You can’t even find ramen for 10 cents like in the US. If there is anything you just can’t live without. Shove an extra one in your suitcase. Peanut butter and ramen has come to my rescue more times than I can count. Because sometimes, trying to feed yourself is a chore.

Everything else can be shipped. All those extra clothes, your toys (bikes, tents, ski gear), even more books, all those little things like pictures and knick knacks. They are nice. But ship them. You can go a while without them.

And Welcome to Sweden.

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Stockholm, Sweden Loves Soapboxland.com

A shameless plug for a good friend. Because I’m pretty sure that’s what friends are for.

A buddy of mine has started up a website called soapboxland.com. It is of course a glorious website because, while he might be a good friend, I’m not going to throw in a shameless plug for something that is worthless. That’s just not my style.

Basically, it’s a nice site with some funny stuff, some satire ranging from current news stories to sports to how rappers make money. All with a bit of humor, and hopefully, some intelligent opinions throw in. So check it out.

Sign up for his newsletter and check out the site for a week or two. That should be enough time to decide whether he is completely full of nonsense, or at least worth reading every now and again. And really that’s all we can ask for I suppose. The goal is to update nearly every day so there should be some new content to read pretty regularly.

I’ll even be throwing in a few posts for him once and a while. So obviously look for that, I’ll be writing as David Karl, not as the Hairy Swede you have all come to know and love.

And while I’m plugging websites, take a look to the right of my site and click on some blogs that I recommend. Again, these are of course only the best. Pretty entertaining, and nearly all have ties to Sweden. And to really scratch that European travel itch check out Europe a la Carte which should be up and running by the 3rd of March (as in tomorrow).

So there it is - my day of good blogging deeds is complete.

And for those of you who are just dying to know. I watched some of Vasaloppet. And it was boring. And all I could keep thinking about is what if a wolf or some large bear came bounding out of the woods and attacked one of the skiers. They are in the middle of nowhere. Now that would make for some intense TV.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sweden’s Version of the Marathon – Vasaloppet

Tomorrow the Vasalopp gets underway. Basically, a really, really, really long cross country ski race. Really long. 90 kilometer long. Nearly 56 miles for those of you converting at home. There are all kinds of variants but the big one. The real one is the 90 km race.

The race celebrates the vaunted historical path that Gustav Vasa took in 1520 as he fled from the king of the Kalmar Union, who had just massacred a bunch of Swedish noblemen at the Stockholm Bloodbath. An interesting aside is that here in Sweden, this King is usually referred to as the King of Denmark, which I suppose since he is Danish is true, but he also ruled over Sweden and Norway which was part of the Kalmar Union. Anyway, massacres aren’t nice. So Vasa decided to man up and ski a long ways trying to drum up support for a rebellion. And being a charismatic young man, and stunningly handsome, he managed to convince a few people to follow him. Which led to him being named king a few years later. And a boat being named after him even later still. Which sunk. But no worries. Now it sits in a museum. And his name of course adorns the cross country ski race commemorating this legendary trip. Kind of like the whole marathon story I suppose. Except in the cold. In Sweden. And a lot farther.

And of course it will be shown on TV. And I’ll probably watch for a little while. Because I just need some sort of televised sport fix. And it might be relaxing. Which is a weird concept when watching sports. And one that I am not entirely sure I want to embrace. But it seems very Swedish. So I’m going to give it a go.

Unfortunately though, I missed seeing Princess Madeleine finish the Tjejvasa. And she is hot. Which is why it was unfortunate that I missed seeing it. The Tjejvasa is the woman’s Vasa, which only happens to be 30 km. Wusses. And where is that Swedish equality? A woman should be able to handle the 90 km if a man can. This is Sweden, where women can do anything a man can do. And more.

Anyway, it’s still impressive. I’ve never cross country skied 30 km. Or ever really. I prefer downhill. The Princess however, apparently likes the cross country. Or she just wanted to show off and become the third member of the Royal Family to complete the race (I learned that from thelocal.se). Well done. But I’ll really be impressed when she rocks the real one.

But tomorrow it is. SVT will be showing the race. And I will marvel at the simplicity of cross country skiing, and the fact that they are doing things that would absolutely kick my ass. So even though it might be relaxing. Some might say boring. I know that I couldn’t grab a pair of skis and do that tomorrow. And that’s the beauty of watching athletic endeavors.