Thursday, April 28, 2011

Amazing Moment in Swedish Music History

OK, so after my ComHem breakdown and online rant - I really needed a pick me up. So I dug around a little bit and found this. And danced around the kitchen to it far too many times for it not to be embarrassing.

What can I say, Peps always makes me smile - even in darkest weather. And Oh Boy! Vilken vacker   skånska!  (ETA: eller vilken vacker skånska eller kanske härlig skånska?)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Swedish Broadband Fail: How Did I Let COMHEM Pull One Over On Me Again?

Is there a cable/broadband company that people actually enjoy sending their money to, out there? Because today I was going to write about something completely different until I realized that ComHem, my internet/telephone/cable provider completely conned me again.

I feel a bit like George Bush – Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me can't be fooled again. And so here I am, playing the fool.

See, they have this nasty habit of changing the deal you agree to and hoping you don't notice. I thought it was a mistake last time we extended our contract with them, when the bill reflected something that we did not agree to.

But this time? This time I got it in writing, on a piece of paper, the agreement we negotiated with one of THEIR salesmen. And what do I get? Oh no, they expect me to pay what they think I should pay – which is their standard agreement, and not the deal we were given, which involved a bunch of free months.

Last time they were nice enough to just cancel the whole damn thing and let me try again. But this time they say I have to officially complain – or reklamera. That's fine, because last time it was a verbal agreement, and this time it is a signed contract-with the deal in writing.

But I don't want to waste my time anymore.

The sad things is, we kept them because we have no idea what a better alternative might be. It feels like picking my poison.

I can't say I know if it would be much better in the US. But I do know that one time I called to complain about internet disruption to ComHem, they told me that it would normally take 4-6 weeks to get someone to my house, if it wasn't a problem affecting the area. But since it was summer it would probably take a lot longer.

Man, I really am the fool here, aren't I?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Swedish Restaurants: The Tapas Scam

OK, as I've written here before I'm not the biggest fan of Swedish cuisine and there are very few Swedish restaurants I think are worth the price of admission. A lot of this may be because I am vegetarian. While most Swedish restaurants have a veggie option, these options are often thought out by people who are obviously not vegetarian (a trait not unique to Swedish vegetarian cooking, and only shows that I am spoiled by growing up so close to NYC).

That said, there has been a trend for the last two years towards what I refer to as 'The Tapas Scam,' which has caused our list of possible restaurants for a nice night out to halve over the course of last year.

I realize Tapas is probably a wonderful thing to try while in Spain, or even at a fine Spanish style restaurant in Sweden specializing in Spanish food. But Swedish tapas, vegetarian style, are tiny plates of easily prepared cheap food for insane prices. For example, when one of our favorite regular restaurants went 'tapas' I ordered the garlic bread, halloumi, and soup. I got 3 slices of white bread with garlic butter, three slices of halloumi fried in olive oil, and a nice little cup of tomato soup, which wasn't bad, but wasn't anything to write home about. Each little plate would have cost 65-70SEk if ordered alone, but they cost 150SEK because I ordered them as an order of three.

Now lets say I was at a normal restaurant, even a normal Swedish restaurant. I might order a side of garlic bread with my Italian food. This side would usually be twice the size of my tapas bread, and cost about 35 SEK. If I had halloumi, it would normally be atop a salad, or sandwich, and thus be a bit more filling for the cost of 65-75 SEK. And a cup of soup? It usually ends up being about 65-75 SEK, but is often a bit bigger, and includes bread.

I get that it must be insanely expensive to run a restaurant in Sweden. I get that the overhead must make the owners cry on a regular basis. But what I don't get is why I have to pay through the roof for things even I, a rather basic chef, can produce at home with little to no effort or fanfare.

I cannot wait for this Tapas trend to be a blip in the memory of Sweden's strange culinary world.  

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's the Day Before a Holiday – Go Home!

It's true – if you've got a pretty good Union agreement at your workplace, anyway (something I've never been able to manage). Tomorrow is Good Friday, or more aptly named in Swedish, Long Friday. It is an official Swedish holiday, which means most places of business are closed tomorrow. Today is the day before that – which means many places have a half day at work.

You wouldn't notice here. Well, I am on maternity leave today, and The Swede is working away and will probably be so for the rest of the weekend.

But the weather is BEAUTIFUL! Which means I will be spending the rest of the day outdoors.

Hope you can too!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Swedish Parenting: This toy will teach you how to play!

This little plastic doohickey will turn your child into the smartest baby on the planet. He/she will learn music, shapes, reading, artithmatic, particle physics and ice skating all while mastering the skill of walking.

OK, it sounds over the top. But just a quick look at, the US version, will show you that Americans have a tendency to take the 'educational' value of toys very seriously.

Personally I get the idea of having big chunky things in plastic, they are durable. I even get the idea of having a few battery powered toys that spin around or play a song, since they are mesmerizing. 

But what I don't get? How does a tinny, poor quality recording of Mozart being played on an electric keyboard enrich my child's life in the slightest? Or make them smarter? How does having fifteen different activity buttons, latches, knobs, shapes and colours within arms reach from the age of 6 months make it any easier for my child to learn to cope with the world?

As it is at the moment, at home we only have a handful of toys. Only one makes noise. A bunch are plastic and colourful. LO's favorite game is ripping up magazines and putting the pieces into old gift bags. Or walking behind the little car he got and pushing it along. LO also likes stacking the toys on top of each other or putting them inside each other. Putting them on a table, or under the sofa is also fun.

Through these actions I might guess that LO is learning about space, size, how things fit together. I'm sure LO is also learning a bit about shapes and color.

Most of the toys made in Sweden tend to be wooden and clunky and silent. On the package there is nothing about what the wooden thing with wheels might teach your child. 

We don't have anything that plays Mozart, but occasionally I do put some Mozart on Spotify and we have it on in the background. I also put on Phish and Jazz For Kids. I don't know if these will make LO as smart as Mozart might, but we like to dance to them.

One thing I have learned to love about Sweden is that they really embrace the idea of babies being babies, kids being kids. The pressure is to 'enjoy childhood' not to 'become a baby genious.' So there will be no flashcards in our house (except for that one Iphone app I have that has flashcard animal noises, which is a lifesaver on long car trips). But I won't play toy police either.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Swedish Rules: The Sun is Out! Take Off All Your Clothes!

There is no doubt about it – spring in Sweden is a wonderful time of year. After months of darkness, dampness, and cold, Sweden errupts in green. The clouds clear the sky. And we are reminded that there is indeed still a sun at the center of our universe.

And let me tell you – I think even the newest Swede on the block runs out of the house to celebrate.

I get that this time of year, you want to spend as much time outdoors as possible. I do, too.

But already, I can tell you, my neighbors are out sunbathing in their skivvies.

Maybe it hit 70 degrees today – tops. But probably more like 65. After work I spent the day walking around in a nice lightweight long sleeve shirt and a pair of pants. It was comfortable. I could even roll up my sleeves after awhile. But I didn't decide to dig out my bathingsuit from the storage box in the attic.

But the people living two buildings down from me? They were using the age old trick of lying around in your bathing suit next to a well-positioned wall, to limit the wind. It's ambitious. It's brave. And to me, it is still one of those crazy 'assimilation into Swedish culture' steps I am not willing to take.

Many of my Swedish friends say crazy things this time of year like 'We don't need sunscreen, the sun isn't that strong up north.”

Whatever. I turn into a lobster if I use anything less than SPF 50 practically anywhere in the world in June. So I'm not taking any chances. I'll be that super-pale woman on the beach come June (if we manage to have any beach weather days in June) and I'll be OK with that.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Swedish taxes: Take my money – Please!

Americans often sigh wistfully when they hear the tales of the crazy long Swedish parental leave, the vacations, the subsidized day care, but then they stop themselves.

“Oh, but the taxes, they must be insane.”

“In a way, yes.” I usually answer. “But mostly, it's not too bad.”

And it's the truth. Recently the Moderates (the party in charge at the moment) decided they would increase the Job Tax Deduction once again.

Now if you aren't in Sweden you might be wondering what the hell that is. It is a decrease in the amount of taxes you pay on income that you earned through working. If your income is from the state, in the form of parental leave, sick leave, pension, welfare or anything else under the sun, you pay a higher tax rate than workers.

(The American in me still wonders why any of this state money is taxed at all, and why you just don't get a lesser amount without going through the game of paying taxes – but that's just old-me talking here – to be honest I have no idea if they deduct taxes from Social Security or welfare in the States)

A few details about Swedish taxes:

-There is no filing jointly, everyone files independently
-If you fall in the lower income bracket, you only pay local taxes. This is often between 28-32%
-If you earn in the higher income bracket (this year the limit is 383 000 SEK), you pay an additional 20% state tax on anything earned above that. (There is one more income level, over 548 000, you pay 25% state tax on everything above that amount.)
-There is a VAT of 25% on most store bought items (excluded are things like food, books, newspapers – which have a lower VAT)
-Your employer pays payroll tax which is above and beyond your taxes which is a little over 31%

The truth is, as a woman in my early 30's I feel like I have gotten back a hell of a lot more than I have put into the system. And to me, that is worth paying a little extra for. I see my tax money as an investment in myself, my children, and the place where I live. This is a huge contrast to how I viewed paying taxes in the US.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Learning English: Bjorn Borg Style or “I'm sitting in Stockholm”

(photo from weheartit)

OK,  Bjorn Borg is a bit before my time – but rumor has it, he was a constant abuser of this particular English mistake common to Swedish speakers.

(Please note: I KNOW that Swedes are awesome English speakers, and I am only an OK Swedish speaker. That's why I began my language commentary on this blog by pointing out my own mistakes before looking at others)

For some reason Swedes LOVE the 'ings'.

 Here's a common business introduction in the circles I run in:

'Hello, and Welcome to Company X. My name is Sven Svensson. I am working at department Y. I am sitting in Stockholm at our head office.' (He says as we are standing in the reception).

'Hello Sven, I am SurvivinginSweden'

'Please hang your clothes over here. Do you like Stockholm? I am living here ten years. Would you like some coffee? I am drinking it every morning.'

(sorry, I ran out of -ing examples in my brief dialogue. Sven looks a lot dorkier here than most of the great folk I work with)

I know the hang your clothes bit always gets a laugh. But I cannot figure out really where all of the 'ings' come from. As far as I am aware (which isn't very) the tense, present continuous, 'I am sitting, I am walking' doesn't really exist in Swedish.

The ings, in this tense,  are used in English to show something that is happening right now and is of a temporary nature (the explanation is really not THIS simple, but it's the gist of it). When talking about things like work it would be better to say “I work at department Y and I am based in Stockholm” or something of that nature. And if it is a habit, you would say 'I drink coffee every day'

I hate being a grammar cop, since I take a rather lazy approach here. I guess I just am curious as to why this particular error is so pervasive with Scandinavian speakers.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Swedish Superstitions: Where are my keys?

                                              (photo from weheartit)

I grew up in a family that was pretty slack in the 'spiritual/religion/superstition' department. I still remember that traumatic day in 1st grade when I opened my umbrella up inside the classroom and my classmates shrieked in horror. My teacher helped terrified-me close the umbrella. Then she gently explained that some people believe that opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck. I wondered if this was true or not – but didn't get an answer that satisfied me at the time.

When I first moved to Sweden I shared an apartment with a friend. Every once and awhile she would knock on my door and say 'Hey, you forgot your keys on the table.” And she would hand me my keys.

For the longest time I thought this was related to my embarrassing habit of never being able to find my keys when I needed them. I was often late for things because I was running around going 'Where are my keys? Where are my keys?' I was sure my roommate was just being preemptively helpful.

But no.

It turns out leaving your keys on a table in Sweden is bad luck.

Which is tricky for me because I leave my keys on a table pretty frequently.

According to my sources, the myth behind the superstition is a really interesting one.

Back in the day, prostitutes would indicate to potential clients their working status by putting their keys on the table in a hotel or bar. Parents didn't want to tell their daughters 'Don't put your keys on the table, people might think you are a hooker.' So instead they told them 'Don't put your keys on the table, it's bad luck.

I don't know if this story is true. But I think it is really interesting folklore.

And I wonder if there are any other Swedish superstitions I've violated since I've moved here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

On Being An Ex-pat Blogger

When I moved to Sweden internet was still mostly dial-up and blog was a rarely heard word. I've lived here awhile. And yet, I didn't start this blog until the end of last year.

So why did I become an ex-pat blogger ten years after making the move?

  1. Many ex-pat bloggers are fresh of the boat. This is great, as it is important to get those first impressions, the 'Where do I buy my vanilla extract?' moments, the 'Why does no one offer to help me when I just fell off my damn bike?' moments. And maybe this blog isn't that different – but I've had a few years to let some of these things melt in. The things that annoyed me then – some of them still annoy me – and some of them? I do them now, too.
  2. I love Sweden – Yes I bitch and moan here about things that I don't like. But I try to keep things generally positive here – because I like living here. I want to live here. I feel, in a way like, I've come home. I'm not a type A personality. I like to work to live not live to work. And I'm OK with that. I think it's important to be able to talk about the country you are living in and be able to look at the positives and negatives. The things I really don't like about Sweden? Well – I get involved in helping change those as much as possible.
  3. It's personal without being too personal – I love to write. The internet is a great medium. But to be honest, I hate talking about myself and my life. It's really not all that interesting. Writing about being an ex-pat lets me talk about myself without actually talking about myself. Oh, and the same thing with ex-pat parent-blogging, I get to blog a little bit about being a parent, without putting my child's entire life out on the internet.
  4. Viva la difference – When I blog about the difference between Sweden & the USA it's mostly what I find interesting, funny, amusing or annoying. But don't start thinking I want Sweden to become Little USA. Most of the time I think the differences keep things interesting. And to state the obvious, I think I could write just as many, if not more, snarky comments about things in the USA (I come from NJ – does that tell you enough?). It's just that this is a blog about Sweden. And me living in Sweden.

Also, I realize that I get pretty sloppy with my grammar, spelling and even the occasional word-choice. Sometimes, when no-one is looking, I go back and edit. But I mostly write these posts while Little Swede is napping – and I don't always get around to proofing before posting. I'm sorry about that. But I figure if I don't hit 'post' I'm never going to hit post.

So if you go back to a post and find some changes – it's usually just me fixing up some grammar. If I make any content changes I will make note of it in the post.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Swedish Gas Price Alert!

Gas in Sweden is expensive, through the roof. For all kinds of reasons: taxes, general costs, taxes and some more taxes. But I'm starting to get nervous. Typically, gas prices go through the roof during the summer, when everyone hits the road.

But it's only the beginning of April and gas is already at 14.50 SEK per liter, that means that it is 58 SEK per gallon. At today's exchange rate that makes gas $9.20/gallon.

Now pick your jaw up off the floor.

This is one of those posts where, if you are in the US, you can say: “I may not have 480 days of paid parental leave, national health care, a well-maintained infrastructure and paid days off to take care of my sick kids -but I ain't paying $9.20 per gallon of gas.”

I ain't payin that either, mostly because I drive a car that runs on ethanol, but I don't know really in the long run how much it helps. Because I don't drive all that much anyway. Seriously, at these prices, who can afford to?

You can take large deductions on your yearly taxes if you commute to work by car. Which helps some people. The rest of us just keep biking, taking the train, bus, or tram wherever we have to go.