Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sweden wins Eurovision! Eastern European Conspiracy Defeated!

OK, so the one year I slack off and decided to skip Eurovision, Sweden manages to win the thing. YAY Sweden! I was a little afraid the Babushkas might sweep it, and while they were cute and all, I really didn't want to have to listen to that song.

But no Sweden did it!

Eurovision is one of those contests you get super excited about the possibility of winning and then realize the prize is pretty crappy. You have to host the damn thing next year. That's a lot of money to spend on an international festival. But I guess people have fun with it and might enjoy going to the concert? What do I know. I always get annoyed when I try to win the prize at a party and the prize turns out to be some big responsibility to do something in the future like throw another party or take the host and hostess out to dinner.

I won't write much about Loreen's performance because I haven't seen it. But what I really hope is that this keeps the Swedish sore loser syndrome away for a few years. I really hope the media doesn't start complaining about Sweden not winning next year.

Seriously, can we please now remember that western European countries win Eurovision, too? And just because a song is 'slated to win' by the Swedish press before the contest, doesn't mean it will stand a chance (cough cough The Ark cough).

Let's not get all pissy just because the Eastern European countries vote for each other, when they bring out well-known regional artists, and then bring out Carola because everyone knows she has widespread regional appeal.

I'm not going to talk about 'the best song' winning, because while perhaps Loreen had the best song of the night (I didn't watch remember?) I have seen many older competitions where what I thought was the best song did not win.

But then again, this contest is so very much not about MY taste. I'm not even European. And I tend to feel that most on Eurovision night.

But hey, I am happy for Loreen and Sweden!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My get rich quick idea for Sweden - California Closets

So you want to move to Sweden but don't have a job, or you are an immigrant who has been searching for work for ages, but to no avail. Here is my big tip to you. Start a California Closet type organization building and designing interiors of closets.


Swedes don't know anything about built-in closets. Oh sure, they may know IKEA. But every single apartment I have ever lived in, in Sweden, has had terrible closets.

1) The hanging baskets - I cannot explain how much I hate the stupid useless hanging baskets that seem to be a must in every Swedish apartment. Even my large walk in closet had a special closet full of hanging baskets. These baskets are pointless because they can never bear as much weight as they look like - ie. big drawers can maybe hold 5 sweaters before they start to sag. They also fall off their runners every time you try to open them. Seriously, for ages, The Swede and I spent mornings going 'Oh shit' every time we tried to get dressed. The hanging baskets are awful.

2) The deep and wide shelves - in many closets, above the hanging baskets are these exceedingly deep shelves that are practically too deep to use. You put your clothes in them and never see them again. I need to totally revolve my wardrobe every month or so, otherwise it would be gone.

3) The tiny, light weight hanging pole - There is usually a tiny area where you can hang your clothes. Usually I am more of a folder, but due to lack of smart folding storage, I have become more of a hanger. The problem? There is never enough room. The pole is too short, the hanging drawer space is too big.

But I don't want a bureau, I have a closet that takes up the entire side of my room. There is enough space there, but it is totally worthlessly designed.

We have solved the problem by taking the hanging baskets and placing them in the deep shelves. That way you can pull out the drawer and see what is in the back. We bought a small chest of drawers, that can actually bear weight and doesn't fall apart every time you open it, and put it where the hanging drawers were.

It isn't pretty but it is functional. So seriously, there has to be a huge market for functional and pretty.

I know you are probably wondering why, if this is such a brilliant idea, I haven't taken it on myself.

That is because you don't want me anywhere near your closets. Trust me. I am a terrible designer and organizer. Closet organizer as a career is an absolute worst fit for me. But when I am no longer renting, I might be happy to hire one (if we have any budget left over).

Friday, May 18, 2012

Buying a house in Sweden - the bidding process

So we decided we both loved the house and it was within our price range, so we decided to venture out into the land of the bidding war.

How do you bid on a house in Sweden?

via text message. Yes, you send amounts like '3,000,000' via SMS and then the others interested in bidding see your message and decide if they want to place a bid.

You are not legally bound to actually fulfilling your bid. The agent does not need to check to see if you have any capacity to pay the sum you have bid. You can just bid. We were actually really close to purchasing a place a few years ago when the top/most aggressive bidder decided at the last minute they didn't want it and they offered it to us. At our highest bid. Based on the aggressive bidders tactics. The Swede says I am nuts, but I am convinced the top bidder was a close friend of the sellers. Because seriously what is stopping anyone from doing that? Absolutely nothing.

Someone mentioned in a previous post about the US system in which the buyer has a broker and how that can be a pain. Maybe. But sometimes I just wish there was someone looking out for MY best interest in the largest purchase I will probably make in my lifetime. The Swedish real estate agent is supposed to represent both buyer and seller, but since their salary is based on commission and paid by the seller, I cannot see how this can conceivably work. Especially when they are too busy to answer questions or take a personal interest.

Let's take our dream house as an example. Even when we said we wanted to place a bid, the agent never responded to me personally. Never answered any questions via email. Only sent out mass mailings.

OK, so there were that many people interested in the house. In 8 hours, the price went up 500,000 SEK or just under 100,000. For a house that needed some serious renovation that we had a hard time estimating the cost of, things went over our limit pretty quickly.

I'm sad to walk away, but you can only do so much.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Why the Swedish housing market scares the crap out of me

So we are looking at buying a house again. We do this periodically, but let's just say I am afraid of commitment. The Swede and I are polar opposites on this subject, and I like to hope that will mean we will eventually make a great compromise. I LOVE to look at houses and dream about living in them, but the thought of buying one scares the living bejeebus out of me. The Swede falls in love with practically every house we see and is seriously disappointed every time we end up not making the purchase.

So here are my fears about buying a house in Sweden:

1) The housing market reminds me of the American housing market circa 2008 - Prices just seem to keep going up. They cannot go up inevitably. We live in a HCOL area. I don't think they will come down much. And I don't look at buying a house as an investment. And thankfully people here don't own 3 houses at a time, like they did in the peak in the US. But really there must be a limit. Incomes don't vary too much here, who are these people who can afford these homes?

2) No one in my generation seems to actually own their houses - They just pay interest on their 'bottom loans' and only work to pay off the top loan, which is like 20% of the loan. Which means, for me anyway, that you are just always renting your house from the bank. Seriously, you do not have to amortize your bottom loan. Crazy pants.  (FYI You can take out a bottom loan for about 70-80% of your home's value).

3) You cannot get a fixed interest rate for more than 10 years, and you are discouraged from even taking that - There is a huge difference between the long term interest rates and banks encourage you to take the variable interest for the WHOLE sum. Again... crazy pants. Thankfully you can buy insurance to protect yourself from too much movement in the rate, but still, I WANT MY 30 YEAR FIXED MORTGAGE RATE!!!!

4) You buy it you own it - Sure you may be permanently indebted to the bank, but you are permanently indebted to the bank. What I mean is, even if your house loses value, you owe the set amount to the bank. Foreclosure smorclosure. You owe the money NO MATTER WHAT. You would think this would make the banks a little more careful. Nope. Not so much.

I get that this is how the Swedish market has worked for ages. I get that, despite a bit of chaos in the 90s it seems to have survived. But I still feel like my generation ends up being the one totally f-d by this system. Because we are the first to be sitting around with over 2 million crowns in debt, on average. What happens if things turn sour?

Do you get why I am so terrified to buy a house? Even if today we totally looked at what could be a dream home?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fashion and language fail - Valborg edition

So Monday was Valborg - or Walpurgis as they apparently call it in English, but I don't know many people who have heard of Walpurgis.

The day was sunny and warm - practically a first for this spring. And thus the teenagers and young folks came out in droves to get drunk and get tan. This is what Walpurgis apparently means today. In old times it was also a celebration of spring, burning of witches or a few other tales the Swedes might tell you about this old bonfire of a tradition.

I had to work. But on my way home I noticed that I did not get the fashion memo that apparently 50% of Swedes got this month. The only way to be seen in Sweden this month is in shorts and black stockings. About everyone I saw on the train and on the street under the age of 25 was rocking some form of this look, or its equivalent, tight black pants.

I do not judge. This look is actually pretty practical for Sweden - because it is a bit warmer than some of the other looks that have been popular in recent years. And because there are photos of me from about 15 years ago sporting a similar look. Can you believe I wore spandex bike shorts under ripped denim jeans? This is why I hate fashion today. I cannot believe anyone brainwashed me into wearing that ridiculousness.

Anyways, I do realize that those of us over 25, in good Swedish fashion fashion, will be wearing some form of this look in about 4-6 months. I think I will not do it again, but am glad it is this and not pastels.

As for the language fail, Big Swede, Little Swede and I went to a bonfire to celebrate Valborg. I was explaining to Little Swede

"We are going to celebrate that spring is here."

"Springa!" (run!) shouts little Swede and takes off running.

"No, not run, spring, the end of winter, spring." I try to explain as he teeters over to us again.

"Springa!" He shouts and takes off.

Yes I am that mother. But damn bilingualism is adorable....