Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Work mentally, or is it mentality in Sweden

Things are looking up, depending on your viewpoint of the situation. It seems my experience and background have qualified me for a position here in this great land full of Scandinavians. This got me to thinking about the Swedish Work Ethic.

You see, as several swedes have pointed out to me during my stay here, Sweden is not a very big (based on populous) country. There are roughly 9 million people here and they are spread out in a Country the size of Alberta. There are many companies here, and quite a diversity of companies however due to the nature of how the population is spread out you wont find multiple huge multinationals all co-located in the same area. This occurred to me after having to find another job in my field. In Calgary, if i needed to go somewhere else, there is literally dozens of companies I could apply to, here in Stockholm however, there were 4. One was down and the others were not hiring.

This lead me to a stark realization. Having to find work could quite possibly mean a move. It would be a rare event for me to have to move from one city to another (without of course wanting to do so) in Canada however in talking with Swedes it didnt seem to be anything out of the ordinary. Most were of the opinion that they are 'LUCKY' to even find work and so jump at the opportunity. Quite strange.

On top of all of this, a Swede moving to another city possibly hundreds of KM's away and having to relocate their lives have to go through a probationary period for 6 months. Strange again.

On talking with an early 20-something, another thing made me wonder...people here truly believe that they should be paid on age and while this makes some sense (to coincide with experience) what about ability and function? In Swedish one might say 'Det Spelar ingen Roll' which basically means it doesnt matter. If your young, dont expect to make much, no matter how competent you are or how much you can perform.

Another thing that was somewhat surprising for such a peaceful country that likes to avoid confrontation is the word that backstabbing at the work place to try to get ahead is rampant here in this country. Its almost childish.

Not that its all bad, there are many good things about being here, about being part of this well functioning machine, but that will be left for another post.

Work mentality in Sweden

For a small population Sweden has a very high density of international companies. There are many advantages to locating an international company in Sweden or scandinavia in gernal:
  • Everyone speaks english
  • the standard of living is very high
  • you are very close to the rest of Europe
  • Sweden is viewed positively throughout the world
  • Child care, medical benefits, sick pay, all entice potential employees
Another thing that I have noticed in my year or so working here is that the stress level at the workplace here in Sweden is almost non-existant. (at least compared to Canada where i used to work)

Swedes like to take fika breaks throughout the day. At all hours spontanious fika breaks will break out in any part of the office. In my current office environment they have chosen to use the 'open office' concept so this does make things a little louder during these times but it also makes it so that others can participate when a fika break is happening near them.

With all these fika breaks you would logically assume that the productivity here in Sweden is lower or sub par to what you would find in other countries but to the contrary, having worked here myself i find myself able to get more accomplished with the clear head and lack of stress that results from these meetings. Also, these informal fika meetings are also a good time to share what is happening in ones' projects and therefore removing the need to have so many formalized meetings to share information.

At least where i work: they dont block facebook or youtube. Your welcome to browse the web during the day and studies have shown this actually boosts productivity -if not satiating our perpetual lack of long term concentration developed over years of television and nintendo.

There is also a great freedom of where work is performed here in Sweden, need to work from home on the third wednesday of the month becuase childcare is not available, no problem. Need to leave a bit early on fridays to catch that plane to Stockholm, not an issue. Need to show up a bit late on Mondays as your still a little bakis from the weekend, sure!

The swedish word of the day is: 'arbetsnarkoman' which means workaholic (havent seen one of those here yet by the way)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Jultid i Sverige! Spännande, Underbart, Vackert

Välkomna till i riktig god jul....the holidays here in Stockholm are a time where the entire city is transformed into a holiday themed zone which Christmas Trees decorated and located throughout the city. Also set up are several Holiday markets that sell holiday themed goods such as handy-crafts, Christmas goodies, etc.

I also love how the city sets up little fireplaces such as the one you see picture here, where you can go to warm your hands and experience the fragrant lumber as it crackles and burns, makes me wish i had some marshmellows!

Personally, I have never seen a Santa (Tomten) as realistic as the one that they have here at the Major Fashion Mall - Nordiska Kompaniet (NK).

I personally love this time of year, the whole atmosphere seems somewhat surreal and you have the feeling that anything magical could happen. I recommend you watch the movie 'Serendipity' circa 2001 if you have the time! Its one move that will definitely get you into the spirit of the season.

This time of year does definitely make one think about the past year, friends, family, reflect on decisions made in the past and try to formulate some semblance of a plan for the future. I have to admit, that being in a foreign country away from all your family and friends back home does bring about some feelings of isolation and longing for those back home.

Something that definitely effects everyones mood here in Sweden is the amount of light they receive in the Winter season. Due to its high latitude, you have the sun rising around 8am and setting at 3pm at the worst of times. You basically live in the dark.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Feel like Starbucks prices everywhere you go? Come to Sweden!

So you have a hankering for a nice cup of freshly brewed coffee or tea? In Canada we have the fortunate luck of being the home of Tim Hortons Coffee. A very reasonably price (about 8 SEK or 1.50 Cad) cup of freshly brewed coffee avaiable at almost every intersection. People literally cue in their vehicles through the drive throughs just to purchase a coffee and the occational donut.

Here, though no shortage of places to purchase a cup of coffee, there is a serious shortage of a reasonably priced, good cup of coffee. The typical price for a Brygg Kaffe (brewed cup of coffee) is 25 SEK which is about 4 dollars. The prices for lattés, capuccinno, espressos, go up from there. Even more ridiculous is that a typical cup of Tea (or Te i svenska) is the same price as a brewed coffee and consists of a cup of hot water and a tea bag.

Its no wonder that Starbucks decided not to locate in the Nordics where they have already learned how to overcharge for a cup of coffee before being able to establish here. I guess its somewhat like the prices of a beer at the bar, you eventually get used to it and dont even realize whats happening.


Tillbaka på Darlana Hästen (Back on the Dala Horse)

Well its been a few months since my last post. Finally got around to correcting the grammar and spelling in my previous post, my I must have been in a hizzy when i wrote it originally.

What I've said in my previous post regarding the Swedish employment process holds true, I continue on my quest to find employment however something worth noting is that I am fortunate in that I am a Canadian through and through even if my name might suggest otherwise, I have found that following up with a CV submission with a phone call to inform the employer about this fact has had some limited success. At this point, I'm still not where I want to be in terms of City of employment however I do have some possibilities in finding employment.

Right at this time there is also a global financial crisis and several companies in Sweden are cutting back on their expansion plans making a job hunt for anyone harder. I'm about to make a bold statement about working in Sweden:

Surely, this sounds insane, shouldn't this be the other way around? Employees are afraid of their employer? Its the employer that controls if they keep their employees or? Well not in Sweden. This country has developed a very powerful social infrasture and along with that Unions have always been looked favorably on. Unions have grown very powerful, in fact if you are working in a professional field here your employer is more then likely to be in partnership with their respective Union and their corresponding rules and regulations.

On the surface this surely sounds like a good thing, more protection for employees, more job security, better collective negotiating power. If one digs a little deeper however, you will find something smelling afoul underneath this bed of roses.

You see, because the Unions have so much power here, employers fight an uphill battle:
Sure if they hire an employee and the employee is good, works well with others, etc, all is good. However if the employee is found to not fit within the company, the organisation now has a problem. Unless the employee does something drastic in terms of stealing from the company, or killing someone then there is no way to remove this employee. Worker has a bad attitude? Doesn't get along with others? Low quality of work? Sick all the time? Alcoholic or Drug user? Too bad, as the employer you are responsible to train that employee, and to help them to fit in, remember, when you employed them for their position you should have been psychic and been able to predict exactly how well this employee would work out in the organization, or did the psychic on your staff call in sick that day as well?

Most employers here work on a 'prova anställning' principle which gives the employer a 6 month probationary period where they can see if the employee works out, however this is ridiculous as most professional positions require months just to get integrated within the company. What ends up happening is most employers will cycle through employees, never offering fast anställning (permanent employment contract), because at that point the company is now liable for you.

Its ironic that if you are not a citizen of Sweden or a member of the EU and require a residence permit here in Sweden, the employer would have to offer you a tillvidare anställning (till future employment) right off the bat. This is the only way that a Non-EU resident can get a permit to stay. Of course, with that the employer also has to generally show to Arbetsformedling that they were not able to find someone with your qualifications first within Sweden, and then within the EU. That doesn't at all sound ridiculous does it now? How fair is this for the Swedes that are forced to work on a temporary basis hoping that they are able to get a permanent position?


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Patience & Luck?: The Swedish Job Market

A typical job search is undoubtedly a job of its own: seeking out postings, applying with the tailoring of your CV and covering letter, follow up calls, emails.....continually persevering and keeping hopeful someone will call back for an interview. Now after this callback, the real work begins: presentation, appearance, selling yourself and ability's to the interviewer. Hopefully you have not been typecast on your initial greeting with the interviewer and that you have the attention you require to get your personality across. Even after this the waiting game continues. Calling the company that interviewed you back, sending a letter of thanks for the interview, etc etc etc.....

This difficulty of this whole process is amplified by orders of magnitude for the foreigner that is applying for a job in another country. The irony of the Swedish job market is that although everyone in Sweden takes English language lessons from the time they are in grade school, most speaking the language fluently and actually better then many that i have worked with in Canada, they will not give you a second look if you are not a Swedish speaker. Its possibly foolish of me to expect this country to welcome foreign migrant workers into the Swedish labour market, or is it?

Having run my own company on several occasions before, i know the challenges of sorting through dozens if not hundreds of perfectly qualified people, trying to determine which one should be brought in for interviews. Unfortunately, the process usually boils down to semantics: those who forgot to sign their Covering letter, perhaps spelling or grammatical mistakes or some other mundane or irrelevant method of sorting through the clutter.

The ¨section process¨ in the Swedish market has been influenced significantly by they influx of migration into the country due to the lax and ineffective immigration policies of the Swedish government (see my previous post for more information on this). Qualifications aside, its been my experience here through speaking with friends and colleges that one of the first methods that employers here use to prioritize candidates is the name you use on your application. Ethic sounding name? you need not apply or if you feel like wasting your time, ensure your postal box or email account is empty to receive the rejection letter you'll no doubly receive. Sometimes the rejection can take a year to receive (as was the case for me from a Norwegian company Aker Kvaerner) so be patient, it will come.

The frequency of discrimination by employers in Sweden is actually quite surprising for a country that prides itself on having open arms; taking in refugees and people that ere unfortunately born in volatile regions of the world. Its not uncommon for Sweden's to even discriminate against the first generation Swedish born, whose parents were originally migrants to the country or those of mixed origin where only one parent is Swedish. Your name is a quick and efficient way to typecast you, your religious beliefs, the color of your skin and origins.

Maersk, although not Swedish is a prime example of Scandinavian racism. An example that i myself went through convinced me to change my approach when looking for work in Sweden. I have several years of experience in my respective field and have managed teams in the past and projects worth several million dollars. The position I applied to was actually somewhat below my experience level and qualifications however realizing that when entering into a new country and their respective job market one has to be prepared to make sacrifices and start somewhere, so i applied. About 3 weeks after sending in my application I received the anticipated rejection letter. Maersk politely informed me that mine was one of numerous applications that were received and that on this occasion they felt that i was not a good match for the role i had applied to. It was specifically noted that this was based on information provided within my CV. Now lets fast forward and see what happens when i change the name on my application, leaving all the information within the CV the same but this time the name on the CV is a Scandinavian sounding one. No One was more surprised then me at the time, when no later then 36 hours after my CV was sent, i received a call from Maersk. They were suddenly interested in getting to know me beetter and (in their own words) ¨although the position i applied for does not directly match my experience, we would still be itnerestd in having you come down for an interview¨. One hour later i received a web link to book a time convenient for me to come in as well as ifnormation on compensation for my travel costs.

This series of events opened up my eyes to the unadvertised qualifications that most jobs in scandinavia require: blue eyes and blonde hair.

I never went to that interview with Maersk. I felt it would have been a waste of time on both our parts as there is no way in the firey depths of _ _ _ _ that i would ahave even considered accepting a job from a company such as that.

So at this point i knew what to do. I changed my name to a derivative of my actual one with the help of a swede thereby swedifying myself. THis simple act had expected consequences. Applications i made now seemed to be penetrating companies first line of defence and I was now getting call backs and interview requests.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Unfortunate Consequence of an Open Door Policy

Throughout the centuries, the Scandinavian people have been for the most part quite uniform in terms of the peoples and society. The stereotype that's been propagated throughout the years of the tall buck some blond haired and blue eyed inhabitants is not without some element of truth. Even today, a high percentage of the population is of fair complexion if one was to compare Scandinavian countries (namely, Sweden/Norway) to the rest of the world. Due either to geographic isolation or no requirement of immigration, up until the end of the second world war in Sweden you found swedes.

After the second world war now is a different story: Europe was in shambles with much of industrialized western Europe destroyed.

Those that made it through the war with little or no damage were immediately at an economic advantage. For instance the economy of the US skyrocketed with a huge global demand for not only raw materials but finished goods. The war contributed to the wealth that America now enjoys. Along those same lines however, Sweden chose neutrality during the war and played a more supportive role instead of picking sides. Flush with cash from the war and industry booming, there was suddenly a need for skilled workers such that could not be supplied domestically. With the first wave of immigration came further prosperity. These peoples were quick to assimilate and become part of Swedish society. Immigration in the eye's of the public worked for the betterment of everyone.

Now however comes the somber truth of the consequences of having an over liberalized immigration policy that worked initially for small numbers but like so many other things doesn't scale up when applied in excess. Due to recent world events and conflicts occurring throughout high tension zones such as Africa and the middle east during the last decades Sweden has made a noble effort to help the worlds populations by helping to resettle people in conflict ones here. With a huge land mass and (comparatively) small population there is little in terms of space preventing the swedes from accepting these people. With immigration comes the ability to bring skilled migrants to the country and further benefit society both economically and culturally.

But here is where it is my belief that things might not have gone all according to plan. With the number of asylum seekers and migrants growing exponentially over the last several years, the system that was in place was no longer designed to handle the demands placed upon it. Along with this instead of giving these migrants the proverbial training in HOW TO FISH, they were given handouts and learn to become dependent on the system. These migrants for the most part were coming from areas where English is perhaps not the commonly spoken language and it can be all but assured that Swedish was not taught to them growing up either. Along with the lack of language skills there comes a further upbringing that fundamentally differs from cultural norms and societal behavior that is taught (both directly and indirectly) growing up in Sweden. Mix all these ingredients in a blender and one ends up with a culture shock and a search for something that's familiar. People of similar upbringing tend to band together. When taking into account the high cost of both a place to live as well as costs for food, transportation etc. you start to get even more of a banding effect where recently it has been uncovered that there are some people living 6 or more to a one room apartment, many times that of its original design.

Being in a foreign land and not being able to communicate, the opportunities to provide for oneself becomes limited. Employers in Sweden want people that can communicate in Swedish or barring that a minimum of English. Lack of work amplifies the problem of poverty which compounds until the only way out seems to be resorting to crime. Suddenly the country that opened its doors to help, becomes the enemy, and its inhabitants the target.

Nothing is more telling then a recent news story by fox news in the States that chronicled the trials being faced by the government workers in Malmö when trying to help the residents there by providing them firefighting, ambulance and other government services below.

Coming from war torn regions of the world these people have learned to develop a fear for authority and disrespect for government. From their perspective government is not there to help but rather to control.

As logic dictates with this increase in crime comes assignment of blame and although a crime committed may not always be the act of someone that has immigrated here the public perception that develops is one that immigration is to blame.

I have personally spoken with many Swedes on this topic of immigration and although i don't claim to be an authority on the subject i do come from a country that has always been built on the principles that having a melting pot where people from around the world share their experiences will bring something unique to the table. In fact as Canadians have to hone the immigration policies for so long we have done a good job in making it work. For examples we have several laws to prevent racism and as immigration is somewhat of old news for Canadians, the mixing is widely accepted.

Here in Sweden due to the problems caused indirectly by insufficient immigration policies there is a slow but consistent resurgence in government parties who's platform is based on reducing and restricting immigration to Sweden. What may not be realized however is that Pandora's box has already been opened and a radical change to immigration will not solve the problems of the here and now.

One important question here is of course by what reasoning did Sweden believe they should create from scratch an immigration policy? Having been fortunate enough to travel to many parts o the world, i have seen first hand both culturally rich and multicultural regions. Similar cultural problems exist wherever you go with people that immigrate to a region wanting to bring with them their own cultures and traditions. In Canada there was recently a case of a 10 year old boy wanting to bring a ceremonial dagger to school as it represented devotion to his cultural beliefs. This case went all the way to the supreme court of Canada and his ability to do so finally struck down. On the other side of the globe a devote Muslim woman in Australia wanted the right to be able to have her Drivers License photo taken with all but her eyes covered as anything more would have gone beyond what was accepted by her beliefs. Once again common sense prevailed and its my guess that this person might be taking the bus instead of driving if she held steadfast in her beliefs.

Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel why not draw up on the experiences of several other countries that have been developing immigration policies over the last several decades? From there pull out the best of what has worked and adapt it to make it your own. This will not ensure success but it will help in demonstrating some predictability in the eventual outcome. Otherwise learning to manage the outcomes of an unrealistic policy will become necessary.

The Swedish word of the day is Invandrare, it means immigrant.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Glad Påsk Alla!

Its that time of year again! Easter or Påsk in Swedish is a national event garnering not 2 but 2 and a half days off! Work tends to end around noon on the thursday and most people begin their Påsk festivities early.

Påsk is the remembrance of the death of Jeasus, and a day of soul searching and reflection on this monumental point in history. Of course along with the remembrance, tends to come a lot of Stockholmites going out and painting the town Red.

This long weekend is an excuse for several party goers to celebrate for 4 days in a row, finally relaxing on the monday to prepare themselves for the coming week or work ahead.

One thing that I found interesting when first getting here was how the transportation system functioned so well with so much regularity. Of course along with that it also tends to dictate peoples night time activities being that during the week, the T-bana only runs till about 1am. This is inceased to 4am on friday and saturdays and as such the party tends to continue till the wee hours of the morning.

Taking the T-bana is much preferred to the bus system even though night buses do function all throughout the night granted with much less regularity and clarity as where exactly one should wait for their bus.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A swear is just another word, I doth proclaim

North Americans are sensitive, we wont allow any sexuality on TV and thats the ways wes' likes it. At least this is how we are brought up to believe things should be. You would never want any impressionable young minds being exposed to something as lurid and disgusting as a sexual act on TV or worse yet hearing profanity publicly: OH THE HORROR!

Ironically, this is quite visible here in Sweden to some much of the Media originates from English speaking countries, and more often then not, American sources play a huge role in what type of media is broadcast in Sweden. There are the classic family favorites such as "PIMP MY RIDE" and who could ever forget the heartwarming classic "Grey's Anatomy".

Its not only sitcoms and reality shows however, there is a major American musical influence as well. MTV is a popular station here, which although broadcasting some Swedish content, is dominated by foreign content as well.

Of course being as how much of the media broadcast here is American, it follows the American rules about language, and various other forms of content, but this is where Sweden takes a huge diversion to that of the West.

I have been here for several months now and during my time, I have seen very graphic sexuality being broadcast on what might be termed "PRIME TIME" in the Americas that wonderful period between 6pm and 10pm where everyone typically zones out in front of the TV and forgets their daily worries. In addition to that, I have also noticed the use of "profanity" is also quite common throughout the day. Terms like "Jävla" and "Sjuit" and the like are regularly used in everyday situations, conversations between old ladies and their grandchildren, kids and their parents, Students and teachers.

In fact just the other day, I came upon quite an interesting contrast right in the daily paper, one that is distributed freely to anyone with an inkling to pick one up.

The "STOCKHOLM CITY" Nyheter or newspaper is one paid by advertisers and distributed freely, making the content even more interesting. How many companies do you know of in North America that would want to be associated with the content below?

Translated loosely, it it reads "Playing a Sweet Fuckup". This kinda thing is quite common here in Sweden and personally I LIKE IT.

Why is it that we are so against a word, or sequence of words. Arent we the country of free speech? If we were not so averse to being able to freely express ourselves would our society break down and people would start to riot in the streets causing havoc and destroying everything in sight?

If Sweden is any example, I think not. (and they have been around longer).

There are many lessons that we could learn from the Swedish culture in North America and visa versa.

Well back to the rainy weather, and blonde bombshells, till tomorrow when I plan to write about some other very insightful and intersting tidbit.

THE SWEDISH WORD FOR TODAY IS: Föreslår (pronounced: Foorslor) and it means Suggest

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Spring is in the air, Come Visit Sweden!

Well its the video for which my blog is name: A wonderful and inspiring tribute to Scandinavia the people and culture, the city and natural surroundings living in harmony. Most everything you can expect to physically see is in this video however its lacking in one major component, that is to say there is no one talking and you do not really get to learn about the people you see in these videos. That is something I would suggest you come here to see for yourself...its definitely worth your while and while your here, look me up, im just around the corner.

But for now, all I can say is that time flies by so quickly here...from one event to another, from one week to the next...I for one can not believe that I have gone through three seasons here already...arriving in late summer, I experienced the fall and winter here in the Capital of Scandinavia....

Winter this year was especially mild which is quite nice, as I neglected to pack any winter clothing! In previous years the channels that line the Skärgård (archipelago) freeze over and one is able to skate to the nearby islands. The result of global warming it seems is that this will be happening much and much less frequently in this part of the world. However with the mild winter comes other advantages including an early spring....this last weekend in February I saw my first signs that spring was around the corner with the blooming of Swedish flowers in several of the gardens throughout the city. The air is crisp and the sun is finally making an appearance, it seems that this will be a Summer to remember here in Sverige.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

SNUS, all the benefits of Smoking without the Smoke!

There you have it...SNUS...What is SNUS?!?....a revolutionary way to reap all the benefits of nicotine, and all those other wonderful chemicals but without the smoke that is so common with normal tobacco products. Being raised in Western Canada i am no stranger to a similar product referred to as ¨Chewing Tobacco¨ . There are many varieties, tastes, strenghts etc...but this product is basically just raw tobacco stuffed into a small round plastic container. You insert it into your gums directly and the saliva produced while its there is normally spit me it conjures up images of cowboys in the wild west and spittoons.
I know of several people back home that do use this as a fix to their addictions but the Swedes, in typical Swedish style have taken some of the ewweee out of the entire thing by creating something similar to ¨chew¨but each dosage is pre-sized and bagged in a sort of tea bag that allows the flavor and nicotine to penetrate through -Yummy! Removal is quick, clean, and easy as none of the tobacco leaves the convenient pouch.

Having spoken with users (that include both men and women) its clear that this stuff is incredibly addictive and socially accepted here in Sweden unlike in the rest of the EU who banned the sale of it back in 1992 ( Sweden is supposed to also come on board in removing this product from the shelves it maybe something that will neigh happen over night with over 1.1 million people using the product here.

One chilling side effect of the product from ¨lifetime¨users is the recession of the tandkött or gums up the teeth over time until users when placing the product in their mouth no longer do so below their lip but higher up to a point just beside their nose.

This product is incredibly addictive and many who have used it have a hard time kicking the habit and will frequently switch to smoking during especially weak periods of self control.

I have had the chance to put some in my mouth however a good friend whom i met here convinced me to remove it from my mouth before its effects could be felt, so I cannot really comment on how it feels or the effects. Perhaps this is something your going to have to come here to try out for yourself!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll...Swedish Nightlife

Just as people in many other parts of the world, Swedes have no lack of traditions, cultural heritage, and sacred traditions, this post is on something quite a bit different then that:
The Weekend Party

No matter how cool or damp the weather is on a given stockholm evening, you can always count on a hot and steamy party to be going on at one of the many bars, lounges, clubs, discos, etc that are located in and around downtown Stockholm.

This weekend ritual is not as transparent as it seems to many of us that live in other parts of the world. There are some very important differences not the least of which is the creation of the förfest or pre-party. Drinking in Stockholm, or even in Sweden for that matter is quite an expensive affair especially when you take into account Sweden's strict regulations on alcohol sales and consumption, only legally allowed by the System Bolaget. The short story here is that alcohol is expensive, very expensive, in fact it is on average 2x as expensive as prices in Canada where the prices are already inflated. The country has had its problems with alcohol abuse although from my experience here, these strict rules do not do much to curb them.

So I believe the förfest was developed in order to a) save people money, b) meet up in one central place before going out, and c) getting into the party spirit. There is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained when drinking at a pre-party, and I have seen many "half decomposed examples" of people with an inability to perfect this on the t-bana on our way out to the clubs. There is also the problem that if you appear to be too psyched in the lineup the asshole bouncers can and do quite easily prevent you from getting inside.

Once you are inside the club, the Fest can begin, or does it? If in student cities outside Stockholm the number of bars can and do prevent a majority from entering so was created the Mellanfest a time where after you get your stamp guaranteeing you re-entry, you go back home to party and continue drinking gratis. When finally you do get inside, depending on the depth of your pockets (t.ex whether your a student) the drinking inside may slow down a considerable amount. Hence the goal for some is to maintain this tipsy balance without overdoing it to ensure a proper fest.

The night life here is definitely vibrant and with the variety of choices you have the option of upscale or down home with advantages and disadvantages to each local. Entry into the more posh and expensive clubs in Stureplan is normally easiest around 10pm with it getting harder and harder the longer you wait if you happen to pee standing up. If you happen to want to get in after midnight and are a group of only guys and don't happen to know the bouncer or owner, it might be worth your while to check out the night life in Södermalm.

n Södermalm you will find that the rules of entry are quite a bit more relaxed as are the drink and entrance prices. Not only are the rules of entry more relaxed but from my experience the people seem more down to earth and easier to talk to as well.

Many clubs are open late here in Stockholm with several closing at 3 and others that close at 5am. The T-bana shuts down from the center at about 3:30am and for many this is their last time to get out of the center to the suburbs without having to worry about the night bus. The T-bana can be quite unreliable at this time with drunk people trying to get on and off and who knows what else happening at stations besides the one you are at.

Once you do get home some of the die hard party animals might continue their partying with what is known here as Aftonfest. This is where you migrate back home and continue the party which typically ends in people passing out around the flat after a bite to eat.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Swedish Education System

So you might wonder why it is that I am here in the first place: Education!
The Social System here covers a lot of things, Education from K through 12 is just a part of it, in fact many universities and colleges are also without fees or costs for the education itself...the only fee that one might pay here is a mandatory fees to the Students union which amounts to no more than $25 or thereabouts. There are also course materials but most of the time the materials are provided the students electronically so you can do with them what you will.

The most amazing thing is the introduction that Swedish children get to the education system. As early as 1 they go to government subsidized day cares where they are introduced to the learning environment. You learn for your entire life but most of your early formative years children in Canada are cared for at home by only their parent or guardian. What a frightful thing it would be for any student to leave this secure environment and go at the age of 5 to spend their entire day with strangers. Here is another example of why Sweden has it right.

But!...lets start from the beginning. K through 12. Its typical in western societies that a certain minimum education level is maintained so that the population is somewhat educated. Canada is no different, there we have some of the best education in the world...I will probably ruffle a few feathers if i was to say that our education system is better then the great US of A but i firmly believe this from my experiences traveling and the general perception that you gather watching countless hours of American programming. US education Canada our Education system is great, I went through it, I excelled as did many friends and colleges. In fact my opionion was that the education system was somewhat easy which is why I chose to accellerate my learning by taking International baccalaureate ( courses in science in my final 3 years of study.

In Sweden, not only do they have the same level of high school education but they go a step farther here...for instance, all the way through to the 12th grade students are provided lunch! And we are not talking about a burger and fries, speaking with people here the food choices are healthy and nutritional. In the event that the school is too small to have its own cafeteria, the students are provide THE SCHOOL to go to any establishment of their choice for lunch. You might think: "Great, lunch so what?"....but let me tell you when i was going through school being raised by a single parent who had to work to keep food on the table (im talking dinner food here) there was never time for her to help us with lunch....we didn't have the money growing up for me to eat out every day and pretty much for 6 years through junior and high school i would go without lunch. How does this
effect a student? well for one they are probably hungry in the afternoon...reduces concentration, weight gain, im sure dozens of other effects.
The lunches end at grade 12 however the support from the government does not. Students are encouraged to go onto higher education be it University (Universitet) or Technical School (Högskolan) where the government provides student with a strip end to make ends meet while going, noting however that the school costs nothing. The entire system here is setup to promote higher education of the general population.
What is the result of all this higher education? The results from are pretty clear from my viewpoint. For a country of 9 million they have more popular and worlds known brands then I can count.

These are just a few of the companies I could come up with off the top of my head. Its obvious that the Swedes are doing something right here.

Along with the great education system the provide their own citizens they provide the same to countless international students every year as well. Its a win-win situation: The students that come here are typically from part of the world where the education system is still lagging behind the rest of the world and by helping these students they are helping their entire country by helping to advance knowledge there; Schools here are funded based on the number of students that pass the courses, the smarter the kids and the better the education the more funding the school gets to do more of the same.

When i finished my degree I was looking down the barrel of a huge student loan that was accumulating interest daily and this is even worse in the states where their education system can cost almost 10x what one in Canada currently costs. Not exactly helpful.

Swedish Honesty

Having been here several months now, I have had the opportunity to get to know many people in Sweden as well as those things that you can only learn and experience by being here. These are things you wont really find written down anywhere and quite honestly they are hard to describe.

One thing that has really struck me is how honesty and morality has penetrated this society to such a degree. There are many facets of this society that I just cant see working back home.

For example:
  • At a typical Swedish Smörgåsbord you are given a main course as well as access to the Salad buffet. At one of the local eateries they have this setup that the Salad buffet is completely separate from the food counter and the rest of the staff. Now the honest thing to do is to purchase a main course and then take from the salad buffet and thats how I have always done it. After speaking with a few international students that are here temporarily I was surprised to learn that a few just come to the cafeteria with their own main course from home and take from the buffet gratis without a second thought. This is the kind of problem I believe you would experience back in Canada as well.
  • When driving to a supermarket or mall and parking in their lot, its up to the person parking there to display the time they arrived on their car so that if inspected, the inspector can confirm they have not overstayed their limit.
  • The subway system or t-bana is not policed and one can easily jump over the turn style and ride for free. Its expected that everyone riding the system will pay for the system therefore ensuring that costs are paid for.
  • While riding the t-bana a few weeks ago, someone had lost a single glove on one of the carriages, this was brought up to the conductor who then announced the disappearance of this glove at all of the next stations at least until I got off and possibly longer.
  • I forgot my digital camera on the bus on a recent trip. Not even realizing it was missing i was not concerned about it at all, however, someone has brought the camera to the driver and she was actually -frantically- looking for its owner. My camera and I were re-united.
There are also other things that are hard to describe however in general things are not policed here, its expected that people will do the right thing and if something is offered at a charge, the charge will be paid. I have to say I really like the Swedish system and it inspires me to try to live up to their high standards. Just like when you were a kid and told not to do something, you would try your best to do the opposite, is just the way that I believe giving people freedom to choose to do the right thing works here in Sweden. I think that of course there will always be those people that take advantage of this freedom but so far it seems to be working here.

Now a really good song that was part of the Svensk Melodifestivalen a couple of years ago by a well known Swedish artist Lena Philipsson - Det Gör Ont..which losely translates to something like - It Hurts.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What's _issing _n Stock_lm City?.....

There are a lot of great things about Stockholm. You have a moderate climate regulated by ocean currents so that its never very cold here. The weather has been especially mild this Winter with it rarely getting very cold, in fact its a good think, along with everything i packed when coming here, my goose down filled winter coat didn't fit anywhere so I ended up leaving it in Canada.

Im currently staying in an area referred to as Östermalm which if you look it up on Google maps is quite centrally located to the downtown. you can easily get to anywhere you need to by T-Bana, bus or even walking. The majority of the clubs, bars and downtown nightlife is within walking distance of the central station referred to as T-Centralen in Segels Torg. The nightlife here is especially different to what I am used to back home in that some of the more popular clubs don't get started until after midnight and several of them are open until 5 am (This is in contrast to clubs that close at 2am!) There are two main districts where the majority are located: Stureplan and Södermalm. I have had great times in both districts but I prefer Söder. The Stureplan clubs are very posh, pushy, the bouncers decide entry on looks rather then your spot in the queue, drinks are expensive -even for Swedish prices- and much of it seems somewhat fake. In contrast, Söder is down to earth, people are out to have a good time, drink prices are more reasonable and the bouncers are more friendly. If you are interested in going out in the Stureplan area, my recommendation to you would be to get there early, say around 10pm where the line ups will be non existent and the selection process to get in is less strict.

Swedish Meeting place:
Svampa or Mushroom in English....A huge concrete statue that looks the part located in the heart of Stureplan.

The heart of Stockholm is full of beautifully designed buildings and is architecturally stunning. Its clear there is a lot of history here and one of the first things that struck me when I finally got settled in my first night was the way that the city is designed for people to walk and bike from one location to another. In contrast to typically North American design where the cities are designed for vehicles with pedestrians as an afterthought. I love just walking around the city here and around every new corner you discover something you have never seen. One thing thats taken a bit of getting used to is the naming of the streets instead of the numbered grid system that I'm used to. I guess this it how its done in a lot of the world, but I will never figure it out....

What about the Swedes you ask?

Well glad you asked. There is a lot to say about Swedish people. They are famous for their English skills which i can tell you first hand is the case. Swedish is not an international language being spoken by about 20 million world wide and from the time children are in grade 4 they are taught English. Most television programming comes from the USA and is all in English (subtitled in Swedish). Swedes also normally also speak a third language, something that is taught to them starting around grade 7, they have the choice of learning a variety of languages the most popular of which are Spanish, French, or German. I have been amazed on more then one occasion where I am at a party full of international students and Swede is able to jump from conversation to conversation each time changing their language of choice to the dominant one of the person they are talking to. This is truly a life skill and one I wish i had been exposed to growing up.

Before coming here I did research on Sweden and Swedes in general and everywhere i read that they are hard to get to know but once you do get to know them they are very warm and outgoing. I have to say that for the most part this criticism is a little exaggerated. In my time here I have found that Swedes are very friendly and outgoing and while some may be a bit reserved, it takes only a hello to open up dialog. Swedes are quite interested in learning about other countries and also practicing their English skills. Going out you meet lots of people especially on the weekends, i guess a few beers helps too. One of my favorite resources on Sweden were videos by a Swedish Comedian named Henrik Schyffert. He has a series of videos where he goes out on the town and addresses various Swedish stereotypes and issues in Swinglish. I have included a few in this blog but finding the rest is as easy as search for them on youtube.
These videos are good examples of how extroverted swedes can be. This comedian is randomly selecting people walking by and interviewing them. Im especially impressed with their dancing skills...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

First Experiences in Sweden

It was just a few short months ago that I arrived in Sweden. The day I arrived is still as clear in my mind as if it was yesterday. I got off the plane after missing my first flight to the Capital of Scandinavia (more on that later) and was greeted by border control which politely took my passport which was embossed with a Swedish permit to stay in the country for study.

Whats the first thing I did when I arrived in Sweden? - well to be honest, nature called so as callus and unexciting as it seems, I "discovered" the facilities. After freshening up in what seemed like my own private hotel (again, more on that later) I departed towards customs inspection.

Of course no world traveler would be worth his salt without having done some research on their intended destination and I for one had been studying Sweden and the entire Scandinavian experience for several months before I got on that British Airways flight.

What I read about was how the Swedes had created what some might call a Utopia of sorts. Everything about the society maintained a balance that I personally envy. People in Sweden have the opinion that you WORK TO LIVE and not the other way around. A testimate of this fact is that Swedes work the least amount of hours in all the European Union. In fact a typical Canadian working year is based on a 2080 work hour year whereas in comparasion, a Swedish work year is approximately 1519 hours!
In actual fact, when I was working in Canada, my work hours typically consisted of getting to work at 6:30 and leaving at 6pm! I would even come in on the weekends during times where we were busy. It seems that they have figured out that delicate balance between work and personal time. This can be seen in all facets of society here:
  • There are no 24 hour grocery stores and most typically close at 8 or 9 pm
  • The liquor store is open till 5pm most days, 7 on fridays and closes at 3 on saturdays! (dont even think about Sunday, thats the day of rest)
  • Many institutions close for lunch between 12 and 1
  • My current accommodation has office hours between 8 and 9 am daily, and at no other times.
  • The underground runs until 12:30 am during the week (at least in Stockholm!)
  • Even 7-11 stores, which are very popular here, close at 11!

Kidding aside, I have to admit there is a certain understandability about the hours that Swedes keep. Family and friends are important, these things take nurturing to develop and ultimately all of this takes time. How many times have you heard of a story where one member of a household is working long hours and it ends up causing problems in the nuclear family unit. Closing shops early means that more time is spent with loved ones and ultimately these loved ones develop into well integrated members of society. The Cycle of life as it were.