Saturday, October 10, 2009

Backdoor entry for Non-EU immigrants into Sweden

(Note: since this article was started, things have changed a lot in Sweden for non EU people that are interested in studying here, they have now introduced tuition fees comparable to those in the USA or Canada. The enrollment has dropped dramatically accordingly, I feel that this is for the best as it will ensure that those that come here now are interested in actually studying)

  1. Make the classes accessable to as many students as possible to maximize enrollment
  2. It is in the best interest of these schools to ensure that students pass their classes
  3. If due to poor teaching or improper testing, several students dont pass the couse, reduce the required level of knowledge to pass the course on follow up examinations
  4. Profit! (at the expense of the taxpayer)

OK, so you have the students from foreign countries enrolled in your classes, and you want to make sure that you pass as many as possible but at the same time you have to comply with various standards commissions ensuring a minimum quality level of education is being provided in order for the degrees to be accepted thoughout europe.

All countries in the world have conditions that are enforced in order to control the tide emigrants that want to immigrate into yours. Generally these policies work quite well having been developed over many years and the list of loopholes is for the most part nonexistent. One interesting development I have noticed here in Sweden is that the system has one major and glaring loophole.

The loophole involves giving people from any country in the world outside the EU to apply as an international masters student in Sweden thereby being granted an automatic 2 year uppehållstillstånd or Residence Permit on the grounds of studying in Sweden. Not so exciting as Canada has this too however here in Sweden neither the School system, nor the government keeps track of your progress in the School system and on top of that, cours finals can be failed and taken again as many times as you want with no adverse effect on your transcript. You could take a final 10 times and only your highest grade out of these 10 will appear on your permanent record. Does that seem fair to the person that passed the course on their first try? would you want to hire the person that took 10x as long to pass a course as someone that passed it on their first go?

Ok, what does this all mean?

More and more the government is spreading propaganda that the Swedish language is not required in order to get a job in Sweden . How can any Swede in the world agree with that statement? What would Canadians think if the government started to tell them that French or English was not required to get a job in Canada, how would that go over with the population? Its the most ridiculous statement I have ever heard.

Recently, I went though an interview conducted by a recruiter. The recruiter expected me to Speak in Swedish during the interview (i fully agree with that) and as such for the first 40 min or so of the 1 hour interview I did just that. I would say that doing an interview in Swedish is many times harder then must making small talk. I also was told that I was better then i thought I was in swedish however after 40 min she told me that she wanted to get a feel for my personality so switched to english. Of course trying to express your personality in another language is the ultimate test of whether or not you have mastered it. Im not there yet but im not done trying either.

My point is that Swedes seem to be embarrest about being Swedish and dont understand the value of their strong heritage and historical significance. In some ways, Swedes seem to be much too willing to bend over backwards for others when it should in fact be the other way around, remember, its not a Swede coming to Canada, its a Canadian coming to Sweden to work. Let me tell you, Canada would do no bending whatsoever if a Swede tried to come to Canada, if you didnt speak english or have some skills we needed, chances are we dont want you. Swedes dont seem to be very patriotic and the majority of flags you see here will be on boats or at the city hall. For some reason Swedes have confused patriotism with racism or being racist to those that are not Swedish.

The Swedish word of the day is: 'fosterländsk' which means Patriotic

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Swedish Girls: Relationships and Sex

(note: noone in this photo is actually swedish)
This post i have been anxious to write but with cautious reproach as i wanted to do the topic justice with an informed and honest look at where women in Sweden are today and how they got there. Saying that women in Sweden are just like all other women out there would not be giving the women here justice. Swedish women are strong, independent, hard working, determined and have a do what they want attitude.

Swedish women have worked hard for equality in society in fact Swedish women were first given full rights to vote in 1921, somewhat similar to Canada which granted the same 5 years earlier in 1916. This equality also reflects long term relationships (or marriage) in Sweden with rights for both parents to equally split parental leave if they so desire. But wait, before we even can get to the point where we are caring for kids, lets rewind and discuss a bit about how to have sex or a relationship with the fairer sex.

Swedes have worked very hard to remove the 'inconvenience' of conversation from day to day affairs with automated machines replacing people in all manner of places and as such, it is not often that you have the opportunity to strike up a conversation with a Swede be it male or female. In my experience it seems that alcohol is the social lubricant that helps break the ice, in almost all situations. Any event you go to in Sweden be it at a University, Dinner party, or anywhere a gathering is to take place, will undoubtedly have a welcome drink as well as several drinks throughout the evening.

Walking on the street you will rarely if ever get any eye contact from a girl, normally if you bump into someone or they bump into you, not so much as an apology will be uttered from either party.

Now if your here to meat a Swedish girl, the weekend club scene is your best bet. Swedish women have a very liberated attitude when it comes to sex and as a foreigner Swedish women will generally see you as interesting because you are foreign. Something I find funny about being a foreigner here is that in my experience Swedish guys don't even bother to talk to girls in the clubs preferring instead to hang out amongst themselves. Spiky hair, low hanging tight pants and a knack for drinking to the extreme is what characterizes the younger generation of men. Conversely, suit jackets, ties, and a knack for drinking to the extreme is what characterizes the older generation of men. Ironically, both groups seem to want to go after the same age range of women, with the later having a bit more sway as they can afford several more rounds of shots and drinks then the former. (remember, we are in the country of $12 beers and $24 mixed drinks)

Having spoken to my international friends about this, they have all said the same thing that a one night stand (ONS) is nothing unusual here and from their experience its the ONS that can lead to a relationship as otherwise its darn near impossible to even talk to a girl here without it feeling weird.

So what are the ingredients for a night of fun here in Sweden?
  1. Preparty before the club
  2. Get to and into the club (involves looking sober enough to allow the guard to let you in)
  3. Purchase copious amounts of drinks
  4. Get on the dance floor and bump into someone you find attractive
  5. Hope they find you attractive back
  6. More drinks
  7. Dance until the club is about to close
  8. If you are still sober enough to find you way home then get there together.
  9. Wake up in the morning, have some uncomfortable conversation and if it was a hemmamatch then she will be doing the walk of shame back to her place (for her sake, offer to cook lunch and chat up some more until the afternoon so it doesnt look bad)
In terms of being shy, or introverted, i wouldn't say that i fall into that camp but I would be honest in saying that not speaking the language fluently can assist when meeting someone new. Depending on the other parites comfort with their english language skills the conversation can rapidly become a rerun of dozens of conversations I have had in the past such as:
where are you from?,
how long have you been here?
How long are you staying? etc...

In fact, as to the subject of language, i have found that although at this point I am able to have a conversation in Swedish, my approach of choice will be one in English. Swedish girls and guys find it boring to speak Swedish in a way, its so normal to do so. However a foreigner that speaks English that comes up to them gives them both a chance to do something uncommon and speak english. Sprinkle the follow up conversation with tidbits of Swedish just to spark some curiosity and interest and hopefully you get to meet someone new for longer then 1 hour.

As Sweden is quite liberal, sex is also. It's quite normal for people to go out to find someone for the night. A friend of mine in fact just a couple weeks ago was out at a club, dancing the night away and at 3am when the club was closing a girl approached him and said 'Your coming home with me tonight', not only a bold statement but a correct one. And so is the reproach of the Swedish girl, why fool around with small talk, witty banter or a conversation. But just as sex is liberal, dont expect to get a hello from the same person next time you meet out in public as another one of my friends found out (perhaps he was bad in bed, but thats another post for another time).

Well hopefully this article has given you some insight as to my opinions and beliefs about Swedish girls.

The Swedish word of the day is 'Samlag' which means intercourse in Swedish ;)

The Ridiculously Healthy Swedish Lifestyle

hat makes Sweden one of the healthiest countries on earth?
Currently rated 7th on the Human Development Index which is an index used to rank countries by level of "human development". Sweden has consistently ranked within the to 10 for many years and with an average life expectancy of over 80 years, it seems that the Swedes are doing something right. (it should be noted that Canada is doing pretty well on the list coming in at almost the same rating).

The photo of a biker above that looks like she is about to get run down by the bus behind her is a little deceptive. Although in Canada Cyclists are considered vehicles, they are shown very little or no respect by motorists. It is dangerous to ride your bike on the roadways and city planning does not keep in mind cycle paths besides those that citizens might use recreationally which dont really lead anywhere useful.

I don't know how to explain it but for me you can almost feel the less rushed more laid back attitude while your walking on the streets here. Crosswalks are everywhere and cars will start to slow dozens of meters before reaching one if there is even a hint of someone that looks as if they may want to cross. In Canada you frequently need a whole affair with posts that have blinking lights warning motorists that someone is about to cross the road. With Mr. or Mrs Joe Smith rushing from one errand to another suffering through the inconvenience of having to drive there. I've been on buses where there has been a Cyclist ahead of us and the bus driver will adjust his speed to match that of the cyclist, not looking to pass or honking his horn. This was even more surprising when the cyclist was a pensioner who couldn't have been traveling more then 5km/h. Swedes don't stress about it and just continue on their way at the new un-posted speed restriction.

In terms of getting around, it all starts with city planning for which Europe has always been the example to follow. All roadways are designed with pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists in mind. You can easily and safely get to where your going using any means of transportation. Distances are manageable and a car is almost an inconvenience to have if your living in the city. Contrary to city planning in North America where you cant even get to your local 7-11 without driving there.

Historically the Swedish have always had a well balanced food culture that limits unhealthy foods and oversized portions. Going to McDonalds or Burger King here is no cheaper then going to a normal restaurant as they all charge about 60 SEK ($10 CAD) for a combo. In fact I find it crazy that people choose to go to fast food restaurants here at all considering the lack of price differentiation between them an a healthy alternative. Contrast this to Canada where you can get a Big Mac meal for $5 or go to a proper restaurant and drop no less then $15. Imagine my surprise when I learned that KFC does not even exist here in Sweden. I guess the swedes dont care for the colonel's fried chicken with special blend of seasonings.

My opinion is that the work life balance here is paramount to the longevity and health of the Swedish population. Its understood that to have a healthy productive employee you must respect the fact that they also need time to regenerate. The vicious cycle that so easily develops in the work centric North American culture which promotes those that spend their entire lives at work and neglects their families does not happen here.

After all, you only live once.

The Swedish Word of the day is: hälsosam which means healthy.

Taxes in Sweden

Taxes in Sweden!
Well there is always talk about how Sweden is a Socialist Country and there have been many references to this on American television such as The Daily Show, The Daily Show and more recently in the political sphere due to Obama's (intelliegent) plan to provide a certain minimum level of universal healthcare for all.

(translation of the article title to the left: 'Soon Sweden will have the highest marginal taxes in the entire world')

Firstly, let’s just say it, yes the rumours are true. Taxes are crazy high here. I am fortunate (or not) that I’m not earning above the marginal tax rate which next year will tax those who are at about 57%! Yes, it’s insane. If you look at the top 25 or so countries in the list above you will find that Canada and the US don’t even appear on the list. Here in Sweden they even tax the interest you earn on savings in your bank account at 30%. In Canada you are allowed a minimum of untaxed earnings from bank interest at about $200 or there abouts. The number one taxed country in the world used to be Denmark but as of next year they will lower their marginal tax rate and Sweden will raise theirs.
An interesting comparison of taxes and the differences between Sweden and the US for instance is that I can receive a package from the states for $12.95, if I were to mail this back to the states now the equivalent cost is $30.
Taxes for business are intentionally kept very low to promote people starting businesses in the country. There are several government funds to help entrepreneurs find the capital to get their ventures off the ground.
Food is taxed at 12.5 to 20 percent. Alcohol is taxed obscenely. A 5 minute cab ride that goes about 1.5 km will set you back about $20 CAD.
Are there any benefits to this high taxation?
Having lived here for 2 years, I for one can say that although money is not spent perfectly, you do see a lot of benefits (both direct and indirect) for your tax dollars. For instance, going to the doctor only costs you a marginal fee which caps out per year. This is similar to Canada except that in Canada your employer would cover your monthly health care costs at which point going to the doctor becomes free.
Besides the generous vacation that by default is 4 weeks per year (I receive 6 weeks at my job), you also receive a year off if you were to have a child in Sweden with the right to split that time between both parents if so desired.
Cities are clean and well looked after as the offentliga sektorn (public service sector) receives a bulk majority of tax dollars to ensure flowers are planted and cared for, parks are cleaned, and roads are kept in good condition. A negative consequence of this that I have seen is that some Swedes won’t even bother to clean up after themselves when leaving a park knowing that someone else will do it for them.
Not to mention that education is free and of good quality. In fact, children here even receive their lunches at school for free (or very low cost) up until they finish high school. These are healthy well rounded lunches which are a far cry from what was offered at my junior and senior high school which mainly consisted of pizza, fries and burgers and you had to pay for them yourself. I personally went through most of my education never even having lunch as my single mother worked to support my sister and I, and I was a lazy teenager that could care less if he went hungry and had nothing to eat until he came home.
No one is left behind, if for some reason you were to lose your job and require employment insurance, the government would cover your needs until you were able to find work again. I remember trying to apply for employment insurance in Canada, what a convoluted and confusing process that turned out to be with the end result that even though I was out of work, I was turned down.
I suppose one could say that Swedish life is cradle to grave in fact every year (unless you opt out) everyone in Sweden pays a burial fee to the church so that when it is time to move to the beyond, your final costs are covered.
There is opportunity to do whatever you would like in the country, study when you want, work when you want, or don’t work if you don’t feel up to it. But with all this freedom, it does not appear that Swedes take advantage of the system. People here have a good work ethic and strive for accomplishments, possibly why the economy has been a raging bull for the last several decades with several international firms locating themselves within Swedish borders.
What do Swedes think?
Even with all this tax, people don't complain, it’s almost as if they have been indoctrinated that this money will go for the public good. People here don’t believe in owning anything, knowing that the state will look after them and that owning something is just another expense. A huge majority of people use public transit (which is excellent throughout the country). Until fairly recently people here didn’t buy their flats, they just rented them from the state for their entire lives.
What do I think?
Personally, I’m not a huge user of the public system per say, yes when I first arrived here to Sweden it was to take a master’s program but since then, I don’t really get sick so no doctors visits, with a couple months left in the year I have not taken my allotted 6 weeks of vacation (I have managed to take 1.5 so far - Saving vacation is a Canadian habit that’s hard to break). I’m making less than I did in Canada and paying more tax on what I do earn but I have to say I LIKE IT. Sweden is excellent and sets a good example for the rest of the world. In terms of taxation, Canada could learn a thing or two about how Sweden does it and improve their systems.

The Swedish Word of the Day is: Skattefusk and it means tax evasion.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Malmö vs Stockholm

On arriving to Sweden for studies i ended up in Stockholm which is Sweden's largest city. It has all the big city amenities such as great shopping, international airport and feels somewhat like home (coming originally from Calgary, Alberta).

When i decided to stay in Sweden the main hindrance preventing me from doing that was finding full time employment so that I could get the work visa which was my ticket to staying in Sweden. After sending out more applications then i can count i ended up getting interviewed for a job which would be based out of Malmö - Swedens third largest city. The benefit of living here is that it has many of the large city amenities and a small town feel. For example, Copenhagen Airport is a short train ride away and this ensures that you have an international hub nearby. Malmö also has its own domestic airport. Being third biggest it has about 300,000 people that reside in Malmö. If you want to party in the big city the option is also there to travel to Copenhagen to go out, with the cheaper drink prices and higher currency value it ends up being about the same price as going out in Malmö.

One thing that is definitely different here in Malmö is the population ethnicity distribution. Of course Stockholm is a very culturally diverse city but Malmö has a higher percentage of foreign born citizens living here, the effects of which has made headlines across the globe.

Another big difference between Malmö and Stockholm are the beaches! Of course in Stockholm you have fresh water whereas here in Malmö its salt water. I actually did notice a difference on my last visit to Stockholm over the summer that it is harder to float in the water there.

As Stockholm is the countries capital city you definitely notice that a lot of money is spent to make the city look nice. Malmö does its part as well but not to the same degree. Ironically, taxation here in Malmö is higher then in Stockholm (one pays a different local or city tax depending on what city you are living in here in Sweden).

There is a also a difference in the accents here in Skåne versus those in Stockholm and having been to Stockholm first, the Swedish that I learned was based on their accent. The Skåne residents tend to have more of a twang to their voices and much more emphasis on the letter 'r'. I would almost say that its more of a Danish version of Swedish (which im sure many of the residents here will not want to hear).

The Swedish word of the day is Huvudstad which means Capital City

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Swedish -The Language

Its been almost 2 years, time has flown by.

Anyone that has been here for this amount of time on meeting another Swede is invariably asked the cliché question: 'How is your Swedish?'.

Well my answer to that at the point of writing this post is that I have actually picked it up quite well, with the ability to convey what I want to say and to understand most of the conversations going on around me. Im not fluent, not sure if I ever will be but I do make a daily effort to practice and memorize more words. My grammer needs work and basically i just convert what i want to say in english into Swedish directly, which actually doesnt work all the time. Its hard to compare my Swedish level to a Swedes level of english considering they have been learning it in School since grade 4 and are continually bombarded with english programming and advertising everywhere they go.

I think the main problem for me is that its hard to pick up the various dialects that exist in the country. Right now im in the southern part of Sweden: Skåne (pronounced SKOOONE) and they speak much more like the Danish down here. Living in Stockholm first for 18 months helped me pick up a purer and easier to understand form of Swedish.

Also of concern is the oral, I have to really concentrate on what people are saying and i find myself say Vad säger du (what did you say) quite often. Also its difficult to learn Swedish in Sweden becuase everyone speaks such good english and as soon as you stumble people switch over.

One of the best ways i have found to practice my oral and vocabulary is listening to Swedish Schalgar Music, very fun and normally the tunes are quite bubblegum pop and catchy.

One thing for sure however is that daily interactions here are made much easier if you have a base of Swedish.

The Swedish Word of the day is: BRYR SIG OM and it means to CARE ABOUT ONESELF.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Loopholes in the Swedish Immigration System

All countries in the world have conditions that are enforced in order to control the tide emigrants that want to immigrate into yours. Generally these policies work quite well having been developed over many years and the list of loopholes is for the most part nonexistent. One interesting development I have noticed here in Sweden is that the system has one major and glaring loophole.

The red line is people coming into Sweden, and the blue is people leaving over the past 150 years. Click for larger Image.

The loophole involves giving people from any country in the world outside the EU to apply as an international masters student in Sweden thereby being granted an automatic 2 year uppehållstillstånd or Residence Permit on the grounds of studying in Sweden. Now this in itself is nothing exciting, many countries such as mine (Canada) have similar programs in place so that there can be some knowledge sharing occurring between those countries which would be classified as developed to those that are perhaps not classified as such.

The breakdown is not due to migrationsverket (The Migration Authority), but due to the schools in Sweden and how the Social system funds the same. For each international masters student and local students that successfully complete a course in Sweden the University or Högskolan where that students graduates from receives a bidrag (benefit payment) from the government. Think about that for a second: If a course has a 95% pass rate and you have the opportunity to enrol an extra 100 students in the class, this means that the educators will receive payment from the Swedish government for an additional 95 students passing the class.

Ok, what does this all mean?

*All higher education centers in Sweden will want to enrol as many students as possible*

Now, with this permit to study the student can now enter Sweden legally and stay for the duration of their studies but what if the goal of this student is not so much to study but to emigrate away from their home land where opportunities are limited?

They say it’s quite difficult to get a job in Sweden, firstly it’s costly for a company to hire a worker, and secondly there is generally a requirement for fluent conversational Swedish skills. If one has learned English as their second language already, interacting and communicating in yet another language fluently takes quite a bit of work BUT, there are companies here in Sweden that work only in English.

One such company is Marcus Evans, an Events company. They will hire anyone that speaks even a glimmer of English. And unless you make any sales, your guaranteed minimum wage is less than the cost of a student room in Stockholm which means that the company pretty much gets your services for free. Even I was employed by this company for exactly 1 week. I couldn’t morally agree with their modus operandi to which I was exposed during their 3 day training and left but, I do remember someone in my training group. He was an international master’s student from India. He had claimed that he completed his master’s course and was now looking for work in Sweden after having only been in Sweden 6 months. Of course any master’s course in Sweden runs for a minimum of 18 months so this person was lying.

(BACKGROUND: A person NOT from the EU is granted a visa to stay in Sweden for 1 year at a time, to receive the student study extension they must demonstrate the ability to further provide for themselves for the continuing year as well as having shown progress in their studies. Of course there is another type of visa one can obtain once this expires, a worker visa which is granted 2 years at a time and the receiver is bound to the company the visa is issued to.)

And finally we get to the end of the loophole. International student gets into Sweden, start classes, quits said classes and are able to find a job with an 'English speaking' company who vouches for them and enables the person to get a permit based on work.

What is not talked about is that typically, to afford the high cost of living in Sweden, these people must share cramped accommodations and live far from the city all but still earning more for their time then they might be able to do in their home countries. Generally, these people find difficulty integrating into the Swedish culture, learning the language, and therefore are segregated from society as a whole.

Making Friends in Sweden

So you have moved to Sweden or thinking about moving here.

The most common reasons one moves to this country are either due to a relationship or studies. In gereral i have found that it is quite rare for people to move here to work as the taxes are high compared to other countries and wages are gernally lower then what one could make for instance from where i hail Canada. However once you get here, whether or not you have a partner to 'show you the ropes' how do you start to make friends and meet people?

Swedes are gernerally quite a reserved people and on top of that, most foreigners coming here will not be speaking to the Swedes in their native language. Although Swedes are quite good at speaking english in my experience, some are not confident in their speaking abilities (when more often then not they are excellent anyways!). For both of these reasons and maybe more, it might be hard to get to know

Out and About
Speaking to someone on the street is something that I personally have never tried and from my experience its not really done unless copious amounts of alcohol have been consumed beforehand. Although generally speaking this is the case, its certainly not the rule. I was quite surprised the other day while at the gym an older Swede first said something to me in Swedish and then after the typical questions I always receive proceeded to continue talking to me. I was aghast to say the least, in my 20 months here, this has never happened. I think part of my problem is that I am somewhat disapponted in my own abilities to speak Swedish after being here for a while and i feel somewhat like a broken record (LP) when speaking in english and repeating what I have repeated my story like so many times before.

Well of all the places to meet people, this has been the one where i have to say my social circle has expanded the most. People are in a good mood -hey its the weekend- and Swedes have a work hard play hard mentality about work life. Alochol is flowing, the music is playing and the former contributes not only to my Swedish getting better but also to Swedes english-language confidence improving. If you manage to get some contact details gererally you have someone that you will be able to call up again and get to know better.

Private Dinners
Generally a great way to get to know a group better and a more intimate setting where you can actually here whats being said by everyone. the problem here is that you have to know someone to get invited to one of these in the first place.

If you come here as an Exchange or Masters Student there is the possiblity to meet Swedes in your class however, generally there are very few Swedes that take the classes your taking and they also generally stick together as a group making it hard to get to know them. From my experience, your generally hanging out with your fellow foreign students and most of these events you rarely see any Swedes participating.

This all depends on the industry your in, if your in a professional industry my experience has been that a lot of your co workers will be older, married, have kids, and their own lives outside the office. A recent 'After Work' event at my place was planned 2 months in advance, VERY spontanious.

The silver lining here is that once you do make some friends here, generally they will be fast and true. You can count on them and bond with them. But until then, Sweden can be a very lonely place.