Thursday, August 25, 2011

Trip to Iceland

It was time for the yearly vacation (not often enough-considering that when working in sweden you are entitled to 5 wks or more of vacation a year, compared to canada's 2) and this time i wanted it to be a longer vacation as i had not done anything outside of sweden this year.

I love NY: the sights the shopping and just the general business that you get there. I would compare it to bangkok or tokyo for the hustle and bustle that you see daily on the streets. Definitely nothing like Calgary, or Edmonton, Alberta where i had the fortune of living for the first 27 odd years of life. As i am on my last pair of jeans that has not entirely disintegrated on my body, I decided that it would be a great time to visit NY again.

Living in sweden gives one a multitude of choice when it comes to air carriers that can take you to the US of A. Fortunately this creates a bit of competition and round trip flights can be had for 500 € or less generally during anytime of the year. Based on the excellent service i received from them last time I decided that I would once again fly with Iceland Air. This gives you an advantage that you are not only getting a great price to your destination with them however you are also able to stop off Iceland for up to 3 months with no extra charge on your ticket. SOLD!

So I decided to do the entire icelandic experience this time and rented a 4x4 for some serious off-roading in order to see as much of the sights as possible. It was me and an Irish that on arrival were on a mission: drive the entire island and visit everyplace imaginable on the tourist map that is provided at the airport.

The result was good and bad. Turns out

Iceland, though it looks very small on a map, is crazy effin big! The roads are not straight nor are they level and driving on them tests the muscles in your neck as well as your rump. That being said, we decided that the best course of action was to see as much as we could along the southern cost and keep the traveling realistic. On returning the vehicle we had driven almost 2000km and visited all the major sights such as (MOUNTAIN THAT ERRUPTED), Several Glaciers and seen the dramatic change in not only landscape but weather patterns that occurred on the island. We even had the opportunity to high to a mountain hot spring and take a dip and to clime inside a once active volcano.

Icelandic people are smart. They know that their country (although for the most part self sufficient) is in the middle of nowhere and if it were not for their spoke like reach to several major cities in Europe and North America, tourism would not really be an industry anyone really depended on around here. to get people to come to Iceland they have excellent, roomy well equipped airplanes and friendly staff. There is no reason not to do a lay over in Iceland right now as their currency is currently in the buckets due to the financial crises caused by their banking sector a few years ago.

Not only are the Icelanders smart, they are equally (if not more-so) friendly. They speak perfect english and they seek out to help you if they see that your somewhat lost or unsure about a way to move forward. while i write this i have just seen an icelandic store attendant running out to catch an american customer who did not receive the proper documentation to receive their VAT refund.

Truly an honest and helpful people.

The Swedish Word of the day is: 'hjälpsam' which means Helpful.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Censorship in Sweden

Age appropriate entertainment

From my perspective there seems to be a disconnect in how the swedish people have decided to handle censorship. Growing up in Canada we have fairly strict regulations as to what is broadcast over the airwaves and a keen eye on how this material could be received by those that are not old enough to understand or interpret its meaning.

There is also a a lot of unrealistic censorship in sweden when the content could shed a negative light on decisions the countries leaders are making in the running of the country.

For example with the prevalence of english in the swedish media, one would expect that material is age appropriate considering the audience, time of day, and subject matter however, there seems to be nothing that prevents broadcasters from using 'vulgar' language such as the F word, S word, or any other word that would not be used in Canada. I have on several occasions seen this type of material being used in give away papers, radio, tv, etc. Could it be that the goal of the media is to alter the connotations of such language and to remove the stigma associated with it?

there was a mega hit single here by an artist called Eric Amarillo this year (2011) called 'Om Sanningen Ska Fram' which translates loosely to 'If the truth comes forward' and the entire song's about wanting to get laid. A catchy tune with a pretty suggestive music video however is this type of song appropriate for children? It would seem that the media here thinks so as he played this single at a children's amusement park called Skansen in Stockholm in front of hundreds of children and teenagers. During his performance, even I could sense that even he was not 100% when singing. Maybe the thought is that by continually bombarding people with sex that the taboo erases itself and it becomes nothing special.

In another example Veronicca Maggio a pop artist here has also released a single called 'Jag Kommer' which translates to 'Im Coming' but throughout the video the suggestion is not to arriving somewhere but instead to the sexual act of orgasim. It was even discussed with her during an interview where she played innocent and insisted that it did in fact mean the former. Once again, a very popular song, played all over the media but perhaps not totally appropriate to all audiences.

There was also the gay pride parade here in Stockholm which happens every Summer. There are always tons of people out for the parade and a number of very interesting themed vehicles which drive through the center of the city. This year i noticed some very racy, bordering on pornographic displays where in some cases people were completely naked on vehicles, in plane site of every spectator on the side of the road. Suggestions of saddo massicicism, sexual domination and the like. What sort of message does this send to children watching the parade and is it something they will understand or is it just a way to shock spectators?

Censorship on the reporting of crime is common practice here in Sweden as well. If a crime is committed by someone, you will not be given any information as to the name of the person or their original nationality if not of Swedish ancestry. As the government wants people to accept multiculturalism: if it is shown that a majority of criminal activities are being committed by non-swedes this would cause people to question how the government is going about immigration and integration in general. A number of independent people are reporting complete details about high profile cases but you will never see the same information information in the mainstream media. In canada there are regulations on what information is released but this is based on the age of the people involved, not their nationality. If tried in adult court, full name details are given so as to inform the public. Its somewhat confusing that in Sweden you can get anyones name, address, social security number, how much they made last year, and a bunch of other information on anyone with a simple search online but not information about who is committing crimes in the country.

The question then is: Why are people in Sweden putting up with the propaganda that is being sold to them by their own elected officials? Is it apathy, naïvety or ignorance? From my perspective the entire scandinavian culture is based on honesty and openness. Can Sweden keep this culture of openness in the 21st century and how will multiculturalism effect its outcome? Will Sweden have to abandon openness in order to be more like Canada, England, the USA etc. with strong privacy laws?

One thing is for sure, there is a conflicting message that is being sent out where on one hand you have sexuality and age inappropriate material being broadcast freely but a lack of transparency from a criminality standpoint. Is it wrong to shame those that commit crimes so that people realize there are consequences to their actions? Why protect the criminals and not the victims?

The Swedish word of the day is 'Sanning' which means truth.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why do Swedish Airlines Suck and Keep going Bankrupt

On a flight with swiss airlines today to prague.
This is a short haul flight within the eu. i didn't pay much for the ticket and on the way back i will be flying with SAS / Cimber Airlines.

Onboard i have to compliment the airline, what a refreshing change to typical scandinavian air hospitality. Not only did i receive a hot meal (without having to pay extra for it) but on top of that, i could have had a beer to drink! imagine that, beer, on an airline for brunch. With the bargin basement fairs that are available now a days it seems that people have come to expect that everything on a flight (except for the oxygen) is going to eventually cost extra…It was Ryan air that was experimenting with charging for the toilets and even standing only seating for shot haul flights. For the sake of a kronor people are putting up with more and more to get less and less. It's kinda unfortunate. What is the limit? Will it be like a NY City subway in the summer with no AC and packed wall to wall seating?

I remember flying with Virgin a couple of years ago from dk to UK. onboard you were also served something to eat and drink. IM sure that 99% of the people on board were swedish and as such, they all requested just coffee or juice to drink. I requested something alcoholic and yes it was available and included. Later i asks the flight attendants how many of the passengers had requested something alcoholic to drink, i was the only one.

It seem that whatever sweden is doing to prevent alcohol consumption unless its during a friday or saturday seems to be working.

Im not sure about the state of financial affairs of Swiss airlines but I do know that SAS is always losing money, this despite the fact that they offer nothing in the way of extras like food or water. This primarily because they can't compete with airlines like Ryan air and Norwegian which offer the same in the lack of extras.

One thing that is quite different is the pay that these flight attendants and pilots receive. Seniority is key in Scandinavia, you can tell that with the flight attendants which on average are double the average drinking age. Don't expect to see any dazzling swedish blondes on the flights, unless you flew 20 years ago (the same ones are on current flights)

So what can be done to improve service quality and enable SAS to actually turn a profit? Firstly, get rid of all the highly paid employees which are sinking the company, start fresh by incorporating the company outside of sweden (if you don't do it, it will happen when SAS goes bankrupt and is sold to some other company outside of scandinavia).

I realize this is harsh and people will think that this is ultimately going to lead to the destruction of Swedish companies but if you look at whats been happening over the years, as companies grew large and successful they were sold off, it happened with Volvo, SABB, Absolut Vodka, the list continues….

One company I am very impressed with that is actually incorporated in Sweden and runs with Swedish employees is Malmö Aviation. They have managed to keep the prices low and the service level high. They saved my sanity during the 1.2 million seconds I was living in malmö with cheap air fairs to Stockholm that even included something to eat. I have noticed over the last year that the meals portions have started to get smaller and one less coffee round near the end of the flight but they are still bucking the normal Swedish trend.

Oh another flight attendant just came by, he brought me a piece of Swiss Chocolate, i think ill be flying with this airline more often.

The swedish word of the day is 'Kundtjänst' which means customer service.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Swedish governments mind control techniques

Its true, the swedish governments controls its' population through mind control. Ok maybe not by hypnotizing the swedish population by using TV 1 and 2 (although one would think that would be a better use of those channels instead of broadcasting some of the programming they do).

No, the government has figured out a way to control the Swedish habits such as eating, drinking, and other activities through taxation. When you come to Swede, one thing you notice immediately is that a very high majority of the population is in great shape, with a high percentage that one could call fit or toned or buff.

I try to make it out to gym as much as possible however in Canada there was never much incentive to do so. For example, here in Sweden, your employer will provide you with funds to get a gym membership but if you dig a bit deeper you will see that its actuallyt he government that provides these funds to your employer who in turn passes this onto you.

Bad food is taxed. A McDonalds big mac meal costs 10 bucks here, compared to the $3.99 in Canada. Where is that other 6 dollars going? Granted wages are higher here too with the average McDonalds employee making 13 bucks an hour but the truth of the matter is its all going to taxes. The truth of the mater is however that one could purchase a normal healthy meal for the same price as an unhealthy McDonalds meal here in Sweden.

Alcohol is the same and the stronger the spirits the higher the taxes that follow. Your average horrible beer will be about 1 euro with a high of up to 2 euros for a finer brew or with a higher alcohol content in the beer. Hard alcohol is taxed the most with prices a little over double what they cost in Canada. How ironic i can pruchase a bottle of Swedens famous Absolut Vodka for half the price in Canada.

So we have two basis covered, a fatty food tax, an alcohol tax, whats left? Oh yes a transportation tax!

I decided about a year ago that I was going to import my vehicle here to Sweden. It's a fairly nice car and it was just sitting in Canada all lonely wanting someone to drive it. Well once getting it over here, (paying 35% tax on the value of the car to bring it in) I had to insure it. What an unpleasant surprise when I discovered it would cost me about 10x the amount to insure my vehicle as a comparable vehicle here in Sweden. Seems that with the engine was a bit larger and it had a few more ponies under the hood was good reason to do so here.

There is also a tax on even using your vehicle inside the Stockholm city center during the weekdays which is equivalent to a congestion tax of sorts. Its based on time of entry/exit and can add up quickly if you live outside the center.

Basically the government wants you to use public transport, your bike, moped or some other means of transport instead of polluting vehicles. The cities here are designed not to need to have a vehicle with the great public transportation between all points of interest. Canada definitely could learn a thing or two about this.

Why is there no high speed rail between Edmonton and Calgary as of yet?

Its something that's been needed for decades and been delayed and overlooked by the province with the help of lobbyists (whom i assume work for the airlines)

Ultimately the government here controls you in the only way that actually works: your wallet. You can live in the lagom swedish way and do like everyone else or you can stand out and forge your own path (very unswedish).

The swedish word of the day is 'trängselskatt' which means congestion tax

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Water water everywhere.....

This fact may be hard to believe but Sweden has over 97500 lakes larger than 2 acres (8100 m2) in size. Its not hard to believe then that all Swedish cities have in their close vicinity either access to the ocean or a lake. In terms of land area, you could fit all of Sweden into Alberta!

I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta and then moved to Calgary, Alberta for work. There were rivers going through both cities but there were definitely no one using them except for the odd boater. Both were fairly old lakes geologically speaking with a fairly wide channel and shallow but both moved fairly slowly and were not the most clean if one was to compare them to here in Sweden.

Its not uncommon here to see people fishing right in

the literal center of Stockholm at Gamla Stan....its also not uncommon during the hot summer days for people to be seen swimming in the waters in Stockholm or even in Malmö (a town i was resident of for 1.2 million seconds). If i were comparing the two, Stockholm is much better. The water here is fresh water whereas Malmö has ocean water. In Stockholm you dont get that sticky feeling after drying off.

Swedes love the water. There is a shortage of places to dock your boat (Of course there is, any reason to add a que to something is good enough) you can wait for future places as they come up. The water is viewed upon another common transportation route. Islands in the archipelago like Sandhamn are easily reachable by public boat. There are some lucky swedes that own an island all to themselves and others that are at public disposal, but only for those that have a boat.

There are Swedes that even dock their boats permanently and live on them during the year. Quite often this is much much cheaper then buying a place i
n Stockholm especially when you can dock your boat in the center of the city. The only eventual problem with this is heating during the winter which can really add to your costs.

I have to admit, i have become somewhat enamored with the water after living in Sweden as well. Growing up the only swimming you did was at the local pool, full of chlorinated pee and who knows what else. Here its a 5 min walk for
me to enjoy the Mälaren (a lake that streatches quite far inwards into the country composed of fresh water.

One can even navigate the entire way through the center of the country by boat with a series of canals that were built to facilitate such.

One thing that i have discovered while living here is that im a horrible swimmer...i can do a great doggie paddle and perhaps even the back stroke however trying to do anything olympic style results in me getting a lot of wonde
rful (hopefully) fresh water in my mouth. This is something that will definitely take practice.

There are tours that go all over stockholm at regular intervals during the summer that cost almost nothing at all and will give you a perspective on stockholm like no other. I highly recommend one of these tours for those of you visiting the country. In the meantime, I will be out in the sun and enjoying the water for as long as I can, its a very short summer season in Sweden so there is not time to waste.

The Swedish word of the day is 'badkruka' which means swimming coward, reserved for those silly people that think that Swedish water in the summer is too cold...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I love Ikea and Blocket

Well if you are a reader of my blog, you will know a couple things, first, i have not really written in my blog for almost a year (sorry all you divoted readers) and secondly I have just purchased a flat here in Stockholm on the beautiful and central island of Kungsholmen.

Some Statistics for you:

3 min walk from Central Station
4 min walk from Stadshuset (City hall)
3 min walk from the beach 10 min if you want to go to Rålis (a nice park here)
20 min walk from Medborgarplatsen
15 min walk from Stureplan

I think you get the idea....

With the proximity to everything, I can even overlook the fact that ill have to invest about 15,000 Euros in order to add a proper bathroom (with a shower which is currently missing) and redo the kitchen so it doesn't feel like Alcatraz when preparing my extravagant culinary creations on a daily basis.

It's kinda exciting to have somewhat of a blank slate to work with, making the apartment my own. I do own property in Canada but ironically I have never lived in anything I own there due to timing and moving to Sweden. This will be the first time.

For those of you in my situation, never forget how great Blocket can be. I was able to get the basics in my place for almost just the cost of hiring transport. Most of the time, brand new goods or almost never used. You have to dedicate some time to staying on the net to keep checking for new bargains but if you're on a tight budget like i was when i first moved, it can be a savior.

Ikea has also been great. Im about 10 min walk from the free bus that goes to Ikea every hour on all weekdays. They take you there, you shop till your content, grab a few free hotdogs on your way out and they even take you back all at no charge. What a fantastic service. The bus is even of higher quality then the city buses here in Stockholm. I would say its more of a long distance Coach experience with AC and Free Internet on the way. Could it get any better?

The Swedish word of the day is: 'snål men duktig' which means cheap but smart

Wonderful Kungsholmen

By a stroke of happenchance, i have managed to secure a property in Stockholm, Sweden! No more words like andrahand, and studentbosted, hyresrätt and all the moving around associated with not owning a flat in Sweden.

Firstly, the whole process of bidding on a flat here in Sweden is completely ridiculous and leaves so many open ended situations whereby a buyer is not at all assured that he is bidding against an entity that can actually afford a flat. The system here is set up that the real estate agent works for both the BUYER and SELLER...hmmm can anyone say the words: CONFLICT OF INTEREST??

On top of this, when you make a bid for a place, lets say the utropspris or starting price of a flat, the seller is under no obligation to actually sell the flat if you are the one and only bidder! What's the point?? An auction has a defined starting time, starting bid or reserve, and ending time, this is how an auction works. I wonder how successful ebay would have been if sellers could just end their auctions if they didnt get the price they were looking for?

I personally had a horrible experience with the real estate agent that the seller used. He seemed to be completely incompetant like he just started working at his job but no he had been there years! Hans Göthe was the company involved. I wont name the mäklare involved in my tranaction but some of my favorite exchanges of conversation with him included:

ME: Hi, i need to know if there were cats or any other animals in the flat before i moved in
HG: Im not aware of there being any cats or other animals in the apartment.

ME: The seller left her broken furniture in the flat and there is a leak in the sink!
HG: You said it was ok to leave the furniture and the person whom inspected the flat for you surely saw the leaking sink, it was purchased befintlig skick..
ME: You never said the furniture was broken, if you had, i wouldnt have taken it, why would i want to have to deal with broken furniture. The person who inspected the flat for me didnt see any leaks, why didnt you mention anything to her
HG: Its the inspectors job to notice all these things
ME: Is it not your job to list all deficiencies in the flat so that I know about them
HG: My only job it to find a buy and seller and bring them together.
ME: Could i not replace you with a well formatted web page and save the 30,000 SEK commission?
HG: I guess so.

Anyways, I digress....i could go on forever, it was a very interesting if not frustrating experience as I had to purchase from a distance since I was moving here from Malmö.

The funny thing is that bidders can simply make bids on a place without the agent checking if they can actually afford the apartment, i know this as thats what I did!! Granted i wasnt buying a place on Strandvägen however a bit of background checking is the least you could ask of an agent! i wouldnt want to be outbid by someone who cant actually afford the place and forced to pay more and conversely as the seller what if the buyer pulls out for no reason? There is no recourse. In fact thats how I got my place, a buyer pulled out at the last minute and as a result lost about 25,000 SEK.

It all seems very silly to me. But then again, im from Canada.

I should count my lucky stars that I can even own a property here in Sweden. Many countries do not allow foreigners to do this.

However at the end of the day, im now somewhat settled into my very small flat (thats has now shower by the way, thats down the hall, i have to renovate) but then again, im a 4 min walk to central station, a 3 min walk to the beach, and a 15 min walk to stureplan or södermalm....boy i love being central!

The Swedish word of the day is: 'trångt' which means tight or narrow

You think im from where?? Tunisia??

Had the opportunity to go out a couple weeks ago and since I am now living in a flat in Kungsholmen, i thought why not do what the locals do and go to a place called Lemon bar (click the photo for a writeup on the place).

The place has been known to be a meat market and besides being very crowded and hot (as they cannot installed AC becuase its going to cost them 500,000 SEK according to the guards), they also play some of my favorite music: Schalger!

Well this time i was there on a thursday and this is decidedly an older hangout with most people showing up on a friday or saturday. On walking around the bar i ended up chatting to 2 girls whos first question was of course 'Where are you from?'. I have gotten somewhat tired of this question by now but I do like to make a bit of a game with answering it. My first response was China (dont look anything chineese at all by the way). They didnt buy that one so I decided to up the stakes.

I told them that if they were able to guess my country correctly, I would purchase them both something to drink, and conversely if they got it wrong they would get me something, kinda like 2 to 1 odds, quite a good deal.

They went to work, debating amonst themselves in Swedish about where in the world i could possibly be from. Now to the untrained ear, my accent can sound somewhat American and this is the answer i typically get whenever i ask people what they think as i was in this situation. After a couple minutes of deliberating, the blonde one turned to me.

She gave me a razor sharp stare, bit her lower lip, and then then widened her eyes and pronounced with confidence: We think you are from Tunisia!

After comprehending what had been said (I admit, it took me a few seconds as it was so unexpected) I replied in disbelief: 'Tunisia???, is that some country in Africa??, What made you think that??'. Her reply was that it was because i spoke such good English that i must have been from Tunisia.

Never mind the other 100 or so countries i would have guessed ahead of Tunisia that spoke english. And wait, I met with some friends a few days after this and after a thoroughly enjoyable retelling of the story, they told me that this couple was in fact there last year.

Its a french country! They speak french in tunisia!

That was the icing on the cake.

The swedish word of the day is: 'otroligt' which means incredible.