Monthly archives: October 2012

Cultural Training on Both Sides of the Pond

Dalahäst

Dalahäst. Photo by: Cecilia Larsson/imagebank.sweden.se

 

I recently enjoyed a gig as a consulting “American/Swedish Experience” expert.

I know, right? I’m all that. Plus a bag of chips.

An independent cultural trainer in Boston, Massachusetts contacted me. She was working for a relocation company who helps corporate clients who have relocated abroad. She had a new client–a Swedish family consisting of two teenage sons, a mother, and the father who had taken a job in Boston. The family moved from Southern Sweden to Boston in August. The large pharmaceutical company he worked for invested in cultural training for the family. Companies understand that they need to support the whole family of expats because if the family isn’t happy in the new situation, then the new employee is going to have a harder time of it.

For the record, even though I came to Sweden with a job offer in hand, I did not have any of this cultural training. Everyone’s arrangement is different and I suppose it also depends on the size of the company. Read more » >>

Swedes and Bodies

Swedes have a reputation for being more comfortable with their bodies and sexuality. I find that to be true. Here are three of my experiences:

The Locker Room
There’s a gym on the first floor of the office building I work in and so consequently I see a good percentage of my female co-workers in the locker room. Sometimes we have just attended the same yoga class. The locker room is quite small and everyone changes out in the open. The two showers have no curtains and offer no discretion. The door to the locker room is worrisome because if anyone opens it very wide, not only will the whole gym see see naked women but there is a straight line of sight to the street through the  glass front wall of the gym. Read more » >>

15 Impressions After Living Nearly One Year in Sweden

Here’s some thoughts and impressions after 11 months doing “Swedish time.”

Society

• It feels odd that there is no contact when you sit next to someone on a bus or buys something from a cashier. Of course there is the exception but typically there isn’t much “Hi, how are you?” or “It sure is cold out.”

• If someone bumps into you on the sidewalk or suddenly swerves into your path, they’re not going to say, “Whoops, didn’t mean to do that.” They’re most likely not going to say anything at all.

Sculpture in Kungsholmen

Sculpture in Kungsholmen. Photo by K. Lund

 

• It’s impossible for me to understand Swedish when it’s loud and there are lots of different conversations (for example, in a restaurant). Interesting how the brain computes languages differently. I wonder at what point I will be able to follow a two conversations in a restaurant? (What I actually mean is to understand one conversation while there’s a distracting one nearby.)

• Sweden has a really marked group mentality. I’ve written before how nearly 95% of Swedes seem to prefer a black winter coat. So now that it is Fall, I am seeing this black sea on the sidewalks again. Thursday is the day to eat pea soup and pancakes. In August, you eat crayfish…Is there a rebel who secretly eats crayfish in, say…January? (not the season they’re caught, I suppose…OK then, is there someone who eats pea soup on Saturdays?)

• Every apartment door that I’ve seen in Sweden says “Ingen Reklam” in some fashion. This means the inhabitants don’t want any advertisements pushed through their mail slots. It always makes me laugh because to me, it looks like someone named “Ingen” lives there.

apartment mailslot

“No snailmail spam, please.” (Name obscured to protect the innocent.) Photo by K. Lund

 

Dogs

• Dog owners seem to rarely let their dogs off leash in the parks. I think it’s generally not allowed but I admit to be a little hazy on the subject. Perhaps because I sometimes let my dog off the leash and because I want to have plausible deniability about my ignorance of the laws. Bad. Very bad.

Dog in the park

“Rabbit” enjoys a rest in a park near Sundbyberg (Stockholm). This picture looks like a painting to me. Something about the light…Photo by K. Lund

 

• There is a mandatory dog register in Sweden, and every dog is micro-chipped so there is clear responsibility if the dog is lost or the dog hurts someone. It cost around $10.00. Yup, Rabbit is registered. Don’t worry.

Food, Restaurants, and Medicine

• Soda in Sweden seems to have less carbonation. I miss the extra bubbles.

• There’s much less high fructose corn syrup in Swedish food. Hurrah!

• There’s less preservatives in the food so milk and meat spoils sooner. It’s worth the effort of going back to the store.

• This Fall I have noticed that most of the restaurants put blankets on the chairs of their outdoor seating. These chairs (and tables) are often right out on the sidewalk and I am amazed that the blankets don’t “walk away.” The blankets are designed to cope with the fact that it’s really too cold to sit outside on the sidewalk, even with your coat on.

blankets on outdoor tables

If you choose to dine outside, you can take advantage of the blankets the restaurant sets out. Photo by K. Lund

 

• There are lots of everyday medicines and supplements that come in a tablet form designed to drop in water and dissolve in a fizzy burst. Here in Sweden I’ve casually seen vitamin C like this, headache pain medicine, and charcoal tablets for upset stomachs.

• There were 30 kinds of orange juice back in California. Here in Sweden? There are 30 different kinds of dairy products. It’s hard to understand what the differences are.

dairy products

There are lots of dairy products to choose from… Photo by K. Lund

 

Household Stuff

• Why hasn’t that little loop (for hanging up) on towels in Sweden not caught on in other countries? It’s such a small thing and such a great thing! And it works so much better than trying to make the tag do the work (if there even is a tag that forms a circle.)

Autumn leaves

Autumn color in Stockholm. Photo by K. Lund

 

• Boy howdy, but it’s hot inside buildings and houses! Even after surviving last winter, I find that it is difficult to handle, the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures. It’s pretty cold outside now (mid October) and as soon as I go inside, I need to immediately strip down to a thin shirt, preferably one with short sleeves. Sweaters or even turtlenecks don’t work for indoor work because it’s too hot for them. Guess I shouldn’t have brought those. This still feels unexpected, seeing as how it’s Scandinavia which the whole world thinks of as the Cold Dark North. I never expected it to be too hot!

Special bonus: I love signs in other countries. Check out the one below which I saw in a restaurant in Stockholm. Really, it needs no introduction…

sign in Stockholm

This is disappointing because I thought thieves would look obviously different from me…black hat…twirling a devious mustache…at least SOMETHING different! Photo by K. Lund

 

“All Dogs’ Day” at the Mall

Today I read an ad in the local neighborhood newspaper. I moved recently to Stockholm and wanted to explore the area so I decided that my dog, Rabbit, and I would check out the advertised event.

The ad was for “All Dogs’ Day” over in an indoor mall near Karlaplan. The ad boasted a “dog café, coat care and nail clipping, agility, veterinarian consultations, dog photos, and more.

ad

The ad for “All Dogs’ Day” in the local newspaper. Photo by K. Lund

Read more » >>

My Two Cents About Personal Banking in Sweden

Bank Vault

Bank Vault. Photo by Jonathunder (CC BY 3.0)

I was going to write a post about the complexities of Swedish personal banking but then I noticed that Kate (the previous Expat blogger) wrote on this very subject a few months ago. She wrote about how advanced the Swedish personal banking system is. I have to agree with her, it’s pretty cool and sophisticated but it’s only now that I am starting to understand how to access my money and pay bills. Up until lately, I have found it rather frustrating.

Kate wrote “Internet culture defines the world of personal finance here. You do everything with your online banking site, from paying bills to sending money to friends to authorizing governmental forms. And you do it all with a little instrument called the “dosa” (due-sah).”

I had never heard the word “dosa” because my bank calls it a “kortläsare” (card reader). I thought at first that the word Kate used was a regional word, one that they use down in Skåne, where she lived before she moved back to the US. But my friends here in Stockholm said the word is also used here. Guess I just never heard it.

The card reader is given to you by the bank when you open your account. It’s a small gizmo that you insert a card into, with a numerical keyboard and a USB cord. It’s about the size of a small cell phone, only thinner.

Bank card reader

My bank card reader. Photo by K.Lund

 

Online Banking
As Kate pointed out, everything is done online here. The fax machine and paper checks are things of the past; all paychecks are paid directly into bank accounts; and I rarely even see people play cash for anything anymore. Even the person in front of me buying a soda at 7-11 for 20 kronor is most likely to use her debit card. You even pay back your friends for that night on the town by sending money directly from your account to theirs.

Kate thought it easy to use the card reader to conduct banking transactions. For my part, only recently has it finally become easy for me to do this. This, after 10 or so months of frustration at not understanding how to access my own money.

Confusion
Here’s what’s confusing: You have both your bank debit card and a special bank card that goes in the card reader. Sometimes you use the latter in the card reader and sometimes the former. To access your account on a computer, you need to follow a number of steps. You don’t just casually log in online but must also use the card reader and the special bank card to prove that you have the right to access your account. It’s all in the name of security and I am grateful my money is safe but…it just feels like it is sometimes safe from me as well.

To start the process for accessing my bank account (I imagine different banks have slight variations), I go to my bank’s internet site. Then I enter my Swedish personal number. Kate noted that this is “a 12-digit number equivalent to a Social Security number.”

Except that sometimes it’s not.

Sometimes the personal number, which starts with the year you were born is written with the century numbers (for most of you readers, I am assuming it is “19” and sometimes it is not. In other words, sometimes it is a 10-digit number and sometimes it is a 12-digit number. I find that 50% of the time it isn’t clear when entering your personal number how many digits they want and you have to rely on trial and error. My bank wants to have 12 digits.

So…I navigate to my bank’s website. Then it asks me whether I am going to use my card reader with or without a USB cord attaching it to the computer. Tech Support has explained to me the different numerous times the impact this has—something to do with how much functionality you can affect once you are allowed onto the site—but I never seem to fully understand. No matter. I tell the site that I am going to use the card reader wirelessly.

I enter my personal number on the website. The website generates a code. I enter the code in the card reader. The card reader asks for my bank card code (this is different from my debit card code. Whah! Then the card reader generates a response code that I must enter onto the website, after pressing a special “login” button on the card reader.)

And finally…I am onto the bank’s website and can see my account. On the website I can enter payees that I can then pay from either the website or from my cell phone if I approve that functionality for that payee.

Kate wrote that she likes there being “no password to remember, which I like because I tend to forget them. I know it sounds stupid, but I have two bank accounts in the US, one in Sweden, two Social Security numbers, two blogs, a credit card, and four email addresses. I get confused.”

Maybe her bank had a different process than mine (though they sound similar) but I find there are a whole lot of pin codes, etc. to remember and one must remember which code goes to which card. This requires more brain cells than I usually have available while trying to pay a bill!

Wait! What’s my password again?
It’s a different process when you pay for something with your debit card online. There you must also bring out the card reader but use your debit card in it instead of the special bank card. The codes are different and instead of using the “login button on the card reader, you use the “buy” button to confirm that you are authorized to make a purchase. The bank is ensuring that you are the debit card’s owner and can rightfully make your purchase.

So…now I understand how to use the dosa or card reader and I can access my bank account and pay for things online. It’s a relief. I am grateful for the bank’s security of my account. It’s interesting to remember that it was quite challenging for quite some time to understand how to make it work….