I noticed recently at work that a number of my male co-workers use snus. There are Swedish women who use snus but we don’t have very many women where I work and I don’t believe the few we do have use it. I had this vague idea that snus is the same thing as chewing tobacco but people assured me it wasn’t. Snus has also been in the newspapers a lot recently so I took it as a sign that I should educate myself a little bit and then share what I learned with you. As usual, this is only my opinion about the subject becuase this is a blog and not a journal article. I’m sure some readers will know much more about the subject than I do. Also, I freely admit a predjudice against tobacco products but I tried to keep an open mind about this Swedish passion… Read more » >>
Tag archives for Stockholm
Tax reporting in Sweden is due by May 2, 2012. For the first time in my life, I will declare taxes in a foreign country. (I arrived in Sweden in late November 2011.) And by the way, taxes for 2011 were due in the US on April 15th and yes, I paid those as well since I spent the bulk of that year there.
But I didn’t know that for the tax year, 2012, when I (presumably) will only earn money in Sweden, I will also have to pay income taxes in the US. At least I think I will. It’s all rather murky and unclear.
It’s Easter (Påsk) time and that can only mean Spring, right? Sure it snowed and hailed last weekend here in Uppsala but there is no way that Spring is not coming. It’s cool the way Swedes watch for signs of Spring and how eager they are to get out and enjoy the outdoors the minute the weather makes things a little more hospitable. It’s good to look up from your computer now and then and get outside. (Wrote the woman typing out a blog post!)
Some of the Swedish Easter traditions I recognize and others are completely foreign to me as an American.
Candy? Yup, we got that.
Colored eggs? Yup.
Egg hunts? Yup, but it’s different in Sweden, more on that in my next post.
Witches going door to door? Nope. Not seen that before.
Feather trees? Excuse me, what?
The Easter Witch
Let’s get right to the Easter Witch. According to a slim book I have called “Celebrating the Swedish Way” published by the Swedish Institute, “Trick-or-treat became an Eastertime tradition in the 19th century, originally practiced by adults in masks and costumes, but later by young girls.”
In modern times, little kids—mostly girls but some boys, too—go door to door dressed up as witches (this involves lots of head scarves, kitchen aprons, and painted-on freckles) and beg for candy. Like most traditions around the world, it is a mix of the old and new. The witch concept harks back to the belief that witches would fly to Blåkulla, a German mountain, the Thursday before Easter (Maundy Thrusday) to frolic with Satan.
According to the ”Celebrating” book, people also used to hide their brooms and rakes so that witches could not fly off on them. But I saw a neighbor out burning leaves this morning so obviously that is no longer a concern. At least in Uppsala.
I have read so many different explanations as to how this came about that I no longer have a good grasp on the concept. But feathers in trees, how awesome is that? And the feathers are always these bright pinks, blues and yellows. The two trees outside the train station in Knivsta (see below) looked like a giant Dr. Seuss bird crashed into a similar bird mid-air and all that’s left is an explosion of feathers caught in the trees.
The home version is an Easter tree (Påskris) consisting of some birch twigs and sticks in a vase with the colored feathers tied on with thread or wire. Some people hang eggs from the branches. Nearly every attempt at explaining how this tradition came about involves a vague reference to Christ’s suffering and people (in the days of old) thrashing each other with branches. Luckily that last part seems to have disappeared!
According to a recent, entertaining article in The Local, an 87-year-old Swedish woman received a letter from the Swedish Tax Board (Skatteverket) informing her that she had died. “The letter was addressed to the “estate of the deceased” with the woman’s name on it. The letter asked for relatives to fill in the details concerning the woman’s address, to be returned to the Swedish Tax Agency.”
This, of course, resulted in her having to call the authorities and protest that she was still alive and kicking. My favorite part of the article is the woman’s description of her call to the Tax Board. “The person I spoke to said that I must be alive, as I was able to call. She promised to correct the details and write in that I was alive.”
I love this story because it perfectly sums up a portion of my challenges with dealing with various authorities. Sweden is struggling mightily to improve the whole immigrant process but it’s a work in progress.
Recently I had some new trials and tribulations, mostly with the Tax Board.
After receiving permission to continue working in Sweden for more than one year and receiving the ID card that said as much (read more here), I skipped off to the Tax Board office in Stockholm to apply for a Personal Number—the key to being recognized in all nearly all segments of Swedish Life. Sadly, I was turned away because although I had my passport and my newly won work and residence card, I did not have the letter from the Migration Board saying I could stay (strange, since that’s what the card says…) nor proof of my divorce.
I had filled out forms that stated I was once married but now am divorced and they needed official documents saying I was divorced. You see the Tax Board administers the population registration in Sweden (Folkbokföring), the civil registration of vital events (e.g. births, deaths, and marriages) of the inhabitants of Sweden. The registry spans back several centuries that’s why it’s relatively easy to track one’s genealogy in Sweden.
The Tax Board is no doubt trying to control who you can claim is a part of your family, should you ever try to have them join you in Sweden. But it feels weird to provide all sorts of private information about a man that I am no longer married to and who is not moving to this country. Oddly, I never had to produce evidence that I was married but I did have to prove that I was divorced.
So I returned a few days later with the proper documents. I had been advised that coming right when the office opened at 10AM was the quickest. I stood should-to-shoulder with a crowd of about 50 of us—mostly immigrants—who all wanted to get their business done as quick as possible. But luckily the Tax Board sorted us out and gave us queue numbers pretty quickly.
Alas, when my number came up, I got a woman who looked very unenthusiastic about her job. She insisted that I my divorce papers were not originals. I explained that I had never owned originals but had gotten this certified copy directly from the California courts. The documents bore the certification seal and everything. I told her that they probably never gave out the “original” because, since there are two parties to a divorce, they probably can’t decide which party should get it. She stomped off to make copies of the documents. I had already made copies for them (as well as brought the originals) but she said they had to make their own copies. At least 4 other employees initiated conversations with her at the copy machine, in full view of gotta-get-back-to-work me. I thought maybe she was a supervisor or something and they were asking how to handle complicated cases but when I asked her for a printout of something I needed from the Tax Board, she was at a loss and had to ask the woman next to her.
Back to the story about the undead woman (hey, zombie stories are au courant!) The article told about how the elderly woman has had to straighten out the problem with other Swedish governmental agencies. (Because once it gets into the system incorrectly, it then affects how all the other agencies see you.)
“When the 87-year-old recently needed to get medicine from the chemist, for example, she was denied her prescription as the chemist’s records stated that she was a “non-existing person”. The woman said, “She saw that I was standing there and that I had my proof of identity with me, so after a while I was allowed to get my medicine anyway. But it dragged out a good while.”
I love the fact that even standing there in the flesh might not be proof that the report of one’s demise might be greatly exaggerated…
In my last post I wrote about writing a CV or resume in a Swedish-friendly way. This time, I will offer some tips on writing a cover letter to go with your CV.
1. I haven’t sent a resume on paper in many years but I still see lots of advice that seems to think people are sending resumes on paper. The rules are a little different on paper so when you see suggestions to write, for example, the employer’s address in the upper right corner, ignore that if you are sending it electronically. Ditto for putting the date on your letter since that information comes attached to the email anyway and looks odd in an email.
2. If you are sending your CV in English, I would write the letter in English so they match.
3. Keep your sentences short and to the point. At best, your reader is probably going to skim your letter. They are definitely not hanging on every word.
4. The heading “To whom it may concern” isn´t used in Sweden and sounds strange to most Swedes. As you would in any country, try to find out the name of the person you are writing the letter to. If you can’t find a name, address the letter to the position of the person you are writing to, such as “Human Resources.” If you have a connection to the person, you can use their first name. My experience is that this is a little more common in Sweden than the US. If you’re not sure, then go ahead and use their last name, “Dear Ms. Lund.”
5. The first line should right away say what the purpose of your letter is. “I read on Monster.com that you are looking for a writer. Please find my CV attached.”
6. Why do you want this job? Perhaps tell them something about the work you are doing right now and why they should hire you. “I am a technical writer for company X in Stockholm and I also write a blog for the Swedish Institute. I am looking for work in Uppsala.”
7. If you’re not already in Sweden, that will be a barrier to hiring you. You’ll have to mention what your plan is and how you’re getting to Sweden in your cover letter. Keep it short and positive. They don’t want to hear about any problems. They have problems of their own.
8. Make sure to leave space between paragraphs and use short sentences. Maybe they’ll print it out and maybe they won’t so you must capture their interest right away.
9. Don’t use abbreviations. It’s not a good idea even in an English-speaking country and in Sweden, you risk them not understanding what you mean. It’s a little too informal for a cover letter.
10. Don’t use fancy fonts or weird size fonts. This just ends up irritating your reader. I always use Times New Roman, 12 point font—it’s boring but familiar and easy on the eye.
11. I recently sent out a cover letter and didn’t know how to close it. The letter was in English but the Swedish friend who was helping me said that ”yours truly” sounded really strange in a cover letter. With hindsight, I think it would have been nice to close the letter in Swedish to acknowledge that I am learning Swedish, etc. You can write, “Med vänliga hälsningar” which means “With kind regards.”
12. Some people put in an image of their signature to make the electronic cover letter look like it has been signed but I think this is more work than it’s worth and possibly their email program might not even render it correctly. Simply type your name, address, phone number and e-mail address at the bottom of the letter.
The Swedish edition of Monster.com offers lots of tips. Here’s a cover letter (alas, in Swedish but you can use Google Translator to translate it.)
A website called Iagora has a sample of a Swedish cover letter here.
Best of luck! Never, ever give up your dream of living and working in Sweden! I didn’t and look, Mom, I made it!