Houses, Holidays and Wienerbröd

Wow, I didn’t realise that my last post was a week and a half ago! Maybe I’m adapting into vacation mode around here too much… the office is so empty that sometimes you feel like you need to check that the people who are in the office are still breathing. And now I’m joining the vacation craze for real! My parents are arriving today, so I have the next week off work to spend in a stuga on the West Coast, relax, walk, drink coffee and do absolutely nothing work related whatsoever. Aaah…

The last week and a half has been great, successful in some aspects (bank account), not successful in others (place to live) but always interesting.

On the good things, I have a bank account now! For all newcomers to this country, don’t bother with Swedbank and go to SEB instead. After one more “you need a Swedish ID” instance when I tried to pick up my letter with the bank pin code from the post office, I walked into one of their branches close to despair and told the sympathetic bank clerk my sob story about IDs, post offices and passports. Answer: “No problem, we’ll set up your account here then!”… 5 minutes later I had a salary account, a savings account and a Visa card in the post. That bank clerk is officially my hero!

On the less good aspects, I have been trying to find a new apartment for weeks now and I have no idea how anyone actually ever finds one of these things. It’s probably the quiet summer period so less people put property online, but I have applied to about a million sublets and the number of replies I received is three. The first one was a tiny house in someone’s backyard in Lindome (the fact that it has an outside space was slightly marred by the fact that the outside space was behind a huge grey garage), the second one a ridiculously overpriced apartment, and the third one a flat in Kålltorp that I’m going to see today (fingers crossed – third time lucky?). The owner said that she received 200 responses to the ad. Unbelievable. I think the only long term option will be to buy, but in the meantime I need somewhere to live – under a bridge it might be getting a bit cold at night come end of August…

Other than the insane housing situation though and my pre-account banking frustrations I can’t describe how much I love it here. I guess I am still in the honeymoon period so I’m not exactly rational, but I find new things I love about the place every day. Last weekend I went to the botanical gardens and walked around there and the neighbouring forest for the whole afternoon. The nature was so intact, I couldn’t believe I was actually in the middle of a city.

I also went out for beers and billiards with my workmates for the first time last week, which ended up being a hilarious evening. My Swedish is coming along slowly. I can’t always say what I want (and by far not always correctly) and I can’t always understand everyone, but I’ve stopped being so uptight about it. If I stutter or have to switch to English for a few sentences (I try to avoid that though) then so be it… I’m still a fairly quiet person (because keeping up with banter and saying things quickly is still a bit of a challenge), but I’ve only been here for three weeks so it will pick up eventually. I’ve started to think in a weird mixture of Swedish, German and English now, which ultimately means that I keep looking for words in any of these languages!

Yesterday I did my first fredagsfika (Friday’s communal work break with coffee and cake). I volunteered to do it before realising that I did not actually have a clue how to organise it. Cue me standing in the kitchen stressed out and wondering if people would just show up or whether I would actually have to go round and drag everyone to eat my lovingly purchased wienerbröds! After I stopped stressing though, and after people mercifully showed up despite me not sending out an invitation, it all went smoothly. So, one more step completed in journey as a trainee Swede!

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The road to getting paid

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I think I was a bit too over excited about the all-encompassing power of my personnummer… apparently no amount of four little digits after your birthdate is quite enough to persuade a bank to give you an account.

I’m starting to be quite aware that the end of the month is getting closer, and it would be nice to get paid when it arrives. An added complication is that I’m not actually entirely sure what my salary is, because somebody somewhere still needs to re-calculate and sign off my British salary in Swedish kronor. But, in anticipation of when that day arrives, I ventured out today – all motivated and with every single job, migration, personnummer certificate and passport that I could find, in order to get my bank account.

I read somewhere that Swedbank were OK to deal with international applicants, which is why I went there first – but when I got to a counter and cheerfully explained that I wanted to open an account (I have my personnummer, surely they will roll out the red carpet for me?), the clerk looked at me sternly and told me that I needed a Swedish ID (along with all kinds of certificates). I showed him all the certificates I had (quite a few now), and my passport. Answer: “Right, this is where it all falls down…”

Apparently, to get a bank account, you need a Swedish ID card – and to get a Swedish ID card you need to go to Skatteverket and then wait three to four weeks. I want to get paid in two weeks though, which the clerk seemed to be minimally sympathetic to, but still shoved me out of the door. Sigh.

The only positive about the whole experience was that I held the whole conversation in Swedish. Yesss, progress.

I was feeling pretty low when I walked home. I love life here, but from finding  somewhere to live to getting somewhere to pay your rent from, it’s not all straightforward and easy. And why is the ID so important if I have half a library of certificates and a passport? I’ll never know…

Back at the flat though, I started surfing some other banks and found an online registration form with SEB. I filled it in, sent off the form, and an hour later got an email that they were sending me my internet banking access details (and the little machine that you need to log in) in the post. What… the…? How come one bank won’t even take as much as my name despite my library of certificates, and the next one lets me sign up online? I’m still waiting for some additional email saying “oh, by the way, don’t forget to confirm your account with your Swedish ID card” and destroying my dreams, but hopefully I’m one step closer to getting paid…

Here are a few pictures from walking around Gbg on the weekend (I discovered Instagram – cue square pictures with weird colouring!)

Göteborg University

Vasagatan

Avenyn

Outside Trädgårdsföreningen

Key to the (Swedish) Universe

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I opened my mail today (to be precise: I painstakingly pinched my single letter out of my letterbox in three attempts, because I don’t actually have the letterbox key), and it contained a letter from Skatteverket with my coveted personnummer! It’s like someone has handed me the key to the universe. I can now open a bank account (and thus get paid), register for SFI courses, get on the apartment queue… the world is officially my oyster. I don’t think I have ever been this happy about seeing four digits on a piece of paper. (Clearly I have never won the lottery.)

Overall, my first full week as a Swedish resident can best be described as an emotional rollercoaster. One minute having a perfectly fluent conversation with friendly people, feeling comfortable and happy, and 20 minutes later feeling lost, clumsy and awkward. And then the same circle all over again. As great as starting a new life is, it’s certainly unearthed awkwardnesses (is that a word? It is now) I didn’t even know I had.

However, what completely made the week for me was the genuine kindness of the people around me, which I won’t forget in a hurry. As awkward (not being very familiar with the social conventions yet) and as frustrated with my halting Swedish as I felt a lot of the times, my new workmates did everything they could to make me feel welcome and included. By the end of the week I was joining coffee breaks without feeling like I was sticking out like a sore thumb – and I spent Wednesday evening watching Madonna in concert, thanks to some kind colleagues and a spare ticket!

Madonna at Ullevi, and a very nice sunset.

Madonna is somewhere on this stage.

Life in London seems definitely very, very far away now. I no longer feel like I have to run everywhere like a maniac, dodge crowds (whilst getting irritated at slow walking people) and chase after having any resemblance of a life around 11 hour work days and a two hour commute. These days I walk to work past parks and avenues, and see ducks instead of crowds outside my office window. I have an hour lunch break every day and don’t feel bad about it. (In London I had actually turned into one of those people who shake their heads at the audacity of having any lunch break at all “when there is so much to do”.) I work extremely hard during the day, but I don’t work 11 hour days without reason and think it’s completely justified. I schedule meetings around lunch hour (again I used to sneer at people doing so in London), and made sure not to let work interfere with the Friday afternoon “Fika”. I go home after work and actually have some of the evening left to relax. I go out for random walks just for the sake of it, and sit in a park when the sun is out. And I don’t obsessively watch what I eat anymore, but find that I automatically eat less and healthier.

So, a week gone and with all the highs and lows, hardly any friends, no possessions, no permanent place to live and no bank account, I’m happier than I’ve been in years. I know the emotional rollercoaster is going to keep going for quite a while, but right now I can’t actually put into words how grateful I am…

Tongue twisters

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Yesterday was finally my first day at my “new” job. Luckily I’d already met most (if not all) of the people at some point or other, and my job is the same, so it was not quite as nerve wrecking as it could have been – but still scary enough. I’d been to the office twice before, both time as a visitor (i.e. someone who needed to be looked after). This time around I am just one of them, business is as usual, and I have to try to slot in.

Another thing changed: when I arrived at the office a few people were speaking Swedish to me by default, a couple of people asked whether they could switch to Swedish with me (yes), and one person asked if I wanted them to speak English (no). So Swedish it is from now on.

By the middle of the day I realised that this may have been a slightly masochistic move of me. People ask me work questions, and I have to (1) understand them, (2) discuss the issues with them. Point (2) turns out to be a lot more difficult, as I still haven’t had an enormous amout of Swedish practice after four days (practice so far has been limited to “a large coffee please”), and the correct words and correct grammar tended to come into my head approximately 30 seconds after they needed to be in my head. Even going to lunch with some of my new workmates turned out to be taxing, as the damn Swedish words and grammar just wouldn’t. come. into. my. head. (Plus everyone started talking about how difficult it is to find a flat over here, which didn’t exactly make me feel less panicked!)

By the afternoon I couldn’t possibly have been more frustrated. It’d been so long since I moved to London and experienced the same tongue twisting experience with the English language, I’d forgotten just how frustrating it really is!

People though so far are really friendly and patient. They realise that it’s not easy for me, and don’t mind explaining things twice before I understand them. (And they don’t mind waiting for my answer either.) I am glad that people don’t switch back to English, even if I have some trouble right now. My theory is that if I do it this way (jumping in at the deep end and powering through until my brain catches up with my speaking) it’ll be more painful in the beginning, but I’ll learn more and learn faster. No pain, no gain 🙂

At the end of the day, I spoke to a couple of people who I had previously worked with in London. They had both been through what I am going through now, so really understood my language frustrations. We ended up having a long chat, in Swedish, and by the end of the conversation I realised that I was spending much less time looking for words and grammar. I felt so much better after that, and it was probably the one thing I needed in order to go home and feel some hope over my language skills.

Much more brain struggling and tongue twisting to come though in the upcoming weeks, I’m sure!

How long do you intend to stay?

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So I’m here at last! The trip over here went quite well despite the 3 hours sleep the night before (I was still sitting in my living room at 2.30am wondering how to fit two laptops into one bag), a work emergency, a stressing landlady (seriously, if someone had made the same effort before I moved in that would have been fantastic) and a delayed flight. My (only) friend in Gothenburg picked me up at the airport which was so nice of her, and drove me to my temporary home where I managed to find the guy who was supposed to give me the keys. Result!

The flat I live in is definitely OK for the start, but it is very clearly somebody else’s student flat – all his stuff is here, so where I am supposed to put my stuff I haven’t completely figured out yet! (At the moment it’s in the suitcases and on chairs). But I really can’t complain, it’s cheap, I have internet, it’s clean, and it’s close to everything – and I have a roof over my head (which is a good thing seeing how much it rained yesterday).

So yesterday was my first full day as a trainee Swede. And the first thing I did was go to Skatteverket to (hopefully) get my hands on a personnummer. In my endless enthusiasm for practising the Swedish language I scoffed at the English language forms, filled in the Swedish forms instead and ran into a question I didn’t understand whatsoever. When I got to a desk clerk, they explained to me that I had to write down how many years I intend to stay in Sweden. Huh? How on earth am I supposed to know that when I have a permanent job and I only just got here yesterday? So the following conversation happened –

Clerk: “Just put down how long you intend to stay. One year? 5 years?”
Me: “Tillsvidare” (I nicked the word off my job certificate)
Clerk (laughing): “No, you can’t put that, you have to put a clear indication”
Me: “But I don’t know how long I’ll stay, could be 5 years, could be 20, could be forever…”
Clerk: “But right now, how long do you want to stay?”
Me: “Well, I have a permanent job, and I don’t have intentions to move anywhere else in the future”
Clerk: “You can also put ‘forever’ on the form”

So I wrote “alltid” (“för evigt” seemed a touch too dramatic). I’ve been stressing since then that somebody will read my form, think “oh god, another person who wants a pension one day” and put a big REJECT stamp on it. But then I have a lot of tax years ahead of me, so maybe not… I still don’t really understand the question though. I’m sure lots of people have intended to stay one year and ended up staying 20, and just as many may have intended to stay 20 years and ended up staying one…

In the afternoon I decided to pay my new office a quick visit to pick up the bag that a colleague left for me, and just to say hello (as I know that most people there will be on vacation by Monday). I was unbelievably nervous when pressing the doorbell (as I don’t really work there yet), but it was good that I did it as I was correct – both of my main contacts (the office manager and the development manager) are on vacation on Monday! I chatted to both of them and now I know where my temporary desk is and where my permanent desk will be in future, I know that I don’t have a computer yet (thank god I took my old knackered one), where I’ll get my keys from, and I have my bag. So that’s a few less things to worry about on the weekend.

Today I’m planning to enjoy the sun (how did it go from clouds and misery to blue cloudless sky in the course of an hour?! Yay!) and to go for my first laundry room experience. And tomorrow afternoon I will be going round my friend’s house for dinner… then on Monday it’s all go with my “new” job!

The final countdown

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So, less than 24 hours to go now. Tomorrow at this time I will be sitting in my new flat and either congratulating myself on my decision, or panicking (probably both).

The last week has been pretty insane, trying to get everything finished. I had leaving drinks with work, scrambled to meet up with my friends a last time before leaving, worked, packed, and threw things into garbage bags. Everything I owned that had any value and that I don’t really need is now safely with a resale company, who are going to sell the stuff on ebay. My flat is nearly empty (my living room now has an echo when I speak, which is slighly eery!) and it took me about a day to get used to not having a TV anymore and looking at a wall instead. I have bruises all over from carrying furniture around. My suitcases are packed… I have a few (or many) more garbage bags to fill and take outside, which will probably take me up to midnight tonight (and which I should probably be doing right now rather than writing blog posts…) Tomorrow morning the cleaners arrive, and then I am off to the airport.

It feels very strange how calm I feel about everything. I am really aware that I am about to change my life substantially, and that it is not always going to be easy – but something about me (other than not sleeping for ages the other night because I couldn’t stop worrying about my Swedish fluency) feels like my life is being pulled into one direction now, and I am going with the flow and doing what I am supposed to be doing. I guess it helps that my job is a constant in my old and new life, I know a fair few people in Gothenburg now, and I know that I will be making regular trips to see my friends in London (and in fact, one of my best friends has already booked a flight in August to come and see me in Gothenburg!) – so in a way it feels as if I am just moving around the corner, even though I have pretty much given up my life here now. I feel like I should feel more melancholic about leaving my home of 17 years than I do. Maybe in a way London has always been more of a place I lived in rather than a real home.

One of my workmates asked me today whether I was seeing this as a temporary move, or whether this was forever – and the honest answer is that right now I have no intentions to move back to London. I feel like I have done the hamster wheel for so long now, all I want is to start living – REAL living, not scheduling pub nights around meetings and commutes. My suitcases contain tennis rackets, hiking shoes and horse riding gear, because those are the kinds of things I look forward to being able to do the most.

So I guess from tomorrow I will see how it all pans out 🙂

It feels right to end this post with the music video that brought me here 😉 (as it made me want to move to Sweden as a hormonal teenager in the 80s – yes, the landscape in the video, not the rockers in leather trousers. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

5 things I will miss about London

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About this time next week I’ll be arriving in my (sort of) new apartment, and looking for the keys… so I thought that was a suitable milestone to make a list of random things I’ll miss about London.

1. Urban foxes 

The wildlife in London (apart from mice and rats) isn’t exactly thriving, but there is one very cool phenomenon  in the suburbs: urban foxes. Most people have a love/hate relationship with them, as they love nothing more than taking apart household bin bags overnight (I’m not quite as fond of picking up the rotting rubbish from the driveway the next day) – but they are beautiful animals. At the moment the fox in the garden outside my flat has cubs, and it’s been fun watching them grow up!

One of the local foxes in my suburb.

2. London Underground

London Underground is a never-ending source of (mostly involuntary) humour. Lines are suspended because of the wrong kind of rain, the wrong kind of snow, leaves on the line, and about 50.000 other crazy reasons. Announcement boards will tell you that the next tube will come in “745 minutes”, or go with the optimistic eternal “one minute”. But the best thing about the tube is tube driver announcements such as (as heard in the last few months) –

“Please stand back from the platform edge. Believe me, the train will not come any faster the further forward you stand.”

“This train will not be stopping at the next station. It would be great if I could have told you this before, wouldn’t it, but nobody tells me anything around here…”

“This train is now ready to depart, and we’ll soon be on our way with our usual blistering speed, all stops to Upminster.”

London Underground.

3. Queueing

When I first moved to London, I was an innocent Austrian girl who was used to making use of available space to walk to the front of the line. Boy did I learn fast. The English queue system is not something to be messed with. The rules are strict:

  • If it as much as seems that someone arrived at a counter/ bus stop/ door  before you, you can not, under any circumstances, pass that person.
  • If it is unclear whether the person is part of the queue or not, you walk up to that person, politely ask if that person is part of the queue and proceed from there.
  • If the structure of the queue is unclear, you ask directions to the end of the queue and proceed from there.

Failure to adhere to the above will result in piercing looks and annoyed tutting. The thing is though, I love the queue. There is something so polite and fair about it. In fact I have come to like the queue so much that I am probably now one of the people  tutting incredulously if somebody ignores the system!

Which brings me to the ultimate queueing experience…

4. Wimbledon

I spent many, many years queueing up for Wimbledon to get centre court tickets. It works like this (all of these things actually happened):

  • You, your friend, your tent and a lot of alcohol arrive at a local park outside the All-England Lawn Tennis Club the afternoon/evening before you intend to watch tennis. A friendly steward will show you to the end of the queue, where you pitch your tent.
  • You, your friend and the alcohol spend the evening sitting in the sun and talking about years past and camping holidays you did as a child.
  • You try to sleep, which is impossible because you cannot stop listening to the people having an in-depth conversation about relationships in the tent next to you.
  • You are woken up at 4 a.m. by the sound of rain making drumming noises on the tent. You remember that you left your bags, shoes, food and alcohol outside but are too tired to care.
  • You are woken up at 6 a.m. by the sound of the friendly steward: “Queuing starts at 6.30! Rise and shine! It’s lovely out!” You get up, empty your shoes and bags, and pack the tent in the pouring rain.
  • You queue on the pavement for four hours, the highlight being the “I queued in Wimbledon in the rain” sticker that is distributed, coffee, and the Centre Court wristband you manage to gain (yes!)
  • Finally, you make it to the tennis club. All hardship is forgotten – the rain, the lack of sleep, the wet shoes and the £3 you paid for a bottle of water. The atmosphere is incredible. You take your place at centre court, and the first match starts.
  • 5-6 and 0-30 in the first set, it starts raining. The court is covered, and you leave your seats to queue for a coffee. (Repeat the last two points as applicable)
  • You go home and start planning next year’s Wimbledon.

Wimbledon queue.

Tennis!

5. Politeness

Maybe not something you would normally associate with Londoners or inhabitants of any major city, but I have thoroughly embraced the culture of apologising even if you are not to blame. In London, if someone bumps into you by accident, both of you will apologise. I probably took it too far when I once accidentally apologised to a coffee table (the table didn’t apologise back, but I was willing to let that go), but hey… it’s much nicer to be polite to each other than to hear “hey, look where you’re going!”

It’ll only be fair to make a “Things I WON’T miss about London” post too, but I’ll leave that for another day…

Reality

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Random office water boiler sarcasm that amused me today.

Pretty much just one week to go now. So far chaos is still reigning in my flat (how are you supposed to get stuff at home done though while working 10-11 hour days?), but I still have full faith that eventually it will all magically clear. And by magic I mean that on Saturday, a company that sells stuff on eBay (for a huge cut of the proceeds) is going to come and take my heavier stuff away, so I guess that will be the time that the flat will start to look empty. (For a start, they will take the big ageing TV that takes up half my living room!)

In a way everything is slowly starting to hit home to me – I stopped procrastinating on arranging leaving drinks, and I am running out of days in which to do things or see people. Today I was on the phone to a work friend who was off sick, and he told me that he was feeling awful about the idea of not being able to say goodbye to me in person (which nearly made me cry). So that sentence was approximately where the magnitude of everything started to sink in a little…

Like in a week, my closer friends are going to be a plane trip away. I’ll be the new girl in a new office, be out of the loop on in-jokes, and will have trouble following group conversations. I’m going to test people’s patience when looking for words. (I am fully intending to immerse myself and speak Swedish though, even if it means that I get all the jokes 15 minutes after everybody else! As happened when I first moved to England and people were asking me if I had a hearing problem ;))

It’ll all work out in the end though, and the biggest part of me can’t wait to go and start the adventure. It feels like I have been preparing for this forever!

Boxes, boxes and boxes

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Storage

My stuff’s new home

That is pretty much what my life consists of at the moment. My last week has been getting up, going to work, working 10-11 hours (just what you want when you know you have chaos waiting to be resolved at home), coming home, packing boxes for an hour and sleeping. Which makes for a thrilling week 😉

Yesterday I moved the stuff that I want to keep but don’t want take with me (yet) into a storage space that I rented in Richmond. So my Garfield, Asterix and Donald Duck collection, and my mother’s paintings have a good home now for the next few months until I get settled.

It is kind of ridiculous, but something about seeing my prized possessions all boxed up in front of me in a little storage booth felt strange and really good. Maybe because it means that I have another piece of the puzzle sorted. The next time I’ll see my things is when I have found somewhere permanent to live… (whenever that is!)

Two of my London workmates are going to Gbg for work next week, and one of them made the careless mistake of telling me that he is happy to take some of my  things along, so he is now in possession of a huge backpack containing a duvet and duvet covers.

And meanwhile I’m preparing for another week of packing and de-cluttering (and finding a new home for my faithful house plants). Tomorrow will be the start of my last full week as a Londoner…