Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Signs of Spring in Stockholm, Sweden

Spring is fighting its way through the gray skies of Stockholm. And it shows everywhere you look.

The obvious sign was the changing of the clocks. Finally. Now it gets dark a lot later. Sweden just sprung forward Sunday morning. Which I was actually awake for. Luckily, McDonald’s did not immediately adhere to the change and I was able to get two chicken burgers and a medium fries. Which was exactly what I needed at 3/4 in the morning.

Of course, it wasn’t just the changing of the clocks. Cafes and restaurants throughout town have started setting up their uteservering. Outdoor service. Suddenly, the chairs and tables that will fill whenever the sun comes out have invaded the sidewalks.

Having these chairs on the sidewalks is to my benefit. Because I am a sweaty guy. And this is the time of spring when I’m just a little confused. It’s still cold enough in the mornings that you think you might need a warm jacket. But by the time you’ve hustled to catch the bus, you have a light sweat going. And by you, I mean me.

When you catch the bus, and are the last person on, you sit yourself down next to someone who gives you the evil eye because they actually have to move their bag from the last available seat in the bus. That’s when it hits you. And again, by you, I mean me. It’s the post-exercise sweats.

You know the ones. You’ve been outside, hustling along, not thinking too much of your rising body temperature. But the second you end up in doors, whether it’s the office or the bus, your body gets pissed. Why did you wear a winter jacket? It’s the end of March. Idiot. And it punishes you by pouring sweat out of every sweat gland. By the time you get to work your forehead is glistening, your nice dark blue dress shirt is showing off the telltale signs of a sweaty back. It’s a wonderful way to start the day.

Tomorrow you should wear a light jacket. And by you, I mean me.

Welcome to Sweden. And the signs of spring.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Moving to Sweden – Public Holidays

Sweden is a country that prides itself on vacation days. Most people start off with about 25 days of vacation each year. That’s five weeks of vacation. The US has about two weeks. Sweden also has a work week that tends to be described as 37.5 hours. The US has a 40 hour work week. Just one of the differences when moving to Sweden. Especially for an American moving to Sweden. Which is just another reason to write a continuation of the Moving to Sweden series. Be sure to check out other instant classics like:

Moving to Sweden – What to Bring
Moving to Sweden – The Swedish Language
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Place to Live
Moving to Sweden – The Metric System and You
Moving to Sweden – Getting a Cell Phone
Moving to Sweden – Getting from the Airport to Stockholm City
Moving to Sweden – The Weather
Moving to Sweden – Swedish Citizenship Test
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden – Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden – Making Friends
Moving to Sweden – Cost of Living
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries

If you’ve already managed to move to Sweden and to find a job in Sweden, you’ve probably begun enjoying the benefits of all those vacation days. Working here, I can’t complain too much at all. Sometimes it’s a bit of a pain in the ass in the middle of July and August when everyone is on vacation. But you get by. And when you’re working, you definitely get by. Because everyone loves vacation.

Along with all of the vacation time, Sweden has a lot of public holidays. However, having moved here I still struggle with figuring out when those days are. They are referred to as red days. Red because they are printed red on the Swedish calendar. It’s a very visible reminder. But unless you’re staring at a Swedish calendar, it’s not always easy to figure out what days are public holidays. Days when you just don’t need to go to work.

Quite a few of these days are religious holidays. Which makes no sense in a country that is considered to be one of the most secular countries in the world. And not only are they religious holidays, but they are somewhat obscure religious holidays. Like the day of the Ascension. Kristi Himmelfärdsdag. The sixth Thursday after Easter. Obviously.

Sundays are always considered red days. Every Sunday on the calendar is marked in red. So Easter Sunday is a red day from a couple different angles.

There are also days referred to as klämdagar. Squeeze days. These are days that fall between a public holiday and a weekend. For example, this year Trettondedag Jul fell on a Tuesday. So Monday was a squeeze day. Check with your employer but a lot of places of employment will turn this into a half day.

This half-day policy is also common for Eve days. Christmas Eve for example. Or New Years Eve. Again, probably a good idea to check before you just bail early.

So with all that in mind, and the slight embarrassment of me requesting a day off on a day that was already a public holiday still fresh in my mind, I’ve put together a list of all of the public holidays in Sweden for the year 2009. Because some holidays change. Like Good Friday. And the aforementioned Kristi Himmelfärdsdag.

January – Thursday, January 1st is Nyårsdagen. New Years Day. Tuesday, January 6th is Trettondedag jul. The Epiphany.
February – Nothing. Sorry. The Swedes don’t celebrate American Presidents.
March – Still nothing.
April – Friday, April 10th is Långfredagen. Good Friday. Monday, April 13th is Annandag Påsk. Easter Monday.
May – Friday, May 1st is Första Maj. May Day or International Worker’s Day. The International Worker’s Day was the day that left me a bit red in the face. Thursday, May 21st is Kristi Himmelsfärdsdag. The Day of the Ascension.
June – Saturday, June 6th is Sveriges Nationaldag. The Swedish national day. Think 4th of July but without the celebration of independence and the Constitution. Saturday, June 20th is Midsommardagen. Midsummer.
July – It is the middle of summer… did you expect more red days?
August – Nothing.
September – Nothing. Again.
October – Saturday, October 31st is Alla Helgons dag. All Saints’ Day.
November – Just a rough month in general. It gets darker, colder, and no days off.
December – Friday, December 25th is Juldagen. Christmas Day. Saturday, December 26th is Annandag Jul. Boxing Day.

Welcome to Sweden. And the beauty of working in the Swedish system.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It’s the Little Swedish Things that Kill

Sweden has been good to me. But just recently I have been less than impressed. It’s the little things.

Like yesterday when I was walking to the subway and I was the recipient of a horrible flat tire. I was walking along at a pretty solid clip. Using those long legs of mine to cover some ground. When suddenly my left foot felt so very cold. And my shoe stayed where it was. I had been flat tired.

The guy walking behind me had stepped on the heel of my shoe. Bastard. I had to pull over to the side of the sidewalk for repairs. The man in question passed me by. Without so much as a nod of the head. I was disgusted. So I chased after him, tackled him, then spit in his eye for good measure, all the while berating him for his rudeness. That’s not true. I’m much too mild-mannered for that. Instead I’ll satiate my need for revenge by writing about my unknown assailant. But I was not pleased.

When you step on me from behind and give me a flat tire I would like some form of acknowledgement. I’m a simple man. I like steaks. Sports. Delicious gummy candies. And apologies for stepping on my shoe. Because honestly, who steps on a shoe?

And to top it all off, just a little while ago my “Ingen Reklam” sign was taken from my door. The ingen reklam sign is an important sign. It is the sign that keeps people from shoving all of those unwanted advertisements through your mail slot. And no one wants unwanted things shoved through their mail slot. Now my apartment is filled with advertising flyers for things I don’t want.

I have a couple of theories as to who did this. However, I keep coming back to one. It seems the most likely really. The culprit could be none other than the very same man who gave me a flat tire. In between dropkicking babies and clubbing baby seals, this man runs around stepping on shoes and stealing ingen reklam signs. That’s not very nice.

His is the face of evil. Beware.

Welcome to Sweden. Where evil lurks behind every corner.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Swedish Public Holidays for Foreigners

Sometimes I feel very much like a foreigner. It’s becoming less and less often but there are moments when I just have to look back on what I have done and laugh. Mostly at myself. Just the other day was a prime example.

I had decided that I was going to take a day off from work. I wanted a long weekend to head down to southern Sweden and meet up with some of the family. I decided that the end of April or beginning of May would be a perfect time to do this. It just so happened that the first of May was a Friday. Perfect. I could leave Thursday after work and drive down if I was feeling up to it or just get up early Friday morning and make the drive. My plan was fool proof.

It was not however idiot proof. And if this blog has taught you anything, it is that I am, in fact, an idiot. Because I went to my boss and asked for the day off. And that day off was granted to me. Luckily. Turns out that the first of May is a red day.

As anyone who has ever worked in Sweden knows, a red day is a coveted day by those with a job. Red days are public holidays. You don’t go to work. On the Swedish calendar, all public holidays that result in a day off from work are written in red. It’s a very visual reminder.

The first of May is May Day. In the US you leave little baskets of goodies on someone’s door step, ring the doorbell, and run away. In Sweden it is International Laborers Day. So obviously you don’t work. I had no idea.

Public holidays in my very American view are days of consequence. You know, Christmas for example. Not May Day. But May Day is also a day for the common laborer. Which is what I have become. A common laborer. What makes it a little harder for me to laugh at myself is the fact that last May there was also a May Day. And I feel fairly confident that I didn’t go to work that day. I think. I hope. But it made me think.

Before I had a chance to think too much though, my co-workers all had a laugh at my expense. Hell, I laughed to. But it really made me realize that even after nearly two year here, there are still things that I just don’t get. What’s even scarier is that I speak the language. It made me realize just how easy it would be to take advantage of immigrant workers. Not just in Sweden necessarily, but in any country. The US and the migrant workers from Mexico in the Colorado fields. The numerous Poles who went to the UK for work. The asylum seekers here in Sweden.

It would be easy to get lost in a world of going to work and trusting your employer. Trusting that you are working when you are supposed to. Trusting that you are getting paid what you should. Trusting that your employer is an honest law-fearing person. In my case, it’s not that I trusted anyone too much. I don’t have any excuse. I just struggle.

Welcome to Sweden. Where May Day is a public holiday.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

This Week in Sweden

It’s been one of those weeks full of little things that kept happening that made me pause but never really take notice. But they just kept adding up. Some made me laugh. Some made me angry. And some just made me really, really uncomfortable.

First, things that made me laugh. There were a few of them. Which obviously means it was a good week.

For example, the girl who said her favorite part about football (of the American variety) was watching the cheerleaders. Because she was a gymnast and liked watching the formations. Now, I’m no gymnastics expert, but I do know what the typical gymnast looks like. And they do not look like Violet Beauregarde from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory post-chewing gum. This girl looked like a small balloon. All that was missing was the blue tinted skin and Oompa Loompas running around. Let’s just say her body type didn’t seem conducive to gymnastics.

The four Asian looking tourists who stopped a very blonde Swedish looking man on a bicycle and took a picture with him. It was like a bad stereotype come to life. On so many different levels.

The girl on the ski bus prancing around in long underwear. Unbeknownst to her was the gaping hole in the seat of her pants. Right around the bass crack. That’s funny. And maybe someone should have told her. But it wasn’t going to be me.

Things that made me angry, there weren’t too many really. Which also points to a good week.

One was the two stinky guys sitting in front of me on the bus for over two hours. I know we had all been skiing. I know we might not have showered beforehand. I know. But damn it. If you smell like that throw some deodorant on. Every time you moved a cloud of your stink reached back and sucker punched my nose. And no one likes being sucker punched in the nose.

The silly anti-sexist ad agency here in Sweden that just can’t relax. Sometimes it’s ok to laugh at bad advertising. And everything doesn’t need to be sexist. Like swimming suit companies. Or Coca-Cola.

And then, there was just one thing that happened that made me feel really, really uncomfortable.

The man standing at the urinal next to me. There are a few rules to using the urinal. All of them of the unwritten variety. Allow me to write a few of them. Do not look over at me. Below or above the belt. It doesn’t matter. If you would like to speak do so while staring at the wall. Do not look over at me and continue to do so hoping I will return your eye contact. It makes me uncomfortable.

Welcome to Sweden. And my week in Stockholm.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Electricians in Stockholm

I’m having electrical problems. And I am not an electrician. Some things I’ll try to fix on my own, until I finally give-up and call an expert. Electricity is not one of them. This dates back to 7th grade and the Invention Convention when ACC and I decided to invent an electric lock, creatively called the Electrilock, not to be confused with Swedish Electrolux. We attached an old boat battery to a lock. Turns out old boat batteries have a bit of juice left in them. And boat battery juice hurts like hell when coursing through my 7th grade body in the safety of my garage.

This may explain a lot of things in my life. Like my earning a Bachelor of Arts degree and taking all of my science classes pass/no pass in college. It most definitely explains my hesitance to trying to fix anything electric.

This is one of the reasons why I have had only two working lights in my kitchen for about six weeks. Another reason being that I am lazy. For nearly six weeks I have cooked my evening meals by candle light. This is not romantic. This is not adventurous. It is ridiculous. What makes this worse is that I had asked a buddy of mine if he knew of any electricians. It just so happened he did. A friend of his was, in fact, an electrician.

This was about five and a half weeks ago. Because, despite my laziness, I don’t really like wielding knives and using stovetops in the dark. It doesn’t seem like a good idea. So I got a number. And never called. It sat in my phone for weeks. Five and a half weeks. In case you forgot.

Finally, I called on a Saturday. I did not expect an answer. In fact, I was just hoping for voicemail. At least then I could convince myself I made an effort. No one answered. So I left my message, explaining who I was, who told me to call, you know, the usual. It was a wonderful message. One of my better really.

Less than one hour later, the lights in my kitchen were working. Now you may think this is because the electrician manned up, got back to me immediately, and went out of his way to come help me out on a Saturday. You would be wrong. The electrician still hasn’t returned my call. But my lights work. I can’t explain why. Six weeks I flipped the lights on and off every day for those two lights. And nothing. One hour after calling the electrician my lights work. And have continued to do so.

My message was good, but I didn’t realize it was that good. I almost expect to get an invoice from the electrician any day now. Like he somehow had something to do with it.

Welcome to Sweden. Where the electricians are so good they don’t even come to you.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cultural Activities in Stockholm

Sometimes Sweden surprises the hell out of me. Or Stockholm at least. Not necessarily as an American. Or a Swedish American, but just because it does such good work sometimes. And today was one of those days. I went to a museum today. Because that’s kind of what I do on Sundays. There was a Carl Larsson exhibition at Waldemarsudde out on Djurgården, so a buddy and I went to check it out. It’s been open for a couple of weeks so this wasn’t the opening weekend by any means.

And for the first time ever, I had to wait in line to get into a museum. I had to wait in line to get tickets. I had to wait in line to get into the exhibition. It was glorious. Well not the line waiting thing, but the fact that it was so crowded on a Sunday. I think of Sweden as a place that appreciates culture. The city has 74 museums. You don’t have that many museums if you don’t like culture.

But seriously, I have never experienced this anywhere else in the world. And by world I mean the few countries that I’ve managed to travel to. The only two museums that even came close in my mind were the Louvre and the Denver Natural History Museum when Body Worlds was there. And really, those were just packed. There was no waiting in line.

Now keep in mind, Waldemarsudde is small. It is not the Louvre. It is not the Natural History Museum even. But that’s not the point. The place was packed. On a Sunday. For an art exhibition.

Everyone waited patiently in line to buy a ticket. Then everyone waited patiently in line to be allowed into the exhibition. Then everyone stayed to the left and moved quietly and efficiently through the exhibition moving through the different rooms checking out Carl Larsson’s idealized Swedish lifestyle paintings. There was no crowding, there was no pushing, there weren’t even any old lady elbows. I loved it.

And obviously this speaks to the respect that Swedes have for culture. For art. For Carl Larsson. Really just the overall culturalness of Swedes. All Swedes. Because it’s important to make generalization based on incredibly small sample sizes. And old Swedish ladies.

Welcome to Sweden. Where culture is king.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Soccer in a Swedish Sports Bar

I went to a bar to watch a soccer game the other night. Some people might call it football. But not me. It’s soccer. And the two teams in question were Inter and Manchester United. The importance of the game was lost on me. I keep trying this whole soccer thing but just can’t get into it.

The more I think about it the more I realize it really must have something to do with never really grown up watching it or playing at any sort of high level. Although my years as a Young American Soccer player have been saved for posterity in the numerous team photos that once hung proudly on my bedroom wall.

Inter was the clear favorite in the room. Possibly because Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish star, plays for them. Unfortunately, Inter lost 2-0 (which is pronounced two-nil because nil means zero in soccer speak).

But so it goes. I was there to have a beer or two and hang out with some friends. Which I did. And it was quite enjoyable. And it was fun to watch the reaction of others to the game. And it was especially fun to take in the Swedishness.

This time, the Swedishness manifested itself a bit differently than it so often does. Because it was the nervous excitement of sports fans, but of Swedish sports fans. Having been in Sweden for a while now, I think there is a lot to be said for the stereotypical reservedness of Swedes. At least Stockholm Swedes. That plays a large part in what I consider Swedishness. That reservedness was on display last night. But it was not alone. Because another important aspect to Swedishness is the quiet concentration that so many Swedes demonstrate. It’s something I quite enjoy. And that quiet concentration was interspersed with displays of happiness or sheer disappointment followed by long periods of reservedness. Every shot anywhere near the goal was met with audible excitement. Every goal by Manchester United was met with audible disdain. It was an amazing display of the Swedish sports fan.

All in all, an entertaining evening. Even if I could not have cared less about the actual soccer being played.

Welcome to Sweden. And the Swedish sports bar scene.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Swedish Wrestlers Don’t Go Away. Abrahamian is Back.

I felt the need to do a quick update on your favorite wrestler and mine. Ara Abrahamian. Swedish wrestler. You may remember him from his unsportsmanlike conduct when he refused the bronze medal and stormed out of the medal ceremony at the 2008 Summer Olympics in China.

I’ve written plenty of articles about the man:
Car Trouble, a Bronze Medal to Ara Abrahamian, and Swedish Disgrace
Swedish Olympic Wrestler Ara Abrahamian
Ara Abrahamian - Swedish Olympic Wrestler Loses Bronze Medal
Swedish Wrestlers in the News. Again.

Maybe I am just feeding the beast. The beast being his inflated ego about the power he thinks he seems to hold over the wrestling community. Or maybe that comment in and of itself was feeding my inflated ego. Or maybe I just have nothing else to write about and so I return to sports.

Anyway, Abrahamian is no longer banned from wrestling. After his act of defiance he was banned for two years. Now he can start aiming for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. But wait… Ara Abrahamian said that that was to be his last match. Seems he changed his mind. Or at least is thinking about changing his mind. Again. Just like when he decided that he might want that bronze medal back after all. It was refused though. Tough luck.

Some have argued that the changes wrestling’s governing body has made were directly related to Abrahamian's actions. Of course, this may give a bit too much credit to a man who was immediately suspended, stripped of his medals, and erased from the 2008 Olympic history. To suggest his actions lead directly to any changes is a far leap that I am not willing to take. Plus it ignores anything else that might have been going on in the wrestling community. As I have said though previously, I have no problem with Abrahamian wanting to protest. I just don’t believe that his idea of a protest was acceptable.

Welcome to Sweden. Where Ara Abrahamian and Swedish wrestling just won’t go away...

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Systembolaget. On a Friday Night.

Last Friday night I made a poor choice. I decided I wanted some beer. And didn’t have any at home. This being Sweden, I had only one choice. If I wanted anything stronger than the grocery store style 3.5% beer I had to go to Systembolaget. The state-owned monopolized liquor store.

Most of the time, the liquor store near me closes at six in the evening. Closes at three on Saturday. And isn’t open on Sunday. But, to satiate the masses, my local liquor store stays open until seven on Friday.

I showed up at 6:30 on Friday night to buy a six-pack of beer. And I have never seen so many people crammed into the liquor store. You would have thought that it was New Years Eve eve. But it wasn’t. It was just your everyday Friday night.

I sharpened my elbows and fought my way through the red and white wines and found myself in the back of the store with the beer. I grabbed a six-pack of Corona and started to fight my way to the registers. I was shucking and jiving. Hitting holes like Barry Sanders once did in his prime. I was doing a quick scan of the lines to see which was shortest. I decided the line second form the door was the shortest so I plopped my ass there. And started looking around.

To my right there were 22 people in line. To my left there were 20 people in line. And yes. I counted. I had a lot of time on my hands. The guy in front of me came prepared with a large backpack to carry his booze in. He must have decided that by the time he got through the line he would need a drink. And more than he already had. So he snuck out and grabbed some more wine. He returned and stood in the line to my left.

As I waited for the line to move slowly ahead, I couldn’t help but notice backpack guy pulling ahead of me. Not just a person or two, but he was at least five people ahead of me. Bastard.

I continued to wait patiently. Slowly moving through the white wine section. I had been there long enough that I was thinking of buying a bottle of wine. I don’t even like wine. But they had a liter bottle for about 69 SEK. As a good friend always told me - you can’t steal it for that price. But I resisted. Mostly because I knew that’s exactly what Systembolaget wanted me to do. That’s why they have those aisles of wine leading you to the cash register. Same reason they have all that gum and candy in the grocery stores. Bastards. Again.

I looked over to my left. I had to keep track of my nemesis, backpack guy. He was paying. I had seven people still in front of me. And yes. I counted. Again.

I decided to lose myself in my podcast. Bill Simmons. The B.S. Report. Good times. Suddenly, I was just a couple of people away. That’s when I noticed something strange. The cashier was bagging a couple of bottles of wine and then put them down at his feet. Did the cashier just buy booze? Did he just decide that with over 20 people in line he needed to take time to buy his own alcohol? It sure as hell looked like it.

When I finally got to the register a woman came out of nowhere with a 500 SEK bill and asking for her alcohol. At which point the cashier pulled out the booze and money and alcohol exchanged hands. I was still somewhat confused as to what was going on. But then I tried to pay with my debit card. And was denied. Which was strange. Because payday was just a little bit ago. Turns out the card machine at Systembolaget only accepts certain cards, and this particular machine was being especially grumpy. Which is why the lady had to go to an ATM and get money, and why I was lucky to have cash on me. Finally, after showing state-issued Swedish ID, because they won’t accept any American stuff unless it is a passport, I was able to pay for my beer and leave. Finally.

Thanks to Bill Simmons and having just started listening to the podcast as I got into line I knew exactly how long I had suffered. By the time I had paid and was walking away with my change, I had stood in line for 18 minutes and 22 seconds.

Welcome to Sweden. And Systembolaget on Friday night.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Salespeople in Sweden – A Paradox of Swedishness

I have complained before about customer service in Sweden. How when I walk into a store I have to actively search for someone if I want help finding a product. How I am very seldom approached by anyone. Sometimes, it is amazing. Sometimes wandering around and finding what I want for myself is just what I need. Sometimes it drives me crazy.

Of all of the stores I have been in since moving here, the only stores I ever walk into and am immediately paid attention to are the cell phone stores. They assault you. Sometimes I walk into one of those stores just to be reminded of what some semblance of customer service is like. But they are alone in their eagerness to sell.

It turns out, that this is a bit of a phenomenon seen throughout the sales industry. Especially in Sweden. A recent article briefly summarizes a couple of studies here: New Research: Sweden's Salespeople Too Hesitant?

While the whole idea of hesitant salespeople is quite the paradox, some of the numbers really stood out. And so, in a blatant act of large scale quotations I give you the following from the PR Newswire:

· “In social situations, 25% of Swedish salespeople wait for others to initiate conversation first.
· Currently, 12% of Swedish salespeople would rather be working in a procedural profession like research and development, not sales or marketing.
· 11% of Swedish salespeople are not comfortable using the telephone to contact prospective buyers.
· In Sweden, the number of contact reluctant salespeople is steadily growing. It was 6.7% in 2001, 7.1% in 2003, 8.4% in 2004 and 9.4% in 2008.”

I’ve been in Sweden for about 20 months now. Suddenly, all those wasted hours in stores looking for help, for a salesperson, make sense. Swedish people fear social interaction. And it seems like it is getting worse. Last year nearly 10% of salespeople didn’t want to talk with you. They are paid to make sales, but are afraid to initiate any sort of interaction. Or reluctant as the quote above says.

One quarter of them don’t want to initiate conversation. What do they do during their working hours then? Hide in corners? Twelve percent don’t want to be working in sales. Which, considering that they are afraid to talk with anyone or actually do what they have been hired to do shouldn’t be all that surprising.

I have been suckered into some sales stuff in previous jobs. And I am a horrible salesperson. Bad. Some people can sell ice to Eskimos. I can’t sell ice to a drowning polar bear. But I’m ok with that. Not the drowning polar bear, but just that I’m not a good salesperson. And that is why I don’t apply for sales jobs. It’s really quite simple.

But this all seems very Swedish. It all seems to tie in with the silence on the buses. The stereotypical shyness of the average Swede. The neutrality and avoidance of anything that can be seen as aggression. Even just a simple sales pitch in the confines of a store. It is Swedishness spilled over into the workforce. Although, it doesn’t seem to be just Sweden. Some of Sweden’s neighbors are even worse.

Also mentioned in the summary is the following: “That study produced a surprising paradox: A number of people now working in sales who don't want to talk to anyone. How many? ‘7-9% of the salespeople in Sweden, 20% in Norway and a larger percent in Finland,’ Bryant estimates.”

Seven to nine percent in Sweden. Twenty percent in Norway. Even more in Finland. Not just hesitant to initiate, but downright don’t want to talk to you. The Nordic countries seem to have some issues with social interaction that need to be worked out.

Welcome to Sweden. And the Nordic countries. And salespeople who fear the customer.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Israeli-Swedish Relations and Tennis in Malmö

Israel and Sweden are set to meet in a Davis Cup tennis match here in Sweden. Unfortunately, they are set to meet in front of no one. The match has been closed to all spectators. Because of fears of violence. Because it is Israel. And because it is taking place in Malmö.

A while back Stockholm made an attempt to get the match played here. It was short notice. Very short notice. They decided it wasn’t possible logistically so the match was not moved. It will be played in Malmö. In an empty arena. Which is a damn shame. Even schools in the area have been closed tomorrow. The city of Malmö is preparing for violence.

But the story does not end there. The match will obviously be a meeting place for Malmö's police. Between 500 and 1000 of Sweden’s finest are expected to be on hand. Security will be high. But the police want some protection as well. Understandably.

Over 10,000 people are expected to protest. Most of them peacefully. But there is concern that a small contingent will be there to cause trouble. Which is what made a pile of stones from some road work of particular concern. The commander of police demanded that the stones be removed, promising that if they were not “då kommer det inte att finnas en enda polis på plats.” There won’t be a single police officer on hand (or “on the scene” as thelocal.se puts it). The police were not joking. And Malmö seemed to agree. The stones were to be removed earlier this afternoon.

It’s a shame that athletes are dragged into this sort of thing. Being held responsible for their government. Not being able to perform in front of a crowd for fear of violence. Or not being allowed to perform at all.

It’s interesting seeing the difference in nationalities between Sweden and the United States. The difference between a Swede and an American. Andy Roddick, an American tennis player, withdrew from a tournament to protest the fact that an Israeli was banned from competing. It is very easy to see where each nation’s loyalties lie. Or at least the loyalties of their voting public.

Welcome to Sweden.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

UEFA, Finnish Soccer, and Some Fuzzy Math

This has really nothing to do with Sweden. Or about being a Swedish American in Sweden. And it’s about a sport I just don’t really care all that much about, but I just couldn’t resist when I ran across this a few days ago. It’s been stuck in my head for a while. Festering if you will.

From UEFA.com and the article titled Finland's Maanoja suffers double leg break we get this gem of a sentence.

“Finland goalkeeper Tomi Maanoja, 22, is almost certain to miss this summer's UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals in Sweden after breaking his leg in two places during a friendly for AIK Solna on Saturday.”

Now I’m no mathematician, in fact, I stopped liking math around the time they started using more Greek letters than numbers. I might even describe myself as actively hating it. But that being said, I am capable of simple addition and subtraction. And a quick look at the above sentence reveals bigger problems than just a broken leg for the poor Finn. It seems he might not be able to play in the Under-21 Championship because he isn’t actually under 21. He’s 22. That makes it difficult to qualify.

I went over this in my head a bit. Trying to come up with ways that he could have snuck in. Some sort of red-shirt system like that found in the US and collegiate athletics. But Under-21 suggests that a 21 year old wouldn’t be able to play. So there goes any sort of theory that maybe he was eligible at the start of the year and just happened to turn 22 during the course of the season.

So I did a quick search on Maanoja. He was born September 12th, 1986. Making him only six months shy of his 23rd birthday. Clearly not under-21.

My old man suggested that UEFA might be trying to use some Chinese Olympic math in order to manipulate the age. The alternative is that the just can’t count.

Can someone please explain to me how this guy is eligible?

Welcome to Sweden. Where, as far as I know, people can count to 21.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Politics in Sweden – A Changing of the Guard?

A new opinion poll has shown that the current reigning government party is gaining traction. Technically, the two main parties are in various cahoots with other parties. Different forms of alliances. I’m going to stick with Moderaterna and Socialdemokraterna. The Moderates and the Social Democrats. It just makes it a little bit easier.

Anyway, the Social Democrats are currently sitting at about 50%. The Moderates at 46.1%. And Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderate party is starting to run away with the confidence of the Swedish people. Mona Sahlin of the Social Democrats is struggling horribly and should maybe just run away.

The interesting thing here is that the Moderates have gained support as the financial crisis has deepened. A lot of support actually. Some people argue that this isn’t all that surprising. That in times of crisis a country rallies around their government. Others argue that it is due to a few key decisions made by the government. Their refusal to bail out Saab with Swedish tax payer money and their plan to allow nuclear power once more. Of course, the nuclear decision has little direct bearing on the financial crisis. But give the people what they want and it seems they will forgive you your shortcomings.

When I moved here, my knowledge of Swedish politics was scant. I had learned Swedish politics from a historical perspective. That much like the ebbs and flows of the business cycle, Sweden has seen a similar pattern with the conservative party taking power for a short amount of time between long stretches of Social Democratic rule. The longer I stay here, the more I learn.

I still don’t pretend to know much about Swedish politics. I know the basics. Coupled with my historic knowledge of Swedish politics I’ve managed to form some opinions. I can hold a halfway intelligent conversation about politics in Sweden, granted speckled with a few English words here and there because my political vocabulary in Swedish still lags behind sometimes. But I keep tabs on what is going on. And as an American in Sweden, the political scene is so very different from that which I am used to.

So when I saw the headlines about the opinion polls, I wasn’t at all expecting to read about the Moderates gaining support. They were in power as the financial crisis began. They are in power as it has only grown worse. They will probably be in power as it reaches its peak. It seems like they would be easy scapegoats for so many Swedes. I was expecting the Moderates to be destroyed in the press. Abandoned by the Swedish population. Apparently I was wrong.

Maybe I have become jaded and just expect anything that even resembles some sort of conservative movement in Sweden to be immediately shot down. Or maybe the Swedish mindset is slowly changing. A conservative (granted a Swedish version of conservative) government was voted into power. While they have taken their share of abuse and low opinion polls, they are gaining popularity through their handling of the crisis as the next election gets closer.

They have lowered taxes. They have sold off certain assets that have been historically government run. They are in the process breaking up the monopolized pharmacies. Apoteket. What has for so long been known as the Swedish model is slowly changing. Some might argue eroding. Others evolving. But it is changing. Could the Moderates actually be re-elected? And if so, what does this mean for the Swedish model? Or is this simply one of those conservative cycles that Sweden has historically seen in politics?

Welcome to Sweden. Where some semblance of conservatism lives on.

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