Monday, April 26, 2010

Moving to Sweden – Cost of Living

It's time again for some information that can be useful to everyone planning a potential move to Sweden. There's been quite a few already:
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 – Public Holidays
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden – Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden – Making Friends
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries

But now it's time for a Moving to Sweden post that delves into the nitty gritty. Stockholm is usually listed as one of the most expensive cities in the world. Sweden as a whole is usually listed as one of the most expensive countries in the world by all kinds of different standards. If you’re planning on moving to Sweden it is something you’ll need to accept and be prepared for.

I have managed to live a pretty inexpensive lifestyle here in Sweden, mostly because I am dirt cheap and put my money to travel instead of dinner out in Stockholm. Lately though, I’ve been receiving quite a few questions about the cost of living in Sweden.

Instead of actually doing some sort of research, I just saved all of my receipts for one week. Sunday to Sunday. It’s a pretty normal week for me. I did go out a bit more than I might in a usual week which included a couple of dinners, but take this for what it is. I’ve separated my expenditures into different categories and then added rent, which didn’t actually get paid this week but tends to be a necessity.

And so, a look at my week. First, the fun stuff.

703 SEK in bars and booze. This includes drinks for a couple of buddies and all those delicious chili nuts that I eat every time I go out. I can’t help myself.

149 SEK in books. Akademibokhandeln has a three pocket books for 149 SEK deal right now. I can’t help myself.

77 SEK for fika. I am not good at the whole fika thing. Mostly because I don’t drink coffee or tea, but I make exceptions. The sun was shining and it was a chance to sit outside for the first time this year in a t-shirt.

All in all, I had fun for 929 SEK.

Now, food. Because I need to eat.

75 SEK for dagens lunch. It was a Thursday so I enjoyed pea soup and pancakes.

237 SEK for dinner out. One nice dinner, one hamburger dinner before drinking.

613.41 SEK for groceries. I usually end up at the grocery store once or twice a week. Mostly because my fridge is too small to handle anything more than that. This week was one of the big shopping trips.

Total for food then was 925.41 SEK. And all of it delicious. Except for maybe the hamburger.

Next were a few miscellaneous purchases.
50 SEK worth of birthday cards. None of which showed up on time.

36 SEK worth of stamps for said birthday cards.

100 SEK for a refill on my SIM card.

That’s a total of 186 SEK. The kind of things that I tend to forget about, but always pop up.

Next come some expenditures that didn’t actually happen this week but are pretty important nonetheless.

Transportation. Kind of. I pay 300 SEK for a parking space for my car. I don’t drive very often so I did not fill up my tank this week. Or for the past few weeks actually so you’ll get no gas costs information from me.

Because I don’t drive all that much, I use public transportation. 690 SEK for a 30 day card with SL. It will get you on the busses, trains, subways, and trams in Stockholm. It does good work.

And finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Rent. It’s the big expense in all of our lives. Since living here in Sweden, I have been in three different apartments. I have paid between 3500 SEK to 4200 SEK. They have been small, but because of that, I’ve managed to live very inexpensively. Right now, 3600 SEK includes my rent and internet access every month.

So those costs that are important, but that I haven’t actually paid this week, add up to 4590 SEK. For the sake of argument, we’ll file those away under monthly costs, seeing as how they cover me for one month.

My weekly costs for having fun, eating, and trying to be brotherly by sending birthday cards resulted in about 2040 SEK.

My monthly costs for having a roof over my head, and a way to get myself from point a to point b cost me 4590 SEK.

Four weeks every month, plus my monthly costs, we’ll call it a cool 12750 SEK per month. Assuming a 7.2 conversion rate for SEK to USD, I’m living comfortably, for about 1770 USD per month.

I have two caveats to all of this. One was already mentioned. I am cheap. Seriously. I buy cheap food. I buy cheap beer. I don’t eat dinner out on a regular basis. I don’t fika on a regular basis. I’m cheap. I cannot stress this enough. And, as always, ladies, I am single.

Also, I would like to point out that I was on a business trip on Friday and so my expenditures there were covered by work. Although, I usually bring my lunch four times a week (see the delicious pea soup and pancakes above) so it shouldn’t skew my average week too much.

Currently, Migrationsverket requires you to prove that you are able to support yourself if you plan to study here in Sweden. They assume you can support yourself for 7300 SEK per month for 10 months out of the year. Just about 1000 USD per month for ten months. My experiences lead me to respectfully disagree.

Having now revealed far more than even I think necessary, I hope that this brief look at my wallet helps when you plan your move to Sweden.

Welcome to Sweden. And cost of living.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Government Subsidies in Sweden

I understand that the Swedish tax system is very different from that in the US. I understand that the views of that tax system are very different than they are in the US. I do not understand how government subsidies can be used to fund right-wing extremist newspapers under the guise of diversity.

This week it was revealed that a newspaper published by the far-right xenophobic Nationaldemokraterna, has been granted nearly two million Swedish kronor in 2010. You know, so that the Swedish people have access to the diverse opinions that can be found throughout the newspaper industry.

Nationaldemokraterna would have you believe that immigrants are the root of all evil in Sweden, and that they are systematically infiltrating the Swedish state so as to eradicate Swedishness. Of course they are nut jobs. Which is exactly why they should not be receiving government subsidies for printing their nut job ideas and distributing it to the few peanut brained nut jobs who agree. The same can be said for all those left-wing nut jobs who are receiving the same subsidies. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, they aren’t getting the same amount of press in the press about their presstöd. Of course, that also means they sneak by and keep cashing the check.

Presstödsnämnden, the group responsible for doling out government grants, is seen as a non-partisan group. It could care less whether you believe all immigrants are evil or whether you believe all Swedes are evil. As long as you meet their criteria as a legitimate newspaper, you can receive tax payer money.

The EU isn’t a big fan of this either. Not because of the potential political issues, but because of the anti-competitive undertones of supporting businesses with government subsidies. Subsidies are used throughout the world; in the US agriculture is often heavily subsidized resulting in some serious inefficiencies at times.

To subsidize newspapers doesn’t just open the industry up to inefficiencies, but also to government involvement, no matter how non-partisan it may be. Not only that, but instead of a lack of demand for this kind of nonsense, Nationaldemokraterna are given a stage to perform on. With tacit support from the government and in turn, the unknowing or unwilling Swedish people. And that’s not good.

I have written a few times about immigration. I believe that immigration reform is important, that an open discussion about immigration is key to the ongoing success of the Swedish nation. I believe that too often, any discussion about immigration devolves into two extreme views, one referring to any attempt to discuss the issue as racists, and one actually being racists. Unfortunately, the majority then find themselves screaming into nothingness while all they hear are extremist views in response.

Welcome to Sweden. And government subsidies.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Swedish Laundry Room and Further Proof that I am an Idiot

Keep in mind that you should never listen to me and that I am, in fact, an idiot. Some days are worse than others. It’s kind of like one of those recurring conditions that you can live with but they flare up every now and again making life tough. Like asthma, but idiocy.

The laundry room in Sweden can lead people to prove they are idiots. You’ll find everything from fights to small talk in the laundry room. Or you may find me locked outside of one in -13 degrees Celsius weather. That’s a fun little game that I like to play in the Swedish winter.

But it was the fights that I was worried about tonight. So far I have avoided any sort of conflict in the laundry room. There was the one girl who accused me of stopping her laundry halfway through the spin cycle and dumping them wet and cold next to the laundry machine, but it wasn’t me and she got over it. There was also the girl who refused to let me use the dryer even though she wasn’t using it but had booked the time. But I got over it.

The problem is that the laundry room can bring out the worst in people. Especially when they are creating gloriously passive aggressive (and aggressive) reminders to their fellow laundry doers. There’s even a book about it: Den som inte tar bort luddet ska dö! by David Batra

That’s why when I realized that I had left my clothes in the washing machine ten minutes past my time I was nervous. Ready for a fight in my bright orange sweat pants. I sprinted down to the laundry machine to see a girl leaving the laundry room with a guilty look on her face. Clearly she was up to no good. Luckily, she was about half my size and didn’t look like she would put up much of a fight. But my Swedish side came out and I apologized. Profusely. And was surprised to hear her apologize also. Profusely. I was the asshole that took her time. She shouldn’t apologize. Apparently she felt it bad form to move my clothes. Or maybe she was embarrassed by my unmentionables. Few things are as sexy as boxers with holes everywhere that I’ve been wearing for at least the last six years. She slinked out of the laundry room and I slinked in, moving my clothes to the dryer feeling strangely ok with being the bad guy.

I headed back to my apartment to make a phone call to my American credit card to make sure that it would be ok with me traveling a bit. No need to have them shut it down while out of the country. So a quick phone call and everything was as it should be. I had managed to stumble my way through without making an ass out of myself. Or so I thought.

Turns out that when the guy sitting in the US working tells you to have a nice trip, the appropriate response is not, you too. Because he is not taking a trip. At least not that you know of. Laughing your way through an embarrassing explanation after you realize what you’ve said does not help the situation. Nor do awkward good byes. But as I said, I am an idiot.

Welcome to Sweden. And my daily struggles with idiocy.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Elfdalian Language in Sweden

I am a big proponent of learning the language of whatever country you may find yourself in. While it is easy to get by in Sweden with just English, if all of a sudden you realize that you’ve been in Sweden for a year and haven’t made an effort to learn the Swedish language, you’re doing something wrong. Too many details of everyday life float by if you’re not making an effort.

Like the fact that in the middle of Swedish Sweden lives a group of elves who speak a different language. Bad joke. According to some studies that were summarized in an SVD article, Elfdalian is the English translation of Älvdalska, a language spoken by 2400 people, only 45 of whom are younger than 45.

That the language can be found in Dalarna, the home of the occasional peasant uprising in Swedish history, the home of enough red summer cottages to make a German piddle, the home of large painted horses, is even more intriguing to me.

It is here I would expect Swedish Swedish. The kind of Swedish that would make those peasant rebels all misty eyed. Instead, the Nordic regions least spoken Germanic language can be found.

I like being able to speak a language that is only spoken by about nine or ten million people. I like my chances if I decide to talk about someone outside of these borders. But that was nine or ten million. A language whose speakers only number in the thousands, about 2400, wins. The language is considered threatened. Which seems like a bit of an understatement. I’ve been in classes with more than 45 people who were under the age of 15, and trust me… they should not be trusted with the preservation of an endangered language.

Luckily, there happens to be a grant for children and teenagers who promise to speak Älvdalska in every situation possible. Not sure how this would be trapped, but I’m sure your personnummer has something to do with it.

Welcome to Sweden. And endangered languages.

Can't believe I missed linking to this originally, but you can listen to Älvdalska spoken here. Just click "lyssna här" when you get to the SVD page.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

My That’s a Fine Looking Ash You’ve Got There

Airports throughout Sweden are still shut down because of the volcanic ash blowing over from Iceland. Tens of thousands of flights have been cancelled throughout Europe and the travel problems are being described as the worst since September 11, 2001. It’s an impressive display of nature really (and for some photos of that impressive display check out Lost in Stockholm).

People throughout Europe have been stranded for days. As a friend told me, after arriving at Arlanda just half an hour before the airport was shut down, everyone wants to spend a weekend in Milan or Madrid, but no one wants to get stuck there for days with no return date in sight.

So while being stuck in Madrid for three extra days might sound fun, being stuck in Madrid with only enough underwear for one extra day might be less fun. Especially for the people around you. Instead, people are renting cars, buying train tickets, and just finding creative ways of getting home.

It will be interesting to see the economic effect when all is said and done. And no one knows when all will be said and done. Several days of cancelled flights tends to not be good for business. One can only hope that this will have some sort of Darwinian effect and this will be the death-knell for SAS (and the continued employment of my arch-nemesis Mikael).

Of course, for some, open airspace is a marketing opportunity. Which may explain why today around noon I saw a low-flying helicopter in Stockholm trailing a large red banner from Bauhaus. Advertising a Weber Grill. For 395 SEK.

Welcome to Sweden. And some seriously hot ash.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Illegal Apartments in Stockholm

In news that should surprise absolutely no one that has attempted to find housing (legally) in Stockholm, a recent study (summary in Swedish and in English) shows that about 40% of apartments are rented illegally.

I am coming up on my three year anniversary of waiting in line over at Stockholms Stads Bostadsförmedlingen. In 2009 there were only 105 apartments in Innerstaden that were rented out to people who had waited in line for 0-4 years. Out of 947. That’s 11%. But it gets better. Because of those 105 apartments, only 18 were classified as a “Vanlig lägenhet.” That means they were not set aside for youth, seniors, or that they weren’t newly built apartments. That doesn’t exactly leave a lot to choose from.

To be fair (because what is more fair than waiting in a line where 40% of the apartments are illegally occupied?), moving farther away from the city increases your chances of getting a place to live. Outside of the inner city 44% of apartments were rented by people waiting in line from 0-4 years.

Most of the illegal contracts are because people keep their contracts and then move out, placing the contract on the black market. Often with a somewhat inflated price. Then all those people who have been waiting in line for three years and are tired of waiting convince themselves that yes, maybe it is worth it to pay a little extra for that contract. Everyone else is doing it after all. Or at least 40% of everyone else. The lesson in all of this? If you’re moving to Sweden and looking for a place to live, start now.

It’s no wonder then that 40% of apartments are illegally rented. Waiting in line for several years with little chance of living in town isn’t conducive to a healthy rental market. Yet some people still believe that the current system works and should continue as it is. There is a fear that a free rental market will result in you not having a place to live. You know, kind of the way it is now. But change is scary. I should know. I’m a registered Republican.

The good thing to come out of this is of course that two new jobs were created at Svenska Bostäder to look into the fraud. Sweden’s job creation plan hard at work.

Welcome to Sweden. And breaking the law. Breaking the law.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Moving to Sweden – Making Friends

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 – Public Holidays
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden – Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden – Cost of Living
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries

Swedes have a reputation for being shy. And for the most part, from my experience, it is a reputation that is deserved. I’ve written it before, making friends in Sweden with Swedes, is not all that easy. It's an important thing to keep in mind when moving to Sweden.

Much of my personal experience comes from trying to work in Sweden. A non-student perspective if you will. Because, having been a student here before, I know that the student lifestyle is something very different. You are thrown into a group of other people, with similar interests, many of whom have also just moved to someplace new. People are looking for friendship. Or at least some of them are.

That being said, moving to Sweden on a whim with plans of working doesn’t exactly put you in a situation where you are surrounded by people. Surrounded by potential friends. And this is where it pays to have a bit of that American attitude in my opinion.

The openness. The willingness to strike up a conversation with people. It’s going to come in handy. And it’s something that took me quite a while to figure out. I am not a horribly outgoing person. I’ll blame the Swedishness in me. I suppose I might fall somewhere in between the shyness of the Swedes and the outgoingness of the Americans. Lagom if you will (see what I did there?).

Of course, that openness and willingness can still run into problems. I had a friend tell me soon after her move to Sweden that she thought Sweden was so cold. We were in the dead of winter and told her not to worry the sun was going to show up again soon. Turns out I am, in fact, an idiot and it wasn’t the weather she was talking about but the reaction of the Swedish people to her attempts at friendship, or even just human interaction. Despite these initial misgivings, she left Sweden with many more Swedish friends than she had before moving here.

Swedes are stereotypically shy (this does not include every Swede, but as a general rule, there is a kernel of truth). Keep in mind that bubbly attitude that Americans sometimes find endearing, Swedes might not. What an American sees as outgoing, a Swede might see as superficial. You’ll be expected to be honest and direct without being rude. You’ll be expected to respect their personal space without seeming distant. You’ll be expected to be capable of sitting quietly, saying very little, without feeling awkward. It’s a balancing act that takes a while to understand. One between embracing the culture you come from and the culture you find yourself in and somehow making the two work.

I am a big proponent of the shotgun approach. Firing away, you’ll eventually hit something. Like Dick Cheney. You might not find a best friend right away, but you’ll find people you enjoy grabbing a beer with. Going to the gym with. Having a fika with. So ask people out for drinks. People you live close to. People you work with. People you met through a friend’s friend’s friend. Eventually you’ll find those good friends that make the difference when trying to call a new place home.

Say yes to invitations. It might be awkward at times, but it forces you out of whatever shell you might find yourself in. Whether that shell is self-imposed or not. Early on in my move here I received an invitation to a colleagues house (who has since become a very good friend). I said yes. Of course. I was the new guy in his group of friends. Later, he told me he was surprised that I had said yes, because he had grown used to Swedish people reverting to that shy stereotype and not accepting the offer. Sometimes, no matter how much you want to fit in, it works well to break out of the Swedish mold and not fit in.

Even if you’re a non-student like me, there are opportunities to get into that student way of life. Take a class at the university. There are plenty of opportunities to grab a history class and find people who are just as nerdy as you are.

And of course, go online. There are plenty of organizations that cater to the ex-pat community. This might go against the idea of finding Swedish friends, but you’d be surprised. Many organizations (Rotary, Stockholm Meetup for example) are filled with Swedes who lived abroad and want to keep that international connection alive. Many of the ex-pats are married to Swedes, dating Swedes, in love with Swedes and offer a connection that way.

Once you’ve started to identify that special someone. Keep at it. Be the one that makes the move. Nothing wrong with pursuing the friendship. You might find yourself ignored once or twice, but who amongst us hasn’t?

In the end, I found it important to have a mix of friends. Not just Swedes. Not just expats. It was important to have an expat to bitch and moan to about moving to a new country and it was important to have a Swede to expose me to everything Sweden has to offer.

Moving to a new country is difficult enough as it is. There’s the cultural barrier. The language barrier. The new jobs. The new people. Finding friends is an important way to bridge those cultural divides.

And when all else fails. Just get them drunk.

Welcome to Sweden. And finding friends.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Train Adventures in Skåne (Kind Of)

I have, for the most part, had very good experiences with SJ, the train system here in Sweden. They tend to get me where I need to go on time, relatively inexpensive tickets can be found, and it’s a pretty comfortable ride.

Of course, for every rule there is an exception, mine having come way back in December when I headed down south for Christmas. My train adventure in Skåne was a nightmare. I finally made my way back home though.

SJ promised to reimburse everyone who was delayed. They even promised to call each and every person. Unfortunately, I was out of the country when this was going on, but, my phone did show one missed call every day for a week from SJ. I was impressed. By the time I had returned home, SJ had put the money back into my account. Again, I was impressed.

A couple of weeks later, I realized that they had not reimbursed me for the taxi I had to take to get home. We had returned so late that the subways had stopped running. Which makes it tough to get home. The friendly train conductor could not promise anything but said that SJ would most likely pay for the taxi rides as well.

When I noticed that I hadn’t received the compensation, I scanned my receipt, my train ticket, and wrote a quick note to SJ in the third week of January. And kind of forgot about it. About three months’ worth of forgetting about it actually. I would have continued to forget about it had I not received an e-mail from SJ just a few days ago.

They were apologizing once again for the problems on my train trip and would of course reimburse me. So they put the money I had paid out for a taxi right back into my account. It took them about three months, but they did it.

I bitch and moan a lot about Swedish customer service, usually with good reason I think, and great customer service is so rare that I kind of forget about it. The entire process was ridiculously simple, there were no extraneous questions, no multitude of forms to fill, nothing. It took a while, but I didn’t have to do a damn thing and still got paid. SJ got a three month interest free loan of 210 SEK, which I’m sure they put to good use, and I ended up pleased with the end result. A win-win really.

Welcome to Sweden. And SJs customer service.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

An Easter Return from Istanbul

For the first time in over a year, I have managed to get myself in and out of Arlanda airport without any trouble. No one claiming my ticket wasn’t valid. No one mismarking my luggage. No one losing my luggage. No one forgetting to announce delays. Of course, I flew without checking any bags and checked in online eliminating any interaction whatsoever with the actual employees at Arlanda, but I’ll take it.

I escaped to Istanbul for about a week, taking advantage of Sweden’s love of religion and the red days that are Good Friday and Easter Monday. Praise Jesus. Or something like that.

Anyway, I used the Christian celebration to escape to a country that is predominantly not Christian. The call to prayer five times a day from the minarets dotting the skyscape of the city was a poignant reminder of that. And pretty damn impressive when you find yourself on the dilapidated roof of a building around 13:15 surrounded by at least four different mosques.

Within ten minutes of landing, walking towards customs, I saw a child being led around on a leash by an older sister. From the grunting parents following behind, they seemed to be German. It was incredible and I think set a good tone for the whole trip.

Istanbul was a fascinating city, a city which seemed on the brink. On the brink of economic boom on one block. Economic bust on the next. Secularism on one block. Fundamentalism on the next.

A constant cacophony of sounds seemed to create some sort of Istanbulian sound track. The clinking of spoon against tea cup. The honking of taxi drivers. The call to prayer. It all added up to a city that seems to constantly be bustling. Shops open well past midnight, people streaming through the streets, street vendors hawking cheap plastic. It was a far cry from a late night on Drottninggatan. And I want to go back.

In news completely unrelated to Istanbul, I saw flowers a couple of days ago. To most people this might seem rather benign. To anyone who has been anxiously awaiting the arrival of signs of spring in Sweden, this is incredible news.

Welcome to Sweden. And a triumphant return through Arlanda.

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