Monday, March 30, 2015

Silence @Sweden

Every week, a new Swede takes over the country's official Twitter account @sweden. It's a glorious social experiment that is largely uncensored. The account just celebrated three years last month. That's over 150 Swedes who have spoken for the country. Every week is a little bit different, but they can usually be placed in two categories: those who talk about fika and meatballs and those who talk about not talking about fika and meatballs. This past week was someone who talked about not talking about fika and meatballs. So edgy. So different. So predictable.

The curator, that's what Sweden calls them, curators, had had an entertaining week with some entertaining and interesting posts. Mostly proving how not stereotypically Swedish he was, but still, entertaining. But he really stepped up his game on his last evening as @sweden. Philip Wildenstam tweeted out the cartoon depiction of Muhammad as a roundabout dog by Lars Vilks. Like I said, so edgy. So different. But not predictable.

There have been some questionable tweets by the curators. A couple of years ago, one curator was accused of anti-Semitism. But, despite claims that Sweden stifles freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, all those freedoms, the tweets live on and @sweden is represented by a host of Swedes. And then that Vilks picture happened.

Of course, Vilks is the guy who has dealt with several murder attempts due to his depiction of Muhammad. Most recently in Copenhagen. He's currently being followed by bodyguards everywhere he goes and recently said to Expressen "Jag kommer aldrig hem igen. It's over."

Was it censorship? Nope. The Swede who took over the account after Wildenstam sent a few tweets, had a bio up at Curators of Sweden, and was ramping up for a week of tweets. And then something happened. She disappeared. No more tweeting and no more already extant tweets. Gone. Poof. Instead, Sweden was left with this:

It's the first time in years that the account has been quiet. But it's not quiet because someone broke the rules or because Sweden hates freedom. In fact, according to SVT and Expressen, it's quiet because the woman who had taken over after Wildenstam was so nervous of being attached to the cartoon by Vilks that she chose to leave the account. This even after Svenska institutet chose to delete the tweet in question. SI specifically stated that no one broke any rules.

That's especially true because Wildenstam claims the cartoon was tweeted out in context. A context that focused on freedom of the press. There's probably some sort of irony in there somewhere. I don't do irony. Obviously.

So why does this matter? It matters because there's an ongoing discussion throughout Europe after the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the #jesuischarlie movement that popped up across social media. There's an ongoing discussion about what freedom of speech means. There's an ongoing discussion about the consequences of allowing all forms of speech and of not allowing all forms of speech. There's an ongoing discussion about the ways in which everyday life has changed in Europe after Paris and Copenhagen (although that discussion was short-lived or non-existent after the terrorist attack in Oslo and Utøya island back in 2011. Probably just a coincidence though.)

But it also matters because there's a lot of misinformation floating around. The @sweden thread was filled with accusations of censorship and rumors. For an account that has been so incredibly media savvy, groundbreaking, and damn cool, it was a surprisingly awkward way of handling the situation. Aside from the tweet above, there's been nothing in English to explain the sudden inactivity. And that's not good, because for an account that aims to reach non-Swedes, the Swedish language is a bit of a barrier. Which leaves over 83 000 @sweden followers staying tuned. For something.

Welcome to Sweden. And Twitter silence.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Peer Pressure, Pictures, and the Swedish Periphery

I climbed down the stairs from the back of the plane. The sun was shining, it was cold, but not Arctic Circle cold. Except it was. I was north of the Arctic Circle. As I walked across the tarmac, careful to not get sucked into a jet engine, I noticed people stopping. They pulled out their cameras and their phones and their tripods. And they stopped. I slowed down, looking around. Was their something worth photographing? A moose loose perhaps? Or a bear on a tear? Perhaps a fox wearing socks? Instead, I saw a plane. The same plane I had flown in on. Trees. The same trees that I had flown over. And snow. The same snow that had been blackened by the exhaust. And the smell of exhaust hung heavy. It smelled of diesel and travel. That didn’t stop people from posing in front of the plane, from taking selfies. From taking groupies (Samir and Viktor would be so proud). From taking pictures.

I am not a good photographer. I get nervous and embarrassed and rush the process. I hate taking up space, stopping, being seen seeing something. So I rely heavily on other people, watch them take a photo, and then stand in the exact same spot and try to take the exact same picture. It’s probably a sort of plagiarism. Except that mine usually end up out of focus and off kilter. I kept walking, but slowly now. My strides shortening, wondering if I was missing out on something. Was this a thing? Taking pictures upon landing? I reached for my phone, pulled it out, considered stopping and joining the crowds. The pressure to conform is heavy. Maybe they knew something I didn’t. Instead, I just texted my friend. Made it.

Turns out this is a thing. At least a thing in Kiruna. My friend, living there for the year with support from the same grant as me, travels in and out of that airport regularly. And there’s always someone taking a picture at the airport. Maybe it’s the northern latitude. There aren’t a whole lot of people living so far north. Maybe it’s the appeal of the margins. The periphery where few people have ever been. A thing to take back home and say look, look at where I’ve been. The outskirts of civilization as we pretend to know it. Ignoring, of course, the history that has endured so far north.

Those doors remained closed to the likes of me.
You can't just wander through the Ice Hotel.
There’s plenty to take pictures of in and around Kiruna. There are the flat forests slowed by the short growing season. There are the dog-sled crossing signs (fun fact, the Sámi used reindeer to pull their sleds, not dogs. Dogs are relatively new as a form of transportation.). There is the mine rising above the landscape casting a shadow over the city and reminding people of its presence with nightly blasts. There is the Aurora Borealis part of the year. There are the folks traveling through town on kick sleds. There are historic buildings that are set to be moved, or destroyed. There is the Ice Hotel. And the Ice Bar. And the Ice Church. And the Ice Throne. And the Ice Sculptures. There are old wooden churches and newer wooden churches. There are works of art, everywhere.

And I took plenty of pictures. Bad ones. But pictures. They’ll sit on my computer in a folder and pop up every now and again when my computer tries to sleep, my screensaver reminding me of the places I’ve been. The places I’ll go.

There is also an airport. It is small, nondescript, and filled with tourists heading to the Ice Hotel. There will not be a picture of an airport on my computer screen. I resisted the crowds. I’m my own man.

Welcome to Sweden. And peer pressure.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Swedish Relationship Advice

After a breakup a couple of years ago, a friend took me out for a drink. She was in a relationship (and is now engaged. Woo.) and was ready to offer me some dating advice. She didn’t have much of it, but it was good advice. Never send unsolicited dick pics. It’s advice I didn’t need, but advice that I have followed nonetheless. No one wants to see that.

But lots of people still want to see pics. Especially ones that show folks in various stages of undress. Of course, consenting adults do consenting things sometimes. That’s fine. But those pics get tricky. On your computer? On your phone? At home? That’s your thing. It’s private, it’s personal, it’s yours. There’s a time and a place for pics and just because your phone might be private when you’re sitting on our couch, doesn’t mean your phone is private when you’re out and about.

The kid was sitting on the bus. He was in the seat in front of me. I had walked right past him, climbed into my seat, sat down, swung my backpack onto my lap, and begun my commute. Phone out, he was staring intently. It was one of those big phones, with a screen that screams, look at me! So I looked. Cute woman. Maybe 19, 20. She was playing with her cat in a short video. He scrolled past the video. Snapchat photos appeared. Short little messages. Hearts drawn over the picture. Cute. I went back to staring out the window. The resting commuter face of boredom and apathy.

I glanced down at my neighbor again. The young woman had, in a relatively short time, removed her pants and begun dancing, while filming herself in the mirror. Now there were two of her. The amount of clothing between her and her reflection was probably not enough to cover one of my legs. And she danced and danced. And he watched and watched. And then he flipped to the next message. This one just a picture.

Fifteen seconds hadn’t even passed, but at this point, I was feeling uncomfortable, embarrassed, and incredibly creepy. So I turned my attention to the cityscape chugging by. Soon enough I’d be on the subway. Soon enough I could bury my uncomfortableness in the silence of the subway. Soon enough years of American prudishness could melt into the blue seats of the subway car. A minute closer to the subway station and, in what can only be termed one of the most lopsided trades since Patrick Roy was unloaded to the Colorado Avalanche, the dude snapped a selfie, wrote a short note, and replied. Thankfully, he did not remove his pants on the bus so that he too could dance provocatively while filming himself.

They were both old enough to be legal. Which, being Sweden, means you’re barely a teenager, but still, legal. They seemed to be doing this because they wanted to. That’s fine. Consenting adults in a relationship. Whatever keeps the magic alive. But some things are best left at home. In the privacy of your bedroom. Or kitchen. Or living room. Or really anywhere you are that isn’t described as public. Like public transportation.

Welcome to Sweden. And another piece of dating advice. Don’t look at your partner’s pics on public transportation.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Moving to Sweden - Most Common Jobs and Salaries

Sometimes when I get bored, I start searching for answers to life’s burning questions. Why am I here? What did I do to deserve this? Who is Luke’s father? Why does my eyeball make a clicking sound late at night? You know, normal, everyday questions.

Then, having exhausted Google, I usually end up trying to answer questions I get about moving to Sweden. Half the time, I don’t have any idea what the answer is. And by half the time I mean all the time. Lately, I’ve had a lot of people asking me about moving to Sweden. Mostly about housing, but sometimes about cost of living, salaries, money stuff.

I’ve been working as a graduate student for several years now and haven’t had a job in Sweden since 2010. Not being an active member of the Swedish workforce got me thinking though. What does a member of the Swedish workforce actually make?

That’s not an easy question to answer, obviously. There are a lot of jobs to choose from. Luckily Sweden tracks everything. Everything. So with a little help from Statistiska centralbyrån, I was able to identify the top 30 most common occupations in all of Sweden as of 2013, the most recent year for statistics. It’s an interesting list that even breaks things down by gender. Fun fact, 99% of carpenters and joiners are men. That’s a solid 47,455 men. But 93% of assistant nurses and hospital ward assistants. That’s 162 840 women.

Finding out the most common occupations in Sweden is fun, but a wise man once said “Show me the money.” I’m joking. He wasn’t wise. He was kind of a dick. And he was in a terrible movie. Anyway, if you’re going to work, you deserve to be paid. Turns out though that if you’re a woman, you’re probably not going to be paid as much as your male counterparts. Of the 30 most common jobs, women earn more than men in four of them. Only one job has an equal monthly salary and nine have salaries in which men only make 1 000 SEK per month more than women. This isn’t a post about gender equality in the workforce or the wage gap. That’s a thing that exists. We know that. It is interesting to note though that for the 1 169 684 women in the top 30 jobs in Sweden, the average monthly salary is 27 830 SEK. There are only 769 808 men in those same jobs and they are pulling in a cool 29 333 SEK per month.

There's plenty of fun information in the chart below, but it is really just meant to give you an idea about general salaries in Sweden. It’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into if you get a job offer, whether it’s because you want to negotiate a better salary or just budget a bit before your move. Because I was interested in the top jobs and the average salaries, I pulled from a few different queries and so the spreadsheet below is a static image of information you can find on SCB:

Most Common Swedish Occupations as of 2013 with Average Monthly Salaries
Click to enlarge.

I’ve included SCB’s own translations above, but included the occupation code in case you want to change the parameters of your search. There’s plenty you can do, although most of it is in Swedish. Want to search by occupation title (in Swedish)? Want to search by region, sector, occupation code, gender (in Swedish)?

Welcome to Sweden. And working all night and working all day to pay the bills you have to pay.

Looking for more information about moving to Sweden? Check out the rest of the series below:

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 – Cost of Living
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana

Monday, March 16, 2015

Avoid Your Neighbors Like a Swede

I have attained near-native fluency in avoidance tactics. It’s a skill, really. One that can be learned quickly, but takes years to master. Just like Pong.

But here in Stockholm, every day on public transportation gives you a chance to practice your craft. Thank goodness for cell phones, newspapers, books, even fingernails. There’s always something to stare at rather than looking awkwardly to the side so as not to make eye contact with the person in the seat across from you.

The Peephole: A Swedes best friend.
Use it liberally.
Of course, you have to get through your apartment first. There could be, gasp, people in the hallways. That’s what the peephole is for. Not to see who might be knocking on your door, but to see if there is anyone at all out in the hallway.

Sometimes though, despite your best efforts, someone will pop out of nowhere. This is awkward. You have a few options. Ignore them. Nod and say hello. Or make terrible Swedish small talk about the weather as you walk out together.

If you choose option three make sure that you do not ask them anything that could lead to friendship. Stick to the weather. Maybe Melodifestivalen if the season is right. You could even get away with asking about vacation. Not necessarily details, but just that you’re looking forward to it. Because it’s Sweden, no matter what time of the year it is, you’ll be getting close to some vacation.

There’s a small chance that the person you’re making small talk with will be going the same direction as you. Maybe even to the subway. It could be even worse if that person is taking the subway in the same direction. Small talk can only go a couple of ways at that point: big talk or awkward silence talk. That’s why you’ll need a back-up plan.

It’s a lesson that a friend learned the hard way as she found herself walking out of her apartment with a neighbor. Making small talk. That’s when it hit her; they were going the same direction. She thought fast though and told an eensy-weensy lie. She turned down a different street. Did she need to turn? Well, need is such a hard word to define. She needed to turn if she wanted to avoid talking to the neighbor. But she didn’t need to turn to get where she was ultimately going. You be the judge.

It’s a good move. Take a different route. If you do this though, make sure to walk slowly. Give the person some time to pull away. There’s no need to hurry and end up meeting them further on down the road.

If you want to put even more distance between you and your terrible, horrible, no good, very bad neighbor, just lie to them. Oh no! I forgot something at home. I’ll have to run back. Have a nice day! And then run back to your apartment and count to one hundred. They should be gone by now.

Or maybe as you were walking you realized you forgot your lunch. Better pop into the local grocery store to pick something up. Or find a different errand that you just have to run. Stamps maybe. Or a pedicure at 7:30am on a Monday morning. Whatever it takes. Just not coffee. Chances are your neighbor likes coffee. Then you’d have to invite your neighbor, they’d have to say yes or no, there’d be some hemming and hawing, and suddenly you’re stuck at a café waiting for coffee with this person. Once inside the nail salon or grocery store, count to 100. Or treat yourself to a lovely mani-pedi. You earned it.

If all else fails, just look them straight in the eye, raise your eyebrows in fear, and run away.

Welcome to Sweden. And blending in with the locals.

Friday, March 13, 2015

All the (Swedish) News That’s Fit to Print

I don’t pretend to be a journalist. In case you were wondering, what you’ve been reading is not journalism. It’s just some 30-(ish)-year old white dude on the internet. I know, we’re a rare breed with few forums to speak our mind.

Even when I write about current events, it is not journalism. It’s my analysis, my rant, my bad jokes. There is no reporting here. So in that respect, I’m kind of like The Local. That was mean, I’m sorry. They try hard. And they actually do some reporting now!

Lately though, checking sources has been on my mind. Partly because of my research. I hate having to track down information because someone didn’t cite a book or article properly. Pet peeve. So I diligently check my citations and the citations of people I might be quoting in my work. Sometimes I just want to trust people though. That's why I head to the internet. Where information goes to be free and is fact-checked by the masses. Sharing! Crowd-sourcing! It's foolproof.

A year ago, the popular (and free) daily newspaper that is ubiquitous on Stockholm public transportation, Metro, came out with a site aimed specifically at proofing for the fools. They started checking the claims of viral stories on social media. Viralgranskaren is there so you don’t share that article from The Onion that might just be true like “John Boehner Calls For National Guard To Deal With Illegal Immigrants Hiding In Mexico.” It’s not true.

It's strangely comforting to know that plenty of Swedes fall for the satirical news sites and that it's not just the stereotypical slack-jawed 'Merican sitting in sweatpants with potato chip crumbs all over the bed.

Of course, there are also the sites that aren't satirical, but present themselves as the harbingers of truth. Like the (surprisingly) numerous blogs in English that purport to provide the world with the real Swedish news in English. Or the sites that give you the real story that the mainstream media just won't report because it's too real.

Real. When someone has to tell me upfront that they have the real news, that they know the real story, the real truth, I think they might be full of real shit. Especially when I start clicking on the links they cite and am met with sites that, according to the Swedish Media Council publish “racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic content.” That's a different kind of real. But it's not news. News is hard though. It's hard to define and it's almost always coming with some sort of position. From cable to state-run to the dude on the internet. They all have an opinion. Sometimes those opinions end up pretty hateful though.

Just like Viralgranskaren, there are folks trying to warn readers off from some of these sites. In other not-news, quite a while ago Politism posted a list of eight sites under the title "Racist sites you don't want to accidentally share on Facebook." They openly admit to having an agenda that leans left (how far to the left probably depends on your political beliefs). This isn't unheard of. Plenty of those racist sites warn their readers off from DN, SVD, Aftonbladet, Expressen, SR, SVT because of their perceived leftist bent, usually citing the statistic that there is a surprisingly high number of Miljöpartiet supporters in the media compared to the general population. There's probably a discussion to be had about hypocrisy, speech, expression and so on, but Politism did what they did because they believe that those sites share too much vitriol.

Now vitriol on the internet is no shocker. Just read the comments of nearly any YouTube video. Or follow prominent women on Twitter and see the kind of bile that people spew. It does not make for pleasant reading. What worries me is when that vitriol is presented as news and then consumed as news. It’s not news. Just like this isn’t news. This is my opinion. My analysis. My curation of sources.

You’ll notice I’m not linking to, or even naming, any of these sites because censorship. Whatever. It’s my blog. And that’s part of the point. This is not news. This is my opinion. You want to read hate? It’s not hard to find. You want to read feel-good lovey-dovey? It's not hard to find. But don’t pretend that it’s the only news. The real news.

Looking for Swedish news in English? Check out Radio Sweden or, I know, I know, The Local. Those sites that promise you that they have no political affiliation but then spew hatred about immigrants taking over Sweden? The ones that take a defensive tone from the start as if they have something to prove? Or the ones that rile you up because you just can’t believe someone could actually say THAT about vaccines? They might not be the best place to start.

Welcome to Sweden. I wrote this while sitting in a bed covered in potato chip crumbs while wearing orange sweats that I‘ve owned since I was 15. The internet allows me to publish this. Be smart out there.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Lost and Found Swedish Style

Pacifiers. Scarves. Earmuffs. Reflectors. Lonesome gloves. Boots. Shoes. ‘Tis the season to be finding these things on the Swedish ground as the snow melts. I know, because I have a habit of staring at the ground when I walk. It results in me finding a lot of pennies. Lots and lots of pennies.

But if you ever walk around in Sweden, you don’t need to be staring at the ground to notice all of the lost and forgotten remnants of people who have passed the very ground you’re standing on. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if it’s March and the snow is melting or June and the sun is high in the sky. No no. Because if you walk around in Sweden, you’ll start to notice something peculiar. Little lost and founds popping up in odd places. Fence posts. Retaining walls. Windowsills. Trees.

That's a pacifier, hanging from a tree in a
Swedish forest. Did you lose it?
Or know who did?
There is a habit in this country to find things on the ground, pick them up, and place them somewhere visible to all. Find a pacifier on a path in the woods? Just hang it from a tree. The child who lost it will probably be by again to find it. Or at least the child’s representative. Notice a lost shoe? Just pick it up and place it on the nearest retaining wall. Is that a glove? Put it on the nearest fence post. Fence posts get cold too, you know.

It’s all very cute, really. These little lost and founds. They’re so personal. So individual. As if the child who lost the pacifier will be able to tell their representative exactly where they threw it away in a fit of rage because they weren’t allowed to shove the pacifier in the dog’s mouth. Said representative will then retrace their steps, look about and think, oh no, I’ll never find a pacifier in the middle of the forest. It’s like trying to find a pacifier in a forest! But some kind soul will have hung the pacifier from the tree. Crisis averted. The child is happy. The child’s representative is happy. All is right with the world. There’s a lot that needs to go right to find that pacifier. But at least it’s hanging there, just in case.

Lest I be too judgmental, I should note that I have done this more times than I care to admit. I’ve even been a part of a larger group that recently did just this. Five of us. A lost earmuff. Twenty steps from the front door of our friend’s home. Did we return the earmuff? No. Of course not. Instead, we placed it gently, visibly even, on the fence pillar and continued walking.

It’s a spectacular way of doing something without actually doing something. I can go home and think, well, at least I didn’t just leave it there. I didn’t just ignore it. I made a difference. But probably not.

Welcome to Sweden. And the lost and found.