Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Välkommen...please take a number from the machine, & for Christs sake don't try anything without a person number.

Now that I've been living here for a few months, I feel qualified to mention those weird little things about living in Sweden. The transition to the way of life over here has been relatively painless, if a little exasperating at times (see below), however so far, we're taking it all in our stride.
However, I am not naive enough to think that it will always be like this-for instance, I've heard so many horrific stories about crappy Swedish red-tape that I've not even started down the road of registering my right of residence here yet (and consequently, signing up for the language classes also). I have heard it is particularly hard for single mums (like I was until I came here) to register their child with the migration service, as Migrationsverket can never get their heads round the fact that some people just don't have another parent's wishes to take into account, because the other parent doesn't give a toss. I'll get round to it after I can't think of enough excuses not to-for now, I can travel the public transport system, buy top-ups for my phone (and call the automated voice that tells you your balance (and understand the balance) ), buy myself a sandwich (ok, that's cheating, because they are happy to let you order in English in Subway), and I even understand how much my shopping is when the checkout operator says all the numbers. So that's good enough for me for a little while.
Anyway, back to the subject, which is the odd little things that I have observed in Sweden, and nowhere else. The idiosyncracies, if you will. Most of them strange, and/or funny, some ridiculous, & the odd one disgusting. Enjoy.

1/ Let's get this one over with right away. Spitting on the street all the time. Vile! I've even seen women doing it! No matter how rough the part of Edinburgh that I used to live in was, I never saw women doing that there!! Actually, I'm wondering if Grant from Becoming Swedish (fantastic blog) can tell me how to say what he says when he sees that (I can't print it here lol). I'll be forever grateful if you can fill me in, Grant, as somehow I don't think they would tell me that when I get to SFI.

Note: Info now received from grant. Thanks mate :-) Oh, and I have already used it once-to a woman. Bleurgh.

2/ The number ticket system. This is the little machine in many shops and health centres, banks etc, which dispenses little numbered tickets. The object being that when your number comes up, you get served. It's quite good, because it means that no-one can jump the queue, even if they try, because they're not in possession of the relevant number. You do have to remember to take the ticket in the first place though.

3/ The odd habit that Swedes have, of dumping all leftover food in the kitchen sink. I've lost count of the times I have been at my partner's relatives houses, and seen half a pan of leftover spaghetti, or all manner of cruddy mess, clogging up the sink. Just a suggestion guys, but why didn't you just scrape the plates/empty the pans properly into the bin, instead of having to grab handfuls of slimy pasta out of the sink later?

4/ The little old lady's voice that tells bus passengers which street/bus stop they are coming up to next (I've no idea whether this is Sweden-wide, or just happens in this town, by the way). There is also an electronic display on the buses, with the same information displayed. I'm assuming the voice is there for the benefit of blind people, & the display for people who just don't know where they're going. Anyway, I like it, and it gives my boyfriend a good laugh when I do the voice.

5/ The personnummer thing. Like a social insurance number. Only, The Swedes take it to extremes. See, in most countries, this number would only ever be used when you call the tax office, or somewhere similar. However, The Swedes completely abuse the privilege, and use it to control and spy on everything that every citizen ever does here. For instance, I spent quite a lot of money in our local Apoteket the other day (The State-run pharmacy), and the assistant asked me if I wanted to sign up for a loyalty card. I was just about to say yes, when I thought I'd better mention I didn't have a personnummber. Well, that was it. No can do. I mean, seriously-a frickin' loyalty card???? it's not as if I am a criminal who was trying to pay with someone's stolen credit card, and she wanted to check me out. I paid cash, with my own money, and there was no good reason why I should have to tell the assistant my magic bloody number just to get a few kr off my next purchase. But like lemmings, nobody except foreigners ever questions this system. It's just "the way it is".
(Get used to hearing that phrase, by the way).

6/ The big performance which ensues, every times you want to buy something other than groceries in ICA, or a tube of hand cream from the perfume shop. For some reason there seems to be a lot of data and information required from the buyer (not the store), and various bits of paper have to be filled in and passed back & forth between the parties, with much humming & hah-ing, until finally we can depart from the store with the item. Oh for the days of walking into Sainsburys' clothing/electrical department, picking what you want off the shelf/hanger, and marching up to the till with it, the whole process taking 2 minutes.

7/ The price of just about everything in Sweden. From groceries to irons, it's scary. People here are getting diddled, that's for sure. I have spoken to several Swedish people recently, who were completely unaware of this fact, never having been to the UK. We moan that things are expensive in the UK (compared to the USA, for example), but Sweden actually makes the UK look like the USA, if that make sense. The best advice I can give any expat who comes to Sweden, is to travel home with as near to empty cases as you can get them, and fill up with your favourite foods, clothing, and medicines before you come back. You'll probably save the cost of your flight or even more-and you've had a little holiday into the bargain. Nice.

8/ The little motorised yellow carts that the posties ride around on here-it's so civilised. I can always tell when our postie is due to appear, as I hear the whirring of the cart as he or she tootles along (with a safety helmet, of course). Today I was actually standing at our open flat door when the lady came up the stairs, as my sister had sent a parcel for my birthday tomorrow, and today was the last chance it had to come without me being disappointed tomorrow morning. Parcels from home take on a huge importance when you live overseas. I explained to the postie why I was standing there all ready, and she even wished me Happy Birthday. Can anyone imagine the sullen, scruffy average British postie saying that? I think not.

By the way, my parcel came :-)

9/ The laundry system. To some, highly frustrating. To me, I actually love it! Back in the UK, we spent all our time with crispy towels that were like sandpaper after having dried naturally (we didn't have a tumble dryer), and washing cost an absolute fortune. Whereas here, the laundry facilities are included in the rent, so we can wash and dry to our heart's content, and we don't rack up a bill. Actually, our Swedish electricity for the past 3 months, was actually way less than what I paid for ONE MONTH, back home. This is clearly the exception to the "horrendous price of everything" comment I made above. A welcome one, at that! Actually, thinking about it, if they didn't have cheap leccy in Sweden, people would no doubt die, as it's so darned cold in winter!!

The laundry system actually comes with some pretty strict & unspoken rules. The main one being that on no account do you overrun your time, and eat even one minute into the next person's time. The one time that somebody did that to us, I found myself standing there tapping my feet, all the while asking my boyfriend to tell the guilty party in Swedish that we had hot food ready to be served (which we did). She won't be doing THAT again, I can tell you. Laundry rage isn't nice. And besides, WE always stick to the rules!! Rumour has it that someone actually brought out a book, full of the notes that people in Sweden have left for each other in laundry houses (because Swedes don't usually talk to each other, you know)...lol...you gotta love that!

10/ What's not to like about the lady in the local bakery giving you a free kanelbulle, because it's National Kanelbullar (cinnamon buns) day? Couldn't imagine getting say, a free sausage roll from Greggs, our local bakers back home...maybe that was because it was never worth celebrating any of their products? Either that, or they were just apathetic. Anyway, the lady in the bakery put a smile on my face yesterday :-)


  1. Great post! I too share some of my ranting on my blog about this type of stuff, spitting is one thing here in Sweden that is just the pits! Followed second by the ticket system hahahah....

  2. Hi Tim, thanks for the comment! I have other little points which I've thought of since, so I might do another post like this one day. The insane amounts of processed meat that Swedes eat is just one of the things I forgot. Cheers, Julie.

  3. Yeah it is as though there is just a certain system in Sweden and if you do not follow it you are deemed as some type of idiot! A lot of petty things, the shopping experience is one that stands out for me....

    Also there are plenty of contradicting elements that happen, for instance there obsession with recycling? They are mad about separating paper from plastic etc but people on a daily basis are happy to throw all there papers and stuff over the streets and parks? I think the difference is that people here are just paid to pick up others rubbish?

    Its good to see that my observations and opinions are also shared!