November 16, 2007

Daily Life in the Stock

It's been 2 weeks now in Stockholm and I'm getting used to the everyday routine of living here on my own. It hasn't been the easiest, but hopefully I'll feel more adjusted within the next few weeks.

Here are some of my thoughts about living here:

People

My colleagues are super nice and friendly so I really enjoy my work environment. Strangers however, sometimes seem quite cold upon first impressions but they are generally polite and friendly when you talk to them or ask for help. I'm still not used to salespeople in stores because they never greet or even acknowledge customers. They'll even completely ignore you and continue talking to their co-workers while blocking the shelf you're trying to look at. I'm told that this is quite common in Sweden since salespeople find the service industry to be beneath them so they tend to act snobby.

The thing that most surprised though is how pushy people are here. Multiple times, when walking up the escalator or walking along the people mover, people who wanted to walk faster (and everyone who's walked with me knows I'm definitely not a slow walker) would actually push me over the the right just to pass by. Like, what the hell? Who does that? Apparently lots of Swedes. The worst incident was yesterday when I was walking up the escalator and had to stop because there was a woman blocking the path. So I stopped too. But then a hand from behind extended over my should and pushed the woman and she fell over her kids! So then I turned around to the old man and told him he didn't need to push. And then he started to push me aggresively! Seriously, what's wrong with these people? Unbelievable! I wish I turned around and elbowed him in the face or something, but of course I did nothing.

Language

My company enrolled me in a Swedish class so I started learning Swedish last week. It's fun, but it's pretty hard. My teacher is really good but she speaks only Swedish to the class so most of it still sounds like gibberish to me. I did learn some basic things like counting numbers, saying "My name is," "I come from," "I speak English," and so on. The pronunciation is the trickiest because things aren't pronounced the way they're spelled. For example the letter 'K' can sound like 'sh', so "Kina" would be pronounced "sheena", which means China. The city "Göteborg" looks like "gotburg" but it's really pronounced "yur-teh-boray".

The Swedish language is still kind of difficult for me to distinguish (it sounds nothing like the Muppet Chef!), so sometimes I can't really tell if someone is speaking Swedish or not. If I were in a different country and I heard Swedish, I probably wouldn't be able to pinpoint the language. I thought it would be a bit similar to German, but it isn't at all - it's much more soft and melodic. Also, everybody here speaks English (and they don't sound like the IKEA guy) so I'm never forced to bust out my phrasebook.

Shopping

This place is freaking expensive! From the prices I've seen, many things are 2-3 times more expensive than back home. The most outrageous price I've seen was a puny head of iceberg lettuce for almost $8 yesterday!!! I almost dropped dead. I went shopping for running shoes since I couldn't find any sizes in the States or styles in Canada, and a simple pair of Adidas costed $200. Body Shop body butters were $30-$40 and books were double the price of the Canadian prices. On the streets in Stockholm, everyone sports a Canada Goose jacket, and even back home those cost a pretty penny, but here they seriously cost over $900!!! The most confusing thing is that full-time salaries are equivalent to those in Canada, but people here pay more income tax and sales tax and high living costs so I'm so confused how people can actually afford everything!

Fortunately, the prices at IKEA are cheaper than in Canada so I've already made 2 shopping trips there :) They also have a nice line of shower products and lotions so now I know where to go instead of the Body Shop!

Food

I still haven't actually eaten out at a real restaurant since it's quite expensive. Pretty depressing huh? I've eaten a tiny plate of rice and chicken at IKEA that cost me over $10, and a food court meal, which also cost $10. Lunch time is when the best deals are to be had. That's when restaurants have fixed-price menus called Dagens Rätt offering salad, bread, entrée and a drink. I went to one place for lunch that had a huge selection of pizzas and I chose one called La Banana, which had curry, pineapple, banana, and ham. Sounded really unique and it tasted really good! The rest of the time I make myself dinner and lunch but It's usually boring stuff. I really miss good Chinese food. I did find a Chinese grocery store yesterday and bought some sauces and noodles... but... I don't know how to make anything yet :S

Flatmates

It's only been a week in my new place and already I've gotten quite annoyed with the 2 other women I live with: one is the landlady and the other is a Swedish woman and they're both middle-aged. My landlady is really nice and sweet but she's imposed some rules like no friends or visitors and no alcohol. There was a third rule I found out after I bought a package of spare ribs: no pork. She's muslim so she doesn't want pork around and made me return it to the store. I was pretty angry about that because I thought it was wrong for her to impose her own dietary restrictions on me. But being the softie that I am, I returned the ribs (surprisingly you can return meat...?) She's also been moving my stuff around in the kitchen and bathroom and comes into my room when I'm not home (and my door is kept shut all the time), so I had to speak to her about that.

As for the other woman, I had only met her over the weekend... sort of. She had gone travelling when I moved in and had returned on Tuesday. Her bedroom door was open and the light was on so when I passed by the door I looked in, but there was an old half-naked woman standing around! Yuck! That was awkward so I didn't say anything. The next day after returning to my building from work, the woman held the elevator door for me to go upstairs. I tried saying hi but she ignored me, so I thought she didn't realize I was living in the same place as her. But when we both got off on the same floor and she left the apartment door open for me after going in, it was obvious she knew who I was. Then I watched her take off her dirty shoes and throw them right onto my house slippers! That peeved me off but I didn't say anything. Later on when the landlady introduced us I said hi and smiled at her, but all she did was just look at me with a blank stare. No smile, no 'hi', nothing. Hmph, rude. The next day after coming home I saw her shoes on top of my slippers AGAIN. I wanted to say something to her but I didn't really see her come out of her room that night. So this morning I purposely put my slippers away to the side, pushed my two pairs of shoes together to the side of the shoe rack and made sure she had lots of space on the rack. But when I came home after work, there was an empty space on the rack and the woman's shoes were dumped onto BOTH my pairs of shoes!!!! *huff* I don't know what's wrong with this woman, but I was so mad I threw her shoes off of mine and off the rack. I still didn't see her tonight but I'm making sure I speak to her tomorrow.

Fortunately for me the Swedish woman is moving out in 2 weeks and the landlady is moving out end of December. There's a German girl my age coming in next month. Caaaan't wait.

Posted by mich at 3:14 PM | dreams [1]

November 12, 2007

Gamla Stan

I explored central Stockholm for the first time over the weekend and now I'm enchanted. I was a bit nervous to finally go into the city because I had such high expectations of it and I was afraid of being let down. Fortunately, I like what I see so far!

Everyone who visits Stockholm heads to Gamla Stan island first, which is the old town and the original part of the city. It's full of wonderful medieval architecture, has a labyrinth of winding cobbled streets lined with shops and cafes, and is home to the royal palace and the Nobel Museum. I spent about 4 hours walking around and probably didn't even cover half the stuff to see. It was -1 degrees, which didn't feel to bad in the beginning but walking by the waterfront you get blasts of biting wind so it was pretty brutal. I stumbled upon Tyska Kyrkan, which is the German church and the oldest German Protestant church in the world, so I'm told. The church grounds were milling with people and kids checking out the bazaar going on that weekend and there were stands for buying cider and fresh waffles. I ate a nice hot waffle to warm me up, and then found another building that was part of the church that was selling Christmas handicrafts and pastries. I decided to rest for a bit in the dining hall and warm up with my yummy apple cake and tea while reading more on the area and writing postcards. All rejuvinated, I found the Nobel museum but I had missed the last English tour of the day and instead checked out the huge royal palace.

By 3:30pm it was already dark and I considered hopping on the metro from the island but I saw everyone walking towards the central city on a pedestrian road. It turned out that this road was Drottninggatan (Queen's Street), which is the famous pedestrian street lined with shops and department stores. It was a great walk, especially at night with all the colourful lights, but I had to stop in a store every other minute because I was so freezing cold!

I can't wait to walk around in the springtime when the weather is warmer and the sun is out until 11pm. For now, I'll need to bust out my boots and arctic jacket.

Posted by mich at 7:24 AM | dreams [0]

November 7, 2007

First Week in Stockholm

After six days of arriving in Stockholm, I've already moved. So basically my first week here was spent unpacking, then packing, and then unpacking again! I'm now in Näckrosen so I'm now only 10 min away from downtown by metro. The flat is much better furnished and my room is really nice. I've got a bunk bed with a sofa underneath it, tv, dresser, desk and wireless internet - all these things I didn't have at my previous place. I can't describe how nice it is to sleep on a real bed and on a pillow that's not a pillowcase stuffed with sweaters.

I finished a week of work already at Tilgin. My office is in the area considered as the Silicon Valley of Europe. My company is actually located right next to Microsoft and Adobe. I'm not sure whether it's my company in particular or just the general work environment here but it seems really laid back. I haven't even been shown how our applications work. Instead my manager's written up a bunch of docs describing job functions, software life cycle processes, etc. and instead of having me just take an hour reading them over myself (they're extremely straightforward), he spent a total of 4 hours reading each line with me and describing things in even more detail. It was pretty boring to say the least! At my last few jobs I was just basically thrown into the project and and just left to figure things on my own. Here, it's quite the opposite.

Can't really describe more about work, so on to the office space. It's really nice and it's got the IKEA look with all hardwood flooring and blond birch furniture. Some office rooms have frosted glass that are used for writing on like a whiteboard, and it's pretty cute to see all backward writing on the windows. There's a nice homey feel as well since all of us share an office with 3 other colleagues so it's open concept but private as well. Instead of stairwells separated from the space, we have stairs in the middle of the office going through 4 floors. All the desks have a button underneath to raise or lower it. The odd thing is I find a lot of people raise it high in order to stand while working. The kitchen sitting area has a cafe look to it and the kitchen has a whole wall tiled by microwave, fridge and freezer doors. It looks pretty neat! Since the water here is super clean, everyone drinks water from the tap. The kitchen sinks have two separate faucets for drinking water: one for plain water, and the other for bubbly water (I know Christian would be so jealous!) We get fruit baskets twice a week, which I absolutely love. Now I just get all my fruit intake at work :) I guess a healthy lifestyle is pretty important here because my company also subsidizes for gym memberships and any other sports activities we want to take up. I heard badminton's really popular here so I'm trying to find a good badminton club to join.

My co-workers are very friendly, but it's hard to remember 100+ peoples' names (and even harder to pronounce many of them.) One guy has a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey on his wall next to a Swedish team jersey. And another co-worker's wife is actually from Richmond Hill! Small world :P Every Wednesday a handful of people play innebandy (floor ball) during lunch time at a nearby gym. It's the same idea as floor hockey, but the ball is super light and bouncy so it's much faster paced. The goals are also about 1/4 the size of a regular hockey net. Another indication of the laid back nature of the people here is that they'll take 1.5 hours to play and shower, but then come back to the office to take their lunch break! Even before I arrived, the company already sent invites for the Christmas party and just a few days ago they sent out information for a ski trip they planned in April! They really love to have fun :P

Posted by mich at 7:01 PM | dreams [0]

Hej from Stockholm

Here I am in Stockholm. It’s been 4 days now and I still haven’t seen the city yet. I’m living in the suburbs 20 minutes away from downtown by metro and I’ve just stayed in my area trying to settle in since I arrived on Saturday evening.

At the airport before my departure I just didn’t want to go anymore. My flight over was miserable and depressing and I had no appetite when they served us meals at 1am and 6am. I had a 3-hour stopover in Warsaw, where I became hungry and thirsty with no Polish money and so utterly bored because there was absolutely nothing to see or do at the terminal. The place actually kind of reminded me of the airport in Beijing – both felt as if it had been frozen in time in the 70s.

Flying into Stockholm lifted my spirits a little as I saw the lights from above. It was so pretty, you could see the contours of all the islands… it reminded me of glitter scattered a in a curving, swirling pattern. The first thing I noticed when I landed was the piles of snow on the runway! It had snowed the night before, but it was all melting. Lugging my two overweight suitcases from the airport to the apartment was a struggle to say the least. When I couldn’t find elevators I was forced to take my luggage two sets of long escalators down to the trains. I seriously thought I’d topple over with them, but I was able to manage an efficient method… it was still pretty scary though.

Travelling from the airport I had these first impressions: people here are pretty stylish, it’s quite multicultural, it’s not as clean as I expected (quite a bit of litter), and there’s TONS of graffiti all over the place, even worse than Montreal if you can believe that. Can’t really say much else since I haven’t been to the central city yet, but hopefully soon!

My apartment is in Akalla, at the end of one of the metro lines. It’s right next to the metro station and 3 supermarkets, and it’s a 7-minute walk to my workplace. The place has 2 bedrooms and living room housing 4 people, and I have the huge living room. Tons of space, but unfortunately I’ve got barely anything to fill it up. I’ve even got a private balcony which would be really nice in the summer. However, it’s very sparsely furnished so it feels quite barren, and the only thing separating my room from the rest of the flat is a curtain. Not bad, but it’d be nice to have a desk and a real bed (I’m currently sleeping on a futon that caves in the middle when I lie on it), but that’ll change hopefully. Still don’t have internet at home so I feel quite disconnected.

On my first day here I did some grocery shopping downstairs. Food’s pretty expensive in Stockholm but not as bad as I expected. Cashiers don’t help you bag anything and if you use their plastic or paper bags, you have to purchase them along with your grocery items. Next I checked out a big mall in Kista (pronounced shista). I love how Swedes love hardwood flooring – they had it at the airport and the mall food court. There were 3 coffee stands scattered throughout the mall but the sitting area for those areas looked more like café lounges with plush sofas and chic tables and chairs – and they all had hardwood floors for their space :P My final stop was… IKEA! It was so incredibly busy and I had a mini spree shopping for a few necessities: hangers, laundry basket, storage containers, and an alarm clock. The alarm clock was an unfortunate purchase. Since it’s a windup clock it tick-tocks really fast and LOUD that I had trouble falling asleep that night. Then I was awoken in the middle of the night and couldn’t fall back asleep from the ticking. I stuffed it under my bed to muffle the sound, but it didn’t really help. To top it all off, the alarm never rang in the morning so I woke up only 15 minutes before I had to leave for work the next morning. Argh! Luckily I got a super sweet Sony Ericsson phone from work so I’m now using that as my alarm. I’ll give a summary of my workplace after the end of the week. Oh, and back to IKEA – they don’t have the equivalent of the $1 breakfasts that they do back home!!! The food at the IKEA restaurant was quite expensive, while their products are about the same price or cheaper than Canada.

ikea_entrance.JPG ikea_dinner.JPG

Many people have been wondering why as a Canadian I’d want to come live in Sweden. “Why trade snow for more snow?” they ask. Personally I love having seasons, and I couldn’t live somewhere that’s warm all year round and especially not somewhere that rains instead of snows during the winter. The thing I’d have a hard time adjusting to is the daylight hours. The sun here sets at 3:30pm and I think it sets at 2pm in December. The funniest looks I get are when people find out I’m not a hockey fan and I don’t drink coffee (apparently Swedes drink the most coffee per capita in the world after the Finns.)

I never had the chance to write about my last week before I left so I’ll do it now. In short, it was filled with gatherings: farewell dinner with friends at Fred’s Not Here, my last good Chinese restaurant dinner with relatives, a yummy dinner cooked by chef Wen San at her brand new condo, lunch with the March Entertainment crew at Penelope’s, and having my last amazing Utopia shrimp burrito with Eyal. I also played my last floor hockey game with my beloved team and I got to end my season with a sweet goal :P

I miss everyone back home but I’m so happy to get all the emails and messages from people! Send me your mailing addresses if you want a postcard or snail mail, you know how I love writing letters!

Posted by mich at 4:40 PM | dreams [0]