Cultural Learnings Of… Swedish IKEA!

It has only taken me 3 months but today I visited that most Swedish of institutions… IKEA*!

So this one is like IKEA big time, a MASSIVE store over about 17 thousand levels**. Since I am now Volvo-less I had to catch the train out there, who ever heard of catching a train to IKEA? So i made my way out there and it was AWESOME! Today was a bit special, all the moons aligned

  • It is the end of the month, everyone has just been paid
  • It is a rainy afternoon
  • and its saturday

So it was a MADHOUSE, or indeed a Swedish madhouse, which means it was lots of people moving around in a fairly even, semi ordered manner. Come on, this IS Sweden after all. You know how they have that "one path" through IKEA and you all thought it was so they made you walk past the most merchandise possible? WRONG, your not thinking Swedish enough, you have to be ordered, one in, one out and we can all see everything. In computer science its called a "hamiltonian path" and i love it! Everytime I enter a store I want to see the most things possible in the shortest distance, and when i go to IKEA, they have done it for me!

So i went in there and bought ALL KINDS OF CRAP, it was great, a wok, coffee plunger, cheese slicer, saucepans, towels, its great. IKEA has a reputation al over the world as a "low cost brand" which is strange for Australians because when we go into IKEA at home, the stuff is nice but its not THAT cheap, but somehow, we still all associate it with being cheap. It all comes from right here because in Sweden, it is kinda cheap. Sure they have all kinds of trendy stuff but for every item you can want, be it a towel or a bed sheet or a photo frame or a spatula, they ALWAYS have a model which is dirt cheap and still quite ok. Thats the spirit behind IKEA and really the Swedish way, let everyone have something atleast half decent, its not a bad way to be.

So heres all my new junk, see how this is a yellow bag? The yellow ones are the ones they have in store for your use and the blue ones are the ones you an buy. Firstly I bought 4 of the suckers, you can NEVER have enough IKEA bags, secondly next time I go to IKEA I’m going to work out a way to pinch one of the yellow ones. Oh yeah, im going to be so cool.

* If you want to sound like a Swede, pronounce it "E-KIA" in aussie
** maybe a slight over estimation but not by much

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Cultural Learnings Of… Working In Sweden

So whats it like working in Sweden? AWESOME, is the answer!

A small photo gallery of my office

I work for a consulting company in the city, meaning they hire us and then we get pimped out to our clients to do work for them. My company is great, they really look after you, as you can see from the photos, its like some kind of brochure inside… and then just wait till its filled with good looking Swedish professionals all walking around with sharp suits and handsfree mobile cords hanging from their ears. Its a very motivating environment and they seem to like I am the madman aussie who comes in to jump around alot and has as many bright ideas as he can.

I like doing business with Swedes, they tend to bring their cultural habits to the table, I find it easy to talk with them and come to an agreement. They are generally quite opened minded, they sit and listen to what you have to say and for the most part are quite rational about the way they do things. Having understanding people around you makes things so much easier, when I interviewed with the current big boss of my department, he was the first employer ever to really care about my outside activities. He seemed to understand that all my travels and cultural learnings and acting and everything can make me a far more well rounded consultant. Thats one thing every Estonian says about Estonia, basically you have a good chance of your boss being a c**t. Thats one thing I dont get, how long does it take for an employer to realise that you cant rule over someone with fear. I thought the russians would have taught them that. Ooohh take that one.

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Cultural Learnings Of… Midsummers

Check out the new photos from the weekend

So, what is this midsummers holiday thing we dont have in Australia? See up here, the days get much looonger in the summer, not quite fully white but still quite nice even at middnight. That means also the days are much shorter in winter but never mind that. So the longest day of the year, thats a big event up north for all scandos and baltic nations as well. In Estonia its called Jaanipäev or "St Johns Day".  You can also hear it referred to as "Victory Day", not missing a chance to beat their patriotic chest, this was almost the day they booted out the Germans in 1939 and started the first time of independance so WHY NOT stick them together. Ill drink a vodka to that.

So to celebrate this I REALLY wanted to be all traditional and go out into the countryside. So my lovely friends arranged for us to go down to their friends family country house which is right down in the south east of Estonia, so close you can smell the Latvians infact. So down to Tartu for the night to see Siggy off and then hop a ride about another 90km downwards again.

And it was a really lovely evening. It was myself, 2 Italian, 1 Spanish and the entire extended family of these Estonians, it was great. I introduced myself to the old people in Estonian but everyone else spoke really great English to us and then we cooked up heaps of BBQ and drank Albert Le. Coqs finest as we all chatted the night away.

There are lots of traditions around midsummer, one is that you have to jump over the fire, another is you have to find some special flowers or something in the forrest and when you put them under your pillow you will see the face of your love. However as it turns out by the time you go and look for these flowers in the forest you are already pretty drunk anyway so the only thing you find is that tree stump you just tripped over. but come on, its great times and its tops to be out in the country away from everything.

I will say this though, when we got back to tallinn the next day, it sure did feel like being back in civilisation however. So thats midsummers Estonian style, they do it with tradition and class out in the countryside, I dig it alot.

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Cultural Learnings Of… Estonian Gümnaasium Graduations

On friday, Sigrid and I went back to Nõo High School to see our mates, Jordan and Taavi graduate. High School graduation is a pretty big thing there, everyone is dressed up in their formal clothes and the ceremony goes for ages, every student gets a clap and the school hall is over flowing with people, they even have it projected onto a big screen outside so everyone can see. I know back in Australia all we want to do is down the free champagne, get our certificate and get out of dodge as fast as possible.

It was absolutely great to be there for this afternoon. Nõo is about 20 km outside of Tartu in the kind of countryside and it was a gorgeous sunny day and everyone was so happy, Im pretty sure I was the only foreigner there and it was a top surprise for the guys when I showed up. Afterwards it was traditional estonian travel back to town.. hitchhiking.

Myself and Taavi out the front of Nõo Kool.

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Cultural Learnings Of… The Systembolaget

Finally, ive worked up enough material for a blog! Time to celebrate with a drink! Oh wait, I cant go to the booze store today, its sunday.. which leads me to the topic of my discussion

Thats right! The Systembolaget which literally translates to "The System Company" and its the only booze store in Sweden. And the government runs it. Thats right, you heard me. You can still buy in bars and licensed establishments of course but if you want to buy some grog for home, when inside Sweden, you have to buy it from the SystemBolaget.

Apparently it all started around 1766 when king Adolf Fredick  (clearly from this act he is the greatest Swedish leader since "rockin" Gustav established tartu university) abolished all laws on the sale of alcohol. Good show! By about 1800 Swedes had become some of the biggest piss heads in Europe. I bet they had wild parties back then. Sauna, good looking swedish girls and guys, heaps of cheap booze, I bet it was an awesome time. However by 1850 some stick in the mud decided to try a system whereby booze was no longer sold for profit and controlled by the government. "It will lower crime" they said. "family problems will end" they said. "swedes will just become smarter about when they buy booze" they said. Actually no, i said the last one. Only a cynic would think that the government wanted to control all alcohol sales so they could whack their across the board 17% sales tax on everything and control the market for themselves. Oh no, will somebody please think of the children.

So what they told us was that the Swedish government was trying to get rid of this….

when actually i think they were trying to get more of this

Never mind the historical inaccuracies that neither the mobile phone, nor modern day swedish kronor were around in 1800. Hey its all I got when I searched for "drunk swedes" on google images. It was that or a picture of a drunk moose. I dont even know who that guy is, but he wins the Patrick Tangye lookalike award, both for facial hair and method of consuming booze.

So skip forward several centuries into present day, generally high prices Sweden. Most stores now close by 6pm weeknights and if your luck 7pm on friday and saturdays. Oh and dont even think about Sunday, they are all shut. Public holidays too. I live right in the center of stockholm and I wouldnt even think about buying booze after midday on Saturday, after this time there are LINE UPS out the door and they have to EMPLOY A BOUNCER at the door. Nope sorry mate, your shoes arnt shiny enough to buy booze today, move along.

There are advantages to the SystemBolaget however! They buy the alcohol for ALL OF SWEDEN, meaning they get some killer discounts on bulk buying. Also you can get alot of different types of wines and beer from around the world. You can even get VB if you go to the right store. They also apply a standard 17% tax on ALL items, meaning your cheapo Boris Yelstin straight from potato farm vodka is expensive, your exclusive single malt whiskey goodness does come in quite under international standards. Also apparently, because they need to be impartial, of you go and ask for a minimum number of cases, they are obliged to order in WHATEVER booze you want. Thats pretty sweet.

So theres a problem however, the EU isnt really jiggy with this scheme. see in many other countries, they have a FINE TRADITION of booze drinking. Lets say your in…. GERMANY and they have been hassling the crap out of you all day asking as many questions as they can and putting a blitzkrieg on your ass, you can go to the only place open, the service station and get a six pack of germanys finest full strength beer to ease the pain. Thats right, its like medicine.  SO ANYWAY, the EU is trying to sort Sweden out on this one. Firstly they FORCED sweden to allow citizens to privately import their own stuff and now they are making an all out assult on the SystemBolaget using free trade laws as their ammunition. Go Brussels Go! if I were an EU citizen I would vote for you. Oh wait, EU citizens dont really vote on the EU government… but thats a cultural learning for another time.

So, if you want an insight into Swedish Culture, then you have to watch this video. Get this, the SystemBolaget (ie, the government) made it, to try and show their side of the story, that indeed, controlling everyones alcohol intake and holding their nicely manicured hands is infact a good thing, they made this video, thats right. Check it out. everything you need to know is in this 5 minute clip. Unfortunately theres no YouTube so you’ll have to click

The Greatest Swedish Video EVER MADE

So thats SystemBolaget. If I were a kick ass Freakanomics Economist, Id be able to prove all the other great effects it has had on society. Like say the Tallink company, whos Baltic boats would not be filled full of rowdy middle aged Swedish women looking for cheap booze and aussie guys to corner without the Systembolaget.

I make this joke to every Swede I meet. I say "you know, the Systembolaget has proven its worth, it has cured me of my alcoholism!" and I laugh and then they laugh and say "oh right, so thats good then!". WRONG. I liked my alcoholism, I was having a good time, I dont want it to go away but by crickey your making it harder. Which reminds me, Im all out of Ashai beers… which are  a premium Japanese brand sold in Australia but here are cheaper on the shelves than VB. Now thats gold for Sweden I say.

Cultural Learnings Of… Life In Sweden

So its now something like week 6 here in Sweden and its a rainy sunday morning so time to fill you in on whats been happening here. The more observant amongst you may have noticed I havnt blogged much of late, coming back to my idea that if you dont have anything interesting to blog well then… you shouldnt be blogging. Its not its bad, just that Iam now some sort of regular respectable, functioning member of society with a proper fulltime job, leaving me with precious little opportunity to get up to some craziness.

I was delighted this week to be teaching again for the first time in 6 months, I had a captive audience of 15 who HAD to sit and listen to me for 4 days straight. I think computer programming is, at the best of times, fairly freaking boring to listen to in class so I try and spice it all up a bit and as a result my students now know all about eurotrip, the volvo and what it takes to get from estonia to latvia to stockholm when you are a poor confused boy away from home. Somewhere in the middle of me telling stories all day long my students claimed they learnt something about programming but I doubt it, they were just being polite.

So speaking of polite, Ive been trying to come to grips with socially blending into Swedish society because here, there are some guides you need to follow, or atleast everyone was telling me. So heres one cultural learning… Swedes dont like to be cut off mid sentence, thats considered rude to not let someone finish their thought. Oh crap, it seems like I must have insulted my class all week long. You all know me, Ive got a lot to say and only a small amount of time to say it, so If I have worked out the meaning of your sentence ive already moved onto the next thought… and the next thought… so youd better try and keep up. I tried, I really did to listen to everything they had to say but still I found myself doing it automatically, Id jump into the middle of their thought.

The next cultural learning is Swedes open mindedness. If you look throughout the ages and right up to the present day, Swedes are very open people, tolerant of others and have always done really nice things like allow lots of immigrants in to their country, a bunch of nice guys. This means my new friend from Iraq who sells me a hot dog each afternoon always has a story to tell me, or walking out of Tele2 the other afternoon I came across a bunch of guys playing cricket in the car park to which I spoke up

"CRICKET! Alright, So where are you guys from"
"We are from India"
"India, Awesome! Im an aussie, lets play world series cricket!"

and I had an awesome time having a bat and a bowl with these dudes. So the point of this was I love Swedens immigration policy, mixing is great and adds to both a culture and an economy.

HOWEVER… this tolerance means you have to keep it all politically correct, everyone is welcome here, we dont want to make a big fuss or annoy anyone… so swedes tend to stay away from the cultural sterotypes and dont really joke about such things…

and what is Louis Zezerans number one topic to make jokes about? Oh yes, you, drunken dancing Boris and the polish guy who just stole your wallet all know the answer, its cultural stereotypes! So not completely realising this, I start my training course with jokes and references to about 3 different cultures to which someone just remarked later "oh my, you are brave"…so yes at first the swedes didnt quite know what to make of me but then they warmed to me, and who wouldnt and everything was just fine.

And thats a great point, for all these cultural learnings Im learning about and then realising ive broken each of them so far, Swedes are very tolerant and realise im just an over excited aussie guy and I really dont mean they any offense, Im just here to make everyone laugh and spread a bit of aussie energy about the place.

Next weekend is midsummer which is the biggest holiday all year for scandos, the longest day of the year. Its quite strange and wonderful to experience the white nights up here, the sun does set but its always quite light outside and even at middnight theres a bright blue patch at the horizon. Come 2am the sun is right back up and and your off and ready to go. I was going to wonder around taking lots of photos for you today but its rainy, so next time. Im off to estonia for midsummer on the weekend and then in July I have 3 weeks off also. Not sure what to do, there will be atleast 2 weeks in estonia for sure but else? Dont know.. Im north, im close to all kinds of interesting places. Ive always wanted to see Kiev or Kalliningrad.. you know Kalliningrad? its that small Russian bit which is not part of the rest of Russia, on the Baltic sea between Poland and Lith… but for now a few camera photos of Swedish life.

A cloudy afternoon looking from the window of my training room in Stockholm central

Ive taken to snapping randoms when im out on my bike. Not content to wait for the snow again, this old mate has land skiis. It looks awesome, I want a pair!

Finally, one to warm my heart, in a scene which wouldnt be out of place in Romania, this Volvo has been in a fairly intense rear ender and had its front punched in…. BUT NO PROBLEMS, Just DRAW ON the number plate and it keeps on going. Hello Sweden!

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One More Time From Dancing Boris

Boris my old friend whom I never met, you are gold, gold gold gold. I cant help but think of all the questions Id ask him if he were still with us, Id grab two bottles of vodka, a freezer of good ice and record the whole thing. Heres an actual Boris quote when being interviewed by a British journalist.

Journalist: "So, President Yeltsin, how would
you describe the state of the Russian
economy in one word?"

Yeltsin: "Good".

Journalist: "Okay then Mr President, perhaps
you would describe it in more than one word?"

Yeltsin: "Ah, in that case – not good."

Updates coming soon, Ive been teaching all week and even for me theres a limit to the amount of utter crap which I can come up with. I do like my company however, the last two nights Ive been out on it with company sponsored booze. Good show old chap.

Cultural Learnings Of… Swedish Police

SWEDISH POLICE! Buggers! Where ice T when you need him man? Ok heres how the story begins..

I got my new bike yesterday and its FANTASTIC, super light, super smooth gears, feels great to ride. So I got up this morning and headed off into the glorious Stockholm sunshine, its fabulous, warm sunshine, getting out of the city center into some greener suburbs, good times. Heres a blurry photo

So Im heading back home through the city, "iPod of Invincibility" on as usual and i duck in and out of some cars, though an intersection, regular everyday stuff I used to do to dodge the traffic in Sydney, no car, not even a 2 ton Volvo worries me. So just as Im getting over the last bridge to my apartment I hear a siren behind me and up pulls the coppers in their big van! 3 of these guys get out, sweden’s finest no doubt and hit me up. After agreeing to do the discussion in English i get told "you know you went through 2 red lights there?"

RED LIGHTS? ON A BIKE?? DONT YOU GUYS HAVE ANYTHING BETTER TO DO? Oh yeah we are in Sweden so the answer is no.

The officer asks me if I know what I did. No way, I was just riding maaaan, dont break my jive officer friendly but hes having none of my stupid tactics. He informs me that in this country, running a red light on a bike is 1500 SEK PER LIGHT and i just copped 2.

So now Im faced with a choice here, how am I going to play this one? I start into a classic australian "yeahyeahnahnahyeahnahnahnahyeah office its all good, hey relax guy" but hes not buying it. I wonder if I can use the "im poor, please dont fine me, how will i pay for dinner" routine but then I look down at my quite obviously straight off the shop floor bike and realise that aint going to fly. I try a sob story instead, oh i just come to your country, you dont want me to think bad, its not like this in australia, its been hard, this is just another blow, but I then realise this isnt Romania anymore and these guys arnt buying it either. I then try the getting stroppy approach but as you can imagine, this has about as much luck as my previous efforts. THEN I try some "good cop, bad cop" routine on myself, I apologise if I got a bit emotional just then, I thank him for his understanding and he agrees to knock it down to only 1 red light fine. Ok, this is progress! So I ask him to point out the two red lights and the second one is right in front of the house and its not even a red light.. sort of, I did ride through it technically but only so I could get through the curb to my front door… and through all of this the guy was professional and very nice to me… you nice prick! ooohhhh why couldnt you be a bastard so Id have someone to hate. So he realised I had him on the second light which wasnt really such a violation anyway, so its now one fine of 1500SEK. Yeah thats 250AUD. You heard me.

So now I accept im getting the fine realising I cant be bothered dealing with the Swedish court system and since hes writing it all out the deal is done so I start asking him some more questions… "So whats going to happen if I just skip Sweden and never pay it? eh eh!". He informs me that eventually it will get back to the Australian embassy and maybe Ill be denied entry again not only to Sweden but to other Scandivanian countries also. Good thing Estonia is still only a Scanivanian country by culture and not formally…. hmmm although it would be pretty bad ass to say I am a fugitive in Sweden and I cant enter the country again. Im on the run from the law! You’ll never take me alive cordial and polite swedish copper!

You can add this to the 800SEK I owe the road authority because I mailed back the registration papers for eurotank 12 DAYS LATE.

So I understand one could easily read this article and think I dont like Sweden, I do! Im sitting in my new room right next to central station, I have a water view, I like my job and ive got a new bike. Im just pretty sure theres no Lenin statues hanging around here. More photos of Swedish life later but heres the view from my bedroom window

Scandinavian Nights

It has just gone middnight and I can still see light on the horizon, its amazing. At street level its dark but look up and its like sunset tried to finish but just couldn’t. Usually I come home tired as a very tired person and fall alseep but with the excitement of tomorrow im wide awake and realising what it means to be in a Scandinavian summer. Its still a few weeks away from midsummer too so the nights still have some further length in them, which is great news because…

Tomorrow I am both moving into town AND picking up my new bike. The room is right in the middle of town next to central and the bike is FANTASTIC, some kick ass SPECIALIZED model which was reduced by 4000 sek.. how could I refuse? Exactly, theres no way my visa card could refuse. Pics of both new things coming tomorrow.

Maybe Im awake because im sober… perish the thought.