About the people in Scandinavia

Book

I have just finished reading this book and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more! So, a few lines, according to the author, that best depict these 5 nations. This is not meant to offend anyone:

  • Denmark – they pay the highest taxes in the world, but still, they are the most happy people;
  • Iceland – they really believe that the elves exist (I had read a lot on this when I visited Iceland…);
  • Norway – they have a lot of oil and gas, and prefer to be alone or only with the nature;
  • Finland – it’s almost all about drinking and saunas;
  • Sweden – the most friendly people towards immigration and the most successful in industry.

The author is from England but married a Danish women, with whom he has 2 kids. He knows a lot more about Denmark, obviously, but he has been travelling around the whole region for quite some time. Even though Iceland is not part of the Scandinavia, he felt he could not left them out, since they are Norwegian descendants.

The book is really worth it, if anything, for a good laugh!

Working and social benefits in Sweden

As someone living and working in Sweden, you can expect great and generous benefits:

  • You have flexible working hours;
  • You are allowed to take days or half days off, since you can work more on some days;
  • You are entitled to 25 paid holidays per year (and you can only save 5 days/year for coming years);
  • You can choose your holidays whenever you want, including the 25 days in a row (no questions asked!);
  • Being a parent, you can stay for 16 months with the baby at home – this period can be split between both parents, as they wish;
  • Parental leave is extended until children turns 8;
  • Education is free (yes, even University!);
  • Healthcare at a very low cost for everyone;
  • Dentalcare free until you turn 20;
  • If your sick, you are still getting paid (80% of your salary);
  • Unemployment benefit (also 80% of your salary);
  • If you become unemployed, you have priority towards another candidates getting a job in the same sector;
  • Companies in Sweden strongly advise employees to get unionized;
  • Though retirement age is 65, you can retire as soon as 55 – your pension will be less generous, of course;
  • When you retire, you are entitled to the state pension plus the pension your company has provided for you (if you think this is not enough, you can, however, save for a private fund);
  • The elderly care is surprisingly good – there are services for cleaning, meal delivery, shopping and transportation assistance – just to keep people independent and in their homes as long as possible;
  • You pay a high tax (though not so high as I paid in Portugal – wow!) to assure people can all have these benefits. Although, you don’t pay for social welfare – your company pays!

Regarding these working benefits, each company has a lot more to offer, depending on what’s arranged between itself and the Unions. There’s a lot of benefits for immigrants or refugees (housing benefits, unemployment benefits…), and considering Sweden has 20 % of immigrants, this is quite a high expense. Still, there seems to be money for this and much more. Just because there’s no corruption. Yes, the solution is this simple.

North vs. South

After 3 months living in Sweden, I´ve found enough situations worth mentioning in a post! And I do not wish to offend any Swede 😉

You’ll find out that you can buy almost everything you need at a gas station (from frozen meals – including a selection of vegetarian!), fruit, yoghurts and cakes, to car batteries and other car-related stuff.

You’ll find a quiet environment at your office (no phone calls, no chip chat) and everyone focusing to get things done.

You’ll need to rush on weekends if you have shopping to do, because most of the shops will close at 3 pm! Exactly, 3 pm!

You will be very careful where you park your car (to avoid parking meters, parking fines and most important, to prevent your car from being stuck on snow, once you arrive, a few hours later!)

You will get used to the fact that Swedes do not like to talk with strangers, and avoid the human contact so typical from Southern Europe! Some say they might use the stairs just to avoid conversations while in the lift…

You will have your colleagues laughing at you when you ask them: “What do you use to cook?” – Butter, of course, or liquid margarine”. Olive oil, please! (I am really glad I had 2 big bottles on my container!)

You will find a lot of food that comes out from tubs (sauces, and even cheese and bacon) – this serves a practical purpose – picnicking!

You’ll hardly find small bottles of liquid yoghurts (thank God there’s Lidl here!)

Specially being a Portuguese, you will find odd that you can only find frozen codfish. I am not complaining! In fact, I think I prefer this one, because I do not have to desalt it for almost a week. Still, it’s strange, considering it is mostly fished in Norway and shipped back to Portugal. They could ship some dry codfish for Sweden, as well…

You will get laughed at when you tell you eat at Mediterranean times (dinner between 8 and 9 pm), because most of the Swedes I know have dinner at 5.30, 6 pm, even in Summer, when the Sun doesn’t set! That does not make sense at all, and I will remain in a different time zone. I can do with the lunch at 11.30, but not the dinner at 5.30!

Even though they are a Socialist country, they import a lof of stuff from the USA. You are likely to find here much more fast food chains than in other European countries, but at least, they have their own Swedish chains!

You’ll get used to your car being as if you were rallying every day (due to an interesting mix of snow, gravel and sand).

You will find out soon that if you use 50 letters to write a sentence, you will only pronounce 30. So, why do they use the others? That question remains unanswered…

They are the best non-native English speakers, and you will be grateful for that a lot of times!

Welcome to the land where women are equal to men! Don´t expect a Swede will hold the door for you or get something you left on the floor. This is not Greece! But do not be surprised if a man stays as much time as home as the mother, when the baby is born. And do not wonder when they go alone for a walk in the park with the kids.

You will spend 2/3 of the year looking at the ground as you walk, for fear of falling on the ice. And when you fall, you will carefully look around, and hopefully no one has seen you falling. I don’t know how they do it, but I have never found a Swede falling… And most of them don’t wear studs on the shoes.

And last but not the least, do not be surprised if a public service really works well. This is Sweden. People work efficiently and there is no corruption. Just a quick example why all the mail is delivered so fast: the mail cars have the steering wheel on the right, so that the driver doesn’t have to get out of the car to deliver each mail personally. Look at the amount of time they save!

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And even with all these differences and stuff you might miss from your homecountry, you’ll still love Sweden and Swedes 🙂

Northern Lights

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This post is delayed almost 3 weeks, but I did not have Internet at home by then…

First of all, this picture is courtesy of a friend of mine, so, no credits for me!

For years, I dreamt of making a trip just for the purpose of gazing at the northern lights. I’ve given up this plan several times, because it’s really hard to predict when they will occur, even in a period of great solar activity. We know that Scandinavian skyes are not known for clear nights, specially during Winter, so there are lots of northern lights that simply go on and off without noticing. Luckily, it was not the case this time!

As you might have noticed, there was a severe geomagnetic storm last month, on 17th March, which allowed this and many other amazing pictures. It was specially nice in the (real) North, but considering it was so powerful, it could be spotted all the way up to Hungary, Germany, England and the Netherlands. The KP index, which measures how strong an aurora will be, reached 7 out of 9! With 9, one can simply watch an aurora while standing in the middle of Plaza Mayor, weather and lighting permitting, of course. Unfortunately, that event only happens every 11 years, because it is related to the solar cycle. I cannot complain anymore – I’ve watched these outstanding northern lights from my balcony and I feel such a privileged for living in a place where there isn’t too much light!

One more thing checked off my bucket list 😉