The Importance of Eves

The day right before a big holiday,
Is a very important one for Swedes.
That’s when the party gets underway,
And the next day is what a Swede needs.
Because of the usual hangover,
From the party the evening before,
A Swede needs a day to recover.
That’s what the holiday is, nothing more.

My Name is Not Gven

Living, as I do, in Sweden.
I’ve often heard and often seen,
That Swedes don’t care,
Or aren’t aware,
That V and W are different.
Whilst seeking out a library book,
After a long and thorough look,
One may find that one,
Can locate none,
Of Wordsworth, Wells, or Whitman.
Try going back one letter, please.
They’re probably within the Vs,
Right next to Verne,
Since Swedes don’t discern,
There are two different consonants.

Wilting in the Dark

Every year you say to yourself,
This year will be different.
I won’t let the darkness get to me.
But this darkness is not metaphorical.
It’s very real and very physical.
It surrounds you, oppresses you,
And you can only hold out for so long.
Eventually, it gets inside you.
It suffocates your sanity,
And smothers your joy.
You feel yourself withering away,
Like a sun-starved plant,
Wilting in the dark.

Pieces of Paper: How to be Unemployed in Sweden

I’ve already posted one or two poems about bureaucracy in Sweden, which were inspired by the process I’ve been undergoing since losing my job a few months ago. Well, I’m starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I haven’t gotten there yet but things are definitely getting brighter.

It’s important to keep in mind that this a country obsessed with paperwork, and I literally mean paper that one writes on with a pen. Occasionally, one encounters an “online form,” but it’s the kind that one fills in online, then prints out, signs, puts into an envelope and then into a mailbox, which defeats the whole purpose of filling in the form online.

Allow me to familiarize you with the process of getting employment benefits, and how many Pieces of Paper are involved. On the first day I was officially unemployed I went to the employment office with an Employer Certificate (piece of paper #1) from my former employer, where I registered myself as unemployed and seeking work. They gave me something they call a Treatment Plan (piece of paper #2) which is a list of mostly useless suggestions for how to get a job. They then notified my unemployment agency, which sent me an application form (piece of paper #3) to fill in.

The unemployment agency advised me to register for their online service, as it somewhat streamlines the process of getting the money. Kudos to them as it does actually work pretty well. However, you’d think they could email me my password like everyone else does, but apparently this had to be sent by paper mail (piece of paper #4) so I spent a few days waiting for it to arrive.

Before the unemployment agency could make a decision, I had to submit a Cash Card detailing the days and hours I actually worked and the same for which I was unemployed. Miraculously, this is actually a form that one fills in and submits online. Therefore it’s technically not a piece of paper, though it would have been in the past, hence the old-fashioned name of Cash Card. At least they’ve managed to bring this part of process into the 21st century.

At one point I sent them a message asking if I could just scan and email documents to them since I figured this could save both paper and time. They responded that they needed paper copies. I guess they can only be sure of the authenticity of a document if they have a physical paper copy, since we all know how difficult it is to fake paper documents.

Anyway, I sent them the application, along with copies of the Employer Certificate and Treatment Plan. I got my password in the mail, and filled in and submitted the online Cash Card. A few days later I got my Decision Letter (piece of paper #5) in the mail informing me that I’ve been processed and approved to receive benefits. I just needed to contact the bank that pays out the money and let them know where to send it. As it turns out the bank that does this is my bank, so they said the money should just show up in my account. Sweet.

But wait there’s more…

When I found out how much they’re actually giving me, I thought the amount seemed rather low. Employment is supposed to be 80% of your original salary, so I did some checking and discovered that the unemployment agency has an income cap of about $2,800 per month, which means they’ll pay benefits for up to that amount. It doesn’t matter if you made $2,000 or $10,000 per month, the amount is the same. Furthermore, they’ll give you only 80% of that amount, so if you receive the maximum amount of benefits we’re talking only $2,200 gross. On top of that, they deduct 30% for taxes, which would leave you with $1,550 net.

That’s where income insurance comes in, which I got through the Teacher’s Union. Since the amount that unemployment actually pays out is so pitifully low, my income insurance will pay the remainder of the 80% of my original salary, and that amount will be tax free. I spoke to them on the phone and they said they’d send me an application form (piece of paper #6) and which I’ll fill in and send back to them, along with a copy of my Decision Letter.

Joyful, isn’t it? I’ve now gone all the way through the unemployment process but have just begun the insurance process. Also, my situation is a little more complicated due to the fact that I’m taking a Swedish course. Normally, you’re not qualified to receive benefits while studying, but as long as it’s part time (less than 50%) you can still get unemployment. It just requires more Forms, Certificates, and Pieces of Paper.

Observations: Swedish Customs

I’ve been living in Sweden for almost seven years so I’m pretty well assimilated by now. Naturally, there are a few things that still bother me, but I’ve gotten used to them. I’ve written previously about Systembolaget (the “System Company”…uh..yeah) Sweden’s outdated monolithic alcohol monopoly, but it’s certainly not unique to Sweden. With the notable exception of Denmark, all Nordic countries, including Iceland, have their own alcohol monopolies. Parts of Canada have similar systems in place as well. For all its flaws, it’s really not that bad. It has a huge variety of fermented grain and grape-based beverages. When my mom and grandmother and cousin came to visit me last year from the States, oh how they marveled at Systembolaget. They thought it was fantastic!

Anyway, this is more of an observation than a complaint, but one Swedish custom that I find kind of weird is the practice of saying congratulations to someone when it’s their birthday. Where I come from (America) the word congratulations is used when someone achieves something truly great or commendable, such as having a baby, or graduating from college, or getting promoted at work. Having a birthday is not really commendable unless you consider having lived another year to be a worthwhile achievement. When someone says congratulations to me when it’s my birthday I always say thank you, but I feel like saying, “For what? I haven’t done anything important. I just survived.”

Nothing special about that.

WOTD: smörgåstårta

Today’s word literally means “sandwich cake” in Swedish. I have seen it translated as “savory tart” though, which to me sounds like a naughty woman.

This cake-like concoction, popular throughout Scandinavia, is comprised of layers of white sandwich bread, mayonnaise or some other spread, ham or shrimp and cucumber slices. It’s a popular fika dish here in Sweden. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of fika for Swedes. The word means coffee but it’s much more than just coffee. It’s like tea in the UK: a big deal and a whole meal.

Anyway, we were served this after today’s conference at work. Even though I’ve lived in Sweden for more than five years, this was actually the first time I’d ever had the opportunity to try this delicacy. Despite the popularity of the dish, I must say that it’s definitely not one of my favorite things to eat. Well, it’s not exactly awful, but the idea of a savory “cake” made out of white bread and mayonnaise just seems somehow wrong.

The one I tried had smoked salmon and shrimp and there was crushed pineapple between the slices of bread. I thought it was a bit weird.

Here's a picture of one made with shrimp, egg and caviar.

WOTD: Ascension

Today is Ascension Day or Kristihimmelfärdsdag (Christ-Heaven-Lift-Day) as it’s called here in Sweden. According to the New Testament this was the day when Jesus made his bodily ascent to heaven, which took place 40 days after the resurrection. So it’s a religious holiday and a “red day,” which in Sweden refers to a day on which one doesn’t have to work but for which one still gets paid. Sweet.

Such days are highlighted in Swedish calendars with red ink, and thus they have come to be known as “red” days.

Sweden is a funny place in many respects, and by funny I mean slightly odd. In most countries, religious holidays are times for family get-togethers, visits to churches and cemeteries, and moments of quiet reflection. Here in Sweden the major holidays of the year: Christmas, Easter, and Midsummer, are always celebrated on their “eves.” I used to wonder why but I have it figured out now.

The day before any religious holiday or red day is considered an acceptable time to get totally and embarrassingly shitfaced, so the actual day can be used as a hangover recovery day. Practical. Logical. Typically Swedish.

Bye for now…