Seamus K - Irish tech industry expat living in Sweden.

Tag: sweden (Page 1 of 2)

On Swedish cars, internet grocery shopping, and undertakers…

When I first moved to Sweden one of the things that surprised me was how this enviromentally aware, socially concious country is very very car centric. Out in the ‘burbs most people get around by car. The cities are ringed with retail parks accessible only by car. The average car size here is a lot larger than in Ireland. And the brands are fancier. You hardly notice the big Volvo XCs, or their VW, BMW, Audi equivalents. But then this is a country that makes cars. The rule of thumb is – “Countries that make cars, make them cheap (e.g. UK, Germany, USA). Countries that don’t make cars, make them expensive (e.g. Ireland, Denmark)”. 

Audi in a snowy landscape in front of trees

My first Swedish car- an Audi A6

On arrival in 2015 I bought a second hand Audi A6 2L turbo. Not because I was a petrol head that wanted a big luxury car. But because it was being sold at work, and was very good value. An Irish reader will go – “but what about the insurance?!?!?” And with good reason. If you contacted an insurance company in Ireland, newly arrived in the country, with no driving history for them to assess, and looked for a quote on a “luxury performance” car they would either:

a) laugh hysterically, before refusing outright to give you a quote. Or

b) give you one that would be a multiple of the car’s value, and involve handing over 1-2 of your children, as well as selling a few surplus organs.

Car insurance in Ireland is expensive*. It’s totally different in Sweden. Here the car is insured, not the driver. So my policy (fully comprehensive, and where anyone could drive the car) was about €900/year. Which I felt was pretty reasonable.

As an aside the A6 was a joy to drive on motorways. Not so practical in Swedish suburbs, and very thirsty when you did! It is no more though, and I am a bit more enviromentally sound today.

Back when I started this post in January (I discovered it sitting in my drafts folder) I was not driving. There was one big health related reason for that. And it was May before I got behind the wheel again. That was quite a pain in the arse. The suburbs of Stockholm are a place where things are easier with a car. But this being Sweden,  while a car may make things easier it is not essential. 

The local bus services are good. And the kids and I were able to adapt, even if we had to get up about 30 minutes earlier each day. Flexitime at work, an understanding boss, and remote working meant I could keep my employer happy. In this internet age it is possible to handle many things online. For the few we couldn’t – local friends, and sometimes family helped.

The biggest routine thing that needed to be taken care of was grocery shopping. But of course you can do that online. My usual supermarket is ICA, the largest chain here in Sweden. It works pretty much how you would expect. Order online, specify a delivery time and day, and pay the 99SEK delivery fee (about €9 – how does that compare to other countries)? As I have a loyalty card for them they can see my past purchases and their online site is quick to pre-populate the shopping cart with my usual stuff.

It’s convenient, really helped with my situation, and generally works well. Except when it doesn’t.

On the second order there was a couple of things I thought I had ordered, but figured I must have left them out. It was on the third order, when I checked, that I was sure I had problems. I found I was missing two loaves of bread, and about 1kg of mince (my plan was to make a load of lasagnes for the freezer). It was a little odd they were missed. These are big, and not exactly rare or unusual items. But hey, mistakes happen. I understand that. The real question is how are they handled by the company…

There wasn’t an online way of reporting a problem so I called ICA. They didn’t quibble about the report. They immediately put through a refund. But if I wanted the missing items I had to place another online order, and then call them to look for a refund of the delivery charges. 

Excuse me? They made the mistake. But I was expected to take three steps to get if fixed (as well as making sure I was at home when the replacement delivery turned up). That is not exactly outstanding customer service**. I pointed this out to them and while the CSR was sympathetic there was nothing she could do. This seems like a clear signal to check out their competitors.

MatHem is probably the best known one in the Swedish market. They are a pure play online delivery outfit – only around since about 2010. The expectation would be that an internet only company will have a different and more supportive attitude to their customers? I shall have to see***. 

In the Spring when I could not drive my slightly less enviromentally nasty automobile, I was on the bus all the time. And there is a high chance that is where I picked up (my probable case of) Covid. So I found myself at home, unable to go to the shops. And also unable to use any internet grocery service, as their lead times shot up to 2 weeks once everyone else was at home. What was an infectious person to do?

Fortunately I have good friends. They were able to pick up stuff for me, and drop it to the door. So if the virus would not get me, starvation wouldn’t either. One friend asked his girlfriend to do the drop as she would be working in the area. She left the bags at the door with some treats from her work as well. But you see she works for Fonus, one of the large Swedish funeral chains. 

Which meant that later when people asked me how I was doing I could also tell them that the undertaker has been and left her card and brochure! 🤣

* People are quick to blame the insurance companies for this. They may be making big profits (I don’t know), but I would place the blame at the liability law that allows the claims and the payouts. A different legal framework in Austria and Sweden means the Irish experience is not repeated – and *shock* the roads feel safer! But the Irish legal profession are doing very nicely out of the local system. And they have managed to avoid most of the public anger over “compo culture”.

** In general customer service in Sweden is good. Once you reach a human that is. There are horrible queues to talk to real people on phone support lines. But it is a world away from Austria. There the idea that a customer could make a complaint is met with puzzled confusion. And you can forget any chance of them actually taking some sort of action.

*** Word has it that MatHem is burning through their investors money while they try and make a profit in the online grocery business. I don’t have a problem with getting some VC/TechBros pay to deliver my groceries to me!

[2020 Target: 19/52. 8,034/25,000]

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

What is it like having Covid-19? (I think)

About a week and a half ago I came down with a “flu-like” illness. In Sweden you can only get a test for the coronavirus if you are admitted to hospital, or if you are a healthcare worker. Which means I don’t know for sure if I had the most famous illness in the world at the moment. But on the basis that – if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. I am going to say my temperature, cough, chest pains, and lethargy, on balance of probability, were covid-19. My name is Seamus, this is my story…

No C-19 test cert, no t-shirt!

Don’t worry, I am not going to bore you with all the details. But I started to feel ill around Wednesday the 25th of March. I had a cough, was feeling off, and that evening my temperature started to go up. By Thursday it was at 37.9°C and while that is not too high I had very little energy. Like everyone else I was working from home at the moment, but I told the boss I was just going to rest for a day or two.

As I went into the weekend my temperature continued to climb. It spent most of those days from about 38.6°C to (briefly) 39°C. I had a dry cough, and could feel a pain in my chest. I had almost no energy. I would have breakfast, watch an episode of something on TV and then, exhausted by that much effort, I would sleep on the couch.

Saturday was the point in time where I got worried (and I now know my friends and family were too). I was lucky that the kids had gone to their mother a few days before I started to get sick. That meant I only had to manage myself in the house. But if my temperature got much worse, or I started to have breathing problems then I was very much on my own. And while people in their mid-forties with no underlying medical issues generally do okay with the coronavirus, there are no guarantees.

I had family and friends checking in with me twice a day to make sure I was still responsive. And local friends were told where to find a key outside the house in case I could not be contacted. I was given a quick test to assess if I was having breathing difficulties:

Try and count out loud, from one to thirty, in your native language, without stopping or taking a breath. If you cannot do it, then you should contact a doctor.

My mother the nurse

Saturday was the day where I felt the worst. But it also was the point where I decided in my head I am not going to let this thing beat me. Once I did that it was like a switch was flicked in my head. Physically I was the same, but I felt a little better. And by Sunday night my temperature had started to fall. And after that it was just a slow return to normality. The sweats and chills stopped, my energy and appetite returned, though it was Friday before my temperature dropped below 37°C. Right now it is just the last traces of the cough I need to shift.

Simulating the pandemic

So what next? Well Sweden has become a bit famous for its unique approach to the pandemic. It is hard to tell whether they will test for antibodies in the future. I will probably never know for certain if it was covid-19 I had. And apart from the bragging rights, the more important thing is whether or not I am immune now. I hear there is talk in some countries of identifying those that are, so they can be given immunity certificates, and allowed to leave quarantine. But then the restrictions are relatively light in Sweden anyway. It would be my luck though to be immune and then for them to institute a full lock down…

The biggest question has been how to return to society. I wasn’t really hoping for a party, with a brass band, fireworks, and loads of beer. But some consistency on guidelines would have been nice. The WHO recommends you stay in quarantine for 2 weeks after your symptoms have gone.

Image may contain: possible text that says 'World Health Organization (W... @WHO "People infected with #COVID19 can still infect others after they stop feeling sick, so these measures should continue for at least 2 weeks after symptoms disappear. Visitors should not be allowed until the end of this period. There are more details in WHO's guidance"- e"-@DrTedros 5:00pm 16 Mar 2020 Twitter Web App Replies 3,097 Retweets 3,273 Likes Reply to @WHO @DrTedros'
WHO guidelines

Sweden says 2 days! In the end I have decided to go with the Irish guidelines: 2 weeks from when your symptoms first appear, or 5 days after your temperature returns to normal, whichever is longer. That means that, baring a relapse, I will open my front door, and emerge, pale, blinking, and trembling into the great wide open on Thursday morning.

I am pretty aware that I have had it easy in a lot of ways. I had a shitty few days, but I have had stories of other people my age being floored for several weeks. My friend Conor in Ireland was confined by his family to the playroom for 2 weeks. He was jealous that I had a whole house to myself 🙂

Now that it is pretty much done, I want to say thank you to all the people who helped me get through it. My ex minded the girls when they were supposed to be with me. Friends and family in Sweden and Ireland called me, sent messages and worried about me. It was a pain in the ass sometimes to deal with them when I just wanted to lie down and think about my poor life choices. But I also knew it was a sign people were worried about me and cared for me. That was a huge psychological help. And finally there are the people who made offers to bring me groceries. There were so many I could have had a twice daily delivery if I had wanted. But big thank you to Treasa and Johan, and Mark and Katarina who I did let do a few runs for me. Hopefully I can repay all of you in someway, just without you having to get the bloody virus.

[2020 Target: 7/52. 3,216/25,000]

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Be careful if you marry a Swede…

A long time ago I heard a story about a married couple trying to get a spouse green card in the US. One of them was from the UK so there was a interview process by the immigration authorities to confirm their marriage was real. They talked about the confusion when they were asked (in separate interviews) what floor their apartment was on. One said the first floor. The other the second floor. Because of course in the US the bottom floor is numbered 1, and in most of Europe that is numbered as 0, and the first floor is the one above.

But not in Sweden. They have their own special way of doing this!

Swedish lift panelIn any given building the lift panel will usually have one button that is marked as the floor where people enter and exit the building. Usually with a green ring around it. But god only knows what number that will be! 

This is the lift panel in the building next to my office (my company uses both). The entrance floor isn’t 0 or 1, but er, number 2.

Swedish lift panelMy office building is even stranger. Apparently the entrance is on floor 4!  Because we are on a hill, and there is a lower down slope entrance we do have a floor 3. But can anyone tell me where floors 1 and 2 have gone to?

With this eccentric approach to floor numbering I would be surprised if many Swedes can pass their US immigration interviews 😉Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

The snows comes to Sweden

Last night we had the first proper snow of the season, in Stockholm anyway. 

First snow in Stockholm

Being so close to the sea Stockholm doesn’t get as much snow as the rest of the country. And global warming isn’t helping things either. We usually get some before Christmas, but the serious stuff, that will stay on the ground for days, and the cold that freezes the water for the skaters, really only comes in January and February. 

Away from the balmy south it is a different story though!

 

This was the snow map for the country for yesterday.

Swedish snow 28th November 2019Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Bringing ice to eskimoes

Sweden is the land of white crockery. We were in IKEA yesterday, and I don’t think we saw anything other than plain, brilliant white cups, plates, bowls. and mugs. Which is all nice. But when I saw these beefy, brightly coloured mugs in Dunnes* in Cork I had to have them. 

Mugs from Ireland

They bring a nice bit of cheerful colour to the table. But it does seem a bit funny bringing delph to Sweden.

* Okay I have cheated a little, the jug is from Flying Tiger which I suppose does make it Scandinavian.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Swedish water sports

One thing I have been doing in 2017 is spending more time on the water. I have been out kayaking a bit and I really want to do a lot more. I like the freedom, the simplicity, and the self sufficient nature of it on the overnight trips.

The girls are a little young for it, but we have a local lake, with a canoe club, and a stock of canadian canoes. So down we went today. The girls acquited themselves well.

The problem now is that they are dangling club membership in front of me. Pay about €50 and never have to pay for rentals again. But I haven’t been a canoe club member before. Thats a line I am not sure I can go over…

 Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Goal updates

I guess if I am back posting here the first thing I need to do is explain how things turned out with my great ambition to ice skate loads from back in January. Well this happened:

wrist

My Outdoors group on Meetup said they were going out at a city rink, and would help beginners get on their feet. I ran out. Bought skates. Turned up. And I was doing okay for the first hour. Then I fell clobbered used my hand to break my fall and that was it.

I was in the cast for a month. It came off just in time to go skiing. I returned from skiing on a Saturday. The following day, I was back on the ice with a wrist brace. I made a few trips out, and in the end I did about 12km of skating, but this is a goal that has evaded me. This year. I am determined I will do it next winter.

I found the skating was a great exercise. I have never been a runner/jogger, but this was something I could get into. The views are better, there is a great vibe to getting into a rythym which you feel you can keep up for kilometres. Of course it needs a totally different set of muscles to the ones I have used before. I found my ankles started to get sore after a few hundred metres and occasional stops were needed.

Still, next winter I will do the entire lake. I want to see other parts of Sweden from the frozen water. And as a bonus, the same bindings are used for the ice skates and for cross country skis. I will learn how to do that as well before the snows melt!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Goal #1

I don’t really do “New Year’s Resolutions”. I prefer to pick up and pursue challenges as I go along. It’s a while since I have set myself a good one – something that will take a bit of effort to complete. But here it comes. – the first formal personal goal for the coming year.

The lake in (what I call) our back garden is Norvikken. It’s a decent sized freshwater lake north of Stockholm, about 7km long, and about 400-500m wide. It freezes in winter. And when it does it is supposed to be one of the best skating lakes near the city. The kommune even clear the path all around the outside so there is a 17km distance ice skating track.

Norvikken lake

My goal is to skate the full 17k before the winter is out.

To do this I am going to need to:

  • Learn how to ice skate
  • Get the right distance skating gear (including safety equipment) and get proficient at using it.
  • Find a person/group to do this with (never skate alone)
  • Do it.

I also need the lake to freeze again. It has ice at the moment, but a recent thaw has thinned things quite a bit.

I’ll keep you posted on how things go. The first step should be the easiest. Our little housing development has 2 small playing areas – bigger than basketball courts, smaller than a full astro turf pitch. In the winter they flood them and let the water freeze. This gives a safe skating surface for the kids. Once I get some skates I can go and embarrass myself there. I may need wrist guards, knee pads, a helmet and a dignity hiding bag as well though.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Axel Oxenstierna palace

In Stockholm’s Gamla Stan today I finally managed to track down the Axel Oxenstierna palace. Unless you are a history geek (like me) you wouldn’t know he was “Lord High Chancellor” of Sweden in the 1600s. With  King Gustavus Adolphus he led Sweden into the 30 years war. Without their intervention it probably would only have been the 12 years war.

I have been looking for the house for a while. In amongst the old narrow twisting streets of the old town it was difficult to find, and surprisingly hard to to find the actual address. Some googling last night eventually gave me the address. And as I was in town yesterday I had to get there.

I love finding places like this. Small connections to the past, that are just a little obscure. And it is always more fun to go out specifically to find something with a particular link, than to just read about it on a plaque as you are passing by chance.

 Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Hiking the Sörmlandsleden with a Combat HR Specialist

This week’s Meetup.com hike was a beast. We did 24km, and we did it at a galloping pace covering the distance in about five and a quarters hours, or over 4.5 km an hour. Not bad for sustained walking on rough ground.

routeMy ambition is to start doing some multi-day hikes, and I need to eat healthier,  so I have been experimenting with alternatives to the sandwiches and chocolate I would usually bring. Most people go for sandwiches (Sweden and Ireland). But a few eat hot food. So I thought it was time I brought out my stove for its first use in the wilderness*.

On a previous hike someone showed me their preferred trail recipe – boil water, add a stock cube, stir in a can of tuna. “Yum! No, it’s fine, you can have all of it”.

In the interests of research, and my palate, I went for one of my freeze dried packets. This week it was one I picked up in the US –  Mary Jane’s Farm, Lentils, Rice & Indian Spice. For snacks I had some home made trail mix, and a RawBite bar.

RawBite vs Clif - the one on top is far betterThe RawBite’s are Danish, and made with just nuts and fruit. Compared to Clif Bars, they are cheaper, lighter (50g vs 68), have 15% more calories per gram (213 vs 250 total for each), and most importantly smell and taste much much better! Snack breaks on the walk where half of one, together with a handful of the trailmix washed down with water. Then for lunch out came the JetBoil.

Prepping for lunchI boiled up two cups of water, and one went into the food pouch.  The pouch was paper based (so you can burn it if needed) and had good tear marks. It didn’t have a fill level inside, which is always a plus. And there was no way to seal the bag once the water was in. I folded the top down twice and let is sit for 10 minutes. Then the rest of the water went into a mug to make a cup of tea. Barry’s tea, with real milk. That done, I went back to the Lentils and Rice.

Freeze dried lunchWhen I unrolled the top of the bag I was hit by a wonderful aroma. Lentils and rice are small so don’t suffer from the freeze drying process. Everything had rehydrated nicely, and the texture and taste was good. Very good. Maybe it was my hunger, and the wooded surroundings, but there was no difficulty in eating up every single bite. The spices were just right, giving enough flavour to what could otherwise could have been very bland. But it certainly could not have been called “spicy” (I bring a tiny bottle of tabasco to take care of that if/when needed).

It had cost me $8.66 in REI in Dallas. It was vegan friendly and organic. The stats are:

  • MaryJanes Outpost, freeze dried foodPrice: €7.60
  • Weight: 122g
  • Calories: 435kcal
  • kCal/100g: 356
  • Fat: 1.5g
  • Approx shelf life: 24 months

If it loses out somewhere it is that the calorie value is a low. Most of these meals I have tried are over 550kCal. For that reason it is probably better as a lunch rather than a dinner option.

When I had finished it I was able to drink my tea like a proper gentleman. Prep, cooking, eating, and pack up took about 25 minutes. And it was great to have a hot lunch on a day when the temperature was about 6°C.

One of the nice things about these hikes is the people you meet. Two weeks ago I talked to a digital artist for DICE, who designs foliage for the Battlefield series of games. He spent much of the walk taking research photos. This week there was a release manager for Spotify, and a guy who had just left the British Army where he had worked as a “Combat HR Specialist” in Afghanistan. I bet you didn’t meet anyone as interesting as that today 🙂

* I have used it in parks and campsites before.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

« Older posts

© 2020 www.sliabh.net

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑