Posts Tagged ‘expat’

 Today I had the accidental experience of attending Göteborgsvarvet, which is apparently “the world’s largest half marathon.” As a (former) half-marathoner, I am surprised I didn’t know this was the home of the world’s largest half! I should have had an inkling something was up when I saw a Swedish acquaintance’s Facebook post saying she was off to “toe the line.” It also suddenly makes the choice of our last book club selection make sense.

It was called “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.” I thought someone in the group must be a runner, or maybe all of them since I hadn’t actually met them in person yet. Otherwise, it seemed an odd choice for anyone who isn’t really into running. Even as a runner, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it but it was meant to be my first meeting with the group so I downloaded the Nook version. Turns out, I didn’t make it to book club, and I still haven’t finished the book. A bit anticlimactic after hearing of the main character’s actual death in the hills of New Mexico on a training run as I was just 10 days into reading it. Always a buzz kill when you know the end of the story.

My second clue came when the tram driver made an announcement. The stops are announced by automated voice so when the driver speaks, you know something’s up whether you can understand them or not. Turns out he was announcing that the tram would turn around at Centralstationen instead of continuing as normal. No biggie though, it was only one stop before my intended one so just a bit of a walk. After walking a couple minutes I saw the blocked roads, crowd and… runners! My heart did a skip. As much as I hated running, I also loved it. And I miss it.

But I digress…

So, the above was actually the second happy accident of the day. The first was at the local  Saturday outdoor market. It’s the typical sort of place where you find clothes, electronics, produce, etc. I was struggling a bit at the butcher though because the young assistant didn’t speak English at all, I didn’t speak his native language (Farsi, I presume), and obviously I’m still working on my Swedish. I’m not even sure how much of that he knew.

Anyway, after a few minutes, a lovely woman with Caribbean-accented English began to help me understand the cuts of meat they had, helped me pick one out for my stew, and even made sure I had a proper recipe in mind. She asked where I was from, then told me she was from Jamaica. She was sweet, and fairly representative of people you meet. Particularly those who are from somewhere else themselves. I guess they remember when they were new too. I didn’t want to let her go. I wanted to ask where she lived and what was her phone number, but at the risk of sounding like a crazy American, I let her slip away quietly into the crowd.

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WARNING: This post may contain information that certain people–specifically men–find difficult to read. I will be discussing “women-stuff,” but I do hope you can get beyond any squeamishness and appreciate the overarching healthcare topic.

If you are also a Facebook friend then you may recall a post I made directly on Facebook regarding a proactive invitation by the Swedish healthcare system for me to obtain a PAP smear. If not, here’s the text of that message: Say what you want about socialized medicine, but I’ve been an official resident in Sweden for less than 3 weeks and I’ve already been pre-scheduled for a cancer screening/PAP test. The cost is 100kr (less than $15). I wasn’t expecting this, they just sent me a letter welcoming me and stating women between 23 and 60 should have it done. They already set up the appointment should I choose to accept it. America – listen up, you could learn a lesson here. But people fuss about the so-called Obama Care. Not trying to say that’s the best answer either, but it’s a step in trying to provide for the citizens of a country. God forbid a country actually try to take care of its people. You might actually help create and sustain a healthy, active population. We wouldn’t want that now, would we?

So, today was appointment day, and I want to share the experience with you. Don’t worry, I won’t be too graphic but it may be TMI for some of you. If you are easily offended by body parts or functions, or the like; you can stop reading now.

My appointment time was at 13:30 at the local branch of Västra Götalandsregionen. There are dozens of branches throughout the region, this one happens to be closest to where I live, and also functions as one the after-hours clinics. Due to the proximity, I was assigned to this location but I have the freedom to choose any other location I prefer. At this point, they’re all the same to me so I stuck with it. I actually don’t even need the PAP since I had one done just before leaving home, but I figured I may as well go and get myself into the system. Plus, I wanted to inquire about birth control pills. Oddly, when they sent the appointment for the PAP, they advise that if you want to discuss anything else, such as obtaining BCP, you have to schedule that separately. I had tried calling to schedule that too since the supply I brought with me will run out in 2 months, but I couldn’t get through, or rather, was frustrated by not knowing what the AVR was saying.

Anyway, I walked out my door to the tram stop, rode about 5 minutes, and walked 3 minutes (if that) to the clinic. Since this is one of the primary care clinics they have wards for Gynecology, children, men, minor emergency, etc. The front desk directed me to the Gyno area in the back. There was no additional reception back there, she said since they were expecting me they would just come out and call me at my appointed time. There were 3 people ahead of me in the waiting area. The ladies from the back came and went a time or two making announcements in Swedish. I don’t think they ever actually called my name but once I was the only one sitting there, I knew the next one out was coming for me. She introduced herself as a midwife.

The clinic itself is bare bones, not so modern in appearance. The atmosphere was a bit reminiscent of the hospital from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, albeit (thankfully) without Nurse Ratchett. My midwife was a stern-looking woman but she had good humor. She helped me fill out the simple form, which was only in Swedish and then showed me a diagram of the vagina (pronounced, vah-geena) and depicted how she would collect the cell sample. A woman of my age has been through this many times but I was fascinated just the same. I went behind the curtain and disrobed from the waist down, thankfully no stupid paper gown required. Seriously, whose modesty are they pretending to protect with those things anyway?

I hopped into the 19th century chair and got cozy in the leg supports. I call them supports because they were long, padded braces, unlike the stirrups that you prop your feet in at home. My legs always shook when I got in those things. I was SO glad to see, they do not use the good ‘ole ducklips from back home. Man I hate those things! Instead, she had a more simple medical-grade metal “bar” sorta shaped like an elongated S but not quite that curvy. I don’t think she lubed me up first but it wasn’t uncomfortable. She explained the procedure as she dabbed down here, now I’ll dab up there. I never felt a thing. Wonderful! Was always so uncomfortable with the ducklips, lube and all.


The Good

  • I was in and out in less than 15 minutes, even with 3 people waiting before me. Total time, including commute, barely 40 minutes (includes wait time for tram). This is awesome! I have waited for hours at various Atlanta doctors, even when no one seemed to be ahead of me. Can’t tell how many times I felt forgotten in the exam room, freezing and wearing a stupid 2-piece paper dress. Then, it would easily take 40-60 minutes just to get to the office and same, or longer, for departure.
  • She made my appointment for BCP, so I didn’t have to call. I go back Monday for that.
  • Skillful, pain-free procedure.
  • They have the same proactive screenings for men and prostate cancer.
  • They will bill me for the visit, they don’t take payments at the time of service. Don’t you love that little sign at your doctor’s office that says payment is expected at the time of your visit (and the implication that if you don’t have it, you might as well leave)?

The Bad

  • If I have to say anything bad, it’s that they only schedule PAPs every 3 years for women up to 50 years of age. Then it’s every 5 years. Maybe this is sufficient, but I’m used to the annual PAP/Mammo combo at home. Of course that’s because I’ve been fortunate to have good health insurance. For those without, you get squat!
  • It takes 10 weeks to get the results. At home, it’s only 2. Not horrible, but long if you think you might have a problem.

Overall, it was a good first experience as a resident. I do hear that emergency services are spotty if you need an ambulance, but I hope I never have to find out about that. I would rather sacrifice posh, modern-looking surroundings for efficiency and convenience any day as long as the office is clean and maintained. Oh, and another observation; there was NOT ONE note pad, clock, calendar or anything else in the office provided by, or labeled with a drug manufacturer’s product! Refreshing — I don’t have to wonder if my doc prescribes a certain med because he’s getting the best kickbacks/incentives for it.

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I finally noticed this morning that the days are slowly getting longer. Got up for a morning bathroom run and thought it was about 9am. Nope, it was 5:33 am. The sun wasn’t shining so it wasn’t that bright, but it was light. In fact, it was like 9am on an average gray day in Göteburg.

And then this evening, at 21:45, it was still the color of dusk. I’d liken it to 20:00-20:30 during daylight savings time on the east coast of the USA. I guess my previous trips here have been too brief to notice the change. I have seen Stockholm, which is a 4-hour train ride north, dark for nearly 20 hours but that was in the dead of winter.

Silly me for not realizing that this area would also be affected by the longer (and therefore shorter-come-winter) days. So, to my friend Annie who asked me about this before I left, I apologize for thinking you were daft!

Having just read an article by Sheryl Eisenberg in This Green Life, a publication of the NRDC, I felt compelled to reply to her story. Sheryl’s introduction states that “Legs, not cars, are the human form of transportation, but we’ve lost the habit and art of walking, and with them, a piece of ourselves.” I found it so timely for me, because not only have I enjoyed rediscovering the art of walking these past few weeks, but I have also been walking with purpose and connectedness. In the event you won’t read her article, here’s the response it evoked from me.

– – –

What a perfectly-timed piece! I just moved to Sweden three weeks ago, and one of the things I was looking forward to most was NOT having–or needing–a car. For nearly a year I’d been looking forward to getting away from the metropolis traffic I had to endure twice a day, every day to simply get to and fro work. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Even though I am fairly fit, but granted hadn’t worked out in a while, I was still surprised how just after a few days or so of walking and tramming everywhere, my body began to ache. But it was the glorious ache of natural, physical activity.

Because I don’t yet know the language, every walk is a walk of “radical intention.” I am fully in-tune with my surroundings and where I intend to go. And, perhaps mostly with where I’ve been so I know how to get back!

I’m no longer glued to a smartphone with music, email, and GPS. I am spending time with my environment, and myself. And I rather like it. But I know the day will come when I find this environment commonplace and I begin to tune out again. I don’t really look forward to that day. But for now, that day is far off and I will continue to enjoy my walks, albeit only some take place in woods, but right now, this new city is my forest.

This will be a running list of things I find odd, or a bit different about every day stuff. It’s not necessarily new stuff as I may be familiar with it from TV, movies, et al, but perhaps living with it every day now makes it seem odd. And maybe they’re not odd to you, but this is my list. Feel free to suggest additions if you have experiences. I may even find that over time they are not so odd, but perhaps it’s something I just haven’t figured out yet. In which case, I will update the list as I learn new details.

  • Bed sheets: They don’t use fitted bottom sheets here. Although I saw one used in a sitcom the other day for comedic effect, they don’t seem to be available in real life. Actually, I haven’t found any sort of bottom sheet yet. I bought some new sheet sets the other day but a “set” here consists of 1 small pillow case and 1 duvet case/cover.
  • Beds: Are basically one size, or two, depending on how you look at it. They start with a single/twin and put two together to make a double-sized bed. I haven’t seen queen or king, but that makes buying the aforementioned linens much easier because there’s only 2 sizes from which to choose. It’s hard to go wrong. Also, they don’t use separate box springs, they are built into the bottom of the mattress. And they all have the same built-in cutouts to add legs. Maybe this is an IKEA creation, but from my limited experience, it seems to be pretty universal. UPDATE 2012/04/20: OK, saw an advert for beds and they had 4 sizes listed. But I’m cynical and still want to see them in person.
  • Shoes Off: Some people do this in the States too, but I think it’s either regional (you live in Wisconsin), or cultural (non-US natives bring the practice with them). The moment you walk in the door, you take your shoes off. It took me a short while to figure out it’s because of the weather and not wanting to track dirt, ice, snow, etc. into the house and not some cultural or religious ritual. Hence, my comment that folks in the colder climes of the USA might also commonly do this.
  • Drying Rooms: Clothes dryers are limited. In lieu of dryers, they have drying rooms where you hang your clothes to be dried by forced hot air.
  • Eggs: Eggs are packaged 10 or 15 to a carton. Sometimes you can find 6, but no dozen (12) like in America. Also, large or XL is SERIOUSLY large, you can use 1/2 the usual amount.
  • Parking: You pay for car parking, even at your own apartment. This is not very cost-effective so you’d then want to rent a garage instead. However, covered bicycle parking is free and in my particular building, they have bicycle “garages” (an indoor, ground-level room) for each building. What’s cool though, when parking in-town, they have digital boards that display the number of available spots before you get there, so you can select an alternate lot, if need be.
  • Would you like a bag with that?: When shopping, you pay for the bags. Most retail stores seem to allow one small free bag with purchase but additional, or larger bags cost around 1kr each. An excellent way to encourage reuse & recycling.
  • The Switch Up: Light switches are UP when the lights are off and down when the lights are on. Give yourself a minute; you’ll realize this is backwards.
  • Week 18, when is that?: Swedes, and perhaps others in Europe, count calendar time in terms of weeks. This is mostly used when discussing a future event, or providing an ongoing schedule. An event doesn’t just happen on a certain date, it takes place in a week number such as 18 (or 10, 17, 32, etc). Even my mobile phone calendar shows the calendar by week. I don’t know if the natives or long-term residents inherently know when a week occurs but I certainly have to consult the calendar and count.
  • Push Me/Pull You: Just because a door handle is on your side, doesn’t mean you pull to open. Stores, businesses, etc. seem to have handles on both sides of their doors.
  • Can You Help Me? Yes, but not so fast. Take a number. Banks, government offices (no surprise there) and many retail stores (especially electronics it seems) use a ticketing system. At first I found it frustrating, but now, I think it’s great to not have to stand and wait in line at the bank. Instead, you sit comfortably and wait for your number to be called. Something Americans are only used to at the DMV and similar offices. And in retail stores, you don’t have to fight for attention, so it’s a good odd.

When living in a Swedish apartment, laundry day is an interesting activity. Not exactly time-consuming as you only have a 3-hour window in which to get it all done, but that in itself seems to add unexpected pressure. I actually do like the idea because at home in my own house, it could take several days to finish laundry simply because I would start, then go out or get lost in time doing other things.

The laundry schedule board

The Plinko-style laundry schedule board

That said, doing laundry now requires a certain amount of planning. First, you have to preselect a day and 3-hour time block in which you plan to wash. At home, I just did it on the fly when the laundry basket piled too high. Miss your window and good luck finding an empty block to reschedule. There definitely won’t be one the same day (unless you want to go at midnight), and most likely you’re looking at another two weeks out.

This being my first laundry day, we chose a reasonable time on Sunday morning (10:00 – 13:00). Can you find my lock on today’s date? Anyway, once inside, you have two, which I discovered was actually three, washing machines and one dryer. What?? I know right, only ONE dryer for three loads of wet clothes? Ah, but the Swedish apartment building has a secret inside… We’ll get to that in a moment. So, on first intro to the laundry room, E tells me there are two washers and two dryers. Ok, sounds like enough since we have the room to ourselves for three hours.

He attempts to help me understand the Swedish diagrams and text to select water temperature and wash programs. He puts the soap powder in one of the top slots; neither one of us really sure if it’s the correct slot or not. Mind you, he’s just moved to this building as well and as such, is also unfamiliar with these particular machines. That’s the only slack I’m going to allow him because I figure he should still be ahead of me on figuring this stuff out. The poster on the wall only explains how to use the dryer. So, he’s off to run an errand, leaving me to face these formidable front-loading foes alone.

Not to be deterred, I stand there watching the machines spin, wondering when the heck the windows will get soapy and certain he put the powder in the wrong slot. Our clothes will go through the final rinse cycle with soap, I fear. After standing there for five or so minutes, I decide it’s safe to leave. When I return some 40 minutes later to move the clothes to the dryer, I discover that “dryer 2” is actually “washer 3.” I was watching the water flow into the side trough as the washers finished their spin cycles and realized there were three sets of pipes, not 2, coming from the wall. BING, light bulb moment: this is a washer too! I hope the guy from the time block before me didn’t notice me taking the clothes from a finished washer and putting them into the “dryer” as he came to retrieve his final batch of drying clothes. I had also used the wait time to look up the operating instructions online. Fortunately, the maker of the machines is in the UK and the instructions were in English. We did use (sort of) the correct soap dispenser in two of the three machines.

OK, so washer/dryer sorted out. Now, how the heck do I dry all of these clothes in one little dryer? Enter The Drying Room! I have no idea what it’s actually called, but that name seems to make the most sense to me. When the previous time block guy came in, he opened this door, from which I’d been hearing a loud blowing noise. Now, I discovered, this is where you hang your clothes and set the timer on the wall for 1-4 hours. It’s basically a dry sauna for your clothes..or a wet one for you if you stay in there long enough. There are two of these rooms, and unlike everything else where you have a personal key; on these you take the key with you while you’re using it, then leave it in the door when you’re done. Fascinating concept indeed. Almost made doing laundry fun. It certainly made it interesting. But, our three hours up, we had to leave with a few damp items.

Lessons Learned

  1. Schedule laundry day no more than two weeks apart so as not to have so much to do at once.
  2. Separate differently. This is not just about colors and whites anymore, will have to also pre-plan what items go in the dryer and what items hang in the room. I’m thinking heavier items like denim, towels, sheets go to the dryer.
  3. Don’t miss your day!