A world of darkness


So, my six months stint in Sweden is drawing to a close, and it’s time to reflect on everything that surprised me, as a Frenchman, living in this country. I’m leaving tomorrow, followed by the lamented cries of the people here

So the first thing you notice is, this is an expensive city. And I say that coming from Paris. All things compared, accommodation is bloody expensive, something like 30% more than in Paris. That sucks up most of your pay. It is known.

When you get past that, you notice most of everything is also expensive. Doing one trip in the subway will cost over 4€, twice the price of the most expensive ticket in Paris. Getting a one month fare is a little bit more than Paris, but the network is five times smaller. Plus it’s not one month, it’s 30 days, so you get fucked if you forget when you bought the ticket. Oh and there’s no getting paid back half the fare by the employer as in France.

Ok so restaurants are pretty cheap, you pay around 10-12€ for a meal. But a good restaurant here would be considered below par in France – sorry. And you don’t get meal tickets (about 7-8€ for each working day).

I came here thinking Sweden was a socialist worker paradise, but it’s actually lagging behind. You work the regular 40 hours week or more. I’ve read about Sweden testing the 32 hours week, but it’s only a few companies.
To conclude on cost of living, it’s better not to have hair here : the basic haircut – for a man ! – is around 50€ ! That’s the price for women in France. I had to find a hairdresser school to get below 20.

Right, now, what do you discover in supermarkets ? It’s the place where you learn the most about peoples habits. I won’t even cover the subject of food in tubes, I did not try.

This will only be funny for French speaking people, a famous chocolate cake is named kladdkaka.

The default size of packagings is very strange to me. The roll-on version of body spray is about the size you would need to use it between your fingers.

The biggest washing machine powder pack is less than 2kgs. I’ve never seen one so small.

On the other hand, the smallest flour or sugar pack is also 2kgs. Couldn’t get through that in six months. I also never found what I consider regular sized sugar pieces, there were all small, 1 centimeter.

I also spent a lot of time getting fooled by what was and what was not milk. They use the same packaging, the name is very close, but no, it may be yoghurt, fermented milk or some other stuff. They also mix it along very skillfully to confuse you.

On the day to day life, no one here owns a washing machine. There’s a common laundry in the basement. You book a timeslot with a kind of board with locks. Except no one respects it, so you end up doing the same.

Most common doors also have a lock to turn to open. The trick is that the lock needs to be kept open while opening the door. Impossible to do it with one hand. It’s fine when you have to push, but when you have to pull, with one hand busy with, let’s say, your laundry, this gets annoying fast.

Many other doors can be opened automatically with a button. That’s more convenient.

Ok I’m not going to go into all the details and the pain to open a simple bank account here. Took me close to two months. When I realized you can’t expect the same level of service as in Western Europe, I was ok. Employees were mostly dumb.

It was the opposite at the tax department. Very welcoming and efficient. Fast process and they guide you through the loops. Tax is paid directly from the salary.

The only problem being, whatever you’re being paid in a year, you will be taxed at least 12%, which as an average tax bracket (not marginal) is pretty darn high ! For what I received over 2016, and then in 2017, I wouldn’t pay taxes in France. All in all, I will pay around 3k€ national tax over two fiscal years.

To conclude on money, this is indeed a cashless society. I have not withdraw money over the last three months, I never needed to. Everyone has a card machine – except the beggars on the street or in the subway, I don’t know how they manage.

Okay so the most famous attraction in Sweden is the Vasa museum. It’s a museum built around a 17th century ship, a great three decker, three masts, 80+ cannons from the glorious age of sea conquest. It was built to help ensure domination on the Baltic Sea over Poland.

Ever since the ship was retrieved from the bottom of the sea, about 50 years ago, it’s been a fight to preserve it from decaying, falling to pieces and rotting. You can’t get onboard, you can only go around. It’s still very impressive. After 300 years in the mud it remains a massive sight.

Of course less impressive is the fact that it sank on its maiden voyage. And it didn’t take an iceberg to bring it down. After a single mile, it toppled over in Stockholm bay and went under. 50 people died. The issue ? There was not enough ballast to keep it balanced. Conception mistake, blamed upon the master engineer of course, and also… the Swedish King, who forced the design. Good thing he wasn’t around when it happened.

It leaves you wondering though. If there had not been such a tragic mistake, a ridiculous accident, the ship would have lived its regular ship life, and certainly disappeared like all others. We would never have heard of him or see him on display in a museum.

To conclude, here is a piece of bread, 20 years old, to demonstrate that to remain forever young, you only need to live in a plastic bag with no air.

Oh yeah, why this title “a world of darkness” ? It’s because you don’t get to see much of the sun here during winter, when it sets at 3pm. But as you don’t talk about weather in England, you don’t talk about the sun in Sweden.