A world of darkness

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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.

Conference in my place of birth

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I came back yesterday from a short, one-day trip to Vannes, Brittany, for a conference in a technology school, IUT Vannes. This day was organized by students and they invited a lot of people around the subjects that mattered to them, like cyberdefense, online personality, online payments, etc. About 20 different professionals were gathered and had talks and conferences on their jobs.

I did a short presentation on video games, production, financial questions, and some predictions on the future. I was invited four years ago as well, on the same subject of course. I don’t quite remember what the question were at the time, but I bet they also were around how to work in this industry, what kind of diplomas to have, what is expected and so on.

For developers as for any other jobs, diplomas are only a safety for the employer on the skills possessed by the person (and not even so in some cases). Its an assurance you won’t have to train the person in the basic knowledge in his field. But that’s only the first screening done when looking at a resume. If the diploma or the school is well-known, its a plus, of course. The second point for me is about the personal projects, done within the school or with friends. It shows the motivation and the interest around development, working in a team… It needs to be presented online and not just lines on the resume itself, where many things can be affirmed without proof. Then I look at the interest for video games : what kind of games does the person play, how often. It’s essential in a creative industry to be attracted by what you are working on. I had one student during this visit that was willing to develop video games but declared himself to not being a gamer – a rare situation ! Finally, the important criteria is personality, measured during an interview. When you reach this step, it already means you made the cut above 15 or 20 other resumes, so be prepared – and relaxed at the same time, a difficult paradox 🙂

As during my previous visit, many students were interested in the subject. Before the conference itself, there was a short informal talk in a classroom, and it was packed with probably 50 of them. It’s easy to attract interest with video games.

This discussion, as well as the conference itself on video games, was shared with an independent web developer, who worked one year on a personal video game project. It’s very hard working independent, and alone, on a project like that. I also measured again how well informed you get to be when you work in a large company, with many information newsletter on the state of the market, on technologies, cinema, etc. I hope the rss page I made with the sources used in these newsletters will keep me on par. More probably, I will drown in too many data 🙂

 

Another thing during this trip occured to me, it’s the differences in my life that happened in just four years. Early 2010, I was just married from october 2009, the trip to the conference was embedded in a holiday in the region, we were living in Paris and probably starting to discuss buying an appartment at the time (we bought one a year later), Heroes Kingdoms had been published in France a few months before after three years of work, and even with mixed results we were preparing to push to other markets, the team also was starting to work on another free to play project, and I still had a good, available manager. On the other hand, I also just entered a deal which proved to be a terrible investment :p And all in all, I was four years younger 🙂

These changes, and how life can evolve quickly, wether you want it or not, are a cornerstone of this trip and this blog, and I’ll certainly come back to this experience.

Going around in circles

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Today I went north of Paris in search for a large sports mall, Intersport, one that doesn’t have any outlet in Paris (yet, apparently). I passed the northern suburbs, ever so populous and industrial, and, quite frankly, not worth a visit, really. But my destination was laying in this area.

I actually discovered a great park on the way, the Courneuve park (or Valbon park), really big and picturesque. It’s stuck between the Bourget airport, industries, shopping mall, large social buildings, highways, and more industries. There was hardly anybody in the park (well okay it was a week day).

After searching around for half and hour I finally found the “mall” I was looking for, saw everything it had to offer in about 5 minutes and was back on my way. It was so small there was no wonder it wasn’t registering on the map 😉

Now, as I was making my way back on another route, filled with even more highways, some of them under construction as if we were going out of stock, I was yearning for the real trip.

 

For a week now, I’m making longer journeys, 30, 40, 50 kms today. But I always end up at the same place. Sure, it’s comforting, but it’s also boring. I *know* that my destination is actually where I started from. I’m looking forward to go from somewhere to somewhere ELSE. There is no real excitement in knowing perfectly well where you’ll end up. There is also a pretty limited ways of ending up there : a few roads, all merging into the same street, then the same entrance.

If that isn’t a metaphor for life, the routine of work / eat / sleep, and death, then I don’t know what is.

Now, when you go away, the possibilities multiply with each turn, and the farther you go, the bigger the adventure. On the trip that I envision, each starting point, each ending point are undefined, and thus the journey is only defined when it is done, not before. I’ll choose where I end up depending on my feeling, my stamina, the weather, the environment…

And overall, I have no idea where I’ll end up on the trip as a whole. Paris, probably, but with a new work to find, a new place to live, a new horizon to define. It’s exciting as it is frightening.

I’m watching Dead Poets Society as I write that, and the quote fits perfectly : “To put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.”