Sunday, 29 September 2013

Shopping

I've noticed a rumor doing the rounds. It's a rumour that says Sweden is an expensive place to live. And whilst it's true that the taxes are high and that if you want a good night out you're going to wake up the next day with a hurty wallet, things that you actually need (and want) to buy seem to be inexpensive.

The standard of living is high. So I'm currently paying a very small amount of money to be living in a good sized, modern, comfortable flat. The big cities are small and virtually every road has a bicycle lane and so traveling by bike is a cheap (and common) alternative. I recently bought a second-hand bike for around 200 euros, which new would have cost 700 and because everyone in Sweden restores old things, I actually bought it 'like new'.

Food is cheap and there's a larger variety of it. Living in Paris I had to limit myself to very specific fruit and vegetables because I simply couldn't afford to eat whatever I wanted to. Here I can walk into a supermarket and be faced with a whole range of inexpensive and imported products.

And finally, my greatest learn about living in Sweden - The flea market. Knowing that another empty Sunday lay ahead of me, I did some research and found that there was going to be a flea market today, in the city center. So I woke my boyfriend up bright and early and dragged him in to town. Unlike most flea markets/car boot sales I have been to, people weren't trying to get a lot of money from what they had for sale. They weren't even selling it for it's face value. To them it was all old junk they wanted to get rid of and they just wanted it gone.

So for a total price of 8€50. I picked up the following:

Burberry trench coat - when the woman told me the price, I ran to find my boyfriend to make sure I'd understood her correctly. (5€)


An old phone. This phone isn't really anything special, but I've always wanted one and never been able to bring myself to spend the 20 - 30 quid people usually ask for them. I couldn't help myself. (3€50)


And for any action figure geeks, my boyfriend proudly came home with this 12" Uncle Sam. (15€)

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Sweden. # 1

I arrived in Malmo, Sweden around three weeks ago and it has to be said, my move here hasn't been without it's trials and tribulations. But to me all these little hiccups have just been part of moving to a new country and with the help of some very kind people (especially my boyfriend's friends) I have finally begun to settle into my new life here.

My number one problem has been immigration. This was unexpected. Despite being a member of the EU, Sweden (like the UK) seems to like to play by their own rules. At the moment, I have the right to live and work in Sweden for three months, but whilst I am working here I pay tax in the country I am still registered in, i.e France (and believe me, having lived in France for six years, in a year's time that is going to be a headache I don't want to deal with).
In order to be able to stay in Sweden for longer than three months, you have to apply for a residency permit (the easiest to obtain lasting two years). On my most recent trip to the Migrationsverket or Migration Office I was told that in a worst case scenario the permit could take up to a year to process and that's without guaranteeing it will even be approved. Now, all of this I accept as boring paperwork that you have to fill in to be able to stay etc.etc. but, why is this permit so important? Without the permit, you can't go to the tax office and get your own unique personnummer which in Sweden is needed for you to do pretty much anything. If you want to open a bank account - you give that number, if you want to get a mobile phone - you give that number, if you go to the doctors or a school or even the library - you give that number. It's a badge that follows you around, telling the government and the rest of Sweden what you're up to and without it most doors are shut. So living in the country without it, is a little bit like living in limbo. You're never quite able to settle down and really get stuck in to your new life, but you are... sort of able to.

Problem #2 was job-hunting. It is hardly a secret that looking for a job is an horrific and frankly quite demoralising experience. It is also no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I don't speak Swedish. I knew from the offset that without a good knowledge of the language my opportunities were going to be limited but I also knew I needed a job. I needed financial security and even more importantly I needed to start creating my own social circle and my own life, not just back-benching off the life my boyfriend already has here (no matter how wonderful his friends may be).
So a week or so after I moved to Malmo, I began walking around the town, talking to managers in shops and restaurants and handing out my CV. Most of the time I was told that since it was the low season, nobody was looking for new staff. I also discovered that Sweden's unemployment level was high, but I kept going. I visited and called a large range of places, ranging from warehouses to english teaching agencies to coffee houses. After one particularly difficult day, where I was told that I couldn't deliver letters without the Swedish language because that would mean I couldn't read the names or addresses either (?) and where I was informed I couldn't clean hotel rooms without the language either, I stumbled across an English pub. I had visited a few pubs in the town, but this one had escaped my attention. Hidden around the back, next to an old lighthouse I got lucky. For them, the language used wasn't nearly as important as the customer service. After a try-out yesterday, I now have a job.


lighthouse next to the pub

Sweden is a beautiful country and even as the days grow darker, shorter and colder I'm getting excited about living here. I'm in the third biggest city in the country and it's a ten minute bike ride to a beach with crystal clear water and a small café with a private bathing dock out back. And it's only a twenty minute bike ride to the city center. People keep telling me I'm going to get bored of this small town sooner than I realise, but I'm not sure that I will. It's nice to have escaped from the hustle and bustle of towns like London and Paris, even if it's only for a little while.

And if that's not enough for you they sell bread with anchors on it too. 



Monday, 9 September 2013

Brazil - A Final Word

Dear Readers,
It has taken me a very, very long time to get around to writing this post.
I left Brazil two weeks ago and flew directly to Sweden, my new home. Moving to Sweden has been far more complicated than I thought it would be, but you'll hear more about that in a later post.

Brazil is an absolutely stunning place. It's politics and ways of life are so incredibly complex and the reports that I read in the newspapers now seem so skewed and uninformed that I can only assume the people that wrote them have never visited the country. It was only through talking to people and asking questions that I began to understand how this country works and yet, for me, the most important thing I learnt was that despite their problems and the corruption people are proud to be Brazilian. Not in an obnoxious, my country is better than yours way, but in earnest and I found it refreshing.

Here's a short list of things I learnt in Brazil, that you might find interesting or useful if you're planning on a visit sometime soon.

1/ People are not happy about the Olympic Games or the World Cup. This problem is not something that can be discussed in a small subsection of a blog post, one could easily write a book on it. I just think that everybody should take 20 minutes out of their day and read up on why. The feeling was so strong that I began to make a short documentary with some very kind couch surfers and a small production company called Torie Propaganda (which I'll be able to post online in the upcoming months).

2/ Most toilets do not take toilet paper. My Uncle's advice upon my arrival, was if in doubt, throw it in the bin. It being the toilet paper.

3/ The traffic jams are incomprehensible. Rush hour lasts a long time and you're better off staying out in town than attempting to go home if you're going to get caught in it. One thirty minute drive took my Uncle and I three hours because we left at the wrong time. (Note: in Sao Paolo, cars are only allowed to drive on certain days depending on their number plate because the traffic is so bad).

3a/ Traffic lights are more of a guideline, than an actual signal to stop.

4/ The buses are excellently designed. There's a lot of stigma around Brazilian buses for a whole host of reasons. The prices keep rising, they're dangerous etc.etc. There are three main forms of public transport in Rio; buses, vans and taxis. Taxis are safe and cheap. Buses are pretty cheap for the distance they travel and variably reliable, but I think the way they are designed is fantastic. They're not particularly up-to-date or clean, but most have air conditioning and they have a turnstile that the driver operates, making it very difficult for anyone to get on without paying. As for the vans I advise that you don't take them (as do most good travel books). They work on a pretty complicated system and I think you need to speak quite good portuguese to be sure that you're getting into the right one. They're also not entirely legal.

5/ Corcovado (Christ the Reedemer) - Go there first thing on a Sunday morning. Be there before 8am when it opens and buy your tickets online. Take one of the vans up to the top (these ARE legit) and then take the stairs not the lift. You'll be one of the first people to reach the statue. You might have to sit and have breakfast or browse the tourist tat shops whilst you wait for the clouds to clear, but it's worth waiting just for the view.


6/ The Brazilian staple diet is excellent. I'm a vegetarian, so obviously I couldn't enjoy the grilled meat, but the beans and rice tasted so good.

7/ Bonito. If you're going to Brazil, go to Bonito. Make sure you have a decent amount of money for this trip because once you pay for the hotel and the activities (which you simply won't be able to avoid) the cost will add up. But it's worth it. Just so you can go 'floating' in the crystal waters, climb in trees with the monkeys and dive into waterfalls. It sounds idyllic and it honestly is.

8/ Avoid the tourist traps. I never went to Copacabana or Ipanema, we mostly went to a beach near Barra di Tijuca. I would recommend going even further out though if you've got a means of getting there. Grumari is a beautiful, hidden beach right next to where all the surfers go. Places like Copacabana are nice, but it's insanely busy and it's expensive.


9/ Be street smart. Brazil isn't a dangerous place, unless you're silly. If someone asks for your wallet, give it to them, you can always recover your belongings later (this is advice based on the fact that the someone asking for your wallet might well have a gun). You'll also notice that a lot of the street performers who step in front of your car at traffic lights will do a turn lifting their shirt up - this is to let you know that they don't have any hidden weapons.

9/ Go to Lapa. I didn't really know what to expect on a night out in Brazil but Lapa certainly proved to be interesting. On arriving to the place I felt pretty intimidated, surrounded by prostitutes sprawled on cars, but it turned out to be the hub of Rio's nightlife. Most people don't even seem to bother entering the clubs or bars, spending their night on the street drinking and listening to the street musicians. Also, I'd advise a stop at the singing waiters bar at Barra di Tijuca. I forget the name but when I remember, I'll post it.

10/ Eat in the kilo restaurants. Here the food is priced by the kilo. They're cheap (about 5 euros for a large meal) and the food is good.

10a/ Buy the snacks that the roadside sellers offer. Especially the coconuts.