A few weeks ago we returned to England for a wedding, surprise party and short trip to Manchester. What surprised me most was how much my view of England has changed in the short time I’ve been living in Sweden. I appreciate I may have gone a little native.
To put it politely, the service in Sweden lacks a certain ‘enthusiasm’
Now obviously this is isn’t always the case in England but generally people in the service industry are only too happy to help. Generally they will go out of their way to offer up advice and help, sometimes if you ask for it not.
Swedes take a slightly different approach which I can explain with a quick story.
On Tuesday I took our car for its Swedish MOT (Bilprovningen). Not as comprehensive as the UK version, it took about 20 minutes. Now Alex bought the car off another member of the diplomatic team and it had been parked at the Embassy for a few months. For one reason or another the battery had died but we’d managed to jump start it …. Ok I say we, as anyone who knows me knows I had very little to do with the ‘jumping’ in that ‘start’…
Anyway, whilst conducting the Bilprovningen I’d seen the mechanic jump start the battery again so I knew there was going to be a problem with it… actually interesting observation, there are a lot of female mechanics in Stockholm. In fact, you see a lot of women doing jobs that are traditional/culturally/incorrectly (delete as appropriate) viewed a ‘mens work’ in the UK. Fair doo’s I say… Sorry where was I? Oh yes. This is a verbatim transcript of the conversation which followed the inspection,
Me: “So how did it go?”
Her: “Fantastic. Complete pass.”
M: “Oh that’s brilliant. I was worried about the battery to honest…”
H: “Yes, it’s dead.”
H: “Yes, completely flat. Dead.”
M: “So the engine won’t start?”
M: “But it passed?”
H: “Yes, there is nothing wrong with car just the battery.”
M: “So what should I do?”
H: “Buy a new battery.”
M: “Do you sell batteries?”
H: “No, we are not a garage.”
M: “Do you know where the nearest garage is?”
H: “Yes, next door.”
M: “As in next door? The building you share a car park with?”
M: “And they sell batteries?”
M: “Do you mind if I leave the car where it is and see if they can fix it?”
H: “Yes of course”
And in a nut shell that is the general Swedish approach to service. She wasn’t been unhelpful or difficult, just extremely straight forward: If I needed help, all I had to do was ask for it. Crucially though, she wasn’t going to offer help. I think it’s basically a cultural thing that firstly you don’t assume anyone can’t do anything for themselves. And secondly you don’t assume people don’t want to figure out how to do things themself. Only then, at the very last, do you offer to help.
To finish the story, you’ll be glad to hear that when I did eventually buy the new battery in the garage they actually assumed I’d be fitting it myself. No prizes for guessing how that played out…
UK 1 – Sweden 0
It’s funny what you miss
This is a picture of the first three things I bought in London when I arrived.
- I need to grow up.
- I really need to grow up. This is not dissimilar to what a 15 year old boy would buy if he found £10 on the pavement on his way to school.
- You can’t buy any of these things in Sweden and I would rank each of them highly in my list of ‘things I enjoy but really shouldn’t because I’m no longer 15’
- There might be a market in Sweden for these things amongst 15 year old boys.
- Problems with point 4,
- Swedish 15 year olds are probably too cool for most of these things.
- 15 year olds don’t buy ‘paper’ magazines anymore Granddad!
- I don’t think trying to find out if there is a market for this type of thing amongst 15 year old boys by offering them free samples is the best approach to achieving the overarching aim of my time in Sweden, namely avoiding international incidents.
Let’s call that a draw and move swiftly on.
UK 2 – Sweden 1
The London Underground is both brilliant and shit
Excuse the crudeness and I know that for the many people reading this who endure the perverse pleasure of using the Underground every day this will come as no great surprise, but having gone from a daily user to no expose at all, I can safely say that the London Underground is both outstanding and in desperate need of a rethink.
Now before anyone accuses me of bias, I worked for the company that sold the advertising on the Underground for 7 years and as such am more familiar with its ‘unique’ charms and quirks than most. Did you know for example that the tube first opened in 1863 (explains a lot) and that the first recorded advertiser was a Mr W. H. Smith advertising his latest magazine stand a year later?
I am a big Underground fan and it says something that I was able to catch, with the minimum of fuss, a tube from Heathrow directly to a meeting I had in Holborn (Central London). Ah yes, the extended London Underground tube journey, who doesn’t love the different cultures, the different tunnels, the seats which smell like they’ve just been dipped in musty lukewarm damp rotten wood… But there is no denying that covering that distance in a little over 45 minutes was indeed brilliant.
The problem is that after my meeting I then had to catch a tube from Holborn to Euston.
Well I managed to get as far as Kings Cross (2 stops) before having to get off and walk the rest of the way. The reason I got off is that following my earlier ‘love-in’, I’d remember that the tube is in fact ridiculous. Seriously, it is absolutely ridiculous. Far too many people, far too hot, a complete joke (and don’t get me started on that smell again!)
Now whilst I am saying nothing new here, having travelled round Stockholm on their equivalent for the last 3 months it was hard going back. I appreciate that each day the London Underground carries three times the entire population of Stockholm – around 3.1 million people – and I was unlucky that about a million of them happened to be on the same tube as me at the point I got back on it at Holborn (or at least that’s what it felt like) but I did realise there must be a better way to move people round a city.
What was funny though was that if you combined that tube journey from Holborn to Kings Cross with my walk to Euston I probably saw more people in those 20 minutes than I usually see in an entire day walking round Stockholm. I’m not saying Stockholm is perfect but I have to say they have got it right in terms of moving people it’s just so much more relaxed and calm.
Don’t get me wrong, I do still miss the buzz you occasionally get in London town when everybody is hustling and bustling through its deep tunnel labyrinthine, but there is something to be said for a calmer approach to such things.
UK 2 – Sweden 2
There’s no place like home
There is definitely something to be said for heading home now and again to be reuniting with close family and friends. Of course, these reunions are usually not without their challenges and with that in mind let me introduce you to Alex’s uncle Peter.
I am an extremely big fan of Peter, but he lives a life which I cannot for one second comprehend. 6 months of every year he lives in the coffee soaked city of Seattle. For the other 6 he lives in a small fishing village on the coast of Mexico. When I say small, I mean small, his house has no mains supply and generates its electricity via solar panels. It’s also set in the middle of sand dunes which he reliable informs me contains all manner of things that can kill you,
Peter: “Oh yea, we’ve got snakes.”
Peter: “Yeap, loads of them.”
Peter: “Oh yea, we get some really big tarantula’s actually. REALLY big ones.”
All in all then my idea of hell. Apart from one crucial thing. He knows the local bar owner. The local bar owner who has his own distillery out the back of his bar. In which he likes to make his own illegal tequila moonshine. A bottle of which Peter had brought over with him.
Now aside from the obviously classy picture on the front, things weren’t looking great when I noticed that the bottle was plastic – surely if there are two rules to live one’s life by its to firstly never eat in a restaurant which has pictures of its food on the outside. And secondly, never drink alcohol that comes in a plastic bottle.
Things were not helped when Peter pointed out that the bar owner had stuck a half used American customs sticker on the bottle to make it look “more official” through customs and that he had absolutely no idea what had gone into the making of it… or what proof it was… or what the medical side effects might be of drinking it…
Well the first shot was actually quite tasty, very sweet. Apparently tequila has much more variety and texture than the dross we generally down on stag and hen weekends with lemon and salt (personally the only reason I’d generally touch the stuff). The second shot wasn’t so great and by the third I’d started to notice small red flakes floating the bottom of the glass and thought it was probably best to call it a day – especially given this was the night before the wedding.
Ah the wedding! What a fantastic wedding. On the Friday night Alex’s aunt and uncle, the awesome Greta and Nigel, hosted a ‘pre-wedding family catch up’ which was really good fun even before the ‘hooky tequila’ start flowing!
Whilst the next day was the wedding of their son Nick to Claire – two nicer, warmer, generous people you couldn’t hope to meet (*please keep that in mind when you see I’ve used one of your official wedding pics in this blog)
Nick and Claire had also arranged for a maypole dance at the wedding. Word of advice dear reader be very careful when your 2 year old niece is looking for someone to ‘help her do the funny dancing’. I ended up having to run round a maypole carry her in my arms for 20 minutes in my suit, ducking in and out of multi coloured ribbons… As cute as she is (see below), there is no way to ‘style that out’…
Yes this is a gratuitous ploy to get a pic of my niece Orlagh into this blog who is frankly the cutest kid on the planet – I will do anything to get my WordPress viewing stats up!
We spent the Monday to Friday after the wedding with Alex’s immediate family celebrating Alex’s mums 60th. It was really good, the ‘kids’ (I use the term very loosely as two of them are in their 30s) had between them hired the cottages (http://www.jerryandbens.co.uk/) they used to go on holiday as kids in the Yorkshire Dales.
My word the Yorkshire Dales are a stunning part of the world and Sweden will have to go some way to compete once we start exploring the country.
The following Friday we drove to Manchester to see my family which is always a laugh and quite boozy. Unfortunately I managed to be back the one weekend practically all my friends were away. Although I did get to see my good friend Shella whose wife Sophie is having a kid a month after us. If you think we were crazy having a kid in a foreign country they are in the process of renovating a house!
UK 3 – Sweden 2
So there you have it. A narrow victory to good old UK but an extremely close run thing. And who knows after I’ve been here for another three months will that score remain the same?
The next blog will return to more traditional content and news of an ‘apartment uprising’ we’ve become embroiled in.
Till next time,
Fraser ‘one nil and you still don’t sing’ Hynes
Nine weeks until the official drop date and we are slowly starting to prepare the flat whilst simultaneously reading seven (yes, seven) books on how to bring up a baby. To quote a gag my mate Eddie who I meet for lunch today told me, “apparently you can’t just put them in a greased up bath tub when you go out anymore”. Shame.
Picture of week
It’s been too long. God bless you The Old School Room café in Hebdon, Yorkshire (http://theoldschooltearoom.com/).
Track of the week
Playing in my head most of that Friday night, Terrorvision – Tequilla