Friday, March 27, 2009

3 months in....

2 paychecks in to the new job here and they haven't let me go yet. It's a small victory each day. Things are a bit slow, so hopefully this pesky little financial crisis will get itself cleared up and we can all go back to being productive.

Won free tickets to a stand-up comedy show a while back from the English news website here in Sweden. What I didn't know when I got there was that the opener was in Swedish ("headliner" was a Brit). I settled in for what I thought was going to be a loooooong 45 min of staring blankly at a guy doing his damndest to make me laugh. Fortunately my comprehension has picked up a bit since moving here. I laughed at everything I understood, which was about 10%. Unfortunately for the guy, everyone else only laughed at about 20% of his jokes. That means, I'm 50% fluent right??

I've all but quit the free gov't sponsored SFI language program. It's just not structured enough for me. I had 1 good teacher for a while, but even she couldn't compete with the constant flow of new students with varying levels of comprehension. I'm studying at home for a while and I think I'm going to pay to go to a class at the "Peoples University", folkuniversitet. Classes are a modest 2.000 SEK (~USD250) per 10 session class. Hopefully the old economic principle of free ridership (WARNING: that is the first of many in what is likely to be the blog post for how not to use hyperlinks) holds true and classes will be better/more efficient if students are forced to pay.

The only other thing keeping me from attaining fluency are these damn Stieg Larsson books. I have never really been one for crime thrillers, but I'm certifiably addicted, about a year later than everyone else in Sweden. It's like reading the DaVinci code after Tom Hanks went off galavanting after the holy grail on the big screen and EVERYONE already knew the story. It's exactly like that actually. The cinematic interpretation of the first book is in theatres now, with the very talented Mikael Nyqvist playing the Tom Hanks role. In fact, if anyone is looking for good foreign movies, he's got a couple really good ones: As it is in Heaven and everyone's favorite pre-almost-too-disturbing-to-watch Moodysson film, Together about life in a 60's commune in Sweden.

Winter looks to be on the way out, but as I've been warned by many a Swede here, there is really no telling in April and May. We could be in for more snow, which seems pretty unlikely to me, but then again, I've spent the majority of my life in tropical hurts just writing that. I didn't know how good I had it.

Anyways, we had a great Easter break, and I use "break" to the fullest extent of its meaning, boardering on "hiatis". Somehow a Sunday holiday turned into a 5 day weekend. For being a pretty non-religious society, they like to celebrate the religious the most pagan nature worshiping ways of course. Apart from the symbolism of eating lamb, there is really nothing "churchy" about it. We went out to Cecilia's aunt and uncle's summer house about 2 hours outside Stockholm in the archipelago. The spot is amazing, and despite my aforementioned tropical upbringing and the fear of all water colder than body temperature, I managed to hop in the just above freezing (3degC/37degF) water after a litte bastu/sauna. Unfortunately, I wasn't intoxicated to the point of numbness.

Here's some picture of what is hopefully the end of winter and begining of spring, taken over the last month or so...

(Cecilia outside our apartment building here)

(Walking up some old streets on Södermalm, where we would like to live)

(Very suprised to see this since they are all but failing in the US. Maybe the only Tully's in the world serving Nacho's. Unfortunately they found it utterly incomprehensible that "dirty chai" could exist...."but a chai doesn't come with espresso!!" " No, @$%^, buddy, but amazingly enough, if you dump a shot of espresso in an ordinary Chai beverage, you can make a whole new and doubley wonderful beverage". I stomped out in disgust, which Cecilia quickly reprimanded me for. )

(Spring arrived bringing cucumber mint cocktails)

(Cecilia's uncle's house. We stayed in the little house in the foreground....

...with a sweet view of the water)

(Heading out for a run with the Lago's)

(Breakfast on the water)

(Sunset on the water)

(Despite the thin layer of blubber, I am not ready to traverse the arctic waters)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Grind...

Been a while, but nothing much has happened in a while. Cecilia started working and is already too busy. She has some fun projects though. Working with the Brittish Embassy and a beer importer to launch Fuller's new beer for the Swedish market and doing the opening of the new Kosta Boda glass hotel( Me, I'm valuing the Trade name of a swedish chewing tobacco product. Fun times.

My classes at Svenska för Invandrera (SFI or Swedish for Immigrants) started. I think usually people on contract get private language lessons, but my company didn't want to and I didn't really want to push it...after all they gave me a job without a proper interview, so....Besides, I wanted the "real" immigrant experience. By that, I mean what all the political refugees from countries not-friendly with the US experience.

SIDENOTE: It’s a real debate here on the efficacy of their integration process. Swede's are being accused/accusing themselves of being racist, the integration programs are failing and highly skilled workers in areas of need are being left on the sidelines while they deal with the Swedish bueuracracy. Case in point (which is sad or hilarious depending on what mood you're in): A friend of Cecilia's works at a large engineering firm here. They are experiencing a severe shortage of qualified engineers, so what do you do. You go to where you know the engineers are. Where is that? Driving taxis in Stockholm, of course. They gave their engineers some jingle and had them go jump in taxis in Stockholm and see if the drivers were engineers in whatever country they came from. No joke.

So back to the Swedish lessons...They've gotten off to a very slow start. Have to get your personnumer (SS#) to sit for an assessment. Got that after a week. Went for my test the week after. Waited 2 weeks after that for class to start. 1st class wasn't class, but another assessment test that concluded exactly what the first did with regards to my placement. I show up for my first "class", and the group was going for a field skating. I'm not against ice skating, but at 5:30pm, in my suit (yes, this isn't Seattle with chino's and fleece jackets) mentally prepared to begin my long journey to fluency, a jaunt around the rink with my new classmates is not what I had in mind. How does that lesson look? (Foreigner: Oj, jag faller!/Ow, I fall Teacher: Nej, du föll/No, you fell). Anyhow, me and a Cuban guy I met at the first class/2nd test who was supposed to start in my class was of the same opinion as I was, so we sat in on another class while ours went off gallivanting around central Stockholm.

In my first "real" class that wasn't ice skating, things went very slowly. We went through some exercises, sat around a table in groups where we were supposed to be conversing in Swedish, but mostly just staring at each other and speaking English when we did talk. How the hell do you describe what you do in Swedish when you've been here for 3 months and what you do is bioinformatics. What the hell is that you ask? Me too. I'm still not sure, but apparently it involves genomes and writing computer programs (so the people in my class aren't dumb). Anyway, when you struggle to come up with "Jag är hungrig/I'm hungry" describing bioinformatics is a ways off.

Once we were done staring at each other and speaking English, the teacher went around the room and asked us how we learn best to figure out how to structure the class. Normal answers all around, going through exercises, speaking with the teacher, etc. Then we come to 2 Indian IT consultants. We spent the next 45 minutes while they told the teacher how to teach. I could go into details, but the whole process exhausted and frustrated me and I don't want to relive it. I ended up gnawing my fingernails to stubs to keep me from jumping out of my chair and bludgeoning them. Suffice to say, they desired a bit more structure in their lessons.

After all this, I've come to the conclusion that my quest for Swedish is going to be largely an endeavor I embark on by myself. Free lessons are great, but if they go too slow and cause near aneurisms, I think I can do better on my own, with the help of my live-in tutor. Since then I've been reading and translating whatever material I can get my hands on and just last night found Lätt Svenska Nyheter (Easy Swedish News or as I call it, Svenska Nyheter for manniskör som är dum i huvud/Swedish News for idiots). I'm reading that and reading the articles out loud for Cecilia and doing a bunch of Swedish-talking in the house, so things are spite of SFI.

Here is a picture I took from my phone on the way to the tube from home this morning. Nice and snowy.