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Today we ran all over town, submitting resumes and talking to apartment rental companies. We managed to talk to some nice people who gave us a glimmer of hope about doing a bit of language teaching. The apartment search was less inspiring. But maybe we’ll get into this nice co-op sort of apartment building. It’s a rental place, but with common space and the idea that residents should interact with one another as a community. Right up my alley, though Kostia is sceptical of anything resembling communism. :-)
Kostia’s modest about his Swedish speaking skills, but he was able to converse with people at all these different offices. I was able to follow the conversations a bit, but I can’t say anything yet. Tomorrow’s my first official Swedish lesson though, and I’m going to work really hard.
My program has very few lectures and seminars, so I’ve got this wide open schedule, with a very manageable amount of reading and writing. It’s pretty relaxing having so much free time, so I’m trying to enjoy not having a job yet.
Ah, blogger is so quirky. But today, it let me upload some photos.
Here’s the cute hostel we stayed in the first night.
Here’s a picture of Kostia on a cute Swedish street not far from our dorm.
Here is the cute Swedish alternative to speed bumps — flower boxes that you have to drive around. I actually got a chance to drive already, and can say that you really do have to slow down to negotiate these things.
Here’s a cute little lake and some more cute houses, also not far from our dorm.
…and a nice artsy picture of a church spire.
We really have been quite lucky so far. Ever since the rainbow we saw from the airplane approaching Stockholm, things have gone quite well for us, better than we deserve, really.
We took the train from the airport to Falun on Tuesday evening. We had reserved dormitory housing, but knew the housing office would be closed by the time we got there, so I had booked a hostel for the night. I noticed after I booked it that the hostel was not in Falun proper, but about 10km north of town. Oh well, I thought, we’ll put our bags in lockers at the train station and take a taxi, then take the bus back in the morning.
Only, when we got there, the station was deserted and we didn’t have the exact change necessary for the lockers. Fortunately, a young woman came up to us and asked us if we were new students at the university. She and another university employee were waiting for someone who was smart enough to order free pick-up service from the university who was supposed to be on our train. Only, they didn’t arrive. So, the university people offered to take us and our bags to a nearby hostel, and to pick us up in the morning, take us to the housing office and then to the dormitory. Wow.
So, everything worked out well. We’re living in the dorm, which is quite nice. The rooms are spacious and comparable to a nice three-star hotel, each with their own bathroom, lots of closet space, and stylish IKEA furniture. Still, it’s a dorm, and I’m 10 years older than half the people on the corridor. The common kitchen is far from cozy, and though the TV gets BBC World, it’s usually to be found tuned in to MTV. Kostia and I have been assigned separate rooms and our combined rent is more than if we had a one-bedroom flat. So, we’re apartment-hunting.
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were mostly spent at orientation lectures at the university. Although the orientation week schedule was organized well in advance, each of the presenters kind of seemed like they had just been told they had to give a presentation a few minutes before and didn’t quite know what to say. That is, except for the guy from the employment office in town, who has doubtless given his presentation dozens of times. He painted a grim picture for those looking for work who don’t know much Swedish, but there may be some chance of finding a job teaching English to corporate clients and, as he put it, “rich ladies who want to go shopping in London for a weekend.” Well, that’s pretty much the same clientele as I had in St. Petersburg, so that would be fine.
There are about 100 other international students, the majority of whom are from Poland and Germany, it seems. Kostia and I feel a sort of affinity for the Polish students, since their language and appearance resembles that of Russians. Half of our corridor-mates are Polish and we keep listening for familiar-sounding words. The only other American I’ve met so far is a woman originally from Michigan who’s lived in Norway for the past three years. Kind of like us, she saw enrolling in university as an opportunity to live in Sweden. However, she has a Swedish friend with whom she shares an apartment, and she can communicate in Swedish since Norwegian and Swedish are at least as similar as Ukranian and Russian, so she’s got it together a lot more than I do. :-)
Overall… It’s really nice being in a clean place with a good recycling program, where strangers say hello to one another, where there’s organic food in the supermarket, where everybody rides bicycles, where cars stop for pedestrians, and where you don’t have to feel like your life (or at least your wallet) is in danger if the wrong person overhears you speaking a foreign language. Yes, Sweden is very different from Russia.
Here in Falun, Sweden, that is. We arrived on Tuesday but only just now got our student IDs in order to get free internets. So. There’s so much to say but my head is spinning a bit… here’s a blog entry I wrote in the airport in Stockholm while waiting for the train to Falun.
By the way, Kostia has a Live Journal in Russian, if you’re interested/capable of reading it.
Written Tuesday 22 August, 5 p.m.
I’m sitting in the Stockholm Airport writing this, though I’ll post it later, since there’s wireless internet here but it’s awfully expensive. Our trip so far has gone incredibly smoothly, despite a lot of hair-tearing on my part trying to fit too many things into my suitcases. We paid a lot for extra luggage on the airplane, and we didn’t even bring our printer with us.
But, the taxi came on time, early even, and though traffic was pretty bad we made it to the airport in plenty of time. Several friends met us at the airport to see us off. No problems at security or passport control. We were seated in an aisle and middle seat, but no one took the window seat, on an otherwise full flight. The flight was fairly smooth and as the Stockholm archipelago came into view a rainbow appeared. We were greeted at the airport by attractive blond people who took our bags and gave us sweets and bunny rabbits. OK, the last line was an exaggeration, but up to and including the rainbow it was all for real.
There’s a train to Falun that leaves straight from the airport (thanks for the tip, Vilhelm Konnander) and I reserved tickets for the 8pm train, which was the cheapest, but it means hanging out in the airport for five hours. There are worse places to hang out than Arlanda airport though. The main challenge is avoiding the temptation to spend money at the lovely western cafes that are just not the same in Russia no matter how much they try. I don’t have a feel for prices in Swedish kronor yet so I have to divide by 7 to really understand how much something is. I suppose dividing by 7 is a lot simpler than dividing by 27 as I had to do in Russia.
So in the Teach-Yourself-Swedish books that Kostia and I have been using, they’re always talking about lättöl, or light beer. I mean, there are fewer than a hundred words in my active Swedish vocabulary at this point, but “light beer” is one of them. We weren’t sure if this was just a quirk of language teaching – you often get some really random vocabulary when you first start learning a language (“extraterrestre” was one of the first words I learned in French) but at the airport café it was the cheapest drink on the menu, cheaper than tea or coffee. We decided to try it, and though it’s nothing like my beloved Baltika 4, it’s quite drinkable. Kostia has already declared that it will be our drink of choice in Sweden.
So as we were sitting here reading the paper, a businessman with a posh London accent walked by, complaining into his mobile, “This is my third trip to Sweden in three weeks. That’s not my idea of fun.” Kostia and I just looked at each other and laughed. We’re like, totally psyched to be in Sweden.
A quick post to let you know I’m alive. I was at Kostia’s family’s dacha for a little over a week and a half. Yesterday we had a going-away picnic on Krestovsky Ostrov. Tomorrow we fly to Sweden. We are frantically packing.
Next update from Falun, Sweden!
Ah, Pochta Rossii. Post offices everywhere are slow and inefficient, but Pochta Rossii takes the cake.
On Friday Kostia and I wanted to mail a few boxes of winter clothes to Sweden so we’d have room in our luggage for, well, everything else. We took our boxes to the nearby post office, prepared to wait in a long line and face a technicheskii pereriv (technical break, which means employee smoke break) every 20 minutes, but when we got there, the window that deals with international mail was closed entirely (for technical reasons, of course). They recommended that we go to the nearest post office a half-kilometer up the street.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We lugged our packages on to a trolleybus and went in search of this obscure, out-of-the-way post office. When we got there, there were no customers! Of course, there were no staff in sight either, but eventually a young woman sauntered up to the window. She rolled her eyes and grudgingly set about peeling the old packing tape off of our boxes. “Where are these packages going?” she asked. “Sweden,” we said. “Oh, it’s not my window then. Thank god.” She nodded down the counter.
We moved the packages two meters and looked at the window. “Technicheskii Pereriv 16.00-16.15” read the sign. Fortunately, it was 16.10. A pleasant-looking middle-aged woman soon emerged, chewing the remnants of her lunch. After recovering from the initial shock that someone was sending multiple packages from her window, she set to work.
First of all, we couldn’t send the packages in our own boxes. They had to be in special, smaller, Pochta Rossii boxes. Fine. Second of all, we were going to need to itemize every piece of clothing in the boxes. I knew from previous experience not to seal our original boxes, that the clerk would have to look at everything to make sure we weren’t mailing any contraband or antiques, but I hadn’t remembered the itemizing.
So: Winter hats: 4. Pairs of gloves: 4. Scarves: 3. Coats: 3. Pairs of boots: 4. Pairs of sneakers: 1. Sweaters: 8. And so on.
(A holdover from the late Soviet Union is the “Elitny Second Hend” – Elite Second Hand – shops, found here and there in St. Petersburg, which sell clothes formerly worn by western Europeans. I wondered if the clerk thought we were sending all these clothes to some kind of less-than-elitny second hand in Sweden. Or maybe she just thought we were sending them to relatives. I don’t think she caught on that we were sending them to ourselves.)
Anyway, I packed the boxes while Kostia filled out the shipping forms in triplicate for each box and the clerk weighed each category of clothing. Then the clerk had to calculate the cost of each box about five times to make sure she was doing it right. A guy came in wanting to mail two small rubber discs to Spain. She told him to come back in a few hours. He said he’d wait and proceeded to talk to the clerk while she kept saying, “Don’t distract me! This is really complicated!”
Finally, two hours later, we were finished. The total was 4500 rubles, about $175, a lot of money but not really, considering how much we were sending and how much it would cost if we had to buy new coats, hats, boots, and sweaters in Sweden. However, this particular post office had never conducted a transaction of this size before, so they were really blown away by our extravagance.
I have to say: the clerk was not the most efficient worker, but she was really, really pleasant and the experience could have been so much worse. I thought we ought to give her some flowers or a few hundred rubles or something, but Kostia was like, “Megan, you don’t tip post office workers.” Well, duh. In the west you don’t “tip” policemen or doctors or tax officials either, but you do in Russia. And I really believe in encouraging pleasant customer service here. (You should see how well I tip waitstaff who manage not to roll their eyes at me.)
So the question remains: How long will it take for our boxes to get to Sweden? I’d say two months. They still have to go through Russian customs, after all.