Friday, January 29, 2010

Sverige musings ... !!

Ok ... Sverige stands for Sweden ...

Its been close to 2 weeks since I have been here and I thought its a good time to write about some of the stuff that I have observed over here.

The day I landed at Copenhagen (I know its in Denmark but it's a stone's throw from Malmo), the instructions (both written and oral) were so precise that I did not feel like a newbie. I didnt spend a lot of time for a train ticket from Copenhagen to Malmo. There were 3 different platforms, each catering to different regions. There was one dedicated platform for Malmo and there were lifts to take passengers to the platform from the airport. The ticketing system specified that there would be a discount if the number of people are more than 1. This was fruitful :P

Before every station, there were clear announcements as to which is the next station and the duration for which the train would halt at that station. This was very helpful since we had lots of baggage with us and it calmed us down a lot when we knew that Malmo is the last station and the train would stay there for close to 15 minutes.

The sunrise and sunset were some of the initial shocks. It was 5 pm when we reached Malmo and it was pitch dark. The sun doesnt rise till around 0830. So it was like going to office in the dark and coming back also in the dark.

The pedestrians have their way most of the time here. The vehicles would stop if they see anyone crossing or even when they feel that someone is approaching the zebra. So now I am used to walk right past the road. If I do the same in India ... I would be killed ... in a very bad way :P. People who are driving bring along lots of stuff with them for TP in case they have to stop if people are crossing. For example ... sandwiches, newspapers, etc.

There are also buttons at each crossing for pedestrians that speeds up the Green signal. Divine.

People here are very reserved and stick to their groups if they have one. Buses are twice our size and its pin drop silence inside. This is very weird for us Indians. We love to make friends with strangers. People dont like strangers saying Hi to their kids :(

There is a digital status board at each bus stop with route information and the due time for each bus. Additionally, there is an asterisk for each bus on this board which denotes that the bus is close by. And the bus will stop at the designated place and not an inch further or behind. There are buttons available to every passenger which can be used to inform the driver that you want to get down at the next stop. If there is no1 who presses this button and the driver finds that there is no1 who is waiting to board the bus either, then he will not stop.

Sweden is a child centric country and people value their families a lot. Its common to find people coming to office during odd hours like 3 am or 5 am and leave by noon to be with their families. Parents pick up and drop their kids to school everyday. Both parents are entitled to leaves when the baby is to be born. Both parents can work at 80% workload till the child is 8 years old. Both parents are entitled to sick leave if their kids are sick. Locals feel homesick in office ... :P

People love their weekends ... in the sense that they stay at home. The streets are deserted during weekends. Most of the stuff is automated ... but thats expected in this part of the world. People talk more about going to a different country during their free time rather than some place in their own country :P

The local currency is Kronor. One Euro is around 10 Kronors so that translates into 1 Kronor = 6.5 Rupees ... most of the grocery here is quite affordable ...

30 eggs are for 25 Kronors, Onions are 5 Kronors for a kg, Potatoes are 8 Kronors for a kg, Tomatoes are 4 Kronors for a kg, a Bread packet containing around 30 slices is for 10 Kronors, boneless Chicken is 75 Kronors for a kg, a lite of Milk costs 10 Kronors, a litre of cooking oil is for 17 Kronors, etc.

If you convert it to Indian currency, it may seem expensive but as a percentage of the salary it is quite affordable ...

Well ... thats most of what I have observed over here ... I am sure there is more to come ...

Cheers ... !!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cards galore ... !!

Everything here works with the help of cards ...

I have less of cash and more of cards it seems in my wallet. I have my identity card and photo ID card from India. When I left India, I was given a Travel insurance card to cover my medical expenses, if any, from India to Sweden. I was also given a Citibank World Card for Euros which contained my allowances. As soon as I arrived at my hotel in Malmo, I was given the hotel card, with the help of which I can access various stuff in the hotel like washing machine, room, hotel entrance as well as lifts. Yes, you cant use the lift without a card. If you go inside and press the button of some floor, it wont work if you dont use your card. As Sabhtarsha would say ... Ajeeb hai yaar ... :P

On the first day of office, I was given the Tieto Sweden card to access stuff in the office here. The HR came up and gave me yet another card. It was the medical insurance card. Yesterday, I was the proud (??) owner of yet another card. The monthly bus card to roam around Malmo any number of times during one month.

Lagta hai patte khelne baithna padega ab ... or do I need a card for that too?

Cheers ... !!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sprint across Vantaa ... !!

It was 1430 local time as the aircraft descended towards Helsinki airport, more commonly called Vantaa. At that moment, I was not too concerned about the mind boggling clouds surrounding the aircraft or the snow outside. The big concern was that my connecting flight to Copenhagen was due to depart from Vantaa at 1535. Something told me that it was not going to be easy. And it came true ...

My seat number was 59J ... the total capacity was 60 seats and I was sitting in the tail of the aircraft. The aircraft had just one exit and it was going to me an arduous task getting to the exit. We touched down at 1435 and it was 1445 till I came out of the aircraft. Now what? I had to find my way to the "Connecting flights" section. Fortunately, I found the section sooner than later. The gate number for my flight was 28. I had to go through the security check in. I had 2 bags with me. One laptop bag and the other a carry-on bag. The carry-on bag contained ready to eat stuff like Maggi, etc. It also contained something that was going to set me on a marathon across Vantaa. It was a bottle of aftershave lotion. The limit on such liquids is 100 ml and unfortunately mine was 150 ml. Dratch.

I was asked to step aside and I went through a rigorous examination of what I was carrying. I was asked to remove my belt, watch, Kada, wallet, boarding passes and tickets. Practically, everything apart from what I was wearing. My shoes and socks were checked in detail. I was not enjoying this. All I could hear was ... "This way please, Sir" or "Please turn around, Sir". Fortunately, I was not carrying anything suspicious. After querying their seniors, the security personnel gave me 2 options ...

One ... remove the aftershave lotion OR Two ... check in my carry-on baggage. For some reason, I didn't like the first option. I agreed to the second option. I was asked to proceed to a counter with my baggage. It was 1455 and I had to wear my belt again along with putting everything back in my pockets. I met a person at the counter and he asked me to furnish my passport. He proceeded to ask me something which I did not understand in 2 attempts, primarily due to his accent but it was more to do with where I am headed to. I replied with Sweden. He pointed me to his left. I asked him, "Where am I supposed to go? I am in a hurry". He said, "Find it". I did not have time to be surprised by this.

I headed to the direction he mentioned and saw lots of counters. I went up to a counter and met the lady at the counter. She was courteous enough to inform me that counter number 215 is the one I should be going to. I asked her for directions and she told me its towards the right. All this while, I descended from the 1st floor to the ground floor of the airport. I went up to 215 and let the lady know my state. To my surprise, she took it up urgently and said just one thing ... "Sir, I will make sure your bag is boarded in the aircraft but I must tell you that you need to run". No wonder ... it was 1520 and I was wondering if I would be allowed in.

Surprise, surprise. Another security examination since I was using a different entrance of the airport. Double Dratch. I went through everything again. The belt, watch, wallet, etc. It got over in 5 minutes.

I had to climb the floor I already descended but from a different direction and make my way to gate 28. When I reached the first floor, I was at gate 13. I had to run across 15 gates to reach gate 28 at 1530. The people were still moving to board the flight. That sight made me feel great. I boarded the aircraft and thanked my stars for everything.

At a temperature of -8, I was sweating as I took my seat ...

Cheers ... !!