Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bye bye, Umeå

My year as a postdoc is up, and I am in the process of packing up. It's surprising how much stuff accumulates by being in one spot for some time, but unsurprisingly, the largest bulk comes from books.

So, what have I learned in this northern spot of Sweden? Apart from what I came here for (finish a manuscript, write some articles, meet new people, figure out the secret of my further research, all of which has been done), I have learned a few things about this country which is so close and so similar, and so subtly different from home. Let's start with the negative stuff, so I can end it at a happy note.

Personal number: The source of all evil. I didn't get a Swedish number, I got a "coordination number", which I could do as a Norwegian citizen not about to move to Sweden.

Banking: It may be as bad to be foreign in a Norwegian bank, but I hope I never need to find out. Source of many problems: No personal number.

Healthcare: Good once I got through the initial bureaucracy. My problem with the bureaucracy? No personal number.

Mail: I could never know how the mail would arrive, where, how, and where I could pick it up if I didn't catch the delivery at the right moment. And when I went to pick up mail, the main problem was... yes, exactly, no personal number.

Language: Swedish is very close to Norwegian, but there are moments when we just stare, stupidly, at each other. Being stubborn, I refused to speak "Swedlike", but yes, I did adjust my language, searching for more common words. I have learned a lot of synomyms for the most everyday things. I did not have to resort to English... much.

Weather: I have dried up like a prune from the inland dryness, hurt my back on the ice in winter, and become very sick of wind. Also, it got really dark. Thinking about it makes me want to go home, even if home has more rain and harsher storms.

Fika: For somebody who don't eat cakes, sweets or any other stuff which it's common to serve with coffee (and hardly drink coffee), this is a pretty useless social habit. It's nice, it's important, and one should participate. I have spent hours nursing a glass of water, smiling politely.

BUT there's another Swedish food habit I think is wonderful: Warm food for lunch. If there wasn't a well-stocked, reasonable and good place to buy a lunch that would meet all my requirements, I could bring my own and heat it in one of the many many microwaves spread in all the different spots designed to have lunching spots for all.

Bicycles: I love it. I would never use the car to get back and forth from work if I lived like this. Problem is that in Volda I don't go back and forth but up or down. This may be an Umeå thing though, but seriously, it made me buy winter tires for my bike, so I could use it all through the winter.

Maintaining roads: If there was five centimeters of snow, the next morning I'd be woken up by huge machines clearing the parkinglot outside my window. And before I got to the University, they would have cleared and sanded the walkways.

Coffee: Much cheaper and better and more varied than in Norway. I wish I liked it better than I do!

Prices: I kept changing into Norwegian krone in my head. Great fun.

And then there were the things that were surprisingly familiar.

People: Basically the same everywhere, these dressed sharper, but that's where the difference ended. Oh, and they kept telling Norwegian jokes. We don't do that in Norway, we tell Swedish jokes, and they are, of course, much better.

Organisations: No matter where you live, reorganising an institution is a pain. Very nice to watch from the outside, although it triggered unhappy memories.

Television: It's as easy to fall asleep watching Swedish television as Norwegian. Same wonderfully sleepy rythm to it.

To conclude: Going home is good, but mostly because I am returning to something which has, over a lifetime, become "normal". I could easily live with another norm - perhaps I could even learn to drink enough water and to moisturise - and be just as happy. Perhaps even more, the landscape in Umeå invites more for the kind of casual exercize I need than the west-coast of Norway does. I am not surprised by this knowledge, but over this year I have learned to understand it in ways which were theory before.

Would I do this year again?
Probably, and I wouldn't do much differently.

Would I have stayed for another year if I could?
Not really, I feel very ready to go home. But then if I had another year, I'd have been planning and thinking very differently.

Would I go back here?
I'd love to come back. After all, I finally know how to get around, where to find good tea, and what goes on in the restaurant next to the place where I live. I'd like to re-use this knowledge.

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