Friday, February 1, 2008

The Frozen Tundra, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Byråkrati

JoeAs I mentioned before, briefly, on Wednesday as I was suiting up to depart Akademihotellet for good, our Personal Numbers showed up in the mail. This was somewhat unexpected, as we had applied for them just the previous Thursday, and had been told that we should expect to wait 10-14 days for their arrival. Nonetheless, it was good news, because as Jennifer described at some length a few days ago, it is difficult to actually accomplish anything in Sweden without your personal number.

The irony of the personal number is that you already know most of it, and could compute a bit of what's missing. In fact, we were really only waiting on three digits each, our so-called "birth numbers," which are nearly random. The complete personal number is a ten-digit number which looks like this:
Y, M, and D are for the year, month, and day of your birth; B is the three digit birth number (in which the last digit is odd if you are male and even if you are female); and C is a check digit, computed by multiply every other digit by 2, adding the results to the sum of the remaining digits, and subtracting the ones digit of the result from 10. (The complete description of the Personal Number system can be found in the SKV 704 brochure available from Skatteverket, but alas, as of publication this no doubt riveting read is only available in Swedish . If you are curious, you can check out SKV 717B, "Population Registration in Sweden.") BTW, on your 100th birthday, the hyphen before your birth number becomes a plus. Congratulations!

View Early Adventures in Uppsala in a larger map
Having acquired our personal numbers, we devoted Thursday morning to taking care of some of the things we couldn't do without them. First stop, the bank. We picked one which was recommended by the University as being used to dealing with students and foreigners. Setting up an account only took about half an hour, but that half hour was a series of interesting revelations regarding the Swedish banking system. For example, there is no such thing as a joint bank account in Sweden. Just doesn't exist, apparently. Also, the banks would very much rather that you didn't come to the bank. Ever. So they charge you fees (which they admit up front are nearly extortionate) for any business you conduct in the bank. Not that you can necessarily conduct our business there even if you want to—the bank we were at doesn't handle cash. That's right, it's a bank (the central Uppsala branch of a major Scandinavian banking firm, mind you) which neither takes in nor hands out cash. What can you do there, other than open an account? I don't know. There's also no such thing as a personal check in Sweden. Bills are paid online or through the bank, and to give money to another person you have to transfer it to their account, through a process which we'll have to have explained when it comes time to pay the rent. Checks from US banks are viewed with disdain at best, suspicion at worst, and are cashed only after a huge fee is charged.

So, we placed an order for the Swedish equivalent of a couple of debit cards, got a personal card reader device which enables you to do secure banking over the internet, and set off to find the next branch of the same bank, which would take our cash deposit. This was handled fast enough that we had time to grab a sandwich from a little cafe (a skink och ost (ham and cheese) baguette for Jennifer, and a salami och brie ciabatta for Joe, plus a coke, 127 SEK) before heading to our next stop, Migrationsverket.

The Migration Board's offices in Uppsala are only open from 1–4 Monday through Wednesday, and 1–4:30 on Thursday (that's "Mo–On: 13–16, To: 13–16:30" in the local parlance). We had to go there to obtain a paper copy of our Uppehållstillstånden. Armed with a bus map and an online mapping program, I had determined that the #6 bus, which runs right by Jennifer's office, would get us there. So, we hopped the #6, took it to the Bolandsparken stop, and got out, assuming that #10 Bolandsparken would be easy to spot.

We found ourselves in the middle of a large field of snow. Across a set of railroad tracks was an industrial park, beyond that some factories, and in the distance the largest water tower I've ever seen. As the industrial park seemed to be in the right direction, we set off that way. This would have been fine, except that temperatures had plummeted overnight, and the slush covered parking lot had turned into a sheet of solid ice. What's more, Migrationsverket wasn't listed on any of the directories. 10 minutes of scouting turned up the (obvious in retrospect) solution: cross the deadly parking lot to the next open field of snow, go through that to the imposing-yet-open gate through the razor wire topped fence, cut through another parking lot to find, in the middle of a bunch of factories, the Uppsala Migrationsverket office.

By this time it was 15 minutes past 1, and apparently every other immigrant in town decided to show up at opening also, because the house was packed. Fortunately, we weren't applying for anything, so we didn't even have to take a queue number (you have to take a queue number for pretty much everything in Sweden), we just went to window number four, and by 1:30 we had our Uppehållstillstånden.

At this point, Jennifer had to go to work for a meeting, so I took her passport and her letter of employment and went to Försäkringskassan. I had actually been there once before, because while there's some information about benefits in English online, there's nothing about applying or eligibility, so on Tuesday I headed down to the office to find out what we needed to do. After a few minutes wait I was helped by an extremely happy, chatty fellow who showed me what forms I needed to fill out and what paperwork I needed to bring (and agreed that, yes, I had to wait until I had my personal number before applying).

Thursday, I got queue number 223, and the counter was on 207 with a full waiting room, so I settled in for a longer wait. 45 minutes later, I was sitting in front of desk number 3. Puzzlingly, the guy I talked to this time wanted slightly different stuff than the first guy had—he was satisfied with our Uppehållstillstånden, but he wanted different forms for each of us (the first guy said one form for the two of us, but this guy gave me a brief, blank look and then said, "But you are different people," with which I could hardly disagree), didn't want a copy of our passports (making him like the only official in Sweden who hasn't made a photocopy of our passports), and agreed that Jennifer was a student, not an employee. Whatever. In the end, he seemed happy (I use the term loosely here, you understand), so I was happy, and I went home.

If only it was this easy to deal with Comcast, I'd be all set.

1 comment:

  1. Hello! George forwarded your blog to me. I've been following your adventures with great interest. I especially enjoyed the washer/dryer episode. Best wishes for whatever you attempt tomorrow!