Sunday, September 27, 2009


After 3 weeks in Sweden, the only word that comes to my mind is "neat." It's clean, it's green, the air is fresh, the garbage is meticulously separated, cyclists wear helmets and leave their bikes in park-and-ride stations to jump on the train. Now I am wondering. Where to they hide the smelly suburbs, the homeless people and the ugly industry areas?

I am trying to find something to complain. So far my only point of complaint is that health insurance in Sweden is so universal it's incomprehensible you could not have a health insurance. Unfortunately, it hadn't occurred to the immigration office that one might hold a German passport but not move to Sweden from Germany. Thus, I was expected to come with an EU insurance card. Needless to say, since I haven't lived in Europe for 6 years, I don't have such a fancy card. I had to repeat this about 4 times to the same person and was met with a blank stare. When it eventually entered her brain that I did move here from Canada, German citizenship or not, she ingeniously concluded then I must have a Canadian health insurance card. Indeed, I do. Just that it expired when I moved out of country.

The bottomline is that in effect I currently don't have any health insurance, meaning I have to pay my bills on my overdrawn Canadian credit card, collect the receipts, and hope that I get a return once the Swedes have sorted out their paperwork.

It took me two full weeks to figure out how the health insurance system works in Sweden, since nobody bothered to tell me, assuming I was born with that knowledge. You see, you don't get a contract with a health insurance company. Instead, everybody who pays taxes is automatically covered by the governmental health insurance, which is processed by an institution called Försäkringskassan. Uneducated immigrant that I am, I was waiting for somebody to tell me the name of the insurance company, hand me a plastic card with a number, and give me a booklet with benefits. I suspect there must be some sort of private insurance companies that one can use for additional coverage, but it doesn't seem to be something many people bother with.

The other news this week is that the moving company announced my household will be delivered on Monday. I've lived out of a suitcase the past 6 weeks and find myself not missing anything. Still, I hope my boxes will arrive in good condition. This also means I will finally move out of the guest apartment that the institute provided, and into my own apartment.

Shortly after this, I am leaving for a conference in Atlanta with the creative name Atlanta Conference. The hotel where I had a reservation let me know two days ago that due to a flooding they have a roof damage. Several of their rooms are unusable and the hotel thus totally overbooked. They are trying to relocate me. It's not entirely clear to me how a flooding causes a roof damage but anyway I hope they will sort things out. Not sure what the internet connection will be like, thus blogging might be sparse.


H-Baari said...

Stockholm's Gamla Stan is a great place to visit, if you haven't already. The royal castle and old buildings are sweet, and there's a nice sci-fi bookstore on västerlånggatan.

Harbles said...

I'm glad You are settling in.
I hope your health is good and you have no need to file a health insurance claim for a while at least.
Good luck in Atlanta. They had a drought in Georgia up until quite recently.

All the best

Tkk said...

Good update Bee!

Congratulations to Merkel win. I assume you voted for her? The steady hands of a problem solving physicist wins over the big talkers of the world's leaders:,,4580585,00.html

Gotta get your EU card and Swede health insurance coverage ASAP. Because if you travel to the US and got into health trouble without ANY health insurance from ANYWHERE you are inviting big big trouble. If not buy temporary travel health coverage for the duration of your US stay. There are a million horror stories about this.

Arun said...

The area around Atlanta suffered from really bad floods very recently.

E.g., CNN

Bee said...

Hi H-Baari,

Yes, I've been in Gamla Stan several times. It's nice, but it strikes me as the tourist center of the city. It's not a place where I'd like to spend time. Best,


Bee said...

Hi Tkk:

a) the German chancellor isn't elected by the people

b) did I leave you with the impression I'd vote for a party with the word "Christian" in its name?

Yes, the issue with the health insurance coverage while in the US has crossed my mind. I've found a semi-solution for this that I hope will work in case of an emergency. Usually one only needs an additional travel insurance when out of country for more than n weeks, n typically being somewhere between 3 and 6. In any case, I am pretty pissed off the Swedes didn't manage to treat me in 2 weeks time. If I get sick overseas I'll make sure it costs the Swedish taxpayer at least 10 times as much as had been necessary. Best,


Bee said...

Harbles: Thanks. I'm curious to see Atlanta. I only know the airport. Best,


Giotis said...

Bee voted for Oscar Lafontaine. Way to go Bee!

Bee said...

I don't vote for splitters.

Giotis said...

SPD is the splitter. It supported Angela and CDU by participating to a right wing government.

Bee said...

Lafontaine split long before anybody had heard of Angela Merkel.

Giotis said...

Yes, he foresaw them. He saw what they were capable to do for a few crumbs of political power. Not to mention that the polities of CDU and SPD were practically the same.

Bee said...

Foreseeing isn't much of a virtue if you're the cause. Instead of fighting, Lafontaine abandoned his party. As a result, now neither the Left nor the SPD is getting anywhere, and won't for who knows how long.

Giotis said...

He could be Chancellor by now but he didn't compromise and kept his ideas. He gave them the finger and split. This a rare virtue. It's up to the German people to change their future. You can't blame Lafontaine for their poor choices.

Bee said...

Except that if he was chancellor, he could actually do something. Instead he chose to sit safely in a corner where he has no influence and can give speeches about his socialist fantasies.

Giotis said...

He didn't choose to be in the corner. I told you, only the people have the power to bring true change. They could vote for him and give him 35% if they wanted to. The future is in their hands and you don't have to blame anyone else.

Zephir said...

/*..I get a return once the Swedes have sorted out their paperwork...*/
Sweden society is behaving like homogeneous boson condensate existing inside of dense stars: from inside it's superfluid, but it's not so easy to get in just because all exceptions are separated by surface gradient from interior. Outer surface of neutron star behaves like hard brittle crust, instead.

Anonymous said...

Lafontaine is exactly what people mean when they talk about "left-wing fascists".

Bee said...

I don't blame Lafontaine for where people make their cross. I was just explaining why I don't vote for him.

Uncle Al said...

An insurer named "Forsaken?" Priceless (though not costless). Whether you go to heaven or hell, you must pass through Atlanta. Flooding causes roof damage because insurance reimburses repairs.

Swedish Taxpayer said...

If I get sick overseas I'll make sure it costs the Swedish taxpayer at least 10 times as much as had been necessary.

nige said...

"It's not entirely clear to me how a flooding causes a roof damage but anyway I hope they will sort things out."

Two possibilities:

1. Everyone climbed on to the roof to escape being drowned. Since the roof wasn't designed to be a refuge, it was damaged by having so many people on it.

2. Maybe the flooding was due to the bursting of a water pipe or water tank in the roof (loft) space, causing damage to the roof (loft). (Admittedly, this requires the assumption that "roof" simply represents "loft space", rather than literally the tiled outer top surface of the hotel.)

Anonymous said...

" a flooding causes a roof damage.."

how about a common cause?

Bee said...

Taxpayer: I've tried to be inexpensive. Next time please vote for a party that treats immigrants like human beings. Tak :-)

Swedish Taxpayer said...

"Tak" means "roof" in Swedish. I see Atlanta still weighs on your mind. BTW, maybe that was just a transposition, i.e. roof damage caused a flooding?

For a problematic, if not smelly, Stockholm suburb, try Rinkeby (it's on the blue subway line). It's 89% first or second generation immigrants, mostly speaking Asian or African dialects and pidgin Swedish ("Rinkebysvenska"). Who knows, a visit there might make you feel better about your own situation.

Tkk said...

"If I get sick overseas I'll make sure it costs the Swedish taxpayer at least 10 times as much as had been necessary."

The trouble with blog is everyone can read it. Including Swede government health ministry. And so they might want to play certain games with certain German immigrant. ;-(

Thomas Larsson said...

"If I get sick overseas I'll make sure it costs the Swedish taxpayer at least 10 times as much as had been necessary."

Uh? As long as you are a German citizen, isn't it up to Angela Merkel to pick up the tab? There are more important things to spending Swedish taxes on, like getting terrorists like Ghezali out of trouble.

stefan said...

Actually, Bee now is a Swedish taxpayer, since this September. Health insurance, for example, according to European regulations, has to be covered in Sweden. And, as her work contract didn't come completely out of the blue, I am a bit surprised that all these formalities take so long to be done.

Cheers, Stefan

Kaleberg said...

Flooding causes roof damage when the roof drains can't remove water fast enough either because it wasn't design for that level of downpour, or more commonly, the drains are clogged. Buildings aren't designed for all that weight on top, so there is often water damage, and sometimes the buildings collapse.

I know this was a problem with a lot of flat roofed condos in Vancouver, BC a few years back. Rain! In British Columbia! Who would have thunk it?

Bee said...

Hi Kaleberg,

indeed, that makes sense.


Bee said...

Hi Thomas,

As Stefan mentioned above, I live in Sweden, I work in Sweden, I pay taxes in Sweden, consequently my health insurance is in Sweden. It is interesting you are asking that, because it's exactly the same assumption that everybody else here seems to have made, namely since I'm a German citizen, I must have a German health insurance. Just why would I have a health insurance in Germany if I have neither lived nor worked there since 2003? Best,


Bee said...

Hi Taxpayer,

Yeah, I'll try that. Though a trip to the US of A usually succeeds in filling up my quota for witnessing miserable living circumstances for a while. Roof, roof så mycket,


Bee said...

Hi Tkk,

Speaking of games being played, let me tell you how this looks from my perspective. I've been sitting around waiting to be admitted to a hospital. But allegedly there's no bed anywhere in Stockholm. I've had a private health insurance myself at some point and know how these things work. Governmental insurance is bad enough, and no insurance won't accelerate matters either. Now I'm not particularly keen on hospitals anyway and would probably just patiently wait. Except that I have to go on a trip to the USA. Also that usually wouldn't bother me, even Atlanta has hospitals. Just that, and that's the point which pisses me off, thanks to the Swedish government I have for all practical purposes no health insurance. I have no insurance card, I don't even have a sheet of paper that confirms I have a health insurance. I just have the assurance by somebody at the university that simply by virtue of paying taxes in Sweden, I am insured. Unfortunately, this won't impress anybody overseas. I can vividly imagine the nurse in triage laughing their ass off. You can add to this that I don't even have any confirmation of my residency in Sweden. Neither did I receive anything from the immigration office, not as much as a number under which my request is being processed, nor do I have a lease. The only thing I can up with is my employment contract. Now that's really going to be helpful.

In any case, I can assure you I'm not particularly eager on testing out the emergency units in Atlanta. I just find this procedure quite irresponsible. Hope that explains my frustration. Best,


chimpanzee said...

"Harbles: Thanks. I'm curious to see Atlanta. I only know the airport"

My brother-in-law/sister live in Atlanta suburb, since he is a developmental biologist @Emory Univ (in Atlanta). He is a German speaking Swiss, btw. In a worst case scenario, I could look into the possibility of staying at their place. My ex office-mate in grad school is now Vice President of Georgia-Tech (& President of GTRI/GaTech Research Inst) in Atlanta, whose ex-GaTech colleague is now the Caltech President. He has an appt at the College of Computing, where Dana Randall is CS/Computer Science professor (Lisa Randall's sister). An ex-undergrad classmate of mine (UIUC) is a CS prof (computer architecture). There are some people who are very accomadating (ala European hospitality) who would let you stay over at their place, at a moment's notice. You're in the South, which is well known for its Southern Hospitality.

I was just at an amateur-astronomy expo over the weekend (Pasadena, near Caltech)...

[ they had talks by professional astronomers, as part of their Pro-Am collaboration efforts, Science Outreach, etc. Dr. Arne Henden/AAVSO head, Bruce Betts/Planetary Society, Scott Hardel/Palomar Mtn Observatory Public Affairs, Rusty Schweickart/Apollo astronaut. Interviews here, the Carina Software principal is a MIT grad (Planetary Sciences) & Software Bisque is led by a Geophysics major (Colorado School of Mines).
Planewave Instruments is led by a UCLA physics grad. Dr. Kate Hutton/Caltech Geophysics (she's a PhD Astronomy) was manning the AAVSO booth ]

...& a leading amateur (supernova search, with many discoveries) lives near Atlanta. He's a nice guy, & probably would eagerly open his doors (home & professionally equipped observatory) to a "hot shot" theoretical physicist like yourself.

Apogee Instruments/Dir of Astronomy division
[ If you want to get to know Atlanta, it's always best to get a local guide. ]

We know each other from 1997 (Comet Hale-Bopp) via remote-communication, & he recognized my name-tag as I visited his booth.

Ironically, all the above talk about health issues & emergency room..Emory Univ is home to the CDC/Center for Disease Control.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

You make Stockholm sound like a wonderful place. However, I’m somewhat concerned that you are having problems with securing access to good health care. As you know in being a fan of Rene Descartes it has me become mindful of his moving to Stockholm at the request of Queen Christina of Sweden. This would be the last place that Descartes would journey as revealed in this biographical report :

“Two months before the publication of the Passions Descartes set sail for Stockholm, Sweden, at the invitation of Queen Christina of Sweden. Descartes' death in Stockholm of pneumonia, has regularly been attributed to the rigours of the Swedish climate and the fact that Descartes (no early riser) was sometimes required to give the Queen lessons as early as five in the morning. However unpleasant these conditions may have been, it seems plain that Descartes acquired his fatal malady as a result of nursing his friend the French ambassador (who had pneumonia) back to health.”

So until matters are resolved, I would recommend turning down royal requests, avoiding all early meetings or lectures, dress warmly and not to volunteer nursing sick friends.:-) More seriously, it’s nice to hear that you are settling in and that Stockholm shows promise t0 being a good environment for your life and work.



Kay zum Felde said...

Hi Bee,

glad that you like it there. The health insurance thing is due to fact that everywhere there is something unhappy one has to deal with, right ?

Best Kay

Rikard said...


Is Nordita officially affiliated with Stockholm University or is it a government agency at least? In that case you are insured while traveling with Kammarkollegiet, which insures all government employees. In principle you should have a card from them saying as much, but I believe there's a 24 hr phone number that one can call. Have a look at


Swedish Taxpayer said...


We note a general desire that NORDITA should make its information about job conditions, health insurance, social security and housing more easily available. More than one postdoc expressed surprise to discover after arrival that he would not be taxed on his income from NORDITA, and there was general confusion about the accompanying benefit package. It is
important not only that NORDITA people be reassured that they have full health and accident 10
insurance, but also they know how to use this both in Sweden and elsewhere. It is generally recognized that housing is an issue in Stockholm, and several postdocs urged that information how to seek local housing be provided as soon as job offers are accepted.


Confusion reigns...

Tkk said...

Dear Bee, frustration understood. Kinda like when you arrived at Waterloo and found strange things to adjust to. The 'Ouch' repeats but we're confident you are more experienced to handle major transitions.

It's been a while since you flew into the US direct from Europe (I think). Just make sure all papers are in order, that you have paper to prove purpose of visiting the US for a short duration, that you have proof you booked hotel and can be contacted. And of course buy that travel health insurance.

Entering the US other than from Canada can produce a border experience no self-respecting person would want. This is so well-known that millions of travelers made plan to avoid enter/transiting the US if possible, and foreign airlines advertise bypassing US ports as an attraction.

Upon your return you should have ample time to teach those Swede government people a lesson or two on how to deal with a Bee!

Bee said...

Tkk, Kay: Yes, moving generally sucks. I'm not too surprised about it, I'm just writing about it because shared frustration is half frustration. So thanks for listening in :-)

Rikard, Taxpayer: Thanks for the info! Yeah, I did of course ask at the institute (already months ago in fact). I was told that it has been discussed an information package should be put together. After a long back and forth, last week I got a phone number from somebody at KTH who was able to answer some of my questions. This was very helpful to the extend that I now know why I'm having trouble. She couldn't tell me though whether and how I'm insured during travel outside of the EU.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Yes, I'll definitely make sure to turn down all royal requests and keep in mind the detrimental effect of meetings in the early morning hours. 5am though I would probably consider late evening instead. Best,


Åka said...

I just moved back to Sweden after two years of postdoc in Canada. I come from here. When I went to Skatteverket to register me and my family as living in Sweden, I asked about health coverage and the answer I got was: "Don't get sick until you are properly in the system". Which took slightly over four weeks. I did hope, like you, that I could get reimbursement afterwards in case I needed something, but I'm glad I didn't have to try it.

People often have private insurance in addition to the government one, for added benefits in extreme cases. Basic health care, not so.

Bee said...

Hi Åka,

That's awful. You'd think they could at least give you a temporary number for that 4 weeks. I had actually been told I would get a temporary number, but when I was at Skatteverket and asked the women, she said no. I asked what am I supposed to do then the first 4 weeks, and she said "Wait." I said it's not an option, and she said "That's how we do it in Sweden."

It is remarkable how frequently I have heard people all over the world justify nonsense with "That's how we do it in ... America, Canada, Sweden, Brazil, Mexico, Italy, etc etc." It's an alteration of "I'm just following orders and don't want to think."

In any case, I sincerely hope there will be an improvement to this procedure at some point. Best,


Giotis said...

You shouldn't be surprised with such behaviour Bee. They treat people this way because they simply don't give a shit. They simply don't care about your problem. They don't care about anyone and they don't want to help anyone. The social fabric has been rent. Five hundred years of capitalism and the subsequent idealization of money and private interest as the ultimate value of society can do that. There is always a price to pay and in this case the dehumanisation of society is the price. So whenever you face such behaviour you should remind yourself that these are just symptoms of a general decay.

Anonymous said...

That's the nature of ALL bureacracies, capitalist or other wise.

Bee said...

Hi Giotis: From my limited experience so far, Sweden is as close to socialism as I can take. I even suspect that a more capitalist system would have dealt with the situation at least faster, though not necessarily better on the long run. The reason is that the cause of the problem is that nobody feels responsible, and there's no alternative anyway. It's just how they do it in Sweden, you see. Best,


Arun said...

Swedish education

Bee said...

Thanks, that's interesting. The graph with the child poverty rates is quite painful.