ex-patriotism

Perhaps I was always headed back to Europe; I was born in Marseilles in 1963 while my parents were on sabbatical. I lived in France for less than 2  years, though, so I have no memory of it. We moved to California, to Davis, and that’s where I really come from. My mom had immigrated from Germany when she was about 6, so her background and family were European. My dad’s family had been in New York for the entire 20th century at least. Victor says I was always an ex-pat.

I was pretty fascinated with the idea that I had been born elsewhere, so when I was 7 I started trying to learn French. In junior high I took German, then switched back to French in high school. In college, however, I went fully classic and studied Latin and Greek. This came with a huge side-dish of linguistics, and of course a magnifying glass look at the grammar of my own language. I like language!

Despite growing up in California, I only ever studied Spanish when I lived in Tucson in 6th grade (that was normal curriculum there.) After college, my girlfriend moved to Amsterdam, so whenever Camper Van Beethoven was touring Europe, I stayed there for a little while and destroyed any German I could remember with Dutch. In the 1990s I studied Japanese at Soko Gakuen in San Francisco. I’m not really sure why, except that I wanted to learn it.

I never thought, however, that I would have to learn Swedish—my brain is a muddle of languages now anyway. But for whatever reasons cause anything to happen in any way, I ended up marrying a woman who is Swedish, and spending at least a month here in Sweden every year of the past decade. Most of the time I’d spent here was out in the country in the summertime, so I only ever listened to her and her family and friends speaking Swedish, and, for my sake, English.

So last week, I took the placement test to start actual language studies here, “Svenska för Invandrare”, Swedish for Immigrants, a service provided by the locality that one lives in to help immigrants into the society and to help them get work. There are 4 levels, A-D, based on one’s knowledge of Swedish, starting with people who don’t know the latin alphabet, for instance. As three parts of the test were reading or listening comprehension, I scored into D, but of course since I don’t really know the language at all, my writing section sucked ass, so I will start later this month in 3-C.

Let me back up a bit. I’ve moved to another country at the tender age of 48 years old (49 on Sept 3). It was something on the horizon, obviously, ever since meeting Sanna, (and perhaps an escape route if the US fell into total fascism…) but our move was hastened somewhat by two big life events: one, we had a child in 2011 and two, I lost my job and went broke and lost our house.

So between March and June of 2012, we decided that we were indeed moving to Sweden and researched shipping companies, packed up everything we wanted to keep (lots of musical instruments, of course) and sold what little we had that people would actually buy, gave a lot away, and donated the rest to charity. Many things that were extremely important to (at least *my*) lifestyle had to be jettisoned, including stereo systems and television, due to the simple fact of 120v/60hz versus Europe’s 220v/50hz electricity. I thought it would be relatively easy to replace these things, of course they exist here… all it would take is money. Strangely, we never made any money selling the US stuff… I ended up giving most of it away.

We had 4 shipping companies come and examine the heaps of gear and bins of clothes and whatnot that we wanted to send, some were cursory and then showed scary pictures of toppled container ships to highlight the importance of insurance (!), others were more thorough and made lots of notes and would get back to us with estimates. Some obviously were used to dealing with people who were wealthier and had nicer stuff, like people who ship their nice cars back and forth… Anyway, we settled on Pacific Crating and Shipping, a company of relatively mellow people whose headquarters were out in Hunter’s Point in SF. I think their estimate was relatively low as well, something like $3500, with another $1500 for insurance (I insured all my instruments and studio gear for about $60k.) One super nice thing that they did was that they stored our stuff at their warehouse for a month before shipping it, so we wouldn’t get to Sweden exactly when it all arrived! We had to clear our house out to show it to try to sell it (see previous diary entry.) Plus another super nice thing, in that intervening month, we asked if we could add one more bin and a guitar (so I didn’t have to carry it on the plane) and they didn’t even charge us more to add it to the already 60 numbered items in the warehouse.

Everything shipped in mid-May. We continued to clean, clear out shit, pack… We left the house on June 3th, my brother (and his family) took us to a hotel near SFO, I signed my ratty old ’96 Honda over to him. The next morning we left the country.

I actually had applied for a permanent residency visa much earlier. Mostly this was for ease of travel, and when Sanna was working at the Scandinavian School in SF, we had access to people who worked at the Swedish consulate in SF (their children were at the school) and they warned us of the costs to apply, so with Sanna being pregnant in 2011, we applied for me, and I sent my passport off to the Swedish Embassy in Washington, D.C, and received it back with a “Utan tidsbegränsning” visa, dated April Fools day, 2011. I had used it to enter the country before, a couple times, so no problem this time.

In the summer of 2011, entering Sweden with the residency visa for the first time, we were going to have a baby. One thing I did not have was a Swedish personnummer, basically the social security number. So I had to do some standing in line at the tax agency offices and show them my credentials, and our marriage certificate stuff. But I got a number. I am a number!

Sanna was way pregnant, Marlowe ended up being born a week late, on July 30th. The birth experience was great, the maternity hospital and midwives that worked there were amazing, we stayed in the little apartment there for 2 nights, then came home. Unfortunately, five days afterwards, Sanna was bitten by a viper out in Grecksnäs, and that story’s hospital was somewhat frightening (see August 2011 post). The issue was, really, that it was August and all the real doctors were on vacation. Anyway, after recovering from that experience, we came back to Stockholm (staying with her parents) and I started to deal with the fact that we had to get back to the US with a new baby.

This was not a good experience. Dealing with the US Embassy in Stockholm had been much easier in 2003 when we got married and went to apply for Sanna’s green card and stuff. That went smoothly, believe it or not, even in the immediate post 9/11 foreign embassy world. We were married on Dec 22nd, 2003, and Sanna had her papers to get into the US permanently by Feb. 2004, work permit by March. Dealing with getting a passport for a newborn was a whole different ballgame. First off, they simply would not let her travel with her mom into the US with her Swedish passport, as since she was the daughter of a US citizen and it was my obligation to pass my citizenship on to her, and if she had an obligatory US citizenship, she could only enter that country on its passport. Get it? So ok, then. What do you need for her to get her US passport? We had all the proof of marriage and my passport and such, and the personbevis (proof of existence paper) from the Swedish government for all of us. (An aside: I was born in Europe. I left very young. I went back in 1982 between freshman and sophomore years in college at UCSC, when my mom and my brother were living in Karlsruhe, Germany. Had a nice summer traveling around like one should at that age. The I tried to come back to the US. Two things happened: one, they wouldn’t let me in with dual citizenship—being born in France gave me French citizenship—and two, they wouldn’t let me in because I had not signed up for Selective Service. Remember Ronald Reagan? Yup, he reinstated the draft under the name “Selective Service” in 1981. I didn’t sign up. Duh! And doing so would register me for military service in the US, automatically annulling any other citizenship claims. I caved. At JFK, signed the papers. Eventually made it back to California, in time for second year of college.)

Well, what the State Department wants, for a citizen to pass on their citizenship, is apparently “proof of residency” in the US for five consecutive years. I offered tax returns. Nope, that could be paid from anywhere. Mortgage receipts? You could own a house and not live in it. Pay stubs for a job? Again, could be telecommuting (in fact I did telecommute quite a bit, I worked from Sweden for a month every summer, and I worked while on tour with CVB.) What did they want? Well, school transcripts, for example. Unfortunately, these not only cost money to order, but take weeks to get. We had about 3 weeks. Since this was the State department asking, I said, can’t you guys just look at my passport stamps to see the dates of exit and entry to the US? I mean, unless I sneaked out of the country it would be pretty obvious when I was there. Nope, sorry, different department.

So what did I do? I went to the internets. I provided 20 pages of listings of concerts I had played in the US during the past 30 years, with links to audio and video evidence of my presence in the US. Wit’s end, I tell you. The next interview there actually worked, however, the lady asked me about where I went to high school and asked weird questions about Davis, like “Don’t they have a farmer’s market in town”? Which I described in a sideways manner: the central park framer’s market is forever a symbol to me, as it changed in about 1976, sometime after what we now call the “fall of Saigon”. Suddenly, there were some whole other types of farmers there. To me this is as representative of California as anything else I experienced growing up. I told her this story, told her about all the documentation, and we went home. And waited. I had to leave, but we didn’t have a passport for Marlowe yet, so we moved Sanna’s flight back a week (I had to go to California and play shows and play the 7th Camper/Cracker Camp-Out anyway, so I wouldn’t have been home.) We got the passport the day I left Sweden.

So now Marlowe has two passports, Sanna and I have one each with permanent visas for the other country!

During the whole Marlowe born and passport incidents, while I had my Swedish number, what I didn’t have was an actual Swedish ID card. This turns out to be pretty damn important. In the first week after immigrating, I thought, I’ll start to set up some of the important things I need to be a citizen of my new country, like a bank account, getting a telephone, etc. Sorry, Jack. Not only do you need your ID Card, but you can’t even get a bank account if you don’t have an employer who will be putting money into it. What if I have a check to deposit from the US, can I start an account with some money? No. In fact, we don’t use checks. At all. Simply won’t take them. We tried at SEB bank first, as Sanna’s parents had an account there, and they had some weasely dude who kept saying “it’s difficult”, to which I would respond, “difficult or impossible?” No way I could start a bank account. Apparently the rules had changed due to people laundering terrorist money or something, so unless you are legally employed you can’t start an account, and have some sort of income going into the account. So what does this mean? Many areas where immigrants live have no banks. So they use Hawala, that weird Islamic word-of-mouth money transfer system that people actually do use to, for example, fund radical Islamic terrorism. Good on ya, banking guys!

So I had to at least get an ID card. Sanna actually hadn’t had hers for a while either, as she was robbed walking home one day (at noon) when we lived in Oakland several years back, and hadn’t replaced it. So we were out in Grecksnäs, where the nearest big city is Örebro, we went to town to the police station (where one gets ID Cards and passports!) and Sanna applied for hers, but since I am an immigrant, I have to go to Skatteverket, the tax agency, to get mine. Ok, that’s annoying. So we go over to their office nearby. Here they tell us that we have to find a completely different tax office, a couple blocks away. Ok. We find this place, take a number, and eventually get to talk with someone. We show the personbevis papers, I have my number already, I have my passport, Sanna proves she’s her with her passport (as she just applied for her own ID card) we’re all official and shit. So then we have to pay a fee for the card. Here’s where it gets weird.

Several years ago, Swedes stop being aware of how relatively wealthy they were as a society, it seems, and the kids starting growing up as little spoiled brats. This, especially in Stockholm (man, the teenagers are especially sickening, it’s like mini-Beverly Hills) which is the largest city and seat of state government. So the rich people start getting into this “I ❤ to OWN” mentality and don’t wanna pay taxes to support the rest of the welfare state. “Moderates” (that is, right wing) are elected. And what do they do right off? Privatize the shit outta things. Oh how intelligent.

So, skatteverket no longer deals with their own fees. Somehow, I have to pay a fee and bring them a receipt. They send me out and down the block and around the corner to this very shady “bank” where we walk in and it’s empty and there are two cashier windows at the other end of a big space. No information, no words anywhere. No indication what sort of “business” this place actually is….? Ok. So I pay them the $15 or whatever and get a receipt. We bring it back and give it to the people in the office and they say that they’ll send a note in the mail to come get the card, and that I would need that letter they sent.

Weeks go by. My brother writes me to say that things I sent to myself here have been returned to him, about $100 in postage for some packages, simply not delivered to our address in Sweden and sent back the US. Uh oh. What’s happening? Two things, as it turns out. One is, my name wasn’t listed on the manifest for the apartment where Sanna’s parents live, an address I have had mail delivered to before, but now apparently the rules are different. Different why? Because, two, the new government has privatized the post office and strangely the post office isn’t able to afford to do it’s service efficiently. Surprise, surprise! So the local post office for the Bromma district of Stockholm has collapsed 3 offices into one and simple can’t keep up with the mail with the small number of employees they now have, so mail is being delivered (or not) weeks late. Or sent back. Or not delivered. Where have I moved to, Central Africa?

So we call skatteverket to find out if they sent my ID card notification, it takes a few days to get a hold of someone, and indeed, it was sent and returned, but since Sanna had vouched for me initially, we can go and get it together. So we drive into Örebro again, and go to the office, but since she used her passport to vouch for me initially and now actually has her ID Card (didn’t bring the passport) they are hesitant to give it to me. It’s the rules, man! Eventually, we cry or something, and they give in and BREAK THE RULES and give me my ID Card. It’s not as pretty as hers, it’s very obvious that I’m an immigrant.  But with this card now, we go to SwedBank where Sanna has an account. We prove to them that we are married, and add me to the account, and apply to get bank cards that are actual MasterCard instead of Maestro ATM cards (as I had to buy a plane ticket for returning to Sweden after this year’s Camp-Out, and the travel agent/any business won’t take the Maestro card number.

So, European banks use IBAN and BIC numbers (go ahead, look it up, I’ll wait) to transfer money. This is cool, it means money transfer goes into accounts via these numbers. For example, I could tell you my bank account number, and you can put money into it with a little note that says what it’s for, but you can’t take money out with that number. So businesses are paid that way, and people pay each other that way. Nobody uses checks. What’s not cool, though, is that to access the account online to perform some transaction, you need a small palm-sized crypto-calculator machine. A dongle for your bank account. Wow, do i hate this. To sign into your account, you go online and enter your personnummer, it asks for a code number, you get your dongle thing and enter a PIN into it, choose application 1, it spews out an 8 digit number, which you now enter online and get to see your account. How this is better then 128-bit password cryptography, I don’t know. And what’s really annoying is when you misplace your dongle and have to pay bills or something…

As I am an avid user of Ebay and various other online things, I do use Paypal. I know, I know, they are as fucked as Bank of America. And to prove that point, they simply cannot use a multiple currency addition to one’s account. So, to use a foreign address on my paypal account, I need set up a new account. And attach it to my new bank account, can’t attach the new bank account to the old paypal account. So I now have two. Whee. And that takes a week or so for online proof (they place $0.25 or something into your account with a note with a code number, which you then log into the paypal account to confirm.)

Anyway, next stop, Telia. In the US, I’ve been using Verizon, which, although not awesome nor cheap, worked incredibly well all over the US when I’ve been on tour. No iPhone, though. I have an almost 3-year-old Android phone (HTC Eris) which is rooted to run ICS (I rooted my iPod touch too, just cuz. Not to sidetrack this section, but I am an Apple user, since 1988 or so, and a Linux user. Not into Windows, sorry [have had to deal with a support all 3.] However, never had an iPhone or iPad, only my still-wonderful 1st gen iPod Touch. I am really, really, really not into Mac’s newest operating systems. I am very unhappy since upgrading 10.6.8 to 10.7. I do not want my computer to be more like an iPhone. Really.) Verizon, unfortunately for me, uses CDMA technology, which isn’t used much in Europe except for some broadband modem internet companies that supply CDMA wireless for internet for boaters and such. Which is what I use right now for internet access out in the country, no phone lines there to carry broadband. So my phone is useless here. At Telia, we have decided on a “family plan” where we get two phones, a good one and bad one. I get the good one! But: since I haven’t lived here for a consecutive 8 months yet, I can’t get a phone in my own name! So Sanna has to do it. I could do the iPhone… but no, I go for the Samsung Galaxy S3, which is huge, but is a super nice phone. 4 band! 8 megapixel camera! 4G!

A 4-band GSM phone can work in the US. Sadly, not on Verizon. You’d think i could just switch sim-cards, but the CDMA phones don’t use them. If Verizon had more 4G territory, it might work. So this week I’m gonna have to reactivate my Verizon phone for the tour, then quite Verizon. I’d love to keep my US number, what I need to do is find a GSM provider that I can just put that US number on a sim card and use on a pay-per-use basis. Haven’t researched it yet (i am open to suggestions…)

So I have my ID, I have my phone number (message me for it!) and I get to register with Arbetsförmedlingen, the job search service. My appointment with them is not so awesome. Although an enlightened society enough to have a special culture worker’s branch of the job service, these people are as dour as one might expect from a US unemployment office when you tell them that you are a composer. “Do you have any restaurant experience?” Well, one thing that they do though is note my resume/bio (“look at wikipedia, man!”) and my education (that’s apparently 18 years of school, I discover) and tell me that I have to go to SFI. Remember SFI? So I have to do the placement test first. But they are closed all of July. And you can’t actually do it anywhere except the area that you are registered in, where you live, which for me is Stockholm, even though we have spent a lot of time this summer in Grecksnäs. They did send me one potential job to apply for so far, which I did, but haven’t heard anything about it, it’s an English language copyediting or writing thing for some internet business. Whatever.

So, finally back in Stockholm, and I’ve completed the test, and the classes start on Sept 17, which coincidentally is the day I fly back from the US after the Camper tour. Then, perhaps, I can actually learn the damn language and integrate myself into society like a good citizen.

Oh, and we still need to get our own apartment.

And a stereo.

and…

and…

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Posted in Sweden
3 comments on “ex-patriotism
  1. […] intense. And not just regarding money, or not just directly regarding money. I have written a bit about this before, but there is always more. I’m currently caught in a weird set of legitimation regulations […]

  2. LostInSweden says:

    Welcome to Sweden Jonathon. It sounds like you are discovering the reality versus the myth regarding all things Swedish. I lived there off and on for two decades. Not a nice place. Not nice people. IMHO.

  3. […] After the show, we packed our gear and talked a bit with our friends there, a little bit with Greg Allen from Omnivore (who recently re-released our two albums from Virgin, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart and Key Lime Pie,) briefly saw other people from 429 Records, stumbled through a short conversation with Dennis Herring, who produced OBRS and KLP, whom I don’t really get along with, and ended up talking for a long time with Marc and Valenta, friends of ours from Berkeley who run Amoeba Records. Amoeba is doing well in Los Angeles, even showing up in articles in GQ Style these days (!), but the original store in Berkeley, which used to be overrun by music loving kids is now passed over by a university population who really doesn’t care what music they hear so long as someone is twerking to it. The San Francisco store is still on its feet, but really the LA store is where it’s at these days, so Marc and Valenta moved down here. It was good to hang out with them, I’ve hardly seen them since we moved away from the Bay Area two years ago. Yes, in fact, exactly two years previous, on June 3rd, we left the United States. […]

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