First day in Sweden. You stand on Stockholm’s main square, absorbing cultural heritage through your eyes. Suddenly a thief runs by, grabs your bag from your hands and gets lost in back streets of the city. “All my money was there!” you shout in his direction. But a bully’s vanished into thin air. What is the first thing you do? Rule 1 – no panic. Rule 2 – pull yourself up and… get a job!
To see what Scandinavia looks like – to me it was just as mysterious as boarding a medieval ship in search of India. Opinions of people I know who had visited it varied drastically. Some came back amazed and astonished with different living standards while others muttered “Never ever again!” disappointedly. As to me, after a night on economy class ferry Gdańsk - Nynäshamn, I was greeted by a rather dull and grey country. Representatives of Swedish feminist movement community were staring from posters, check-man was tearing tickets apart, languidly repeating “Stockholm to the left, lavatories to the right”. “Sweden is a peaceful, quiet, decent and most importantly hospitable state” – a bus driver was assuring me and some Chinese tourists. It is true, only if we don’t have Stockholm in mind.
Capital, as is the case in many countries of the world, is a attractor for newcomers from suburbs. Therefore on a working day, especially in the morning, center of Sweden resembled a typical ant hill. Stylish people hurrying in various directions, all boutiques and shutters of house windows frames burst open. Man in jumpsuits, with a morning-after feeling and with strollers drag themselves out of homes while their wives dressed in formal suits run straight ahead to work. My own essential need that morning was food! Years of experience as a tourist suggested that 50 euro – that is almost 500 Swedish krona – is enough to survive three days in an unknown state.
No luxury, no meal three times a day but feeling yourself a discoverer of a new country’s beauties. Breakfast at a café, tea to go – and you budget is decreased by 15 euro. A tour around the main landmark of the city – Royal Palace – and that’s 25 euro in half a day, gone for good. Last bit of money was spent on a touristic must-visit – on subway, about 3 euro just for a one-way ticket.
When sitting at Kungsträdgården (Royal Garden) station, I came to the only possible decision – leave that very day. A local guy called Joseph decided to share my sadness, his last name, however, sounded as threateningly and unutterably as the verdict in Nuremberg Trials. At the time my new acquaintance’s general appearance was radiating with love to fashion of American hippies of 1970s. But it was this talented man who lifted for me the veil on how to earn money in Sweden in merely a day and for all that one can wish for. There turned out to be three ways.
Option 1 was simple enough. You need neither possession of the language, nor financial investments. Not even an initial interview. Most important thing is a wide smile. It is the way schoolchildren and students at a loose end earn their bits. The task is to give away city maps to tourists. To get such a job at an information bureau all you need is a passport, no matter about the issuing state. By Swedish standards they pay peanuts – 25 krona per hour, that is, about 2.5 euro. In Luxembourg, for instance, this amount would ensure you a pretty nice lunch with normally a coffee or a tea as a complement!
Option 2 suitsthrill-seekers and fans of own trade. For the record, no one is engaged in mendicancy in Sweden. For locals it is the last cry for help from the depth. However, even members of Swedish parliament went to the streets with a hat in their hands when protesting against one of the laws. So I was assured that people would have some understanding. Joseph and I promptly came up with a sign for me and I solemnly sat on the stairs of Östermalmstorg station.
It was a phenomenal success! Not only was every third person inviting me to stay, every second was leaving 50 or sometimes even 100 krona (editorial note: 5 and 10 euro respectively). And everyone who felt like it, was hugging and wishing me the best of luck. What a mindset!
Option 3 requires minimal grounding – that would be possession of a language, either Swedish or English. Since in Sweden they have like the most cruel present for 18th birthday – parents simply kick their offspring out of home for kids to provide for themselves on their own ever since. It is for them that Swedish government came up with a system, under which they can get a “one-time job”: delivery guy, shop assistant, consultant or a security guard. You only have to have your passport in your hands. So, you sign a contract for a day and by the end of it you have a promised amount of money in your pocket. Most frequently it is 100 – 250 krona (10 – 25 euro).
But out of Swedish government’s sight there is another, fourth option of getting income – a credit. “Easy money” is given away in Sweden like small bread to unemployed, workers, students as allowances and even to dying pensioners. They are to pay it back with taxes. But even here sly refugees and emigrants found a way to survive in a foreign country. Over the years a tradition evolved to come to the state, like I did, using touristic visa and… lose documents, forget own name and turn to migration service pleading complete amnesia. After several procedures of dramatic scenes in front of state institutions, government of Sweden grants you with accommodations and a credit that actually allows subsistence in the country. And as soon as time comes to pay back… memory instantly comes back to poor patients. Unfortunately or luckily, I refused to exchange my passport for a quick buck. But I thus proved to all whiners and hysterics that there is no such thing as “no way out”.
Photo by: Daria Chernousova