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'If they have bad news, they'd rather not tell you'

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'If they have bad news, they'd rather not tell you'
12:45 CET+01:00
Having spent the last six months struggling to get settled in northern Sweden, ex-Londoner Paul Connolly shares his frustration over locals' hatred of confrontation.

I would first like to take this opportunity to say ‘sorry’ to Andreas from T3 Broadband. I hollered and raved at him like a loon last week as I bemoaned his company’s customer service.

In truth, T3 hadn’t been that bad. But poor Andreas had answered the phone to field a complaint about my broadband service at precisely the wrong time.

For the past six months we have been attempting to organize the renovation of our house as well as sort out personal numbers, bank accounts, tax affairs – the whole shebang of emigrating somewhere.

The tax people have been great – exemplary in fact. Incredibly helpful and surprisingly flexible. Our local bank has been fantastic too – once they even opened the branch 90 minutes after closing time so I could pay in a cheque. Try doing that in the UK.

But, oh my, the local tradesmen. I’d heard that there is, shall we say, a more relaxed attitude to working practices in northern Sweden than in other parts of the country.

In theory this is great.

People aren’t in thrall to their careers and they spend more time with their families. It is an admirable concept. Noble even.

However, by all accounts this approach has been mostly abandoned down south as people chase work and promotions.

To all those bemoaning the erosion of traditional values, let me extend an invitation to head north. Here you will find a hugely laid-back community of local tradesmen.

Not for them the unseemly scrambling after new business. Heavens, no.

There are cinnamon buns to be eaten and long aimless chats to be had. I discovered early on up here that most local tradesmen prefer not to return telephone calls. Clearly they regard such activity to be tantamount to desperation - you must never display eagerness for work.

After all, if you have time to call someone back you can’t be that busy. As for e-mails, well, I’ve given up e-mailing tradesmen up here. Actually, strike that. Never mind tradesmen, there’s rarely any point e-mailing anyone. Trying to contact your SFI teacher by e-mail to ask a question? Don’t be daft.

How about e-mailing the local municipality to check progress on a project they asked you to become involved with? Yeah, good luck with that. You will never, ever hear from them again, unless you turn up in person – cinnamon buns in hand – to ask them face-to-face.

But it’s the local tradesmen who really do my head in. I’m not contacting you to discuss the weather or the recent Luleå vs Skellefteå ice hockey game. I’m not a flaming debt collector.

I WANT TO GIVE YOU MONEY.

Why does this happen? I suppose some of it is due to the northern Swedes’ hatred of confrontation. If they have bad news for you, they’d rather not tell you.

But this reticence only accounts for probably 10 percent of the communication problems I’ve faced. I even write e-mails in Swedish now, so it’s not a language barrier. I’ll admit it, I’m foxed. As well as infuriated.

But there have been a few exceptions and, in the spirit of the forthcoming festive season, let me offer my fellow northern immigrants a gift – the gift of the details of some excellent northern tradesmen (these are all within an hour of Umeå).

For all your geothermal heating and plumbing needs look no further than the incredibly enthusiastic and professional Jim Wållberg of Svenska VPG (www.svpg.se); for windows and doors, Låge Eklund, the jolly owner of Åkullsjöns Snickeri (www.akullsjonssnickeri.se) should be your first choice (as he was for Benny from Abba, in case you were interested) and for all things electrical, the lugubrious Roger Vikstrom of Bygdsiljums Elektriska (no website but Google is your friend) offers reliable and affable service.

There, my northern compadres, these are the fruits of six months of banging my head against a wall of apathy. I have suffered so you don’t have to. Happy Christmas. (And God Jul to Andreas from T3 Broadband - I'm sorry, I really am).

Paul Connolly

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