The Uppsala Koala

G’day and welcome to Sweden

The Pub Quiz

December 3rd, 2011 by olivergee

It’s funny how things come around in a full circle.

Earlier this year, I found myself taking a beer with a friend (let’s call him Matt) in a pub in Uppsala. We were both language rookies, cautious of the frightening possibility of any Swedish encounters.

A waitress approached and said something, holding out a piece of paper and a pen. It sounded like a question, so I said yes, which happened to be one of my new words at the time, and we found ourselves taking part in a pub quiz in Swedish.

Needless to say, nerry a question was answered correctly throughout the night – in fact, nerry a question was understood. We walked out of that bar with a zero on the scorecard, which was in fact the second zero for Matt that day after a particularly gruelling SFI test.

BUT, we felt good about trying. One day, Matt said, gazing wistfully into the wind. One day we’ll see what’s at the end of this road.

Flash forward ten months to last Friday night. Different bar, same friend. An international student bar. A waitress approaches.

Vill ni göra pub quizzen ikväll?

Ja, det kan vi göra… vad handlar quizzen om?

Uppsala och Sverige -inte så svårt för två (snygga) killar som er…

Det låter bra. Tack.

Banter ensues.

(I left that in Swedish so the non-Swedes reading can understand how I felt in the first pub).

She left. I turned my attention to my chili nuts (which I’d never come across before Sweden – and I mean that in two ways…). The waitress returned.

Sorry guys, she began (in Swedish still), I’ve discussed it with the management and we’re afraid it would be unfair to let you participate.

Why, we asked.

Well, she continued, the quiz is simply too easy for Swedish people. It’s not fair on the others.

Our jaws dropped. Swedes? Us? Impossible!

I guess I’ll never know if she was messing with us, encouraging us, building our confidence, but it was certainly built – and ten stories high!

We told her we’d each been in the country for less than a year, and she, surprised, relented, and we were allowed to take the quiz.

So, it only takes ten months to learn enough Swedish to pass as a Swede, if you do your homework.

I should mention that the girl was only half Swedish, and perhaps wasn’t the ideal judge of how good we were… but let’s not focus on that.

Oh, and by the way, we won the whole pub quiz. Two foreigners who didn’t know an älg from a varg 10 months ago took home the win in the quiz about Sweden.

Sure, it was just one of life’s little victories, but we felt like we’d just climbed Sweden’s highest mountain. And if you know what that’s called, then you probably would have nailed the quiz too!

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Uppsala Problems and Paradoxes

November 25th, 2011 by olivergee

As far as I can see, there are two main Uppsala Problems.

1. Uppsala is a student town. This means there are potentially thousands of foreign students who compete to get student type jobs – that’s to say in restaurants, bars, hotels, shops etc. As the majority of the foreigners can’t speak Swedish, the supply outweighs the demand frighteningly. Why would a cafe care if you can speak fluent English or not. EVERYBODY can speak English already.

The longest, saddest, most hopeless walk in the world is the one through central Uppsala, with a bunch of CVs under your arm, a few words of rudimentary Swedish on your tongue, and a long row of uninterested bar managers and cafe staff in front of you. A newbie is easy to spot in Uppsala – they stick out like a moose on a skateboard.

2. Everyone needs a place to live, and as the jobs are hard to come by, the cheaper apartments disappear faster than a Scandinavian summer.

But, it is kinda pretty though...

Sure, there are the student corridor apartments and there are jobs in the student nation bars, but neither of these constitutes any form of comfortable living.

These two problems go together somewhat, which can make it almost impossible for young people to get settled quickly.

The ultimate way to learn the language is to get a job and immerse yourself, but go get a job you need to speak Swedish.

The only real answer is to learn Swedish to open up the job market, then find a job, then find an apartment.

Finally, I’ve done all three, quicker than some, slower than I would have liked. I figured it was worth writing about, as I found out many of the readers want to find out about life in Sweden and not about my life (strange choice of preferences, I know).

A word of warning though – if you plan to come to Uppsala as a student or otherwise, don’t count on picking up an easy job on the side when you get here – it mostly won’t happen. Either come with a wealth of pre-learned Swedish or a wealth of kronor in the bank.

Because otherwise, you may find yourself following the well trodden footsteps along Svartbäcksgatan, going from door to door with a beaming smile that is as pointless as your plight.


Wow, what negativity. This whole entry was supposed to be about moving in to a new apartment, but it turned to the harsh truth of this city instead. I even had an excellent pun based joke ready to use about the new sofabed.

Oh well, something to look forward to next time, eller hur?

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