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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Working in Sweden: A Beirut vs Göteborg Special

I thought I'd share a few quirky differences between the work lives in Beirut and Göteborg..
Swedish and Lebanese cultures are very different. Well there's an understatement for you.
In my previous post on the matter, I described Beirut and Göteborg as complete opposites. Now that I've started spending considerable amounts of time in an office, I thought I'd share a few quirky differences between the work lives in Beirut and Göteborg:

Let's start with everybody's favorite pass-time at work: Napping

Whenever you're tired at the office in Beirut, there is but one movement that never fails to compel you: To rest your head on your desk and take a nice fifteen minute nap to regain your energy. Don't even try to do that in Sweden, I was told it bears a very bad judgement. For all your napping needs, the company provides a napping room within the office premises. The napping room comes with a bed, yoga mats, etc.. all to satisfy your comfort needs.

They want you to work, but they also want you to work out

It is Swedish law that every company should provide its employees compensation for gym memberships, unless it chooses to provide a space for sports within the office premises. Naturally if you choose not to become a member in a gym, that money is simply lost on you. In short, that's the Swedish way of encouraging everybody to stay fit. If you prefer to run outdoors in the morning, don't worry, office showers are also provided to make sure you always smell good around your colleagues.
In contrast, when was the last time you heard about one of your Lebanese coworkers keeping a tight workout schedule ? Yeah I thought so too..

Fruits, fruits, fruits...

So not only do the Swedes want you to work out, they want you to eat right too. For instance, the company I work for constantly provides fresh fruits for the office. Bananas, oranges, pears, you name it.. and there's plenty for everyone. If I remember correctly, the only thing in abundance at the office in Beirut where I used to work was chocolate. Of course, the Beirut alternative is more delicious, but did you read that part about the gym ? Do you see a pattern ?

..and fika !

It's not easy to explain fika to non-Swedes. "fika" literally means "to have coffee", but it's much more. You can think of it as a chance to have cake, cinnamon rolls, or any other sweet bakeries with your coffee and sit around chatting with your colleagues. I've heard somewhere that the law guarantees your right to two fifteen minute fikas a day without suffering retribution from your employer. If you're working in Lebanon and you're reading this, you're probably thinking "What's the big deal ? We take breaks and talk to each other all the time at the office". Well here's why:

Swedish offices are dead silent.

Here's an example for you. On my first day, I made myself a cup of tea, and while drinking it, the steel spoon kept sliding on the rim of my cup, which made that ringing rubbing noise spoons tend to make. That noise was louder than anything else in the entire place, I kid you not. Swedes don't seem to talk to each other much while they're working, unless they're working on something together and they want to discuss it.
To put things into perspective, we had a basketball ring, a dartboard, a whole lot of stress balls (for throwing at each other, not the usual personal use), a couple toy guns, a Wii, etc.. lying around at the office in Beirut, someone was in charge of the music playing in the room, and we lived on the brink of a stress-ball war erupting between pretty much everybody who had quick enough hands.
In Beirut, when you're bored, tired, or just don't feel like working, you can easily get up and talk to someone about anything and everything. In Sweden, you drink coffee.

Oh did I mention the coffee machine ?

This is a sacred item in Swedish offices. The wonder machine that can make you anything from a coffee to a hot chocolate or mocha. This is the place to go for all bored/sleepy/addicted people.

And finally: The office pet

It is not uncommon to have an office dog. It is also not uncommon for someone to bring in their pet with them to work on occasion. Now you're probably thinking "That's got to contradict with that whole silent office thing", but no. You see Swedish dogs might as well be mute. In eighteen months in Sweden I've only heard dogs bark anywhere (street, bus, park..) about twice. And they NEVER misbehave at the office. I don't know how they do it, but those Swedes seem to know a thing or two about raising quiet dogs (and people, for that matter).
I can't say that I've ever seen pets at the office in Lebanon, and then again, seeing as they tend to make more noise than their owners like to honk their horn while driving, I'm pretty sure it's better this way.

So there you have it folks, my roundup of office life in Sweden. In short, Swedish offices are a great place to get work done. Unfortunately they don't seem to be so great for those moments in between work where you just want to have your mindless fun. Lebanese offices on the other hand are incredibly fun, and great places to make friends. I guess somewhere along all the banter that goes on, tight relationships tend to form. The Swedes are friendly and all, but I just can't picture myself running after one of my office mates having a water fight in the hall.

I read somewhere that Scandinavian countries consume about 70% of the world's coffee production.
I'm starting to understand why.


February 17, 2011 at 10:15 AM Lara

Loved the post Fadi...
well if you think about it, the running away from the stress balls and the water fights are exercise!
but i guess we're very special after all and we miss you in the office too :D

February 17, 2011 at 2:16 PM Chantal Akkary

Very nice post Fadi :) I wish we had gym, games & fruits everywhere in the office, that would be a great plus!!

February 17, 2011 at 4:49 PM Anonymous

Napping? Who can nap at work? Any job I've ever had in my life (in the US) if you were caught napping you would be fired immediately.

February 17, 2011 at 5:00 PM Fadi

Anonymous: I guess European and Middle-Eastern work values are different then. I don't know about other industries, but when it comes to engineering, so far it seems it's quite commonly recognized that nobody can be productive the entire day without taking a break and possibly, yes, taking a short nap. Personally I'm thankful for that.

February 18, 2011 at 12:15 AM Maher

No worries mate... I will initiate the running around the office after your colleagues :P and i am sure it will be contageous... just give me a green light!

As a solid proof, I can assure you that Miss Lara is now a stress ball runner and catcher, an occasional rocket launcher and is pick-a-boo-ing at my desk with loud Maher Maher Maher... so even angels have a hidden develish side, you just need to poke it :P

February 18, 2011 at 10:27 AM Lara

HAHAHAHA yeah Maher i guess hard work pays off and thanks to you my reflexes are really improving (reasons why i can never nap at work) :D

February 19, 2011 at 11:01 PM Danielle

Wow Fadi! What a difference! If we could only merge the best about both worlds..then it would be absolutely perfect, no?

February 21, 2011 at 10:12 PM Anonymous

Add team work, respectful bosses, and healthy relationships with your colleagues. In montreal where I used to work (currently on sabbatical), the bank paid fully our uni tuition fees + text books. We had free coffee machines in the ‘rest room’ (not WC loll) with reclining chairs and sofas , 42’ flat screen tv, library, massage therapist on site .. It’s more like Beirut hey! (:

February 23, 2011 at 9:10 PM Fadi

Dani: This goes to say that there is no perfect place :)
Ghass: is that bank recruiting by any chance ? :P
Lara and Maher: I'll have you come over as "office consultants" and teach the Swedes a few tricks

March 12, 2011 at 10:54 AM Anonymous

Thank you Fadi for this post. It's very interesting. In fact I have a blog called "Yawmiyat Moughtareb" or "An immigrant diaries" that talks about lebanese abroad and how they live their experience...Your post fits exactly with the subject of my blog, so I wanted to ask your permission to post the first paragraph of your post followed by a link to your post here on the blog with your name written in the title. Thank you for your reply.

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