Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Sweden't Most Wanted Floor Sweeper

Things at work are progressing very well. In fact last week a rival company attempted to poach me from TA. As I said in an earlier blog entry, TA had rented me out to another company called Astor. For the past three weeks, I had basically been doing all the cleaning at one of their sites. Anders, one of the senior hotshots at Astor, often gave me the odd compliment on my work, and let it known he was quite happy. But then last Wednesday, he started asking me questions about my wages, and how much TA were paying me. My initial thought was he was trying to work out what sort of commission TA had been extorting out of him. But then he started saying he was very interested in me, and that the company were always looking for good people like me. My first reaction that was “I think you got me confused with someone else, I just sweep the floors here.” As it turned out, he did mean me, and the conversation ended with Anders promising to get back to me after he spoke to his seniors. As it turned out, nothing more was said on the issue, which suited me fine. I didn’t really feel comfortable switching companies so soon after joining TA, and found the whole thing quite awkward. But it was the first time I had been headhunted as such, so quite flattering too.
I'm starting to get the impression that people in Sweden don't work too hard. I didn't think there was anything particularly impressive about my work rate, but it must look good compared to most Swedes. I certainly notice a lot of people just standing around, and progress is very slow. There is a lot of attention to detail, and many of my co-workers are real perfectionists who take a lot of pride in their work. But this also means nothing gets done without a long discussion about it taking place first. Last week, despite a looming deadline, five of us spent a good 15 minutes discussing the best way to cut a single piece of wood.
Breaks every two hours also slows things down, and on top of this most people like to nick off 5 minutes early and return 5 minutes late. Officially we're supposed to have 1 hour 15 minutes of breaks a day, but in reality we have close to 2 hours.

The Astor flats were completed last week, and as of Monday I’ve been working at a new site right in the city centre. This time its luxury flats (one is worth 10 million Kronor (A$1.8m)) right on Goteborg’s showcase street, The Avenue. Word has gone through to head office that I’m a pretty hard worker, so I’ll no longer be cleaning. Instead, I’ll be trained to be a carpenter. My changed status has been noted with some news tools. I now have a knife, and later this week I should get a hammer and screwdriver.
The Avenue site is also where Chris works, and in general has a more international feel. I’ve been working with a guy called Simon, who is originally from London, and wouldn’t be out of place in a Guy Ritchie film. There are also Lithuanians, Polish and Estonians, and in time I’m sure I’ll discover even more nationalities. Unlike the last site in Hammarkullen, English is used just as often as Swedish.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Swedish Rules Footy

We have finally got our broadband internet connected at home. For the past two months I've been using internet cafes and libraries to update this blog. But with our own connection at home, I can update more often.

But first things first. I believe I still owe you match reports and an update on my football career with the Berserkers. We played our first game of the season four weeks ago, at home against Karlstad. The match was 12 a side, and played on a Rugby pitch with small posts set up on either side of the rugby posts. Along the boundary, we set up a sign explaining the rules for any curious onlookers. Goal umpiring and time keeping were done by interchange players, and four Australians (including myself) rotated umpiring duties each quarter.

It was Karlstad’s first ever match, having only been established earlier this year. A news crew from the local Karlstad TV station turned up to cover the event, obviously curious at the novelty of such a small town producing a team in such an obscure sport. (In fact Karlsatd have been getting a far bit of media coverage. You can read about them in a local Swedish newspaper here.) The team was nearly as multicultural as East Brunswick, consisting of Australians, Swedes, Germans, and even one Jamaican. But in the end it was the experience of Goteborg (who have played three games in its entire history) that prevailed, 134 to 61. You can read a match report here, and if you're really interested you can read the match stats and another report here. I scored one behind.

Statistically I did better than my East Brunswick days, even losing count of my disposals. (I'm pictured right, number 13) Yet I still feel dissatisfied. As an Australian there is an expectation that I play particularly well. After all, I’ve grown up playing this game, while my team-mates (some as young as 17) are still learning to handball properly. In theory I should dominate, but in reality I was at best an average player. To be honest, the game was far more physical than I expected. Maybe its because I hadn’t played for 10 years, and the last match I played was against 16 year-olds, but I just wasn’t used to the tackling and hip-and-shoulders.

I have a theory to explain it. When you talk about Aussie rules in Sweden, the most obvious question is why would a Swede want to play? What does Aussie rules offer over other mainstream sports like soccer or handball? The answer is physical violence. Time and time again, when I ask Swedes how they got involved in football, the answer is they were looking for a more physical sport. Not the marking and kicking, nor the pace or athleticism of the game: just the tackling. Many of the Karlstad players had previously played Rugby and Gridiron, and were recruiting on the premise that Aussie Rules allowed full-on body tackling. Thus many Swedes see Aussie Rules as an opportunity to run round flattening people, and do so with relish. I felt vindicated by the fact that a number of other Aussies also complained about not getting many kicks, and I did notice that towards the end, a few were conveniently sidelined by cramp and dodgy ankles.

Our second match was against Skåne, the region covering Sweden’s southern tip. In contrast to Karlstad, Skåne are a much more experienced side. The area is very much the birth place and centre of Aussie Rules in Sweden. In was here in 1993 that the very first team was established: the Helsingborg Saints. Today, they have there own league with teams in Helsingborg, Landskrona and Malmo. The team we were playing was supposed to be a combined side from the whole Skåne league.

Football in Skåne is strong partly because of its very close proximity to Denmark. Malmo is only a short drive over a bridge, and is practically an outer suburb of Copenhagen. Helsingborg is a 15-minute ferry trip. The Danish Aussie Rules Football League is the biggest and strongest league in the non-English speaking world. They’ve even set up a Premier League. Skåne’s close location means that teams can play often and regularly against much superior Danish sides. The Helsingborg Saints have since become the South Sweden Saints and along with Port Malmo, compete in the Danish Premier League. The Skåne clubs act as feeder clubs for these two, and so some players have played football for as long as 14 years, raking up over 200 games. The Goteborg Berserkers on the other hand, are lucky if they can find time for three games a year.

Thus, we made the trip down south expecting a hiding. The match was played in Landskrona, a small town between Malmo and Helsingborg, and about three hours drive from Goteborg. The town doesn’t have much, but it does have one of only two Aussie rules football grounds in Sweden, with the right goal posts and proper boundary lines. We also managed to bring down 20 players, the biggest turn out in the club’s short history, so we played a proper 18 per-side game.
When we arrived, we discovered that the South Sweden Saints were scheduled to play against a Danish side on the same day. Consequently many of Skåne’s more experienced players were rested, and a second-string side was fielded against us instead. Only one Aussie, and lots of Irish. In the end, despite all our anxiety, we managed to beat them by an ever bigger margin than the Karlstad match: 123 to 55.
Again, a complete match report can be found here, and stats here. I’m in the first photo (number 13). I’ve now got my own profile on, which can be seen here. I’ve also discovered that Swedish footballers have a role model in the Adelaide Crows defender Kris Massie (pictured right). He is the first and only Swedish born player in VFL/AFL history.

Monday, 21 May 2007

The Unwritten Laws of Construction

I know it’s been a long time since my last entry but rest assured I haven’t abandoned the blog. Since starting my new job at the construction site, I’ve been flat out. I start at 6.45 every morning, and by the time I finish, I’m absolutely exhausted. I miss being unemployed.

So far, it has been quite an experience. For one I’ve fast had to learn the interact web of internal politics and unspoken etiquette on which construction sites seem to run on. As the new guy I was immediately assigned the job as cleaner. Basically I spent the day sweeping floors and carting off any rubbish to a large container outside. On construction sites, the cleaners are the equivalent of kitchen porters in restaurants. You do all the dullest, hardest and dirtiest jobs, and receive the least amount of respect. But it is something all employees do when they first join the company, regardless of experience and competence. It’s a form of initiation, where the foreman can access your reliability and dedication. The longer you spend cleaning, the more your peers begin to respect you, and accept you. On my first day, hardly anyone said a word to me, but as the weeks pass, more people seem willing to chat as it becomes increasingly obvious I’m not about to flee.

The idea is to prove yourself, so you’ll be shifted away from cleaning, and given more stimulating work. After a week, I thought I was making progress as I started getting allocated other tasks, such as chipping tiles off a wall, or covering newly laid floor boards with plastic. Yet these were just temporary jobs, and I was always expected to resume cleaning when they were completed. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing wrong, and worried I’d be cleaning for months. Then Chris told me that to break free from cleaning duties, you need to take the initiative yourself and attempt to break into something else. You should watch other people, try to learn what they are doing and how they do it, and if you see an opportunity to help out, do so. From there you should gradually weasel your way in, and than hopefully before you know it, another new guy is brought in to do your old cleaning duties.
This isn’t always so easy. Just like a kitchen porter, the job of the cleaner is still an important one. When they are not doing their job, it becomes obvious by the mountains of rubbish that can quickly accumulate. If you attempt to work on something else, you have to make sure you’re on top of the cleaning too, otherwise it reflects badly on you.

The site I’m working at also has its own system of internal politics to content with too. The company that has employed me is called TA Bygg, but the site I’m working on is being run by another company called Astor Bygg. Basically I, along with a few other TA guys, have been rented out. Thus I’ve kind of got two bosses. Firstly there is the Astor foreman, Hassie, and Astor’s owner, Anders, who pays regular visits. Secondly, there is Andres, an old TA employee who is responsible for all the other TA people, and reports back to Head Office.

Keeping my job relies on keeping both happy, but sometimes I’m worried that the interests of each conflict. The thing is that on some days I have problems trying to look busy. The site I’m working on is only couple of flats in Gothenburg’s outer suburbs. It’s a pretty small space, which doesn’t take long to clean. After an hour just about everything is done, and it won’t need another clean until the end of the day. As I’m new, it doesn’t look good to be seen loitering, so I’ve tried to use these moments to demonstrate my strong work ethic. I always ask Hassie if there is anything I can do, and usually he can find some menial task. But last Friday, he had nothing, and suggested I just keep cleaning. So I basically had to spend the morning walking around in circles, looking for any piece of rubbish to chuck out. At our morning tea break, I approached Andres about this, as I didn’t want him to see me shuffling around, and report back to TA that I was slacking off. I explained to him that I had asked Hassie for work, and that I happy to do whatever was required. But he didn’t seem bothered at all at my idling. In fact, he than asked if I could do any overtime the following Saturday. When I said I was reluctant as there was so little for me to do, he suggested I come in anyway, take it easy, and just sign off after a few hours. As it was overtime, I would also be paid double!
At first I couldn’t understand it, until I remember who Andres was working for: TA. They had rented as out, and whatever Astor was paying us in wages, no doubt a bit extra was being paid to TA. It is therefore in Andres interests to get as many TA people working as many hours as possible. It makes him look good, and means extra profits for TA. At first I felt I bit cheated. I was doing all the work, yet someone else was sitting back in an office on the other side of town making even more money than me from this arrangement without even lifting a finger. But this ended up being my way out of cleaning. Andres had to keep me looking busy to justify overtime, so he got me to help him out installing doors and windows into the flats. This is much better work. It’s a bit like playing with Lego, but on a bigger scale and you get to use power tools. It also means I’m learning new skills, which makes work more stimulating. When I got home, I found myself inspecting all the door frames in our flat, trying to determine if the builders did a good job or not. (I can tell you now there are some very dodgy door frames in Gothenburg.) Chris says he can never walk into a building without inspecting every surface. Cleaning was really getting me down, but if I can do a bit more of this sort of work, I might just be able to find this job tolerable.

The final unwritten law of the construction industry is that one’s standing within a company is measured by one’s tools. On my first day I was given nothing but a pair of work boots, trousers, T-shirt, and gloves. But as you move up the hierarchy and you start doing more serious work, you’re gradually given more tools and equipment. This morning, Andres presented me with my own fold-up ruler and pencil, with my name written along the side of each. He handed them over unceremoniously, with a casual ‘Here you are, these are for you’, but gave me a look that said ‘Welcome to the next level. You’ve still got a long way to go, but you’re on your way to being one of us.’