12/31/15

Happy new made up year!

We are reaching the end of one year and the start of a new one. Or, at least, that is what we have decided to do.

Because we have of course just made this up. We have decided that after twelve months we start over rather than continuing with a thirteenth month. I find it interesting that our model for measuring time is not really in line with the planetary moments since we need to introduce an extra day every four years to not get out of sync. 2016 will be one of these years with a leap day that we have decided to call Feb 29.

Another thing that shows how our way of measuring time is only something we have made up, is that we do it differently depending on where we are. As mentioned in What's politically incorrect about Merry X-mas, we have different traditions all around the world. In China there will be a new year celebration on my birthday (Feb 8) and in Iran "Nouruz" will be celebrated at spring equinox.

Not that it matters, I think that all kinds of new year celebrations are great opportunities to look back, look forward and to celebrate.





I hope you look back at 2015 with gratitude and happiness. Of course a year also includes things that do not turn out the way we expect them, and sometimes we encounter really difficult times. I still hope you can look back at the year with a smile on your face  and that you can find light and learning also in the parts that may add a tear to your smiling face.

When it comes to the new year I hope you are inspired and look forward to it.
If you want to shape it in a certain direction I recommend this exercise from Anders Haglund.


Happy New year to all of you!



12/22/15

What´s politically incorrect about "Merry X-mas?"

I work at an international company, and at some of the final meetings before the holidays I heard statements like:
Merry X-m... No, I will be politically correct and wish you all happy holidays!
From another meeting:
Can we wish people a merry X-mas?
No, let's be politically correct and send season greetings.

I am aware that my Indian and Chinese colleagues do not traditionally celebrate X-mas. I also agree that it is important to acknowledge the fact that we all have different traditions across the world.

But when my Chinese colleagues wish me a Happy New Year in February I do not get offended. Intead I get happy they wish me a happy new year and I enjoy learning about what year it will be, Dragon, monkey, goat...

Picture from: http://www.chinahighlights.com/


When my Indian colleagues are off in Autumn to celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights, I enjoy hearing about it and learning what it means.


"The Rangoli of Lights" by Subharnab Majumdar

So, when I wish all my readers a Merry X-mas, I hope this does not offend those who do not celebrate it. Instead I hope you will appreciate the wishes for a peaceful time with family and friends, which is how I see X-mas.


Picture from the Chapel.co.uk
God jul!
Vrolijk kerstfeest! 

Feliz Navidad!

Merry X-mas!


Earlier X-mas related blogspots:
Our plastic X-mas tree
Känner du Julfrid ännu?
Julstress och Midsommarfrid

12/3/15

#SwedeInMadrid: Exact time of no importance

Eleven fourtytwo.
 That was the time for the doctor's appointment for our son. Not 11:30, 11:45 or even 11:40. We could meet the doctor at 11:42.

We looked at the note and wondered why on earth a Spanish doctor would make an appointment at 11:42, when Spaniards in general seem to look at time as something very approximate. 

Alex, my English hair dresser, says that Spanish people are the worst clients. They can show up an hour or two late to an appointment. Or they do not show up at all. Or they cancel the whole appointment because it rains. (See "Do they understand it's just water?")

It is not only time that is stated accurately. When my husband chose a Spanish course, the fee was: 111,76 euros. Not 110, 115 or even 112. The cost was 111 euros and 76 cents.


 How anyone can care about 1 euro cent is beyond me. In our house we have a jar filled with all the "red coins" as we call them. Coins that are more or less worthless; 1, 2 and 5 euro cents. 

Once we have gathered a whole lot of these coins I plan to give all of them to one of the many street artists in Madrid. To give them just one or two of these silly coins would be an insult so I will wait until they amount to a few euros. That will take a while...

This useless exactness makes me think of something I heard in a course many, many years ago. It was a course in project management, and that day we learned about the project planning tool Microsoft project. The teacher told us that unless we had projects that were only one day long, we should not use the feature that allowed us to plan with hours and even minutes.We should not fool ourselves into thinking it is possible to predict a project that will take weeks, months or even years, to an accuracy of hours or minutes. 

Just because we can measure something accurately, like cents and minutes, does not mean we can live according to such accuracy.

Regarding the doctor's appointment at 11:42; we were there around 11:30 but we did not get to meet the doctor until some half an hour or so later. 

We were not surprised.



11/18/15

Stand by Paris - Feel No Fear

Paris.
The city I fell in love with during all the weekends I spent there as an au-pair.
 The city in which I discovered art. Not only in the museums, but in every park bench and light pole since aestethics is at least as important as function in this fantastic capital.

And now. A blood.stained city that has witnessed tragedies that make my heart bleed.

A lot of people wonder what the world is coming to and they say:
"Just wait, it will come here too"

No.
Stop.
Wait.

When you feel that kind of fear, when you spread that kind of worry, you are doing what the terrorists want.

The ultimate goal for terrorist organizations is not to kill many persons in a sports arena, a concert hall or a train station. Killing people and ruining historic buildings are just means towards their ultimate goal: Creating fear.  Making others so scared that they will give upp their life style, give independence to a part of a country, acknowlegde a certain religion - you name it.

Since the goal for terrorists is to make us scared - let's refuse. We cannot always stop the terrible crimes some persons commit, but we can stop them from achieving their goal. We can refuse to be afraid.
Or as the Parisians put it: "Meme pas peur" - Not even afraid.



"But how can I not be afraid when such horrible things happen?" you may think. 

Well, understanding the nature of terror organizations may help. All terrorist organizations follow an arc of decline and they ulitmately die out, on average within 5-9 years. Look at all terrorist groups there have been in the world: Red Brigades. Baader-Meinhof gang. IRA and the Ulster Freedom Fighters. They created havoc, but still. No borders changed, the western values have not changed. And the organizations have died out.

As Steven Pinker writes in his interesting book: The better angels of our nature
 "All terrorist groups carry the seed of their own destruction" 
Below is a graph from the book. Contrary to popular beliefs, fewer people are killed in terrorist attacks today, than before.


We can see spikes from the 9/11 attack in NY 2001 and the M11 train station bombing in Madrid 2004. Future versions of this graph will unfortunately have some more spikes. France Nov 13 2015 will be one of them. However, as you can see, these are spikes - not trends. The trend is declining.

There is less reason to fear terrorism now than there was a few decades back.

There are many who refer to terrorism like a hydra that grows out two new heads as soon as one is
chopped off. So even if each terrorist group will fail and die out, there is a fear that there will always be new ones coming.



To deal with this, we need to stop feeding the hydra. 

Even though it is hard to believe, those who committed the atrocities in Paris were once amazing babies who were hopefully dearly loved by parents and siblings. Still, somewhere along the way they got so lost, so insecure and frustrated that others could convince them that killing fellow human beings is the right thing to do. They let an ideology override their thinking, empathy and understanding.

The hydra feeds on hate and fear.

If we show understanding and respect to one another instead of fear and hate we can starve the hydra and let it die, taking all heads with it.

So where is the world going to?

Wherever we take it.





11/11/15

Less useful than a bug

Lyxja tilted the space ship just a little, avoiding the exaggerated movement that could cause nausea. She looked at her father who was sitting next to her and noticed his slight, approving nod.
"Soon you will get your space flight certificate, Lyxja. Really soon."

A smile was just about to spread across her face as the grey planet came into view. That look stopped the smile.
"Dad, remember that you told me that all planets have a mirror planet, one that has exactly the same properties as another one?"
"Yes, all planets have a mirror planet, or a twin planet as they are sometimes called."
"So how come the mirror planet to this grey planet is all blue and green?"
Her father made a slight adjustment with his joystick. She had missed an alarm on the screen.
"Mirror planets have the same pre-requisites to start with. But what happens to it next depends on the inhabitants."
"So what happened to the grey planet, the one that is all dead now?"


"Well, Tellus itself is not dead. But there is no life on the planet anymore."
"Why not? What happened?"
This time Lyxja noticed the alarm on the screen and made the necessary adjustment to the direction herself, before her father had to intervene.
"Well, Tellus was a planet inhabited by many species. Many different animals and plants. One animal, the humans, were really good at inventing things, at creating things. But they were not that good at living with other species.
Once there were bees on Tellus. They were insects that flew from flower to flower and they had the ability to create really sweet food called honey. The bees died out because of substances spread by humans. When the bees died out, the flowers could not pollinate each other as well as before. Over time more and more insects died out. Then the birds and the bats died out, followed by other animals. In the end, just fifty years after the insects disappeared, all life on Tellus was gone. It is a really sad story."

Lyxja turned the space ship, it was time to go home.
"But the twin planet, Sullet, is green and full of life. What happened there?"
"Well, that is really interesting. There were humans there too. On that planet they did not cause the death of the insects. They did however exterminate themselves in grand scale fights called wars and terrorist attacks with nuclear weapons. About 50 years after all the humans died out, nature had taken over. All buildings, all constructions created by the industrious humans, deteriorated and trees and plants grew over them. Replaced them. There are no humans left, but all other species thrive."




Lyxja was silent a few moments as she thought about the blue green planet and about the grey, dead planet.

"These humans, they were an intelligent species right?"
"Yes, one of the most intelligent ones in their galaxy."
Lyxja shook her head.
"That did not really help, did it? If in the end they were less useful to their world than a bug?"




10/28/15

#SwedeInMadrid: Redundant information for a Swede

Please be on time

This phrase is not uncommon in Spanish meeting invitations. To me, as a Swede, this is redundant information. The meeting call is already specifying the time for the meeting; for instance 14:00-15:00. To me that means that the meeting starts at 14.  Still, many Spaniards see the need to add the "please be on time" phrase. (Not that it helps...)

On this sign, there is another piece of information, that for me is redundant:




It says it is obligatory to follow all the security norms. In Sweden it would be enough to list the norms, the last phrase is redundant. It is kind of understood that the reason for listing them is that you should follow them.

But, who knows, maybe this redundant information is needed here in Spain. Otherwise it may turn out as on this parking lot where the sign says that camping is forbidden.




As you can see, fairly many ignored that sign. Maybe they would not have put their motor homes there if the sign would have had the following additional information:
It is obligatory to follow the rules stated on this sign.


9/30/15

#WorkAndLife: The importance of being present

How can you be so calm?
Whenever I talk to you, you always act as if you have all the time in the world even though I know your calendar is full!
How do you get so much done? 
These are comments from my colleagues. Colleagues who seem to expect me to be stressed, short and rushing around because of the role I have in the company.

I don't rush around. Those who do often end up being busy, busy, busy doing nothing at all.

The answers to "how to get much done" are many. In this blog spot I will focus on the importance of being present.

When you are present, you focus. You do not think about the next thing on your to do list, your next answer in the conversation you are involved in or whether or not the person you work with likes you. You are there. Present.

This can mean listening. Fully listening with the intention to understand.
It can mean setting aside time in your calendar to fully focus on a task and conclude it, ignoring mails and notifications that pop up.
It can mean sitting down and focussing on the chair you are sitting on. Watching its material in detail, feel how it feels under your butt, smell how it smells.

Be fully present in everything you do.

What happens if you are fully present?
You will achieve better results. You will achieve better results because:
Anything worth doing is worth doing well
and you will only do things well. With full focus. And you will have time to do the important things well because the things that are NOT worth doing you will not do at all.

You will have more rewarding relationships. If you truly listen to persons around you, you will learn things about them and about life you had no idea about. And to be truly listened-to is such a great feeling that people will want to be with you.

And, last but not least. You will be calm. To be present, to be in the moment and fully focus on what you do will reduce your pulse. Any stress you may feel will disappear.

No need to take my word for it. Andy Puddicombe who knows a lot more about mindfulness than I do, tells you all you need to know about that in this TED talk:

All it takes is 10 mindful minutes


What to do next?

Your day is probably full with slots when you have too little time left to start with a big task, but still a few minutes before the next activity starts.If you find yourself in that situation you can use the slot to be present. Calm yourself down and increase your focus.

The other day I prepared for a meeting and I was ready with all preparations five minutes before the start of it. Instead of reading a mail and get distracted from the meeting I was going to chair I chose to be mindful for a few minutes. I looked around and saw the cute little tin I keep nuts in. I looked at it in detail. Every single shade of color. Every line. Imagined the girl in the snow, how her hands would feel inside of the muff.




I could feel my heart rate go down. I felt how my head got clearer. When it was time to start the meeting I was not only prepared, but also focussed and refreshed.

It's as simple as that. Be present.

9/16/15

"To vote, you should pass an intelligence test first!"

This was the opinion of one of my classmates when I studied at Chalmers university of technology. Or, as he put it:
 "Det borde fan krävas intelligenstest för att få rösta!"
However, since democracy by definition is:
"A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections"
it will not be a democracy if only part of the people, those who pass an intelligence test, is allowed to vote.

So I disagreed with the comment at the time, but there was something in there that resonated with me and I have remembered it ever since.

Recently I read a quote from Roosevelt that made it all more clear to me:
"Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education."


That was it! It is not an intelligence test that is needed, it is ensuring everyone is "prepared to choose wisely"!

How do we make sure everyone is prepared to choose wisely?
Free access to education is one step of the way. It is not enough though.

Because as I wrote in this blog post: Ignorance is not the problem; pre-conceived ideas is. To not know, but behave as if we do, by spreading and believing in simplistic and incorrect views of the world is a recipe for disaster.

So if education is the first step, the second is to accept that no matter how much we know, there is always more that we do not know so we need to keep an open mind at all times.

Finally, we need to be willing to choose wisely.
Willing to not just accept the simplistic answers.
Willing to not act stupidly when in reality we know better.

Because as Martin Luther King Jr said:
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and consciencious stupidity."
I hope you are all willing to apply the knowledge you have, keep your mind open and choose wisely.

9/5/15

Angela Merkel - I wish you were Swedish

Many Swedes are proud of persons like Raoul Wallenberg, Dag Hammarskjöld and the contemporary Jan Eliasson.

Today, when men, women and children seek refuge with such desperation that they perish on the way, the Swedish politicians...
  •  talk about how terrible the situation is 
  •  talk about how more countries need to provide shelter for refugees
  •  talk about how we need to agree within the EU about how to handle the situation

Talk, talk, talk.

When children are drowning the time for talking is long over.

If a house is on fire there is no time to discuss who should put it out or how to make sure everyone contributes in a fair way. First you put out the fire.
Who should put it out ?
Anyone who is able to.
What if not everyone helps out?
Then those who put out the fire do so without the help from the others. After the fire is out, there will be time to talk to the ones who did not help out and agree on how to improve in the future.

Angela Merkel seems to know this. In addition to talking to other politicians, she takes action.

She has decided to ignore the Dublin regulation for now, letting refugees from Syria stay in Germany even if they originally entered via another EU country. (When Swedish politicians were asked if Sweden would do the same the answer was that they wanted to discuss it more within EU first.Talk, talk, talk...)

She has sent in armed forces to put up tents in public parks, to provide shelter for refugees.



She is showing the way for her fellow politicians when she says:
 "If we rescued the banks, we can save refugees"
The title of this blogpost says that I wish Angela Merkel were Swedish. Let me re-phrase that:
Angela, I wish the Swedish politicians would act the way you do.
Dont' get me wrong. This is not a complaint. Sweden is doing well; giving shelter to many refugees and being part of discussions to improve the situation. But the leadership is without a doubt coming from Germany's Angela Merkel.


PS. There are people who spread a video on social media where Angela Merkel is telling a Palestinian girl that not all refugees can stay in Germany. Often the ones who share the video do it to discredit Angela.

I wonder if the same persons think that we should not honor Nelson Mandela for all the great work he did, since he also participated in violent actions before he was put in prison?
And should we ignore the great I have a dream speech because  Doctor Martin Luther King Jr was not only a great civil rights fighter but also a man who cheated on his wife?

Let´s not be childish. People who do great things today should be recognized for that, even if they have also done things that were not great.
Luckily Angela is recognized by many for what she does, for instance by a number of Syrian refugees. According to an article in the Swedish newspaper Göteborgs posten she is now referred to as The mother of the outcasts:

Maybe one day Angela, you will be the reciever of the Raoul Wallenberg award - or maybe there will even be an award named after you.

9/2/15

#SwedeInMadrid: Fine Spanish fines

Fine fines? How can there be something fine about fines?

Well, fines are never really fine, but some are less bad, or "finer" than others.

Like paying a fortune to park the car outside of Liseberg; a great attraction park in Göteborg Sweden, estimating the time when we will be back and noticing when standing in queue to the last attraction for the day that we will miss the end of the paid time with a few minutes - and then ending up with a heavy fine. There is nothing fine about that. It makes me wonder why I paid for the parking at all, I could have just paid for one hour and not four when I ended up with a huge fine anyway for not paying for four hours and ten minutes.

When we parked in the Spanish town Santiago de Compostela the same thing happened.  We came back to the car some time after the time we had paid for had expired. Now to the fine part. By going back to the automat where we had paid for the parking and paying a little extra (in our case 6 euros) we could avoid the fine of 60 euros. That sure felt a lot finer than the fine I had to pay for standing a few minutes too long outside of Liseberg!



Another example are speeding fines. I have had my share of these in all three countries I have lived in; the Netherlands, Sweden and Spain.

My approach used to be to ignore the fine and hope that they would forget all about it and I would not have to pay. That worked in the Netherlands. In Sweden, with personnummer (similar to social security number / NIE numbers) and efficient authorities that never worked. My fine would never end up lost and after a reminder I would pay it.

In Spain we (well, I was the one speeding, but the car is registered on my husband, thus we) received a fine as well. It was not possible to pay via internet so my husband went to the bank, shortly after the fine came to our house. We were both utterly surprised when the 100 euro fine was quickly reduced to 50 euro, "since we paid it so quickly".

So to me, the Spanish fines are finer than other fines.

8/19/15

The fat lady in the ladies room

How can she even look at herself in the mirror without puking?
 Linda stared at the fat lady at the washbasin as she closed the door to the toilet booth behind her. The lady with the fat rolls on her hips was washing her hands. As Linda went to wash hers, they looked at each other in the mirror and nodded shortly.
I bet she ate at least ten doughnuts for breakfast, 
Linda thought as she quickly washed her face. She had eaten her veggie smoothie after doing her 5k run in the morning. When she glanced over at the fatso again she could not help but notice that despite the double chins she had a pretty face. And a very friendly smile. It was probably all the unhealthy sugar she must be eating that made her nice and sweet. Who knows, maybe that was what Linda was lacking. Sweetness. Perhaps that was the reason her husband had left her. Not for a younger, prettier woman; for an older woman! What did that say about her? That she was so unbearable to live with that her husband left her for an older woman because she was nicer?
I bet fatty here has a great relationship, 
she thought as she wiped her hands on a paper napkin.



Annie looked at the well-trained woman next to her. She wondered what it  was like to be that slim. The lady next to her could probably eat anything without gaining a single gram. Unlike herself. She had eaten her sallad this morning and she had biked to work. She was not completely OK after the accident yet, so biking required a lot of effort. Not that it was only the accident´s fault. She had not been as slim as the woman next to her before the accident either, but the many months in the wheel chair and the medicines that she took that made her all puffy sure did not help.
No matter what I do I can never look like that woman. Life must be easy for someone like that. 
As Annie left the ladies room, they smiled politely to each other. Both thinking they knew all there was to know about the other one.

I have written about it in a previous blogspot, but it is worth repeating:




This time  I also want to add two rules from Dalai Lama:
Rule number 1: Whenever possible; be kind.
Rule number 2: It is always possible.

7/1/15

With the help of the poet Robert Louis Stevenson I wish all my readers a lovely summer!

Summer Sun (1885)

Great is the sun, and wide he goes
Through empty heaven with repose;
And in the blue and glowing days
More thick than rain he showers his rays.

Though closer still the blinds we pull
To keep the shady parlour cool,
Yet he will find a chink or two
To slip his golden fingers through


The dusty attic spider-clad
He, through the key-hole maketh glad;
And through the broken edge of tiles
Into the laddered hay-loft smiles.

Meantime his golden face around
He bares to all the garden ground,
And sheds a warm and glittering look
Among the ivy´s inmost nook

Above the hills, along the blue,
Round the bright air with footing true,
To please the child, to paint the rose,
The gardener of the World, he goes.

6/17/15

#SwedeInMadrid - do they understand it's just water?

"If it rains we will cancel"
This sentence that I never or rarely see in Sweden, is very common here in Spain.

When the school sends out information about  "Dia deportivas" (friluftsdagar, sports days) that sentence is always added to the end of the informative text.

Whenever anyone arranges an activity outdoors, the same disclaimer is added. If it rains we will cancel. 

Not everything can be cancelled. People need to go to work and school also when it rains. That is not easy, with Spanish drivers panicking and causing even more traffic jams than usual.

Not that I understand why. Do they spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to turn on the windshield wipers they so rarely use? Are they scared their cars will suddenly misbehave when they get wet? Do they think the roads will turn into slippery slides?

I do not know, I only know that going to work when it rains means a lot more queues than usual. (I am so happy I go by my motorcycle so I can pass the queues!)

If we are out walking and there is an unexpected shower, the busy streets will become close to deserted in just a few seconds. Because you cannot be out in the rain now, can you?

To me it seems as if Spaniards are just as afraid of rain as they are of silence.

I can't help but wonder if they understand that it is just water coming down from the sky...

Maybe they, like donkey, think the rain will make them melt?










6/4/15

#SwedeInMadrid: A scary sound

When my parents visited us in Madrid, we were sitting in our small garden. It is surrounded by a high fence and there are houses on both sides so you cannot see very far.

My mother listened to the screaming, laughing and shouting and said:
"When we drove here, I did not see that you had an amusement park close to your house?"
There is no attraction park close to where we live. But there is a school. What my mother heard were  Spanish children on a break.



Children all over the world scream and shout but here in Spain they do it several times louder than Swedish kids. (See Turning a perfect Spaniard into a Swede .)

It's not just the kids of course. Adult Spaniards are also loud, even though they do not scream and shout as much as kids.

I can deal with the loud volume. What bothers me is the inability to be quiet.

The school that our children go to has a music profile and often arranges concerts.
Children of all ages perform in front of their friends and family. Often, far too often, the parents in the audience talk so loud it is hard to hear the children who have prepared much and long. The teachers ask the audience over and over again to be quiet, but the only thing that happens is that the talking becomes slightly less loud for a few seconds but thereafter the volume goes right up again.

It was during one of these concerts that it hit me. The loudness, the continuous talking, the interupting, the lack of ability to just wait and listen... It seems that to Spaniards:

  

5/13/15

#SwedeInMadrid : "They don't do that!"

A year ago my husband and I went to Madrid to select a house for our family's Spanish adventure.

One of the houses we visited was shown by the owner herself; an elegant, slim woman with a silky grey dress and high-heeled shoes. I remember how astounded I was when she walked on cobbly stones with more ease than I did in my comfortable shoes.

After we had seen the house, Sandra who drove us around asked what we thought about it. I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind:
"She never smiled." 
This was no answer to the question and when it came to selecting a house it was not even relevant. But the woman's lack of a even a little smile made me wonder...
Maybe the elegant lady and her husband were going to have a divorce and did not want to stay in the house?
Maybe they had been hit by the crisis and could no longer afford the house?

Instead of dismissing my comment as something irrelevant, Sandra turned around from the driver seat, looked at us and said:
"Oh, you noticed, huh? They don't do that!"
Sandra is from Brazil and before moving to Spain she lived in New Jersey in the US for many years. She told us that after having lived one week in Madrid, she told her husband:

 "I can't live here! People bump into me in the shops without even saying that they are sorry, and they are angry and yelling at each other all the time!"


One year earlier when we visited Madrid, a man in a shop said something in (for us incomprehensible) Spanish and waved that we could pass him in the queue. My husband and I assumed he said we could go before him since we only had one item to pay for.
When passing him I said Gracias! with a big smile on my face. The man looked back with a stone face. No hint of a smile. For a second I wondered if we had misunderstood him, but that did not seem to be the case.

Yes, Spaniards can sound very angry when they speak to each other because of the rapid speech and loud volume as I wrote about in Turning a perfect Spaniard into a Swede. And yes, they can look very angry and completely ignore your greeting smile.

But Sandra told us, and we have noticed ourselves, that underneath the grumpy faces and angry voices there is a lot of friendliness and helpfulness.

For instance, whenever I enter an elevator in Madrid, all who come into the elevator will say Hola, Buenos dias / Buenas tardes and when they leave they will say Hasta Luego. Every single person, even if we have never met before.



Let's assume that José from Spain is looking for a house in Sweden and that Maria, a Spaniard who has lived in Sweden a few years, is helping him. After having looked at a flat Maria asks him what he thinks about it. José will blurt out the seemingly irrelevant comment:
"In the elevator, no one said hello."
Maria will then turn around and say:

"Oh, you noticed, huh? They don't do that!"




4/30/15

There is something seriously wrong with the stock market today

I recently read an interesting article called the Market Mirage in the excellent magazine Time. Since I work at a company that is currently laying off a large number of employees I found it particularly interesting.



Let's start with the basics, as described in Wikipedia:

"A corporation divides ownership of itself into shares, which are offered for sale to raise share capital. [...]. The total capital of a company is divided into a number of shares."

In other words, the total value of all shares should, if not equal, than at least indicate the value of the company.

But, as Rana Foroohar writes in her article (see the link above), the value of the company in the stock market and in the real economy is often disconnected. We see this clearly when a share goes up (or down) 10% in one day. Did the company's ability to create and sell products and services change that much in one day? Of course not. The only thing that changed is the share holders trust in earning money on their shares.

Because that is increasingly what it is about. Making money out of the stock you have. Not necessarily because you care about the company or what it is selling. But because the stock market is a place to make money.

One piece of information from the article that I really found interesting, is how the majority of the analyzed firms use their earnings:

  • 54% is used to buy back their own stock (!)
  • 37% is used for dividends (Wikipedia again: A divident (avkastning in Swedish) is a payment made by a corporation to its shareholders, usually as a distribution of profits)

Guess what, this leaves LESS THAN 10%  of the earnings for R&D and employee salary increases!
But, wait a minute, you might say. A lot of companies offer employees stocks at a cheaper price. The executives may even receive a large part of their compensation as stocks. That means that the employees get to share not only a part of the 10% but also the 37% mentioned above right?

Well, remember that the share value has little or nothing to do with the actual value of the company? Instead it is related to if people think they can make money out of selling the share.
When do they think they can make money? When the companies invest in new ideas that may pay off in some 3-5 years? When the company invests in improvements for the employees?
Unfortunately not. On the contrary.
As Rana writes; firms are usually punished hardest by the markets when they are making decisions that most enhance the company's real value.

And since many executives are paid in stocks they get rewarded for decisions that are good short term only. This may include introducing "savings programs" (also known as firing their colleagues...).

So we end up with a system that rewards our leaders when they take decisions that are not necessarily good for the long-term value of the company. Which brings us back to another blogpost I wrote recently, with leaders failing their employees.

In my opinion something is seriously wrong with the stock market.

Rana mentions some positive signs though, with new ideas coming up that may change the way the stock market works today.

So maybe one day most stock companies will do what I always expected them to do: Investing the majority of their earnings into improving the company long term and sharing the profit with all its employees. And shareholders.



4/15/15

The girl with the butterfly hair: part 5 (the end) - The painting

You can read the previous parts of this story here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4


"Why are you so nervous today?" He looked at his nephew who was pacing the little area where they had put up their paintings. Plaza Mayor was filled with tourists and many were enjoying drinks and tapas at the terraces.
The young man shrugged and kept on pacing.

"Oh, this is so pretty!" A lady with an elaborate hairdo stopped in front of one of the paintings.
The older man came up next to her.
"Yes, it is, isn't it? My nephew has painted it," he pointed proudly towards the young man.
"Very pretty indeed", the woman said while she touched the painting carefully. "Such a funny idea, all these butterflies. How much is it?"
"It is not for sale", the boy answered without even looking at them. He kept scanning the large square; searching, waiting.
The lady shot an angry look towards the impolite young painter and left with quick steps. She bought a painting from the artist that was standing next to them and she made it a point to show the amount of bills when doing so.

"What is the matter with you today? Why do you put up a painting that is not for sale?"
Finally he saw a change in the boy's face, it lit up.
"Because it is for her. For her only."
The older man followed his gaze and saw the girl that was coming towards them. The long, silver-like hair was just as beautiful in reality as on the painting.

She stopped a couple of steps away from him. The questions that had been in their heads for so long tumbled around without being uttered.
Why did you not invite me in?
Why did you leave?
Why did you keep me waiting for so long?
Why did you not wait just a little while longer?"
As their eyes spoke, they realized it did not matter. It did not matter at all.

He took her hand and walked to the painting.


She looked at it, at every stroke of the brush, at every shade of color.
"It is beautiful", she said softly.
He let her hand go and put his arm around her shoulder.
"Of course it is. It is you. The girl with the butterfly hair."






Illustration: Michiel Rosendahl

3/25/15

#SwedeInMadrid: Turning a perfect Spaniard into a Swede

A kid screamed very loud. So loud that my Spanish colleague and I turned away from our dinner at Kista Galleria in Stockholm (we were on a business trip together) to see what the screaming was all about. Then we heard a parent scream back in Chinese.
We both turned back to continue eating. My colleague said:
"When we lived in Sweden (he and his famly lived in Sweden for 3 years) my wife and I noticed that whenever we heard loud kids in Sweden, they weren't Swedish. We always wondered how Swedes could get their kids so quiet."
Well, since I am Swedish and have three kids I know a lot about that.

Our youngest son Lukas talks more than the rest of the family combined. And he is loud. Already when he was very small my husband and I would tell him:
"Sh! We are right here, there is no need to scream. We can hear you anyway." 

We also showed him the volume button on the radio in the car and suggested he turned down his own volume button when he talked. (He did inform us that this was not always possible since his button was stuck on max...)

He also tends to interrupt. If I am talking to our middle-son Samuel, Lukas may come running and yell:
"Mummy, mummy, mummy, at school I..."
And I will tell him (not once or twice but over and over again):
"Wait a second Lukas, right now I am talking to Samuel. You need to wait a bit."
Then, when it is his turn to talk he talks. And talks and talks.
"Then this happened and then that and do you want to know how this works? If you unscrew this first and then that, look mummy, look!"

There is usually no end. So if someone else wants to talk to me, for instance our oldest son Sebastian, I tell Lukas to take a break now and then so someone else gets an opportunity to talk.

After a few months in Spain I had an insight. I told my husbandy:

"You know what we are doing? By telling Lukas to talk softly, wait for his turn when talking and leaving space for others to talk, we are trying to turn a perfect Spaniard into a Swede!" 

If we just let our Lukas be, he will integrate a lot better than the rest of us who still stand there waiting for our turn in a conversation. A turn that is as likely to happen in a conversation with a Spaniard as getting a slot in the traffic without pushing (after having lived here for some nine months this has yet to happen.)

Who knows, maybe now that we live in Madrid, Lukas feels more at home than ever.


3/18/15

The games people play at work

Sometimes I get surprised about the games some people play at work.

Like using the do or die statement to scare people into action:
"If we do not deliver this product / make this sell / prolong the contract with this customer, our company will go under."

The first time I heard this, I was working very hard at a car manufacturer and I was told that if we would not start production of the new car model on time the whole company could go under. When I told my father, who had worked in the car industry for a long time, he just shrugged and said:
"Oh, this model too?"
Now that I have also worked many, many years in the corporate world I have heard similar statements so often that they have lost their meaning.

I do not believe in fear as a way to motivate persons to do their best. On the contrary.

People who feel good do a better job than people who feel insecure.

But unfortunately there are often insecure people at work, and some of them let their insecurities out on others.
  • They blame others when things do not go as planned. 
  • They yell at them if deadlines are missed. 
  • They make them feel guilty while still pushing them to make more impossible promises.

Again, none of this works.

Or as Anders Haglund at Lifevision wrote on facebook recently:
"There is nothing you can do stressed that you couldn't do better with a calm mind."
I do not participate in the power games at work.
I kind of watch them from the sideline and get surprised by them, but I do not let them get to me.

Instead I do what I can to create an environment where people feel safe and enjoy work.

And let me tell you a secret several managers do not seem to be aware of:
People who feel happy and safe do great work. Unhappy, nervous and scared people do not.

No need to take my word for it though, it is so well explained in this great video with Simon Sinek that I can share with you thanks to a tip from my friend and colleague Oliver.




3/11/15

He will have to cook for four wives!

My middle son Samuel is learning about Islam in school. One thing that surprised him was that according to Islam one man can have four wives.

He had also learned that the man had to treat all his wives equally well.
Poor him, he will have to cook for four wives! Samuel exclaimed.
I just love this comment.
I love it because it is completely unexpected  for most people.


It is not surprising for those who know my family though. My husband is the one cooking.
If I need to cook I will take the family to a restaurant / order take away / reluctantly heat something up in the microwave oven.
So for Samuel this is a very logical assumption to make.

It is easy to tilt our heads and smile at this cute comment from a child who bases his view of the world on his own situation.

But wait a second.
He is not the only one.
We all see the world based on our own experiences. This is normal. Normal and not bad at all. As long as we realize that our view is not the only one.

Or, as I heard Dr. Phil phrase it:

There is no reality. Only perceptions.


3/4/15

#SwedeInMadrid: My shortest winter ever

Madrid is colder in the winter than most Swedes think. Unlike the south of Spain Madrid is some 600 meters above sea level and far from any sea.
As I wrote in cold butt in Madrid it is possible to drive a motorcycle all year round, but it sure is cold in the mornings for a few weeks.

However, the cold did not start until somewhere in Dec and already from mid Feb it started getting warmer.
In fact, last week it was 8 degrees celcius in the morning and I walked in to the office with a big smile on my face. When I took off my motorcycle gear I said to my colleagues:
"It´s warm!"

The day after I had lunch with one of the colleagues who heard this remark and he asked: "Annika, when you said yesterday that it was warm... did you mean it?"

I guess it was hard for him to know whether I was sarcastic or serious.

And then today, when I write this blogspot, it is 1st of March. It is first of March and 18 degrees celcius. In the shade. I am not exaggerating when I say that sitting in the sun today felt like a warm summer day in Sweden.

I look around and I see that spring arrived here already in the end of Feb, with lady bugs, ants, blooming trees and warmth.











This has been our shortest winter ever and it almost takes some getting used to. Will there be a set-back with some cold coming again? Shall I put away the thick jacket? Our references are all off, as I wrote in: An autumn that smells like summer.

The interesting thing is that we hear a lot of Spaniards who long for spring. Long for spring? After this short, barely two months long winter?

Apparently people long for spring also in countries where the winter is not even long. Another explanation is that they think the winter has been longer than I think. Maybe they found that November was cold and that the winter is still here.

The following has been said about Madrid:
Madrid  has three months of hell and nine months of winter.
Whoever said that clearly has a different view of winter than I as a Swede have.

I can understand the description of the three months of hell though. We got through the daily 35-40 degrees last summer thanks to the pool, siestas and air-conditioning. Not to mention our summer vacation in the North of Spain. (Some of my colleagues did warn me about the "bad weather" in the North and said that we would not be able to swim in the sea since "the Atlantic is too cold". Needless to say, we swam there.)

When I talk about the heat of last summer, my colleagues look at me with pity and explain that last summer was unusually cool.

Well, we keep our fingers crossed that also this summer will be "unusually cool" so we can have a little less of the 3 months of hell.

For now, we will enjoy the spring that feels like Swedish summer.



2/18/15

#SwedeInMadrid: When do Spaniards sleep?

Siesta

Whenever you say the word siesta people think about Spain. They think about Spain and about taking it easy. Some may even consider taking siesta a bit lazy.




Anyone who thinks taking a siesta is a sign of lazyness has not tried to do physically demanding work in glaring sun and 40 degrees celcius in the shade. Taking a siesta is not lazy, it is a way of increasing productivity by sleeping when it is not possible to work anyway.


So, what about now, when most people work in air conditioned buildings?
Where I work (in an office in Madrid) no-one goes home to take siesta. Neither do they take a nap at the desk as my colleagues in Shanghai do.
There is no siesta but people still work rather long hours. Many people show up at work around 8:30 and leave 18:30 (except Fridays when a lot of people leave around 15).

With such working hours and with the time it takes to move around in a big city like Madrid the dinner inevitably becomes late. But in Spain dinner is not just late. It is very, very late compared to most European countries, especially compared to Northern Europe. The same goes for lunch. See the table below.




When my husband and I entered a restaurant for lunch about a quarter past one they had to check in the kitchen first if the cook would be ready to serve so early.

When we as a family went out to eat around 21 all restaurants we passed looked deserted. We picked one and got lots of attention since we were the only guests. At 22 a few more had joined and when we left around 23 the restaurant was almost full.

A colleague of mine usually eats dinner at nine. Unfortunately that means that he eats alone since the rest of his family does not want to eat "that early".

So if they eat that late, including the young kids, when do they go to bed?

Well, later than most people in Northern Europe do.

Do they get up later then? Well, probably, a bit. But not much later.

Our kids' school in Sweden starts at 8:30 in the morning. Here they start at 9.

The traffic is busier after 9 than shortly after 8 in the morning, but as I mentioned above, most people where I work are in the office before 9.

All in all Spaniards sleep less hours. It's as if they have taken away the siesta without compensating for it.

What about us, a Swedish-Dutch family living in Madrid?

We eat later than we did in Sweden, but not as late as Spaniards.
We go to bed later than we did in Sweden, but probably earlier than most Spaniards do.

And in the weekends in the summer, when we can barely move due to the excessive heat, we take siesta...







2/5/15

#SwedeInMadrid: Rum-Coke combo in the supermarket

Coming from Sweden, where alcohol is only sold in Special stores called Systembolaget, the access to alcohol in food shops in Spain can be a bit surprising.

At the local Carrefour they even offer the possibility to taste different types of alochol in the shop on Fridays, much the same way we can taste cheese and biscuits in the Swedish supermarkets.

In Sweden you will often find candy easily accessible and in full view when you stand in line to pay. Easy to grab and go.

When I shopped in "Simply City" this is what they had available just in front of the check-out:




Why not grab a Rum-Coke combo on the way out?


It is not just that it is easy to buy or taste alcohol - sometimes it is hard not to. We have been to activities where wine or beer has been served - but no alcohol-free alternatives. And this has been activities to which most participants drove. My experience in Sweden is that there are "always" alcohol-free alternatives available when I go to different activities.

Does this easy access and frequent lack of alcohol-free alternatives mean that Spaniards drink more liters of alcohol per capita? Statistics from CE Sifo shows that this is that case, and that it has been the case at least since 1960:



What about  me? Do I drink more alcohol now that I live in Madrid?

Not really. I guess I am too old and wise to be affected by the easy access, not to mention that I care about my health. I have found what works for me and I do not let easy access or other external circumstances affect my drinking habits.

The Dutch alcohol commercials always end with a "Geniet met mate" message. I find it hard to translate well, but basically it means "Enjoy in reasonable measure."

Wherever you are, whether you have easy or difficult access to alcohol, I hope you are able to Genieten met mate.

I especially hope that all of you who are recovering / still struggling alcoholics (like Jack in my book Ursus-dit rättvisan inte når) find your way of enjoying alcohol-free alternatives. These are often easy to access all over the world!

1/22/15

The girl with the butterfly hair part 4 - Still looking for you

This is part 4 of a story that starts here.

"Look there is another one!"
Maria nudged the girl next to her with an elbow and pointed eagerly.
They were walking along a stone pavement with large trees. Trees that were in the way when walking, but that were an absolute necessity in the hot summers of Madrid, providing patches of much needed shade.
Her friend moved the long, blond hair away from her face in order to see better.
"Another what?"
"Another owl. You know, they are all over Madrid. I have seen them on lots of trash cans. It´s pretty, don´t you think?"
As they came closer, the owl became more clear.
"And then there is this message", Maria continued, "that is either a threat or terribly romantic."
They stopped in front of the metal trash can. The blond girl looked carefully at it. Unlike her friend she had not seen any of these before. She was sure she had not. And still there was something vaguely familiar with it...




"Did you say there is a message?"
"Yes, here, look!" Maria pointed below the owl and her friend sat down on her heels to see better.
"Why didn´t you wait for me? Still looking for you."
She raised her eyes so they met the ones of the owl.

"It´s you, isn´t it?" she whispered.

He was sitting in his bed, reading, when he suddenly saw her eyes in the middle of the pages, blurring out the letters. The light blue eyes, looking here and there as if she was looking for something. He could see her, but she could not see him. His heart was racing while the rest of him was dead still, not daring to move, not wanting her to go away again.

When she finally did go away, when her eyes disappeared and the book looked just like it had done before, he stood up and walked straight to the painting he was working on. It was finally time to conclude it.

"Look, look here.  It must be some kind of artist who is doing this as a way to get attention."
The girl with the blond hair looked where Maria had her finger. When she read it her heart did a double jump.

"Selling art at Plaza Mayor, every Sunday." 

You can read the last part of this story here.

Illustration by Michiel Rosendahl  

1/15/15

#SwedeInMadrid: Vicious Squirrels?

One of the interesting things about living in a new country is to see the different road signs. What is considered dangerous, or at least important to warn about in different countries?

Many people who visit Sweden find the "Varning för älg" sign to be exotic and almost cute.



An English colleague of mine, now living in Sweden, made a joke about mooses at a dinner party. Unfortunately that did not turn out very well since the person who was sitting next to him had a brother who had died in a crash with a moose...
So the sign may look funny, but colliding with one of these large animals is no laughing matter.

In Spain they warn about other large animals;

Considering Spain is a country where they still see bull fighting as a cultural and entertaining event it is understandable that there are some angry cows and bulls walking around, so it may be a good idea to watch out for them.

Mooses and cows - we can all understand that they can be dangerous. But what about this one?


Do they have Vicious Teenage Mutant Ninja Squirrels in Madrid?

Well, not that we have seen so far. Presumably these signs are more out of care for the squirrels than for the car drivers.

And yes, there are many squirrels where we live. This makes our dog very happy. Those of you who do not have dogs can look at this clip from Up. Some 20 seconds into the clip you will see how squirrels can affect dogs!



1/1/15