Thursday, 26 November 2015

Office catastrophes in Norway - Part 3

The day before yesterday, I started with Part 1 and Part 2 of the written series "Office catastrophes in Norway", and yesterday, I delivered you an insight into the local housing market here in Tromsø / Norway. Especially the latter can be helpful to be read before you continue to read this third part of "Office catastrophes in Norway"

So, as already mentioned in the post about the very desperate housing market in Tromsø, my love and I were just extremely lucky that we never had to live in a tent as many other students when newly arriving in Tromsø. One can have everything regarding the finances put in order and use all the sources available to find an accommodation months prior to the move, just as we did, and yet getting a place to stay can be very often just a matter of pure luck. 

Right after the final confirmation of his exchange year had arrived, my love applied to "Studentsamskipnaden i Tromsø" ["The Student Association in Tromsø"] for a one-room-apartment for us. Parallel to that, we - of course - kept searching for an accommodation on the private housing market as well. One cannot expect to get one of the much sought-after student apartments just by applying for those. Of course not. The student apartments are so much sought-after amongst others because of their rental prices which are just one-third or sometimes even just a quarter of what is asked on the regular housing market in Tromsø. And unlike the student apartments, those on the private housing market might not include the costs for electricity, heating, water and internet in the rent

Since the day of our move to Tromsø was approaching and since we were still without a place to stay in Tromsø, my love called "Studentsamskipnaden" in order to ask for their emergency accommodations, in case we wouldn't have found an accommodation by the time we had moved to Tromsø. During that phone call, it turned out that his application for a student apartment had never been handled in the first place since he applied for an accommodation for the two of us, a couple, and for a one-room-apartment. Apparently, it is not allowed for a couple to live together in a one-room-apartment. A couple has to apply for a "parleilighet" ["couple apartment"], so for an apartment with at least two rooms, even though we would have been perfectly fine with living together in a one-room-apartment. Well, a rule is a rule. BUT: Just putting away the application without a single word...?!? Just not handling it...?!? Seriously!?! 

Now this is just an anecdote from what happened prior to our third "office adventure" which took place at the service centre of "Studentsamskipnaden". As in the first part of "Office catastrophes in Norway", you might think that all of this is not even worth to be mentioned - until you will get the full context... 

So, one fine day, we ended up in the service centre of "Studentsamskipnaden i Tromsø", and the occasion for that was a very happy one: We had gotten one of the much sought-after student apartments! Yay! So, there we were, in the service centre of "Studentsamskipnaden", signing the rental agreement for our "couple apartment". We haven't had the opportunity to take a look at the two-room-apartment before signing the rental agreement for it - but it didn't matter. The housing market in Tromsø is absolutely horrible and we managed to find a place to stay at relatively fast, so we were just happy and grateful. 

Before signing the rental agreement, we were going through its small print. After all, this is something one should always do before signing a contract, right? Well, the customer consultant who served us at "Studentsamskipnaden" (and was friendly and helpful at first) did not seem to agree. All of a sudden, she urged us to just sign the contract and leave. There were still three hours to go before the service centre closed and the entire service centre was empty, except for two other employees, so there was no pressure to serve any other customers present in the service centre. And even if there would have been a queue, we could have been asked (in a friendly way) to step aside while going through the small print of the rental agreement. Instead, we were suddenly urged to just sign the contract and leave, "you can read everything on our website later on". But the actual "adventure" was just about to start... 

Being surprised by the sudden change of her mood, we more or less just signed the rental agreement. Or to be more precise: My love signed the rental agreement. My signature wasn't even needed - since I wasn't mentioned in the rental agreement in the first place! 

We told the customer consultant that both of us were going to live in the "couple apartment" and that it was of great importance for us that both of us were mentioned in the rental agreement. For various reasons. Amongst others, if you remember the regulations I mentioned concerning family immigration in Norway, cohabitants over the age of 18 not only need to have lived together for at least two years before moving to Norway but they also need to intend to continue their cohabitation in Norway. So, how could a couple prove that they have continued their cohabitation in Norway if only one of them is mentioned in the rental agreement? Not to mention that the authorities in our home country Finland and other countries we might move to in the future might need such a documentation, too. We explained all that to the customer consultant... 

At first, she stated that I couldn't be included in the rental agreement since I wasn't a student. "Studentsamskipnaden" is renting out apartments to students only, hence only students can be mentioned in the corresponding rental agreements. On the one hand, this policy sounded a bit strange since there are many couples and also entire families living in the apartments provided by "Studentsamskipnaden", and it's probably not that unusual that only one person in a relationship is studying, so why would the one who is not studying been forced to live without having a valid rental agreement? On the other hand, this policy sounded logical to some degree, indeed, so I don't know why the customer consultant started to repeat the following words like a mantra: "She's not a student, so we don't care where she lives. She can live wherever she wants. She can move to wherever she wants. We don't care. She's not a student, so we don't care where she lives." 

However, we then kindly asked for a written confirmation which would just state that my love and I are living together in the "couple apartment". No more, no less. And we were both quite stunned by the following barefaced response she gave: "That's not our problem. That's YOUR problem. We rent out apartments to students. And we don't care about Finland. If you need a written confirmation for an authority here in Tromsø, you can come back with a written request from that authority and just then I will give you a written confirmation, but only if it is for an authority here in Tromsø. We don't care about Finland. That's your problem, not ours!" 

Oh my, what an attitude! What about the "Nordic cooperation"? What about "Nordic agreements"? And what if we would have returned with a written request from an authority located in e.g. Oslo since she insisted so strongly on an authority located in Tromsø? Questions upon questions... 

Well, we were so stunned about her biting tone and "I don't care" attitude that we just left. We tried to explain to her that I was going to have an appointment at the police / immigration office soon and that they definitely would need that written confirmation we kindly asked for, but she kept replying the same as before. 

So, that was our third "adventure" in a Norwegian office, and yet the worst part was still to come (→ Part 4). 

Celebrating our move-in with a ready-made "Festkake" ["Celebration Cake"] 

The problem with the written confirmation was solved as follows: Back at home, we took and printed out several screenshots from the webpage of the police / immigration office which proved that we needed the written confirmation we kindly asked for from "Studentsamskipnaden". At the same time, I contacted the police / immigration office via email, requesting a written request for a written confirmation. As absurd as it all sounds. 

A few days later, we just stopped by at "Studentsamskipnaden" with the screenshots, but this time, we were served by another customer consultant who just gave us the written confirmation we needed without even asking for the screenshots or any other written request. To date, this was the only positive experience we gained in a Norwegian office. 

The lady at the police / immigration office replied to my email just after a whole working week (!) had passed, and apparently, she hadn't even read the email I sent to her carefully since she replied that she could not force "Studentsamskipnaden" to include my name in the rental agreement when I just requested a written request from the police / immigration office for a written confirmation from "Studentsamskipnaden". After repeating all that in a second email, the lady at the police / immigration office replied that they would never request anything from "Studentsamskipnaden" as they never request anything from a third party, so I should just go back to "Studentsamskipnaden" and explain the whole situation to them again. 

Fortunately, at that time, we already had stopped by at "Studentsamskipnaden" and gotten the written confirmation we needed from the only kind and competent employee we have met in a Norwegian office so far. 

I don't even know how to conclude this third part, but it was after this third "office adventure" that I started to realise that this kind of chaos seems to be rather the rule than the exception in Norway. As sad as it is. And in combination with the absolutely horrible housing market, I wouldn't call Tromsø a hospitable place for (exchange) students either.


Katarina said...

Oh my goodness, this sounds horrible! :O To think that you would be treated like that... Here in Japan things are a bit different, since no official speaks English, I just have to hope they know what they're doing... I don't know what I would do if a problem arose, since even all my insurance papers and such are in Japanese...

Stefanie Singh [Sound Kitchen] said...

The Japanese culture is known for politeness, respectfulness and humbleness. Values I haven't encountered here in Norway. Also, Japan is known for being well-organised. I couldn't find that characteristic here in Norway either. Absolutely not. And since Japan is known for being well-organised, I'm optimistic that you will be well taken care of even though all your papers are in Japanese. :o)

I meanwhile reached the point where I'm seriously asking myself if moving to e.g. Denmark wouldn't have been a better choice than moving to Norway. For many reasons.