Our Man in Malmö | The Swedish Teleban

Life in Sweden is different to what I’m used to – sometimes it feels like I left all my logic at the border when I arrived.

I particularly remember when I discovered the government requires everyone with a television to pay for a radio and TV licence. When they phoned asking for payment, I explained we didn’t have a TV, and eventually they grasped the concept and moved on. 

Most Swedes choked on their meatballs when we admitted this. Our TV-free lifestyle created so much tension that I worried my wife’s family would organise an intervention. They started referring to me as the Teleban. Eventually, they ‘loaned’ us a used TV. 

As they left I thought I heard them chant: “One of us, one of us …” And then when it died, we bought a new one and received a bill from Radiotjänst. 

“How do they know?” I asked my wife. “You filled out the paperwork when you bought it,” she explained. “But how did they find out? Did the store give them my info so they could track me down?” I ignored the bill, but eventually they phoned. 

Now I studied communications in the 1980s, and while it prepared me for little, it at least provided me with a basic understanding of analogue TV.

“This is the Radio and TV Licensing Authority, we understand you have a TV,” came the call. “Well, we don’t, we have a monitor.” 
“No, you have a TV … Do you watch TV?” she enquired. “Have you watched Swedish TV? Of course not.”
“Well that doesn’t matter. If you have a TV you must pay,” she insisted. 

My illogical barometer also overheated when I and my wife went to the bank to ask for a house loan and discovered we must arrange a meeting in advance and by phone. So farcically we exited the bank and called from our mobiles, made the appointment and then re-entered the bank. 

The loan officer agreed to conduct the meeting in English. “I’ll do my best,” he said. “But I’m better after a few beers.” Maybe we could move the meeting to the pub, I wondered. 

Eventually we defaulted to Swedish – a better choice of language for a fiscal bottom-feeder like me. I could sit there cap in hand like the peasant I am, eyes to the ground, bracing myself for the rejection. Christ, this would have gone so much better at the pub. 

But it turns out there’s hope after all. “I want to say that I do want to begin a relationship with you two,” he began.

A relationship? I’m not really into group sex; as Rodney Dangerfield once said: “I never know who to thank afterwards.” But then I begin to see the potential of his offer. What if he’s a good cook and could watch our daughter or at least pick her up from school? 

… “If both of you had employment.” 

Which boiled down means we could swing a mortgage on two teachers’ salaries! Somewhere in my disappointment was the feeling that this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.