Stories from Sweden: Flogsta Fun
Housing, as we all know is one of the most basic requirements in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It was also one of my biggest concerns when I applied for my student exchange having heard of prior horror stories from seniors having to resign to shady places and awkward room sharing and what not. Thankfully — bless their perfect Scandinavian, upper HDI life souls — Uppsala University had an array of housing options available with quotas for foreign exchange students which meant that there was going to be no scramble for housing. Lucky me indeed! I briefly scanned the list available and my brown person brain just went straight for the cheapest, Flogsta. I mean, I just needed a roof over my head innit?
Turns out it was quite literally the best decision ever. I am not even exaggerating. Flogsta, as I’ve mentioned before, is rightly called Uppsala’s student ghetto for reasons we shall explore. This isn’t a story, it’s a set of some amazing memories from the area and why I would definitely recommend it to everyone.
Welcome to Flogsta baby!
Once my exchange was confirmed, I did obviously start googling everything I could about the city, the university and life there. One thing led to another and I came to google Flogsta and although some official looking sites turned up, I went into to read up on blogs to get the real insight into what life there would be like. The first blog I found was quite the, uh, grounding experience and looked very different from the smiling, happy people in the brochures we’re shown. Here’s how it began:
When I entered the lobby of the building I found lying on the floor a girl that had tried to commit suicide…Living there was pretty crazy, crazy people and crazy parties, that’s what Flogsta is all about.
These two sentences in the span of the opening paras of the blog instilled dread in my for all of twenty seconds after which the frown on my brow slowly made its way down into a raging smile as I read on about the Flogsta scream and the weird motley crue of people I’d be living with. And true to all of it, Flogsta was the most amazing residential experience I could’ve ever asked for.
Love thy neighbours
For background, Flogsta has two parts, the low houses (where I didn’t stay) and the high houses (where I did stay and where all the fun really was). There are 16 buildings in the high houses arranged in a weird circle around Sernanders väg with a few houses that had private residences and the rest filled with students like yours truly. I was assigned building 9, floor 5, room 539 (9:5 for ease). Turns out this is one of the foreign exchange quota rooms and actually came with furniture (a cot, mattress, desk, desk lamp and chair).
Here are the amazingly fun, warm and quirky folks I shared this corridor with (name, nationality, misc):
- SJ — Indian — my batchmate from college and a fellow student of the law (neither of us have made a career in it though)
- GG — Eritrean — the first person I bumped into as I settled into the corridor and who set the level of kindness I now expect from strangers
- ME — Swedish — the youngest of the lot and who worked as a baker and used to bring us some amazing loaves
- LN — Swedish but of Bosnian descent — the grandmum of the corridor because she’d lived the longest and was just very, very kind to us newbies in the corridor
- J — Swedish — resident vegan and quiet guy, didn’t hang out too much with us, but was extremely pleasant to talk to
- IM — Spanish — the old lady of the corridor (her words, I promise!) who is the most fun microbiologist I’ve ever met and who contributed her speakers to the corridor
- KA — Indian — a brief resident in IM’s room for the time he hung around before his visa expired and with whom SJ and I could converse in Kannada in for when we missed the homeland
- A — Indian — PhD student studying how to harness wave energy to generate electricity and very fond of his beer
- K — Swedish — the tallest and most athletically built bloke the corridor had all year, had a massive obsession with the USA as a concept and was working his way to move there (his room saw two other occupants in the time I was there, a Brazilian and Swedish girl who played classical violin)
- E — Swedish — a girl who mostly kept to herself and made that very clear with the big headphones she had all the time but did leave us her coffee maker towards the end
- AL — Swedish — resident computer geek and gamer with a great set up and some very interesting views
- GG — Swedish — member of the Smålands nation and a generous host who took SJ and I home for new years (and a non resident of Flogsta, but frequent party attendee)
- Special mention to FO — Swedish, adopted from India in infancy and a friend of IM who spent a lot of time in our kitchen, raiding my pantry (and I, his)
I don’t think I’d have to mention that this set of individuals brought together a lot of quirks and peculiarities that played out in funny ways and made for a very interesting semester.
Easing into Flogsta is a bit of a process in itself. If you’re lucky like we were, you get a furniture in your room and if you’re extremely lucky like SJ and I were, you get allocated a corridor that’s fully stocked. I mean it. The kitchen had two cabinets full of pots and pans of varying sizes, knives of multiple widths, knives, forks, spoons, serving spoons, fruit peelers, tongs, tumblers, coffee mugs, shot glasses and plates. We also had a host of nice spices that folks had left behind as well as dedicated kitchen towels and rags. It was as if I’d walked into the kitchen back home. We’d visited several corridors in our time but this was by far the most well stocked and cleanest of them all.
The first few days were filled with grocery store visits (or the lack thereof, if you’ve read my first story), saying hi to fellow corridor-mates and getting to and from orientations. Everyone kept telling me though, that Flogsta was yet to open up. I didn’t understand this until I had two things happen to me.
- The Flogsta flu. People from multiple countries amassing into a small set of buildings with multiple residents bring all sorts of germs with them and I ended up pretty sick in the start. So much so that I had to live on the kindness of others for a few meals. But I saw this happen to everyone and felt partly vindicated (which is…weird but whatever).
- A car was burnt. Yup, you read that right. Sometime early into our stay one night we heard a lot of loud music and were told to be on the look out for rampage the next day and surprise surprise the next morning we saw an entire burnt car on the rooftop of a parking lot nearby. When we mentioned that to someone in the kitchen we were told, “Flogsta’s back in action, welcome!”
That was the best housewarming (hehe) experience one could get.
Ain’t no party like a Flogsta party!
As if the car story wasn’t a good enough segue, Flogsta parties were a thing of their own. They were the results of youth, copious amounts of alcohol, a complete lack of care and reckless disregard for the lives of others. In short, the closest you would get to urban warfare without actually being in the midst of civil war. (Okay yes I’m exaggerating mildly, but that’s just a teeny tiny bit of hyperbole, indulge me.)
The parties here would usually be held in different corridors, appropriately termed Corridor Parties. Back in ye olde days it was done by pasting posters around the area, some of which are still around, but today facebook took over much of the marketing needs. Corridors would come together to rearrange their furniture, seal their rooms and turn that dorm into a den of fun times with music and neon lights. The rest, was the magic of free flowing alcohol, youthful imagination and the presence of large windows with no railings. Why, do you ask? Because that’s how you throw things out. Yes. Throw. Appliances, utensils, potted plants, TVs, SOFAS for heaven’s sake! We’ve seen all of these things strewn across the lawns after a wild night of a Flogsta party. I never understood it, maybe my brain is too primitive, but there seems to be some universal perverse pleasure in dropping things from a height. We actually knew when not to walk around outside lest we suffer permanent brain damage because someone wanted a laugh. I’m fairly certain, though, that this was how 9:5 actually amassed its kitchen wealth!
Nonetheless, it wasn’t all that bad. I do remember the first corridor party that I attended. It was cat themed and was sometime in October. No one on my floor was joining me but I knew just two other people who were headed there and decided to go without BYOB-ing cause well I wanted to make it back home. That absolutely doesn’t mean that I was sober at the party because the Swedes are supremely generous with their alcohol (and just who am I to refuse their hospitality, eh?). I did have some sambuca as pre-game in the floor below mine and the next thing I knew I was at the party and someone had thrust a shot glass in my hand and I was clinking away with random crowds tasting all sorts of marvelous new alcohols. It was amazing!
I also met some interesting persons:
- A girl from Kazakhstan whom I bored asking how far she lived from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and if she’d ever seen any Proton or Soyuz rockets fly out. Yeah, TDawg on the top of his game. (If you’re imagining this, I’ve a cat face, you know- whiskers and a nose drawn with a marker)
- A German who was obsessed with Bollywood movies and possibly spoke more fluent Hindi than I do.
- The fifth Swedish speaking Finn (who are a rare minority in their land but in abundant numbers in this city)
- Note: if I’ve told you my story of the incident regarding a key WW2 player, this is where it happened. If I haven’t, keep scrolling along.
One incident stands out when, after such a party, AL posted on our facebook group that he’d found a drunk and destitute chap outside our corridor. He took pity on him, fed him some food and put him to bed on the sofa outside. The first time it happened I was weirded out, after that, it was just BAU. Sometimes you’d make your way to the kitchen and just find someone hitherto unknown, hungover and dehydrated.
9:5 had an amazing understanding of never hosting corridor parties. I am so grateful that this rule was followed to the T and that we never had to deal with the after effects of all that trash and lost equipment <shudder> I can’t even imagine the pain that it would’ve been. We’d as it is seen some of the opposite corridor try and nick our chairs every now and then for their parties, but IM and I would have none of it and always retrieved them. Bah!
I can’t stress enough how clean 9:5 really was. It was the exact opposite of whatever picture you make when you think of a student filled dormitory and the pinnacle of cleanliness. Okay, well about as good as it would get. We had a fantastic weekly roster of duties. I’m not sure who made the rota, but it would magically appear on the fridge and we’d all dutifully adhere to it. The jobs included clearing out the trash (all 5 boxes of recycling and four kitchen bins), changing bin liners, ensuring dish soap was filled etc. etc. IM did a wonderful job of collecting all the recycled bottle deposits and using that to sustain the soap+scrub fund for the kitchen. The roster never failed and we all did a splendid job.
I was so pleased with the cleanliness that I decided to go over and above by actually scrubbing the place on my hands and knees literally to give it that really squeaky clean look. That was my version of a Diwali cleaning. I scrubbed out the cabinet doors, the area under the sink, cleaned out the recycling boxes and reorganized the cutlery drawer. Very cathartic that was.
Staying abroad by myself was a great lesson in learning how to cook. While I could do some level of cooking for myself before this, it wasn’t a daily affair nor was I particularly skilled at it. Before leaving I was given sermon after sermon about having to set a budget and learn how to use economical versions of stuff and blah blah blah. I was quite freaked out by the thought of it, but fate, luckily had a better plan and it was in the form of the great chapel of cheap food and discounts — ICA Väst — only the best supermarket chain and most outstanding outlet in all of the lands of the vast city of Uppsala.
Seriously, no amount of praise does justice to the kind of place that ICA Väst really is. Located down a somewhat steep hill leading away from Flogsta, this little supermarket was the biggest reason that I got fat when I was on this exchange. Outwardly it looked no different from other supermarkets, but inside was a holy amalgam of the best discounts, cheap generic brand food and drink and the sweetest cashier people. As soon as you’d walk through those sliding doors, you’d have the week’s deals up front — cheap chocolates, soda cans for almost free, crisps that felt like they needed rescuing and so on and so forth! I could write and sing praises about this store till the cows come home, but won’t. Long story short, I’d be plagued with the overwhelming need to pick up all sorts of things everytime I visited, loading up my cart and eventually walking back with two bags and a backpack full of food and goodies. And this was a weekly affair. Little wonder I came back more than tubby >.< (Fun fact: this store often received stock from other stores that was close to their sell-by dates and because we were poor students, we picked it up anyway. Hence the steep discounts.)
The staff too were amazing. They were always smiling and made nice small talk while they scanned the items. I remember even saying a little tearful goodbye at the end of my stay. One incident that really, really stands out was when I really questioned if they were that happy or if were some Truman Show type gag.
After the first few visits, SJ and I preferred to do our shopping at night (incidentally, this ICA stayed open until 2331 and was therefore the ICA that was open the longest!). [Edit: GG informs me that it is not ICA Vast but the one in his ‘hood, Folkes Lives, that has this peculiarity]
One night SJ was really craving a beer and bought it while we did our regular grocery shopping. Keep in mind that it’s around 2200 and it’s been a long day. SJ accidentally knocked the bottle off the table where we bagged our groceries and uhh when you’re the only people in the shop at that late hour, it makes a loud bang. SJ and I immediately got into apology mode asking to be handed some towels or a mop to clear it up but the cashier lady SMILED and said, “Nonono don’t worry, I’ll handle this, you just go get another beer.” She did not relent and everytime I said that we were sorry she just smiled some more. I mean how! It was late night and you’re cleaning glass and beer off the floor woman! Amazing. And to add to this, when SJ got her new bottle, they didn’t even make her pay for it! What an amazing world isn’t it?
ICA Väst truly was one of the best features of that little ghetto and I know whenever I visit that city, I will make my pilgrimage there.
9:5 happened to also have an old CRT television in the common area. I was told that it used to function but did not now. But, as you may guess from the string of good luck that this exchange had, one fine day I returned from class (yes, I also managed to study, as surprising as that may seem) to see someone watching TV! Someone from the lease company decided to fix it and yay.
The thing about TV, as much as you’re probably rolling your eyes right now, is that it is a great force of unity. Now, in a set up like that in Flogsta, the only time you’d front with others was in the kitchen where you’re cooking the food you purchased from ICA Väst. Once made and eaten, everyone scrambled back to whence they came from, only to be seen later on. The TV though, changed that. We had only basic cable and even fewer English channels but it as enough for one to enjoy. SJ and I particularly enjoyed Deadbeat and Brooklyn 99. Initially, it was just us, but then as we sat there, everytime someone would come out to the kitchen, or walk through the front door, they’d loiter for a bit, take a seat, have some laughs and then scoot. Soon after it became a thing and the TV just happened to keep playing everytime someone was in the kitchen and more often than not, we’d end up having TV dinners, just as we were used to at home. It may sound rather insignificant now, but truly this was something that made the entire experience very homely and comforting in a way that I actually cannot describe.
Our TV viewing became so much of a routine that we actually recreated a Swedish home tradition of watching Donald Duck cartoons on Christmas eve :) The TV was a great magnet and helped keep our band of 9:5 strong!
Flogsta was a delightful experience that was par none. Through my stay in Uppsala I’d seen the insides of several student housing set ups but none of them came close to the cosmopolitan hodge-podge and chaos that Flogsta is/was.