Money, part 2

If you have seen American TV and/or movies you have probably seen scenes where someones credit card gets rejected. Usually the character then pulls up another card and asks the cashier to try that one instead. I always found that to be a bit peculiar that people in American movies always seemed to have multiple credit cards for situations like that.

But this is really how it is here.. people have multiple cards. From having one SEB/Visa banking card that was enough for anything I needed to do I now suddenly have added to my collection two debit cards (one Visa and one MasterCard) and one credit card (Visa). (And I’m sure I soon have at least one more credit card..)

And if that wasn’t enough, I also have two different check books. I have never written a check in my life before, it feels like something we should have left behind us in the 20th century. But that is the only way I can pay my apartment rent. I need to write a check and give it to the people in the leasing office.

My first bank account I opened before I left Sweden. When I had signed for Google I got offers from both Citibank and Wells Fargo to open accounts specialized for international people. So I went with Citibank and had contact with an “account opening specialist” called Cheryl. After sending in various papers both from Google and from SEB (and resending since they got wrong the first time) and answering a bunch of questions I got an account opened and a welcome package with a debit/ATM card sent to Sweden.

When the account was opened I asked what I needed to do to get a credit card as well. (I had heard that I needed to have that..) Cheryl said I could just send in an application to her and she would forward it to Citicards. So I did and then absolutely nothing happened. After a while I tried to email Cheryl to ask what was happening. No answer. Finally (now being in USA) I called her. She sounded like she had no idea who I was or remembering any application and didn’t seem to care much. I guess she had already got her kick back for opening my account had no reason to help me any further. The only answer I got was to call Citicards and ask them.

So I called Citicards and asked and they couldn’t find my application in their system. Send in a new one was the answer. So I sent in another application. Since this was an application for international people like me there were instructions on various papers I should send in as well. This was just before I got my social security number. I probably should have waited until I had it..

So I sent in the application together with copies of the papers from Google and SEB that I already had sent in before. After a long time I got an email from Citibank saying that they needed one more piece of information. How much I paid per month for my apartment loan in Sweden. (I had mentioned that in the application, maybe that was a mistake..)

In the email was a phone number that I called. On the phone they said that they needed an IRS form, but nothing about any monthly payments.. They also said a letter would come in the mail about this. A few days later the letter arrived saying that I needed to send in all of those papers that I already had sent in. No mention about any monthly payments or IRS forms or that they had got some papers but they were not good enough. I will from now refer to them as Schizobank.

So I gave up that application because I was now on my way to get a credit card from somewhere else.

When I passed the written drivers license test I got a temporary California license. That meant I could start the process of buying a car. And the first step to buying a car is to get a loan. (Unless you buy a cheap enough car so you can pay for it in cash.) But getting a loan is not very easy when you have zero US credit history.

In USA there is a thing called credit unions. They are like banks but smaller and cooperatively owned. You don’t become a customer of a credit union, you become a member. (And I think they are a bit fuzzy about who they accept as a member.) Google have a partnership with two credit unions and I had understood that it maybe was easier to get a loan from them.

First I phoned KeyPoint Credit Union but they needed at least three years of US credit history to approve a car loan. They had been accepting no credit history before but in the aftermath of the international finance crisis they had stopped that.

Then I contacted Stanford Federal Credit Union and they would accept me getting a loan. It’s to a higher rate than if I had had a good credit score. But if I make a down payment of at least 30% I get a rather decent interest rate. So the lady that is the Google contact came out to meet me at the Google campus the next day to fill out all the papers. Within just a day I had opened a new bank account, applied for a credit card and got approval for a car loan. That is customer service!

Today I was at a car dealer test driving a few cars…

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Going to IKEA

For every good Swede moving to a new place includes at least one shopping trip to IKEA. And just because you move in a different contry doesn’t change this. So over the weekend I was at IKEA in East Palo Alto, a short 10 minute drive from my place, to shop some storage stuff for my closet.

And of course, I also stopped by at the “Swedish Food Market” to stock up on some necessities. Lingonsylft, hallonsaft, skorpor, köttbullar and “Swedish style limpa bread”.

At the cashier of the food market there was a guy and a girl. The guy asked me of I shouldn’t have and cream sauce as well to really eat the meatballs the Swedish way. I told him there is more than one Swedish ways to eat meatballs. He asked me if I was Swedish and it turned out both he and the girl was Swedish as well.

I promised I’d come back again..

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Moving in!

Finally my days in a temporary corporate apartment in Santa Clara are over. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with the apartment. It was a newly built apartment complex with a little shopping center next to it. But it was a very quiet area, perfect for families. And without a car it was really hard to get anywhere or do anything. Going into San Francisco took over 2 hours.

But this Monday I picked up the keys to my own apartment in Mountain View. It’s in an apartment complex called The Shadows and it is walking/biking disctance to downtown Mountain View (i.e. Castro Street) and biking distance to Google.

The apartment on the other side of the pool on the ground floor is mine. Behind the fence there is a pretty big outdoor patio. Now if it only got a bit warmer again..

On Tuesday three merry latino guys and a truck came with the blue container that was filled up with all my stuff almost 2 months ago.

In about 2 hours they managed to unload the whole container and get it into my apartment. I assume they were getting paid by the hour because they were not taking it slow and easy. But they were still doing a good job.

So now I am living in a card board box inferno since I haven’t had very much time to unpack things yet. I also don’t really know where I am going to put all the stuff.. This apartment is slightly smaller than my place in Stockholm. But even more, it is lacking places to store things. In Stockholm I had a small walk in closet and a storage room in the basement. Here I don’t have any of that. I have some hard problem solving ahead of me..

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Autumn in California

One thing I have been wondering is what autumn would look like in California. Would the trees drop their leaves or would they just stay green? Well, it seems to be a little bit of both. Some trees have turned yellow and red and are dropping their leaves. Other trees are just as green as they have ever been.

Tomorrow (Monday) I will get the keys to my apartment in Mountain View!In the morning Comcast will also pay a visit to setup cable TV and Internet. Then on Tuesday my furniture will end it’s great adventure over the Atlantic Ocean by being delivered to and unpacked in my apartment! So long Santa Clara.. hello Mountain View!

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Have you been rickrolled?

Today I was rickrolled.. I don’t know if this a US only Internet phenomena or if it is global and I just have missed it.

Anyway, to get rickrolled is really easy. You just have to be presented with a web link that sounds really interesting/cool/tempting. Like this one: Niklas dances samba naked in San Francisco.

Go ahead, click on it.

Clicked on it yet?

If you clicked the link and expected to see some white skin, feathers and a cable car but instead got a video of Rick Astley’s 80’s classic “Never gonna give you up”… then you have been rickrolled! 🙂

Last week I was at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) office in Los Gatos to take the written test for a California drivers license. The Santa Clara DMV office would be much closer but according to my relocation assistant (and guardian angel) Jane there are much less people that visits the Los Gatos office. This not only means less waiting time but also that the staff are less stressed out and nicer to deal with.

I filled out a drivers license application form and waited for my number to be called. It took about 30 minutes before it was my turn. The guy behind the counter was not working fast but he managed to enter information into the computer both from the application, my passport and my Swedish drivers license. I also gave a finger print and made a quick eye test. (Reading letters from a board with both eyes and then only with each eye.)

Then I was directed over to a line of people to get my photo taken. After the photo I got the test paper and went over to a standing both along the wall to write the test. The test consisted of 36 multiple choice questions. (You can find some example questions here.) You hade to get at least 30 questions correct to pass the test.

After finishing the test I put the paper in a basket for it to be corrected. I sat down to wait for my name to be called which took about 10 minutes. The lady behind the counter, who’s grandfather was from Sweden (somewhere up north), told that I had gotten 33 correct answers and that I had passed! Apparently the score was also good enough for me to get a temporary California drivers license (just a paper) since I have a Swedish license from before.

I still have to take the behind the wheel test though so we booked one for December 13. Unfortunately that turned out to be pretty much the only day that I could not take the test since I will attend an internal Google course on code smells and refactoring. So I had to go to the DMV web site to cancel the appointment and book a new one. However it turned out that I for some reason couldn’t make an appointment over the web. I had to call them.

Calling DMV is not fun. They have an automatic answering system where you have to answer a gazillion questions only to end up with the message that their system is not available right now, please try again later. And the only time that the system seemed to be available I was put on hold to talk to a person at DMV. After waiting on the phone for 15 minutes I didn’t have time to sit on the phone anymore and had to give up. I hope I will be able to book at new time tomorrow..

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Baseball and politics

The beginning of this week was eventful in the Bay Area. First on Monday the San Francisco Giants became “world champions” in baseball. Something that Giants haven’t been since 1954 when they actually were the New York Giants. The two best teams in the two different leagues that make up MLB (Major League Baseball) in USA play a final called the “World Series”. It’s a series played as best of 7 games. This year the final was between Sen Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers.

The first two games were played in San Francisco and Giants won them both. Then the next three games were played in Texas. Giants won two of these and had won the whole shebang!

Today, Wednesday, Giants had traveled back to San Francisco to be celebrated by big crowds of fans.

I suspect the reason that they were celebrated today and not yesterday was that Tuesday this week was midterm elections in USA. All states voted for what people to send to the Senate and the House of Representatives. In California the election for senator was between democrat Barbara Boxer (who already has been serving 3 terms) and republican Carly Fiorina (former CEO of Hewlett Packard).

There were also a lot of local elections going on at the same time. The most important one was who would be the new governor of California after Arnold Schwarzenegger who has had the post for the past eight years.

As you may know political campaigns in USA are a bit different than in Sweden. On TV there are a lot of “negative ads” that are not so much about what the candidate behind the ad wants to do but rather how crappy the other candidate is. If your main source of information is TV and you don’t watch so much news then this is pretty much all you will see. The democrat candidate Jerry Brown (who has been governor before) “just spends and spends and spends” and Meg Whitman (former CEO of EBay) “is dealing with issues that clearly eludes her” and “has a loose relationship with the truth”.

But there are also elections for a lot of other positions like Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, State Controller, Attorney General etc etc. And if this was not enough there are also elections for a number of specific issues both on the state level and on the county level (San Francisco County, Santa Clara County etc). The probably most famous one was California Proposition 19, whether marijuana should be legalized. On the state level there were 10 propositions.

One was “Prop 23” that was backed by two oil companies from Texas. They wanted to suspend the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 that aimed at reducing green house gases. The proposition wanted that to be put on hold until the economy got better. When voters had said no to Prop 23 Arnold said in an interview on TV that “Yestarday we beat Texas (referring to the basball game). And you know, today we did it again”.

In Santa Clara County (the county that includes e.g. Mountain View and San Jose) the people voted among other things whether hotel taxes should be raised from 10% to 12% so that budgets cuts could be avoided for things like the police and fire department.

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It’s Halloween time in USA and at Google that means they throw a Googleween party. Or actually, two parties. First one on Thursday where people can bring their children and then one on Friday that is not for children. Or maybe party is the wrong word because it only lasted about 2 hours in the afternoon. There was beer, snacks, free Halloween Android mascots, a place where you could get face painted Halloween style and, of course, a lot of dressed up people. It’s really amazing how many people that actually dress up for Halloween just for the fun of it.

If you go to a Halloween party in Sweden almost everybody dress up as something scary. It’s vampires, skeletons, grim reapers, angels and devils. That’s not really the case here. (Or as someone said, that just what you do when you’re a kid.) You can dress up as anything, as long as you dress up.

It was also encouraged for people to wear their costumes all day at work. Somewhere close to my cubicle there was a young Obi-Wan Kenobi sitting with a blue laser sword!

Oh yeah, I got my Social Security Card! So now I’m finally an official tax payer! On Monday I’m going to take the written test for a California drivers license.

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Social security, and some real work

Maybe you noticed that my last blog post ended with a cliff hanger. If you didn’t notice, I will probably never be the next Dan Brown. 🙂

As I said last Monday I took a chance and went to the USCIS office at Washington Street in San Francisco to get my I94 form corrected. Pretending that I had never heard anything about getting a scheduled appointment. To get into the office you had to go through an airport style security check. The metal detector can’t have been that good though since I forgot to remove the car keys from my pocket and it didn’t beep…

“Car keys?” you may think. “I thought he didn’t have any car.” Well, I don’t. But Google has a bunch of cars that you can borrow for free a couple of hours if you need to do an errand during the day. They even pay the gas! So I was driving a Toyota Prius electric/gasolin hybrid car to San Francisco and back. Pretty cool thing!

After the security check there were two lines for the reception desk. One for people with appointments and one for people without. There were only about 5 persons ahead of me in the non-appointment line. It still took about 30 minutes since people coming in the other line had priority and the woman behind the reception desk really took her time to explain thoroughly the most basic things. She must have the patience of an angel explaining the same thing day in and day out.. When I said that I didn’t have an appointment she told me that the next time I really should get an appointment before coming. She still gave me a queue ticket for the next step though.

I was directed to a waiting area where about 10 persons were sitting and waiting. After about 20 minutes my number was called and I went to a counter window. The lady at that counter started by asking me if I had an appointment and told me that I should have an appointment. Then she asked why I hadn’t written my first name on the I94 form. The favorite question of every American official it seems.. (“Well, you know, in Sweden bla bla bla”..) Anyway she wrote me a slip so I could go up to the CBP (“Customs and Border Protection”, the people that stamp your passports) office on the 11th floor.

On the 11th floor there was a smaller waiting room and two window counters. I explained to the guy behind one of them what my problem was. He took my passport and papers and asked me to wait. He seemed to be doing a million things at the same time. One of those things was answering the phone. In phone call I heard him explain to someone that they needed to go online and make an appointment. But do you think he told them to go to No, he told them to go to Google and type in “infopass”. 🙂

After witnessing how a Korean guy had to say three times that his name still was not properly spelled on his corrected I94 it was finally my turn and I got my passport back with a corrected I94 with all my first names, in the right order! And without having an appointment!

So on Tuesday I went to the Social Security Administration once again and this time they accepted my application! I should get my card within a week or two.

Last week I got a desk at work but they had run out of Linux machines so I didn’t get a desktop computer straight away. Since we are not allowed to check out any code on laptops I couldn’t really get started diving into the AdWords code. This week my desktop arrived together with a big ass 30″ screen and the Noogler welcome balloons!

I have gotten a small assignment to add a tiny feature. But it’s really more an exercise in reading code and learning the system to figure out where the new feature actually should go. I think I roughly know where to do the changes now, but there is a lot to learn!

Not far from my place in Santa Clara is the Intel headquarters. There they have a small museum to document Intel’s history. So I took a 10 minute bike ride and visited it yesterday. It’s not very big and it can’t be easy to try to show how to build a computer chip interesting and understandable to the general public. It was not super exciting but still a bit interesting and well worth half an hour on a Saturday afternoon.

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I have a project

Finally I know what I will be working on at Google. Unfortunately for everyone at Appear I will not be working with Android. I will be working with AdWords instead. That means that I now have a desk and a place to call “home” on the big Google campus. What I don’t have yet is a desktop computer, I only have my laptop. So I can’t really get started on getting into things yet.

Here they are, the entire Android family. (Cupcake, Donut, Eclair and Froyo) But I will not be working with them..

Finally I now also have a mentor. A mentor is something that every Noogler gets to help them out in the beginning. It is someone that you can ask as many stupid questions as you like and that will guide you in the beginning. But the mentor is not a manager and is not part of any performance review. So the relationship can be a bit more relaxed.

Last Wednesday my relocation guide Jane took me to the social security office to apply for a social security number. I was rejected.. The problem is the way Swedish name writing is different from US name writing. In Sweden a person can have one or more first names. One of them must be the primary name (“tilltalsnamn”), but the primary name can be in any position among the first names. In USA a person has one first name and one middle name. And they are always written in that order. My full first name is “Max Niklas Gösta”. When a US official read this they see “Max” as the first name and “Niklas” as the middle name. “Gösta” they seem to ignore.

Both my passport and my visa says my entire full name. On the airplane you fill out a form called I-94 (if you have a visa). On that one I only wrote “Niklas”. My full name didn’t fit in the boxes and I, stupid as I am, wanted to go by my real name (Niklas) and not by my father’s name (Max). In the passport control in New York they accepted this without any questions. That was probably wrong. Because when I came to the social security office they said that my I-94 and my visa/passport don’t match and because of that they can’t find me in the system.

So now I need to get my I-94 corrected. At the they social security office they didn’t know exactly how to do this. (Even though they said that they get this problem about 5 times a week..) Their suggestion was to Google it.

After some Googling and asking the people who handle visa issues at Google (that must be an internal way of “Googling” 🙂 ) the answer was that I need to go to an immigration office in San Francisco to get my I-94 corrected. On their web site you can schedule an appointment which I did and got an appointment at October 26th. Now I would like to get a social security number as soon as possible as so many other things are left hanging before I get that. So tomorrow I’m going to take a chance and just go there without an appointment and see if that works out. Wish me luck..

This is the Google campus T-Rex. His name is Stan.

Yesterday I was hanging out with veteran Mountain View resident Eva! We kicked off the day by going to a Zumba class. Then we had burger lunch, did some shopping at Fry’s (a big-ass computer store), had some fika and then dinner and drinks in Palo Alto and Menlo park. Good times!

By the way, today it has rained quite a bit…

But than again.. this is northern California..

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Money is a complicated topic in this country. Today I attended a session called “Financial Planning For New Hires”. Google had invited some personal finance expert that talked for almost two hours about how you should manage your personal economy. And man, there are a lot of things to think about.

In good old Sweden all you needed was a decent income and no record of not paying your bills (betalningsanmärkningar) and you would be fine. In USA, not so easy. Here you need a credit history and good credit score. You need to over time prove that you can owe money and pay it back. If you have a bad credit score you may get worse deals on loans (car, house etc), if you get them at all. If you lease an apartment you may have to deposit extra security. You may get higher interest, lower credit limits etc.

In Sweden I have always had my SEB debit card with Visa. When I bought something it was immediately deducted from my account. Easy, hassle free and safe. It took care of itself.

For those not sure what the difference between a debit card and a credit card is: A debit card is what I just described. You can’t spend money you don’t have in your account. With a credit card on the other hand whenever you buy something it is the bank that at first pays for it. At the end of the month you get a bill for all charges to the card. If you pay the full amount of the bill you don’t have to pay any interest. You don’t have to pay the full amount though. You have the option of only paying a minimum amount and owe the rest to the bank. Then you will start paying (pretty high) interest on the money you owe. The next month’s bill will include everything you still owe.

But if you pay the full amount of the bill you don’t have to pay anything extra. So what is then the point of having a credit card instead of a debit card when you get the extra job of paying bills once a month? First there are some places that won’t accept a debit card, only a credit card. E.g. when you rent a car you need a credit card. If you wreck the car the rental company will want to charge your card, even if you don’t have money in the account. But more importantly, using a credit card builds credit score. So the advice in today’s session was to get at least two different credit cards and start using them. (And of course pay the bills for the full amount on time.)

Another annoyance is that you pretty much have to become member of different clubs and reward programs if you don’t want to pay a lot of extra money. E.g. a big package of orange juice at the Safeway around the corner costs $3.99 if you are not a member. For members the price is $2.50. That’s 37% cheaper!

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