The size of Sweden8.9 million inhabitants occupy the fourth largest country in Europe. If you were to swing Sweden round at 180° using the southernmost tip as the axis, you could reach central Italy no problem. Mind you, the Sami (Laplanders) would want to know what they were suddenly doing in Naples. travel by sleeper. This means that not many Swedes know what their country looks like. They either fly 10 000 metres above it or sleep through it.
GeographyThe southern part of Sweden is the most densely populated and is inhabited by people called Scanians, a kind of Swedish-speaking Dane. They are proud to tell you that they were once a part of Denmark and that they have absolutely nothing in common with the rest of the country. Indeed they are geographically closer to Berlin than to Stockholm. The southern part of Sweden is the gateway to Europe and the rest of the world. Or at least to Copenhagen for a good night out.
The north of Sweden is inhabited by northerners (Norrlänningar) and the Sami (Laplanders), an ancient hunting and fishing nomadic people who live in tents and speak a Finno-Urgic language they themselves can hardly understand. This is perhaps why they hardly say anything at all. Norrland, as this area is called, stretches across 60% of Sweden and is so sparsely populated that the inhabitants hardly ever meet anyone to talk to.
In central Sweden lies the capital, Stockholm. Stockholm is inhabited by ’zero eights’, so called because of their telephone area codes. ’Zero eights’ have a reputation for being like sea-gulls, they scream and cause a mess wherever they go. Well, that’s what the Swedish-speaking Danes say in the south. The people of the north haven’t said a word. As usual.
The Swedish summerThe Swedish summer is the warmest day of the year. And as Sweden is a very normal country, it is normal for the Swedish summer to be a bit colder than normal.
The Swedish winterThe geography book will tell you that, although the country is on the same latitude as Alaska, Sweden has a mild climate and the Atlantic Gulf stream gives warm winters. The truth is that there are two types of winter in Sweden. A grey one and a white one. Swedes survive the winter only by dreaming of what they are going to do on that summer’s day.
Sweden - a peace-loving nationSweden is a peace-loving country. There is, after all, such a thing as the Nobel Peace Prize. Having invented dynamite, gelignite and nitroglycerine, and other substances enough to blow the earth out of the solar system, the Swede Alfred Nobel got a guilty conscience and used his profits to set up the Nobel Foundation.
The Swedes are neutral because they say they are. They are the conscience of the world and therefore only sell peaceful weapons. Preferably to be used as fireworks.
Europa!For most Swedes Europe starts on the other side of the Sound in Copenhagen. Sweden joined the EU in 1995, although most of them would have preferred the EU to join Sweden on their terms.
99% of the Swedes are now soberly against the EU as it is no longer possible to buy tax-free spirits and cigarettes when travelling from one EU country to another. For, up to now, it has always been the duty of every Swede to buy his ration both on the way out and on the way back. Once at a hotel in one of Europe’s exciting metropolises, Swedes used to gather, lock themselves up in the room and drink duty-free booze out of the toothbrush glass. The fact that bar prices in Europe are usually considerably lower than even Swedish tax-free prices never occurred to them.
Scandinavian neighborsAs Victor Borge, the Danish entertainer, once said. Some things are better in Sweden than in Denmark. The Swedes have better neighbors.
Norway is very sparsely inhabited and has a average of three inhabitants per mountain. Norway always regarded itself as the little brother of Sweden until someone pointed out that if you flattened all the mountains, the country would be fifty times larger than it’s big brother. That and earning zillions of crowns from North Sea oil has done wonders to raise Norwegian self-esteem.
Swedish politicsSwedes are liberal, yet they always vote for the social democrats. That’s because they are so conservative. Or, as the well-known saying goes, the Swedes are a colorful people. They think blue, vote red and eat green.
Swedish taxGovernments in Sweden have spent years convincing Swedes that their money isn’t really their own. But the Swede is a person of great initiative and has developed a few ways of keeping a few crowns for himself. Nobody is allowed to get rich. If people in other countries se someone drive round in a flashy sports car, they may exclaim ’Wow! What a cool guy!’ In Sweden they’ll say ’What a tax-dodger’.
Business climate in SwedenIn the USA business people go to their therapist’s after a nervous breakdown. In Sweden people running their own businesses go to their accountant’s.
Swedish business cultureSwedish managers want to be normal people and one of the team. That is why they like to be called by they first names; Bengan, Maggan, Bosse and Kalle by their staff. They never shut their office door and they even queue up in the same canteen as the workers and eat the same food. They like to think of themselves more as a coach than a commander. Swedish management delegates responsibility and authority throughout the organization. Over 80% of Swedes have some form of vocational training and staff are therefore quite capable of taking initiative and participating in the decision-making. For foreigners it’s sometimes difficult to know who’s in charge around here. Lasse in his open-necked, short-sleeved, yellow shirt and white socks and sneakers, doesn’t really look the part.
Swedish inventionsSweden gave the world ball-bearings, safety matches, adjustable wrenches, safety belts, Tetra Paks, Volvo and Saab. It also makes and exports Absolut vodka, which is rather ironic as the Swedish word for teetotalers is ’Absolutist’. Ikea, of course , is also Swedish. If the social democrats created the welfare state, commonly referred to as ’the home of the people’, then Ikea furnished it.
Swedish schedulesThe Bible of the modern Swede is his filofax. Everything he has to do for the next six months is meticulously written down. Take kids to day care, drop of suit for cleaning, ring dentist, meeting with sales team, fax figures, lunch with Bengan, meeting, pick up car, drive home, take off shoes, shout at kids. It’s all in there - every movement. All planned and organised down to the very last minute. If a Swede misplaces his filofax then he loses direction in life - he simply does not know what to do next.
Everything is planned weeks in advance and written down next to the times it has to be performed. Flexibility is not the name of the game here. Once written in, then thy will be done. Swedes are impressed by filofaxes which are full and overflowing. A chock-a-block filofax is a status symbol. The next time you want to arrange a meeting with a Swede, watch how he instinctively reaches for his filofax, opens it in January and flicks through week after week, month after month of crammed appointments finally to stop in October some time.
Then something will happen. Your Swedish business partner will mutter something like ’Is week 37 OK? I can squeeze you in in week 38’. Swedes count weeks. Each week has a number. Ask the average Swede when week 29 is and he hasn’t got a clue. But that gives him another excuse to reach for his filofax and start flicking through. He’ll find that it’s in July, in the middle of his holiday and therefore he couldn’t care less what the number of the week is.
581224It's sometimes stated that Swedes write "the date backwards". Year first, then month and then day. Nobody says the date that way, but Swedes are sure it’s the right way to write it. And actually, it makes perfect sense! (ISO-8601)
In any case, everybody has a national registration number with ten digits based on the date of their birth and a few extra ones, such as 581224-6879. Or as one Swede put it ”It’s the day, month and year when you were born backwards and then followed by four figures”. Childbirth is a painful business in Sweden.
The Social Swede
Swedish homesThese are usually very tasteful, yet simply furnished. Swedish homes are simple, clean and uncluttered. Foreign guests very often ask ’How nice. When are you moving in?’ Swedes have good taste in furniture and home-decorating. Walls are usually painted in a plain colour and the sofa, the carpets, and the curtains all match. Indeed, when they entertain at home, even the candles match the curtains, which match the table cloth which matches the serviettes which often match the hostess’s dress.
Invited to dinner - 1They take the paper off a bunch of flowers before they ring the doorbell of their hosts for the evening. It’s rather like unwrapping a Christmas present before you give it to someone. Nobody ever knows where to put the paper once they’ve screwed it up. Usually the hostess end up taking it. A bunch of pretty flowers in one hand and a soggy, screwed up piece of wrapping paper in the other.
Invited to dinner - 2The person sitting next to you at the dinner table will offer you a lump of butter on a wooden knife. It is not some ancient superstitious Viking ritual whereby the knife has to be passed once round the table. It’s quite simply the height of politeness to offer your neighbor some butter on a knife. What you do if there’s not enough butter on the knife or if there is some left over, goodness knows. But there’s no need to pass it on to the next person as he’s busy handing butter to someone else.
Invited to dinner - 3Swedes are very polite guests. They show much appreciation for the food. They guess the ingredients, enquire how it was cooked, wonder where the ingredients were bought and ask how long it needed in the oven. In fact, most guests ask for the recipe and this is the greatest of compliments. They eat and mutter ’This was good’ which is rather strange as they are still eating it.
At the restaurant - 1You are forced to hang up your coat when entering a restaurant as it is infested with all sorts of harmful bacteria. For this pleasure you are expected to pay. Why should you pay? To pay the cloakroom attendant. Why have a cloakroom attendant? If they didn’t there’d be no-one to take your 15 crowns. Get it?
At the restaurant - 2Swedes believe in fairness. No-one should be in debt to anyone else. Consequently they insist on all paying their fair share at the restaurant when the bill comes. Who had what and how much takes forever to work out and is not made easier by the fact that nobody at that stage has a clear head. Lenghty calculations on a serviette and countless restarts later, they’ve worked out how much each person owes down to the last krona. This is when several in the group realize they need to take out an instant bank loan.
Swedish alcohol policyThe Swedes do have an alcohol problem. It’s so expensive that no-one can afford it. How can anyone afford to get drunk, let alone become an alcoholic?
The ’Systembolaget’ (the system company) is the national retail monopoly which displays wine and beer behind locked glass cases. If you really must buy the horrid stronger stuff, then it’s safely stacked away on shelves behind the counter. No wonder Swedes think it’s an exciting adventure to go into a bright, open, welcoming tax-free shop at the airport where they are trusted to pick up a bottle of booze and not drink it before reaching the check-out.
WineHow do you ask for something if you can’t pronounce it? To help Swedes get their tongues around strange foreign names once they reach the counter, the Systembolaget’s brochure used to contain the phonetic pronunciation of all the wines on sale. Coteaux de Langedoc became something like kåtå de långödock which doesn’t look at all drinkable. Today, as fully fledged members of the EU and therefore full-blooded Europeans, Swedes have to manage without this customer-friendly linguistic help. Mind you, if you ask for a Californian wine in fluent English, the chances are the assistant won’t understand. They need a Swedish accent.
BeerBeer in Sweden is classified into four types according to alcohol content. This is perhaps best explained by a Swedish business man in a Stockholm restaurant who had just been told by his Japanese guests that they would like to drink beer with their meal.
’In Sweden we have beer with different classes. You can have a ’lätt öl’ which is a light, easy beer with no alcohol. You can even drink it at lunch time. Then you can have a ’people’s beer’, a folköl, and if you want you can buy that in shops. We also have in Sweden a mellanöl which is a ’middle-class beer’. Yes and then you have another one, a class 3 one too. This is a big, strong one but you have to go to the system company to get it. But not on Sundays.’ I think they then asked for mineral water.
SnapsIf you want to get the Swedes singing then open a bottle of ice-cold snaps - which is the Swedish word for schnapps. Swedes drink snaps, flavoured with caraway, aniseed, coriander, fennel and wormwood, with herring (of course) and crayfish.
You’ll please them no end if you, too, were to join in the singing of a ’snapsvisa’ (a song which accompanies schnapps).
Here is an English transcription of one of the most famous songs. Grab a Swede and sing along. Skål!
Hell and gore
Chung hop father Allan Allan lay
Hell and gore
Chung hop father Allan lay
Oh handsome inter hell an tar
Hand hell air inter half an four
Hell and gore!
(Now knock it back in one)
Chung hop father Allan lay
Swedish foodThis is delicious. Swedes love anything that is pickled in spice and vinegar. You pickle it, they’ll eat it. Other tasty delicacies include fried salted herring, marinated herring and more pickled herring. Certain dishes are associated with particular holidays and times of the year. At Christmas, the Swedes eat a Christmas ham which is all very nice. They also eat dried stock fish. Believe it or not this is dried fish soaked in lye. (Are your mouths watering?). This is followed by cold rice pudding. Yes, you read correctly.
Swedes get very excited about the advent of new potatoes. There is nothing like a new potato having just been pulled out of the rich fertile soil of Scania, southern Sweden. The price per kilo in the first weeks is prohibitive but after a while normal Swedes, as they all are of course, can afford what they’ve all been waiting for. Swedish new potatoes are usually eaten with chives, sour cream and-yes, you’ve guessed it, pickled herring.
Once you have tasted pickled herring, salt herring and marinated herring it is time to try fermented baltic herring. A specialty from the north, the fish is nowadays tinned. The tins become spherical as the fermentation continues. To the uninitiated the smell, once the tin has been opened, reminds you of….
No wonder there are so many MacDonald hamburger joints in Sweden.
No, seriously. Swedish cooking has opened itself up to all manner of international influences which has led to a Swedish culinary miracle. Stockholm restaurants can match anything that Parisians can offer.
’Smaklig måltid!’ which in English means Bon appétit!
The normal SwedeEvery Swede should aspire to being normal and average. There’s no greater compliment than to be called an ordinary kind of person. ’To be as people usually are’ is a fine way to describe yourself and you’ll instantly earn others’ respect. Successful people are just normal people who have had a spot of luck - but it won’t last. Every Swede can tell you about ’Jantelagen’ the law of Jante. This states that you shouldn’t think you are somebody. Somebody who is somebody pretends to be nobody because anybody can be nobody and nobody would really want to be seen as somebody in the eyes of anybody. Get it?
The honest SwedeSwedes are basically honest. They don’t like cheating. That’s a foreign habit. There are only two occasions when it’s acceptable to cheat. Joy-riding on the Stockholm underground which is regarded as a kind of sport, and filling in your income-tax forms which is regarded a necessity.
The silent SwedeSilence is not necessarily negative. Swedes are marvelously reflective and introvert. To sit and say nothing for an hour is good for the soul. Indeed, which other nation would sing about the virtues of silence in their national anthem? ’Du gamla, du fria, du fjällhöga nord. Du tysta, du glädjerika sköna’. (Ye ancient, ye land of the free, the high fells of the north. Ye silent, ye glorious beauty).
The Grateful SwedeThe Swedes are a very thankful people. They may not have a vord for ’please’ but they more than compensate by using the word ’tack’ (thank you) in any number of situations. They say ’tack’ or ’tack tack’. The reply is ’tack’ or even ’tack tack’. They say ’tusen tack’ if they are particularly grateful which is a thousand thank yous, and which in English is multiplied by another thousand to become ’thanks a million’.
They say ’tack för maten’ after a meal, which means thank you for the food and they say ’tack för senast’ meaning thank you your hospitality the last time we met. They say ’ja tack’ for ’yes please and’tack själv’ for thank you.
The ’lagom bra’ Swede or the Swede who is not too good but, then again, not so bad either.
The Complete Oxford Dictionary may boast over 650 000 entries to prove that English is a very wordy language. Swedish, on the other hand, has a smaller vocabulary, but they compensate by having words for which there is no English equivalent. Swedes are fond of neither extravagance in any form nor excesses (except in liquid form). Which is why they have a word like ’lagom’, meaning ’just enough’ and ’with moderation’. Everything can, and indeed should be, ’lagom’. What is absolutely-fanastic-marvellous-way-out-super-terrific to an American is ’lagom bra’ to a Swede (’Just about right and nothing to make a fuss about’). ’Bra’ here means ’good’ and has nothing to do with lingerie in medium size.
Doing things in moderation means always taking the middle path. If there is a choice between ’ja’ and ’nej’ the Swedes say ’Nja’. If there is heartless capitalism on one hand and mindless socialism on the other, the Swedes develop a ’lagom’ sort of compromise called the Swedish Muddle or is it Model?
The safety-conscious SwedeSwedes need to feel safe and secure in everything they do. They wear knee pads, cycle helmets, ear plugs, protective glasses and life-jackets - and that’s when they do the washing up.
PatriotismSwedes hang Swedish flags on their Christmas trees. Swedes even wipe their mouths on the Swedish flag as you’ll even find Swedish flags on serviettes on special occasions. The Swedish flag appears on birthday cards, Christmas cards and playing cards. The Swedish national day is called the day of the Swedish flag when you may even find a Swedish flag at the top of a fag-pole. In fact the flag is run up on the slightest excuse. They hoist the flag if there’s a birthday in your family, or indeed in anybody’s family. They hoist it when they are expecting guests, they hoist it on Sundays and public holidays, and on the king’s birthday.
They’ll hoist it simply because everybody else has hoisted theirs.
ImmigrantsSweden probably has the highest rate of academics in the cleaning business and in hotel kitchens. They are all called Hassan and Bogdan. Those looking for jobs they are more than well qualified for often change their names to more Swedish sounding names. Hassan becomes Hasse and Bogdan becomes Bengt. This might at least fool the prospective employer on the application form and they may be called to interview. Of a population of just under 9 million, there are 1 million immigrants. Sales of peroxide are unusually high in Sweden.
NatureThe relationship Swedes have with Nature is particularly difficult to explain to a foreigner. Swedes are incredibly knowledgeable about plants, flowers, animals and creepy-crawlies. They not only know the name of the bird, but they can tell you how it sounds in the morning, where it nests and from whence it has migrated. Such is their worship of nature, that it is reflected in their family names. Wouldn’t you like to be called ’Aspengrove’ (Asplund), ’Lilly leaf’ (Liljeblad), ’Flowertwig’ (Blomqvist) and ’Mountain stream’ (Beergström)’
ReligionSwedes gave up being Catholics years ago and adopted Lutheranism. However, always keen on having any excuse not to work, they kept the Catholic holy days and made them holidays; Twelfth Night, All Saints Day, Ascension Day. Twelfth night is logically called ’The eve of the thirteenth day’ in Swedish. All Saints Day is nowadays translated as ’Halloween’ with a Swedish accent, and Ascension Day was once translated by a Swede as ’The day Jesus took a flight to heaven’.
Crime and punishmentMajor criminals like those omitting to file their income tax returns or forgetting to pay their bills on time are dealt with severely. Minor criminals like murderers and those convicted of grievous bodily harm are told not to do it again.
Swedish TelevisionGod may be watching you. But I doubt whether he watches Swedish television.
At prime viewing time Swedish television tells you that everything is dangerous to your health. Don’t eat this Don’t drink that, don’t do that either. However, the death rate in Sweden is still 100%.
Most of the money from the television license goes towards staging the Eurovision Song Contest which Sweden insist on winning every third year.
SportSwedes excel at sports. There is a nation-wide interest in sports, exercise and outdoor recreation. There are over 22 000 officially registered sports clubs, not taking into account the thousands of local clubs, including those at workplaces. Swedes are justly proud of their famous sportsmen and women - Björn Borg, Ingemar Stenmark, Ingemar Johansson, Annika Sörenstam to name but a few. Their ice-hockey players are so good that most of them have been sold and exported to major teams in the NHL. Swedes are frequently world champions in bandy. Then again, it’s relatively easy to be world champions in a game nobody else has ever heard of.
Swedish sex and sinThere isn’t any.
VacationSwedes take the whole summer off work. They have five weeks paid leave which they usually take in July. Once a Swede was told he had only five weeks to live. ’I hope it’s in July’ he said.
Public holidaysYes, Sweden has its fair share. But they are not enough. ’Swedes are world best’ (one of their favorite phrases) at finding excuses for not being at work. They created the ’squeeze day’, explained once by a Swede as ’a day squeezed in between a holiday and a weekend. We have worked for it, so it’s not a free day really’. Translated this means that if there is a public holiday on, say, the Thursday then they don’t think it’s worth going into work just for one day before they’re off again at the weekend. The Friday, in this case, is a squeeze day. They accumulate time by working four minutes extra every day so they reckon it’s not a holiday but time off in lieu of the overtime. Get it?
If they are lucky, the Swedes can enjoy what can only be described as a ’squeeze week’ during the first week of May. There’s the weekend, then a squeeze Monday as Tuesday is the 1st of May and a public holiday. Hopefully Ascension Day falls on the Thursday so it’s no good going to work on the Wednesday and the Friday is squeezed between Thursday and Saturday and before you know it it’s already the following weekend.
Some Swedish traditional holidays
Valborgsmässoafton (Walpurgis night)This is the evening before the 1st of May public holiday. A metamorphosis occurs. Like a butterfly emerging from months of lonely darkness in its cocoon, Swedes wriggle out into the open, stretch and flap their wings. The winter is officially over, at least according to the calendar, by gathering outdoors and lighting huge bonfires. From now on, Swedes shed their thick, cozy winter attire and put on flimsy, brightly-colored, cotton summer wear. If the Jews are God’s chosen people, then on this night the Swedes are God’s frozen people. Wind, rain, hail and snow abound, so quite often the bonfires don’t have a long life-span. The Swedish calendar is not always in tune with reality.
MidsummerThis is celebrated on the weekend coming closest to the real midsummer day, 24th of June. A mass exodus takes place just before with thousands of Swedes evacuating the towns and cities and heading for their weekend cottages in the country. They erect a maypole, erect being the operative word as in fact it is a pagan symbol of fertility. It looks like a long thing with two round dangly bits! They dress it up in leaves and flowers (the maypole, that is) and then spend the afternoon dancing around it pretending to be small frogs. It’s true.
Swedes eat new potatoes and pickled herring (of course). Before long, it is not only the herring which is pickled as they do end to imbibe large quantities of beer and akvavit. No wonder they dance like frogs afterwards. Another important dish on the menu is fresh strawberries and cream. No foreign watery, tasteless EU-regulated strawberries, but large, curvy, juicy, sweet Swedish ones.
Learn more at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midsummer
Lucia, 13th of DecemberMost people have no idea how the Lutheran Swedes came to celebrate the Sicilian Saint Lucia when even the Sicilians Don’t pay her any attention whatsoever. In Swedish homes, hospitals, old-people’s homes, factories and offices and up the High street, Lucia comes to spread light in the deep winter darkness - usually long before dawn, which at this time of year is just before it gets dark again. Little blonde girls, teenage blond girls and not-so-young-any-more blonde Maj-Britt who works in the accounting department, dress up in a full length, white gown with a red ribbon around their waist and become this year’s Lucia. Lucia wears a wreath of lingonberry sprigs on her head and positioned in the wreath are several lit candles. As only one can be Lucia in each procession, the other less fortunate dark-haired girls have to walk behind her acting as some kind of bridesmaid. As Sweden is an extremely egalitarian society, boys (or Per from the purchasing department ) are invited to take part in the procession as ’star boys’. Lucia’s henchmen, sort of.
This festival is typically and uniquely Swedish and the song, surprisingly entitled ’Sankta Lucia’, sung by Lucia and her back up group, brings tears to everyone’s eyes. As indeed it should.
The Right of Common AccessSwedes can be proud of many things. ABBA, tennis players and a variety of pickled herring. One thing that every Swede cherishes very dearly is the right to roam wherever he wishes on open land and to pick flowers, berries and mushrooms in forests and fields and to go swimming and boating in lakes and the sea. You are not allowed to pitch your tent in someone’s back garden and you are not allowed to pick flowers from someone’s flower beds. Likewise you are not allowed to climb over any fence enclosing a private home and you are certainly not allowed to take growing trees, bushes, bark, leaves, acorns or nuts. However, the right of common access does allow you to swat as many swarms of mosquitoes as is humanly possible - for the common good.
Swedish small talkSwedes call this ’cold talk’ or ’dead talk’ which more or less sums up their opinion of it. Not being first in the queue when God dished out conversational talent, Swedes limit themselves to one major topic of conversation - the weather. Sweden is so large that it has all kinds of weather at once which is very convenient as there is always something to talk about.
Swedish conversationWhen Swedes say something, they mean exactly what they say. No more, no less. There is usually no hidden meaning and they don’t have to read between the lines. There are few fantastic metaphores in daily conversation, and exaggeration, a string of vivid adjectives and enhancing repetitions are often viewed with suspicion. Try retelling something that happened and embroider a little to make the story more stimulating. After a while the Swede will correct you as your version is beginning to stray from what really happened. ’And then there were loads of people who’, ’There were five people’ says Sven. ’And then after half an hour they came and’, ’20 minutes’ says Sven ’They came after 20 minutes’. Elaborate story-telling has never been possible in Sweden.
Swedes are extremely good listeners. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether they are thinking about what you said or if they have mentally gone to lunch - but they are listening to every word. The marvelous thing is they don’t interrupt. Interrupting is a sign of bad manners. They patiently wait for their turn to express themselves concisely and precisely. Sometime they have to wait for rather a long time. Especially when meeting with foreigners.
Swedish women sometimes sound as if they have a breathing complaint. When they agree, they breathe in and say ’jahhhh’. Or they inhale and say ’nejhhhh’. They are not about to pass out in an asthma attack. They are just participating in the conversation.
Swedes have a tendency to state the obvious. If you meet an acquaintance in a shop he’ll probably say ’Oh, so you’re out shopping’. Or, if you meet somebody you know out strolling in the countryside he’ll say ’Oh, so you’re out walking’. The temptation is to say ’No, I’m playing the piano’ but don’t. Sarcasm doesn’t go down too well.
Swedish discussionBeing neutral and avoiders of conflict, the Swedes are careful not to express an opinion which may cause heated discussion. Ask a Swede what his opinion is he’ll probably answer ’It depends’. He won’t actually tell you what it depends on as that might lead to a debate and then you have to take sides. Hundreds of years of neutrality has taught him not to take sides - well at least not until he knows who’s going to win.
The Swedish language’Hej’ - the word for hello and good-bye is the same. It’s difficult to know whether people are coming or going.
’Gift’ - the word for married is the same word as for poison. This probably could explain the high divorce rate.
’Sex’ - the word for six is the same for sex, which gives a ’six-pack’ a whole new meaning.
’Oväder’ - the word for stormy weather is, literally translated, ’unweather’. And I would have thought it was very much weather.
’Sambo’ - you live and sleep together with your partner but are not married, well at least not to that particular partner.
’Särbo’ - you sleep with your partner and then go home to your own bed afterwards.
’A-laget’ - in Swedish, the ’A-team’ is a group of hopeless alcoholics hanging outside the state liquor store. Not the kind you’d want in the national basketball team in other words.
’Osvensk’ - the word ’un-Swedish’ mostly has a positive connotation! A recent book review stated ’It’s an exciting thriller, entertaining, has colorful characters, lots of action and imagination and very un-Swedish to name but a few positive qualities’. It’s unbelievable, but true! Can you imagine a Frenchman using the word ’un-French’ as a positive quality?
Swedish English (Swenglish)Although the Swedes generally have a very good command of the English language, sometimes they just don’t get it right.
’Please take off your clothes and follow me to the whip room.’
(Translation: May I take your coat and accompany you to the VIP room)
’She’s away with the VD.’
(Translation: She’s away with the Managing Director) (VD =Managing Director)
’His name is Öberg, a zero with two pricks.’
(Translation: The letter ’o’ with two dots = ö) (prickar = dots)
’You’ll have to show your leg before entering’
(Translation: You’ll have to show identification before entering.) (leg = id)
’Please keep hanging on the line’
(Translation: Please continue to hold the line)
’Thank you for the last time’
(Translation: Thank you for your hospitality.)
’Can I follow you to the big mess in Stockholm?’
(Translation: May I come with you to the large fair in Stockholm?) (mässa = fair )
’He has many balls up in the air’
(Translation: He is involved in many different projects.) (att ha bollar i luften = Swedish saying)
A lesson in SwedishThe Swede is a person of few words.
Eng: Excuse me, I didn’t quite catch what you were saying.
Swe: Va? (vah?)
Literal translation: What?
Eng: Sorry for bumping into you like that. So terribly clumsy of me.
Swe: Oj! (oi!)
Literal translation: Oh!
Eng: It’s you! How lovely to see you!
Swe: Nej, men! (nay men)
Literal translation: No, but!
Eng: How are things with you?
Swe: Annars? (an ass)
Literal translation: Otherwise?
Eng: Excuse me, may I disturb you for a second?
Literal translation: You
Eng: Could I have a pint of your best bitter please.
Swe: En stor stark
Literal translation: A big strong one
Eng: Shall we treat ourselves and indulge in a schnapps?
Swe: En liten djävul? (en liten yayvull)
Literal translation: A little devil?
However sometimes English is just that bit more concise:
Eng: Mind the gap!
Swe: Tänk på avståndet mellan vagn och plattform när ni stiger av.
Literal translation: Think of the gap between the carriage and the plattform when you alight.