Last summer I noticed a joyfully jibber-jabbering toddler atop his fathers shoulders up above the crowd in an amusement park. Amongst his noises he kept repeating “Bye-bye” and to me it seemed like the opening and closing of his tiny fist was a wave. I giggled and exclaimed how cute it was that the baby was saying bye-bye to everyone who passed, not really thinking it’s unlikely he would be picking up English at 2 or 3 years old. Through fits of laughter my husband explained that “Bajs bajs” is common child speak for “poop,” the child was announcing to the world that he needed to, or already had pooped and there I was thinking it was adorable.
When I misunderstand Swedish because I jump to a familiar meaning too quickly, this is the scene that always pops into mind.
The most popular three words that are recognized for being spelled like English words are Sex, Slut, and Fart. But it’s not what you think, really.
It’s likely you will see sex everywhere in Sweden, but don’t blush- it’s just the number six.
Everyone has their own fart, it’s nothing to be ashamed of- we all move at own speed, or pace.
Every Swedish story has a slut – an ending.
And so I decided to hunt for more words that might cause confusion:
- When a family talks about their barn it doesn’t mean they own a farm animals – they have children.
- Being stung by a bi is more literal than being hurt by a person interested in both sexes – bee stings can be lethal.
- When buying from the fruit stand and a sign says “ask“ it doesn’t mean that you can bargain for the price- it is the price per case or pack.
- If someone asks you if you want a gift, be careful- they are either offering you a marriage or poison.
- Being invited to the bio isn’t as odd as it seems. You aren’t being asked to use the bathroom, or for your autobiography- Movie theaters are a fun source of entertainment!
- You’ll hear a lot of chatter about bras, but its not lingerie – bra means good.
- Don’t ask your chef to make food for you – it’s your boss.
- “Tack!” isn’t a warning that your about to sit on something sharp – it means thank you.
- Being full in Sweden doesn’t mean that you’ve had too much to eat – it’s having too much to drink, being drunk.
- When someone says they are going to spy on you don’t be nervous – but do move out of the way because they are about to vomit.
- Bland is not boring – it means mix.
- When someone tells you that they go to gymnasium, it doesn’t mean that they play sports or games all day- they attend high school.
- Wiping your feet on a mat isn’t as polite as it sounds- no one likes dirt on their food.
- If your friends sign an email sending you lots of puss don’t be grossed out- they are sending you kisses.
- And when you think they’ve started to called them kisses but messed up and said kissa, they are actually talking about taking a piss.
Surprisingly a lot of the words that look the same in English are actually the same. Skimming through a pocket dictionary, this is about 1/3 of the words spelled identical to English but the others had the same meaning, and then add another bunch that were spelled close enough to be recognizable. Sometimes the spelling is off just because the language, alphabet, and pronunciation is different- many C’s are K’s, I’s and Y’s are mixed up, W’s and Q’s are rare, and ending E’s disappear. Often when I can’t think of a word for something in Swedish it’s because the word is too similar to English and being obvious, I overlook it.
But beware of some- this list is just the beginning, can anyone think of any others?