Something Swedish


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Awkward & Offensive Language Mishap # 1

Brought to you by the letter “K”

So maybe a Sesame Street reference isn’t the best way to start this topic, but I felt the need for balance.

Ever notice when someone is learning a new language that the funny stories about mispronunciation and failed communication include accidentally saying vulgar words? Well, this is one of those stories, so please excuse me and bear with me. Also note that this is post # 1, because I expect this to happen many times bringing me great embarrassment and laughter (both being laughed at and with) while supplying me with entertaining writing material for your curious eyes. Win win!

Today I decided to re-strategize my self-studying efforts with my new green post- its. I made a list of kitchen friendly vocabulary and phrases and stuck them to the cabinet so I can study them while cooking. You know, context and all that.

While compiling my list I consulted my husband if words were correct and how to pronounce them. This seems to be my best shot at speaking at this point, trying and then repeating vocabulary. I decided to only put the Swedish words without translation, so I was very serious and stubborn about this study session. And so I compiled my list, and then read each word or phrase out loud, rinse and repeat. I tried hard to pronounce everything as best as I could which was going great until a warning was set in motion that one of the words is dangerously close to something that has nothing to do with cooking or kitchen, but instead male genitalia.

And so, I tried again. And again. and again. And each time I repeated the word I got further and further away from the word “kokar” (cook) and closer to the word “kukar” (…cocks). Which, come to think of it are awfully alike in English as well. The more emphasis my husband put on the “oo” sound the more I pronounced the “uu.” Determined to get it right, through tears of hysterical laughter I couldn’t stop accidentally saying “coooc… (you get the idea).” Repeatedly. And Loudly. I was just thankful that no one could hear me (hopefully), and that my pronunciation was discovered at home instead of in two weeks when we go to visit my husbands family and I am always helping in the kitchen (one of my motivations for this list).

The good news is that after trying for 15 minutes straight I can now pronounce “kukar” perfectly (but “kokar” is still to be avoided at all costs).


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I do not understand: “Jag förstår inte”

I could feel my eyes widen as a tall man in his 50’s with glasses and gray hair politely pointed at the fruits and tried to make conversation with me in Swedish. I’m not sure I even tried to understand the words that were coming out of his mouth, as it took a few seconds just to understand that I should be listening because he was talking to me. I had just picked up a pack of dried apricots as I stood in line, and this man was also looking at the fruit, I assumed by his gestures that he was talking about the apricots and figs. I can guess, after it happened that maybe he was thinking the same as when I saw them, surprised that they were the same price, unsure if they were overpriced. He said only a sentence or two, and the tone seemed friendly enough, but then it was obviously time for me to reply and I was still frozen in place.

I knew what to say. I knew how to say it. I’ve practiced it in my head before,  “Forlat, min Svenska ar inte bra” or “Jag förstår inte.” (“Sorry, my Swedish is not good” or “I do not understand”) It was my chance and before I knew it my mind and my mouth had missed that connection and I blurted out, “sorry.” It was like a slap in the face, why can’t I do it? The words might not have been at the tip of my tongue, more like the back of my throat, you know that feeling when you are about to vomit? They were there, being uncomfortable and embarrassing. And so I swallowed the small amount of Swedish I could have conjured up and burped out a simple “sorry” to which the man smiled and nodded and moved on leaving me feeling rejected. I was annoyed with myself for missing the opportunity, and even more annoyed when the cashier rang me up in English. I’m not sure if he heard the exchange or if he has begun to recognize me. I need to start wearing a less identifiable hat, maybe. Either way I was pretty bummed by the whole thing. The last thing I want or need is for one of my regular cashiers to stop speaking Swedish to me. Even though I know that down the road I will be able to switch it back to Swedish when I am ready and able, but I need the practice now, even if it’s only hearing a few numbers and needing to understand them.

It’s certainly not the first I’ve said “sorry” to change the conversation to English (and it won’t be the last), I just wish I could muster up the courage to switch over to English in a way that indicates that I am learning Swedish and trying, which means…actually speaking a few simple words of Swedish. I know it’s an anxiety hurdle I have (and also had when learning Spanish) but I have been more and more angry with it over the past week or two, knowing that my Swedish classes hopefully start in about two weeks. This knot in my chest needs to go, I always figured it would be easier to blurt out a crappy Swedish phrase in front of strangers, but it’s still the same amount of scary.


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The Begining of Something New: Början på något nytt

Creating this blog is not only an outlet, its a way to learn, connect, integrate, absorb, and socialize.

That process begun once the idea was in motion. Already I am trying harder and learning more. Just to think of a creative Swedish-inspired username involved new Swedish vocabulary, websites, and blogs. I learned new words and found new resources. I started reading about other bloggers experiences in Sweden.

The most relevant word being “lagom,” which I have heard before and has been described to me, but it never stuck. It’s a uniquely Swedish term that doesn’t have an English equivalent (Which I find to be pretty common, the Swedish language has denser words that the English language usually uses two or three words to describe.) Not only does it not translate perfectly but its just a very Swedish idea, or feeling. A popular etymological translation is “around the team” meaning enough food or drink for everyone at the table. Lagom is “Just enough,” “Not too much or too little,” “Just right,” “Enough to go around,” “Fair share.” It indicates balance. Lagom doesn’t have the negative connotation of “sufficient” nor does it claim perfection. It works in a lot of different contexts, which is why its so interesting and special. “How are you?” can be answered with lagom. “How is the weather?” “Lagom” This term not only has many applications but it represents the Swedish cultural and social ideals of equality and fairness.

Maybe its a bit cliche to use such a significant word in a blog about Sweden, but nothing else fit as lagomly (Made up Swenglish!)

I should have started writing about Sweden years ago, when I first visited. There are things I’ll have to recapture and remember, but I’m sure there are more things to experience now that I’ve actually started living here. My first visit was about 3 years ago, I have been here four times before the move. Three times was for two weeks each (Spring, Winter Winter) and the fourth was for two months during the Summer. I have experienced and celebrated Easter & Midsummer one time each, as well as Christmas & New Years three times each. Everything was through the eyes of a tourist who was completely unaware of Swedish customs and language. I hope that changes, I hope to notice and learn more. I hope to share and teach, or at least entertain, anyone who reads this!

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