Something Swedish

Awkward & Offensive Language Mishaps # 3


Language is all I think about nowadays. People say that in the beginning you learn the basics quickly, but then you plateau for a few months, which feels like an eternity of not absorbing a single thing, but then after that halting rough patch, you start picking it up faster and more fluently. I feel like I’m finally there – gaining more insight, understanding more, being more comfortable speaking, while learning more grammar and vocabulary every day.

With this progress comes more and more mistakes:


  • When you want someone to be quiet, you would say: “Tyst!” Instead I told my husband, “Tysk!”  – I called him a “German!
  • While cooking one day I was excited to use a new vocabulary word that I thought meant to pull something apart, to separate it. So, I tried to ask my husband if he can cut up the whole roasted chicken: “Kan du skilja for mig?” Instead of asking if he can divide it for me, I asked if he could divorce me. Make sure you understand new words!
  • While eating fish sticks, my husband pointed out that they call it “Fish fingers.” Taking this literally, I went into a supermarket and asked someone “Vet du var jag kan hitta sås for fisk fingrar?” Do you know where I can find sauce for fish fingers? Met by an odd look and a shake of the head, I thought nothing of it. The actual name for fish sticks is “Fisk pinne,” meaning… fish sticks.  (Apparently he meant they call it fish fingers when they learn it in British English, comparing the variation of English names- not in Swedish.)

  • Trying to learn all of the many ways you can use “slå” [roll dice, mow the lawn, hit, beat, knock on, bang on, ring…], I wanted to tell my husband to hit on me, as in flirt. This doesn’t translate too well; “slå på mig” is literately “beat me.” Whoops, nevermind.

Sometimes these language mistakes leak into and combining with my English vocabulary. I now make mistakes like:

  • The capital of a country is called “huvudstan” – translating to head city. Combining Swedish into my English I said Athens is the “Head capital” of Greece.
  • A nipple is called a “bröstvårtan” – translating to breast wart, (*giggle*) resulting in me saying, “Nipple wart.” Lovely.

Enjoy past blunders:
Awkward & Offensive Language Mishaps #2
Awkward & Offensive Language Mishaps #1


10 thoughts on “Awkward & Offensive Language Mishaps # 3

  1. I once told our maid that I wanted to pleasure her cousin. I meant to say that I wanted to meet her cousin, who had started to work for my sister-in-law. When you say “it is a pleasure to meet you” in Portuguese, it is shortened to “muito prazer” which translates to “much pleasure.” But I was distracted, so I said “Eu quero prazer sua prima.” I said it a few times because of her reaction, I thought she just didn’t understand my pronunciation. It was about a day later that I realized what I had done, too late to bring it up and try and correct myself without it all being weirder. Ugh.

  2. This cracked me up…
    I’ve made so many mistakes like this while learning Norwegian. Good luck or as the Norwegians say Lykke til 🙂

  3. Your plateau was a lot shorter than mine. I was in a funk for months. The white Övnings boken helped enormously.

  4. Love that nipples are called “breast warts.” Especially funny to me since my young daughter calls a mole I have near my eyebrows a “nipple.”

  5. I think I win. I was at a workplace dinner and the national head of our company was dining at our table. He asked where the Mugg was. As I wasn’t thirsty, I handed him my coffee mug and told him to use it. After a stunned silence at the table I learned that Mugg was the slang word for Toilet. I don’t know if my company head appreciated the offer or not, but he did decline.

  6. In high school, I was practicing Spanish with a native speaker boyfriend. I tried to tell him he was embarrassing me, but instead told him I was pregnant . . . oh the difference a syllable can make!

  7. hehe. it’s so crazy, all the little mistakes that creep up! it sounds like you are doing really great! do you & your husband speak swedish at home? if so, i’m impressed. my wife and i speak english alllll the time with each other (unless we are in the presence of other people), since it’s the language we used when we met. feels weird to talk with her in swedish and she feels the same. keep on plugging through it! lycka till!

  8. Hi, Meg,
    Life is good after SFI. I am having an exhibition of some paintings next month and hope you and your husband will be able to come. It is Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 21, 22 and 23. 4 – 7 on Friday and 1 – 4 on Sat. and Sun. If I had an email address I could send you a little poster we had made up announcing it.
    Hope to see you there.

  9. Brilliant mistakes- at least you’re not ashamed to share them! I’m sure one day you’ll speak Swedish quite fluently, and look back with humor at all these little slips…

  10. I lived in Sweden for a couple years. It takes time, but eventually you’ll find yourself dreaming in Swedish. I’ve been back in the States for 15 years and I still find my brain substituting some Swedish words. My wife has learned a few, and now any time I ask her to do something, her response is “varsagod.”

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