Something Swedish


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Stig Stiger Ner

For the past 14 years ICA, a large supermarket chain in Sweden, started doing commercials (reklam) that have become a  part of Swedish culture. Maybe saying that a commercial is part of culture is a bit of a stretch, but these comical skits are really popular and beloved. Every week or so, Sweden gets to chuckle as the store manager, Stig Olsson, and a few employees work around the store, film commercials, eat in the break room, or go on vacation together. Each character has their own personality and brings something to the commercial. Here’s a quick mash up so you get an idea:

ICA reklam come out every week or so and never fail to make me laugh and I’m not alone; ICA’s Youtube channel has more than 26,000 subscribers, and each video has anywhere from 20,000-500,000 views! The commercials are praised for being ambitious, smart and funny – just to advertise the price of food. Some commercials go above and beyond smart or funny, to touching and emotional. This Breast Cancer awareness commercial for example, that was viewed over 900,000 times (Tip- It’s a time lapse of the same family):

When you watch ICA reklam you don’t realize you are watching a commercial aside from the pop-up price tags that are somehow not intrusive at all. There’s even a commercial about it, “Is there anyone that notices these price tags on all of our goods?” “What prices? Oh those, who in the world cares about them?” followed by ‘The Swedish Interesting Club’ noting the ICA prices in the commercials:

The wikipedia page has the full history of episodes and cast members and labels the ICA reklam as a soap opera, which makes  sense since there has been alien abductions, paternal revelations, farewells, and police investigations only in the last 12 months.

Stig and Ulf are the only two cast members that have been with the “show” from the very first episode in 2001 – and that is sadly about to change. Today, “ICA -Stig” (the store owner, played by Hans Mosesson), a staple in the ICA reklam,  announced that he will be retiring from his role and that his last commercial will be on February 1st.

Hej då ICA-Stig. The commercials won’t be the same without you, but if anyone can make it work, it’s the people behind ICA commercials.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with ICA reklam, here’s some more good ones that don’t need too much Swedish to understand:

“Good offers for the year’s poorest month (January)”

Ulf isn’t the sharpest crayon in the box: “Look what I learned online yesterday!”

Summertime comes to ICA “I refuse to work in these conditions!” “What conditions?”:


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(Not) Ice Skating in Sweden

If you ask people that have never been to Sweden what it’s like they will most likely say something about it being cold and having a lot of snow.

A winter wonderland. Picturesque landscapes of cute red houses covered in a blanket of white snow.

When I started visiting Sweden it was always in the winter and the one thing I wanted to do was go ice skating. It would be so romantic and memorable: ‘I went ice skating on a frozen lake in Sweden with the love of my life’. Upon spotting the first outdoor ice rink I saw on my first day in Gothenburg I excitedly asked my then-boyfriend-now-husband to skate with me, even if it wasn’t a lake (I was a little scared of that part anyway).

Alas, it didn’t happen.  And to this day, it still hasn’t.

It couldn’t. Because of ice skates.

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Stock Photo

Apparently it’s not easy to find a place that rents out ice skates in Sweden.  It’s just not a thing – or at least not anymore. This boggled my mind because in New York you can rent ice skates no matter where you go. It’s almost like renting bowling shoes; if you go to a bowling ally to bowl, or if you go to skating rink to ice skate, a few bucks will get you the equipment you need. They aren’t always the most comfortable or beautiful looking skates and sometimes felt a bit dirty putting them on, but they are available. Not in Sweden – at least according to what people have told me and what I have seen (more so in Stockholm, if I understand correctly, although 4/6 on this website do not provide rentals: Ice skating in Stockholm).

I have very fond memories of ice skating with friends and family at different (indoor and outdoor) rinks throughout New York. If someone is bored and looking for something fun and spontaneous to do with some friends “lets go ice skating” isn’t an option because someone would be left out (especially expats, most probably not having grown up having to own a pair of ice skates). What if someone doesn’t know how to skate and just wants to try something new without spending a ton of money? What about tourists? I had the option the buy custom made skates years ago and thought it would be a waste of money because ice skating is seasonal. And now that I’m in a country where that season is longer, I am regretting that decision. Of course there are cheaper options than buying brand new ice skates, if you are lucky enough to find your size at second hand shops like Amnesty, Röda Korset (The Red Cross) , Myrorna (Salvation army), or garage sales.

photo 2 (2)I was reading the local paper today and an article about ice skates piqued my attention, reminding me that it might be something to write about. This article is about the exclusion of children on school trips that don’t have their own ice skates. Since ice rinks in Sweden no longer provide rental skates (Because of some missing equipment according to this article) there is no way for kids to participate in fun activities with their friends and classmates if their parents don’t have the money to buy them ice skates. The best the school can do is send out a letter asking parents of other students if they have extra skates for students that don’t have any. The man in the photo decided that this isn’t enough and kids should never be left out. He set out do something about it and rallied up companies and private persons to provide ice skate and helmet rentals (to school kids only) in Halmstad once again.

I think it’s a good start.


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Holiday Greetings in Swedish

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What do these Holiday greetings mean? How do we translate them? When do we use them?

God, Gott, and Glad

These are all different ways to wish someone a holiday greeting, depending on which holiday.

It’s hard to not see an English word and its meaning when you read a foreign word that is spelled the same way. The word ‘God’ in Swedish is not referring to the religious entity. ‘God’ in Swedish means Good/Happy/Merry and is pronounced like ‘Good’.

Sometimes you will see ‘Gott’ instead. This is purely a grammatical difference and means the same exact thing thing. An example: ‘God Jul och Gott Nytt År’ means ‘Merry/Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year’. In Swedish the word ‘Year’ (år) is an “ett” word, making the whole sentence sprinkled with ‘t’s’. Otherwise people would say ‘God Ny år’, which means the same thing, but is not proper Swedish. Mystery solved!

So, we know what God Jul and Gott Nytt År mean…but what about these?

‘God Fortsättning’

If you know a little bit of Swedish you’ll catch that ‘att fortsätta’ means ‘to continue’, so the literal translation to this is ‘Good Continuation!’ But what does it mean!?
For weeks after Christmas you will hear people greeting each other with ‘God Fortsättning!’ as a way to wish each other a belated holiday. In NYC we would simply wish someone a Merry Christmas if we hadn’t seen them since. That doesn’t work here in Sweden though, hence this special greeting. If you wish someone a ‘God Jul’ on December 26th it would be considered strange, because…well, it’s no longer Christmas.

The ‘God fortsättning’ greeting lingers around until about the 7th of January (the 12th day of Christmas/Epiphany), but after January 1st it is a continuance of New Years that you are wishing people.

This time of the year isn’t the only time people use the phrase ‘God fortsättning.’ It could be used to wish someone a continuation of any holiday, but Christmas and New Years is when you hear it in mass amounts.

‘Gott Slut!’

So, this is another one of those ‘it doesn’t mean what it looks like’ words. The word ‘slut’ has nothing to do with sex, the same way the word ‘god’ has nothing to do with religion. ‘Slut’ in Swedish means ‘end’ and is pronounced like ‘sloot’. A very innocent word that everyone gets a good chuckle out of. So what does it mean? This is very specifically used to wish someone a good end to the year up until the clock strikes midnight on Dec 31st. This isn’t a very common phrase, but it exists nonetheless.

‘God Helg’

‘Helg’ means ‘weekend’ in Swedish, but this is not how you tell someone to have a nice weekend (That would be ‘Trevligt helg’). This is how you would wish someone a Happy Holiday – even though the word for ‘holiday’ is ‘högtider’ (high times).

I hope that everyone has had a good holiday season. I have a lot planned for Something Swedish in 2015 – so keep an eye out (And sorry for not being around more in 2014)

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Swedish Scrabble – Alfapet

Whenever I teach an English course I always suggest different ways to practice the second language casually at home:

1) Read books you have read before in your own language
2) Read magazines or blogs about topics you’re interested in
3) Read or watch the news in your second language
4) Watch TV or movies with subtitles
5) Listen to music or audio books
6) Play games

Since I’ve moved to Sweden and started learning Swedish I have tried to integrate the language into my day to day life by doing as many of these things as possible. I especially like to use my Swedish while playing games – it makes language learning more fun, social and casual:
(As a sidenote: board games in Sweden are way more expensive than in the U.S., 300-500kr in stores, depending on the game)
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I’ve always enjoyed Scrabble, so I figured: What better way to work on my vocabulary than playing scrabble in Swedish? After being here for 2 years and refusing to pay 400kr for a board game that I’ve bought for 100kr in the past, I finally found one at a fleamarket for 40kr. Score!
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Now, Scrabble does come in Swedish scrabble as well, but more popular is an almost identical game called Alfapet. (The Swedish spelling of “Alphabet” is actually “Alfabet”)
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As you can see, the board and premise are exactly the same, but there are a few differences:
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In Afapet, not only do you try to build on tiles that give you bonus points, but you try to avoid tiles that take away points. (Note the dark blue tiles)
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Naturally, there are a few new tiles due to the different letters in Swedish. I was surprised that there weren’t more of these, as they are commonly used letters in Swedish.
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Like in Scrabble there are blank tiles, that can be used as any letter without collecting value.
Now it gets interesting, as these next tiles don’t exist in Scrabble at all:

The black tiles represent stops. Once you use this tile you can spell a completely unconnected word next to or after another word: no common letters needed.

The arrows make it possible to turn your word another direction, making space constraints a thing of the past. This also allows you to turn your word so that you can collect bonus tiles that normally wouldn’t align.
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We played for the first time last week, and it was a lot of fun. We initially agreed to use both English and Swedish words, so that I would have a fighting chance, but we played 95% Swedish words, anyway. It was a really great way to practice my Swedish – and I thought this variant of Scrabble was a lot of fun.

Biking

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The first thing I noticed when I first came to Sweden was all the bikes. Everywhere. I’ve seen more bikes than people. I’ve seen people talk on the phone, text, smoke and walk their dogs while on their bikes. It was clear to me that in order to ever truly become integrated into Swedish society, I would need a bike. I even got asked multiple times, ‘Don’t you have a bike?’ as if walking just doesn’t cut it.

Sweden is a very health and environment conscious country, center stage being the strong biking culture.

This commercial was just released by our county explaining that people who bike are superheros:
(Translation:
~ Halmstad is a biking town.
~ 21% of Halmstad residents travel via bike.
~ We have 21 (swedish) miles of biking trails. [= 210 kilometers = 130 miles ]
~ We are building super bike lanes
~ Everyone who bikes is a superhero)

It took a year, but last year I finally loaned a bike from my in-laws and have been riding it nearly every time I go anywhere.

Even though I’ve been able to ride a bike my whole life, this was different. Biking to commute to work/school or when you go to a friend’s house or when you go grocery shopping is a lot different than riding your bike around the block for fun as a kid or to exercise as an adult. In NYC you don’t see too many bikes, it’s simply not a common way to get around. It’s as if I had to relearn how to ride: bike lanes, hand signals, traffic laws, and getting used to so many other cyclists and pedestrians. Oh how things have changed; before I started biking I had no idea. I was amazed by by husbands ability to hear the tire treads of a bike approaching from a block away. I was blissfully unaware of the high pitched yet gentle dinging of a bike bell telling me to move out of people’s ways. Bike lanes seemed like wide sidewalks. Every time a bike whizzed past me I thought for sure that I would be run over.

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Today my husband and I took our bikes out for a ride together for the first time. It was nice to bike for the fun of it instead of using it as a mode of transport. It’s truly the best way to learn your neighborhood, too. Even though I’ve lived here for two years, biking today allowed me to see more places and understand where everything is in relation to each other and the fastest ways to get around. I learned that there is a separate traffic light for bikes, which means that I’ve wasted a lot of time waiting for the pedestrian one instead. Better safe than sorry though! Enjoying the beautiful Swedish weather on a nice long bike ride followed by a picnic in the park is the way to go.
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Studying Swedish in Sweden – Comparing EVERYTHING about SFI, SAS Grund and SAS Gymnasiet

SFI vs. SAS Grund vs.  SAS Gymnasiet

This comparison chart is based off of my personal experiences studying in Halmstad 2012 – 2014 and researching information online. Things might vary by town or teacher but most things are regulated by skolverket. If anything has been updated or changed, or if you have anything to add or ask, let me know!

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Today is two years since starting Something Swedish, and in two months it will mark two years since I started going to school to learn Swedish.  Since then, I’ve tried to keep my progress in school up to date, without overloading the blog. Catch up here:

Applied to SFI Feb 7, 2012
Started SFI  March 27, 2012
First SFI National test  Sept 20, 2012
(Finished SFI Dec 15, 2012)
Started ground level SAS/Comparing SFI and SAS  Jan 16, 2013
Finished SAS (18 weeks early) June 27, 2013

Being back in High School:

I somehow failed to mention that I started taking high school (gymnasiet)  level Swedish in August. So, here’s an update and an in depth comparison post that I hope helps people just starting out!

Three weeks ago the first level (1/3) of SAS gymnasiet ended. I had mixed emotions about the class, and put in a mixed amount of effort. This was partly because of being tired of studying, being bored with the difficulty level, being busy working, and focusing on a more difficult class (civics/political science) I was taking at the same time. I got an overall grade of B in the class, as well as on the national exam (oral presentation = A, reading comprehension =A, essay = C)

I was excited to start SAS1 because I read that it would be challenging and center around literature, which I love. Finally I would be learning Swedish on a level where other Swedes study! I was a bit disappointed to find out that this first class is a mix between a repetition of SAS Grund and preparation for SAS2. I understand it’s purpose, but I was bored – and unlike all of the other classes I’ve taken, you don’t have the option to go through the material quicker: 20 weeks means 20 weeks. If I had known that, I would have taken a test to be places in SAS2. Thankfully I had a teacher I like and find easy to learn from and understand (and have had before) and was in a class with some people I knew from SAS. Even if it was a bit slower than I would have liked, it fit my schedule perfectly and still challenged me from time to time.

I’ll be updating the chart and writing more in depth about the national exam once I complete the whole course and have more insight – which feels like forever away.

julbock


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Julbock: The Swedish Christmas Goat

If you’ve ever spent the holidays in Sweden then you’d recognize this common Christmas decoration – the julbock. Usually made out of straw and sitting on a table, but sometimes as a candle holder, an ornament in the tree, depicted on Christmas cards or table clothes — goats are largely associated with Christmas here in Sweden.

2013-12-26 09.34.52Goat-Julbock Candleholder - Red - 7364RP 0216a00d8341c090953ef010536155e0e970c

There is even a famously gigantic Julbock made of straw that has been built in a town called Gavle every year since 1966, which measures 13 meters tall (43 feet) and is  burnt down year after year. Although this is not the intention of the Julbock nor is it legal, it is an expected fate.

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There is a long history behind the Julbock which goes much deeper than the decorations we see today.

The origin of the Julbock dates back to before Christianity in Scandinavia, from the worship of the Norse God Thor and his two goats, Tanngnjost och Tanngrisner, that pulled his flying chariot.

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Later, the Julbock was depicted as a humanoid goat figure with horns and hooves, said to represent the devil, ensuring that people deserved their presents. This version of the julbock was altered into a scary prankster who caused trouble and demanded gifts.

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Julbocks being made of straw is nothing new, as it was always associated with the last harvest of the grain. It was once believed that the Julbock was only a spirit, and anything made of straw could be the Julbock. This spirit would check that the house was clean and the preparations were done correctly for the celebrations.

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For a long while the Julbock was the one who would deliver and hand out the Christmas presents – an original Scandinavian Santa. This is the most widely accepted and known version of the Julbock.

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Just as someone in Swedish families dress up as Santa to give out the gifts to the children nowadays, the same was done back then. Dressing up as the Julbock for Christmas also included singing, acting, and pranks while wearing something like this:

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During the 1800’s, people would throw the straw made Julbock back and forth, yelling “Take the Christmas goat!” The straw goat was also passed between neighbors, hiding it in each others houses without it being noticed, in an effort to get the Julbock out of their own house.

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Hoping all of my readers had a wonderful Christmas and that I taught you a bit of Swedish Christmas trivia. If you’re interested in reading more about Swedish Christmas traditions – follow these links:

Julbord: Christmas table (Christmas food)
The first advent
Swedish Santa: Tomte

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