Sunday, 7 May 2017

Carola Craziness

There is a magical moment in Swedish parties when the music of Carola comes on (Carola is a Swedish national treasure who had some massive hits in the 80s). 

Carola is particularly adored among women of a certain age. When a Carola tune comes on at a party these ladies just let loose: singing as loudly as they can and with total abandonment! It's a sight to behold. It's like they're suddenly back in their childhood, singing Carola tunes into their hairbrush-microphones and dancing in front of the mirror! 

I have to admit, Carola is pretty catchy! :-). 

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Swedes Being Reserved

After you live here a while, you start noticing that Swedes seem quite reserved. 

At first it's hard to put your finger on, but then you begin to recognise the signs. Like how their everyday speech is peppered with a "little" this and a "little" that. It's always a "little"as if they distrust the use of intensifiers. As if they're demonstrating their restraint. They're sensibleness. Swedes rarely exaggerate. 

This makes Swedes seem boring to Brits and American people, who tend to exaggerate desperately in order to elicit some kind of response from Swedes and assert their own individuality. 

But strongly emphasising your individuality is a faux pas! It can be seen as showing you are better than someone else (a serious no-no in Sweden!). It can make you look flashy and imprudent. 

So as Americans and Brits happily machine-gun their audiences with gloriously inflated, half-baked theories displaying their dazzling flair and charisma, Swedes will visibly start backing away. As if they find such comments generally distasteful, but are willing to indulge you. 

After all, you're 'not from around here'. 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Dirty and Dirty!

I got a funny look the other day when I said (in Swedish) "they were a bunch of dirty old bastards". 

My friend said " you mean they were covered in dirt? I think you mean something else". 

I then asked her for the correct word, which rhymes with the word I mistakenly used!

Smutsig means dirty as in "They were covered in dirt". 

Snuskig means dirty as in "He was a dirty old git!".

Swedish, that ain't fair! It's like you're trying to confuse me! ;-)

More Brits become Swedish After Brexit!

One of the biggest uncertainties when it comes to Brexit is the rights of Brits abroad.

It's no surprise then that more of us are becoming Swedish!

According to this article, the number of Brits applying for Swedish citizenship rose from 441 in 2015 to 1521 in 2016. 

The trend shows no sign of stopping in 2017 as the first 2 months of this year saw 328 Brits applying for Swedish citizenship (it's normally only about 30 a month).

I myself will apply for Swedish citizenship as soon as I can. 

Might as well play it safe!

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Sami Blood

I have been interested in the Sami (the indigenous people of northern Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia) for a while now. 

Recently I saw Sameblod (or Sami Blood in English). It's a Swedish/Sápmi language film about a teenage Sami girl called Elle-Marja who grows up at a time when the Swedish state were forcibly trying to integrate the Sami through compulsory education. Elle-Marja and her sister are sent to the nearby Swedish school, where the children are forbidden to speak Sápmi and must learn about Sweden and Christianity. Representatives from the state use the enforced schooling as an opportunity to take unpleasant biological measurements (at that time the prevalent belief was that the Sami were less intelligent, 'low-born' humans). The film tracks the Sami girl's life as she tries to navigate the two worlds and the situation she finds herself in.

The film forces Sweden to face a dark side of its past. My wife and I were deeply affected by it. I couldn't speak for half an hour afterwards (I had a frog firmly lodged in my throat!). 

The thing that stayed with me was Elle-Marja's sense of otherness: her feeling of being alone and self-conscious. 

The lead Lene Cecilia Sparrok received the youth prize of 5000 Kroner and a diploma from the Såhkie Sami organisation, who said "She is an enchantingly good example for other young Sami with her pride, her language and her courage to try new things". 

The Sami have had quite a bit of media attention in Sweden of late. Recently there has been a TV drama called Midnattsol , a documentary called Renskötarna ("Deer Herders"), a documentary about the Sami artist Sofia Jannok and a song with joyk (traditional Sami singing) just came third in Meolodifestivalen (the national competition where Sweden chooses its Eurovision song). 

My wife said she was taught nothing about the Sami at school, so it's good that some information is getting out there now!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Swedish Reggae

I watched a great programme on SVT about Swedish reggae. Here are the points I found interesting!

Swedish reggae started when a man called Peps Persson heard Bob Marley's music and was inspired to start singing reggae in his own Skånska Swedish dialect. Peps and his band released an album called "Hög Standard", recognised as one of the first Swedish reggae albums.

In 1981 Bob Marley died of cancer. To honor him, a band called "Kalle Baah" put on a remembrance festival in the tiny town of Skärblacka. Skärblacka is now known as the 'the Kingston of Sweden', and the festival continues to this day. The band went on to begin the studio and production company "Blacka Music", which is known for the special 'Skärblacka' reggae sound. According to one of a group of Skärblacka youths interviewed for the documentary, people in Skärblacka "live, breathe and shit reggae". Skärblacka is only known for two things: reggae and its stinking paper factory. 

One of the biggest reggae festivals in Sweden is currently the "Öland Roots" festival, which is known for it's nice, community-friendly atmosphere. "Öland Roots" stole the title of biggest reggae fest from "Uppsala Reggae Festival", after it was driven to folding due to (according to the documentary) an undue amount of attention from police and authorities concerning drugs. But according to their website "Uppsala Reggae Festival" will return to Uppsala later this year!

Another 'reggae base' in Sweden is apparently Göteborg, where there is something of a homegrown reggae scene (although I'm having trouble finding it!).

Keep skanking!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Passport Pickiness

As I am writing this my Swedish wife and I are sitting in the waiting room of the Passport Office. We're waiting to update my wife's passport. We are number 152 and the electronic counter currently reads 122. A while to go yet!

Kids are starting to go slightly loopy as the boredom sets in. Their parents frantically attempt to appease them with books, games, mobile phones...

In the UK you can do the whole process online or by post. But here in Sweden the photo must be taken in person at the Passport Office on a special machine, so that it's properly standardised. 

I can't help thinking that although the UK produces less 'standardised' passport photos, at least you don't have to spend ages in a waiting room!

This seems to be another classic example of excessive Swedish bureaucracy, where the need to do things 'properly' overrides all other considerations (even efficiency!). 

The waiting continues...

I notice an old man with an enormous white beard. He is reading a newspaper dated 1961. He looks at me with sleepy, ancient eyes. Then he turns back to his paper, scratches his balls and settles in to continue his long wait.

I'm going to be here a while... 

Sunday, 5 February 2017

All Aboard the Beer Boat!


Here in Gothenburg people 'ride the Beer Boat'.

Stena's Denmark ferry goes between Frederikshamn in Denmark and Gothenburg in Sweden. Loads of people use it to buy alcohol on the boat at reduced prices, then ride the same boat straight back to Gothenburg without stepping foot outside the Danish terminal.

And we're talking some serious stocking up here! You see them strapping on huge boxes of beer and spirits to hand trucks with bits of bungee cord. Then they're wheeling their enormous loads down the gangway at Gothenburg terminal, lumbering like mastodons and trying not to pulverise small children.

And then it's time to PARTY! :-)

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Wild Boar Takeover!

There's a baboon in the White House and now wild boar are taking over Sweden!

Multitudes of the hairy hogs are seriously damaging crops and projections suggest their numbers will continue to rise over the next ten years.

Why not make the best of it and start keeping them as pets? 

"OK fetch the stick boy, fetch the stick! No, not my LEG! NOOOOOOO!"

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Dreaming in Swedish

You know how they say dreaming in your second language means you're making progress?

This happened in last night's dream, which was straight up wacko! My wife and I somehow have a newborn baby without her being pregnant. I ask her how this happened and she just says "don't worry". I worry. I'm walking in the street with my wife and the 20-minute-old baby in my arms. The baby says "Jag tycker om att sjunga" (I like to sing) and starts singing like a lark. "Sofia, our 20-minute-old baby can talk Swedish and sing!". "Don't worry" says my wife.

I worry.

Then we come home. As we step through the door an identical twin of the baby I'm holding springs out of nowhere and both infants start ninja fighting round the living room at lightning speed. Then in slinks a loser-drunkard claiming to be the father of the other twin baby and starts whining that Sofia should take him back. I ask my wife "Sofia, what's going on?". "Don't worry", she says. Then I wake up.

As you can see, my 'second-language-dreaming' is most likely in its early stages — only a small part of the dream is in Swedish.

But now and again there's more Swedish in my dreams. Like when I dreamt I was the star pupil of a Swedish class!

Well, why not?

Thursday, 12 January 2017

English Killing Swedish?

English appears to be killing Swedish.

Alright, maybe not 'killing', but English has at least given poor Swedish a mild concussion.

Because Swedes seem to be ‘losing words’. Literally.

Younger Swedes tend to use a lot of English in everyday speech. The more they use an English word the less they use the Swedish one, thus weakening their 'Swedish' memory. It's a vicious circle!

Aside from taking English words wholesale, there's also a huge amount of anglicising​​ going on in the Swedish language itself. 'Swenglish' seems to involve 'Swedifying' an English verb (eg. to hint = att hinta) or adding an extra letter to English adjectives so they fit within the Swedish grammatical system (eg. cool = coolt). This kind of 'Swenglish' changes the very fabric of Swedish.  

I’m not a fan of this. But if Swedes themselves don't seem care about English taking over, then so what?

Well, in fact it turns out some Swedes do care.

According to this article written by Swedish and Dutch professors "English has caused worry amongst preservers of the Swedish language. One of the biggest worries is that English is taking over in certain areas, particularly research and higher education in biology, medicine and science..."

The article then goes on to mention Språkförsvaret” (‘Language Defence) who basically say that in Sweden many core areas — such as business, university, the media and adverts it is English and not Swedish that is strongly represented and that this is seriously damaging Swedish: “Why is it that English spreads at the cost of Swedish?...We contend that the many different languages in the world have an intrinsic needs a grassroots movement to defend the Swedish language”.

By contrast there are those who believe that if languages die off it was ‘meant to be’. This is the view of British comedian David Mitchell, who in this video claims languages simply die out ‘naturally’ due to “natural selection”  and not due to the “actions of Man”.

This is total rubbish. Rachel Nuwer points out in her BBC Future article that "Languages usually reach the point of crisis after being displaced by a socially, politically and economically dominant one...". How are these political, social and economic conditions brought about, if not by the actions of Man?

I also disagree with Mitchell's rather ill-thought out 'it's-OK-because-languages-die-off naturally' sentiment. Anthropologist and linguist Mark Turin explains how this popular "Social Darwinism" argument is rationally unsound: we invest money in bio-diversity and protecting animals, so why not invest in human diversity by protecting languages? In his words "why should it be that the one thing that makes us singularly human shouldn’t be similarly nourished and protected?”

In the aforementioned video, Mitchell claims it is “not the end of the world” when a language dies out. He’s wrong. It is the end of the world or at least a world because that particular way of seeing the world is lost. Each language reflects what that culture holds dear. Its hopes and its fears. We are not USBs, we do not simply dock and transfer data. Language is so much more than that. It is not merely the communicative tool of a people. In a way, it is a people. It is an integral marker that distinguishes a people and expresses their identity.

So I hope Swedish policy makers and broadcasters listen to the general message of ‘Language Defence’ and make Swedish more visible. At the moment it feels as if some authorities and companies are treating Swedish as a second class language. And having listened to beautiful songs and read wonderful books in Swedish this particular Englishman wholeheartedly and fiercely contends that it most certainly is not.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Sun Plays Peekaboo

I saw this beautiful sunrise recently and it was like I could breathe again. Like my heart was swelling in my chest and I was happy to be alive and everything was going to be alright. I went out and stood stock still in the sunlight for ten whole minutes.

You might think this is an odd reaction. You might think "It's just the sun!".

But I live in Sweden and it's winter. Although there is light here in Gothenburg, there can be days of what I call 'Gothenburg grey' when it's cloudy and gloomy from morning till sunset (which is about 3pm).

Clear sunny days feel like a blessing sent from above. Like your soul is coming out from hibernation. It's hard to explain. This country's mood is largely decided by the seasons. Light and the return of summer after winter's murk is a prevalent theme in Swedish folk and church music. You can understand why Midsummer is still celebrated here  I can't imagine anything else more worthy of celebration! People take weeks of holiday at summertime to soak up the sun. It's just common sense!

I used to think that taking all your holiday in summer was a waste.  How little I understood!  Summer is the time Swedes recharge their batteries. You gotta crack open the solar panel of your soul and load up on those rays, man!

And if that sounds too hippy for you then I don't care! The sun's coming back, baby!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Swedish Channel Goes High-Brow Bonkers?

All Swedish TV channel SVT seems to show these days are classical music performances, opera and Antiques Roadshow. SVT seems to be forcing high-brow culture down our throats. 

Are they trying to 'civilise' the population by sheer force of will or something? 

Are their offices filled with chandeliers and ladies in ball gowns and old men in smoking jackets with whiskers talking about how they're going to 'educate the rabble' while classical pianists tickle the ivories of old grand pianos? 

Who knows? 

All I know is that I wouldn't mind watching something else now and again!

Sex and Private Body Parts

"Wow that wine is dry! Reminds me of my nether regions!"

This humorous line from a Swedish Vagifem advert is indicative of the no-nonsense approach Swedes have when discussing sex and genitals! Of course, removing the 'embarrassment factor' from such situations is perfectly logical. Problems can be discussed, prevented and solved without stigma or shame. In the Vagifem advert, the Swedes openly discuss the woman's problem at the dinner table and find the perfect solution (which is of course  Vagifem!). 

Obviously this advert is a joke, but Swedes really are very open about these things! I feel I am positively 'Victorian' by comparison. They simply have a matter-of-fact approach to it all, which for them is perfectly normal. But for me it can be a little uncomfortable!

Here they simply 'call a spade a spade'! Or in this case... 

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Culture Shock

I think most English-speaking immigrants in Sweden fall into two categories:

1. Those who live in a monolingual bubble
2. Those who engage and learn about the language and culture

I am in the second category, but I am starting to take a more charitable view of the first category. The first category may find it easier to retain their confidence and sense of self. They are securely 'grounded' by holding fast to the language they've always spoken: English. It feels safer to stick to what you know. It's less confusing.

I am learning all the time, yet I am in a constant state of confusion and flux. I don't know anything for sure. The ground under my feet is constantly shifting. Once you speak Swedish and start engaging, you quickly discover how little you know or understand, both about the language and the culture. You're in constant overload. 

But the first category only get the 'tourist' version of Sweden. They can't read or discuss in Swedish, so they are always distanced. They force the international language onto the Swedes, and in response the Swedes become the 'international' version of themselves. The worldly, English-speaking version. The local cultural dialogue cannot take root in these conditions. It is not an equal exchange.

This week I have been tempted just to give up. The Winter darkness is wearing me down and I want comfort. Security. Ease. And as I struggle I sometimes feel like my head is going to explode.

But that is the price you pay to deal with Swedes on their own level. And when they see you trying, they let you in. 

I'll probably feel better about it all when the Spring comes!

Saturday, 5 November 2016

The Redneck/Shakepeare Spectrum

One mental mindset I have developed to help me understand Swedish grammar is what I call "The Redneck/Shakespeare Spectrum".

When you say "those __" it sounds redneck. If you want to say "those beer bottles" it's "de där öl-flaskorna!" which literally means "them there beer bottles!". Yah Boigh! 

But the word order used when asking questions and fronting adverbials somehow smacks of the Bard. For instance, "Vad har ni för bilar?" literally means "What have you for cars?" (ie. "What cars do you have?").

Hell yeah boigh, them there bars look gooood! Go we now, my good fellows?     

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Embarrassing Confusion

Some words sound very alike in Swedish. And getting them wrong can be pretty embarrassing! 

I have a particular problem with pronouncing "Jew" and "sound". This can lead to such embarrassing constructions as "What was that loud Jew?" and "That was a really weird Jew!"

I also mix up "vile" and "eager" which is even worse: "Wow, he was vile!", "I am really vile when it comes to this project", "There's nothing wrong with being vile!", "Don't be so vile, just be yourself!"

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Expats Missing Stuff: Decaf

What the hell is wrong with you Sweden? Alcohol-free beer at every turn; but when it comes to decaf beverages, nothing!

In Sweden decaf is viewed as being just as pointless as alcohol-free beer in the UK. So naturally decaf is denigrated and caffeine is king. It's like being a vegetarian in Texas at an annual steak grilling event. "What you say boigh? You wants WHAT!? GET ON OUTTA HERE!"

OK, slight exaggeration. But it's bloody annoying! I can only buy decaf tea from an English import shop. Condeco only serve one decaf coffee: a too-milky latte. In all coffee places in sweden 'real' coffee drinkers get infinite refills. But for decaf drinkers like me it's a one cup deal.

I'm highly aware that this is an extremely middle class problem. That doesn't stop me being pissed off.

I knew I would miss some things from the UK, but I never expected it to be this! Pubs and cheap beer, yes. But unbelievably I've found those.

Lack of a product is something expats always complain about. I used to think that was stupid and sentimental. But the availability of products in different countries indicates different values and needs. The scarcity of a once valued product is somehow destabilising and alienating. What was comfortable and part-of-the-furniture has simply disappeared. 

You simply took it for granted before. But now it's gone. And that really pisses you off!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Stranger in Sweden

It's funny. 

I don't feel like a stranger when I walk around and hear people speaking Swedish in the street. I know enough of the lingo now!

What makes me feel like a stranger? When I'm watching a Swedish TV show and I don't recognise a single celebrity or well-known song but everyone around me does!

And then it hits me: I don't know anything here! Where the HELL am I??!!!!

I haven't been here long. The past events and experiences that form the kernel of Swedish cultural knowledge were quite literally 'before my time'. I simply wasn't there. 

It's a black hole. 

A blind spot.

As a result there will always be jokes that I will never be 'in on' and there will always be nostalgic 'remember-when' conversations to which I cannot partake.

It's a rather isolating experience.  

It's true that I can never be a part of what came before. But I can be a part of what happens from now on! And that is an encouraging thought.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Last Vestiges of Colonialism: English Speakers in Sweden

Swedish is not a hard language for English people to learn. Despite this, many long-term English ex-pats continue to claim cultural dominance over Swedes by forcing them to speak English.

Swedes are often eager to demonstrate that they are part of the wider global community by speaking English. When they meet an English person they switch to English to show their politeness and proficiency. The English person blithely accepts this gift of humility as their due, content that another Swede has made things easier for them - 'They all speak English don't they, it's easy for them' - thinks the English person. What they don't realise is that by doing this they are actually being incredibly rude. They are not reciprocating the consideration the Swede is giving them. They are indicating that that they have chosen to live in Sweden but can't be bothered with the language. To me, they are basically saying 'My language is bigger and better than your little language. You can struggle along and talk to me, I'm the important one'. It's a form of cultural domination.

And what many English people here don't realise is that sometimes the Swede is actually struggling to speak English. It is still their second language, after all. Learning a language is not simply a case of 'downloading' information into your brain - it takes time, effort and creativity. Yes they may seem confident, but you might notice that sometimes they say "I'm not sure what the English is, but..." This is your cue to show willing and speak Swedish, you thoughtless English twits! 

So if you've been here ages and have some Swedish in your head, please don't force English upon the Swedes all the time (especially when they're tired!). Open your mouth and try. It will be appreciated, and you won't be doing the cultural equivalent of this:


NOTE: I have used the example of the English in this blog, but it could just as easily be applied to other English-speaking people. I've heard of an Australian who worked here for years who could hardly speak a word of Swedish....

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Russia and Swedish TV

Fear of Russian attack is growing on Swedish TV. 

Here is a description of the Swedish TV items I just watched in numerical order:


A showing of "The Man Who Saved the World" (a biography of a Russian who chose NOT to 'press the button' during a false alarm that caused Russia to believe it was under nuclear attack) 


Interviews of Russian and American commentators on increased tensions between the USA and Russia due to military proximity in Syria. 


A news report of increasing militarisation of the Swedish island of Gotland in case of Russian attack. 

At this point I had to stop watching because I was nearing the point of shitting my pants!

The Swedes seem to have a totally different approach to day-time TV compared to that of the British. British day-time TV bores the populace to death with shows on gardening and fixing the house. Swedish day-time TV simply scares the shit out of you!

Perhaps both approaches are methods of forcing the unemployed off their sofas and into jobs. Which begs the question: which is the most effective? I don't know, but at least the British get to wear clean underwear....



I would like to qualify this humorous article by saying I find the Swedish coverage of Russia extremely interesting. It represents something that is more or less 'shoved under the carpet' by the UK media (who only seem interested in the happenings of their own little island and hardly ever have any decent foreign news on TV..."We have just received a report that Thumper the Rabbit escaped from his owner Jessica Lostapett in Bogna Regis, but the jolly-jumping rogue found his way home in the end!...awwwwwww!")

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Superhuman Swedes

There are some superhuman swedes in our gym!!

They're always standing on their heads or crazily suspending themselves from ropes. It's like the 'getting-ready-to-fight' montage scenes in Rocky, but ALL THE TIME! What are they getting ready for? How did Sweden get this level of fitness? Am I in a gym or some film where everyone is training to fight Mr T?

I know it's a massive generalisation, but Swedes just seem to be healthier and stronger than the average UK person. My wife says that the gym instructors just don't compare. I saw one of her BodyPump instructors. She looked like a superhero: there literally wasn't any part of her that wasn't muscle. She probably had muscles in her hair!

OK I'm off to the gym. If I listen to "Eye of the Tiger" on the cross-trainer perhaps I can get into the spirit!!!?? 


Beercan Bombast

Ever read the back of a Swedish beer can? Some of the messages sound pretty dramatic to me!

Here is a selection of my favourites (translated by myself, nobody else can take the blame!!!) 

Norrlands Guld

"You would be able to say that it is itself, 

if a beer could be itself"

Mariestads Export

"You are holding Swedish hand-made tradition in your hands"

Pripps Blå

"A beer with traditions

and dreams of the future"

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Job Applications: from Rock to Venus de Milo

Applying to jobs in Swedish is HARD (readers, please prepare for another onslaught of ridiculous hyperbole!)

It's like trying to carve a statue with a fork. You hack and scrape and maul the language to carve out some living shape, but it will often remain an inert lump! 

Obviously it's not my first language. 

Equally as obvious is the fact that it never will be...  :-(

However, I have a cunning plan! 

This plan shall send Lady Fluency hitching her skirts and running to my door! This plan shall expunge my meaning-mangling nordic language: my silly-språk!! Like a good monk who wears hair shirts, I've imposed certain restrictions upon myself for my betterment: 


The intention was to make Swedish my 'read-a-good-yarn' language. I have to say this is working: I read for fun in Swedish, and because it's fun I keep going! Plus you end up learning vocabulary through context (soooo much better than repeating words!). However,  I notice that I get bloody tired... 


(simple but effective). 


The Swedes are damn good at speaking English. They try to lead me astray, but they can stuff it. I'M SPEAKING YOUR LANGUAGE YOU BUGGERS, AND NONE OF YOU ARE GOING TO STOP ME...... MOOOOHAHAHAHAH!