It’s been over two months since the general election, and still no government in Sweden. This is because the 8 parties can’t find a suitable coalition that doesn’t damage egos, betray voters, let in the nationalists or destroy alliances. It’s a bit like watching a discussion between toddlers in a sand box:
- Ulf wants most of all to play with Ebba, Jan and Annie
- Annie doesn’t want to play with Ulf, Ebba and Jan unless Isabella is allowed in
- Annie and Jan definitely don’t want to play with Jimmy or Jonas
- Annie and Jan want to play with Isabella but Isabella wants to play with Jonas and Stefan
- Jonas is happy to play with Stefan and Isabella but not Jimmy or Ulf or Ebba
- Stefan wants Annie and Jan to join in with Jonas and Isabella
- Nobody wants to play with Jimmy, except sometimes Ulf and Ebba
- Jimmy doesn’t know who he wants to play with
One wonders how it all will end. Well, how does this discussion in a sand box usually end?
Today I was reminded of a fun Swedish word. A very contemporary one.
The Swedish word I’m referring to is ‘trumpen’. Contemporary for obvious reasons, the word is an adjective and translates as the following:
Appropriate, isn’t it? Shame it doesn’t also mean misguided, arrogant and narcissistic.
I remember walking around Stockholm when I had recently moved here. It was a pitch black Saturday evening in November, cold and crisp. As I approached a majestic church, I noticed that it was shimmering from the grave yard. This yellow and white light slowly flickered and cast shadows on the gravestones and the church wall. As if drawn by a magic spell, I walked up to the church and looked over the wall. The sight that met my eyes was spectacular and serene at the same time. Hundreds of candles were spread around the cemetery, decorating each of the graves. In the memory grove a bright blazing blanket of candles lit up the area. It was as if the spirits of the dead had come out to play.
In Sweden, the first Saturday in November is All Saints’ Day (the Sunday after All Saints’ Day is called All Souls’ Day to separate between the saints and the dead).
Since the 1800’s Swedes have, during this weekend, made pilgrimage to graveyards up and down the country to decorate the graves with candle light and to pay respect to the dead. It is a much more elegant and atmospheric tradition than the typical Halloween parties that otherwise have become very popular in Sweden.
It is a truly beautiful experience to walk through the churchyards this weekend. In the pitch black November Nordic darkness, it is a peaceful reminder of those who have gone before us. So head for your nearest cemetery this weekend and, if you happen to be in Stockholm, go to the Forest graveyard (Skogskyrkogården) for a specifically spectacular experience (pictured below).
In Swedish, this is a common phrase used to describe a situation where somebody has bought something without first fully examining it. And it proves to be a costly mistake. It’s also used to describe situations where somebody says yes to something without really knowing what it is – to their detriment. The expression ‘köpa grisen i säcken’ is the equivalent of the little-used English phrase ‘to buy a pig in a poke.’
But where does the expression come from?
Well, it dates back to the late Middle Ages when livestock was sold in the market places. Small animals were transported in sacks so as to make it easy to carry them. When you bought an animal, if you didn’t look in the sack, you might be in for a big surprise when you got home. You thought you bought a piglet, for example, but on opening the sack you realize it contains a rat or a cat.
It’s a bit like voting for a person or a party without fully understanding their politics and then being shocked afterwards. You really shouldn’t have bought that pig in the sack.
I read in the paper yesterday that Sweden has taken over from the USA in terms of cash free payments. Plastic prevails in this country as does the mobile payment technology called ‘Swish’. With a simple transfer, Swedes can send money to each other via their phones. All that’s needed is a bank account, a bank ID and, of course, a mobile.
Shop after shop is putting up signs saying ‘we do not accept cash – only card and Swish’. I have to wonder if this is legal, as coins and notes are still actually legal means of payment. Do they have the right to refuse?
Sweden’s cash free society really hit home with me this morning. Sitting on the tube on the way into work, a beggar got into my carriage.
He stood in the middle of the aisle and presented a plea for the money he needed to buy food. Nobody looked at him, everybody looked at their cell phones.
In response to this, the beggar said, ‘if you prefer not to give me cash, I take Swish!’
Ok, I know that English has quite a lot of funny names such as Dick and Willy, but Sweden also has its fair share.
Here come the top 10 hysterical and odd names that people in Sweden actually have.
1. Gun. A popular name of over 18000 women in Sweden. Not bad for a pacifist country
2. Jerker. Seriously. A man’s name, and also the name of a piece of furniture at IKEA.
3. Saga. Ugly when pronounced in English, this name for a woman actually means ‘fairy tale’.
4. Odd. An odd one this. A name owned currently by 735 men in Sweden.
5. Even. Interestingly, the name Even also exists. Odd and Even would make a well-balanced coupled wouldn’t they?
6. Love. It’s true. You could fall in love with a Swedish boy called Love.
7. Ninni. A name of a Swedish woman. Although it means ‘an idiot’ in English, I assume all Ninnis in Sweden are not stupid.
8. Knut. An unfortunate name that, at best, gets pronounced as nut, and at worst gets the letters mixed up to mean something altogether more rude
9. Tintin. Yeah, it’s true. There are many people in Sweden, both male and female, who have this name. Over 500 to be more precise.
10. Titti. This has to be the queen of all unfortunate Swedish names. 1024 women in Sweden currently bear this name with pride.
The Swedish train system is notorious for its lack of reliability and continuous delays. Anybody who travels by train in Sweden has probably called it stupid, or worse, in anger or frustration. However, this is not where the Swedish expression (you are) ‘more stupid than the train’ comes from.
To understand the origin of this expression, we have to travel to my home country of England and to the end of the Industrial Revolution. In the 1800’s the rail industry was booming and in 1856 Sweden imported a train from the UK, pictured above.
A Swedish tradition is to give names to trains, and this particular train was christened ‘Prince August’ after King Oskar I’s youngest son. Prince August was well-known across the country for not being the brightest light in the Christmas tree. His weak intellect was well referred to in stories of the time. This was a period in history, however, when open criticism of the Royal family borded upon treason. So, the people created an expression – more stupid than the train – to describe somebody’s idiocy while at the same time referring ‘discretely’ to the royal fool by referencing the train of the same name.
This tradition of naming trains, and train carriages, still exists in Sweden today. Only this morning I travelled in a carriage called Pippi, but I’m afraid it wasn’t much of an adventure. Here is a list of all the carriage names on the Stockholm underground – see if your is there!