Groan-worthy Swedish humour in the city of Gothenburg

Humour is one of the things that often doesn’t translate too well interculturally. Sarcastic, ironic humour is one example – which can be perceived as rude by other cultures. The British style of self-deprecating humour is often seen as incomprehensible by others who take it literally.

But the biggest type of humour that doesn’t translate is the pun. Because it is language based, it simply doesn’t translate linguistically.

In Sweden, the west coast city of Gothenburg is known for its puns. The humour is based on witty plays with words, the more groan-worthy the better. In English, we refer to these as Dad jokes – pun-filled quips that make every child’s eyes roll and every father’s heart fill with pride and accomplishment. No matter how bad they are, these jokes always manage to get at least a chuckle out of us. Maybe deep down we actually think they’re funny, or maybe we just love to see our dads smile because they made us laugh. Here are a couple of Gothenburg jokes, which simply don’t translate…

Which country has the cheapest meat?’

‘Ko-rea’ (Cow sale)

‘What noise comes out of a court?’

‘Rättsväsendet’ (Word for judicial system, but also translates as justice hiss’)

So, as these didn’t translate. Let me present you with some of the best English dad jokes that would make any Gothenburger proud.

1. ‘Why don’t crabs give to charity?’

‘Because they’re shellfish’

2. ‘I got hit in the head with a can of Diet Coke today. But don’t worry, it was a soft drink.’

3. ‘A ham sandwich walks into a bar. Sorry, says the bar tender, we don’t serve food here.’

4. ‘How do you make an octopus laugh?’

‘With ten tickles’

5. ‘My wife asked me to sync her phone. So I threw it in the ocean.’

And my own dad’s favourite joke that he used to say every time we went past a cemetery –

‘You know that’s the dead centre of town. People are dying to get in there.’

Do you know any Gothenburg puns? Please share them!

Have yourself a Merry Gay Swedish Christmas

With gay men being hunted down and ‘punished’ in Uganda, Tanzania, Russia and many other countries around the world, it is easy to blame religion for the persecution.

And the evidence to back this up is fairly compelling. Countries that have a strong foot in religion are often countries that have strong anti-LGBT policies and attitudes. Not always, but often. Fanatical interpretation of the scripture can be one explanation, as can the crushing concept of sin, and the devouring need to uphold traditional ‘family structures and values’. For example, in a recent comment, the Pope said a lot can be done for LGBT people through psychiatry.

Sweden is a country that separates the church from politics. It is a country where almost 90% of the population identify as atheist or agnostic. It is a place where religious morality does not usually dictate the behaviours and choices of individual citizens. Of course there is organized religion in Sweden, there are churches and there are priests. Of course there are minority religions in Sweden such as Islam, Hinduism and Judaism. Of course there are casual believers, devout followers and extremists. But compared to many other organized religions in the world, the Swedish Church is very liberal.

This was manifested in the recent service at a church in Stockholm, a service called Gay Jul (Gay Christmas). The slogan for the event was ‘come in as you are, come out as you want to be’. As I sat in attendance at this service, I witnessed a welcoming space, filled with members of the LGBT community, the church decorated in rainbow flags, and the words ‘Gay Jul’ emblazoned on the pulpit. I was moved by the openness of the church to welcome the minority group that is so often demonized and persecuted by the Faithful. It was an escape, and embrace, a sanctuary.

However, I was also struck by a sadness as I sat there in that echoing church. I realized the experience was a uniquely Swedish one, occurring in a small city in a small outpost of Europe and an unlikely sight in other churches, mosques, temples and tabernacles around the world.

In that church, amongst the rainbow flags, we were far far away from Uganda, and Tanzania, and Russia.

The relief of Swedish Advent

 

So it’s the first of Advent this weekend and this year it comes as a major relief for those of us in Stockholm.

You see at Advent, Swedes decorate their houses, apartments and windows with lights. From ceilings, illuminated stars are hung. On window ledges, electric advent candles are placed. On tables, four candles are positioned and one is lit every Sunday up until Christmas. Small candles, often red, are dotted about the home.

Some years, there is already deepish snow at the first of Advent, but this year in Stockholm, there isn’t. So it is very, very, very dark. The collective advent decoration is a definite reprieve from this darkness as light is spread into these murky places.

The word ‘advent’ comes from the Latin ‘adventus’ which means ‘arrival’ and is traditionally the start of the period where we wait for the arrival of nativity, or Christmas. Some religions also see it as waiting for the second coming of Christ. But in this secular society that is Sweden, the waiting is probably for the snow to come, the cold to hit, the water to freeze to ice and for winter to clasp its fingers firmly around us.

World Aids Day in Sweden

Lying here in the middle of the night, the sound of the rain beating on the windows and the wind howling around the rooftops. During these dark nights, my mind often wanders.

And right now, it is reminding me that Saturday is World AIDS Day.

My mind circles around the memories of friends and acquaintances I lost in the peak of the crisis in London. I remember all the talented celebrities who died, such as Freddy Mercury, Rudolf Nureyev, Arthur Ashe, Derek Jarman. I ponder the unnecessary number of beautiful young people, unknown to most of us, who succumbed to the disease over the last 30+ years. An estimated 35,4 million people have died from AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic, to quote the grim statistics.

Today, in Sweden about 10000 people live with diagnosed HIV and Sweden has become the first country in the world to achieve the UN goal for identification and treatment of people with HIV.

But that’s not the case on many other countries, where HIV continues to devastate communities and families. In East and Southern Africa, an incomprehensible 19 million people are believed to live with the infection, and an additional 25% don’t know their status.

World AIDS Day (WAD), designated on 1 December every year since 1988, is an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection and mourning those who have died of the disease.

In Stockholm, Noak’s Ark has a day of lectures, meetings and performances to commemorate the day. Check out their web page.

Tomorrow night, Friday 30 November, there is a WAD concert at Maria Magdalena Church on Bellmansgatan on Södermalm. I will be there to sing with my choir and to show respect for those who are living and who have died.

It starts at 17.30 and is open to all.

Please come along.

Do Swedes have no heart?

Working recently in India, one question I received was ‘why don’t Swedes greet us with heart?’ This was referring to when Indians visit colleagues in Sweden, or when they start working together in new constellations.

It is an interesting perception, and maybe not a new one. The experience of Swedes as cold, unfriendly and disengaged seems common, and genuinely baffles a lot of non-Swedish people.

Firstly, I would like to say that in general this is not true. It is just a perception. Many of the Swedes I know are kind, generous and affectionate. However, I do have a few theories as to why this perception prevails.

Expressiveness – how much it is appropriate to express emotion is something that we are trained in from childhood. Some cultures train their children to use their entire bodies when they communicate, others train their children to be more reserved. Generally Swedes are trained to be emotionally inexpressive. What they mean is clearly in their words, and not so much their bodies or faces. And this can lead more physically expressive cultures to presume they are cold. So it is important to understand that lack of expression should not be confused with lack of feeling.

Importance of relationships. Swedes do have many close friendships and family ties. However, this doesn’t necessarily extend to neighbors or colleagues. While in other cultures, strong close relationships with colleagues are essential for getting the job done, in Sweden isn’t the case. Relationships help, but they are not essential for carrying out the task. This means Swedes can go to work and be friendly towards each other, but don’t necessarily need to make friends or show a great deal if interest in each others private lives. This can be frustrating for people who come from strongly relationship-oriented cultures.

Independence. Swedish culture is amongst the most individualistic cultures in the world. In Swedish society, this manifests itself in the attitude that every able-bodied person can take care of themselves. This means that the Swedish attitude is generally if you want help you will ask for it. And you usually get it. The fact that help is rarely offered was a hard lesson for me to learn when moving to ‘unhelpful’ Sweden.

The peach and the coconut. Some cultures are like peaches – soft on the outside, easy to get into, open in communication, overtly friendly. Other cultures are like coconuts – hard shelled, difficult to get into and less open to people outside the group. Typically, but not exclusively, Swedish culture is ‘coconutty’ and Indian is peachy. This can mean it’s a challenge for people from peachy cultures to break into Swedish society and easy for them to form the perception that Swedes are cold and unwelcoming. My experience tells me, however, that once you break through the shell, the friendships that you make are very close and lasting. It is easy to assume when you meet a Swede that he or she is shy or introvert. This might be the case, but not necessarily. He or she might just be a coconut.

Sweden’s sand box

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?

In tears!

Trump in Swedish

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:

  • Glum
  • Moody
  • Morose
  • Stuffy
  • Surly

Appropriate, isn’t it? Shame it doesn’t also mean misguided, arrogant and narcissistic.