Linguistic limbo


I find that writing this blog has heightened my awareness of my surroundings – made me more míndful. I regularly see, hear, experience things and think – yes, that’s definitely blogworthy. And I come home and write.

But one thing I’ve noticed. It’s not that easy. I struggle sometimes with my English.

Having lived in Sweden for 16 years, I find I do not speak English the way I used to. Swenglish creeps easily into my writing, often without me even noticing it. The prepositions are the worst – for example, is it ‘at’ Midsummer or ‘on’ Midsummer (‘s Eve)? I battle with myself.

And I realise something.

My English is frozen at the level it was when I left England. My Swedish is not as good as my English.

I am in lingustic limbo.

Social outcast


Today I felt like a social outcast.

Sitting in my office, the rooms echoed with their emptiness. Everyone had gone home even though it was only 3 o’clock. Only I sat there – working.

You see, tomorrow is Midsummer’s Eve, possibly the most important celebration in the Swedish calender. And though it isn’t officially a bank holiday, it is a day off.

But the interesting thing is how Swedes always take half a day off the day before a day off in order to prepare. No matter what the holiday. Midsummer being no exception. Only lonely souls and Neil No Friends are left rattling around empty offices like peas in an empty tin can.

But why do Swedes take half a day off before the holiday day? Is it because day care is closed? Is it because the food takes a long time to cook? Is it because people are travelling long distances? Maybe.

But I think the real reason is to do with alcohol. On Midsummer especially, the off-licenses are packed. The day before Midsummer is by far the busiest day of the year for them. This means that it takes such a long time to buy alcohol that they need a good few hours to queue.

Happy Midsummer, wherever you are.

How to kill a party


Today is the longest day of the year. In the north of Sweden, the sun sits high in the midnight sky. Further south, it hovers below the horizon reaching up with rays of light.

Tomorrow, the days start to get shorter. This gives some cheerful Swedes an opportunity. The newsreader on tonight’s weather forecast is one such example. Since today is the longest day, he decided to remind us,

‘We’re going towards darker times’.

Summer hasn’t even begun properly yet, we have weeks of free time and holiday ahead of us!

Jeez, some people really know how to kill a party!

Loving Stockholm


It was a few minutes to midnight, and the giant digital clock, projected onto the facade of the opera house, started counting down. Hundreds of people in the square outside watched as the clock reached 5,4,3,2,1. And the place exploded with music. Stockholm’s largest outdoor club had started. House music boomed out from the roof of the opera, giant screens showed the bouncing DJ’s and strobes shot out over the crowd.

This was the end of the Royal wedding Saturday and the start of Sunday morning. In my 16 years in Sweden, I have never seen Stockholm so alive with people and parties. Open-air bars and clubs on every square, concerts on stages around the city, people of all ages wandering around enjoying the sights and sounds. Everyone participating in Sweden’s largest party – Love Stockholm 2010.

And who couldn’t love Stockholm on a night like this? While the priveleged were banqueting in the palace, the people had taken to the streets.

And they kept it going. All. Night. Long.

God’s opinion on royal weddings


Tomorrow is the Royal wedding between Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling in Stockholm’s cathedral.

Stockholm is prepared for a party on an unprecedented scale. Streets are cordened off, tents are in place, concerts are booming out from various stages around the city centre, international camera crews are poised. Flowers are planted. Flags are flying. The city is full of people.

And it’s raining. And the forecast for tomorrow is also rain.

A friend of mine, who is avoiding the wedding by leaving Stockholm for the weekend, takes pleasure in this.

‘You see,’ he informs me, ‘ God is a Republican’.

The little people


Right now, Carl Henrik Svanberg must be the most famous Swede on the planet. The CEO of BP was filmed giving his statement of apology to the American people and this film has spread like, well, an oil slick, all over the world. In his apology speech, he said,

‘We care about the small people’

And this has caused a mixture of outrage and ridicule. Of course, he meant to say ‘ordinary people’. ‘Small people’ is a direct translation from Swedish and can be equated with ‘the man on the street’. And it’s a clear example of inappropriate Swenglish.

It wouldn’t have been so bad, maybe, if ‘small people’ wasn’t such a derogatory comment in English. Small people – the insignificant, unimportant, expendible people who have suffered in the wake of the worst oil disaster in history.

In a tv interview on Swedish televsion the day after, Carl Henrik excused himself saying that his English is not perfect, it’s ‘alright’.

For me, this is not acceptable. I fully accept that people don’t speak a foreign language as well as their own. Lord knows my Swedish is no way near as fluent as my mother tongue. But I am not the CEO of a global corporation.

On that level, there is no excuse for bad English, no matter where you’re from. There’s no excuse for making stupid language mistakes that could so easily be avoided. And there’s no excuse for being so blasé about it afterwards.

So, Carl Henrik, welcome back to Sweden. You’d better enjoy it because this is where you’re going to have the rest of your career.

The hottest place on the planet


I was at the Stockholm Jazz fest last night. A mixture of conceptual jazz, jazzfunk and acid jazz was on offer. The festival is held on Skeppsholmen, an island in the harbour. From this island, Stockholm really does show its best side, with its magical mixture of blue water, big sky and lush greenery. But last night, the weather gods were not on our side. Biting winds, black clouds and chilling rain dominated the evening, and festival visitors sat huddled around tables, swathed in blankets and drinking wine out of plastic cups.

In Sweden, when the summer comes, you sit outside even if the weather is appalling. You might need a fleecy jumper, a scarf and a blanket, but it’s the summer. And in the summer you go to festivals, sit outside and enjoy it.

The main artist of the night was rap star Missy Elliot. She bounced onto the stage at around 11.30 with gangster dancers and ‘hiphop hotboys’. The crowd jumped up and down hysterically – mostly to keep warm. And the heavens opened, and the rain came tumbling down.

Missy’s show was great, a real highlight. At one point she shouted in her microphone ‘Someone told me that Stockholm is the hottest place on the planet!!!’

That could only be said by someone who hadn’t sat there shivering for 5 hours.