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.