Swedish autocorrect


You know the autocorrect function on mobile phones and Facebook? Well, a somewhat depressing realization occured to me today.

After the gym this morning I felt proud and decided to update my Facebook status so everyone would know that I’d been to the gym! I wanted to write that I was freshly-exercised and lovely!

The Swedish autocorrect managed fine to predict what I wanted to write, until I wanted to write ‘nytränad’. (freshly-exercised) It simply didn’t recognise the Swedish word, and gave me all sorts of alternatives. Then I realized the depressing thing – I clearly have never written ‘nytränad’ before!!

Ghosts and Ghouls

halloween drottninggatan

Today is Halloween and in Sweden, the tradition seems to be getting bigger and bigger every year: Jack O’Lanterns everywhere, orange and black, masquerades, scary window decorations.

Most people associate Halloween with USA, but the tradition originated in British Isles and was taken overseas by the immigrants.

Because it’s Halloween, I thought I’d share a childhood memory of the tradition from when I lived in the UK. When I was about 10, we were instructed by the teacher to write a poem about each month of the year. Since I have always loved to write, I set about the task diligently. But when I got to October, I got stuck, I could only get the first line…

‘October, now it’s Halloween,

So I asked my mum for help. She sat down beside me, and almost immediately came up with the next line!

‘October, now it’s Halloween
Ghosts and ghoulies can be seen!’

She was so proud of herself. But I laughed hysterically.

You see, in the 70’s ‘goolies’ was slang for testicles! ‘Ghouls’ means ghosts.

Sometimes grown-ups just don’t get it.

Happy Halloween!

Embarrassed on a bus

Riding home on the bus today, a woman squeezed in through the back doors and didn’t show a ticket to the driver. Suddenly, a voice boomed out over the loudspeaker. 

” You. Do you have a ticket?”

No response. Then, again…

” You. Back doors. White bag. Do you have a ticket?”

No response. People started looking round to see who the culprit is. The woman with the white bag stands firm, but starts to blush. 

Then, over the loudspeaker….

White bag, red face! You got a ticket???!!!”

And just like that, the woman ran out of the back doors and away into the Stockholm darkness. 

Swedish charity


I’ve always been under the perception, valid or not, that charity (corporate and private) is not big in Sweden. In recent years, a mass of different TV galas might have been changing this – eg, ‘Children of the World’, ‘Cancer Gala’. My impression still, however, is that charity is not something yor average Swede involves themselves so much in. One explanation for this might be the welfare state structure that exists in Sweden – we pay our taxes and the state should take care of the needy. Another explanation might be that we don’t want to accept that there is such a large need for charitable actions in a modern, developed country like Sweden. A third reason is that corporate charitable donations are not tax deductable in Sweden like they are in many other countries such as the USA.

Whatever, the reason, something happened today that really impressed me.

Normally, I love the sandwich and salad shop ‘Panini’ , I buy a lot of lattes and lunches there. Today I love them even more.

Earlier this morning, as I was buying my morning latte, I noticed a sign behind the counter. The sign read:

‘Food should be eaten, not thrown away. At the end of the day, Panini gives Everything that has not been sold to ‘Stadmissionen”s shelter for the homeless’.

This really impressed me. British sandwich chain Prêt-a-Mangér has been doing this for years, and I am so happy to see it in Sweden. Everyone’s a winner – Panini, the consumer, the receivers of the donations.

So, more of this please!!!!! Sometimes, charity does begin at home.

Happy Swedish Names Day


October 8th was my Name’s Day. Well, not quite….but almost. It was Nils. And since I’m called Neil, well, I take Nils as my day.

Some of you might be wondering what the hell I’m talking about. What is a ‘Name’s Day’? Well, it’s like this. In Sweden, every day has a name, sometimes two. And if your name happens to be represented in this way in the calender, then you can celebrate your day. Strange? Maybe. Unusual? Not really.

A Name’s Day is actually a tradition in lots of countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia and Ukraine. According to Wiki, the custom originated with the Christian calendar of saints: believers named after a saint would celebrate that saint’s feast day. In Sweden, however, there is no longer any explicit connection to Christianity. It’s been a tradition since the Middle Ages and started because the church wanted the people to celebrate Name’s Days instead of birthdays which they viewed as a pagan tradition.

There are different lists though some names are celebrated on the same day in many countries. In 1901 a comprehensive modernization was made in Sweden to make the list up to date with current names. This also happened in Finland, but not in other countries.

But Name’s Days are not without their controversy. The monopoly on calenders, held by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, expired in 1972 and so did the official name day list. And then all hell broke loose. Competing lists emerged and finally in 1986 a new list with three names on each day was designed to create harmony in the Name’s Day chaos. But people weren’t happy. Seven years later, this list was revised and reduced to two names per day. But Swedes were still dissatisfied with this and the Swedish Academy produced a new two-name list which was finally accepted and brought into use in 2001. Although it does not have the official status of older lists, it is now universally used in Sweden. One alternative calender, however, is the Diversity Calender which appoints each day with a more diverse selection of names. For example, on that calender, today is the Finnish name Veli.

How this tradition arrived in Sweden is unclear. Maybe it was imported by foreign religious leaders or merchants, or maybe it’s to do with the fact that the Swedish Protestant Church retains some traditions similar to the Catholic. Whatever the origin, it’s a reason to celebrate. And Swedes love to celebrate!

So, come on Hedvig and Hillevi, today’s your day! Happy Name’s Day to you!!

If you’d like to check out if you’re privileged to have a Name’s Day go to www.dagensnamnsdag.nu

Swedes number one in the English-speaking league – but at what cost?

In a recent survey, Swedes came out as having the best English in Europe (as a foreign language). They were in the number 1 position, together with Malta, who have English as an official language. Today, a national newspaper presented school results which showed that Swedish students score higher in English than they do in Swedish. In fact, Swedish results are in decline.

I guess this isn’t surprising when you think of how much English is used in daily life in Sweden. Very often, an English word is thrown into the conversation even if there is a perfectly good Swedish word to use. This, coupled with music and media, reflects the fact that English knowledge is on the up.

I think this is a good thing. The world is more and more globalized and today’s kids are tomorrow’s workers, and many of them will be operating in a world of languages other than Swedish. The most worrying part of this development is that Swedish results are down. Every year, small languages become extinct around the world – is this something we can expect of Swedish in centuries to come?

The Nobel Death Prize


We are currently in the times of  Nobel prize announcements. Pakistani schoolgirl Malala did not win the peace prize but she has left an indelible mark on our collective memories. She will certainly be remembered. 

But why is there a peace prize in the first place? Well the story goes like this. Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, woke up one day to his own obituary in the newspaper. Mistakenly, the paper had declared him dead, when in fact it was his brother. As a title for the obituary, the newspaper had written a rather unflattering ‘the angel of death is dead’ and that Alfred Nobel had made it possible to kill more people than anyone who had ever lived. 

Suddenly he understood this is how he would be remembered and, to change it, he founded the Nobel Prizes. Now his name is synonymous with science, literature and peace.

It makes for an interesting reflection. If we could read our own obituary, would we be proud of what we read? Would we also change our behaviours to influence the memory of us and, if so, why not do it now?

The Dream of America – in Sweden

drömmen om amerika

We went to see stand-up comedian Kristoffer Appelqvist at Rival Theatre yesterday evening in his show called ‘Drömmen om Amerika’ – ‘The Dream of America.’ and it was hilarious. The show had, in fact, surprisingly very little to do with America, but focused mostly on Swedish culture and society which was right up my alley!

In each section of his show, Kristoffer Appelqvist started with a childhood dream about the USA, such as how he wanted to be a cop, or how he wanted to be ‘free’, or how he wanted to eat potato chips any time of the day, but then he quickly related this dream to Swedish society and joked mostly about that.

One section of his show was when he described himself as a true liberal, believing in free markets, deregulation, privatisation and freedom of choice just like in America. He was a liberal until an experience changed his opinion. A while ago, he was out ‘easy-riding’ wide-legged on a motorcycle in a remote part of Sweden when he was hit by another vehicle and slammed to the ground.  As he lay on the road, he thought to himself ‘well, this is it, I’ve pissed away my life and now I’m going to die. No ambulance is going to come here because I voted against them in the last election and my private sickness Insurance isn’t going to send someone out to help me. So, this is it. This is where I’ll die.’  To his amazement, 11 minutes later, an ambulance arrived in the middle of nowhere, picked him up and drove him to the nearest hospital where he got care, his own television, nice food and the toothbrush of his colour choice. All at the cost of the tax payer. And it was at this point he understood what his parents had been trying to teach him all along – that although we are often strong and independant, one day we might be down and out and we might need help to pick ourselves up again. Today it could be someone else who needs this support, but tomorrow it might be us. And Kristoffer Appelqvist had a kind of epiphany that it is actually that kind of society he wants to live in.

An interesting, and highly contemporary show when you think about the current debate in the USA regarding Obamacare.

Go see it if you get the chance. He’s touring the country: http://drommenomamerika.se/ 

It’ll be ok, because you’re not Swedish


At the weekend I moved apartments. To help me, I employed the services of a moving company. On the day of moving, the three moving guys showed up and one of them, older and grayer, was obviously in charge. Immediately, I noticed that they were talking a foreign language to each other but I didn’t understand it, so I asked the leader where they were from.

‘I’m from Kazakstan and they’re from Azerbaijan but we speak Russian to each other. The Soviets didn’t leave us with much, but they did give us the Russian language’ he said.

Then he asked me where I was from. ‘The UK’ I said.

‘Ah’. he said ‘I thought so! When I spoke to you on the phone last week I thought you weren’t Swedish. And I said to myself this’ll be ok, ‘cos he’s also an immigrant.

This struck a chord with me. His expectation was that everything would be ok because I’m not Swedish. What kind of experiences has he had with Swedish customers that means he has formed this perception? I have heard this before from people of minority groups in Sweden. For example, a shop owner I know who negotiated his rent with the chairman of the Residents’ Board and afterwards said to me ‘Bloody Swede treated me like a damn immigrant!’ Other examples I’ve often heard are from people who accuse Swedes of being ‘arrogant’ and that people who feel ‘disrespected’ and ‘patronised’ by ethnic Swedes.

It makes me wonder if integration is even possible once negative perceptions form and, once formed, how easy are they to change? Cultural perceptions form partly from pre-conceived ideas but also from how we behave towards each other and the cultural interpretation of that behaviour. It is often this interpretation rather than intention that impacts the perception.

Imagine if we were to behave differently, and just see the individual infront of us, not the ‘category’ they belong to. See them and respect them. This would almost certainly lead to the forming of different perceptions and, maybe I’m being an idealist, but I think it would result in a better integration in Sweden.