Graduating in a pandemic – Swedish style

Usually at this time of the year, a common sight on the streets of Sweden is students on trucks, as seen in these pictures. Dressed in traditional white caps, and bolstered with alcohol, the students jump up and down to the booming music from loud speakers concealed in the vehicle. They scream and shout and spray beer on each other and sometimes unsuspecting pedestrians.

They are celebrating the end of their school career. Most of them are 19 years old and have just graduated from Sixth Form College/High School. Every year the media reports accidents and injuries, which is not entirely unexpected. And trucks have been banned from certain roads and areas in the towns.

In Sweden, graduating or doing ‘studenten’, as it’s called in Swedish, is a major rite of passage into adult life. The youngsters finish their last day at school, come running out of the building to be greeted by waiting parents and families. They then climb aboard their trucks for their lap of honour. After that they go around to each other’s homes where each family usually arranges a reception to honour the newly-graduated student.

This year though is a bit different. Due to COVID 19, the trucks are banned. Parties are cancelled. Parents are not allowed to gather in large groups. It is a necessary action to try to stem a pandemic, but highly disappointing for the affected youths.

However, people are finding other solutions. Trucks may be banned but cars aren’t. The streets are full of young people screaming around in cars, flying their flags and cheering themselves on. Boats float around the city waterways with groups of less than 50 graduates, drinking sparkling wine and dancing to their booming music. The parks are full of picnicking revelers, huddled on shared blankets but socially distanced from other groups.

Proof that people will always find a way. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.

The end of a Swedish murder mystery

At 11.21 pm on 28 February 1986, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot by a lone assailant. He was killed in cold blood on the street after visiting a cinema with his wife. A second shot injured her. Lying in a pool of blood, in the cold Swedish winter, Olof Palme died.

The assassination of Olof Palme (to the left above) has caused headlines around the world. Theories abounded on who had assassinated this very popular and very hated politician. During the last 34 years, the police have investigated the case and failed to identify the murderer. The unsolved case of Olof Palme has gaped like an open wound in Swedish society.

However, today the prosecutors responsible for the investigation announced that they know who the assassin is. In making this claim, they have ended the decades-long mystery. No conclusive evidence was provided, no DNA and no weapon, but prosecutors believe they have the man. They have pointed to Stig Engström, a graphic designer working at a nearby company, pictured to the right above. Stig Engström committed suicide in 2000, so cannot be charged. Therefore the case is closed after 34 years!

Finally, the mystery can be resolved. Or can it? with any lack of clear evidence, it is a very frustrating finale to a very drawn out drama. For a country searching for an answer, this will probably not give them it. And as Stig Engström took his story to the grave, I guess we will actually never know the truth.

The ‘worst’ Swedish names

It’s funny how some names just don’t translate well. Years ago when I was living in London, I had a Swedish friend called Lasse visiting. At a party I introduced him to another person. ‘Oh’ she said ‘Lasse! That’s a really funny name! It’s the name of a film star dog!’ My friend Lasse looked unamused. He responded by saying ‘Well, what about your name Pippa? In Swedish that means fuck’!

In Swedish, there are some unusable names – because they simply don’t work in an international environment. Many names that are fine in Swedish, are just not in English. Let’s take a look at ten of the ‘worst’ Swedish names.

Titti – there are 1028 women called Titti in Sweden. They have an average age of 53. The most well-known one is a radio host called Titti Schultz. The last Titti to be registered in Sweden was born in 2014.

Jerker – this name works fine in Swedish. Not so much in English. Its masturbatory connotation makes it somewhat tasteless. In Sweden, there are 2705 men called Jerker in Sweden, with an average age of 49. Since 2010 nobody has been registered with this name.

Fanny – this name also exists in English and is considered by many to be inappropriate. Meaning vagina in British English and backside in American English, it’s probably best to avoid it as a name. In Sweden there are 10703 women called Fanny. The Bergman film Fanny and Alexander made the name popular again in the 80’s, so the average age of the name Fanny is actually 25.

Pekka – about 8% of Sweden’s population are Finnish, and of course they give their children names of Finnish origin. Pekka is such a name. Currently there are 2308 Pekkas in Sweden. The name is unfortunate because, to the English-speaking ear, it is suspiciously close to ‘pecker’ which is a slang word for penis.

Lo – a lovely name in Swedish sounds like ‘loo’ in English. To Brits, this means toilet. 2717 females are called Lo, and 1207 males. They average an age of 8, which means their name-related problems are ahead of them.

Sigge – a popular name for boys today. 2161 males have the name, averaging the age of 8. In Swedish, it’s quite a cute name but internationally it sounds like ‘ciggie’ – which means cigarette.

Birger – the name works in Swedish as it has the pronunciation of ‘biryer’. But in English it’s unfortunately pronounced Burger. There are 30,000 men with this name in Sweden, averaging the age of 66. In 2019, 11 new baby Birgers were however registered.

Simon – while we are on the subject of pronunciation, the name Simon becomes relevant. No problem pronounced the English way, but in Swedish the ‘i’ sounds like a ‘ea’. So the name is pronounced seamon, which is rather regrettable.

Odd – an old Nordic name which is beautiful in Swedish. But in English it means strange and weird. Maybe not what we want our newborn to be associated with. That said, there are 1373 of them in Sweden.

Birk – pronounced ‘birrck’ in Swedish, it’s probably also easy for Scots to say. However, English people would say ‘berk’. This is unfortunately a slang word for idiot or dickhead. There are 562 males called Birk averaging an age of 11, and it’s growing in popularity. It is an old Nordic name meaning ‘trading place’.

May 1st in Sweden – a day of solidarity

I have recently been reminiscing a lot about my University days. Not sure why. Maybe it’s the self isolation that makes us dig deeper, and further back. Old faces and forgotten names have popped into my head – Ginger Bill, Gertie the Goth, Posh Sarah, and her with the dislocating knees. Something Peacock, I believe.

Anyway, I was actually in touch with an old friend yesterday – Bob from Yorkshire – a person I probably haven’t physically met since 1988. Concerned about the state of affairs in the UK, he mentioned that he follows my writing and enjoys reading about Sweden. He found it ‘reassuring’ to know that ‘some places in the world still hold a candle, however small, to a more egalitarian future’.

In fact, never has this comment been more relevant than today – May 1st. In Sweden, and in many other countries, May 1st has been embraced as the International Workers’ Day. In 1938, May 1st became Sweden’s first non-religious public holiday and has been an important celebration of class equality, labourers and the working classes since then.

Usually, around Sweden, traffic is shut off, huge flag-waving demonstrations are held and people gather to hear speeches from their politicians and representatives – most commonly from the political left. However, these are corona times and all demonstrations and large gatherings are banned.

So this year will be different. Instead of seeing the politicians on the streets, they are coming onto our screens. For example, at 11am, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, will be broadcasting his May 1st speech to the nation over Facebook and You Tube. As a Social Democrat, he will apparently talk about what kind of society Sweden should be. I’m sure it’s going to be right up Bob’s alley.

So let’s celebrate together, separately. Remember to stay home, avoid crowds and wash your hands. This is a day for solidarity. As a wise man once said, we might not be in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm.

Happy May the first!


When the name fits…

Sometimes in the sporting world, the name of the sportsperson really suits the sport. I think this is kinda funny. Here’s a list of some sportspeople, Swedish and other, and their highly relevant names:

Johanna Skottheim – Swedish Biathlon skier (with skis and a gun). Skott means shot in Swedish.

Sara Sjöström – Swedish swimmer. Sjöström means lake stream

Timo Boll – German table tennis player. Boll means ball in Swedish.

Josh Beaver – Australian swimmer

Zhu Ting – A Chinese football player – pronounced ‘shoo-ting’

Nathan Leeper – an American high jumper

Jeffrey Float – an American swimmer

Anna Smashnova – a Russian tennis player

Tiger Woods – an American golfer – wood is a type of golf club

Usain Bolt – fastest man in the world, a bolt of lightning from Jamaica.

Pernilla Wiberg- Swedish Alpine skier. ’Berg’ means mountain in Swedish.

Can you think of any more to add to the list?

What is Sweden’s ‘Tranquil Week’ ?

There is an irony to the fact that we are socially distancing, quarantining and home working specifically during this week. In Swedish, this week is called ‘Stilla Veckan’ – which literally translates as ‘tranquil week’ or ’quiet week’.

‘Stilla Veckan’ is a term in the Swedish church calendar to describe the week leading up to Easter – the last week of Lent. In English, we call it Holy Week.

Every day in ‘Stilla Veckan’ has a name. Holy Saturday is called ’Påskafton’ in Swedish, which translates as Easter Eve. Do you know what the Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday leading up to Easter are called?

The Sunday before Easter is called ’Palmsöndag’ – Palm Sunday in English. According to scripture, it commemorates Jesus’ triumphant arrival into Jerusalem. The crowds threw palm branches in front of him as he approached.

The Monday before Easter is called Blå Måndag – Blue Monday. It can also be called ‘Svart Måndag’, (Black Monday), ’Bullmåndag’ (Bun Monday), ’Fläskmåndag’ (Pork Monday) and ’Korvmåndag’ (Sausage Monday). It is called a predictable Holy Monday in English.

The Tuesday before Easter is called ‘Vittisdagen’ (White Tuesday). This is called Holy Tuesday in English.

Both Blue Monday and White Tuesday were originally used to describe the Monday and Tuesday before Lent begins in Ash Wednesday. At some point in history, they were moved colloquially to describe the Monday and Tuesday before Easter instead. Blue Monday refers to the colour that church rooms were painted on this day. White Tuesday is an old name for Shrove Tuesday, Fettisdag in Swedish, and probably refers to the flour that was used to make the Lent buns.

The Wednesday before Easter is, unsurprisingly, called Holy Wednesday in English. However, in Swedish it had the fascinating name ‘Dymmelonsdag’. This literally translates as ‘Clapper Wednesday’. The clapper that this is referring to is a wooden clapper that was traditionally put inside the church bells on this day so that the chimes would have a more subdued sound during Easter weekend.

The Thursday before Easter is called ‘Skärtorsdag’ in Swedish. This translates as ‘Clean Thursday’ and refers to the ritual of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples before the Last Supper. In English, this day is called Maundy Thursday.

And finally, the Friday before Holy Saturday is called Good Friday in English. This is derived from an obsolete meaning of the word good as being holy. In Old English, this day was called Long Friday, which is the name that was adopted in Swedish – ‘Långfredag’.

’Svennigt’ – what’s that?

The word ‘’svennigt’ is a slang term to refer to the typical, middle of the road Swede. Derived from the common surname Svensson, ‘svennig’ describes the lifestyle preferences and attitudes of the mainstream Swede.

Depending on the intention, the word ‘’svennig’ can be used endearingly, or even proudly, to refer to the ‘typical Swede’ or the typical Swedish. It can also be used as an insult. I often hear the word, laced with contempt, to undermine or criticize other people’s behaviours and choices. There is a definite class element to the term, where ‘svennigt’ implies lack of sophistication.

In American English, the closest comparison is ‘Average Joe’. In British English, there’s no real equivalent but ‘Joe Bloggs’ comes closest. However, in both of these, there is no element of ridicule, and they aren’t used as an insult; they are used just to describe an average person in the population.

Since ‘svennigt’ can have many different interpretations, I went onto social media and carried out some informal research. I asked people what was ‘svennigt’ for them. My hope was to get closer to an understanding. While there were some overlaps, I received a lot of differing inputs – positive, negative, and neutral. Most of the people who answered were themselves Swedish. Here are some of the perspectives:

Barbecuing

Being afraid of conflict but still whingeing

Being politically correct, but harbouring other opinions under the surface

Binge drinking at the weekends

Bingolotto

Consensus

Eating pickled herring at every national celebration

Eating Salty licorice

Eating TexMex on a Friday evening

Going to ‘After work’ on Fridays

Going to Golden Hits nightclub

Going on holiday in a Caravan/ Trailer

Going to the Canary Islands

Having a ‘Poodle’ hair-do

Liking Swedish dance band music

Loving the singer Carola and wondering why she hasn’t succeeded internationally

Open society

Playing car bingo

Quoting and laughing at lines from Swedish film Sällskapsresan

Reading Camilla Läckberg, author of crime fiction

Saying the vague, non-committal words ‘Jaha’ and ‘Nja’ when you actually disagree

Shopping at Ullared

Sweet loaves of bread

Talking about the weather

Talking about what is ‘typically Swedish’

Taking Löfbergs Lila coffee och Kalles kaviar fish paste when you travel abroad

Watching Lets dance/Strictly Dancing

Watching Melody festival

Watching TV4

Wearing Crocs

Wearing matching tracksuits

Wearing clogs

Working 9-5 and saying ‘Thank God it’s Friday’ at the end of the week

Worrying what other people think

As you see, these descriptions are very wide-ranging. It seems hard to nail down one particular attribute, attitude or behaviour that makes somebody ‘svennig’; it depends very much on the perception. Being ‘svennig’ is in the eye of the beholder. That said, judging by the responses above, it seems like we are all a bit ‘svennig’ now and again.

Please share this article and feel free to add your perspective on it.

Unpronounceable Swedish words: Corona version

Lots of new Swedish words have popped up during the virus crisis – new, or not commonly used. Some of these words are seriously long! And many of them are a major challenge for us foreigners to pronounce! Try getting your tongue around some of these words…

Fjärrundervisningsmöjligheter – possibility to deliver distance teaching

Folkhälsomyndigheten – Public Health Agency

Riskgruppsbeskyddande beteende – behaviour that protects those in risk groups

Ryktesspridning – the spreading of rumors

Samhällskritiska funktioner – key functions in society

Skyddsutrustning – protective equipment

Smittbärarpenning – social benefit for virus carriers

Smittskydd – disease control

Socialstyrelsen – the National Board of Health and Welfare

Statsepidemiolog – chief epidemiologist

Verksamhetskritiska resor – business-critical trips

When we DIE

A somewhat insensitive title in these times you might think and you might be right. Or not, once you understand what I mean.

You see I am not referring to death, but to a strategy that we all can apply to make our lives less stressful. It’s a strategy used commonly in intercultural situations, but has much more far-reaching applications.

I’ve spent my life trying to be an accepting and open person – to the best of my ability. I truly believe in live and let live. I try to see other people’s perspectives and have trained myself to look for an explanation behind behavior I might not understand. My choice of career in cultural competence and communication is a way to try and spread the word of tolerance and acceptance.

But recently I find myself becoming less tolerant. I find myself condemning the actions of people who do not follow the government regulations around corona protection. I find myself becoming irate at the ‘egoistic morons’ who are traveling to a ski resort over Easter. I don’t understand why they can’t be more self sacrificing and not prioritize their holiday over the greater good. I see an elderly person in the supermarket and think ‘wtf, why isn’t she at home, the old fool’. I think, in general, people are ‘stupid’ if they take the bus or sit too close to each other, or do anything that I judge to be wrong.

It isn’t untypical that we judge people and their behaviour. We hear it all the time – not least in social media. And I think in times of crisis or stress, we become even more judgmental and, even, moralistic. In these situations it would be good to DIE!

DIE is a strategy developed by cultural researcher Milton Bennett to help us mindfully withhold judgement. It stands for Describe, Interpret, Evaluate. Let’s apply it to one of the scenarios above.

D – describe the scenario as neutrally as you can. Ok, I saw an old lady in a supermarket buying food. She was carrying a small basket. She was not at home.

I – interpret – what are the various reasons why this might have happened and why she isn’t staying at home? Ok, she doesn’t have a tv and is unaware. She has short term memory loss. She is so sick she doesn’t care. She doesn’t trust anybody else. She is lonely. She has previously been tricked out of money. She has already had corona and recovered.

E – evaluate – what do you think of the situation now?

DIE is not a strategy that gives us any answers. However, it is a strategy that helps us to see the perspectives of others and remind us that we don’t understand everybody’s motives. It encourages us to stop negatively judging others, and instead to be more reflective.

Using DIE encourages us to foster self awareness of our assumptions and be more tolerant and accepting. And heaven knows the world needs more of that!

So the next time you find yourself judging or jumping to a conclusion – try to DIE the situation instead.

Oh those healthy Swedes!

With all of us currently questioning our health statuses at the first sniffle, Swedish sickness words like ‘sjuk’, ‘dålig’ and ’krasslig’ abound. So, I thought I’d flip the perspective. How many ways in Swedish can you describe someone as being in good health? I found 20! Can you think of any more? Please let me know and I’ll add them to the list. Enjoy the positivity of the words below, and stay healthy!

Bra – Good/well

‘En sund själ i en sund kropp’ – ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’

Frisk – healthy

‘Frisk som en nötkärna’ – literally healthy as the core of a nut, equivalent to ’healthy as a horse’

Hurtig – spry

Hurtfrisk – hearty

I bra form – in good shape

Kraftfull – vigorous

Kry – well

Kärnfrisk – healthy to the core

Pigg – bright /fit

‘Pigg som en mört’ – literally fit as a roach, equivalent to ’fit as a fiddle’

Rosig – rosy

Sund – robust

Stark – strong

Stråla – glow

Vid hälsa – in good health

Vital – vital, full of life

Välmående – healthy

Vältränad – fit

I have been given a new one by Lukus: ‘ vid sunda vätskor’ – literally translates as ‘in healthy fluids’ – dating back to the time when medicine was based on the four humours (body fluids): blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Yuck.

Some more to add from Mia – ’i topp form’ – in great shape and ‘tipp topp’ – ship shape. Then Mia adds ’mår fina fisken’. Literally this translates as ‘feeling pretty fishy’ but that would be the wrong meaning! It means ‘to feel super good!’

And Pelle suggested I add ‘finemang’ which means great/excellent!

Fredrik suggested ‘prima’ and ‘mår toppen’ – both words describe how you are feeling. Feeling great!