When Swedes have diarrhoea

We’ve all been there. Those embarrassing moments when the belly rumbles and we have to race to the toilet to evacuate as quickly as possible. An all round unpleasant, and undignified, experience.

Well, February in Sweden is synonymous with sickness and right now there’s a stomach flu flying around the country. So last night at dinner, conversation moved onto sickness and landed on a colloquial Swedish word for diarrhoea.

The discussion was about where this word comes from. So, true to form, I researched it.

And I have the answer.

The word in question is the Swedish word ‘rännskita‘. One theory was that it originated from the word ‘takränna’ which is a gutter, and would reflect the speed at which the water runs down the drainpipe. But actually that’s not it.

The word is a combination of the old Swedish word ‘ränna’ which means ‘to run’ (often quickly) and the word ‘skita’ which means to shit. It’s directly translatable to the English ‘ to have the runs’.

Although it sounds like a new word, it actually entered the Swedish language in 1587! I guess it was a problem back then.

So there you go. Another fascinating foray into the Swedish language with ‘Watching the Swedes’.

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Swedish winter break – take those kids away!

Around this time of the year, schools In Sweden have a week’s holiday. Called ‘Sportlov‘, it’s a traditional time for a winter sport break. 

This tradition was introduced in the early years of WW2 as a way to save energy. Heating up schools cost money and, due to rationing, councils were instructed to drastically reduce their heating expenses. So shutting the schools seemed like a good idea.

To give the pupils something meaningful to do while the school was shut, the authorities organised various activities, many focused on being outdoors and exercising.

Serendipitously, experts realised, during the 1950’s, that infection spread less widely at this time of the year if schools were closed for a week. So the winter sport break became cemented as an official disease control method. 

Nowadays, many families head off to the mountains to go skiing, some head off to the Alps for the same purpose. Others may fly away to the sunny beaches of the world.

For those of us left in town, it’s sheer bliss. 

The gym is empty. The streets are spacious. There is hardly anybody on the buses and tube, traffic is significantly thinner and less noisy and it’s easy to get a seat at lunch time. 

And the fact that there are hardly any children in town means something great for the rest of us.

We don’t get infected with diabolical kid bacteria that would knock us out until mid March.

The only 2 Swedes to win acting Oscars

On Sunday, it’s the annual Oscar’s gala and this year there are 2 Swedish nominations included. Over the Oscar’s 91-year history, 14 Swedes have taken home a statue. Many of these academy awards are for lighting, costumes, photography and direction. Not much for acting. In fact, despite Sweden’s excellent acting corps, only 2 people have won an Oscar for their acting talents.

Do you know who they are?

Below, you will find their names.

1944, Ingrid Bergman for Best Lead Actress in ‘Gaslight’ and in 1956 for ‘Anastasia’. She also won for Best Supporting Actress in ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ in 1974

2016, Alicia Vikander for Best Supporting Actress in ‘The Danish Girl’

Sweden has also had a few actors who were nominated and didn’t win:

1972, Ann-Margret for Best Supporting Actress in ‘Carnal Knowledge’ and Best Lead Actress for ‘Tommy’ in 1976

1989, Max von Sydow för Best Lead Actor in ‘Pelle the Conquerer’ and in 2012 for Best Supporting Actor in ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’

1990, Lena Olin for Best Supporting Actress in ‘Enemies: a love story’

Swedish legend Greta Garbo never actually won an Oscar, although she was nominated 4 times. In 1955, she was given an honorary Oscar however.

This year, Sweden has no acting nominees. So we’ll have keep our fingers crossed for the categories best make-up and best music instead.

6 reasons why Swedes take Eurovision so seriously

We are in the middle of the Eurovision qualification rounds (known colloquially as ‘Mello’) in Sweden – three weeks in, three weeks to go. This extended selection period occupies every Saturday night for 6 weeks, and results in the song and artist who will represent the country in the big final in Israel.

People gather up and down the country to have ‘Mello’ parties. Social media and traditional media are full of comments about the bad quality of the contestants this year (and every year). People are raging that the wrong songs are voted to move on in the league table.

Nobody, and I mean nobody takes their Eurovision (ESC) more seriously than the Swedes.

But why is that? Here are a few theories:

Brightening up the winter blues. Mello comes during the deepest, darkest, dreariest time of the year. The glittery colourfulness of Mello brightens up February and early March, when nothing much else happens.

Reliving the glory days. ABBA’s legacy is a constant reminder to Swedes that they once reached long-lasting global fame and it all started at ESC. Every year is a hunt for the next big thing, when the international light will shine once more on this little country in the north.

Organized ‘religion‘. Sweden is, relatively speaking, not a religious country. So the human need for organising ourselves into a collective manifests itself in other ways. Hockey and football become a form of organized religion. And ‘Mello’ is another variation on the same theme. Ask Swedes why they like Mello and many use the word ‘folk fest’ – a ‘national party for the people.’

Swedish traditions. Sweden is a country that is good at holding on to traditions – crayfish parties, snaps songs, semla cream buns, Easter trees – to name just a few. Therefore it is easy for this society to absorb, and structure, new traditions. Halloween is now a thing here. So is Valentine’s Day. So Mello becomes another tradition and slots nicely into the national calendar.

Vicarious extrovertism. Swedes are not generally known for being outgoing and extroverted, although there are of course exceptions. This means that Mello becomes so attractive, as it’s an opportunity for Swedes to live vicariously through the ‘crazy’ performers who dance around in sequins and funny outfits. It’s also an opportunity to push your own boundaries and wear a glittery hat or a pink feather boa. And all under organised, acceptable conditions.

Love of music. Because some Swedes actually like the music.

Which theory is most accurate do you think? Do you have another theory?

Yum Yum Sweden!

Working with many non-Swedes, I often hear the complaint that Swedish food is bland, boring and tasteless. But the truth is that Sweden prides itself on its good food and its number of top-notch, often experimental, restaurants.

The Scandinavian kitchen is full of mouthwatering delights such as warm-smoked salmon, creamed dill potatoes and shellfish by the bucket load. No surprise then that there’s a lot of expressions in the Swedish language for food being delish. When we in English might say ‘yum, yum’ or ‘scrummy’, the Swedes also have a plethora of words to use. Here are a few:

  • Smaskens
  • Smaskig
  • Läcker
  • Mumsig
  • Namnam
  • Gött
  • Smarrig
  • Delikat
  • Skitgott
  • Utsökt

So many foreigners might not think that Swedish food is great – but it’s clear that the Swedes do!

Let me know what Swedish food you think is ‘smarrig’!

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The most popular names in Sweden

Oliver was the most popular name for male newborns in the UK last year. And Olivia was the most popular female name. In London, it was Amelia and Mohammed and in Ireland it was Jack and Emily.

So what about Sweden in 2018? Just-released information from Sweden’s office of statistics give us the following answer.

The most popular top 5 names for male newborns were:

  1. William
  2. Liam
  3. Noah
  4. Lucas
  5. Oliver

In fact, there are 44010 males in Sweden with the name William. And 58 females!

And for newborn girls it was:

  1. Alice
  2. Maja
  3. Lilly
  4. Ella
  5. Wilma

Interestingly, there are 38957 females called Alice in Sweden. And 22 men!

The names Ture, Lias and Amir are the fastest climbing names in the list of boys’ names. And for girls, Hailey och Bianca. The names Sebastian, Neo, Simon, Emelie, Ellinor, Idun and Noomi have left the top 20 list.

If you want to see how many people have your name in Sweden, go to svenskanamn.alltforfaldrar.se

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What exactly is a quisling?

Sweden might have a government soon. Months after the general election, an unconventional middle coalition seems to be forming, which includes former opposition parties from left and right. All of this is an attempt to keep an extreme right wing party out of the government. However, it’s not without its critics.

One party in particular – the right-oriented Center Party- have been strongly criticized for being turncoats and traitors. One disgruntled politician called the leader of the Center party a quisling. While we use this term in English, I was curious to check into where the word comes from and why it is such a serious insult.

According to Wiki, quisling is a term originating in Norway, which is used in all the Scandinavian languages and in English for a person who collaborates with an enemy occupying force – or more generally as a synonym for traitor. The word originates from the surname of the Norwegian war-time leader Vidkun Quisling who headed a domestic Nazi regime during the Second World War.

Interestingly, the use of the word quisling predates the war though. In 1933, the term was used to describe the followers of Quisling who was in the process of starting a national fascist party based on the German nazi model.

In 1940, Quisling attempted to seize power in Norway, as he wanted to collaborate with Hitler. His coup d’etat failed, and he and his followers were declared criminals. In the British Times the headline was ‘Quislings everywhere’, and the term became synonymous with traitor – a word to ‘carry the scorn of mankind throughout the centuries’, to quote Winston Churchill.

So there we have it. A word taken from a pitiful, slithering fascist who was a traitor to his country and collaborated with an enemy power. Sounds more like a description of Trump if you ask me.

It seems then definitely out of proportion that the word is currently being used to describe the leader of Sweden’s Center party.

Of course many people are disappointed, and she has had to make some difficult compromises. But there is one promise she has not backed down on, however difficult it might be – to never give fascists a position of power in Swedish politics. And though not ideal for her, she has moved to the middle to prevent this.

The irony then is in the fact that she is being called a quisling. She is not a quisling, she is in fact the complete opposite.