As the autumn darkness envelops us, what better than snuggling under a blanket with a good book? Over 10 posts, I will give you a recommendation of a Swedish book, translated into English, that is well worth a read. The third recommendation is ’City of my Dreams’, written in 1960 by Per Anders Fogelström.
City of My Dreams is a classic Swedish novel that follows a group of working-class people in Stockholm between 1860 and 1880. It is the first novel in a series of five and gives a unique insight into the tough lives faced by people living in that era. A magnificent, gripping saga.
As the autumn darkness envelops us, what better than snuggling under a blanket with a good book? Over 10 posts, I will give you a recommendation of a Swedish book, translated into English, that is well worth a read. The second recommendation is A man called Ove, written in 2012 by Fredrik Backman.
Ove is a grumpy yet loveable man who lives in a small Swedish town. One day, he finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door. As the novel unfolds, we see the reason behind Ove’s irritable, cranky surface and discover a story of love, grief and unexpected friendship.
The book was made into a hit film in 2015 and was nominated for two Oscars.
Autumn has us firmly in its clutches. Today, the clocks go back and darkness envelops us. what better then, than snuggling under a blanket with a good book? Sweden’s literary scene is highly productive, from non-fiction to novels, detective stories to literary masterpieces. For the coming ten blogs, I will give you one recommendation of a Swedish book, translated into English, that is well worth a read. Out first – in honour of approaching Halloween – is Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist 2004.
In the dark winter of 1981 in the grey Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg, twelve year-old Oskar is being bullied. He develops a friendship with a young neighbour, Eli, who helps him fight back against his tormentors. But all is not what it seems because Eli is a vampire. As mysterious murders spread fear and confusion in the community, Oskar starts to suspect his neighbour’s dark secret.
The book was made into a film in 2008, which is also well worth a watch.
Talking to friends last night the expression ‘en katt bland hermelinerna’ arose. This literally translates as ‘a cat among the ermines’, an ermine being a type of stoat or weasel.
The phrase originated in a couplet by Swedish performer Karl Gerhard in 1955. Karl Gerhard is one of Sweden’s historical entertainers who wrote songs and couplets as well as a large number of sketches, dialogues and monologues. During the Second World War, he wrote humorous pieces with strong anti-fascist statements criticising the Swedish government’s apathy towards Nazi Germany.
So, he coined the comical expression ‘en katt bland hermelinerna’. It’s not the same as our ‘cat amongst the pigeons’ which means somebody is causing chaos and panic. The expression refers to a person who has insinuated themselves into an environment where they do not belong, because they are not from the same social class. In other words, someone who isn’t fancy enough for the rest of the people in their company.
As far as I am aware, there is no expression for this in English. But I hope I’m wrong. Can any of you readers help me out here? Do you know of an English equivalent?
In English, we have the expression ‘cool as a cucumber’. It was first recorded in a poem by John Gay in 1732. The Swedish version of this is ‘cool/calm as a bowl of fermented milk’, or ‘lugn som en filbunke’ in Swedish.
What, you might be asking, is a filbunke? Well, according to the dictionary it is ‘milk that has fermented, unstirred, in small bowls. Has a pudding-like consistency. Traditionally made in small bowls from (unpasteurized and unhomogenized) raw milk, which normally contains some cream. The cream forms a yellowish layer of sour cream on top. Comes unflavoured and flavoured.’
We don’t have an equivalent dish in English as far as I know.
Although the dish has been around since the 1600’s, the expression ‘cool as a filbunke’ entered the Swedish language in 1845. Playwright Johan Jolin wrote in his play ‘A Comedy’ – ‘I’m cool, cool as a filbunke’. It was met with much hilarity. I guess he thought there was something chilled out about a bowl of fermented milk.
Anyone who’s watched ‘Big Bang Theory’ has seen character Sheldon Cooper’s banal video series ‘Fun with Flags’. Nerdy it might be, but it inspired me to do a Swedish version. So here goes…
The Swedish flag is a well-known yellow cross on a blue background. It is modelled on the Danish flag – the Dannebrogen – which is thought to be the oldest official flag in the world. The cross represents Christianity and forms the basis of all the Nordic flags. The Swedish flag was initiated in the early 1500’s and the yellow is said to represent gold and blue represent the sea. Sweden depicted itself as a wealthy sea-faring realm.
Within Sweden, there are 25 counties and each county has its official flag, some even have an unofficial but well-used flag. An example of this is the southern-most county of Skåne. The unofficial flag is the most commonly used. It depicts a yellow cross on a red background, a combination of Sweden and Denmark. The official flag has actually a red background and a coronated griffin.
Sweden’s islands of Gotland and Öland have their own flags. Gotland’s flag depicts a sheep and Öland’s flag depicts a deer. Öland also has a flag that is a yellow cross on a green background.
There are so many flags in Sweden. Counties, regions, cities, towns all have their own flag, it’s impossible to describe them all. So, as my final flag, I will reference one of my favourites. The Sami population of Arctic Sweden have their own flag. Firmly embedded in Sami mythology it is colourful and beautiful.
I’ll never forget how I learned the Swedish word for money. New in Sweden, I went to see a performance of Cabaret at the National Theatre. The musical was in Swedish but I figured it would be ok as I knew the story line. It was fairly entertaining but, to be honest, a bit boring. Until the song ‘Money makes the world go round’ came on. In this song, there’s a line that goes ‘money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money’. The singers pranced around the stage and sang ‘pengar, pengar, pengar, pengar, pengar, pengar, pengar, pengar’. It was repeated so often that I never forgot the word ‘pengar’ ever again.
However ‘pengar’ is just the formal word for money in Swedish. Like the US has its ‘buck’ and the UK has its ‘quid’, Swedish also has a lot of colloquial words for the Swedish krona (crown). Here are some examples:
Deg – dough – possibly related to putting food on the table in olden days
Lax – literally a salmon – meaning a thousand crowns. In the early 1900’s, the 1000 crown bill was pink.
Röding – literally a char – meaning 500 crowns
Selma – an old word for 20 crowns. The name is taken from the portrait of author Selma Lagerlöf on the 20 crown note.
Pix – meaning crowns
Kosing – cash
Stålar – cash – refers to steel/metal that coins are made of
Kova – cash. The expression ‘kova raha’ was on 1700’s money. This is Finnish for ‘hard money’.
Pluring – cash. Possibly related to the Latin ‘plures’ meaning many. The word ‘pluring’ was originally used to refer to large amounts of money.
Bagis – a crown. From an older word ‘bagare’ which means baker. Referring probably to the original silver coins that were as white as flour.
Spänn – a crown. Probably borrowed from German ‘späne’ which is slang for money, or English ‘spend’.
Flis – money. Flis also means small wood chips, so it may have originated in Swedish to mean small values of money.
I’m sure there are a lot more words! Please feel free to add them here!
Marvel Comics recently released an advert for an upcoming event with the slogan ‘Knull is coming!’ The headline has caused raised eyebrows, and curiosity, in Sweden.
Knull is apparently a super villain in the Marvel universe. Knull is an all-powerful creature that kills other gods. He is immortal and self-healing. His name should imbue fear and dread. The problem is in Sweden, it is more likely to inspire ridicule.
The thing is that the word ‘Knull’ in Swedish means ‘fuck’.
So, ‘Knull is coming’ has a whole different meaning to the Swedes than the rest of the world.
I wonder who’s going to tell Marvel? Or maybe they already know – and don’t give a knull.
Every summer in Sweden, there is a wonderful tradition. This tradition began in 1959.
Every day for 6 weeks or so, at 1pm, there is a summer talk on Swedish radio channel 1. This might sound mundane, but it is, in fact, an integral part of the Swedish summer.
Each day, a different person is responsible for the talk. This person shares their life stories, perspectives, life lessons, experiences and sometimes their tragedies. They play music of their choice. It is 90 minutes of pure relaxation, with a big dash of voyeurism. Some of the talkers are celebrities, some are politicians, or authors or activists, or influencers, or actors or philosophers or soldiers or priests or even ordinary people.
The talks are in Swedish, although the speakers can originate from outside of Sweden. It is considered an honour to be asked to hold a talk. I would love to do one. I’d share by life story and my perspectives on Swedish culture from my outside perspective. Oh and I’d play music by Kate Bush and The Smiths! What a self indulgent treat!
This year so far we have heard State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell share his story. We also heard climate activist Greta Thunberg. She actually did her talk twice – both in Swedish and English. It is a really inspiring, and somewhat frightening talk about the climate crisis we are in. If you’d like to listen to it, and I urge you to do so, here is the link:
So listen and enjoy a piece of Swedish summer tradition.