Blog Archives

Entries in #swedish (2)


Learning Swedish in Sweden

would be easy, no? Or at least easier than anywhere else, given that it's not exactly a widely spoken language (no offense, modern Vikings! Don't come rampaging at me!). There's just one small problem:

I also speak English.

Don't get me wrong. Living abroad in a country where you can always switch back to English, especially for important things, is amazing. I don't know how I would describe our cat's recent digestive problems otherwise--maybe with a dictionary, hand gestures, and half an hour? But there's a small catch to this. I can speak enough Swedish now that when I'm at a restaurant or store, I don't begin in English, and most of the time, even if I don't literally understand what's being said, the meaning is pretty clear. So I do okay.

But if the conversation ever turns to my origins (such as when I was telling the nice woman in the bakery line why I'd forgotten to take a number, something a Swede would NEVER forget to do), then it's all over. Just like that, we're back to English, even though they were understanding me perfectly well just ten seconds before. (Or, if not perfectly well, then definitely on the second time. I'm still getting the hang of this language's stress-patterns.) 

I get it, I do. They're being kind and welcoming, speaking to me in my native tongue. They're also, on a slightly more selfish note, usually pretty psyched at the chance to practice their own (pretty much always) impeccable foreign language. Why I, as a practice opportunity, am so critical, though, I don't totally get--I understood it in China, knowing that most people wouldn't get any closer to an English-speaking country than Hong Kong. But here? Movies aren't ever dubbed, so long as the audience is assumed to be literate. (So for Brave, we're going to have to look for an English version, but that's it.) And there are plenty of expats and tourists around who DON'T speak any Swedish and have to lean on their English.

So yeah...I guess what I'm saying, Sweden, is that I'm going to do my best to learn enough of your language that you won't see through me immediately to my own. Fortunately for me, this is one of the few places in the world where I can pass as a local without much effort. Being blond is, for once, not a liability when it comes to disguise. Maybe I'll start saying I'm from somewhere way up north, across the Arctic Circle and near the Finnish border, which might explain my odd accent. 

(But I'm going to speak English at the vet for another few months, okay? I realize it's having my cake and eating it too, but jag har två katter, och jag vet inte hur man sayer "diarrhea.") 


A Swedish Cheferizor?

One thing I've discovered since moving to Stockholm is that this guy actually mimics the funnier parts of the Swedish language pretty accurately! (Also, yes, everyone here is aware of him, and actually pretty proud.) I think I need to spend a little bit more time studying exactly how the Swedish Chef does it, because it's amazing to me how quickly I can get an accent stuck in my head these days. Two episodes of True Blood and I have to stop myself from slipping into the Louisiana rhythms that Anna Paquin does so well, at least to my Yankee ear. I can manage, most of the time, to keep it from my voice, but my thoughts for the next hour or so are as twanging as they come.

When I lived in China, I lost my ability to spell, something I can only attribute to the lack of letters. Mandarin, despite what the BBC may have said during the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony broadcast, does not have an alphabet of any sort, and the pictographs sucked the phonics right out of me. Here in Stockholm, I wonder if the reason I'm so susceptible to an American English accent that differs from my own in pronunciation, granted, but mostly in rhythm, has to do with Swedish itself. 

Kiruna is a place in the far north of the country. It's well-known here, if only because there are so few places up there with any significant amount of people. If you read this word out loud, however, and you are not Swedish (or Danish or Norwegian, but I digress), odds are a Swedish person would have no idea where you were talking about. The problem wouldn't be the way you said the consonants or vowels, however. No tricks like that in that word, unlike some others. The problem would be the emphasis. To an American, Ki-RU-na would be a perfectly reasonable rendition. Not so much in Swedish: say KI-RU-NA, hitting each syllable as hard as you can, and Swedish eyes will light up in recognition and relief, grateful that they don't have to deal with the embarrassment of talking to a idiot and appearing impolite. They're really not big on embarrassment here.

So, as is probably clear, I've been spending a lot of time listening to the rhythm of this language and keeping my mind and ears open to those nuances. It's not really surprising, then, that I'd accidentally pick up on a few others. It's something that is distinctly harder for me to manage than accurate Chinese tones. (I may be one of the few people in the world who is like this, I'm well aware.) Next experiment: start speaking the Swedish I do know while doing my best Sookie Stackhouse imitation. It might actually get me closer.