Tags: sweden

in motion

"i don't know if i can call it a talent..."

My boys are far away in Sweden right now, and while I am truly loving the time to myself here, it does make me a bit wistful, because I haven't been over there in a couple of years.  When people ask me what the culture is like, it's hard to explain what I miss about our Swedish friends, and the particular mix of goofy enthusiasm, cleverness, and sly mischief that epitomizes Swedish humor.

But perhaps this "Sweden's Got Talent" clip may give you some idea.

(One thing I do not miss about Sweden is eating knäckebröd, the enormous round cram-like crackers put to good use as props in this dance.)
in motion


Jeremiah spent an hour walking around the neighborhood with his grandfather, playing Wizard School.  J had a blue blanket wrapped around his neck, and insisted on being called Jeremiah the Blue.  His grandfather had a red towel around his neck and was Bengt the Red.  After they returned, we all sat down to brunch.

"Jeremiah tells me," announced Pär's sister Åsa, "that girls cannot be wizards."

"He's under the influence of Harry Potter," I said, apologetically, watching Jeremiah eat a blueberry muffin.

Bengt nodded solemnly.  "He told me that boys all grow up to be wizards, and girls all grow up to be bitches."

While Pär and I fell about the table laughing, Åsa kept a straight face and corrected her father's English.  "Witches."

There followed some discussion in Swedish of the distinction.  "Bitch" happens to be the only English word that rubs Pär the wrong way.  He knows he's swimming upstream on this, but it's a gut reaction thing.  I don't share his feelings about it, but neither do I want my son to become one of those kids who calls women bitches (except, you know, when it's funny).  So Pär explained, still in Swedish, how we use pretty much any language in front of Jeremiah, but we do try to avoid that word.

"Which word?" asked his mother in Swedish, entering the conversation late.

Pär carefully spelled it out for her.

"BITCH?" she shouted.  It would not be unfair to say she screeched it at the top of her lungs, in heavily accented emphasis: "BEEETCH?"  I put my head down on the table to cover my barely-contained hysteria.  Still in Swedish, Britt went on cheerfully about how everyone in Sweden uses the word now, because it's all over the American TV programs they get here.  To a non-Swedish speaker sitting at the table, such as her grandson, what she said sounded approximately like this: "BITCH bork bork bork BITCH bork bork BITCH bork bork bork bork BITCH, BITCH bork BEEETCH!"

I looked up to catch Pär's face registering a helpless resignation to the inevitable.  Then he managed to steer the topic away from all the bitch talk by pointing out how for Americans, the worst curse words have to do with bodily functions, whereas for Swedes, the worst curses have to do with damnation.  Devil, damn, hell: these words are far more serious in Swedish than anything sexual or scatological.  Swedes are very casual about language around bodily functions.  It is perfectly polite, for example, to compliment a meal as skitgott: tasty, literally "shit-good".  You can also, incidentally, get more creative and describe a meal as "spew-good" (spygott) meaning roughly, "so good I want to puke".  This usage came up the other night after a huge dinner, and was alarmingly accurate.

Bengt said, "Once at a business conference in the USA, I used the word 'shit' in conversation with a right-wing Christian."  He pronounced the last three words in English, as there is no direct translation that conveys the American context.  Bengt looked around the table, his eyes wide with bewilderment.  "He was horrified, he looked at me as though I were the Devil."

Pär said, "You should have told him, 'In MY country, we don't believe poo is satanic.'"

"Titanic?" Pär's mother piped up, sounding hopeful.  She wasn't following the English parts of the conversation very well, but she does like sappy movies. 

Thus haltingly, our cultural exchange continues.
in motion

i sverige

In the bistro car, we sip coffee while Jeremiah munches on a cinnamon bun (kanel bulle).

"Is this train station actually old, or just built in an old style?" I ask Pär.  He glances out at the building: brick and stone, with small round windows near the roof and Gothic towers rising above. 

"It's old," he says.  Then amends it: "Well, not very old.  Only about a hundred and fifty years."

The train itself is modern and sleek, and pulls away from town quietly.  Outside the window: a few brightly painted houses among fields of soft vivid green.

Half the people on this train look like they've just stepped out of Vogue.  I am feeling crude and dumpy in jeans and a shirt with torn seams.  In the seat in front of me are two old women with wrinkled, rosy-cheeked faces like dried apples, chatting and laughing together.

The sky is clear blue, as it will remain until around eleven at night, when it will deepen into twilight for a couple hours until the sun rises again. 

We're back in Sweden.