Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Observations about Sweden

Sweden has to be my favorite foreign destination. I've never been there in the winter, that's true, and in fact I would probably hate it in the winter. A girl needs some sunshine every day.

But I still think Sweden is fantastic. It's such a beautiful country, and it feels so friendly, even though people don't smile at all times like they do in the U.S. I always smile at everyone, which I realize is sometimes interpreted as flirting in other countries. So even when I used my (limited) Swedish language skills with people, my beaming smile gave me away as an American.

I talked to the man on the plane about this. "Americans have no neutral expression," he observed. "They think that if you're not smiling, you're not happy." I think he has a point. I know that in Russian, they have an expression "American smile" that refers to a false smile. Sometimes our smiles and friendly greetings might seem fake. There are days when I don't feel so happy, but being friendly towards strangers and seeing the effect it has upon them cheers me right up. I know my mother was always cynical about it. She never believed that the people telling her to have a nice day cared at all about the quality of her day. I'm sure that there are plenty of people who don't care, but whenever I wish someone a nice day, I mean it. I genuinely hope that everyone has a nice day, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that way.

I don't know much Swedish, and I have a limited ability to pronounce it. There are some sounds in Swedish that are completely unpronounceable to me. But I do have a surprisingly large vocabulary for one who never studied Swedish and has spent a grand total of three weeks in Sweden. While I was there in a particularly boring seminar, I wrote down my entire vocabulary.

There are 29 letters in the Swedish alphabet. There are the normal letters A to Z, and three more at the end: Å/å, Ä/ä, and Ö/ö. (In case the font doesn't work out, that's the A/a with a circle over it, A/a with an umlaut, and O/o with an umlaut, respectively.) In Swedish, these are considered separate letters. So if you're looking for Mr. Ångstrom's phone number, you need to go to the end of the phone book, not the beginning. Å is pronounced like "awe," but more like the Queen of England would pronounce it, not American. Ä is pronounced like a long A in English, as in "rain." And Ö is like the German, as in schön. The letter y is pronounced like the German ü, or like the French u as in tu. So the word for airport, Flygplats, is pronounced "FLYUG-plahts." The combination "sk" is usually pronounced as a "sh" sound. The letter j makes the y sound in "yes," just like in German.

Here is an interesting subset of my Swedish vocabulary, with approximate pronunciations and meanings: (Edited on 5/25/05 to add: I have no idea why it is this way, but there's a huge space between here and the table of words. Just keep scrolling down. Don't give up!)

Swedish Word Pronunciation Meaning/Comments
Restaurang Res-tuh-RAHNG Restaurant (taken straight from French)
Hiss hiss Elevator
Plan Plahn Floor/story (the story above the entrance floor is the 1st floor)
Gamla Stan GAH-mla STAHN Old Town
Hej/Hej då hey/hey daw Hello/Goodbye (easy for young people to learn and remember)
Fem FEHM Five (for some reason, this number really stuck out for me)
Ja/Nej ya/nay yes/no
Gatan GAHT-tahn Street ? (most street names ended in -gatan)
och/eller O/ELL-er and/or (sometimes och was pronounced with a hint of a "k" sound at the end)
Frukost FRU-kost Breakfast (and how tasty it was, too!)
Stängt stankt closed
Drag drahg pull
Bil BEEL Car (shortened version of Automobil?)
Bilder BEELD-er Pictures (like German)
Barn barn child (like Scottish bairn)
Vatten VAHT-en water
Öl öl Beer (like ale)
Nu NU Now (also TLD for remote island of Niue, who make a lot of money off Swedish websites)
Rea REH-ah Sale
Glass glahs ice cream
Mjölk myulk milk (and I'm not completely certain on the pronunciation)
Ägg Egg Egg (hard-boiled eggs are commonly served for Frukost)
Bröd bröd bread

Edited to add: I have no idea why, but there's a huge space between the end of the text and the beginning of the table when I view this entry. I hope it's not that way for everyone else.

1 comment:

rachel said...

There's a huge space for me too! I thought the rest of your blog had disappeared!