Tongue Troubles

I am becoming more and more unwilling to speak Swedish in public. It’s getting, by now, to be a bit of a joke.

Today, I took a vacation day and found myself in another city. I went into a café and gave my order to the (young) waitress. I wanted a cappuccino so I said:

“Jag tar en cappuccino.” Which translates, strangely enough, to:

“I’ll take a cappuccino.”

The waitress stared at me as if I’d said “Bestow upon me a codpiece boiled in trench-coat lovely sir lunchbox.”

I repeated the order, in my stupid-person voice, and she got it. Now this would have been a bit amusing except that it happened a few hours earlier in a Subway sandwich butcher’s.

“Lunchmenyn, tack,” I said. Meaning: “Lunch menu, thanks.” This was Subway at lunchtime, where they serve a good many lunch menus. But she stared at me like I was insane. “Which part didn’t you get?” I asked. “All of it,” she said.

Now, my Swedish accent isn’t brilliant, and I do tend to mumble in most languages but, seriously, how can you NOT hear the word “cappuccino” in a customer’s very short order when you work in a coffee shop where cappuccinos are 20% of your business?

This has happened me many times in Stockholm too, many many times. It’s got to the point where I don’t speak Swedish very often any more when ordering things. Speaking English right off the bat always works better, and let me tell you, you get vastly more respect. They pay attention, they are more helpful, and the girls always wink lasciviously (or so I imagine).

So, my standard advice to all English-speaking immigrants who move here is: learn Swedish well. But speak to pretty much everybody in English, because then they’ll all love you and not treat you like a confused moron.

/ paddy

15 thoughts on “Tongue Troubles

  1. Of course. If you speak English you’re a tourist. If you speak broken Swedish you’re an effin’ immigrant, and we don’t those around, right?

  2. Question: Did you go to a tourist trap for a vacation where lots of annoying English people go to speak really bad Swedish and waste all the locals time? I just see a pattern emerging with this linguistic xenophobia.

    I’ve had that experience in Quebec City many years back where I had to give up the silly notion of speaking French to the crabby, tourist-eating local population. I’d give an order in French and they’d respond to me in English. My suspicions were confirmed later when a comedian on TV even joked about this very phenom later.

    Considering that my French is, hate to brag, clouds above that of our own Prime Minister and considering that I’m understood in Mandarin, a language radically more alien to English than French is, it’s impossible that it could be anything other than xenophobes getting in my way of cultural sharing. But then we’re talking about the province of Quebec, home of the fascist Bill 101. Time will only tell if this xenophobic approach will help their culture and language survive the 22nd century as Mandarin becomes the official language of the future. LOL!

    I suspect, much like among Quebecois, some of the more uneducated Swedes may feel threatened by foreigners mangling their culture with filthy English pronunciations. Oh well, their loss. ;o)

    Language sharing or die!

    • It’s not that they pretended to not understand me, I think they actually didn’t understand me. And I’m not sure why. But yes, Mandarin, mmyes….

  3. Svenskar tycker om det engelska språket och tar alla tillfällen i akt att utöva det. Även vi som talar och skriver undermåligt anstränger oss extra mycket när vi möter en engelsktalande person och det beror förmodligen på att vi tycker om att känna oss internationella.

    • I know this, I just don’t know why so many Swedes in shops and cafes can’t seem to understand Swedish spoken in an English/Irish accent. I’m not THAT bad. It’s like in the underground – I always say I’m going to Slussen regardless of my actual destination, as they almost never understand when I say anything else.

  4. Det låter onekligen märkligt. Svenska med engelsk/irländsk accent borde inte vara svårt att förstå. Kan det beror på Stockholmarna?
    Testa teorin nästa gång du besöker Skåne, vi har ju numera tunnelbana även här, dessutom sprillanes ny, men jag förstår att Öresundsbron och Köpenhamn är det primära målet. Hur danskarna hanterar ditt uttal vet jag inte, vissa av dem förstår över huvud taget inte svenska medan andra talar nästan flytande.
    Språkförståelse är spännande.

  5. People sometimes tend to speak to me in english when I visit the Stockholm area, although I speak swedish as my mother tongue. Why, I don’t know, as they apparently understand what I’m saying. Apparently (or so I have been told) I sound like a moomin troll. So what, moomin trolls understand swedishswedish, too!
    Once, getting roaring drunk at a motorcycle meet in Oslo, I reverted to my childhood dialect and the locals thought I was from some town or another in the northern part of Norway. I no longer know where I belong, so I’ll probably just stick to my incredibly shitty german from now on. “Ein Bier und ein Knödel, bitte!”

    • ÄnnuVärre, as you know, most Swedes seem unaware that Swedish is spoken as a native language in Finland and couldn’t tell finlandssvenska from Swedish with a thick Finnish accent if their lives depended on it: They believe that you are trying to speak broken Pakkoruotsi and want to help you by switching to a language that is easier for you.

      • You’re probably right there. It’s just *soooo* cute, isn’t it! maybe I should switch over to rally-english a’la Mika Häkkinen when this happens. “Tänkk joo, ai tink ai vill pai vann ais-riim, pliis!”
        But no, I’ll be nice and speak whatever language they seem most comfortable with. Then I’ll lure them into the nearest sauna and cook them slowly…

      • People should quit with the switching and let the person who starts the dialogue pick the language. It’s slightly misguided help.

  6. This is seriously funny! I’m meant to visit Stockholm in a few weeks for the first time, and I think I may forego trying to speak the language all together, if even you have issues with it! :)

    • It’s worth a shot, but I bet half of them switch to English or perhaps Klingon. And feel free to ask for Stockholm tips, if you need them!

  7. You captured it so precisely, I had to facebook-share your post. I’m a New Zealander living in Belgium … same same same problem! No one believes me.

    The Flemish often look at me, confused, and say, ‘Wablief? Oh … you speak English, let’s talk English’.

    6 years and counting.

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