• Pardon my Swedish!

    Globe with European countries named in Swedish
    (Photo by Calvin Hanson)

    Whenever I heard my grandmother – who was from the North of England – say something was ‘dear’ (i.e. expensive), I assumed nothing could be more English than this classic colloquial word. 

    Then I was on Blocket – a Swedish eBay – and it had a little indicator on each sale item, telling you if Blocket thought the item’s sale price was expensive (or ‘dyr’ in Swedish). Hang on, I thought… dyr

    So, it turns out the English of the Danelaw regions have never stopped saying ‘dyr’. You can bring in your Latin expens, but when it comes to the price of bread, we’ll keep our own words, thank you very much!

    How come?

    Here’s another English colloquialism. Rather than asking ‘Why is that?’ we often ask ‘How come?’ What could be more English? Well, then I saw this sentence in my last Swedish class: Hur kommer det sig att en boxare inte får lov att tävla med skägg? (How come a boxer is not allowed to compete with a beard?) Hur kommer? How come?

    The more you look, the more you see. ‘Hoppa’ means ‘jump’. ‘Springa’ means ‘run’. ‘Pratar’ means talk, or prattle, as we sometimes say. ‘Barn’ means child, as any Geordie or Scot could tell you. And ‘kvinna’ – which sounds very like ‘queen’ – means ‘woman’. 

    English is a mongrel language

    It may have stalked the globe, but we all know English is a mishmash of Nordic, Germanic and French, with a solid spicing of other lingos from around the world. Living in Sweden, the debt to the Norse tongue is obvious. 

    Loads of Swedish words sound very like English equivalents. Even when it looks strange written down, when spoken the link often becomes clear. 

    When you see ‘Näste station’ on the screen in trains, you can make an educated guess that ‘näste’ must mean ‘next’, but when you hear the conductor pronounce it, it becomes basically the same word. 

    Language is always being made and unmade, as my son showed me with Lost and Found Words

  • Hot dogs, with added Swedishness

    A Danish hot dog in a bun with pickles and sauce held in a woman's hand
    Korv, blimey! (Photo by Mark Solarski)

    In Sweden, a hot dog is not simply a hot dog. It must have mustard, ketchup, gurkajonäs (chopped pickles and mayo), prawn mayo, hell, even mashed potato. In short, it has cultural legitimacy

    In the UK, eating a hot dog is imbued with no cultural significance whatsoever. It’s cheap processed meat, pure and simple. It even looks and feels like Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. You’re a glutton and a piglet slayer. 

    But in Sweden, you can be sure that any stretch of forested highway will soon be interrupted by the neon light of a kiosk of hot dogs. They are a Swedish institution – just as fridge-cold Ginster’s pies are to Britons. 

    A good hot dog

    Being offered a hot dog in Sweden is a liberation. You aren’t simply eating a hot dog, you are having a ‘cultural experience’ – and as all good tourists know, cultural experiences cancel out calories. 

    It means that when you eat a hot dog in Sweden – which you call a korv, naturally – it has so much cultural legitimacy that it’s essentially zero air miles, carbon neutral, plant-based goodness. Amazing!

    The same goes for meatballs – that other mighty Swedish culinary edifice. It’s processed meat made happy for the Scandinavian socialist utopia. It has the same guilt-free X-factor that deep-fried fish has in Britain. 

    The icon halo

    This halo effect is fantastic, but we all know it’s ultimately a con. That’s why IKEA has taken to offering a veggie dog to its customers. It can’t get rid of the hot dog – that would cause a riot – but it can offer a clean alternative. 

    Swedes are super-hot on being super-environmentalists. They’re world famous. But hey, even zeitgeists need downtime with a hot dog every now and then.  

    Talking of how we eat, Fancy A Dinner Share?