Speaking Swedish: 10 Useful Swedish Phrases

As a foreigner in Sweden, when I am back home, I’m often asked, “so, do you speak any Swedish now.” My short answer is always yes – in part because a lot of the Swedish-ness has worn off on me and I simply don’t want to talk more than I have to, but also in part because I have learned a fair amount of Swedish. Am I fluent….no, but I can carry on daily conversation, and I can order a beer.

In this post I wanted to compile a few of the most useful Swedish phrases/ words I have learned – I think as someone still trying to fit in with Swedes, language is very important, speaking the native tongue is a great step in trying to assimilate in a foreign land. Below I have included 10 bits of Swedish I think are important, as well as the English translation:

1.) “Jag heter…”

Swedes like to introduce themselves quickly, often times you just say your name with a handshake, but you can also say “Jag heter,” meaning, “I am called…” It can be entertaining to surprise an unsuspecting Swede with a very random introduction – sometimes to evoke a reaction I like to say, “Jag heter Kalle Anka Jul hus vagn.” Literally translated, “I am called Donald Duck Christmas House Wagon (motorhome).” Swedes usually think it’s dumb, but fun nonetheless. Primary take away – “Jag heter (insert something)” is a useful and fun way to surprise Swedes or introduce oneself.

Kalle Anka's Jul husvagn

Kalle Anka’s Jul husvagn

2.) “En grillad med bröd”

This is one of the most important phrases you will ever learn in Swedish – how to order a grill korv. Literally translated “A sausage with bread.” This is important stuff. A couple of notes when ordering a korv – Swedes talk extremely fast, I have discovered, the quicker, and more jumbled I say “en grilled med bröd” (so like this “engrilladmedbröd”), the better the service.

Here you can see grillkorv that will feed one Swede for 3 days.

Here you can see grillkorv that will feed one Swede for 3 days.

3.) “Jag förstår inte svenska”

This is also very important. Translated we get “I understand not Swedish,” or “I don’t understand Swedish.” This is a powerful tool. Whenever I am in a situation in Sweden and I don’t know what to do, I simply shout, or reply “Jag förstår inte svenska” and everyone leaves me alone. Seriously. The best part, when you are elsewhere in the world, you can easily substitute “svenska” for the language wherever you are – in US, “Jag förstår inte engelska.”

Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden doesn't understand.

Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden doesn’t understand.

4.) “Fem stora öl, tack”

Much like ordering a grillkorv, purchasing a beer at a club or bar is very important. Literally translated this means “Five large beers, (please or thanks).” In Sweden it is forbidden to order rounds of drinks for the group. You always only order drinks for yourself. In this particular example, “fem stora öl, tack,” you are ordering five beers for yourself, to last an hour, maybe longer. Take note of the strategy in this example – five beers all at once, from the same bar – avoid the queue, pay a lot of money up front, forget about the purchase by the end of the night. As a side note, fem stora öl, tack might run you upwards of 400-500 SEK depending on the bar, the beer, and the time.

A relatively inexpensive beer, Stockholm Festival

A relatively inexpensive beer, Stockholm Festival

5.) “Glad Midsommar” or “Hade du en bra Midsommar”

Literally translated “happy Midsummer” or “did you have a good Midsummer?” There are few things held more sacred in Sweden than Midsommer. Celebrated in the middle of June, to Swedes Midsommer is like Christmas and every other holiday on steroids, and celebrated with more alcohol. While you can expect a post dedicated to Midsommer at a later date, the main point here – if you are lost in conversation with a Swede, don’t know what to say, or want to attempt Swedish small talk – bring up Midsommar – something along the lines of “hade du en bra Midsommer” is enough to hear several hours worth of stories from two nights of excessive alcohol consumption and fish eating. Instantly get on a Swedes good side when asking about Midsummer shenanigans.

Swedes enjoying Midsommar.

Swedes enjoying Midsommar.

6.) “Var är närmaste Ikea?”

“Where is the nearest Ikea?” Another loved Swedish export is Ikea – Ikea is an institution here. You need to know how to ask where the nearest one is – with so many Ikea stores, it is important to always get to the nearest one to save petrol (gasoline). When you are at Ikea, waiting in the excessively long checkout lines, be sure to use tip #2 and order up a few grill korvs, or the controversial horse meatballs (häst köttbullar).

A typical Ikea found in every Swedish town.

A typical Ikea found in every Swedish town.

7.) “Hej”

The word “hej” is the most common greeting you will hear in Sweden, and translates to “hi”. Depending on the vocal inflection and the number of times said it can take on many different meanings. For example, a spirited “hej hej!” is a much different greeting than plain “hej.” Being able to recognize the difference when you are greeted with friends, while shopping, etc. is very important, because it will determine which greeting you respond with. You cannot reply to “hej hej!” with just “hej,” and vice versa. Learn the proper usage of “hej” to avoid sending the wrong message to your new Swedish friends.

Hej or Hej Hej?

Hej or Hej Hej?

8.) “Aah”

Out of all the Swedish words, “aah,” (pronounced aww) is one of my favorites. In daily conversation Swedes love to say “aah” as a response to everything. “Aah” can mean yes, no, maybe, or just something to say. I can recall entire conversations with Swedes where we just say “aah” back and forth. Next time you are on the train, or walking the streets, listen to the Swedes around you, it’s like a nationwide chorus of “aah.”

Greg Poehler from Welcome to Sweden trying to figure out the best response to "Aah"

Greg Poehler from Welcome to Sweden trying to figure out the best response to “Aah”

9.) “Vill du ta en fika”

Everyone knows Swedes love their coffee – translated this is simply, “will you have a coffee/ Swedish pastry.” Alternatively you can ask, “vill du fika” and it means the same thing. Fika is an important part of Swedish life, and it happens at least 2, sometimes 3 or 4 times daily. When practicing asking, be careful who is around, as you are sure to find at least one Swede interested in going for a fika.

Johan apparently likes to fika.

Johan apparently likes to fika.

10.) “Eller hur!?”

I mentioned earlier Swedes like to speak very rapidly, and when learning it can be hard to understand. I always heard Swedes saying “eller hur” but when they spoke it sounded like “eller sju.” One day I finally asked why they are saying “or seven” – as it turns out, I was wrong – “eller hur,” meaning “or how,” is what was being said. This can be loosely compared to the English “as if,” or “ya right,” and can be used in conversation to indicate or expect agreement from someone, as well as used sarcastically.

Zlatan is the best Swedish futboler ever, eller hur?

Zlatan is the best Swedish futboler ever, eller hur?

By incorporating these 10 simple phrases/ words into your daily Swedish routine, you’ll be able to navigate the Swedish language with ease. Stay tuned for more great tips to survive in Sweden – coming up soon, which store in Sweden has the best godis (candy) aisle.

Cheers,

//Karl

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Surviving Sweden: 10 tips to fit in as a foreigner

So you’ve made the decision to visit Sweden, you’re thinking about moving to Sweden, or you have already arrived – now what? How does a foreigner with little to no knowledge of Sweden fit in – from my experiences and observations over the last year I have compiled a short list to help foreigners act/ look more Swedish.

1.) Acquire a Taste for korv

Korv, known to the rest of the world as a hot dog, is for some reason one of the most popular foods in Sweden. In grocery stores, korv has an entire aisle, and nearly every restaurant serves a form of korv. On average, Swedes consume at least one korv daily, so it is a great idea to acquire a taste. The good news – there is a korv for nearly every occasion – to name a few popular korvs – grill korv, falukorv, prinskorv, Jul korv, Tunnbrödsrulle (korv in a tortilla with potatoes), Potatiskorv, French korv, the list goes on and on. Korv is an institution in Sweden, there might even be a korv minister? Enjoy a few images of korv below.

A grillkorv

A grillkorv

A French Korv

A French Korv

A Tunnbršdsrulle

A Tunnbršdsrulle

2.) Start using walking poles

In Sweden it is almost impossible to get around without walking poles. I suggest after arriving in Sweden, go and purchase a high quality set of walking poles. While the public transportation within the city is quite good, using walking poles is a much better option for travel. No one really knows the point of using walking poles, but they are essential to have. I recommend watching this sweet video and learn how to properly walk with BungyPump.

A Swedish person using BungyPump walking poles.

A Swedish person using BungyPump walking poles on a morning commute to work.

3.) Dust off your Chuck Taylor All Stars

Even though the rest of the world stopped wearing Converse shoes in the 1970’s, there are many sort of antiquated/ “old school” things people still do in Sweden. One of these things is wearing Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars. My recommendation – this is year round shoe, and Converse has found a great market and markup in Sweden – buy a couple of pairs before you arrive in Sweden. If you manage to get the hi-tops and low-tops in white, you are sure to be the envy of every Swede.

A Chuck Taylor All Star Hi-Top

A Chuck Taylor All Star Hi-Top

4.) Prepare to queue up everywhere

Swedes have an odd obsession with queues. Every single place you go there is a queue. You must never disrespect the queue. Take a number and prepare to wait, patiently. Extremely patiently. No one is ever in a hurry in Sweden. From the bank, to the club, to government buildings, to the grocery store, to the post office, to restaurants, there will be a queue. Learning to wait patiently and quietly until your number is called is an absolute essential in Sweden.

The Swedish Lunchtime Queue

The Swedish Lunchtime Queue

5.) If you don’t drink coffee, start now. If you drink coffee, start drinking more

Swedes love their coffee. More specifically they love to take a fika. Taking a fika typically means interrupting your work or leisure day several times to drink a coffee and eat Swedish pastries. A few notes about the fika – it is something that cannot be avoided, ever. The Swedish coffee is also 10x stronger than coffee everywhere else. A fika is best with ultra strong coffee and cinnamon buns.

A morning office Fika

A morning office Fika

6.) Purchase a tanning bed and a sleeping blindfold 

In the spring, fall, and winter it is very rare to see the sun in Sweden. In order to combat the lack of sun I would recommend purchasing a tanning bed for your home or apartment. If a tanning bed is out of the question because your apartment is 23 meters squared, perhaps a large bottle of vitamin D pills will suffice. On the other hand, in the summer, the sun doesn’t go down. While this has certain advantages when at the club, etc. it also proves problematic when trying to maintain a normal sleeping routine. A sleep blindfold or mask of some sort is highly recommended.

Stockholm at noon during the winter months.

Stockholm at noon during the winter months.

A Swedish tanning bed

A Swedish tanning bed

A sleeping blindfold

A sleeping blindfold

7.) Avoid eye contact 

Swedes are generally very introverted and keep to themselves. If you meet a Swede on the street (driving, walking, etc.) you are not supposed to look at them, and never are you allowed to say hello. When you are waiting for the train, bus, etc. you are supposed to respect the individual “bubble” and keep your distance. Typically between 3 and 5 meters. On the bus and train, you are not allowed to sit next to anyone, the side-by-side seat configuration is only to enforce the personal space rule in rather confined quarters. This is important so I will reiterate the main points – no eye contact, no talking, wear headphones, look at your phone.

Waiting for the buss, like a Swede.

Waiting for the buss, like a Swede.

8.) Open a special savings account specifically for alcohol consumption

It’s no secret, Swedes like alcohol. To most Swedish people, paying 5-10 SEK for a beer in the store is normal, and paying 50-70 SEK for a beer at a bar is a deal – for others (like myself) at home I can purchase a round of beers for the bar for less than 100 SEK. Keep in mind alcohol sales are highly regulated by the government, and the only place to purchase alcohol is from the government controlled monopoly, Systembolaget. I recommend to start saving now so you can have an alcoholic beverage when you are in Sweden.

A Systembolaget store in Sweden

A Systembolaget store in Sweden

Perfectly organized beer in Systembolaget, most likely waiting in a queue

Perfectly organized beer in Systembolaget, most likely waiting in a queue

9.) Download Spotify, now. 

If you don’t already have Spotify on your iPhone, iPad, and Macbook, you should probably just go home. The same goes for Candy Crush. It is hard to fit in with Swedes if you do not have a Spotify playlist to follow, or a Candy Crush level to compare. Swedes love their world exports, Spotify and King happen to be two notable institutions within the country. Furthermore, if you live in Sweden and you have Spotify and Candy Crush on your phone, you have some activities to engage in while you are avoiding eye contact on the daily commute. As I write this I am listening to Avicii, Tove-Lo, Alesso, and Zara Larsson, simultaneously – that’s how Swedish I have become.

Time to download Spotify

Time to download Spotify

10.) You need a lot of coats

Contrary to popular belief, Sweden only has two seasons (white winter & green winter), just kidding, but you get the point. It’s cold here a lot. It rains here a lot. Swedes have this obsession with owning ridiculous amounts of coats – there is some saying someone once told me about “having a coat for whatever you are doing” or something like that. I would recommend bringing every coat you own, the weather often changes quickly and it is best to be prepared no matter what. 10-15 coats seems adequate.

A fairly typical day in Sweden, about an hour later the Swedes had the summer coats on.

A fairly typical day in Sweden, about an hour later the Swedes had the summer coats on.

If you follow these 10 simple tips, no one will know you are a foreigner. Check back to view some of the upcoming Surviving Sweden posts covering in more depth – how to properly cook a grillkorv, the correct meaning in Swedish of words like “slut,” “fart,” etc., as well as additional tips, and how to navigate the extensive candy (godis) aisle at the supermarket.

Cheers,

//Karl

Finding a Job/ Working in Sweden

When talking with anyone interested in taking the plunge and moving abroad the top two worries are always 1.) language barrier, and 2.) find a job/ working abroad. In this post I hope to answer some of the questions you may have, and alleviate some of the concerns about finding a job and working in Sweden.

From my experience, finding a proper day job in my field of expertise proved to be reasonably difficult – but I don’t think this is the norm – in my case it was because most of my professional business experiences are rather hard to quantify on a CV, it requires a discussion, face to face, with a potential employer to truly express my talents and the benefits of having me on the team. While I ran several small online, web based projects from home, it took around 6 months for me to find an employer willing to take a chance on a “seemingly untested” employee. Once I was in the job there was no problems whatsoever, in fact, I was able to advance and move forward in my career. Main point – on your CV it is important to showcase measurable experience from each and every job held. Swedish employers place too much emphasis on how good you look on paper, so to get a good job, make yourself look good, without showboating.

Overall finding a job on your own in Sweden is not something to worry about – if you have a valuable professional skill set, you can almost always find a few companies willing to play ball. Never once has there been an issue because I am not yet fluent in Swedish. My best advice is to research the companies in Sweden – from the big names, to the small boutique agencies and startups, there is so many unique businesses with headquarters in Sweden, and operations around the globe. The great news for developers and designers – basically every single Swedish company is constantly looking for more developers and more designers. Sweden has blossomed as startup hub, new companies are emerging and growing worldwide extremely quickly. If you have any remotely decent skill set and experience with web and design, you should have a job before you step off the plane. I recommend heading to the jobs board on Swedish Startup Space and explore some of the great up and coming companies.

If you have exhausted all resources trying to find a job (and I mean absolutely all resources) you can register with Arbetsförmedlingen, which is the Swedish employment service. While they provide a much needed service, and there is a lot of companies who source employees through Arbetsförmedlingen, this is one government agency that is best to avoid. When you walk into the Arbetsförmedlingen office you can nearly cut the bureaucracy with a knife it is so thick. Arbetsförmedlingen is attractive to companies because the government will subsidize your salary through a company tax break for between 6 and 12 months. If this is your only option for gaining some experience with a Swedish company, all immigrants qualify – unfortunately it takes forever because it is a government agency, and there is certain things you must fulfill as long as you are enrolled in one of their programs.

It is important to note the hiring process in Sweden can be very slow, or very rapid, depending on the company. In my experience, the process has been rather informal and has taken several weeks to complete the interview process, and hiring process. Often times companies will hire someone with the start date 6-8 weeks after signing all relevant paper work. Another oddity I had never experienced before – at many Swedish companies your salary is structured on a one month delay, so if you are fired, you still will have one additional month of salary. The Swedish workplace is a very relaxed, informal environment. My experience working full time at a Swedish company has been very pleasant. Maintaining a balance between work, play, and home is a major facet of the Swedish workforce. Upon request I would be happy to discuss resume/ CV/ personal letter requirements in more detail.

In the next posts I will begin an ongoing commentary on life in Sweden. Detailing various facets of society, as well as annoyances and differences in culture. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to comment or send an email at movingtostockholm@gmail.com.

Cheers,

//Karl

Swedish For Immigrants (SFI)

When moving to a foreign place people often fret about not fitting in with the culture because of a language barrier. In Sweden I have never once encountered a significant language barrier, in part because Swedes love to speak English. In a sense, learning the Swedish language is made more difficult only by the Swedes eagerness to speak English with a native English speaker.

In an effort to encourage more Swedish speakers, the government offers free Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) courses. SFI classes are offered in nearly every city in Sweden, and there is different levels from beginner, to advanced. To apply for SFI  classes simply go to your nearest kunskapscentrum (just Google “kunskapscentrum”). The kunskapscentrum is a local government agency that exists to help people discover educational and career opportunities. When you apply make sure you have a passport or other identification, as well as documentation confirming you are a Swedish resident. You will need to fill out a one page form asking a few basic questions like address, personnummer, etc., as well as your current level of Swedish language skill. The levels are broken down A, B, C, D – A indicates a beginner, D indicates proficiency. Within each level there is a sub category of A1, A2, etc.

The final question on the application for SFI asks where you would like to study – there is a number of different programs in which you can enroll – ultimately the decision is up to you – how much time do you have to commit to studying, which school is closest, etc. After you have answered these few questions, your information will be submitted, and you will be reviewed for acceptance at the chosen school. While the process of applying takes only a few minutes, you must wait up to 4 weeks to start the SFI course. Once accepted you will receive notice in the mail, with a day you are supposed to come to class and begin the course.

Success in the SFI program is based largely on how much time you can commit to the studies, but also, what school you choose. I have had experience with two different schools in Stockholm (there is way more than two) – Eductus, and Hermods. I would never recommend Eductus to anyone – I was attending Eductus twice a week after work, for 2-3 hours. The classroom experience was extremely unprofessional and lacked any proper structure. After 2 months of Eductus, I switched to an online only course with Hermods. The Hermods course is quite thorough and educational. If you are pressed for time and still wish to study, I would definitely recommend trying Hermods – either online, or in the classroom. If you have the time for extensive classroom study, and live in Stockholm, everyone I have spoken with says the Folkuniversitetet SFI class is by far the best in Sweden. Again if you are in Stockholm, have the time and desire to learn Swedish – go with Folkuniversitetet as your first choice, and Hermods as your backup.

Because the SFI classes are free (and used to carry a monetary incentive to finish), there is no reason not to at least try the course. I have spoken with many other English speakers who are learning or have learned Swedish, and everyone (myself included) says the same thing – SFI is good to a point, but it is definitely a broken system of learning. In my personal experience with Swedish language learning, I have had the most success from using a combination of Babbel and Pimsleur. While they cost a bit of money, they fundamentals are much better and easier to understand. I would recommend signing up for a free trial and test the Babbel and Pimsleur learning systems – the combination of visual and audio makes for a much more pleasant learning experience.

In the next posts I will be discussing finding a job and working, as well as an ongoing commentary on life in Sweden. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to comment or send an email at movingtostockholm@gmail.com.

Cheers,

//Karl

The Person Number (Personnummer)

Personnummer:

At this point you have now received the residence/ visa card from Migrationsverket – now that you are officially registered within the country of Sweden you can attain a person number (personnummer). A person number essentially functions the same way as a social security number in the USA. To receive a person number, you must go to your nearest Skatteverket (literally “tax office), that specifically handles person numbers. Because Skatteverket has many different branches and areas of operation, I would recommend calling Skatteverket first to ensure you go to the correct person number office nearest you.

After locating the nearest Skatteverket person number office, you must collect all documents, paperwork, passport, residence card, etc. you have received up to this point, and bring them with you. Once you arrive at the Skatteverket office you will be greeted by someone inquiring specifically as to the nature of your visit, simply inform you need to apply for a person number. A one page application must be completed and then you will be entered into the cue, and wait to speak with a Skatteverket representative. The application is very straightforward, asking questions like birthday, arrival in Sweden, current address, etc. When you get called to meet with a representative they will go through the application, confirming everything listed with the documents you have provided. They will then photo copy your passport and residence card, and ask for a signature. After completion, you should receive a letter in the mail from Skatteverket containing your Swedish personnummer. This typically takes 2-4 weeks to receive.

It is worth noting a Swedish personnummer is simply your birthday followed by 4 digits so it reads something like YY-MM-DD-XXXX (year, month, day, 4 extra digits). If you are male, the second to last digit of the personnummer will always be an odd number, if you are a female, the second to last digit of the personnummer will always be an even number.

ID Kort

Attaining a personnummer is the first major step after receiving a residence card and settling in Sweden. The second major, and absolute essential step is getting your national Skatteverket identification card. Without this card you cannot open a bank account, establish a phone plan, etc. I want to immediately alleviate any concerns or reservations about getting the ID card – the process was extremely simple, and takes next to no time at all.

The process to receive an ID card starts online – you must first go to the Skatteverket website and find the wire transfer information, to wire 400 SEK directly to Skatteverket, which covers the cost of the ID card. After wiring the funds, you should receive a receipt from Skatteverket and some kind of notification from your bank. This verification of payment must be printed and brought with you to your nearest Skatteverket office that handles ID cards, view the full list of offices here. In addition to payment verification you must bring your passport, residence card, personnummer verification, and any additional supporting documentation.

When you arrive at your nearest Skatteverket that handles ID cards (if you are in Stockholm), you will be asked what you need to take care of, they will verify you have completed the payment properly, and then you are placed in a cue. At the first station you will meet with someone typing in your details and once again verifying payment in the computer. You are then measured, and entered into a second cue. When it is your turn in the second cue, you will sit down with a Skatteverket representative who will ask you to verify your details, photo copy your passport, take your photo, and ask for a signature. When this has been completed, you receive a paper printout containing the details of the ID card.

Within 2-3 weeks you will receive notice in the mail your ID card is ready to pick up from the same Skatteverket where you applied. To pickup the ID card, you need your passport or another form of identification, to be safe, I also brought all of my previous documentation and residence card as well. When you arrive at Skatteverket they will ask why you are there, you will be very clear saying you only need to pick up the ID card. You will be placed in a cue, they will verify your identity, you will then sign the actual card, as well as one more digital signature confirming the card has been received. When the confirmation has been signed, you are done, and have the official Swedish ID Kort.

Based on my experience, you can most definitely survive without receiving the ID card immediately, however, in terms of working you can do almost nothing without a person number. It is my strong recommendation to take care of the person number and ID card, as soon as you can. While there is very little information on the Skatteverket website, the entire process of applying for a person number and ID card is very simple, and streamlined.

In the next posts I will be discussing SFI, working, and an ongoing commentary on life in Sweden. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to comment or send an email at movingtostockholm@gmail.com.

Cheers,

//Karl

Arriving in Sweden

You’ve been granted the visa/ residence permit, you’ve arrived in Sweden. Now what? As mentioned in the previous post once you receive the decision you have two options. Option one – you go to the Swedish Embassy in your country to get fingerprinted, residence/ visa card, etc. OR if Sweden does not require you to have a visa prior to entrance in the country (US residents can stay 90 days without a visa), you can leave for Sweden as soon as you get the decision, and take care of the fingerprints, residence/ visa card, etc. when you arrive in Sweden. For the sake of this post we will assume you have arrived in Sweden with only a paper copy granting you the visa/ residence permit.

Upon arrival the very first thing you must do is visit the nearest Migrationsverket office. Follow this link to the Migrationsverket website, find you nearest office, and schedule an appointment. Once you have booked an appointment, you simply show up at the designated time, at the spot in the Migrationsverket office dedicated to residence cards. Here you will present your passport, visa papers, and any other documentation you have received up to this point in the process. They will ask a few simple questions confirming the information you have provided up to this point, you will then get your photo taken, and sign your name confirming everything is correct. After this has been completed you are done at the Migrationsverket office and you should receive your residence card within 2-3 weeks, delivered to your home address. The entire process at Migrationsverket was extremely simple and straightforward, taking no more than 5 minutes to complete the process.

The residence card is essential to the process and you cannot receive a person number, bank account, etc. without first attaining the residence card. Bottom line, as soon as you arrive in Sweden, or prior to arrival, book the appointment and get to Migrationsverket. In my experience, I received the residence card after about one week.

In the next posts I will be discussing the person number, SFI, working, and an ongoing commentary on life in Sweden. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to comment or send an email at movingtostockholm@gmail.com.

Cheers,

//Karl