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

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