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

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