Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007:
Speaking English in Helsingborg

What I think:

When I first came to Sweden, I was keen to start learning Swedish as soon as possible; I had moved in with a girlfriend who had two children under ten, and they didn't know any English at the time.

Animals and body parts
I started studying these little picture books to try to help me build a vocabulary of nouns describing all kinds of things: from stuff you find in every room of the house or out on the street, to animals and body parts, to different modes of transport and sexually transmitted diseases - you get the idea.

I remember really enjoying the sound of many words, words like fågelholk (birdhouse - roughly pronounced "fogle-holk") and stuprör (drainpipe - it's really not worth the effort to try to explain how this one's pronounced).

Pissed off
When I started working, my employers paid for some Swedish lessons for me, and actually sent me to Stockholm for this intensive two-week Berlitz language course as well. I slowly started learning a bit here and there. Living with a girlfriend who was getting increasingly pissed off with speaking English helped a bit as well, I guess. (We split up a couple of years ago.)

So now, four and-a-half years later, I can just about get by with my basic Swedish if I have to. But the point of all this is that I don't normally really have to.

Because I work in Internal Communication (at a global level), writing funky English copy for newsletters and company Intranet, there's simply no use in trying to improve my Swedish there.

Very often, when I go out, as soon as I meet people and they realise I'm English, they want to practice their English on me.

I'm not saying that I've given up speaking Swedish altogether, it's just that I don't feel that I'll ever really have the opportunity to get to a very good level. I don't intend to live here forever either, so I honestly can't be bothered to start telling everyone to speak to me in Swedish only - especially since the majority are so keen to speak to me in English anyway.

Telegrafen pub
But some of the people I encounter who want to practice their English can be a bit odd. For example, I had arranged to meet up with my girlfriend and a couple of her friends at Telegrafen pub one night. It was quite a busy night, but I managed to find a little table right next to the door, with enough seats for the four of us. My friends would be there in a few minutes.

(Here's the outside of Telegrafen, by the way.)
Within seconds, a couple of over-made-up bottle-blonde tarty-looking bimbos, seemingly in their late-forties (at least), asked, in Swedish, if they could sit with me. I managed to explain that I was waiting for friends who would be with me in a minute. But, while one of them went to get drinks, the other squeezed her pungently perfumed body next to mine on the bench. Then her friend came back with the drinks and made it even cosier. Great.

Smelly thing
When my girlfriend arrived with her friends, they all managed to huddle up around the table. There was another table right next to ours, so at least the slag sisters didn't have their drinks on our table. I had my girlfriend on my left, and this...this...horrible smelly thing pressed up against my right.

Trying to ignore the two intruding monsters, my friends were having a nice chat in Swedish, and I was just interjecting from time to time.

As soon as I spoke English, Fröken Stinkbomb (Ms Stinky) sitting next to me (or rather, nearly on top of me) started staring at me. The woman was mere inches away, and she was staring at me. Bigtime. Yuck.

It was difficult to feel comfortable with this person's gaze burning into the side of my head, and her horrid breath on my face.

Then she asked me, in English, where I come from. So I said England. Then she asked me why I have an Irish accent.

I'd said that I come from England because I didn't feel like going into my usual explanation of the fact that I grew up in Canada, but lived in London for twelve years before moving here.

I digress
(This line of conversation usually leads to:
"Oh, really? Where in Canada?"
"Don't they speak French there?"
"Many do, but I'm one of those English-Montrealers."
"But you speak French."

So Surrey
But I went into the explanation of where I'm from and where I've been, trying to be as abrupt in my explanation as possible. The conversation continued a bit like this:
Her: "But you're Irish."
Me: "Err...No I'm not."
Her: "Then why do you have an Irish accent?"
Me: "I don't think I do. Maybe my accent just didn't make it all the way to England."
Her: "Where did you live in London?"
Me: "North London, near Finsbury Park."
Her: (blankly) "Oh. I lived in Surrey for a while."
Me: "So Surrey to hear that."

Then we all just blatantly tried to ignore her, and continued chatting. But she just kept staring at me. Ignorant bitch.

After the gruesome pair finally left, one of our friends did a brilliant impression of the one with the eyeballs:
This is not far off, trust me.

You know, I think it's brilliant that so many Swedes speak English really well, but this shouldn't give people the right to sit practically on my lap (unless invited or paid to do so), or barge into conversations where they're unwelcome, or call me Irish, or be smelly. It's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.


Blogger Tug said...

I don't smell. Don't sit on laps uninvited. My eyes are normal (or close anyway)...but I love a guy with an accent - so if ever I should make it to Sweden - I could very well be sitting a tad too close. Sucks to be irresistable, doesn't it Mark? ;-)

3:25 am  
Blogger Christa said...

To learn a language like Swedish when you don't really need to use it do sound like a waste of time. Especially since it takes a lot more than 2 weeks of intense classes to do so :p

I have two languages going more or less on a daily basis and I'm writing in Swedish not to forget it all together. Since it's not very useful over here in good ol England, I use it when I talk to someone back in Sweden, and that's about it.

You need a good reason to keep a second (or third) language going :)

12:07 pm  
Blogger Mags said...


3:55 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you Mark! I think you've done an outstanding job on your blog!

7:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the slag sisters..."


""So Surrey to hear that.""

LMAO! Did you really say that? 'Cuz if you did, I think I love you! [chuckle]

Hey the Telegrafen serves Heineken. Woo Hoo! I'll be right over. [grin]

8:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This would have been one of those times where my inner bitch would take over and become outer bitch. Complete with tentacle wagging.

Nothing against the Irish but since when do you sound Irish? Does Smelly get out much? I mean, it's apparent she doesn't date Mr Soap, but certainly she leaves her smelly abode once in a blue moon.


This is why I get drunk at home.

Channels Southern, knuckle dragging redneck...

SKDR: Yer not from 'round here are yer?
HPK: phuck yous.

1:25 am  
Blogger Marie said...

It's a socialist country, don't they control their people?

4:32 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hehe...they make it difficult to buy booze but don't care much about how you behave after you buy it (as long as you're not driving of course).

Explain to me Mark why I continue to go to SFI lessons every week when every Swede I meet would rather speak English.

12:01 pm  
Blogger Sideon said...

I haven't laughed that hard in ages - thank you for a great post :)

And thanks for the nice comments you left on my site.

Be well.

5:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mark,

Being a Paddy (Mick) in Denmark I've experienced the same issues as you.

It's a killer, especially when like you, most of my work is in English as well.

When I meet people here I speak in Danish, first but unfortunately my accent gives me away and as soon as they click I'm not a native Dane they only want to speak in English.

Actually, I've one particular friend here who NEVER LET ME speak Danish to him. There was an incident a while back and he was shocked to here the darker side of the Irish personality coming out in Danish.

Oh, subscribed btw!

2:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to learn a new language too. Hungarian.It's a good idea to read picture books. :) I think I'll try it. lol

2:26 pm  
Blogger Genilimaa said...

Hey, that could have been me if I hadn't been so busy smacking men who behave just like that!

Nice blog!

11:12 am  
Blogger David J said...

What's with the Foster's sign outside the Telegrafen?

NO-ONE in Australia drinks the stuff. Really, it has been years since I even saw it for sale at a pub, or someone drinking it at a party. But it seems to be the only Australian beer that people overseas have heard of.

Please, don't judge our beer by Fosters :)

12:42 pm  

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