Here are 6 of my favourite Swedish words.
In conversation, Swedish language can be pretty economical, which can be really helpful for foreigners like me who are trying to learn the basics. This is something that has quickly become the norm for us, too. In particular, we’ve noticed that - where we once relied on a variety of detailed positive adjectives - we now describe almost everything as “super nice” or, indeed “super good”.
That said, Swedes are “super good” at creating a few very specific words that relate directly to the unique cultural activities or values here in Sweden. Here are my favourite six…
Starting with a well-known and probably very obvious one! Fika is a brilliant ritual for Swedes where they step away from their busy day to sit down with one another and simply enjoy coffee and a cake. It’s about taking a breather and consciously enjoying a moment together, ideally everyday.
Before I moved to Sweden I only drank one decaf coffee a day. After receiving many strange and completely confused looks from baristas, I no longer ask if decaf is available and have learnt to glug vats of coffee on a daily basis like the rest of Scandinavia.
This is the Swedish word referring to a place that is special to you, where you relax and unwind. I love this word because (a) the literal translation is “place of wild strawberries” which feels straight out of a fairytale and (b) it underlines the importance of personal time, relaxation and solace in Swedish culture. I personally think it’s why Sweden feels like such a centred, balanced and often tranquil place… just like London…
This one literally translates to something like “forest crazy”. As in, you’ve been out picking mushrooms for too long and have entirely lost your mind. To me, it sounds like the sort of wild, freedom in craziness that terrifies certain conservative types. It makes me think of when Hoxton has a mad half hour in the evening and chases his own tail around the house…
One thing we’ve noticed about Swedish culture is that most people love to stick to tradition when it comes to food. There is practically a special meal for every day of the week (gotta love Ärtsoppa Thursdays). It doesn’t stop at main meals either, lördagsgodis means Saturday sweets!
Fun fact: every grocery store in Sweden has a “godisvägg” (a wall of sweets) and I have it on good authority that the plockgodis ( pick’n’mix) aisle is the most lucrative aisle in the supermarket! As you can see from my photo choice, I substitute this sweetie tradition for Saturday wine instead.
So, if I could pick any word to bring back home in my suitcase to England, it would be this one. “Sambo” refers to a person who you live with and usually someone that you’re in a relationship with. It’s just SO much better than all the awkward alternatives such as “partner”… like seriously congratulations on your Law firm guys?!
It also reflects the natural course of relationships in Sweden with many couples moving in together and often starting a family before marrying, if they decide to marry at all. It’s got a really lovely sentiment to it and feels like it would be very much at home in the UK.
On another (sort of related) note, when talking about step family (e.g. stepdad/stepsister) Swedes refer to their “bonus” family. So if you’re ever talking to a Swedish person about their “bonus mum”… that’s what they mean! How great is that!
And finally, the Swedish law enabling “freedom to roam”! This unusual and liberating rule gives the right to wander, eat, swim and even sleep anywhere in nature!
Obviously there are some restrictions for safety but mainly the guidelines are simple: to respect nature and the multitude of wild animals living in it. Swedish culture is so intertwined with nature that it often doesn’t need to be said. Even the littlest kids are often walking through the woods on their way to school, being out in the forest is as normal as watching TV or reading a book for Swedish children. I guess they’ve got to burn off their lördagsgodis somehow!