On this week’s expat podcast episode, Samantha, from South Africa, runs Stockholm Girl Gone International, an online group for expat tips and meetups. We talk language mistakes, getting out of your shell and of course, food!
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It is only this year that I learned what “Boxing day” means. Most Americans have heard this term and I guarantee that the majority of us just picture a boxing match or taking out frustration on relatives after being cooped up in a house with them over the holidays.
So for those who, like me, have never understood why the UK has a day to beat the crap out of people after Christmas, I will give you the information I learned this month from Reader’s Digest:
“… it’s actually a celebration of charitable giving…… The name comes from the ritual of opening ‘the box’ – the alms box – in the local parish church and distributing the contents to the poor.”
That’s nice, but there are still a few people out there who could use a good knock-out.
Why do Swedes have to make the word “to hear” (höra) and “whore” (hora) so similar?
This is really bad when I’m writing about something that happened.
“You should hear about…” (Du bör höra om….)
Yes, I think you see where I’m going with this.
But if I just take away those dots – “Du bor hora om” turns into “You should whore about.”
Sure, it comes in handy when I actually don’t like the person and want to pretend I made a mistake, but it’s pretty tough when you’re on vacation without a Swedish keyboard and you’re writing a friend. Especially when they’ve been complaining to you about fining a job.
I’ve realized that speaking a second language (not very well) is often like playing a fill-in-the-blank game. I was talking to my husband last week when he tried to tell me something but couldn’t find an English translation for one word. The conversation was about a court case that had a crazy ruling. It was crazy because the victim was ______ at the time. He never found the word.
Was she possesed? In Toledo? Eating a zebra?
I’ll never know.
Many news stories I read are like this. I’m always missing a word because I don’t understand. “City says all roads in this neighborhood will be closed because of ______.”
Even in converstaions with people. “And then he said we would all have to ______ and Jill of course _______ so you can see why we’re all laughing.”
(For the record, I fill in these blanks with “squirrels,” “eat snails,” and “moved to Toledo.”)
I’ve been looking through the job bank at opportunities for one of my Italian friends looking for a new job. I noticed that when I look for an English speaking job, it’s mostly call centers and teaching (I guess we like to talk). But when I look up jobs for my Italian friend, all the ads are for food or wine experts. Even the job ads are biased. I’ve really got to learn more Italian so I can get paid to rate wine all day.
Yesterday my 5-year old son said, “Mamma, when you are killed I will be old.”
Mistake in English or warning?
Conversation I had on the phone today:
Me: Hello, I’m calling about….
Lady: Speak English please.
Me: I AM speaking English. I’m calling about….
Lady: Please can you speak English?
Me: I AM SPEAKING ENGLISH!
While I was looking up restaurants today on the main restaurant site for Stockholm, I found some information on Thank’s God It’s Friday – better known to you and I as T.G.I. Fridays. I guess some ambitious writer took it upon themselves to demonstrate their knowledge of U.S. chain restaurants and thought they would write the name out – which is never done in the U.S. Not to mention that they got it wrong and it doesn’t even make sense the wrong way. They didn’t write “Thank God it’s Friday,” But “Thank’s God It’s Friday.” Thank’s? Not even a possible word.
This may not be interesting to anyone else, but with all the mistakes I make in Swedish, it’s nice to see some made in English.
I am usually very careful about the expressions I use around people who don’t have English as a first language, but I slipped up earlier this week. A woman was asking me about our new apartment building and I told her it was nice, but it’s so new that they haven’t worked out all the bugs.
“Bugs??!! Oh no, it’s a terrible problem with insects. I can’t believe a new building like that has bugs!”
I tried to explain that I meant to say problems, but she seems set on the idea that our apartment is crawling with insects. I guess she won’t be interested in coming over for tea.
I’ve noticed that the woman at the reception desk at the swim hall always looks at me as if I’m an alien when I ask to swim. I’ve thought about this and I think I have figured out the problem. Even though I know the correct way to say a sentence in Swedish, I think I am lacking the basic social skills for the language and culture. The problem is that when I want to do something new, I learn the most basic and direct way to say it. I have no follow up. I don’t know how to make my sentences polite. When I go to the swim hall each week, I walk up to the desk and say, “I WANT TO SWIM!” (Jag vill simma!) When I get a haircut, I say, “I WANT A HAIRCUT!” (Jag vill klippa mig! – Yes, it sounds to me like I’m saying I want to cut myself, but other people assure me this means haircut.)
I have nothing to say after these sentences. If I were speaking English, I would probably say, “I’d like to swim, please,” and then make some comment about the weather. If I were asking for a haircut in English, I would say, “Yes, I’d like to get a haircut today. Just a little off the ends.”
But in Swedish, I am forced to announce my needs in a caveman fashion and my only follow up may be occasional miming. After I announce my desire for a haircut in Sweden and they ask me how much, I usually just make my hands into scissors and pretend to cut where I would like it. This gets the message across but may also be why people occasionally treat me as if I am a crazy street person.
One thing that makes television fun to watch over here is the way they translate the titles. There is a show on every evening listed as, “I Have Become Bitten.” I’ve never actually looked at the show but I think I should. It certainly sounds interesting. I wonder what it could be. Obviously someone is bitten each week and not overly concerned about it.