Bilingual in Sweden

It’s raining cats and dogs and I am plum out of recipe ideas. It’s not winter, but it’s acting winter. So, some ranting and story telling will have to do.


Lately I have been getting the same question or series of questions over and over again. There has been a lot of concern about the fact I speak English at home despite being fluent in Swedish.

Karlsson på Taket. That patch on his head is missing hair. The Man has threatened that coif.

I am very proud to speak Swedish, though with a flawed accent. It took many years of hard work and an innumerable number of Swedish novels, starting with Eeeeemil. BTW he’s a brat, in the same league as the kid from Where the Wild Things Are. Sorry Astrid. But, please tell me WTH is Karlsson på Tacket about? Is barnprogram supposed to creep the bajeezus out of us?

Sorry got off subject there for a minute.

Speaking English at home provides me with the same, ahhhh at home feeling that trading in the suit for the raggedy sweats and t-shirt do. It ‘s just plain comfy and home is meant to be comfy. And nothing would seem stranger to me than driving through Sweden, speaking Swedish, in a car filled exclusively with native English speakers. Tar till hoger pa nasta hornet.  Nej, nasta hornet! Jag sa hoger for fan. Fattar do?

So, please don’t take offense. Swedish is a great language. It’s just natural to all of us to want to speak the language we grew up with when the situation allows. It makes us feel at home and slightly more, ME!

Seriously though being bilingual isn’t all that easy.

When I am at home and see signs that say, bilingual assistant wanted, I think hey that’s me! I am bilingual. I speak TWO, count them, TWO languages and I am American. However, one needs to remember that bilingual in the US refers to Spanish and English speakers only. As if out of 9 billion people there are only two spoken languages on the planet. Damn that must irk the French.  So, I bow my head in sadness that 7 Eleven does not have use for me or my Swedish skills.

Then there are the words falling out of your brain or just getting twisted around.

For instance, while walking through Lund in Sweden a friend of mine turned to her boyfriend and said, look they still have cockerpeckers hanging in the windows! What she meant to say was, look honey they still have pepparkakor (ginger bread cookies) hanging in the window.

Or the Swede who found himself at a NY Burger King and needed a straw for his coke. “I need… I need… I need a suck pipe?” The entire counter busted out in hysterics. His meal was on the house.

Then there was Kim at a Burger King in London ordering the usual, Whopper Jr. hold the onions! A look of confusion swept over the face of the man taking my order. I repeat hold the onions, while my British/Australian friends stand behind me laughing as they scream yet again, YOU ARE SOOOOOOO AMERICAN! When the guy began to cup his hands and run to the kitchen to fetch the onions I realized my mistake. “Please do no put onions on my hamburger. Thank you!” No free meal for me.

Also when my stubborn Uncle, at a low brow breakfast spot in Prague, repeatedly demanded a real fork when presented with a dessert fork to eat his breakfast with.

Uncle:  Pointing to the offensive utensil, please bring us a REAL fork.

Waitress: It’s a fork.

Uncle: No, I want a REAL fork.

Kim: I don’t care give it to me.

Uncle: No, we are paying for this. REAL FORK PLEASE.

Waitress: Yes, It’s a fork. USE IT!

Uncle: Utterly confused

Kim: Laughes hysterically at my SOOOOO AMERICAN Uncle.

Waitress: Gives us dirty look, as she thinks I was laughing at her not my Uncle. We breakfasted elsewhere the next day.

The mother of all bad. The time I said to my employers mom that I wasn’t interested in four more years of college. Not harmful at all until you repeat the conversation to the daughter/employer and she tells you what you actually said.  That indeed you were not at all interested in spending four years giving the school oral sex.

So, yes there are plenty of good reason to stick to the language you know best.