I swear to you

Our family is bilingual, and since I write a lot in English, I switch between three languages all the time, every day. Every language is special in its own way, and each of them portray my personality in a slightly different way.

Even my voice is a little different depending on whether I’m speaking Finnish, Swedish, or English, let alone the style of my speech. A good American friend of mine once noted that while he was getting more fluent in Swedish while living in Stockholm, he always counted money in English. I seem to be doing the same, only, I count in Finnish.

Stand-ins for my kids

Which is probably a very smart move, considering that yesterday, while I was trying to count our Finnish vacation days, from the 15th to 30th, I accidentally hopped over “26” in Swedish. (That is a little strange because Finns usually skip “27”. We just can’t pronounce “tjugosju”).

But it’s the little subtleties that still get me. It’s the swearing. I swear best in Finnish.

It’s just that a Finnish cussword has so much more punch to it than probably anything else in the world. Finns also probably swear more than any other people in the world. Don’t ask me why, we just do. Let’s blame the cold and dark climate. Drives you fucking nuts.

Now, Swedes throw their devils around pretty casually, but the threshold to use stronger words is still pretty high.

Yesterday, we were at a store with the kids. Our daughter wore an Emil of Lönneberga hat, and was just generally looking cute. Our son was making conversation with the salesperson, a nice little lady in her 60s. I was busy looking busy, to not engage, when I heard her tell our daughter that she looked really cute.

“You’re like Emil, aren’t you?” she said.

“Yeaaaaaaah,” the three-year-old said said.

“Do you also do little tricks, just like Emil?” she said.


“And what do mom and dad say when you pull a prank? Do they say, “Eeeemil, you son of a bitch?”

My heart skipped a beat because what she actually said, in Swedish, was, “satans unge”, Satan’s kid.

Of all the Finnish swear words that I use, saatana, Satan, is the the one that I probably use the least, but which, probably for that reason, also still cuts through the noise. Especially, when I hear a nice little lady say it to my kids, quoting a Swedish children’s story in which swearing is frowned upon.

My son looked at her and said, “Fucking right!”

No, he didn’t. He just stared at her, while she, having realized her mistake, backpedalled to the actual phrase that Astrid Lindgren used in the story, “förgrymmade unge”, translated to “wretched child”.

We don’t even say that.

We just go, “aaaaaaaaeeeeeeeeegrhhhhhh!” and that works in all languages.

3 thoughts on “I swear to you

  1. Swearing in Finnish is so popular they even teach it on youtube.com. Just type in Learn a Finnish dirty word. I have learned how to say, "It’s fucking hot," which, since I live in Tampa, is quite appropriate. I have also learned the words, "s-it and dammit, which I intend to use at the Lightning games when Niittymaki lets in a goal. Can’t wait!

  2. For the past few years I’ve been cursing out the refs at the Lightning games in English, French, and Yiddish. Now you tell me how good Finnish is! You’ve only taught me "on kone." What gives??? Although, calling the ref a "schmuck" or "drek kup" does the soul good! :-)

How does that make you feel?