When I first moved to Sweden, I was more than shy to speak Swedish. For a non-Finn that may have seemed a little strange, since I had seven years of Swedish studies – with good grades – under my belt, and I had translated hockey magazines from Norwegian and Swedish into Finnish. And yes, I could read the papers, watch the late night news on TV, and every now and then, I would even send an email in Swedish to my colleagues.
But every Finn knows how difficult it is for us to speak Swedish. Partly because the Finnish accent always gives us away – and Finns would like nothing better than to blend in – and partly because while that fantastic educational system did teach us Swedish grammar, it didn’t teach us how to speak.
At a casual conversation at lunch, I could follow the discussion but by the time I had constructed the perfect sentence in my head, with the right verb conjugations, and the correct suffixes to the nouns, the moment had gone, so I never said anything.
That’s why I, for the first year and a half in Stockholm, only spoke English. Well, publicly. I did practice my Swedish with the usual suspects: cab drivers and waitresses.
But, along came Wife, encouraged me to switch, and I did.
Unfortunately, there’s still skånska, the dialect spoken in the southern tip of Sweden, close to Denmark, a dialect that sounds like what the Swedish chef would sound like if he was really, really drunk. Words become shape shifters. Extra vowels are added to words, the r’s become rough and Frenchy, and the rhythm of the sentence is like rush hour traffic, accelerating and stopping at random times.
I once asked a Skåne friend how kids ever learned to read there if a word that looks like “boat” is pronounced “bewout”. He looked at me and said there was nothing special about it.
“Look, it’s easy. ‘Bee, ew, ou, t, bewout.’ Nothing to it,” he said.
Now, according to studies, Danish children do lag behind Swedish and Norwegian kids in language comprehension because words are difficult to extract from a Danish sentence in which everything gets slurred together, but they do learn to read eventually. I assume the same is true for Skåne kids.
All I know is that I’ve never been as grateful for McDonald’s fantastic processes as I was when I was in Lund, a university city in the middle of Skåne.
I walked in, and when I got to the register I ordered a Big Mac. She asked me something, and I said, yes, let’s make it a meal. Then she asked me something else, and I said, “Cola Light”. She turned around, grabbed a burger, took a drink, and got my fries. She put them on the tray and said something. I gave her the biggest bill I had in my wallet, and she gave me my change.
“Thank you,” I said.
The other day, I had to call Apple support to register my laptop.
“Hi,” I said, “I’d like to register my laptop.”
“Sure,” said the man in a young male voice, and in a skånska dialect, so it sounded more like, “Sheware”.
“What’s the serial number, please?” he said.
“One,” I said. He repeated it.
“Zero,” I said, “or maybe that’s an O, not sure.”
“It’s a zero,” he said.
“Great. So, one .. zero .. and a T…”
And an S, a K, and then, suddenly, out of nowhere, Y.
“Y”, I said, and he repeated it.
Just then, as I heard him say it, I also heard Wife say it in my head – and correct me. The letter Y always trips me up because for some reason, I can’t make that sound. When I say what I think is the Y sound – like the u in “furious” – it comes out as the Swedes’ “U” sound. And the Swedish O – like the o in “cool” – is then my U. Very confusing.
But, I went on to the next letter, until I had spelled out the entire serial code.
“It doesn’t work,” said the young Skåne male.
“Oh, wait, I think we got it wrong. I think that when I said B, it may have been an 8 instead,” I said.
I heard typing at the other end of the line.
“Nope, that doesn’t work. Let’s try again.”
And we did. It didn’t work so we went through the whole serial number again, now in all Army code, except neither one of us knew the proper “Alpha Bravo” phonetic alphabet. So we improvised.
“S as in Sigfried,” he said.
“Yes, S as in Sigmund. Like Freud!” I replied.
“T as in Ted,” he said and I said yes.
“And U as in university,” he said.
“No, no, no. It’s Y,” I said. “Yyyyyyy, as in …”
I was silent for a second, trying to come up with a name that begins with a Y, and then shouted:
“Y as in Yngwie Malmsteen!”
Now he was silent.
“You know what. I’ll give you an email address that you can send a copy of your receipt and a photo of the Apple Care code to, and you’ll get the certificate sent home to you, how does that sound?” said the yound male in a Skåne dialect.
“Sounds good,” I said.
“Let me just type in your name here in the system, and assign a case number,” he said, and then spelled the email address for me.
Ten minutes later, I sent the photos to Apple.
I got my certificate yesterday. It was addressed to Hristo Takarinen.