Enjoy Not Knowing

Just another American living in Sweden


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swedish word of the month: smörgåsbord

For the second Swedish word of the month I thought I’d present one of the few words that are also English words. The key difference here is the Ö and Å. The Swedish alphabet has 29 letters, the first 26 are the same as the English alphabet, plus å, ä och ö.

The Swedish word smörgåsbord is defined as an open-faced sandwich, served cold, with butter, pickled herring and cold cuts. The smörgåsbord is served as an appetizer. (As according to the Swedish Academy’s dictionary) The English definition is similar, a luncheon or dinner buffet offering a variety of foods and dishes (such as hour d’oeuvres, hot and cold meats, smoked and pickled fish, cheeses, salads and relishes). (As according to Miriam Webster’s dictionary).

To be perfectly honest the English definition aligns almost perfectly with my experiences. The Swedish definition seems less specific…though the specificity of the English definition is likely implied within the Swedish definition. Convenient how that happens time to time in Swedish. Little is expicitly said, much is implied – we’re all on the same page after all, aren’t we?

Before moving to Sweden I had heard of a smorgasbord, though I had never eaten pickled herring in my life. The home made kind (as pictured above) are definitely the best). Pickled herring is quite tasty, definitely give it a try! (N.B. DO NOT confuse sill (pickled herring) with the Icelandic shark dish hákarl).

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book of may: svinalängorna

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At one point I thought I’d try to read more in Swedish. Then I started my Early Childhood Education degree (in Swedish) and was buried in textbooks *written in Swedish*. Is it my own fault for wishing to read in Swedish? Maybe Probably.

Regardless, this book is actually part of the course literature in my History of Children and Childhood course. (I’m basically directly translating this stuff, so I could be totally off on what it really should be called). Told from the perspective of a first generation Swedish girl with Finnish parents her journey through childhood is graphically documented and beautifully written. Susanna Alakoski really can write.

The book has also been made into a movie, so you know it’s a good one. I’m not sure if it’s been translated to English, so before I can recommend you read it I should first recommend you learn Swedish.

No probs, right?

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swedish as a second language

Once upon a time a girl moved to Sweden. In Sweden the spoken language is Swedish. The girl embarked on a language learning journey though Swedish as a Second Language classes, also known as SAS.

In May of last year I touched upon the completion of my Swedish 2 class. Really what I did was allude to the fact that my final was coming up, and use that as a partial excuse for not posting in ages. At this point I’ve even completed Swedish 3. Which concludes my academic Swedish learning.


Since moving to the city where we currently reside I’ve almost exclusively taken classes online. It’s definitely something to get used to, but now that I’ve been doing it for two years straight I’d say I’m starting to get the hang of it.

Swedish 2 concluded with an in person essay test. We had an assigned book that we were to have read and brought with us to the exam. We received three essay questions upon arrival and had something like four hours to write our essay.

I’m going to reiterate. Read a novel in a foreign language, then write about that novel for four hours. Looking back I’m pretty impressed with myself! To be honest it wasn’t as hard as I may be making it sound, I like to retain hyperbolization rights in my writing.

Swedish 3 was like Swedish 2 but more. More reading, more writing, a bigger and badder final exam. The final exam in Swedish 3 was a national exam. Think MCAS for those of you acquainted with the Massachusetts public school system, or Google MCAS for those of you unacquainted with the Massachusetts public school system. (I was going to make a common core reference, but I’m so not touching that.)

The moral of the story is that I’M DONE! Done with my Swedish book learning. All done in just enough time to forget all my Englishing.

This girl can speak Swedish now. Or at least fake it really really well.

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book of september: harry potter och de vises sten

In my never-ending quest to fully grasp the Swedish language I have decided to read more in Swedish. I thought starting with what very well may be my favorite book was a good place to start. Seeing as I have read it over…well we don’t need to publicly publish how many times I’ve read the book – let’s just say it’s a lot of times…Seeing as I have read the book in English many many times I figured reading it in Swedish would be a good idea.

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To be honest, it was harder than I thought. Turns out I don’t know words like wizard, magic wand and Horcrux in Swedish. Just kidding, no one knows about Horcruxes in the first book. Probably Albus. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Also, Horcrux is Horcrux in Swedish. Now that that’s out of the way, I did get to learn a lot of new Swedish words! I just hope I’ll soon find a good use for “Benlåsningsbesvärjelsen” some time soon. (Leg-Locker Curse for those unfamiliar with Swedish spell names.)

If you haven’t read Harry Potter in your native tongue, get on that. I even recommend trying it out in your second, third or fourth language. All the languages!

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book of june: vi kom över havet

Hello and welcome to the first book of the month after my 25th birthday. That means this is the first book of the month for my 30 before 30 list. I hope you’re excited. I know I am.

Remember how I have been studying Swedish? Well in that post (the one you can read if you click that blue link) I tell you about my Swedish as a Second Language class. That class is officially said and done, and for that class we read a novel: Vi kom över havet by Julie Otsuka (which we then got to write our final exam on).

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The book has been translated into English, if my English speaking readers are wondering, in English it is titled The Buddha in the Attic. If my Japanese readers are wondering, I tried to check if it’s also available in Japanese, but I can’t read the Japanese Wikipedia page, so let me know if you find out.

I really enjoyed reading the book, and was honestly surprised how well it went to read in Swedish. As you know, I read Mödrar och söner by Theodor Kalifatides in Swedish, and that was actually pretty tricky. I was often looking up words, and asking Evelina to translate for me. This time it went a lot better.

Vi kom över havet is about Japanese immigrants having come to the US. It is in the perspective of Japanese women who travel by boat to husbands who have paid for their new wives. It is really amazingly written, and I highly recommend it. In any language.

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the sweatiest bus trip of my life

Spain part 2 of 3
(part 1 found here)

While in Spain I experienced the sweatiest bus trip of my life.

I’m almost hoping that when you picture a sweaty bus trip you picture an old, half run down, bus with all the windows down and its occupants just sweltering. Fanning themselves with exhausted arms in a half stupor from the heat. Admittedly, it is warm in Spain. However, what I hope you’re imagining is no where close to what my reality was.

They have very effective air conditioning systems in their busses in Spain. On my bus trip the temperature was actually verging on chilly in there. I became extremely sweaty on this bus trip for none of the reasons you’d expect.

The trip by bus from Madrid to Don Benito takes four hours. By law bus drivers in Spain must take a break after two hours of driving. That means half way between the two cities we stopped at a rest stop. Up until that point my bus trip was very low-key. The woman to my left spent the time sleeping, and I spent the time taking wonderful scenic pictures of the Spanish countryside while listening to tunes on my iPhone.

See how wonderful!

Spanish Landscape

Take a good look at these pictures. Doesn’t it look, just a little bit, like we were driving in circles? In retrospect I seriously wonder if we did that a little bit. Probably not. Who knows. Anyway…

Moving on!

At the half way mark everyone got off the bus, as required, and the bus driver locked the bus. We all hung around a rest stop, some people buying snacks, most everyone using the facilities. Had I known what I was about to embark on during the second half of my journey I would not have nonchalantly basked in the Spanish sun. I would have been studying. Studying the Spanish language.

Little did I know my travel companion in the seat next to me was quite the chatter. I did not know this, because, as mentioned, she slept for the first two hours. For the second two hours it was time to chat. Can you guess where this is going?

If I thought that I got nervous while speaking Swedish to Swedes it was nothing compared to how nervous I became while trying to differentiate in my brain between Spanish and Swedish. In general English isn’t very widely spoken in Spain, so if you think a broken blend of Spanish, Swedish and English is at all understandable to anybody, you would be wrong. (This is not only applicable in Spain, but rather exactly everywhere on Earth.)

Despite our hindrances, that is to say, despite my hindrances, and sweatiness, I ended up having a lovely conversation with María-José. She explained about the different areas of Spain. Where she had travelled and lived. The stark differences between the Spanish countryside and Madrid (which I had actually picked up on – believe it or not). Told me about how her daughter had travelled to the US and was now working there. My big input in the conversation was commenting on horses. I’m sure she was simply blown away by my intellectual contribution. I did successfully explain that I was from the US, now lived in Sweden, and was visiting a friend who lived in Don Benito. (She was wondering why on earth I would travel to Don Benito.)

Map of Spain

A clear written explination of our discussion on Spain

I don’t think my sweatiness bothered her. I say that because once we arrived in Don Benito she stuck around with me until Katie arrived at the bus station. Safely leaving me off with someone who knew the area. María-José, thank you, I will always remember our bus trip together.

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