All The Swedish You Need To Know

It’s been a year since we moved to Sweden and people are starting to ask, “Have you learned the language yet?” It’s kind of like assuming someone who likes to jog can run a marathon. It’s not happening. What I do know is, “Jag förstår inte svenska,” it means “I don’t understand Swedish,” and since my pronunciation is so bad, people get my meaning.

Other words I’ve found helpful to know are as follows…

Hello. It’s “Hej.”        Pronounced Hay, as in what horses eat.

At first if felt disrespectful to walk by someone and just go, “Hej.” But then you get into the rhythm of it. You say, “Hej,” and they say “Hej,” and everyone’s cool. If you want to get super fancy, say it twice fast, “Hej, Hej.” Once you’re to this point, you can break into English and get around just fine.

Goodbye is only a little harder. It’s “adjö.” Pronounced Hey-dough.

For the first six months I said Hey-Do, as in do something, instead of dough. I’d pay for my groceries and as I left, wave, “Hey-do.” My kids would cringe.

Thank you is my favorite phrase. Tack.  Pronounced exactly how it reads. Easy. I use it all the time. It makes me feel smart. I just throw it in there wherever, like sprinkling salt on food—tack this and tack that. I thank people for all kinds of things they probably never got thanked for. Sometimes the entire conversation is tack, tack, tack. It works.

Beyond those essentials, there are a few other words that stick in my memory, only because we weren’t allow to say them growing up. For example the “F” word. Not THAT “F” word, the other one, fart. We never farted, at our house (sorry mom and dad), we “passed gas.” This was considered a much more polite way of telling people to watch out. Here in Sweden, the word “fart” is everywhere. Utfart means Exit. Infart means Entrance. You can imagine the jokes that can be made when you come across those words at parking garages, movie theaters, malls and restaurants. For some reason, they never fail to amuse.

Better yet (or worse yet, I can’t decide) is Farthinder, bump in the road. These signs are everywhere. If you happen to pass one with a carload of boys under 10, you’re guaranteed instant giggles.


There’s one last word I’ll mention. It’s hard to get it off the tongue if you’re American. Kött. It means meat. The ‘K’ in Swedish makes the ‘sh’ sound, the ‘ö’ sounds like ‘i.’ Are you following? It sounds like you’re swearing. This is delicious meat, directly translated, becomes “this is delicious…uh-huh.” (If you want to hear, Google translate will pronounce it for you.)

Lucky for me, English gets me around just fine. Every once in a while though, it’s fun to throw in some Swedish.


4 Comments on “All The Swedish You Need To Know

  1. This was awesome! I lived in Sicily for two and a half years eons ago and people would always ask us the same thing. I was always embarrassed to admit that we could only say basic phrases and in really bad American accents. Your article hit home, I laughed all the way through it! Thank-you for sharing.

  2. I remember those signs and giggling to myself. You have to have a sense of humor to live overseas, or to do any hard thing. And when I was visiting you, you said “tack” at the grocery store. I didn’t cringe, I would say to the grocery attendant- “I’m with her.” (Very proud to be with a “Swedish speaker.”)

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