Like many other countries, Sweden has plenty of expressions, idioms and sayings rooted in history and tradition. Some of them can be found in other languages, or at least share similar meaning like “Beat around the bush” and “Gå som katten kring het gröt” (English: walks like the cat around hot porridge). Some others are quite exceptional.
Despite its hilarious literal meanings, these sayings are actually relatable to everyday life in Sweden. Personally, I found some sayings are helpful in understanding Swedish values, and for that reason I wish I knew them earlier 😀
Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder
This is probably the most famous Swedish saying. Translated to English as “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes,” you will hear this a lot during autumn and winter, especially when you start to complain about the snow, or rain, or wind in Sweden.
Though it sounds overconfident, it is true that in Sweden you need a jacket that is THE ONE. The jacket that is appropriate to the weather (water proof, wind proof and snow proof if possible) and comfortable, or locals call it “varm och mysig”. Winter in Sweden can be harsh, and autumn rain is not so friendly either, so we need to dress accordingly. If you have a little kid, the general “guidance” to dress them on winter is: long underwear (thermal or long johns), fleece and overall.
When I first arrived in Sweden, it was December and I was just wearing regular winter coat not designed for Swedish winter. As a result, I caught common cold few days later. If only I knew beforehand that Swedish winter was “different” from the winter I had experienced before, I would have bought a better coat.
Jag säger inget, så har jag ingenting sagt
Swedes are generally restrained. They keep things for themselves and prefer not to say anything about anything. This saying explains that character a lot. I was surprised at first, to know that there was no complaint (or even question!) when a bus I was in took a wrong direction. None cursed when the train was late or even cancelled.
Well, my Swedish friend said they cursed actually, only internally 😀
But it is true that Swedes tend to avoid conflict and stay silent.
The same thing happens when you ask them about their opinions. They seem inconvenient to judge or to express what they think about, even when you want to buy their product. There was this moment when I was going to buy something so I asked the shopkeeper if it’s recommended or not and he simply said, “Well, it’s up to you.”
Döm ej allt du ser, Tro ej allt du hör, Gör ej allt du kan, Säg ej allt du vet, Förtär ej allt du har, Låt ingen veta vad du har i hjärtat eller pungen
Do not judge all you see, do not believe all you hear, do not do all you can, do not say all you know, do not eat all you have, let no one know what you have in your heart or in your wallet. This saying, I think, is the extended version of lagom ☺
This describes well how Swedes love to put everything somewhere in the middle: not too much not too little.
Allvar och gamman trives gärna samman
Have you ever been in a working situation where you were in the middle of something? You were almost there, it only needed few things to add but the clock struck 3 pm and everyone left their desk for fika, no matter what, so you’re the only weird one in the room. If your answer is yes, I feel you!
Apparently in Sweden, seriousness and pleasure should thrive together, exactly like the saying. Swedes are moving gracefully between work and fika on regular basis. When it’s time for work, they put every single thing in it. But when it’s time for fika, they do not hesitate to take a break. I find this really interesting because I used to think that I have to work harder and leave the time to rest in the very end. Now I learn that it’s good to have a break every now and then to give you fresher minds and ideas.
Man tar inte emot beröm av vem som helst
If you come from a culture where giving praise is common or even advisable, do not bother to try it in Sweden. Here, there’s a saying that means, “One does not accept praise from anybody.”
During my first months in Sweden, I used to say “thank you”, a lot, as part of appreciation. It’s just a habit I couldn’t help it 😀 . But soon I realised that most people here are not convenient with praise or compliment. A friend of mine once said that it’s simply because they were just doing their job so there’s nothing really special about it.
Having been living in Sweden for almost three years now, there are things I wish I could have done differently. But so far, my experience in Sweden is a nice one. It’s not always smile and rainbow but I wouldn’t want to replace it, inte för allt smör i Småland ☺.
*originally published for The Newbie Guide to Sweden on October 2, 2019