Attempting to converse with Swedes in their own tongue requires a stepping out of ones comfort zone a degree or two.
It is necessary to put oneself in the direct firing line of humiliation and ridicule. Fun will be poked as attempts are made to pronounce peculiar words that require the mouth to move in a completely new alien way. The sound ’sj’ is something that does not exist in English and sounds something like the noise you make when blowing out your birthday candles. ffffffuuuuuuu. It took me quite some time to master this sound and now feel I am qualified well enough to say ’sjuttio sju sjuk sjömän sjunger i det sjukhuset’ (Translation: fffuuuteee fffuuu fffuuuk fffuuumen fffuunnger e de fffuuuk huuset) It is of course not sooo common to find 77 sick sailors singing in the hospital, but it does happen here in Sweden from time to time and so knowing the correct pronunciation is critical!
Apart from silly sounds to contend with, problems also arise with plain simple words too. Many times I have being trying to articulate a word such as ‘cat’ lets say. I say the word in the sentence and the listener stops me, mmm cat? whats that? You know cat! A blank look on their face appears. At this point I try different attempts to pronounce the word again…cat…kat…caat…caauuttt…ffffuuuucat!! Somewhere in amongst the noises I am making, something rings a bell of recognition in the ears of my listener and they suddenly say ‘Oh! You mean CAT!’ Well YEESSS, that is what I said in first place I think. Sometimes it does feel that the joke is on me and the listener understood all along and is just having fun seeing me struggle and look foolish. Of course I meant bloody ‘Cat’ what else would be purring while I stroked it!
Moving on….There are many words in Swedish that have a similar spelling for example ‘glas and glass’ and of course they must be pronounced differently. I have a real problem with this and I am often unable to identify the correct way to utter these words. So much so that I am often found ordering 6 high ball ‘ice creams’ at the hardware store and asking the ice cream man for a Dime bar flavoured ‘glass’.
When guests come over for dinner I ask people if they are ‘dangerous’ at the end of the meal while warning small children not to touch the hot oven because ‘it’s finished’. Like some goddess with other worldly powers I offer guests ‘light’ to drink (in addition to tea of course) and I have the ability to turn fruit ‘juice’ on. I scream ‘FREE’ at people when it is there birthday and question ‘it’s congratulations?’ when I get a free bus ride, causing female bus drivers to touch their stomachs and embarrassingly shake their heads.
But my favourite language faux pas is the fact that for months and I mean MONTHS I have been wandering around Sweden exclaiming ‘IT’S GINGER’ here there and everywhere in my kindly, easy going nature. Why no one has bothered to tell me that ‘No problem’ was not pronounced like that I will never know. I guess its all just part of the fun of learning a new language.
However, I do fear that it’s possibly some sort of condition that runs in the family though. My mother told me that my brother had just bought a new car ….and …..it’s a Swedish car she marvelled….you guessed it, he bought a Vulva!!