‘It’s not the fart that kills…’

As a bilingual video has the internet public in stitches, The Local's Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius catches up with the men behind the merging of comedy and the Swedish language.

'It's not the fart that kills...'

Patrick Hansson wants to help make learning Swedish simple. And funny. If you haven’t seen his clip or clicked on the link your friends have posted on Facebook, you just might want to check it out. No previous knowledge of Swedish required.

Hansson got the idea for the ‘Simple Swedish’ project one morning just after he awoke, when his first thought of the day was, “The [Swedish] word ‘val’ has three different meanings. That must be confusing to all of those who are trying to learn Swedish.”

And so began his comedic approach to learning bits and bobs of the Swedish language. ‘Simple Swedish’, the skit, was written, filmed, edited and published by Hansson, a TV cameraman by day, funny language film maker by night.

The video first hit the self-broadcasting site YouTube in late September. Initially, Hansson only sent the 6½-minute film to discussion sites and forums where people have an interest in learning Swedish, as well as to his own group of friends on social networking sites like Facebook.

“From that point it’s taken on its own life,” Hansson tells The Local, explaining how the video has spread around Sweden and into the rest of the English-speaking world. To date, there have been over 50,000 views of the YouTube film and the number is increasing all the time.

The message and content of the humour in ‘Simple Swedish’ plays a lot on American culture and its usage of the English language. Poking fun at the American need to censor profanity (the f-word in particular) on TV and radio is a clear message, with the Swedish king summoned for demonstration purposes.

“For example, if the King wants to go on national TV and say ‘Fuck you’, he can. But he won’t. I mean, which king would do that? Not ours.”

Hansson drew some of his inspiration from the comedy routine called “Hipp Hipp: Svenska för nybörjare” and the character Itzhak Skenstrom. But while Hipp Hipp and other Swedish language comedy sketches aim their humour at the Swedish audience, Hansson also wants to reach non-Swedes.

With a script in hand and the drive and inspiration to see it through, Hansson roped in Ola Lustig, the face of ‘Simple Swedish’, while working with him last summer on a TV4 game show.

Lustig is best known as a presenter on commercial radio station Rix FM where he is commonly referred to as Väder-Ola [Weather-Ola], an epithet he first received while presenting the weather forecast for Aftonbladet.

Lustig tells The Local that he got involved with Simple Swedish (for which he didn’t get paid), “Because I love making people laugh.” He adds, “I also have a minor passion for languages.”

Lustig also has a self-professed passion for farts. Fart means speed in Swedish, and the section of the skit devoted to Swedish speed was Ola’s contribution.

“I love farts. A while ago I did an experiment where I taped my farts on my iPhone and played them live on [my radio programme].” And so Lustig introduces the English-speaking audience to Swedish/English word-play: “It’s not the fart that kills, it’s the smäll” (meaning ‘impact’, but pronounced ‘smell’).

‘Simple Swedish’ was made on a wing and a prayer with no budget. It was filmed with Hansson’s own camera, a borrowed microphone and construction lamps in his flat in Hägersten, a neighborhood of Stockholm just south of the inner city.

“I filmed against an empty wall to give the impression of space. It’s my living room wall, we had to move stuff around.”

But it has yet to be determined whether non-Swedes with no ties to the country will be sufficiently amused by ‘Simple Swedish’.

Ben Kersley, the British comic living in Linköping, performs his routines in Swedish. According to Kersley, “Comedy relies on language and misunderstandings of language – from the pun, double entendre, malapropism and the oxymoron… not to mention good old Spoonerisms… This kind of sketch is all the funnier for an audience who have a knowledge of both languages i.e. Swedes and non-Swedes who live in Sweden.”

“In part of my act I look at the question of Swedish/English from the other perspective… on how Swedes misuse English, which possibly has more mileage as Swedes are obliged to use English and therefore make mistakes more commonly.”

Kersley is bullish on the skit nonetheless, “This sketch is great as it hits on all the things we see when we first get here – fart, sex, slut.” Speed, six, the end.

Hansson has ideas for another script and Ola confirms he’s on board. “Anything that’s good for Sweden is good for everyone here…I’m fascinated by the fascination with Sweden.”

But whether the humour really can cross to Americans with no knowledge of Sweden is questionable. Ben Kersley points out elements that likely go over most people’s head, including Hansson himself.

“How strange it is to see a Swede in a suit and tie. Also, that he is using British English to teach the Americans how to speak Swedish.”

On that note, we’ll take our leave, borrowing from the skit’s own ending, “Good bye. Slut.”

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Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

There are about ten Sámi languages alive today, spoken across the northern parts of Scandinavia and eastern Russia. But they are among the many Indigenous languages around the world that are at risk of disappearing. 

Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

You might have heard that there are over 200 words for snow in Sámi languages, which is unsurprising, given the climate of the Sámi homeland in Northern Europe. But there’s a lot more to the languages than snow. 

The Swedish Sámi parliament website says that “language is the bearer of cultural heritage and reflects our people’s common view of life and values. Language transfers knowledge about nature and the world.”

But Sámi language fluency has been declining rapidly for decades. Pite Sámi is critically endangered, with fewer than 50 living speakers, all in Sweden. Today, Northern Sámi is the most widely spoken. 

Due to assimilation policies in all the countries the Sámi found themselves in, older generations of Sámi people were not allowed to speak their own language in school, meaning some languages have already been lost. 

The Local spoke to speakers and researchers of the languages to find out some of the most unique and beautiful words still in use.

1. Sápmi  

Sápmi is the Northern Sámi word for the traditional dwelling place of the Sámi people, which encompasses the northern parts of Scandinavia and the Kola peninsula of Russia. Since the 20th century, national borders and state policies have divided Sápmi and the people who call it home. 

Location of Sápmi in Europe

A map of where Sápmi in northern Europe. Map: Wikipedia

Elle Rávdná Näkkäläjärvi is part of the Sámiskeveivisere, Sámi Pathfinders, a group of young Sámi people who visit high schools and teach students about Sámi culture. She says Sápmi itself is one of her favourite words. 

“The word means a Sápmi without borders, it means relatives, sisters and brothers, and community,” she says. 

2. Eadni 

Eadni means ‘mother’ in Northern Sámi.

“It’s one of the first words that children learn,” says Berit Anne Bals Baal, a lecturer of linguistics at the National Centre for Sámi Language in Education at the Sámi University College, who chose it as her favourite word.

It has a complex phonology (sound system), and is similar to the Northern Sámi word for Earth, which is eanan

3. Guohtun  

Guohtun is a Northern Sámi word that describes the ideal conditions for reindeer to find lichen to graze under a covering of snow. But it’s more complicated than that. It’s one of those words that resists simple translation.

Lars Miguel Utsi, the Vice President of the Sámi parliament of Sweden, says, “Guohtun is a very complex word. It encompasses geography, plants, lichens, snow, and reindeer. It exemplifies the language and its connection to land and water.”

“It’s a very soothing word because it means that there is food and the reindeer can reach it,” he said. 

4. Giitu  

Giitu means ‘thank you’ in Northern Sámi.

Anyone who knows some Finnish might notice that it sounds quite similar to the Finnish word for ‘thank you’, kiitos. That’s because Sámi languages have more in common with Finnish than with Swedish, Danish or Norwegian, coming from the same language family: Finno-Uralic. 

You can respond to giitu with leage buorre which means ‘you’re welcome.’

5. Čáiddas 

This means snowball. We couldn’t have a list of Sámi words without having something specific to snow, could we? 

6. Vuovdi 

This means forest in Northern Sámi. Vast swathes of Sápmi is covered in forest. Sámi reindeer herders rely on old-growth forests to let their reindeer graze; they eat the kind of lichen that only grows in older forests. 

7. Boazu

Reindeer husbandry is a vital part of Sámi life. Photo: Image Bank Sweden

In all Sámi languages, there are two different words for reindeer. In Northern Sámi there is goddi and boazu.

Boazu means a reindeer who has been tamed and can be milked. Goddi is the word for wilder reindeer.  

Reindeer herding is an important aspect of Sámi culture and a vital source of income for many Sámi people. The Sámi parliament estimates that about 2,500 people are dependent on income from reindeer husbandry. 

8. Bures

An easy one! This is how you say “hello” to another person in Northern Sámi. 

9. Goahte  

Goahte is a type of hut in Lule Sámi. It’s a traditional Sámi home that can be built in several different ways, depending on what material is available, like with wooden panels or a construction of wooden poles covered with peat or cloth.

10. Sámediggi 

This is the Northern Sámi word for the Sámi Parliament. There’s a Sámi parliament in each country that divides Sápmi.

In the Scandinavian countries, it’s essentially a government agency with the aim of representing the Sámi people and increasing opportunities to participate in public debate.