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Svanberg slammed for 'small people' comment

Peter Vinthagen Simpson · 17 Jun 2010, 08:20

Published: 17 Jun 2010 08:20 GMT+02:00

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"We care about the small people. I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies who don't care, but that is not the case with BP, we care about the small people," Svanberg said.

The comments were cited all over the US media on Wednesday as indication of a patronizing attitude towards all of the small business owners and fisherman that have been affected by the Mexican Gulf oil spill.

BP was later keen to stress that English was not Carl-Henric Svanberg's first language and that the true meaning of his choice of words had been lost in the translation. The Swede later apologised for the use of the phrase which he conceded was clumsy.

Svanberg and BP executives met with President Barack Obama on Wednesday to discuss the environmental catastrophe that has now continued for almost two months.

The firm's main message from the meeting was one of regret for the accident and the handling of the spill and BP announced an agreement to set up a $20 billion fund to compensate those affected over the next four years.

The firm furthermore announced that it is withholding shareholder dividends in order to help finance the fund.

Story continues below…

BP's CEO Tony Hayward, who has become known for a few language slips of his own in recent weeks, is meanwhile set to face a US Congress committee on Thursday to account for BP's actions over the spill.

The ruptured well is currently capped with a system pumping the oil into a ship on the surface of the ocean. The system was back in service on Wednesday afternoon following a five hour shut down after the vessel was struck by lightning, the firm reports.

Peter Vinthagen Simpson (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

10:57 June 17, 2010 by Marc the Texan
Svanberg, Hayward and BP won't make it through this crisis in tact. They are all going down.
11:05 June 17, 2010 by Ozpot
Ha ha funny Swede, Swedish chef springs to mind.
11:21 June 17, 2010 by jgsturgeonmaster
Swedes of course are excellent english speakers...but as with many things, they overestimate just how good they are.....
11:38 June 17, 2010 by salalah
He said that this jobe was a "boyish dream that had come true". Now his wet oil dream has truned into a nightmare. He was greedy for power and wanted to collect money by sitting in his rocking chair in the Bahamas.

I though he was more sensitive after he talked about his blind sister, but I guess power changes people.

You should run for dictator, Svanberg
12:30 June 17, 2010 by cogito
He was condescending as only a Swede can be.

Alternatively, he does not know English, and that is scandalous in the top man of a huge multinational oil company.

How do people like Svanberg get this far?
12:31 June 17, 2010 by salalah

13:05 June 17, 2010 by exBFF
This will go down as a classic example of why you should never use idioms in Public Relations...they are easily misunderstood. His PR people should know this and have coached him as such.
13:11 June 17, 2010 by calebian22
One doesn't need to focus on this vernacular expression to know that BP doesn't give a crap about it's actions and the impact on local businesses.
13:17 June 17, 2010 by tillerman
"...interpreted as patronizing towards the ordinary people." Bullshit. It was patronizing and derogatory period. Why are you defending him?
13:19 June 17, 2010 by rufus.t.firefly
It's hard to use use the lack of English fluency for saying something so obviously condescending. As an American, I was stunned. In any ordinary situation, his choice of words would have been bad, but in the circumstances, it was almost beyond belief.

Not that there is not a class system in America- big people and small people- but it is always bad form to rub someone's nose in it. This pompous, clueless a..hole rubbed the entire nation's nose in it, on the f'ing White House lawn, no less, with the oil volcano still erupting and despoiling our precious Gulf.

He has clearly been in the habit of speaking like that for a long time. His attendance at the royal wedding tells me everything about the King and the sincerity of his professed environmentalism.

If Svanberg ends up doing time (no real chance), he should be forwarned, don't drop the soap in the shower.
13:22 June 17, 2010 by eZee.se
The truth is, 'they' most probably think of all of us as the "small people" anyway - and must be using that expression everytime they chat in private, just this guys luck that he said it in public and got caught.
13:49 June 17, 2010 by Antonito
"small people" yes! that is what we are...especially people from USA. You have to be small to blame the ones who are doing what you are asking for. Yes..very small ..because for Americans to have oil (and other things) thousands of people are dying around the world. I wonder how those, now offended because somebody called them small, see other people who are left with having their land and water resources polluted because of American Transnationals?. How these small Americans see children being working like slaves in the cloth industry? How they see people suffering in countries where they dump their garbage? Do not tell me that they, the Americans, see other people as equals. Perhaps they do not see them (us) as human beings.

Yes guys, we all are small....but you Americans are smaller...because you have the means to change things and you do not do it...you do not want to do it.
14:22 June 17, 2010 by Luke35711
I could never really understand how this small northern country manages to combine the worst of *ELITISM*, with its egalitarian tendencies. But it does! It must be all this hidden aggression and pent up anger. You can no longer tell if these expressions are used on purpose, or subconsciously, and maybe it doesn't matter. Bravo for Americans for picking it up and standing up to this, your assertiveness in these types of situations is the beacon for freedom and human dignity, and an example for the rest of the world!
14:56 June 17, 2010 by rufus.t.firefly

Spewing invective at 300 million diverse people. You know what we all think and how we all behave. Your brilliance is astounding.

Even if you hate us all, what about the wholesale destruction of the life giving waters, extinguishing the most basic life forms, food, the oxygen we all share, the deadly poison still traveling as we pointlessly aim barbs, quite possibly finding its way here in the Gulfstream? There is no end in sight and the true scale of the destruction is not being addressed.

But Antonito, given your brilliant analytical mind, we can all be confident that you'll have the solution soon.
15:39 June 17, 2010 by Prat
The vast majority, 99% of Americans, are small people regularly pushed about by corporate powers & rich folk.

But no American wishes reminding of it, esp. by a furriner.
16:02 June 17, 2010 by Roy E
Even those walking around with big chips on their shoulders understand what Svandberg meant. Whether or not those people have to character to admit it was innocent another matter entirely.

Svandberg should a have used the idiom 'The little guy' instead. It has a completely different connotation. Better advice would be to avoid the idiom minefield altogether unless you are absolutely certain it will be clearly understood.
16:02 June 17, 2010 by skatty
@ rufus.t.firefly

you see, there is the same article on DN in Swedish and there are over hundreds of comments about it, which mostly are discussing about the difference between the word "small" and "little", and a belief that Svanberg should say "the little people" and not the "the small people"!

Actually, the greatest problem is that people in Sweden can't even realize that it's not good to call other people small or little, comparing with a big strong company. I mean Swedes are discussing about the grammar of the sentences! It's unbelievable!
16:05 June 17, 2010 by Antonito
Hej Rufus.t.firefly (on comment 14)

a) You are right. I went too far blaming all the 300 million. I of course know that there are many (millions) of "big" American people. People fighting for human rights, the environment, etc. However, we have to admit that sometimes expressions such "Brazilians love football", "Russians do not want to help" do not need further details in certain levels of discussion...we know that it refers to a more or less common attitude or way of behavior.

b) You should have not used the expression "your brilliant analytical mind"...that makes your comment "small".
16:08 June 17, 2010 by calebian22

Thanks for the laugh. From which superior culture do you hail?
16:21 June 17, 2010 by rufus.t.firefly

Thank you. Little, small- a distinction without a difference. Of course, if he'd said "little people", he might have been talking about the Munchkins, who are mostly deceased by now.

"Ordinary Americans", or some similar phrase, would have been appropriate.
16:28 June 17, 2010 by cogito
@Calebian22 Me too. Been wondering which superior culture Antonito comes from.

It is possible that Svanberg got the "small people" idea from Obama, who looks down his nose at working ppl like shrimp fishermen. He ignored them for 57 days. Only when the N.Y. Times started criticizing did he swing into action and...give a speech.
16:38 June 17, 2010 by Decedo
Someone please save this idiot from himself. It's just like the Swedish 'elite' to conduct themselves in this manner. On the other hand, BP are probably setting him up to be 'thrown under the bus', because you know they have access to a flock of PR people to script write and coach him.

Kinda reminds me of a large (un-named) bio-medical company here in Göteborg. The managers had to mark their knowledge of English on a company questionnaire. Almost all of them marked 'fluent', while most of them couldn't carry a conversation in english, let alone write a technical report.
17:09 June 17, 2010 by Luke35711
The first part of the speech is all proper and very well written. He reads from notes, and it was probably looked at 50 different angles by public relations people. The problems start when he is answering questions and it's no longer scripted. You can already see, when replying to the first question, he is at first very jovial and oh-so-sincere, but then when the person tries to continue, he suddenly becomes unpleasant and very snappy: no further comment. That's CONDITIONING. The hidden message is: if you continue with your questions, I will become very unpleasant and embarrass you in public. That's how it works in Sweden, repeat 100 times, and eventually obedient employees and journalists do not dare to ask any questions.
17:39 June 17, 2010 by Henckel
My first reaction was that he meant he was concerned about Hobbits.
17:56 June 17, 2010 by millionmileman
In defense of Carl-Henric Svanberg he did not mean to be derogatory, because a US politician would have call these folks, "Joe Six-Pack!" The horrid truth is that President Obama (Hugo Chavez North) has let things deteriorate to this point, to shake down BP.

First he took over banking/financing then GM and now what better way to take over an oil company than to dictate a $20 billion escrow fund together with a moratorium on dividends.

Within 3 days both The Netherlands and Norway offered skimming vessels, but instead he invoked the Jones Act, which stipulates the sole use of American built ships manned with Da' Union workers. His White House speech showed his bumbling ineptitude. The defense cuts have taken valuable resources away from The Coastguard. The ban on onshore drilling has forced the oil companies to drill in ever deeper waters. But even more stupid is that China and Cuba are also drilling in the Gulf to which Obama has no jurisdiction.

This is not condoning BP's accident but the Administration must also be held accountable, as they still have not given permits for the Governor of Louisiana to go ahead on his own, to build barriers. So Gov. Jindal is going ahead on his own initiative.

(Disclosure) I consumed the equivalent to 2 entire gasoline tankers 28,000 US gallons of predominantly BP Petrol during my million miles of driving in my Saab. At least BP does not import oil from the Middle East, nor from Nigeria, where the pollution and civil violence is horrendous. I won't burn gas from Venezuela, so BP's US/Canada sources are the best choice.
18:32 June 17, 2010 by bolababu
He calls you "small people" and you all go crazy but it is okay for you to use derogatory words towards people that are different from you? ..you all need to check yourself before you cast your judgements.

By the way, Shell, chevron and recently Lundin spill much more oil in Africa, even in residential areas so this is just taste of your own medicine. Enjoy!
18:37 June 17, 2010 by hehe
Svanberg was probably making an erroneous translation of the common Swedish expression "den lilla människan"... nothing more than that. It was surely not meant to be derogatory.
18:49 June 17, 2010 by Michael Whitfield
As an American with past ties to Sweden, I was not insulted or angered by the comments of BP Chairman Svanberg referring to the residents of the Gulf coast affected by the recent oil spill as 'small people'. He meant the little guy or common person and nothing derogatory. The Swedes I know speak pretty much impeccable english and many words and phrases they use have the same meaning. Perhaps a CEO or President of a company can go to Sweden and speak Swedish to the press and make sure you use the correct words always! The world is going to hell and the concentration is on nickle and dime issues and sensitivity business! Get over it.
18:52 June 17, 2010 by tigger007

WOW! they want heads to roll in america over this BP oil spill!

18:52 June 17, 2010 by glamelixir
I was shocked, but I also couldn't believe when he started saying "We want to thank people for their understanding"... It might sound like a little thing but it is not a good PR move, because THERE IS NO UNDERSTANDING in a situation like this so by thanking us he is already making it worse.

I can't believe all this... and he shouldn't only be caring about "the little people" but also about the animals and de huge destruction of our ecosystem btw...

He won't survive this I guess. His corporate days are over.
20:24 June 17, 2010 by Earandur Lissesul
As for wanting heads to roll at BP in the US. I would remind everyone of Union Carbide's US Executives scuttling out of India after the Bhopal plant disaster 20 years ago. 20,000 Indians died there and only Indian executives were dragged into court. I deplore what has happened in the Gulf area but it's the US demand for oil the drives these things on. Everyday the US gobbles up 20 million barrels of oil, more than any other country - in fact almost as much as the rest of the top ten consumer nations put together. Oil is big business, areas of the seabed are auctioned off for tens of millions of dollars a tract by the Federal Mineral Management Service (MMS). It then charges 18.75% royalties on the oil that is recovered. After that both State and Federal governments will tax the gasoline which is the end product. I believe it is MMS's responsibility to oversee that the contracts are being done in a safe and environment friendly way. Then again I might be wrong on that, what do I know.

As for the unfortunate comment I think he probably meant ''the little guy''.
21:08 June 17, 2010 by cogito
@michael whitfield who writes "Perhaps a CEO or President of a company can go to Sweden and speak Swedish to the press and make sure you use the correct words..."

This is nonsense. It is not the same thing at all. English is the lingua franca. Swedish isn't spoken outside the borders of Sweden.

By your logic, if a Swede goes to, say, Hungary, he should speak Hungarian?

The sad fact is that Swedes are not as gifted at English as they claim. And they are shamefully inadequate in French, Spanish and Italian.
01:06 June 18, 2010 by vi-lontano
I'm an American

and FYI (in case you already hadn't guessed)

this is all political theater!!

Our politicians may wave their arms, scream and even

jump about a bit

but their pockets are weighed down by BP gold

so the show jusy can't last that long.

Both parties are nice and cozy with all of Big Business but

the Republicans (conservatives) actually have a voting base

(primarily made of of religous right moralists who are just poor working class folk) that supports their oligarchic desires (probably out of misinformation).

So they can be more vocal about their support.

Our Republicans, who staunchly HATE all you big government,

socialist European/ Brits, have been fighting all this time

to keep the 75 million dollar cap on industrial damages

advocating that our "Federal Government" - AKA american taxpayers -

should foot the bill for poor, beleaguered BP (I guess whatever the cost is above the 75 million).

See, here in America, we have Corporate Welfare...

Privatized gains and socialized losses for the rich, only, of course.

While our leaders scream and shout against the "evils"

of socialism...no bread for babies or we'll all be soulless communists....

Not kiddin'
01:24 June 18, 2010 by grantike
20 billion usd not a bad amount for the fund they will make more that amount . from his words only him knows exactly what he meant.small people doesn't seem so bad.what about locals does it mean some people are local other than people residing at the immediate vicinity. cheers
09:20 June 18, 2010 by cogito

you got it right: all the grandstanding and tough talk is theater.

The 20 billion is Obama's new slush fund.
15:44 June 18, 2010 by vi-lontano

are you american? LOL

Many Americans believe this...but I andat least half my countrymen Do Not!

He's certainly Not perfect,. He seems to move too slowly at times (as if he is still in our Senate...next to Nothing ever gets done there)


After W...who led a very radical right government here

and ruined us financially

Obama is at least nice and moderate...not as Left leaning as some would like....so the Left and the Right belly ache about him all the time...

YES, he is still part of the "political machine" here


he has already done Much more for the "small people : ) " here in America in

1.5 years than the previous administration did in eight!!!!


See all those "Tea Party People" screaming for lower taxes...based on their average salaries...reported By them...their taxes Have Never Been Lower!

He has Finally lowered taxes for the 95% who are the working class, a first in this great nation ; )

(We are obsessed with taxes here...It's why we broke from England and 200 years later we're all still crying about it LOL ...Our taxes certainly are not as high as much of Europe...but when you consider How Little Citizens get here for their tax dollars, it is WAY Too much)

Obama's Stimulus Bill:

enabled people to keep their health care when they lost their jobs (without a job in the USA most people have to Pay monthly, out of their own pockets, for insurance which is Exorbitantly priced and if someone is sick in your family EVEN if you could pay you could be turned DOWN)

His Health Reform Bill:

Getting rid of the Dump clauses which health insurance companies currently benefit from....that they can no longer Refuse people just because they or a family member is ill And they cannot cut of a paying customer when they get sick (this is a rampant abuse here in the states and our government Has Protected the Rights of these corporations )

he has Not kept promises like closing GITMO and he is still allowing rendition

BUT his Base is Liberal so they may YET pressure his administration into doing the right thing...

16:06 June 18, 2010 by Gordon Kerr
Hes right maybe who cares about the small people. Its only the little people that pay taxes etc....Hes swede and such a great Aryan the master race..lol
17:05 June 18, 2010 by cogito
@vi lontano

I see you are a member of the hallelujah chorus andso probably impervious to facts and figures.

Yes, Bush Bush Bush. Eighteen months into his administration and in every speech it is still waawaaawaaa, Bush's did it. Isn't it time he grew up and assumed some responsibility?
17:37 June 18, 2010 by vi-lontano
I guess you felt W did everything right!

I can surmise this because

that whole "hallelujah" thing sounds very radical, religious right.

Are you American?

or do Europeans and/or Brits love W as much as

the American South and West?

I really would like to know..unless it would embarrass you to say....
18:37 June 18, 2010 by cogito
Digital thinking run amok! Because one does not see Obama as the god he pretended to be, this does not mean that one "loves W" Or perhaps in your simplistic thinking it does.

The last I checked, we are not obliged to give provenance, religion, citizenship or race here. Are you aware that some find passing judgement on persons based on their religion, race etc. distasteful?

If, however, you are keen on identity politics, you might apply for work as a census taker. It's a great deal; they get paid for doing nothing all day
19:09 June 18, 2010 by superturbo
If Americans were less egocentric and actually knew something about the world outside the us of a, they would probably be more likely to realise that Svanberg's statement was just a bad translation. This can happen to anyone when they are not speaking their mother-tongue.

Anyway, I can agree that this was not the best timing for such a blunder :)
21:45 June 18, 2010 by mibelle
It has nothing to do with the 'America ego', less to do with a language barrier and more to do with the fact that the guy is 'corporate'...and appears to be talking down to ordinary folks.

BP is synonomous with 'Big Oil' and Darth Cheney *laugh* helped to make the oil business comparable to a 4-letter word in the eyes of many.

'Big Oil' = 'Big Business'(another 4 letter word)

If you're not living here, you probably won't understand the significance.

I don't believe that everyone is THAT riled up about it. It's just the media stirring the pot and baiting...as usual.


People are more angry about what this is doing to the environment, the livlihood of the millions living near the coast and of course how our govt contributed to the mess.

Among other things...

Meanwhile, both parties (dem and repub) have their own agenda...and I'm not sure the concerns of 'the people' even make the top of the list. No one is on our side, I feel.

I like my country. I'm military...so, of course, I gotta root for the home-team, you know! *laugh*

But our govt...*shakes head*

More re-active than proactive.

They enable...then scapegoat and point fingers when the poop hits the fan. As it was with 'Wall Street'...so it is with BP.

Anyone else would have caught flack for the statement...and they have. The media and public chewed and spat them out. It just so happens that this guy is...not from here.

Personally, I didn't take offense because I assumed the man meant 'little people'.
01:05 June 19, 2010 by vi-lontano

I find you quite amusing..but also quite tangential in your responses...but maybe that is a language issue.

I am unclear how you draw your conclusion that "I" have any notion that Obama is always "right" or a "god"...(again you sound like a Republican...you just do)

I can only guess that you either did not read my posts fully or if you did for some reason you didn't understand them.

Or perhaps it is just more fun to use them as a spring board for your own political beliefs. Whatever floats your boat is fine with me.

As far as my conclusions concerning your possible political leanings... statements like "slush fund" "hallelujah chorus" are all Republican talking points in the USA...I guess FOX NEWS has a larger viewership than I'd imagined....we hear this endlessly in the US from the conservatives here..It is all political posturing and pandering.....it is without substance and quite meaningless...I didn't think anyone outside of the USA would waste their time or have a care what they had to say...so I was wrong...

FYI so is Obama, as I've stated, on many things...but I don't mind giving credit where it is due...

also FYI the Republicans/Conservatives in the gulf region have NO worry that this is some "Slush Fund" for Obama. They are grateful their president made sure that yet another corporation (and MANY American Corps have done this to US recently) hasn't dispersed it's financial resources and left American Tax Payers to clean up their mess. and shouldn't this be about the people in the Gulf...what they are suffering and what is best for them...

As far as the census job...thanks for the offer but I am currently well employed...but MANY MANY Americans are not and we have very few social supports here...you basically have to become indigent before any resources are provided (and they are very minimal), so they would be very grateful for any job.
20:23 June 19, 2010 by MikeSar
My words may seem condescending, English is my second language and I often forget the full meaning of words is not found in dictionaries but in the context in which they are interpreted, and we don't know the framework, "frame world", context, milleu, in which words are "taken to heart". We live in a "planet", or so Saul Bellows wrote in "Mr. Sammler's Planet" for which he received Pulitzer and Nobel in 1970s. "Being right was largely a matter of explanations",,which are late and misunderstood.. But, many are offended when others ignore our feelings:. In our hearts, we are royalty, We were born small babies but none was seen "small" or "inferior" by our parents.
00:34 June 20, 2010 by talleyrand
Indeed, once we pull the covers away we find the true self of Mr. Carl-Henric Svanberg, A small note Mr Svanberg speak 4 languages very well it was not a mistake but in poor taste. Americans are confused with this because of Sweden position in the world it known for fair play and cares deeply about Global Everyday People.

Swedes give out the Nobel Prize, so one might see the point why Americans might turn away and stop going to Ikea. Sweden was the country that gave us Dag Hammarskjöld.

So Mr. Carl-Henric Svanberg should try to be a little more "lagom"
21:54 June 20, 2010 by dandmb50
So I take it he was trying to say little people, peasants? I thought at first it might have been a "lost in translation" thing but from what I gather from these comments he did mean small people, peasants, lower income folks. That really is sad and by the way those small people are the ones that made BP a big company. I don't think people should boycott BP stations around the world either because these stations are owed/leased by private operators but I would suggest we boycott Sweden because of his comments. Just kidding, I love Ikea.

Last week one of Universities in Ontario canceled a football (not soccer) program because nearly half of the team were caught using steroids, and there seems to be a trend these days where you punish everyone because of a few or one.

I love Sweden and your people, I shall not fall into that group, I shall just be disappointed in Svanberg.

Daniel .. Toronto, CANADA

22:19 June 20, 2010 by cogito
@#41 superturbo

If you read the Swedish papers you would know Swedes are much harder on Svanberg than Americans are. Like it or not, English, not Swedish, is the default language (lingua franca). If a Chinese does business in Paris he does it in English. And vice versa.

As far as it happening to "anyone not speaking their native tongue," Svanberg has had plenty of company money spent on of media training and English lessons for him.

Stop making excuses. At his pay grade, he should know English. In fact, he should know French, Spanish and Chines as well.
22:32 June 20, 2010 by dandmb50
Did he ever think of just saying "the American people" or the "people" he knew what he meant and it slipped out. But someone said how did he ever get to that position in BP. well of course he stepped on small people on his way to the top. But I think Americans are not that much better, although I like the USA a lot but they always say they are the most powerful nation in the world, even when Chicago won the NHL (National Hockey League) some reporters in the USA were calling them the world champions and in baseball they call themselves the world champions, so can't they take it when they dish it out. Just a little (small) arrogant don't you think?

I think the questioning of Tony Hayward at Congress was a bit much since they said he wouldn't answer their questions, but then on the other hand, the Congressman (or any politician for that matter) seldom answer questions put to them from the media or the (small) people. And I don't even like Hayward. Our heart goes out to the people suffering in the Gulf Coast area and check out my little story about the Gulf spill - http://bit.ly/ctjPmpGULF

Daniel .. Toronto, CANADA

00:59 June 22, 2010 by USA Is Number 1

Are you familiar with Sweden's history and that of its neighbors? Given your claim about the Swedish language, you might want to either review your comment or history and demographic history from some source more reliable than Faux News.
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