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Nine unique words you need to date in Sweden

Here are nine unique (and often untranslatable) Swedish words you should know about before you start dating in Sweden.

Nine unique words you need to date in Sweden
If your date goes well, you might become familiar with the word 'knullrufs'. Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT

1. Fika

As you probably know, fika is a Swedish word for a coffee and cake break. You can have a fika with a friend, a relative or a colleague. You can also get asked to go for a fika by someone who fancies you, or someone you’ve already slept with (but perhaps barely spoken to). If the whole thing sounds confusing – it is. But if you’re confident you are being hit on, the word for this is ragga.

FOR MEMBERS: So… when is a fika a fika and when is it a date?

2. Mambo 

Once you’re pretty sure the person you’re drinking coffee and/or sleeping with likes you in a more romantic way, it might be time to check out their living situation.

As well as finding out whether or not they’re married (gift), consider also investigating if they are a mambo – the word for someone who lives at home with their mother. It rhymes with sambo, the word for a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend. That’s probably a no-no as well, but we’ll let you be the judge. Given the difficulties of finding an apartment in Sweden’s major cities, you should be aware of broken-up sambos who are temporarily still flat-sharing.

READ ALSO: How to find out if your Swedish date is married

3. Bonusbarn

If your new partner isn’t married, cheating or still stuck in their parents’ nest and they’re over 30, there’s a good chance they might be divorced (frånskild). Thanks to Swedish gender equality, any children involved usually spend alternate weeks with each parent, which means you could quickly end up spending a lot of time with them too. The word for children in Swedish is barn and the word for stepchildren is bonusbarn, putting a delightfully positive spin on preparing to spend Valentine’s Day with little Jonas or Jessica alongside your new lover.

4. Nota

This is the word for a receipt or bill in Sweden. Worth learning as you will almost always be expected to pay your share of any dinner, drink or fika date.

5. Kyss

It’s good to be aware of the difference between kyss and puss in Swedish. The former is more passionate and is pronounced something like “shiss”; the latter is more of a peck and far more innocent than it sounds in English. Puss is often put on the end of text messages sent between (usually female) friends. So you needn’t worry that your colleague is either trying to get intimate with you or commenting on that spot on your chin. By the way kiss is the Swedish word for, well, pee, so be careful how you use that one too.

6. Mysa

A bit like the English word “snuggle”, you’ll hopefully be doing plenty of this with your new squeeze if you’ve managed to navigate your way through all the fikas and the bonusbarn. But don’t jump to conclusions if your partner mentions mysa when talking about how they spent their afternoon while you were at the supermarket. You can mysa on your own at home by the fire or in a warm pub. It’s a bit like the Danish word “hygge”, roughly translated as “cosiness”.

7. Systembolaget

The name for Sweden’s state-run alcohol store empire. It shuts at 7pm on weekdays in big cities and at 3pm on Saturdays. It is not open on Sundays. Swedes can be shy and socially awkward, so if you’re staying in rather than going out with your new lover, you might also want to stock up on some wine ahead of the weekend.

8. Knullrufs

Well done, your relationship is blooming and you’re having a great time in the bedroom. Knullrufs is a unique Swedish word for messy “bed hair” after a roll in the hay. The first half of the word is considered slightly offensive, so best avoid using this one in front of your future in-laws (svärföräldrar).

READ ALSO: Why knullrufs is a much better word than both fika and lagom

9. Orka

This is a very common verb in Swedish meaning “to have the energy”. So when your partner says “jag orkar inte” in the bedroom, it means they’d rather catch up on sleep. This is of course fair enough, but if it starts happening regularly, it could mean you’re on the road to splitting up (separera) or skilsmässa (that divorce we mentioned earlier) and having to start all over again with that first awkward fika.

This article was written by Maddy Savage in 2015 and updated in 2022.

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SURVEY: Do Swedes consider the English language a threat to Swedish?

A new survey by Sweden's leading language magazine investigates to what extent Swedes believe that English poses a threat to the status of the Swedish language in Sweden.

SURVEY: Do Swedes consider the English language a threat to Swedish?

Since the end of the Second World War, English has been the dominant source of loanwords to Swedish, with English being introduced as the first foreign language learned in school at around the same time.

Now, around 33 percent of Swedes in a new study from Novus on behalf of Språktidningen said that they felt that English represented a threat to Swedish, although almost twice as many – 63 percent – answering that English did not pose any threat to Swedish.

“English influences are often singled out as a threat to the future of Swedish,” said Anders Svensson, editor-in-chief of language magazine Språktidningen. “However, there’s a generational divide in the view on English.”

“Among Swedes over 65, a total of 51 percent see English as a threat. Among those aged 30 to 49, only 23 percent see English as a threat.”

In 2009, measures were taken to protect Swedish against English influence through a language law. This states that Swedish is the common language of Sweden and that the population must have access to and be able to use it in all areas of society. Swedes are more or less able to take it for granted that they can use Swedish when they wish to, whether at the doctor, supermarket, or at a restaurant, and foreigners are offered free Swedish language classes.

“English loanwords which are often seen as unnecessary is one of the most common sources of linguistic irritation today,” Svensson said. “For some people, these loan words are a symbol of negative developments in society and increasing Americanisation.”

There are also differences among different groups of Swedish voters. A total of 41 percent of Sweden Democrat voters believe English represents a threat to Swedish, while only 25 percent each of Moderate, Left Party and Green Party voters were of the same opinion.

“The Sweden Democrats have made the Swedish language a symbolic issue for them,” Svensson said. “In the political debate, knowledge of the Swedish language is being linked ever more closely to Swedishness through connecting it to citizenship, for example.”

“Therefore it is perhaps easy to imagine that this party’s voters are also more worried about Swedish.”