Swedish agency’s bizarre translation fail: ‘Why did you need a baby?’

Neale Thomas and screenshot from försäkringskassan
Neale Thomas was faced with a rather philosophical question when filling out a form on the Swedish Social Insurance Agency's website. Photo: Private
British parent Neale Thomas was trying to apply for VAB – Sweden's sick pay when looking after an ill child – when he discovered several "Monty Python-esque" translations on the agency's website.

Neale, a father of four based in Stockholm, was applying for VAB on the website of the Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) after staying home from work due to his child’s illness. When he selected the website’s option to translate the page to English, he was met with the hilarious translations, first reported by Swedish public broadcaster SVT.

Instead of correctly translating the Swedish question “Varför behövde du vabba?” as “Why did you need to stay at home with your ill child?”, he was met with the question “Why did you need a baby?”.

“I just thought, wow, that’s so philosophical isn’t it, it just stopped me in my tracks,” Neale told The Local. “I grasped that it was a mistake and understood it was a mismatch – you are forgiving but it’s a government website so it shouldn’t be wrong,” he continued.

The Swedish “tiden du vabbade” – time spent looking after a sick child – was translated to “the time you waddled”. Photo: Neale Thomas

But it didn’t stop there. The next part of the form, asking about how much time he spent vabbing, was translated to “The time you waddled”, with subsequent questions asking about Neale’s wife.

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He explained: “It asked me ‘Did your wife work while you were babbling? Yes, move on’, and I thought ‘what – get a new wife?’ – it just took me by surprise.”

“The second raft of it was just Monty Python-esque in its ‘wobbling’ and ‘bobbling’,” Neale said. “I was quite impressed, I thought ‘are these verbs? Yes – are they being conjugated? Yes – this is really funny’. The trope of being in charge and getting it terribly wrong just speaks to you as a British native.”

Neale also explained his theories as to why the translations were so funny, saying they reminded him of British comedian Rowan Atkinson, known for characters such as Mr Bean and Blackadder. “It was about something terribly serious, but was just silly – I can almost see Rowan Atkinson’s face talking about wobbling and bobbling,” he continued.

British actor Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean. Photo: Jonathan Short/Invision/AP

It was Neale’s Swedish wife who decided to post the screenshots on social media. “I said to my wife: ‘you have to check this out, you’ll love this’, and she just dissolved,” he said. “Some Swedes don’t want to take the piss out of their own system, some are delighted – maybe it’s because my wife is married to a Brit, it’s an alternative way of looking at things.”

Unfortunately for anyone looking to experience the translations for themselves, Försäkringskassan has now removed them from its website, telling SVT that the service was provided by “an external translation service which wasn’t as good as it should have been”.


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