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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: julbord

Here's the second word in The Local's Christmas-themed word of the day series, running from December 1st to Christmas Eve.

the word julbord on a black background by a swedish flag
What regional specialities do your Swedish friends and family have on their julbord? Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Julbord literally translates to “Christmas table”, and the Swedish julbord is an extensive spread that has evolved from a variety of traditions and today consists of an elaborate buffet of typical Christmas food.

It is popular not only to sit down for a julbord on Christmas Eve with family, but also to go out for a special julbord meal at a restaurant in the run-up to Christmas with family, friends or colleagues. 

Not sure what the julbord etiquette is? We’re here to help.

The sheer variation of food on offer at a Swedish julbord can be daunting for newcomers, but, as a rule, as long as you eat everything in the right order, you’ll be fine.

Start with a glass of glögg (similar to mulled wine) to warm up, before the first course. This is usually the fish dishes: sill (pickled herring) and gravad lax (cured salmon), eaten with potatoes and knäckebröd (crispbread).

The next course is cold cured meats (such as julskinka or Christmas ham), more bread, and probably some pâté.

Then it’s the warm dishes, which will likely involve meatballs, sausage (prinskorv), a potato and cream casserole (Janssons frestelse), and sometimes bread dipped in pork broth (dopp i grytan).

After that, it’s dessert and/or cheese with crackers, finished off with some coffee and perhaps a few sweets and rice pudding (ris à la Malta).

If that sounds like a lot, then the trick here is not to fill yourself up early on – it’s always a better idea to only put a small amount on your plate each time you visit the buffet, rather than filling your plate to the brim on your first trip, and quickly realising that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.

And don’t forget you don’t have to try everything – no need to sample all fifteen different types of pickled herring if you’ve only got eyes for the Janssons frestelse (although it might raise some eyebrows if you skip straight to the warm course).

Interested about the history of the Swedish julbord? Check out this article from The Local’s archives.

Examples:

Har ni några planer för helgen? Är ni sugna på ett julbord på lördag?

Do you have any plans for the weekend? Are you keen for a julbord on Saturday?

Har du några tips för ett vegetariskt julbord? Min pojkvän äter inte kött.

Do you have any tips for a vegetarian julbord? My boyfriend doesn’t eat meat.

Need a good Christmas gift idea? Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order.

Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it – or join The Local as a member and get your copy for free.

It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

​​Swedish word of the day: fisförnäm

Today’s word is an expression Swedes use when other people think a little too highly of themselves. 

​​Swedish word of the day: fisförnäm

Fisförnäm is a composition of the two words fis, meaning ‘fart’, primarily one with a hissing sound, and förnäm, which means ‘noble, distinguished’. The combination is a slight slur for someone who is ‘stuck up, cocky, or thinks themselves better than others’ but who in actuality is not better at all. Perhaps somewhat comparable to the American expression of ​​’thinking the sun shines out of one’s own arse’ or simply ‘self-important’.

The late linguistics professor Jan Strid once explained fisförnäm on Swedish radio. While doing so he explained that the reason that fis refers to hissing farts is because it most likely has the original meaning of ‘blowing’. Which explains the word askfis, ‘ash fart’, meaning the youngest child which does nothing but sit by the fire blowing into the ashes and getting them all over the face. Then there is the bärfis, the ‘berry fart’, the insect commonly known in English as either shield bug or stink bug. There the word obviously refers to the bad smell produced by the bug. 

The late great professor then went on to explain how fisförnäm has a sibling in struntförnäm which means the same thing. Strunt, which in Swedish means ‘nonsense’, comes from German with the original meaning of ‘dung’, ‘dirt’ or ‘filth’. So struntförnäm in a way means ‘filth noble’ and by extension fisförnäm has the same original meaning: someone who says they are great, but they are really not better at all.

And that is a word that in a way is quintessentially Swedish. Why? Because of Jantelagen

Many of you are surely already familiar with the Law of Jante, but for those of you who are not, Jantelagen, first formalized in a satirical novel by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose, is a set of rules or attitudes that many Swedes, Norwegians and Danes supposedly espouse. You might enjoy having a look at celebrated Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård explaining it on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Fisförnäm has been found in print as far back as 1954, some 21 years after the publication of Sandemose’s book A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks (En flyktning krysser sitt spor), in 1933. So it is younger than the formalization of the Law of Jante, but there is probably no connection between the two besides the societal norms both are expressions of. And though the 10 rules of the so called Law of Jante were first expressed in the aforementioned book, the attitudes are much older. 

To think yourself better than others is still somewhat frowned upon in Sweden, even if it is true. If you are familiar with Swedish football history you might have seen this in the Swedish public’s reaction to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s rise to stardom. Some Swedes just could not stand his boisterous attitude, some still can not. But of course, fisförnäm is not applicable to Zlatan, since he is arguably the best Swedish footballer of all time. 

Fisförnäm is an insult, but not a bad one, and might even be used a bit jokingly. You could perhaps try to use it when someone does not want to join an activity that is a bit ridiculous. For reference (and a laugh) you might have a look at when famed Swedish show host Stina Dabrowski asked Margaret Thatcher to do a little skip in place on her show.

Example sentences:

Sluta var så fisförnäm nu, du kan väl va med?

Stop being so self-important, why not join in?

Nä, jag orkar inte följa med dit, de är alla så fisförnäma.

Oh no, I’d rather not go there, they are all so unduly haughty. 

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

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