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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

​​Swedish word of the day: konsensuskultur

Some would say today’s word describes the most quintessentially Swedish thing there is.

Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Last week we covered the word möte, where we mentioned how Swedes are all about consensus. How so, you might ask. Well, some say that the obsession Swedes have with möten (‘meetings’) is emblematic of something called konsensuskultur, the ‘culture of consensus’, a phenomenon they claim might be the very spine of the Swedish spirit, if there is such a thing. 

According to these columnists, you can see it everywhere in Swedish society: in people wearing similar clothes on the streets (H&M etc), the constant möten at work, why the public debate on immigration has pushed voters toward the Sweden Democrats, why integration is failing, the leadership style of Swedish managers, the very idea of ‘lagom’, in every major shift in Swedish political history. Or in other words, basically in all the history and culture of Sweden.

Whether or not konsensuskultur truely has such massive reach, consensus is definitely sought after in Sweden (although one might argue that this is true of every healthy society). 

The idea of konsensuskultur also creates certain paradoxes. In 2015, at the height of the Syrian migration crisis, the Rabbi and author Dan Korn wrote that konsensuskultur was both the reason why Swedes were so refugee-friendly and simultaneously the reason why integration into Swedish society was such a failure.

Dan Korn argued this was not in fact a paradox, but instead the result of consensus on two different issues: one over welcoming refugees, and another over how to behave or not behave in Swedish society.

For immigrants living in Sweden, konsenskultur is not a word you will hear that often, but is is a phenomenon to keep in mind: 

When moving forward with group activities involving Swedes, it is often best to first have a discussion to reach some sort of consensus. 

Similarly, when analysing the twists and turns of the Swedish political landscape, it is always worth keeping an eye open for those moments when Sweden undergoes a paradigm shift, or in other words, finds a new consensus

A good way of using the word konsensuskultur, which might also start up an interesting conversation, is to ask a Swedish friend if they see Swedes as having a strong konsensuskultur

Example sentences:

Sverige sägs vara ett land med en stark konsensuskultur.

Sweden is said to be a country with a strong consensus culture.

Sara, tycker du att Sverige är ett land präglat av en stark konsensuskultur?

Sara, do you think Sweden is a country marked by a strong consensus culture?

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 US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.

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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: bamba

Not a dance, but a place where kids eat.

Swedish word of the day: bamba

Sveriges framsida, the frontside of Sweden, as many call Gothenburg, is a place known to have been voted Sweden’s best city, is one of the most sustainable cities in the world, and also the place with Sweden’s sexiest dialect.

Admittedly, I am from Gothenburg, so I may be biased, but I will tell you that sexy as the dialect may be (and I have been told that it is plenty of times), once in a while, like anyone from any region I imagine, I say a word that makes everyone stop and go, “What is he talking about?” This is one of those words. 

The word is used to designate a school dining hall, but apparently researchers have uncovered no provable origin for the word.

On Dialektbloggen, ‘The Dialect Blog’ of the Swedish Institute for Language and Folklore (Institutet för språk och folkminnen), Jenny Nilsson, a research archivist in Gothenburg, explains that the origin is not clear and that the term was probably invented by schoolchildren. People tend to assume that it is a contraction of the word barnbespisning, where barn means ‘child’ and bespisning can either mean ‘the act of feeding’ (usually on a larger scale) or ‘a dining hall’. 

The Swedish Academy also offers this explanation, where the entry for bamba reads: ‘attested since 1957; short form for barnbespisning’.

Jenny Nilsson further makes the point that Gothenburgers traditionally pronounce ‘rn’ as ‘n’, and that an ‘n’ before a ‘b’ in a word easily becomes an ‘m’ in the mouth. Which could then give us bamba.

Nilsson further writes that the date of origin of the word is also unclear, though it is attested since at least the 1950s. At the time, bamba was probably mainly used in Gothenburg, but after that it spread throughout the region, though the latest investigation into the matter seems to indicate that it is now receding back to Gothenburg. 

In an odd twist, news site Nyheter24 interviews the linguist Rune Westerlund who lives in Luleå on the topic of bamba. He explains that the word is also used in northern Kiruna, a town in the very very far north of Sweden. According to Westerblad it was also at one point used in his hometown of Luleå, which is about 270km southeast of Kiruna, though still in the far north of Sweden (it is a big place). The most logical explanation for this is influential immigrants from Gothenburg, according to Westerlund. 

Nyheter24 also includes another theory on the origin of the word, that bamba has a military connection. The ladies serving the food in the dining halls of the time were well known to have “a predilection for straight queue lines, strict controls on food intake, no running and fussing, and letting the food silence the mouth.”

Combining this ‘military atmosphere’ with Gothenburg’s well known penchant for puns, and BArnMatsBespisningsAnläggning, roughly ‘Children’s Food Feeding Facility’, could easily become bamba. That penchant for puns even has a name, it is called göteborgshumor, ‘Gothenburg humour.’

But alas, the mystery remains. 

The one lesson one can draw from this, if any, is to not go asking where you can find the bamba in any city but Gothenburg, or I suppose northern Kiruna, or you might find yourself dancing the night away to latin rock. 

Do you have any friends from Gothenburg? Ask them their favourite food they ate in bamba and if they can think of any other dialectal words from Gothenburg.

Ha det gött! 

Example sentences:

Vad serverar dom i bamban idag?

What are they serving in the dining hall today?

Man dansar inte här grabben! Vadå, är inte det här la bamba?

You don’t dance here, kiddo! What do you mean, is this not la bamba? 

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 US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.

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