Illustrations by Elena Lombardi
Speaking a language is about more than knowing enough words and mastering the grammar — it’s also about those strange yet specific phrases and sayings that your teacher wouldn’t tell you. That’s why we’ll try to explain here what it means to be sugen, when you ask Läget? And why — trust me on this one — personal taste is like a person’s backside.
Meaning: The desire to do or have something; craving
Literal meaning: to be sucked
You know that feeling when you really really want a coffee / fries / more snow / a beer / to swim in a lake / to bake / to have children / to study computer science / to travel to Kenya / to enter the Eurovision song contest?
No? Well, in Swedish it’s called sugen and is, as you can see, applicable to almost anything. A Google search suggests, in addition to the above mentioned examples: sugen på golf, sugen på att ha en shetlandsponny, sugen på att julpynta and sugen på rött hår (which tells us that Swedes on the internet are likely to feel like playing golf, rearing Shetland ponies, putting up Christmas decorations or having red hair). However, the most common way to put the word to use is when you’re talking about food and drinks, i.e. Jag är sugen på glass (I feel like ice cream). It also comes in countless practical compound variations, such as kaffesugen, godissugen or shoppingsugen (feeling like coffee, candy, shopping).
Smakar det så kostar det
Meaning: You pay for quality
Literal meaning: tastes it so costs it
Scandinavia has a nasty habit of eating its way through your wallet immediately after you get off the plane or train. Smakar det så kostar det is an expression meant to console you after you’ve decided to pay 6 dollars for a kanelbulle (cinnamon roll): good things in life will cost you, but it’s probably worth it. But the expression is also often muttered in a sarcastic way, that is, when you actually don’t think it’s worth the money.
- Den här räkmackan kostar 190 kronor! (This shrimp sandwich costs 190 kronor!)
- Jo jo, smakar det så kostar det.
Meaning: What’s up?
Literal meaning: position; location
You might have learned “Hur mår du?” as the key Swedish phrase to ask how somebody is doing. I still encourage you to use that one, since it works with all demographic groups, but it also comes in handy to be able to use the more informal Läget? or, in its full version, Hur är läget? (How does it lie?).
This is frequently used both by teenagers and men in their fifties when they meet their polare (friends).
- Tja Bosse! Läget? (Hi Bosse! What’s up?)
- Tjena Freddie! Bra! Själv? (Hey Freddie! All good! And you?)
- Jo, bra! (Yeah, good!)
Smaken är som baken
Meaning: Different strokes for different folks
Literal meaning: The taste is like the butt
Consensus is very important to the majority of Swedes. Ideally, everyone should be happy with every decision ever made. And if you realize you can’t agree with someone, then it’s better to leave the discussion at a courteous “let’s agree to disagree.” So, instead of debating for hours and hours whether sour cream and onion or dill is the best chip flavor, you can just say, Ja, ja, smaken är som baken. Easy!
But wait a minute, how exactly are human buttocks and your favorite chip flavor similar? Well, the idiom makes no sense unless you know how it ends: Smaken är som baken – delad (The taste is like the butt — divided). Okay, it might not necessarily make more sense now, but we just have to live with that.
Soft, fett, nice
These adjectives are great for the many occasions when a simple bra or trevligt (good, great) is not enough, which is — if you ask anyone under 40 — almost always. Swedes use the English adjectives “nice,” “cool,” and, more surprisingly, “soft” a lot. Soft in Swedish, however, has little to do with sensations or materials, and more to do with a feeling of satisfaction, and good times in general:
- Jag ska till Mallis nästa vecka. (I’m going to Mallorca next week.)
- Gud va soft! (God, how soft!)
Fett, literally “fat,” is used when something is really awesome, and nice has taken on the function of a general answer to any positive statement. A conversation among Swedish 20- or 30-somethings is quite likely to go something like this:
- Jag tog en öl med Berit på XYZ-baren igår. (I had a beer with Berit in the XYZ bar yesterday.)
- Nice! Är det ett soft ställe? (Nice! Is it a cool place?)
- Ja, det är fett! (Yeah, it’s awesome!)
Typ, liksom, alltså, såhär…
Meaning: Like, kind of, like, kind of like…
Literal meaning: Type, like, so, like this…
You probably won’t learn these words in any formal language-learning setting, which is why I’ll teach you them here. They’re all filler words, which means that they don’t really mean anything — their function is merely to fill out the pauses in speech. You know, those kind of words that your grumpy uncle told you to use less of when you were a teenager.
These Swedish fillers often correspond to “like,” but are used a bit differently. For example, when you don’t yet know how you want to start your sentence, but you know that you have the urge to speak, say alltså (often pronounced “asså”). Asså said just by itself has also become the perfect expression for anything which is just beyond words. If you and your friend saw — I don’t know — a parade of rollerblading clowns, you’d exchange a look and say “Assåå…” And when your friend sends you an indescribable picture of yourself from last night, you might just respond with “Asså.”
Liksom, såhär and typ are closer to “like” in English, when used as sentence fillers. If you want to describe your date from last night in a convincing Swedish way, you might opt for this kind of sentence:
Han va liksom såhär, rätt snygg, typ ganska rolig, du vet en vanlig kille liksom. (He was kind of, like, quite handsome, like, pretty funny, — a normal guy, you know.)
Or — in your grumpy uncle’s words: “Han var en vanlig kille: rätt snygg och ganska rolig.”
Det är en dag imorgon också
Meaning: We’d better get going
Literal meaning: There is a day tomorrow as well
Cliché alert on this one, but it’s a practical way to call it a day. Together with Vi måste tänka på refrängen (we’ll have to think about the refrain), it’s canonized as an unoriginal but effective phrase to make people understand that you’re about to leave. Since it is a bit of a cliché, it’s often said with glimten i ögat (a twinkle in the eye).
- Va, har ni hämtat era jackor? (What, have you collected your jackets?)
- Ja, vi måste nog tänka på refrängen. Det är en dag imorgon också!
Jag säger inget, så har jag ingenting sagt
Meaning: I prefer not to say anything about this
Literal meaning: I say nothing, so have I nothing said
This is the one expression that taps into the Swedish psyche better than anything. Avoid conflict and stay silent while someone is telling you what they think about something, then slip in a snide remark about actually having an opinion, but keep this opinion to yourself, because you don’t want to create a dålig stämning (bad atmosphere).
- Har inte Gösta en fruktansvärt ful slips? (Isn’t Gösta wearing an awfully ugly tie?)
- Jag säger inget, så har jag ingenting sagt.