kolmapäev, mai 20, 2009


Stockholm. I have been to this city more times than I can count -- ok, this is my fourth time -- and I still can't figure these people out.

They live in gigantic inoffensively colored apartment blocks that look like they were built by the Norse gods. Their men look hopelessly preoccupied; their women look clinical; on sunny days more jovial, on rainy days a bit evil. Still, if you ask them a question in Swedish, they might give you an odd look, but they will answer you politely and tell you to go rätt från someplace.

By default, the Swedes are the Estonians' favorite conquerors. The Russians came and killed everybody, several times. The conniving Germans managed to keep their self-serving feudal system intact into the 19th century and then tried to revert back to it in the 20th. The unlucky Poles brought Jesuit priests, but were unsuccessful. That leaves the Swedes, responsible for the vana hea rootsi aeg, the good old Swedish times, when everybody was Lutheran and the köttbullar were plentiful.

Not like today's Swedes would know anything about that. Generations of modernity have severed all links to the past. The best they can come up with are open-air museums. Besides, Stockholm feels so immense that Estonia indeed does seem far away, even if Tallinn is the closest foreign capital.

Lost in the T-Bana, I wonder who runs this country. Who has built this magnificently strong city that looks like it could withstand anything? Who has designed these meticulous parks? Is it the government? So I am told. But if the state is so invincible, how come Fredrik Reinfeldt's face isn't plastered on every wall? There is an engineer driving this train. It's just that nobody's ever seen him before.

Two things I like about Sweden are the Pressbyråns and the language. Pressbyrån is a chain of convenience stores, similar to R-Kiosk in Finland and Estonia, that sell lottery tickets and chocolate and womens magazines and, by far the most important, kanelbulle and vaniljbulle -- warm inviting pastries that fill the air with Scandinavian goodness. They also sell chokladmjölk, which just begs to be consumed together with vaniljbullar. Grab yourself a free Metro newspaper, find a seat on the train, and you are all set.

The Swedish language is perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing of the Germanic languages. I wish I could speak it, and I can muster a few sentences and understand some of what those busy crowds in T-Centralen are saying, but it just seems impossible, because every Swede sounds like they have a meatball stuck in their throat. It's written biljett (ticket), but it's pronounced "bee-yett." It's written Alvsjö (a train stop) but it's pronounced "Alfhuh," the last impossible syllable resting somewhere in the back of the throat. The letter "G," though, makes a pleasant "Y/J" sound. Bergman is prounounced "Berryman," and Mariatorget is "Mariatoryet."

They say the Estonians from the West Coast and those who have spent time in exile in Stockholm speak with the same soft lilting accent. Maybe I should try to emulate them.

28 kommentaari:

Lingüista ütles ...

I agree with you on det svenska språket: their two stress patterns give the language a singing intonation that I find utterly attractive (despite the differences, the Estonians I've heard speak sort of remind me of that; the way they pronounce, say, komisjooni with that falling intonation on the oo makes me think of Swedish). The first time I heard a Bergman movie in the original Swedish (it was Det sjunde inseglet, I still remember), I was hooked.

The Latvians also say the Swedes have forgotten about them, and now even have a "superior" attitude (I was reading a while ago about discrimination complaints against Swedes by Latvians working there -- bring the Letts, make them work, send them back. Det är lätt med en Lett, or so was their slogan.

I've never been to Sweden. Your first hearsay impression is that they're terribly equalitarian, socialist, feminist, ecological, pro-gay, all that is good, left-wing, and progressive. Also their welfare state. Then one hears about high suicide rates, and alcohol dependence. Är det sant? Är Sverige bra och jättesöt -- eller inte?

Giustino ütles ...

They can't be so left-wing, if their prime minister once canvassed for Bush in Florida ;)

I think Sweden was, unfortunately, also a kind of captive nation during the Soviet era. They didn't recognize Estonia's entry to the USSR because they thought it was valid; they did it because they had a big Soviet gun pointed at their heads saying, "You are next."

Think about it. Why did it take until 1995 for Sweden and Finland to join the EU or begin associating with NATO? "Neutrality," as the Swedes have shown, means quietly acquiescing to most of the ascending great power's demands.

One huge gulf between Estonians and Finns and Swedes is the use of moral arguments. Swedes and also Finns make arguments for policies based on morality -- it would be immoral to do policy X. But for Estonians, decisions are defended on a highly legal or fiscal basis. "Principle" seems to trump "morality."

stockholm slender ütles ...

Oh Sweden, West of Eden... I think that it is absolutely the most civilized society the humanity has created thus far. (It would make them a touch more popular if they themselves wouldn't also be so convinced of this.) A totally admirable country, though they could have a more developed sense of humour, and a better colour sense and less manically clean and orderly. Rikssvenska (especially the Stockholm variety) sounds very arrogant and selfcertain but our soft finlandssvenska is much better and more understandable. Älvsjö would be quite logically elvshö here - try to pronounce "sju sjösjuka sjuksköterskor" in rikssvenska...

Anonüümne ütles ...

I think Swedish sounds like the Swedish Chef on the Muppets.

Lingüista ütles ...

Giustino, you make it sound like Sweden was also somewhat "Finlandized" (do the Finns feel offended by this kind of concept?). Looking at Carl Bildt criticizing Russia (isn't he now supposed to be persona non grata in the Russian Federation?), one would imagine that the Swedes kept their critical skills in working condition. Is he an exception in Sweden? My impression that their lack of interest in the EU was motivated by their belief they had the best of all worlds and "joining Europe" would mean losing money (many Dutch here in the Netherlands are still angrily thinking the same -- that No to the European constitution comes from that). NATO... maybe Sweden thought that NATO and the Warsaw Pact would be too busy with each other for a while for Sweden to be an important target -- better keep off the danger zone? After all, the Icelanders are still out, and if they're now thinking about EU membership it's only because of their economic woes. (They are members of NATO, though.)

I've never heard finlandssvenska -- is it very different from rikssvenska? My gut feeling when I hear Swedish is that it's very "serious", as if the person speaking were emitting deep thoughts even when s/he's just commenting on the weather. It's like a language for psychologists or thinkers (Danish, on the other hand, sounds like they're always telling jokes -- and not very nice ones at that. It's that stød thing in their pronunciation.)

Giustino ütles ...

Carl Bildt is an outlier in Swedish politics. Remember, his government lasted only three years; not long by Swedish standards.

I have a suspicion that Anders Fogh Rasmussen was made the new head of NATO precisely because he could sell the franchise in Scandinavia. We'll see.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, I'm not for one overly fond of a very unspecified use of the concept "Finlandization". One thing to understand was that it was a two way street from the beginning (which, btw, was when Finland was left by the West to the tender mercies of Stalin) and I would say that Finland got the longer stick by far. Then there is the sorry moral collapse of our intellectuals and student radicals mostly in the 70's and Kekkonen's deterioraton during the same years left a dangerous vacuum in the political elite.

As for Finlandssvenska I would say that the intonation is much more like Finnish, flatter than the crazily singsong Rikssvenska (Reich Swedish...) Swedish sounds to me in both varieties as rather mundane, not very poetic, but in songs it can be madly beautiful (listen to Dan Andersson's poem set to music for example: Omkring tiggaren från Luossa

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Hvorfor er norsk bedre enn svensk?
Atfonbladet 2005:
For den muntlig språkforståelsen er det uttalen som er viktigst, og derfor har både nordmenn og svensker problemer med å forstå dansk, mens nordmenn og svensker faktisk forstår hverandre ganske bra fordi uttalen er så lik, sier Torp. Og nordmenn forstår altså bedre svensk enn svenskene forstår norsk - bare så det er sagt.

Taken from the article:
Norsk ungdom forstår bedre engelsk enn dansk

Komikerne Harald Eia og Bård Tufte Johansens harselas med at danskene har problemer med å forstå hverandre er ikke hentet helt ut av luften.

For Norway there was a different choice, they got occupied during WWII, they joint NATO as a consequence. And different. They were the only Scandinavians battling the German invasion and expansion with military forces.

puolimieli ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
puolimieli ütles ...

Why did it take until 1995 for Sweden and Finland to join the EU or begin associating with NATO? "Neutrality," as the Swedes have shown, means quietly acquiescing to most of the ascending great power's demands.

During the Cold War, I think particularly when Palme was Prime Minister, Sweden was eager to criticize also the Soviet Union. In Finland we of course think this was possible because of the traditional, very successful Swedish military strategy against the Russkies: "We will fight to the last Finn."

Finlandssvenska indeed sounds a lot like a Finnish-speaker speaking Swedish. When a Swedophone Finn goes to Sweden, they often are, to their great consternation, taken by the natives for Finnish-speakers, and commended for their excellent Swedish.

Troels-Peter ütles ...

I envy Stockholm a lot. I was only there once, and unfortunately in the winter. It has a splendour which seems almost central European (much more than Copenhagen), only placed in Ultima Thule. Its art galleries have much more paintings by old masters, too.

For some reason those two cities always compete about the number of inhabitants which is nonsensical since it is only a matter of where you draw the border of the city geographically.

Their geographies are quite incomparable, though. What I really like is the fact that Stockholm, like Oslo and Helsinki, is built on bedrock. Like most Danes I have a longing for bedrock since there's so little of it here.

And our language mutated too. Instead of the tonal accents we got the stød vs. non-stød. It's interesting, but not of great beauty, if I'm being subjective.

A few southeren dialects preserved the tones, though, eg. the one around the Danish-German border which my mother happens to speak fluently. In some respects it's closer to Swedish and Norwegian than rigsdansk.

It's also my impression that you have to be quite well-behaved to live in Sweden (of course one ought constantly to remind oneself that national stereotypes are stereotypes, but after all, they are great fun).

But I really like going there. Bedrock, Pressbyrån, the most beautiful language in Scandinavia - it's sometimes hard to be a Scandinavianist in Denmark...

Anonüümne ütles ...

As a Swedish-speaking Finn, I share your difficulty with understanding the Sweden-Swedes. I have lived there. I share a common language with them and to a very high degree, a common swedish (small S!) culture. And yet, amongst them, whilst it feels so very familiar, it still feels oh so different. They, in a way, have been isolated from the "real" world. War has not touched them in the 20th century, they have no common experience of suffering on a major society-wide level that both Finland and Estonia (and most other European nations) have. This, I think, very much has affected their world and home view. They feel more self-secure because of this. They take their situation for granted. Where for generations of Finnish and Estonian people, war, suffering and the very existance of our nations has never been something we could so easily take for granted.

As for language. The Sweden-Swedes do indeed often mistake us for either moomintrolls or Finnish-speakers speaking Swedish. As Puolimieli says, this is rather frustrating. But I have found, over time, that when a Sweden-Swede compliments one's Swedish, one should simply reply, "Thanks, yours is quite good too". It at least confuses them. To my ears, stockholmska can sound horribly patronising.

Martasmimi ütles ...

The Muppets:
Swedish Chef makes Donuts...


Alik Ibe ütles ...

I agree this artcle.... nice your blog... nice you too...

Kristopher ütles ...

"Like most Danes I have a longing for bedrock since there's so little of it here."

precisely the case with me and Eesti.

Triin ütles ...

A Finn and a Swede were having an argument on who's language was the more beautiful of the two.

As they were unable to reach an agreement, they decided to ask an English linguist to act as a neutral expert judge on the matter.

The renown researcher asked both parties to translate the following verse by Percy Shelley to their respective languages:

Island, island,
Grassy island,
Grassy island's bride.

The Finn answered first. His translation was:

Saari, saari,
Heinäsaaren morsian.

Then came the Swede:

Ö, ö,
Hö ö,
Hö ös mö.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Oh well, what about "alavilla mailla hallan vaara"? Try that in Swedish, that vardagsspråk!

Yeah, it must be annoying as hell to be complimented on your mother tongue. The Finnish Swedish literary tradition is actually totally out of size in importance as regards their quite small number. Runeberg could just as well be the national poet of Sweden and Södergran was such a central voice of Swedish speaking modernism, and also the postwar Finnish Swedish authors have amazing scope (sadly only too little known in Sweden - whose authors seem to mainly excel in whodunits...) and in Lillan's glory days much of the best Swedish speaking drama was played in Helsinki (and Svenska Teatern is not bad at all these days).

bunsen_lamp ütles ...

The fact that Swedish-speaking Finns are complimented on their excellent command of their mother tongue shows only that Swedes are just as small nation as Finns or Estonians, really. Germans take it for granted that their language can be spoken with different accents from Zürich to Reval and Hermannstadt to Saarlouis (OK, the habitat has shrunk a little since 1930's.) Same for the French and the Anglos and the Russians and the Arabs.

Anonüümne ütles ...

It comes down essentially to ignorance (and perhaps, if I am unkind, a little to the famous Swedish arrogance). Sweden's education system seems to forget to teach them anything much about the history of Finland/Österland being part of the Swedish kingdom. And Swedish language classes in Sweden seem to forget to mention much about Finland-Swedes, I suspect if you asked a Swede on the street about Runeberg, many would think he was actually from Sweden.

It's strange. I'd actually disagree with the German premise. It should be the opposite. Speakers of a small language should be all the more aware of the only other people who they share a common tongue with. I'd have thought anyway.

That said, I think Swedish-speaking Finns are more visible in Sweden than they have been for a while. We have a number of media personalities who have made it reasonably big there lately. There is a presenter in Sveriges Radio P3, the woman presenter of the now-ended Filmkrönikan and the comedian André Wickström. One could also include the director of the Swedish national bank, but he does not really sound so Finland-Swedish as he's lived in Sweden since such a young age.

Giustino ütles ...

I've interviewed a few Estonian Swedes, but they all spoke Estonian with me :)

Lingüista ütles ...

I quite like the idea of answering "thanks, yours too" to someone who compliments you on how well you speak your native language. That's a great answer!

It's curious to see here references to "Swedish arrogance" and Swedes' ignorance about Finlandssvenskarna, since it goes so contrary to the usual stereotype of the Swede full of goodwill and living in a social paradise. But actually, that's not so hard to imagine. Living in Holland, another country supposedly built on a "social paradise" and lots of understanding for the situation of others, I can attest that the Dutch can be quite patronizing at times ('we do have the best welfare system in the world', 'our political system is the most truly democratic',...), as if they thought their opinion is always the fairest one of all.

After all, such ideas are frequent everywhere. I worked for a while with an Amazonian tribe -- the Tiriyó -- that took another time -- the Katxuyana -- as "refugees" (the members of the other tribe had been decimated by diseases, their number was now quite small, less than 50). Despite being also small by world standards (they were about 2000), the Tiriyó quickly managed to come up with all the trappings of a holier-than-thou attitude, complete with a feeling of superiority ('they're learning our language, we aren't learning theirs; our language and our people are (spiritually) stronger!') and newly formed stereotypes (they didn't know them before!) about the Katxuyana ('they're sly, they often betray you, they always do what the Whites want...').

AndresS ütles ...

You still in town? Fancy a beer at some point?

Alex ütles ...

...because every Swede sounds like they have a meatball stuck in their throat.Must be like how the French sound like they have marbles stuck in their nose.

Cat Power ütles ...

Meatballs stuck in the throat? Dude - you have heard nothing. Try Danish instead :)

And as far as regards the anonymous engineer, I strongly suspect that it might be Ingvar Kampraad... ;)

E ütles ...

Can't blame the Swedish women: if you asked me if you should go rätt or not, you'd totally get an odd look, too.

(Rätt means correct, höger means the opposite of left.)

viimneliivlane ütles ...

I can’t resist passing on a bit of Stockholm lore I heard years back, to the effect that the Prussian emperor Bismarck was known to have smiled only twice in his life: once at his mother-in-law’s funeral, the second time when he saw the natural fortification of Stockholm. Entering Stockholm harbor one can’t help but wonder who steered the first daring ship to find the deep path between all those threatening rocks.

The Estonian opera ‘Vikerlased’ by Evald Aav speaks of the Viking era when the Swedish king abducted an Estonian maid. In retaliation the Estonians crossed the Western Sea (yes, the Germans named that sea the Baltic – Estonians call it the Western Sea and the Swedes call it the Eastern Sea) and burned down the Swedish capital Sigtuna. After that the Swedes moved their capital up the coast to a better protected location which is present-day Stockholm. I have always thought they enjoy the isolation that this natural protection provides because it helps them be neutral.

Troels-Peter ütles ...

Actually the Germans also call it the East Sea (Ostsee), along with the Scandinavians (even the Finns, I believe).

As for the Baltic States I suppose Estonia and Latvia were known as the Ordensstaat.

It makes me wonder where the notion of "Baltic States" actually comes from. It might be Russian. At least the three countries didn't share a commom history until Russian times.

I once looked up the etymology of "Baltic". It is of obscure (Latin) origin, but it might be linked to the Great Belt, the biggest strait connecting this sea to the ocean.

That fits with the fact that most languages using this name are spoken beyond the Belt. The Russians could then have acquired it from one of those before they reached its shores.

But that doesn't explain why it is also used in Latvian and Lithuanian...

viimneliivlane ütles ...

I did a double-take on first reading and am still baffled, on second reading, by the following statement:

“The conniving Germans managed to keep their self-serving feudal system intact into the 19th century and then tried to revert back to it in the 20th.”

Does this mean that historians are beginning to interpret events of the 19th century as somehow threatening the medieval feudal system in Estonia? We know about the gradual emancipation of the serfs beginning in the 1860s and the russification movement that followed which I see as feeding off the emancipation process / my mother’s grandfather was able to buy a farm on the condition that his family join the Russian Orthodox Church, which they did, but of course with their fingers crossed behind their backs. So far I have not heard that the German barons felt threatened in any way and in fact enjoyed a complacent continuity until their lands were nationalized following independence beginning in 1920 and continuing at a fairly humane pace – as late as 1922 they were realizing that without huge land holdings they couldn’t maintain their lifestyles and returned to Germany. Some managed to stay until 1939 when Hitler called the Germans back [sources on request].

When you start looking at how many and various manorial estates there were in Estonia you realize the enormity, complexity, and pervasiveness of this medieval concept. Both Olustvere and Taagepera mõises were built in the 20th century, allowing historians with a sense of humor to reflect that when the rest of the world was building cars and airplanes Estonia was still building mõises. As far as we know the entire national awakening movement of the 19th century could be seen as a win-win situation with no downturns for anyone – if the German barons were against it they would no doubt have shown their muscle.