Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Drunken Norwegian Lessons

Turns out I don’t speak Norwegian. A drunken revelation.

All of the Scandinavian countries, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, have very similar languages. Very Germanic. The Norwegian language is very similar to the Swedish language. Pretty easy to read if you speak Swedish, less easy to understand. Danish is the same. Although Danish sounds like someone speaking Swedish with marbles in their mouth. It’s not attractive. Unless you’re into that sort of thing. I’m not.

All of the Scandinavian countries, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, have very similar languages. Very Germanic.

In a sober state, I can usually understand Norwegian well enough to have a conversation with them. I miss words here and there but get the gist and am able to respond in a halfway intelligent manner. Which tends to be what I strive for in everyday life. Halfway intelligent.

In Danish I can pretend. Nod and smile. Concentrate real hard and hope that I guess right with my response. It’s frustrating, and I completely blame not being a real native speaker of Swedish for this.

But the other night I was heading home from a party with a few other party goers. When one of them turned to me and began to speak Norwegian. I knew it was Norwegian because, despite it being 3 in the morning, and having had a beer, or two maybe, I could recognize the language. This, however, did not help me in distinguishing individual words and making sense of them. So, in Swedish, I apologized and explained that I was in fact an American and had a hell of a time understanding Norwegian. At which point the girl switched immediately to Swedish. Which first made me jealous, and then confused me. I suppose enough Swedes actually understand Norwegian, but it just seemed strange that a person, despite knowing the language, wouldn’t speak it.

Anyway, after my jealousy and confusion passed, her boyfriend joined the conversation. In Norwegian. At which point he was admonished for not even trying to speak Swedish by his loving girlfriend. In Norwegian. Somehow, I was able to understand that. Or maybe she was really speaking Swedish and in those early morning hours I just couldn’t figure out what language was being spoken; I just knew I understood it.

Either way, I learned a valuable lesson. While some people gain confidence and language skills with a little booze. Or at least they claim to. I don’t. In fact, I just end up a bumbling mess of confused languages.

Welcome to Sweden. Where an understanding of Norwegian is not required, but preferred.

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  1. Well, you're not alone. I'd be damned if I could understand that "language" called Danish... In fact, here's a real funny sketch about Danish, which by a coincidence is Norwegian: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-mOy8VUEBk

  2. It's not because you're not a native Swedish speaker you didn't understand Danish it's because, like you said, they speak with marbles in their mouths, huge ones i have to ad. I'm a native Swedish speaker, and when I'm in Denmark i pretend to be as far from a swede as possible, just to save me the embarrassment of looking far from halfway intelligent. :) so you're not alone :) Funny sketch by the way Robban :)

  3. LOL!

    Haha omg I freakin' love your blog!

    Oh the language barrier... or more like the language that's barely there but it's still there... like a damn scratch you have and can't reach... er... sorta...??

    Keep the stories coming! :P

  4. Hairy, did you happen to see that video that Robban posted a link to? To me, Danish can be pretty easy to understand - Except when they're the milkman in that video. I am QUITE convinced that Danes shovel a few extra spoonfuls' of porridge down their throats when they either want to mess with you 'cause you're Swedish - or when they intend to rip you off. They're rather successful in both instances. Swedish businesspeople know very well that they'll end up with the greasy end of the stick each and every time they deal with Danes.

    About that Norwegian girl...I'm torn. I feel it was very respectful of her to speak Swedish (or Swedishlike Norwegian) with you. And therein lies the problem...I can't imagine Swedes doing the same. We're the American's of Scandinavia. We expect other Scandinavians to adapt to us.

    On a more tongue-in-cheek (but still dead serious) note: I might not have understood that girls Norwegian either. Not because I don't understand Norwegian (though some regions are easier to understand than others) - but rather because Norwegian, when spoken by a girl, is very, VERY sexy. It's a very feminine dialect of Scandinavian I think. When spoken by a guy...I laugh and I laugh...and if a Norwegian guy reads this, he'll probably understand the humour here.

  5. I LOVE that sketch! I almost never laugh out loud when I'm alone, but when I was watching this I did! It was extremely funny and accurate!

    I can totally understand that you had a hard time understanding Norwegian. I usually end up using English to communicate with people from foreign countries like Norway, Denmark or Skåne. It's just a lot easier. English is the Latin of our time, and I see no reason for not using it when there is no common language.

  6. @robban - well done on the youtube clip. pretty entertaining.

    @maja - alright, good to know that its not just me.

    @ting - youre exactly right. it is just out of reach isn't it. very frustrating because it seems like it should be so much easier.

    @jacob - that is kind of interesting about swedes expecting other scandinavians to adapt. maybe it has something to do with stokholm claiming to be the capital of scandinavia.

    @sne - agreed. it does make things a lot easier. and it is so common at this point it seems better to go with it rather than risk a bunch of miscommunication.

  7. Hairy, allow me to continues Jacob M's reasoning here. We are definitely the Americans of Scandinavia and I would say Norway is the Canada of Scandinavia. And Denmark, I have no idea... I think the fact that we (i.e. some Swedish tourism advertising people) claiming Stockholm the capital of Scandinavia stems from that same 'feeling' which make us Swedes expect other Scandinavians to adapt to our language. I think that this feeling is a feeling of superiority which stems from the fact that we're the biggest country (both by the size of land and population) and that we are the most famous country, that Norway used to be a part of us, that Finland (OK, not really a Scandinavian country) used to be a part of us and that the Swedish language has a 'second home' in Finland and that we have taken over large pieces of land from Denmark.

    And, oh, almost forgot, good call on the Norwegian girl thing. Totally true

  8. Sounds like you struggle with Danish like I did with Swedish :) I could actually read and translate a fairy tale book on the fly, but I couldn't have understood a word of it, had someone read it to me in Danish! Norwegian is practically like another dialect of Swedish to me.

  9. @robban - I have never really though of that. and I am intrigued. it actually makes quite a bit of sense. and I like the historical aspects with the former imperalistic vision of sweden.

    @smek - seriously... its just ridiculous.

  10. yeah,we have always sort of been the "big brother" to all the other Nordic countries.

  11. interesting considering norway has been the richer contry for quite some time now and denmark is closer to the continent.

  12. Add to the "Swedish superiority" image that the Swedish crown used to be a little stronger than the Danish and Norwegian...until 1992 that is. It used to be quite convenient for Swedes traveling to Helsingör or Copenhagen to simply pay with Swedish crowns on a 1:1 rate.

    Then there is the fact that Swedes don't understand spoken Danish very well, which Danes often resent...make an effort, people!

    It pays to try both understanding and speaking Danish better. I used to always speak Swedish in Denmark, but once I gathered enough courage to try some "mock Danish", WOW what a difference!! The people I met were absolutely delighted to hear a Swede humbling himself with attempting some Danish. They became extremely helpful immediately.

  13. Eklandisks point about currency isn't without importance. That is, I think it's originally quite irrelevant but the loss of Currency Superiority is a pain that I feel keenly. National pride took a heavy blow that day. It's a puss-filled runny sore. I think it's about this time that Norway passed us in wealth too. And possibly the Danes. I'll never speak mock Danish though. Unless the intent really is to mock. Wouldn't that be like English going to Ireland speaking with a mock Irish accent? I don't go to Denmark that often anyway. I would however try to use synonyms that I believed that the Danes understood.

    That being said.

    @Hairy - I don't get the point of your last argument at all. What impact would Denmark being closer to the continent have? And Norway being richer...well, it's not really been "some time" in my world. Also, the main reason why we've been able to treat other Scandinavians (and Finns) in an older brother way...it's because they've accepted being treated that way! They may not have liked it, but they accepted it. But...things did start to change in the -90's and change is the only real constant. For hundreds of years the Danes had the upper hand in the Scandinavian Struggle. Sweden has held the upper hand for the last few hundred years. The Danes are probably the ones that have resented this the most.

  14. @eklandisk - Im all for trying the language of the country youre in. simply because I think it shows some respect. even if it means just working on understanding it.

    @jacob - that was actually more in response to the whole idea of stockholm and the capital of scandinavia thing. sweden finds itself kind of alone up here. and denmark, despite still being part of scandinavia, is closer to the rest of europe and in turn a whole lot of extra people. because of that I would think they might have a better claim to the capital of scandinavia thing.

  15. @jakob, hairy: I think it needles Danes when Swedes speak Swedish in Denmark because they normally attempt to speak Swedish when in Sweden. Of course no Swede will notice any difference, which is why we don't realize the lack of reciprocity perceived by Danes. I shouldn't have called it "mock" Danish, because I made little attempt to imitate Danish speech. I did choose words and turns of phrases the Danish way, with most of my south-Swedish accent intact.

    Norwegians, on the other hand, impress me greatly by speaking excellent Swedish. I suspect they watch quite much Swedish TV, at least much more than Swedes watch Norwegian TV.

    (As an aside, dubbed TV shows and movies really do a disservice to people in countries where that is common.)


  16. Well...

    I did say that I'd try to use synonyms that I thought the Danes understood - as this is what I've done in conversations with Danes so far in my life. It can actually make conversations kind of interesting and educational as we both go from one synonym to the next seeking a common denominator. But mostly I think that Danish is understandable to a Natural Born Swede - Someone who's got a full Swedish vocabulary. You have to focus a lot more than during a regular conversation though. Mostly it seems to work both ways. I still think that the best compromise would be if we all spoke Swedish. My part of the compromise would be that I'd drop my Östgöta accent plus regional expressions + gramatical twists and words. Seems like a fair deal to me!

    @Hairy/Marcus - I still don't find your arguments logical in the least. Clearly you are insane. This is not Patriot Jake talking. I am Jacob the Argumentative. Fear me! I wear a disguise and I have a Superhuman ability to argue (you've read Nietzsche, right?)

    Copenhagen should have the title "Capital of Scandinavia" because it's closer to a lot of people in none-Scandinavian countries?! Get a room! (with padded walls)

    Anyway, if I weren't so argumentative I could just have pointed out a simple fact: It's just a slogan. I suspect the Danes use a similar one for Copenhagen. Stockholm's got a better ad-agency though. Are you familiar with the slogan "probably the best beer in the works"? Ever tried Staropramen? I think that all of us refined beer-drinkers can agree that Staropramen is vastly superior to the beer brand with previously mentioned slogan, yes?

  17. @Jacob: Sorry, I must have overlooked that somehow. If I get to change my story again, I would say I started by attempting a proper "unskyld" in my best Danish imitation before proceeding with some kind of Scandinavian mixture.

    Staropramen and most Czech beers are excellent! I still drink Carlsberg sometimes for the sentimental reasons, though. A few years ago, the Carlsberg sold here in California was actually made in Canada, and didn't taste like the original at all. Luckily, "imported" nowadays means "imported from Denmark" :-))

  18. @eklandisk – I must say, most of the danes I have run into in Sweden have always spoken Danish with me. so I nod along and smile. Obviously.

    And I couldn’t agree with you more about dubbing. I hate dubbing. It is worthless. Annoying. Awful.

    @ Jacob – youre right it is just a slogan. But the only reason I pay it any attention is because there was actually a bit of an argument about it when Stockholm first started using it. which I thought was hilarious.

    And I love the Carlsberg slogan. Probably the best slogan in the world actually.

    @eklandisk – silly Canadians and their attempt at making Danish beer…

  19. @Hairy: It might have seemed like Danish to you, but they thought they were speaking Swedish. Their (heavy) accent makes it seem like Danish anyway.

    "Nod and smile" seems like a very Swedish thing to do in that situation ;-)

  20. I love it... youre probably exactly right.

    Ill just keep nodding and smiling then!

  21. I'm a Swede, and I don't understand most spoken Danish, heh, I might even understand spoken German better! (I have studied German for a few years, though.) I'm from Västerbotten though, people from Skåne probably understand the Danish langauge a lot better.

    Norweigan isn't that hard, especially not written. Written Danish isn't extremely hard either. English is easier, sure, but I could probably understand a Norweigan newspaper without much trouble.

  22. @munch - I dont have too much trouble with the written. its the spoken that I struggle with.

    its just frustrating because the written isn't that bad so it just seems that the spoken should be easier.

    its not. not for me at least.