Thursday, August 13, 2009

Du är inte svensk-You are not a Swede

Long ago in Göteborg, I sat next to a woman on the trolley to Saltholmen. She started talking to me and I replied. And then, suddenly, she looked at me, deeply shocked, and said with emphasis “Du är inte svensk!” I already knew that since I had come fairly recently from the US of A. So why the shock? If you are an ethnic Swede (etnisk svensk) I will give you two clues. Since three fourths of my grandparents were ethnic Swedes who emigrated to the USA, then my appearance might reflect that history. And, since I learned Swedish late in life, jag talar svenska med amerikansk brytning.

In any case in my 13 years in Sweden I have learned that this distinction – vi och dem – where “vi” (we) are the ethnic Swedes (see Svante Pääbos genetic studies) and “dem” (them) is everybody else – is extremely important.

Why just the other day Sveriges Radio P3 (young) woman talked briefly with a caller speaking perfect Swedish who said “I was born in Indonesia but was adopted by a Swedish couple and came to Sweden as an infant. And what did the P3 woman say? You guessed it, she said “Du är inte svensk.”

The Swedish National Encyclopedia definition of svensk is.- first in NE’s English dictionary simply noun - Swede and then in its Swedish dictionary translated Noun - person from Sweden. Our P3 woman clearly does not agree with this definition and has a different way of classifying people, at least as long as she is in Sweden.

So lets look at two pictures of the same drummer - taken by me June 2009 while listening to Turkish music. Picture our P3 woman looking at this person live in Göteborg. Then for contrast, picture her on vacation in the USA where she looks at the drummer. She studies his face closeup. How does she think when in Göteborg? I leave the answer to you. Now, how might she respond if her American friend said to her, “What do you think, Kerstin, is he American?”

That’s all for now. What do you think? How do you think?


  1. This is me Larry Lundgren, just testing what happens when I enter my own comment since I am still a novice.

  2. Denna situation är lite som det är i USA. "Vi" är folk som har inte några accenter och ofta har vit skinn. "De" är de som är olika, ofta Mexikanare.

    Intressant observationer.