When my friend Josh and I first moved here in the fall of 2007, we did not know the first thing about Sweden. For example, we didn’t know that everyone knew how to speak English, and that they knew it quite well.
I remember we’d be out at the bars and when we found people (read: women) we wanted to talk to, we’d approach and ask,
Hey, do you speak English?
Most of the times, it was enough of an ice breaker that we’d go right into conversation. But once, we got this response.
Of course I do. We all do. We learn English in school, you know.
No, actually, we did not know. But thanks for making that clear for us.
But seriously, that’s pretty impressive stuff. I find that Swedes generally, and specifically those born later than 1965, speak very very good English. In fact, I find that their English is far easier to understand than what the Northern Irish speak (if you can even call that English).
However, being #TrulySwedish (read this previous blog posting too) they don’t freely come out and speak English, especially in unfamiliar situations.
Let’s take last night as an example. My friend Tobias Björkgren invited me to join him for a dinner and comedy show at SysteroBror, a comedy club at KTH (the university). We were seated in the middle of 3 other pairs, so it was a tight squeeze. At first it was just Tobias and me having conversation, and the others were keeping to themselves and having their own conversations.
But then, as the night wore on, and more alcohol was consumed, all 8 of us were engaged in fantastic conversation. There was quite an age difference too – from 19 all the way to 52 – but everyone was talking as if we had been friends for a long time. And when they heard the harsh American accent through my poor excuse for Swedish, they would jump in with English and ask me about where I was from, what I was doing in Sweden, etc. It was fantastic.
For a country where the English skills are so good, I think that Swedes should be proud of their language skills and speak English more freely, whenever they want, and without the assistance of alcohol. But then again, that wouldn’t be Truly Swedish, would it?