Swedish Girl In London

London Life: Bright Lights, Big City. Now what's on TV?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bonjour Tristesse?

When you meet English-speakers, they are invariably very nice about your pidgin version of their language.

“Oh,” they say benevolently, “you Scandinavians always speak perfect English.”

Of course, the next thing you tell them is: “Thinks you, I has lives here for much years” in the accent of Swedish Chef off the Muppet Show, but they pretend not to notice and there is peace on earth.

The French don’t do anything of the sort. If you happen to slip in an incorrect subjunctive, they will tell you so in no uncertain terms. After all, France is the country where you have to take classes called Civilisation Française if you are a barbarian ERASMUS student.

(A balding little monsieur drilled us in the fine art of greeting people correctly and made us recite poems by heart like Sunday school children.)

On Sunday, I’m meeting up with a French conversation exchange to get back into le groove. I’m frightened already.


At 9:11 PM, Blogger Steve said...

I was a ERASMUS student in Demark a few years ago. It was great! We were in the English speaking class. The idea being that every student in the room had to speak English at all times in order to help the Danes improve their Enlish (not that many of them needed it). Of course they just asked us about the more obscure swear words (such as "smeg". If you don't know what it means then I'm sure you can find out on the net somewhere).

The best bits were getting to correct the classes English teacher on her grammer and spelling! While, of course feeling bad about not being able to speak any other language . . .

At 9:19 PM, Blogger Zen Wizard said...

A knowledge of the definition of the word, "smeg" is crucial in appreciating the cinematic cult classic, "Surf Nazis Must Die."

So it was lucky you were there.

At 9:58 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Also pretty much every episode of the TV sci-fi comedy "Red Dwarf" which is where all my Danish buddies had heard it from.

At 1:23 PM, Blogger Mel said...

Ah yes, I remember 'L'Institut de Langue Francaise' from my time in Paris and how terrifying it was to use what I was learning on the French. They were so unforgiving.

Good luck with that!

At 2:36 AM, Blogger Curly said...

Scandinavians ALWAYS* speak with a honking American accent when they're over here.

* okay, I've thought about it a bit. I'm sure that they don't, but all the ones I've met (bar one) do. The Swedes sound more Scandinavian than the Norwegians do when speaking English**.

But saying that, plenty of "English" people think that they are supposed to be speaking in an American accent what with all the exposure to Scrubs, Friends, EL Raymond, 2 1/2 Men etc etc etc.

You get the point?

At 6:06 PM, Blogger Zen Wizard said...

I've got this theory that the American English you hear in places with a strong Swedish influence, like Minnesota & North Dakota, is actually a Swedish accent.

Like the accents they have in the movie, "Fargo."

At 5:04 PM, Blogger Rocío said...

I completely agree pe, YOU Scandinavians have this perfect concept of human language and your skills on this subject are specially good! the very first example...YOU YOURSELF! just ask a Frenchie what they think of Spanish accent...

At 5:36 PM, Blogger Swedish Girl said...

I've noticed that as well, Curly. The American accent is all-conquering. Totally wipes out the feeble Scandinavian one. I mean, I lived in Scotland for donkey's years and never picked up a Scottish accent, but only have to pass by a flock of American tourists at Tower Bridge to start sounding like that? You know? Ending everything like a question?

Rocio, your French accent is oh la la! Oh and thanks Mel, you know what I'm going through...

At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Toby S. said...

Speaking as a random American who stumbled across this blog purely by chance...

Curly - You're just jealous because your pop culture didn't take over the world.

Zen Wizard - yup, those areas were heavily populated by Swedes back in the day, and the University of Minnesota is apparently the place to go for Swedish language study over here.

Scandalnavians (I use the term affectionately) have excellent English, but nobody from the States is going to think that you have an American accent unless you're very, very good.

One of the best accents I've ever heard belonged to a French teaching assistant at my university - she'd spent a good chunk of her childhood in Scotland, so she had an absolutely delightful French/Scottish hybrid accent when she spoke either language. It was almost as good as the Chinese/Boston accent of one of the girls in my freshman dormitory.

But back to the topic at hand, of course the French are going to let you know where you slipped up - after all, it's their cultural responsibility to make sure that the idiots apprennent les langues ideaux. And by "les langues", they mean "le francais" of whatever particular region in France they happen to hail from. One of the high points of my semester in Paris was when my host grandmother complimented me on my accent. I nearly did a victory dance on the spot, but I'm sure I just smiled and offered the incorrect formula of gratitude for that particular situation. French is the only language suitable for discussing poetry, after all, and it's a mark of their great wisdom and tolerance that they put up with us benighted savages mangling the delicate phrases of their blessed mother tongue. I studied French for 10 years, and although I'm a bit rusty, I'm still fluent by the standard of most countries... but I know the French would scoff at my claim of fluency. I'd probably end up in a remedial instruction class until the instructor deemed my command of the language sufficiently inoffensive to be released back into the general population.

Which is why I want to learn Spanish next. I envy you EU kids and your ERASMUS program... actually, no, that's a lie. What I really envy is the ease with which you can score work visas. I'd love to work in Europe, but it's damnably hard for us to score visas outside of a few select professions, even for those of us who use declarative sentences.

Honestly, most Americans don't speak like that. Maybe unsure tourists milling around a foreign city like sheep talk that way, but that's certainly not what I hear on the streets in the US.

(*pause for obligatory gunfire joke here*)

Anyhoo, I like the blog! Keep up the good work.

At 9:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hallå ! Vilken hääärlig blog!

At 1:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog! Besides having control of the English language, the Swedes I have spent time with also have an incredible sense of humour. The time I spent in Sweden last summer will never be forgotten.



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