Swedish for Travellers

May 20th, 2013

If you’re headed to Sweden and need some basic phrases to get by, here are the absolute musts.

The Swedish people are very friendly, English isn’t uncommon, and a few basic phrases will probably be all you need for a short trip. I still wish everyone would learn their languages more fully, but if you insist – here are the basics you need to get by.

Swedish Basics

You will, of course, need yes (ja) and no (nej) and please (tack – also means thank you at the end of a sentence) will smooth a lot of waters for you. (For extra points, practice tack så mycket which means “thank you very much”).

When greeting people politely, say hello (hej or hej hej); if you want to be more casual, use “hejsan” instead. You can also use good day (god dag) as hello and goodbye during the daytime, generally acceptable before 5pm – after that you might get some odd looks! Other variations are god morgon (good morning), god middag      (good afternoon), and god kväll (good evening). I find double-duty greetings-slash-farewells to be very useful!

Excuse me (ursäkta mig) and sorry (förlåt) are absolute necessities, of course, as well.

Deeper Swedish

If your store of phrases fails you you might want to ask do you speak English? (pratar du engelska?) or admit that I don’t speak Swedish (jag pratar inte svenska) in order to avoid some embarrassing situations. You can also ask people to please speak more slowly (var snäll och prata långsammare) if you have a little Swedish but ar a bit shaky. If you’re making that kind of effort, learn how to say could you please repeat that (kan du säga det igen?) as well! However, if you’re here to learn some basic Swedish phrases, it seems unlikely to me that you’re a student of the language, so there’s a vital phrase you’re going to have to memorise and practice: I don’t understand (jag förstår inte)!

Finally, there is one phrase that rises above all others because it answers a primal need that can be make-or-break on any trip overseas (or even across the street). It doesn’t get listed on your standard hierarchy of needs charts, but it’s perhaps the most important phrase anyone can ever learn when travelling. Anyone who has travelled to foreign lands knows that being able to ask where the toilets are is absolutely vital! In Sweden you can ask var är toaletten? and that will solve your problem.