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Lesson Transcript


Alisha: What topics are taboo in Sweden?
Jesper: And what are some things you should avoid doing?
Alisha: At SwedishPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine this scenario: Karen Lee and Hanna Hakansson are chatting in a good atmosphere while drinking coffee. Everything changes when Karen asks the forbidden question,
"Who is your favorite politician?"
Karen Lee: Vem är din favoritpolitiker?
Karen Lee: Vem är din favoritpolitiker?
Hanna Håkansson: Kan vi prata om något annat?
Alisha: Once more with the English translation.
Karen Lee: Vem är din favoritpolitiker?
Alisha: "Who is your favorite politician?"
Hanna Håkansson: Kan vi prata om något annat?
Alisha: "Could we talk about something else?"

Lesson focus

Alisha: The subject of this lesson is "What topics are taboo in Sweden?" and "What are some things you should avoid doing?" Let's begin by learning what the Swedish word for "taboo" is. I must warn you—it's a really difficult one to remember and pronounce! Listen carefully now...it sounds like this:
Jesper: tabu.
Alisha: As you can hopefully tell, I was joking about it being difficult! It's a really easy word to remember because it sounds so much like its English counterpart.
What isn't going to be that easy is explaining what topics and behaviour are taboo in Sweden. This is because the answer isn't that simple. In general, Swedes are quite progressive and open-minded, so it wouldn't be accurate to say that any topic is taboo as such but there are some topics that might make people uncomfortable if you bring them up. There are also certain behaviors that will gain you approval, while other behaviors will cause you to be the subject of disdain or even anger. Fortunately, you don't have to worry because we are about to give you some great advice about social etiquette, as well as cultural norms and traditions in Sweden.
[Recall 1]
Alisha: To answer the question, let's take a closer look at the dialogue.
Do you remember how Karen asks "Who is your favorite politician?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Jesper: Vem är din favoritpolitiker?
Alisha: Here, Karen has made a mistake. Politics is not taboo in Sweden, but it can be a sensitive topic anywhere and so for Karen to ask this question while in a relaxed, social situation is not really appropriate. You might find that some Swedes don't mind a bit of political discussion, but avoid criticizing their social democracy or the conversation could get heated!
[Recall 2]
Alisha: And do you remember how Hanna answers "Could we talk about something else?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Jesper: Kan vi prata om något annat?
Alisha: Hanna clearly does not want to talk about politics. She has asked Karen if they can change the topic. What are safe topics to chat about, then? Hang in there, I will touch on those later!
I want to first elaborate on topics that are a bad idea to discuss. When you are just meeting someone for the first time, it's probably not a good idea to say something like
Jesper: Du har vackra kindben.
Alisha: This sentence means "You have beautiful cheekbones." A statement about someone's personal appearance at a first meeting is more unusual in Sweden than in most places because Swedes have an aversion to superficiality, and to compliment someone's looks at a first meeting can appear quite superficial.
Swedes are also a modest lot. They don't like boastfulness, especially when it comes to the subjects of rank, status, and success. If you want to keep the conversation flowing, it's probably best to steer clear of those topics altogether.
In fact, this is a sort of unspoken social rule that most Swedes abide by. It is called
Jesper: Jantelagen.
Alisha: This translates to "The Law of Jante'' which refers to a fictional town named Jante, the residents of which were a particularly law-abiding lot. The book was written by Norwegian-Danish author Aksel Sandemose in 1933.
What this rule means, in practical terms, is that Swedish people avoid being ostentatious, flashy, and boastful. This relates, in particular, to the topic of finances. In fact, the topic is so sensitive that many Swedes claim they would rather talk about bodily functions than income! If you are in Sweden, it would be wise, therefore, to stay modest in all respects and avoid the topics of income, rank, and status.
Practice Section
Alisha: Let's review what we heard in this lesson. I will say the target sentence in English, then you should respond by saying the sentence out loud in Swedish. Jesper will then model the correct answer. Listen to him carefully, with the focus on pronunciation, and then repeat.
The first sentence is "Who is your favorite politician?"
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Jesper: Vem är din favoritpolitiker?
Alisha: Did you get it right? Listen to Jesper again, and repeat.
Jesper: Vem är din favoritpolitiker?
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Jesper: Vem är din favoritpolitiker?
Alisha: The second sentence is "Could we talk about something else? "
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Jesper: Kan vi prata om något annat?
Alisha: How did you do this time? Again, listen to Jesper and repeat.
Jesper: Kan vi prata om något annat?
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Jesper: Kan vi prata om något annat?
Expansion/Contrast (Optional)
Now for some topics that Karen could safely discuss—generally, Swedes enjoy talking about philosophy, art, travel, and current events. Another safe bet would be for Karen to ask something like:
Jesper: Gillar du vandring?
Alisha: which means "Do you like hiking?" A large percentage of Swedish people love nature and the outdoors and you could also bring up the topic of Sweden's awe-inspiring natural beauty. Karen would also be safe asking something like:
Jesper: Vilket är ditt favoritlag i fotboll?
Alisha: or "Which is your favorite soccer team?" Many Swedes are very fond of their hockey and soccer teams. This ties in with the pride they feel for their various regions. Wherever you are in Sweden, it would be a good idea to learn some facts about that particular region and mention those during the conversation. You will very quickly make your way into your conversation partners' good books.
While on the topic of facts and knowledge, it would also be a good idea to learn a few things that distinguish the Swedes from their Scandinavian neighbors such as Finland, Norway, and Denmark. No Swede likes having their culture confused with that of any of these other countries.
In the end, the best thing to do when visiting Sweden is to arm yourself with some knowledge of the local culture and environment, and avoid discussing politics.


Alisha: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Jesper: Vi ses!
Alisha: See you soon!

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