Friday, November 12, 2010

The issue of the Swedish Hej!

One of the first things you learn in Swedish is the every day Hej! Everybody is hej-ing everyone, from old to young, from children to their grandparents. This looks like a very nice socialist habit at the first glance. That, until you discover the multiple colors of Hej.
There is a friendly Hej you may occasionally hear from Swedes. This is the iiiiiiiiiii Hej, when the last vowel is raised cheerfully. It`s the Hej meaning you are welcome, we like you, if you prove to be as you seem to be, maybe we can fika (aka get a coffee and a brioche) together. That`s the maximum Hej you can get.
Then there is the neighborly Hej. This one does not a cheerful I, but a long e. Sounds more like Heeeeeeeej. What can I do, I am your educated and well-raised neighbor, it wouldn`t look good for myself not so salute you in any way, so here is your Hej but don`t dare to ever bother me. It`s a kind and distant Hej, though.
You might also get a racist-xenophobic-bored-suspicious-avoiding Hej. This one does not have any raised or cheerful vowel. It`s the pure: who the hell are you, why are you looking so different, this country is clearly going to hell Hej. Depending on your language skills, you may reply to it with one of the above-described Hej-s, but I cannot guarantee that the initial Hej you get shall ever be friendlier.

Swaiting-or waiting in Sweden

Long time ago, during my restless youth, I remember studying about different  types of languages and the connection between mentality and language. I was surprised to find out that, for instance, some African ethnic groups don`t even have a word for ‘waiting’. The reason is quite obvious:  their lifestyle does not imply waiting at any moment in their lives.
I had to come to Sweden to find out were the  concept of waiting came into being. That`s right, here, in Sweden. Swedes must have invented the idea and also gave it a name ‘vänta’. Every single thing you ask for or want to do here involves a lot of waiting. People are queuing for a visit to the doctor, for talking to a bank clerk (even if there is no other client there you still need to get a queue number), at the drugstore and so on. There are waiting lists for everything.
Almost all my fellow expats seem to be frustrated about all this waiting. I am wondering how Africans can cope with it-or maybe they just belong to some ethic groups that have already accepted waiting in  their daily routine.
The most shocking thing was to hear my 2 year old son saying his first word ever: vänta ! Then I was lost for words...