Here is something that most people know about me: I am the least sneaky person on this planet. I have no poker face. I can’t hide my emotions. I can’t cross a room without bumping into a chair or knocking something over. Not sneaky.
But now I’m on vacation in Italy, and I can speak Swedish. Holy moly, I have gone from speaking the most easily identifiable language ever (American English) to communicating in a secret language all of my own (shared with just 9 million people or so). I might as well be speaking Slytherin. A RIDDLE WRAPPED IN A MYSTERY INSIDE AN ENIGMA, I TELL YOU. And the key is Swedish.
You can walk down the street and talk about pretty much whoever or whatever you want, and no one will understand what you’re saying. It makes me feel like a secret agent 007 spy to the max, with the slight exception of the times when I can’t think of a word in Swedish so I have to say it in English. Totally blows my cover.
For all those moments when the car rental agent/hotel receptionist/waiter asks you a question and you want to confer with your travel partner? Swedish. It’s like going into another room, closing the door, and having a conversation in total privacy… but you don’t have to go anywhere. Niiice.
I can’t even begin to tell you how freeing it is to be able to travel around and not be immediately identified as American every time I open my mouth. It’s not that I’m not proud of being American; obviously I am very proud of who I am and where I come from. At the same time, being an American abroad is like having a giant target on your back: you’re instantly the closest representative of a country that everyone has a strong opinion about, whether good or bad. It’s nice to be a little undercover every now and then.
Plus, when people ask us where we’re from, people are always curious about how and why a Swede and an American got married instead of cornering me and asking me to explain the latest episode in American politics. It’s a lot more fun for me to start a conversation with people about the different places they’ve traveled and lived than to deal with an impromptu inquisition.
Of course, there are some downsides. I’m totally linguistically confused, for one. I used to be good at Italian, and now I can barely say a sentence without mixing together Swedish and Italian. I don’t even realize what’s going on until I get a blank stare, and Simon nudges me and reminds me – Kate, you’re speaking in Swedish.
Even worse, I think I’m speaking Italian with a Swedish accent. That is just weird. You speak Swedish a lot farther back in your mouth than you do in English or Italian. I’m so used to speaking in my throat that my Italian is coming out like I’m gargling. What a mess.
Downside number two, this linguistic mantle of privacy can be a little dangerous. One second, you’re trash-talking the family with the misbehaved kids, the next moment you realize that Oops, they’re Swedish, and Oops, we probably should have kept our voices down. It’s already happened once on our trip, although I’m not sure if they heard us. (I hope not!)
So there you have it: reason number 537 to learn Swedish. I would rank it right above giving you more leverage when starting a business in Sweden and right below being able to understand your Swedish wedding ceremony. You’ve got to know when to say JA!, right?
For more posts about learning Swedish or a foreign language in general, follow the links below: