Swedish Emergency Shows and a Segue into Why You Shouldn’t Cuss in a Foreign Language


Swedish Ambulance. Photo by: Henrik Sendelbach (CC BY 3.0)


Life and Death on TV
It seems like every time I turn on the TV in Stockholm, a show called “112 På Liv och Död” (“112 On Life and Death”) is on. I only get 4 or 5 channels—the ones that come without a subscription. I rent a room in a large flat and the owner of the flat pays the TV license (which I’ve blogged about before) and subscribes to more channels but his subscription only allows 4 televisions  to get the channels (and the other rooms all have TVs). But even when I lived in an apartment with one TV and a subscription to lots of channels, this same show always seemed to be on.

Here’s how TV4 describes the show: “Swedish documentary from 2012. Follow firefighters, police and ambulance nurses in their work. The series depicts the participants’ hard working people behind the professional roles. Strong emotions, excitement, and fast decisions mixed with humor, warmth and hope to make it in time to save lives and prevent crime.” (Google Translation)

The show is in Swedish, of course, and sometimes the regional accents are so thick I can’t understand at all what’s happening. I haven’t figured out how to get the Swedish subtitles to show. “112″, by the way, is the same thing as dialing “911″ in the US. Swedish kids are taught to remember the numbers to dial in an emergency by thinking of their face…one mouth, one nose, two eyes = 112.

This kind of show is not usually my thing but I am a sucker for fictional cop and emergency room shows. So I get drawn in when it is real life. These people are heroes. A lot of countries have their own version of this show in which the camera follows emergency personnel around a city.

And Then…Everyone Was…Okay
The thing that strikes me about the Swedish version is that often, not very much happens. Things almost happen. The police get called out to a bombscare in a club…but there’s no bomb. The emergency personnel respond to a child who has reportedly hit his head but it’s nothing really the child is fine. The doctor at the hospital x-rays an elderly woman’s arm, but it’s not broken.

It’s weird. You end up catching yourself feeling disappointed. Then you realize, wait, this is real life! I am glad they are okay. It’s that blurry line between reality shows and entertainment. Oh, the humanity! The whole thing makes me feel uncomfortable so I have stopped watching for the most part.

But I did see a few minutes from an episode of a spin-off show called 112 Poliser (“112 The Police”)  recently while in the kitchen, cooking my dinner. They disguised the voice and blurred the appearance of a man who attacked another man at a club. They use subtitles when the voice is altered so that’s a plus for me. The man was drunk and talking belligerantly to the police when they questioned him. He was swearing a blue streak in English which they had no problem in spelling out in the subtitles but then I noticed they were bleeping the stronger Swedish swears. Funny how they don’t bleep it when it’s a foreign language. (This man was speaking Swedish but it’s quite common to hear English swearwords mixed in with Swedish ones.)

For the record, very little language is bleeped or subject matter avoided on Swedish TV…

Swear Words
In fact, I often find myself tuning out someone carrying on a conversation in Swedish near me (so much easier to do when it’s not your native language!) and suddenly they will use an English swear word or another English word and it pops out at me and makes me pay attention. Kind of jarring actually when it’s an English swear word suddenly appearing with no context since I wasn’t paying attention to the Swedish words. Funny how your brain is hardwired to pick out your native language.

While learning Swedish before I moved to Sweden, I used to swear under my breath in Swedish, figuring the odds were fairly low that anyone would know what I was saying–especially at the office. But in Sweden I can’t swear because people get concerned when I do. The subtilties of swearing never work when you’re not a native speaker. The natives shake their head, no. It just sounds weird to them.

It doesn’t seem fair, really, there’s times when a good swear word is just the ticket.


  • dubium

    The swedish subtitles for SVT1 is text-tv page 199 and for SVT2 it is page 299. On the other channels it is not as obvious and intuitive, i do not remember the page for TV4 right this moment but it is kind of hidden there on something odd like 693. Try to find the “index” of all content on the text-tv pages usually waay back in the 890:s and somewhere in that list is information about textning (subtitles). I do however think that all swedish channels have this service nowadays, that is good. It is just a matter of finding which text-page they are hiding it on.

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Wow, I had no idea about this. Thanks, Dubium!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jacob-Ericsson/598648853 Jacob Ericsson

    My personal opinion is that swedes use english swear words when the situation calls for something lighter. Cursing in another language puts some distance between you and the curse word, making it have a lighter impact.

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Ah, interesting. I think you’re right, the effect feels lighter to the “sayer.” Kinda jarring to the native speaker though. I guess that’s why my friends frown on me swearing in Swedish!

  • Pascal

    TV4 has the subtitles on page 890…

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Thanks. I will try to find this. :)

  • Monica-USA

    Very interesting story Kristin. :o )