Most Swedes speak fluent English, true. But it’s also true that many Swedes overestimate their English abilities, especially in writing. Sometimes the best solution would be to stick to Swedish and let the non-Swedish speakers figure out the correct translation themselves.
I subscribe to an amusing newsletter for language nerds like myself, Computer Sweden’s Språksamt (only in Swedish). I just giggled through the last issue, which highlights the fact that English may sometimes be a really bad idea. Two examples are mentioned.
1) Along the new tramline that runs through central Stockholm, pedestrian crossings are marked “Look up — tramcars passing.” Not only may tourists be confused by what “tramcars” means, but the warning would also have been more efficient had it said “Look out” instead of “up,” which is simply the wrong word. Not to mention the fact that Swedish lives seem to be worth less than tourists’ – as the sign is only in English.
2) The rebranded shopping mall next to Stockholm–Bromma Airport west of central Stockholm is now called Bromma Blocks. Newsletter editor Anders Lotsson sees this name choice as a sign that the mall is not planning to attract any tourists. The word “Blocks” makes it easy to think of prison blocks rather than shopping. And, as Lotsson says, tourists who want to visit prison blocks can go to Långholmen instead; it’s both cozier and more central.
I can’t help wondering what kind of hubris it is that makes Swedes so sure that their English skills are top-notch. Especially since we’re so keen on making fun of, for example, Asian signs in more or less incomprehensible English.
So, fellow Swedes, please consult a native English speakers before you print a sign in English or give a shopping mall a new name next time. Or stick to Swedish.