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8 March, 2017

Happy birthday Swedish style

birthday

Ever been wished a happy birthday in Swedish? I recently had a big birthday and was struck by the various ways to congratulate somebody in Swedish. There is, in fact, an array of ways to say it, some obvious and some frankly odd.

The most common way is ‘grattis på födelsedagen’ – congratulations on your birthday – or simply ‘grattis’.
Then there’s the more formal ‘hjärtliga lyckönskningar’ – heart-felt wishes.
Also, there’s the even more formal ‘gratulationer på bemärkelsedagen’ – congratulations on your notable day.
But the oddest one must be ‘ha den ären’ which translates literally and weirdly as ‘have the honour’.

If that’s not weird enough, there’s the happy birthday song in Swedish. Or is it happy? If you ask me it’s a bit macabre. Within the lyrics of the song, there are threats to shoot, hang and drown the person celebrating their birthday! This song was previously a drinking song and became tradition to sing on people’s birthdays in the 1940’s.

Here it comes

’’Ja, må han leva! Ja, må han leva, Ja, må han leva uti hundrade år!
Javisst ska han leva! Javisst ska han leva! Javisst ska han leva uti hundrade år!
Och när han har levat, Och när han har levat, Och när han har levat uti hundrade år!
Ja, då ska han skjutas, Ja, då ska han skjutas, Ja, då ska han skjutas på en skottkärra fram!
Och när han har skjutits, Och när han har skjutits, Och när han har skjutits på en skottkärra fram
Ja, då ska han hängas, Ja, då ska han hängas, Ja, då ska han hängas på en häst bakåfram!
Och när han har hängits, Och när han har hängits, Och när han har hängits på en häst bakåfram
Ja, då ska han dränkas, Ja, då ska han dränkas, Ja, då ska han dränkas i en flaska champagne!
Och när han har drunknat, Och när han har drunknat, Och när han har drunknat i en flaska champagne!
Ja, då ska han firas, Ja, då ska han firas, Ja, då ska han firas med jättelång låt!
Ja må han leva! Ja må han leva!’’

This translates roughly as

’’Yes, may he live! Yes, may he live! Yes, may he live for a hundred years! Sure he will live! Sure he will live! Sure he will live for a hundred years!
And when he has lived! And when he has lived! And when he has lived for a hundred years! Then he should be shot! Then he should be shot! Then he should be shot forward in a wheelbarrow!
And when he’s been shot, and when he’s been shot. And when he’s been shot forward on a wheelbarrow then he should be hanged, then he should be hanged, then he should he hanged on a horse back to front.
And when he’s been hung, and when he’s been hung and when he’s been hung on a horse back-to-front, then he should be drowned, yes drowned, yes he should be drowned in a bottle of champagne
And when he’s been drowned in a bottle of champagne, then he should be celebrated for a really long life!
Yes, may he live! Yes, may he live!’’

So, if you’re celebrating a birthday in Sweden, I hope you enjoy it. And watch out for wheelbarrows!

Read more from Neil at his blogg Watching the Swedes. 

Written by: Neil Shipley

My name’s Neil Shipley and I have lived in Sweden for over 20 years. I work as a trainer, lecturer and coach in Intercultural competence and communication from my Stockholm-based company. I am also of one of the few people in Sweden to have a Master’s degree in Intercultural competence.

From my English perspective, I observe Swedish society and the Swedes – everything from the special to the sublime, the scary to the surprising. This is my blog of my observations.

I can be employed to provide training, lectures, seminars. Check out my company: Key Training

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