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14 March, 2019

Tales of the devil, snow and suspenders – The Magic of Swedish Proverbs

Many proverbs are similar in different languages and come from translations of the Bible or classical literature. Other proverbs are more culture-specific. What do the most common Swedish proverbs say about a culture? Which values do they reflect? Here are a few Swedish proverbs that express important cultural values.

Presented by Swedish with Mumm

Independence and Self Sufficiency

Don’t let those long and constant meetings fool you. Even when Swedes work for the team, it’s also very important to be independent and self sufficient.

Ensam är stark.

Alone is strong.

Själv är bäste dräng.

Self is the best farmhand.
(If you want to be certain that the job gets done, do it yourself)

Envar är sin egen lyckas smed.

Each person is the smith/forger of his own happiness.

Equality and Fairness

Take a number, stand in the queue! We are all equal and it has to be fair, otherwise, it’s not …. well… fair!

Först till kvarn får först mala.

First to the mill will first grind.

Life lessons and Honesty

Variations of these examples exist all over the world, however what is hidden under the sand in other places in Sweden is hidden in the snow but will equally come up to light eventually.

Det som göms i snö kommer upp i tö.

What is hidden in the snow, will appear when it thaws.

Har man tagit fan i båten får man ro honom i land.

If you have brought the devil on the boat you must also row him to shore.

Som man bäddar får man ligga.

As you make your bed, so must you lie in it.

Silence and Humbleness

There is an elegant sense of pride in being successful and not bragging about it. As a general rule, Swedes are quiet unless they have something important to say. Bragging is just a big no-no.

Tala är silver, tiga är guld.

Speech is silver, silence is golden.

Eget beröm luktar illa.

Self-praise smells bad.

Den som gapar efter mycket mister ofta hela stycket.

One who wants everything may lose it all.

Avoiding Conflict and Risk

Sweden’s history hasn’t always been neutral. However, when it comes to conflicts they usually take a step aside and consider their options first. As they wisely say, better to use belt and suspenders!

Bättre fly än illa fäkta.

Better to flee than to fence poorly.

Bränt barn skyr elden.

A burnt child dreads the fire.

Bäst att bära både hängslen och livrem

It is best to wear both a belt and suspenders.

Hospitability*

*Applicable mainly just for friends and family. Nothing personal 😉

Finns det hjärterum så finns det stjärterum.

If there is room in the heart, there is room for the behind.

Inget kalas utan kras.

No party without shattering.

Home, Sweet Home

Swedes love to explore the world but certainly, there is nothing better than to be home! And honestly, who can blame them?

Borta bra men hemma bäst.

Away is good but home is best.

Blott Sverige svenska krusbär har.

Only Sweden has Swedish gooseberries.

Do you have your favourite Swedish sayings? Let us know in the comments! Do you want to know more about them? There is no one better to ask than Swedish with Mumm.

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Nina Mumm
Hello! I am a Swedish language consultant and cross-cultural trainer who has many years of experience working with expat clients in Sweden. My professional focus continues to be teaching Swedish with a cross-cultural approach and supporting international clients in their adaptation to the Swedish culture.
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