When things are lost in translation…

Imagine a Canadian university having this on their website (translated from Swedish using Google Translator):

Question: What do you do in your spare time in Hällefors?

Answer: Eg go to the movies, sports, play bowling, practice on the Health House (J: I think this translates to exercising, gym?), visit the bath in Fillipestad, associations, etc. You can also interact with other students in the municipality, ex. the student union building in Grythyttan (Örebro University), Hällefors Folkhögskola (J: adult continuing education). Do you like nature, with healthy walks, fishing, canoe trips, etc.? Yes, there is much to do!

Exercising, going to the movies, bowling, and walking outside? That is lots to do? I kind of get the opposite impression when they promote such simple things that available just about anywhere, that there must not really be much to do! Of course this is due to my bias of living in a city where there are far more events going on than I know about. I can just hear the Swedish IKEA guy asking, “Do you like nature?” (listen here for hilarious commercial)

And another:

When you get to Lunnevad, near Linköping, and Mjölby, will you also to the Stergötland’s cultural landscape where it is as beautiful, just in the border area between forest and plains. A lush environment that invites physical runs or long walks and who gives silence when you need studier.

My reaction to this is just to laugh! But when Per read the exact same thing, he thought, “ah, how nice! Sounds like a wonderful place!” I think Canadians don’t exactly have “access to nature” as a criteria when looking for schools, which is why no Canadian school would even think to have something like this on their website. Could you even imagine?

Per sent me photos of Linkoping a few weeks ago, and I was shocked to see how green, lush, and full of bloom it is there. Wildflowers everywhere. Asparagus and rhubarb coming up in Per’s backyard. Grape leaves forming on the vine. Compared to here, where we’re just coming out of brown grass still. And flowers? Do they even grow wild here? Never seen one in the city that wasn’t planted by someone.

I finally understand why Swedes live for summer, having experienced grey, dreary, monotonous November / December skies, and extremely short daylight hours – hours that were usually grey still. Once a week Linkoping would be blessed with a day of blue skies, and I reacted just like most Swedes – rushing outside desperately trying to take in the sun while I could. Seeing the dramatic transformation into spring, I see more and more, how important the seasons and nature are to Swedes. And why when summer comes, everyone goes nuts! I heard it several times, how important nature is to Swedes, but until I saw it with my own eyes, I didn’t completely understand it.

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2 thoughts on “When things are lost in translation…

  1. Before I studied here and read about the university and Sweden, I was also convinced that all of Sweden was one big sleepy town. It was like that until a few months after I started class: there were no 4-story malls, IMAX, concerts, and all those things I were used to doing which I now realize were all about… well, consuming. My entertainment in Manila was all about spending money. Services were cheap and I enjoyed to enjoy from others’ work, I guess.

    I read the above sentences again and realize how kind of socialist that sounds… but my point is, years of living here made me appreciate “free” leisure, like well, going to the library instead of having to buy books which I just end of shelving, or taking a bike tour instead of watching bikes on IMAX. You’re right about not appreciating nature yet until you experience it!

    On the topic of professional titles and pregnant ladies in buses, I can agree with Swedes on the former but I’d give my seat to a pregnant lady if she looks like she’s in discomfort (I’ve encountered several Swedes who give their seats to old people though, but some old people refuse!). It’s a bit different if you don’t know your professor’s name, but I can get the point that grades should be based on merit and not, well, playing the good student in front of a person who has authority. I think Swedes have an “authority problem” that way, but not in an entirely negative way. The logic is: should he have more authority just because he’s older and has more experience? But everybody will get old and everybody will have experience, so why should he be respected just because he has those here and now? Is the professor better than the salesman who hadn’t had the social possibilities to educate himself into a professor? And you know, that saying that respect is earned kind of thing — one could be a complete idiot of a person even if he have the title of “professor” or “emeritus”, so it’s better to respect people according to the virtues that they have as you know them, than simply by their professional titles.

    But I stop there lest you think I’m an apologist for Swedish values!

  2. That’s weird. In my undergrad, we usually referred to profs by their first name. Maybe sometimes more formally if that’s how they introduced themselves.

    In my master’s, everyone calls them by their first name. It’s very casual. But we have a small program. We all know each other.

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