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How to be an expressive Scandinavian

The author points to the "Lørdagsgodt" display at a Swedish IKEA store. "Lørdagsgodt" is spelled with an ø in Norwegian and with an ö in Swedish. (Photo submitted)

Who says Scandinavians don't express themselves well? My friend's grandfather would stand up after sitting for a long time and say, in Norwegian, "I have the taste of wood in my behind." (The word was not exactly "behind" but this is a family newspaper.)

Wanting to know more about this phrase, I consulted my usual source of Scandinavian cultural knowledge, cousin Knut. He remembers his mother saying it after coming home from a church wedding, having just sat on a wooden bench listening to a long sermon. If you want to try it in Norwegian, it would be, "Jeg har tresmak i ræva mi!"

Surely you might find an opportunity to use that one. While we're at it, how about these other gems?

Lørdagsgodt: All children know that Saturday is a special day because that's when they are allowed "Lørdagsgodt" or "Saturday goodies." Lucky kids get to have a piece of candy or other treat on this one day of the week. No one can accuse Scandinavians of a lack of self control. I have always been sorely tempted to change the phrase to "hverdagsgodt": everyday goodies!

Bjørnetjeneste: A "bear favor" is one in which the intentions are good, but the results are more negative than helpful. It comes from an old folk tale of a tame bear that tries to shoo away a fly that is bothering its master. The bear throws a stone at the fly but accidentally kills the master. Oops. Oddly enough, in Denmark, the meaning has recently changed to mean a really huge favor.

Du er rosinen i pølse mi: Literally, "You are the raisin in my sausage." This means, "You are a delightful surprise in my life that is already good. "At some point in history, butchers used to place a few raisins at the end of the sausage and this was considered to be the best bite. Any little positive surprise at the end of something can be referred to as "rosinen i pølsa" or "the raisin in the sausage."

Falle i fisk: When things have fallen apart, Scandinavians say they "fell in the fish." You can imagine this would be a smelly affair and not something you wish to happen.

Uff da! "Uff" can loosely be translated as "Ouch!" You probably have heard this expression used for an unlucky event or irritating occurrence. But until I moved to Norway I didn't realize that "da" is the Norwegian word for "there" and it is used for at least two other expressions: "Ja, da" and "Nei, da." It's kind of an underscore to the word before it. I've heard "uff da" used much more frequently in Duluth than in Scandinavia.

Luftsuppe og venteboller: This useful phrase is appropriate for a number of circumstances. When a child (or anyone without patience) asks what is for dinner, you can give the answer used by many Scandinavian parents: "Air-soup and wait-buns." You can also use this phrase to indicate what you will live on until your next paycheck arrives or describe what is being served when the service is slow at a restaurant. An additional use is to describe political promises that are not kept, as in, "We were served air-soup and wait-buns." Just making a wild guess you might find an occasion to use that phrase.

Arlene Anderson

Arlene J. Anderson is a Twin Ports native turned writer, teacher, traveler and speaker on resilience and leadership. She is currently working on her memoir to be released next summer. She believes there is always more music to play and dancing to do.