Friday, November 24, 2006


Thanksgiving not being a Swedish tradition, there was no holiday here. After class I was looking for a place to eat for lunch. I went to an Indian restaurant but it was crowded so I walked down Linnégatan and spied a Subway. Imagine that. I had seen plenty of McDs but had forgotten about the Subway. I went in. It smelled like a Subway. I decided to get a sub for lunch and was looking at the sandwiches when an item jumped out at me. Kalkon. Turkey. Not really that common in Sweden, it being an American bird and all.

Yes, I had a turkey sandwich for Thanksgiving. I went whole hog and got the 12"er too. To top it off, "southwest" sauce. Double-whammy!

Okay, it's not even a shadow of what I would have rather had - dinner with Rachel and Criag's - but it's what I could manage.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Swedish kicking my butt

Well Swedish has been kicking my butt these last couple of weeks. I started a Swedish course at the Folkuniversity Monday a week ago. It's level "B", which I think corresponds to after a semester of studies. It's been hard for my to judge where I am in the class. Partially because of the diversity of the students. There are 3-4 that speak Swedish quite well. These are people who, for example, have a Swedish husband or work in a Swedish company. Then there are some who are worse than I am. Most of these seem to have dropped out, putting me towards the bottom of the class.

I'm not used to being one of the worst. So I've been plugging away at my studies, mostly looking up words and grammar. (BTW, in Swedish you can say "att studera" and "att plugga", with latter meaning more like "to cram" (or "to swot" in British English). A "plugghäst" is a "study horse", and you can be a pluggis.) As such I can read Swedish passably. I'm going through Pippi Longstocking with an accompanying CD. The text of the two are identical, which helps because I'm quite poor at hearing spoken Swedish. I'm glad to say that in the 2nd 4 minutes (about 3 pages) I was able to follow along the gist of the text while reading it at the same time that Astrid Lindgren was speaking it.

Note "gist". There are still many words I don't know, and some that I won't be able to memorize this time through. For example, "tröskeln till" means "at the threshold of". Just how many times am I going to use that one? While other words are just so cool that I can find a way to use it, like "lantis" meaning "hick". "Jag kommer från en stad med bara 70.000 invånare därföre när jag besöker Göteborg känner jag som en lantis."

I was extremely frustrated the first week of class because of not following spoken Swedish well enough. It's hard to follow what the teacher and the others are saying, and of course there are many words I don't know. On top of that, a decent chunk of my Swedish seemed to have disappeared while I was out of the country. Imagine that.

My biggest problems in class are when I try to speak, especially when structured around a topic. The absolute worst is the Thursday classes when we read and article in the newspaper and summarize the results. I completely, totally and royally suck at it. I can understand the article, with a dictionary (the same holds for everyone else - and I'm starting to get to the point where I can use a pure Swedish dictionary instead of a Swedish/English dictionary) but summarizing proves to be quite hard.

I've been trying to thinking of an analogy. It's like there's a map, and the ideas are at different points in the map. Because I read the article I can follow it's paths through idea space, but to summarize I need to find different routes which still capture the same ideas as the original article. When I do this in English I don't need a map. I can set off through the woods and know I'll get there. In Swedish I survey the landscape first, check my declensions all the time, try different pathways, worry about my pronounciation, and forget where I am. I'm much better at written Swedish than spoken.

Maybe there's also something about my programming experience which affects how well I do with spoken vs. written Swedish? I've gotten decently good at following seemingly arbitrary rules and memorizing words. In that casting of things, what I need is a compiler with a good warning system, to get better feedback.

Men jag är envis och bestämd och ska lära mig det här språket.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Stone cookies

I learned a Swedish word today; "stenkakor". Translated directly, "sten" is "stone" and "kakor" is "cookies". One of the guys at tango brought in an old hand-cranked record player. I think you say grammaphone for something that old. It played something I thought was thick vinyl. I practiced Swedish with Johann, using the word "skivor" meaning "slices" or "disks". I know that by walking past record/CD stores. I think it may include CDs. Anyway, he mentioned that it actuallly played stenkakor. I had no idea of what that was and he didn't know the English word. He brought one over to me.
It was thick and heavy. Like a stone cookie.

The best guess for the name in English was a 78, but I thought 78s were only a style of old record. Came back to the House of a Thousand Wows and looked it up in the dictionary. It said "old 78 records." The "old" was perfectly apt. Of course there was a transition from old-style to vinyl and for backwards compatibility the new ones worked with the old players.

Here is a Google image search if you want to see what they looked like:

Wikipedia (as usual) has background information. . The disk was made of shellac and other materials (cotton fiber, carbon black, and corporate secrets) - no stone that I can tell. I has the following quote: "During and after World War II when shellac supplies were extremely limited, some 78 rpm records were pressed in vinyl instead of shellac (wax), .." The record I looked at most closely was from 1946. I wonder if it was vinyl instead of shellac.