17 Jul 2024
Don’t fall off the stick: the YLC guide to Swedish expressions
Swedish Culture

Don’t fall off the stick: the YLC guide to Swedish expressions

Ever been mystified why Swedes want you to jump up and sit on things or put your legs on your back? We’re here to help! Check out part three in YLC’s series of expressions you may come across while in Sweden!


5. Legging it

When running for a bus, Swedes are known to put their longer leg first (långa benet före). How they manage to walk with different sized legs is anyone’s guess but even more incomprehensible is the fact that if danger looms and they are forced to make a run for it – they put their legs on their back (lägga benen på ryggen). As you do.


Swede 1:  Hey, Ingrid is going to killl us if we don’t make it to the crayfish party in time! We’d better put the long leg in front!

Swede 2: You’re right! If she goes berserk  – let’s just put our legs on our backs!



4. Extreme extremities

That an inebriated Swede can walk at all is a miracle – when they have a drop too many their feet swell up, making them round under the feet (rund under fötterna)! To be round under the feet is a common way of explaining you’ve had a schnapps too many. The next day though – something strange happens to their hair.

Swede 1:  This Midsummer bash was the best! I think I’ve got a bit round under the feet! How about you, Björn?

Swede 2: Same with me, Benny, I haven’t has this much sill and schnapps since last year – tomorrow my hair is going to hurt! (Ont i håret)



3. What the hip is the ‘heart to bottom’ ratio?

Measurements in Sweden are always interesting – not only are they into the metric system – they also like to use their hips (att höfta/ta det på en höft) to estimate an amount. Not to mention the well-known heart to bottom ratio:

Swede 1: I don’t feel like using a recipe when I mix this schnapps – I think I’ll just take it on the hip. How many are coming to the party?

 Swede 2: I think we’ll have a full house – but you know if there is room in the heart there is room for bottoms! (Finns det hjärterum finns det stjärterum)



2. All ears…and eyes

Ever approached a Swede and had no response whatsoever? Well, most likely they aimed their deaf ear towards you (slå dövörat till). If they manage to make you angry, however, they will start fearing getting it hot around the ears (hett om öronen). And after appeasing you, they sigh a sigh of relief and exclaim that THIS time it was close to the eye (nära ögat).

Swede 1: Astrid got angry at me for eating the last of the mustard sill – AND she made it really hot around my ears when I aimed my deaf ear towards her. But I won her round in the end!

Swede 2: Phew, that was close to the eye. You know she still has your ABBA collection at her house.



1. Don’t fall off the stick, whatever you do

When Swedes are totally sure about something, they want you to sit on it. Yes, really! To tell someone that they can “jump up and sit on it” (hoppa upp och sätta sig på) is not meant as an insult to the other but only shows just how certain said Swede is of what is being discussed.  Perching on something or other is rather philosophical in this part of the world, as the expression fall of the stick (trilla av pinn) meaning dying, implies that life is indeed spent sitting on something high up. Like…a stick. Makes perfect sense!

Swede 1: You can jump up and sit on it! I DID get us those last cans of surströmming – just before the shop closed!

 Swede 2: That’s great news – I thought I was going to fall of the stick waiting to find out!


Rebecca Martin

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