Cultural Learnings Of… Swedish Shakespeare

So last night we were sitting around with friends, having a right old good dinner party and one of them mentioned they got tickets to Hamlet for Christmas. “oohh how very exciting” I immediately thought to myself, lets go see something fresh and modern! Then a question struck me

“Hamlet is done in Swedish?”

“yeah huh”


I have a problem with translating some things at the best of times. Like city names. Göteborg (Swedish) and Gothenburg (English). The Gothenburg city council tried to refer to the city by its original Swedish name in Tourism marketing but recently gave up as it turns out, humans are stubborn old creatures and we will call a town what we want to call a town. Even if it makes it sound like a place you might expect to see Batman.

How exactly do you go about translating Shakespeare into another language? Wasn’t the whole point that this old English guy had such an amazing grasp of his language and had such a knack for creating new words which seemed to fit better than any existing word? This isn’t just an English thing either, how does anyone go about translating the great, artistic works in any language? Do you need another great writer to bring life to the play or will Google Translate do?

“Hey Anders, after you have done translating the next episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy, can you get onto that Hamlet thing in the corner which we have been avoiding forever?”

This example diminishes The Simpsons and its subtleties. Sometimes the subtitles include little hints so viewers get the joke. When the Flanders kids happily pronounce “we are gay!” using the double meaning in English, the subtitles included “(gay = glad)”, “glad” meaning happy in Swedish. This all flashed across the screen in about 5 seconds but I am a quick one and forever on the prowl for such a facinating cultural learning.

One might ask however, “Swedes have an advantage, they all understand English, let them watch the original and eat cake”. Sure. Its that’s easy. Except Shakespeare, while sharing a similar name to pop idol Brittany, does not speak the language of MTV or was a member of the Pepsi Generation. And what about the made up words old Willy was so fond of inventing?

When I was 17 I met a lovely young lady and we went to the movies. Now she came from the right side of the tracks so the choice of movie was her’s: “Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet”. The 4 hour version. Coming from a modest, Australian public school education, I sat through that entire thing not understanding at all what the hell was going on. I remember something about a ghost in the forest and a few people getting killed but mostly the experience was akin to me watching a Swedish film today without subtitles, I understand sentences here and there but all in all, the plot remains a tangled literary mess. However when I was 17, the mere fact that this young lady had agreed to sit next to me, willingly, of her own accord, for a total of 4 hours, more than compensated for any lack of cinematic understanding I may have had.

So I wonder about Swedish Shakespeare. Who got the translation job? Is there s definitive translation of it? Does the Bard care or would he be worried Hamlet is now a 6 foot blond? It is as equally difficult to understand in another language?

Cultural Learnings Of… Volvo Goes To The Chinese

Two of my favourite things in the world are cultural learnings and my Volvo so when I can combine the two its a happy day for me. It has been widely reported this week that Volvo Cars to be sold by American company Ford and sold to a Chinese company, Geely. Some out there are concerned that this is the downfall of the Swedish brand as it is now out of Swedish hands… right? Except Volvo has been out of Swedish hands for the last 10 years already, its been owned by the Americans remember?

volvo = baconaise One and the same baby

So whats with this kind of selective memory loss? The answer may be found right in this merry time as we sat down on Christmas Eve, along with 3 million odd other Swedes at 3pm to watch Donald Duck cartoons for an hour. This ritual is upheld with a religious tone among Swedes, to watch Donald Duck is as Swedish as being in your little red country house eating meatballs from an IKEA plate (where is IKEA incorporated again? sorry I don’t mean to be sidetracked). Somehow in the past 50 years this American cartoon has come a firm symbol of Christmas to Swedes so having Americans own Volvo doesn’t seem like its really being owned by someone else. When there was a very high level of immigration from Sweden to American around the turn of the 20th century the word “cousin” and “American” became synonymous.

kalle anka Kalle Anka is the name of Donald Duck in Swedish. Anka means duck and Kalle is a boys name that sounds good with Anka

So far Geely have said they intend to leave Volvo alone and why would we trust them any more than an American company who was once one of the largest and most profitable companies in the world and now teeters on the edge of bankruptcy. What other choice do we have? SAAB has gone to the dogs and wont be sold to the Dutch… but they were concerned about the secret owners of this Dutch company. It seems a bit rough to me that because an American company doesn’t want to sell some used car parts to a Russian company that 3500 Swedes are out of a job before Christmas.

My Volvo was made by an American company, built in Belgium, registered in Estonia, driven by an Australian and now finds it home “back” in Sweden, a country my car never touched tyre to ground in before I brought it here. The press talks a lot about Swedish values and how Swedes will feel now their national symbol is owned by the Chinese. Newsflash guys, its a big world out there and we no longer live in isolated autonomous blocks anymore. I think regular Swedes are smart enough to realise this. If you are upset your national symbol is owned by someone else I think the world must be getting a pretty hard place for you.

Vegemite Shit.

In Hungary

This week I have left Stockholm again and I am in Debrecen, Hungary teaching for my work again. Hungary is a pretty good place, I am about 2 hours out from Budapest and the people are nice, its easy to get around and I even saw some sun today. Its kind of strange to not be able to say anything at all, Im used to being able to fumble out a hello and thank you, maybe some numbers, read some signs but here Ive got nothing, nada, zip. I need to learn some words fast.

Last night after dinner I went to buy some chocolate from the supermarket. I particularly like Lindt chocolate so I went to get a block and saw the price, around 3 euros, which in itself isnt a bad price, its a good chocolate. However, Hungary doesnt use Euros, it uses Hungarian Forints and this comes to about 712 HUF. 712 for a bar of chocolate?? I dont want to pay 712 of anything to buy a simple bar of chocolate, it seems too much. Instead I found a local chocolate bar for about 200 HUF and it tasted just fine.

Now I understand why Kim Jong-il is devaluing the North Korean won by chopping off two zeros off the end of everything. Id much rather pay 1 won for something than 100 won. Its the economy, stupid.