Friday, November 12, 2010

Excuse me - No I'm not from around here

Excuse me is an American staple. Walking down the street, at the grocery store, trying to find a spot on the subway 'excuse me' is another way of saying 'Sorry, I realize I'm invading your personal space, but I don't really have a choice in the matter.' Excuse me is also an art form of emphasis. If you enunciate the 'cuse' you may feel a little put out. If you emphasize the 'me' you probably feel the other party is in the wrong, but they are too rude to say 'excuse me' so you feel you must remind them.

So when I moved to Sweden, of course Excuse me was one of the first terms I wanted to learn in Swedish. It turns out the phrase is 'Ursäkta mig' (pronounced Urshekta may). The first chance I got was at the grocery store - I wanted to grab a carton of milk, and needed to lean close to an older woman. 'Urshekta may' I said, as I reached about 6 inches to her right. She turned around and glared at me, grabbed a milk in a flash, and was out of there.

And this scene has repeated itself probably a hundred times since. You'd think I would learn, but it turns out 'excuse me' is a tough habit to break. It is so ingrained in me, that I often mumble it before I even know what I am saying. I have only really gotten one true reaction other than the one above. 

I was standing in the grocery store with my SUV stroller (more on these later) and suddenly found myself in a traffic jam. One woman was walking down the aisle behind me, another was going to be trying to walk in front of my stroller any second. The stroller was huge & had no place to go. I tried to duck and cover. The woman behind me approached first and slipped past the stroller. The woman in front got this crazy idea to plow through the display case to my left, walking behind the giant cardboard cutout of a pizza and some precariously stacked boxes of tomato sauce. 

'Urshekta May, Urshekta' I aplologized as I tried to maneuver my stroller out of there.

She stopped dead in her tracks, looked at me, and responded 'Goodness, urshekta may! I don't know why I am in such a rush. What am I doing?' She smiled and continued on her way. (and yes, that interaction happened years later when my Swedish had improved from a bit more than an urshekta may)

 Rule #1 There is no excuse me, just plow on through.


  1. oh my! Just "stumbled" across your blog, and must say I love it!!!!! (I have now spent about 2hrs on it :-) I was born in Sweden but have spent the last 24yrs in CA and are a US citizen, but lately I have been thinking/fantasizing about moving to Sweden... My friends say I would not be able to handle it, and they might be right after reading your "Ursakta mig" story... That is one thing that always irks me, the "plow on through mentality". But of course then we have the "fika" also... decision to be made...Thanks for a great and fun blog about the true Swedes and Sweden.

  2. This is hilarious, and it rings oh so true! We are so conditioned to say excuse me, sorry. My Swede felt bombarded by it when he visited me stateside. I lived in Jämtland for 5 years, and it was quite the social adjustment! I had a hard time at first making eye contact and smiling at most people I walked by. It tended to often result in serious stink eye, which came as a shock at first. I am looking forward to reading this blog! I am getting very nostalgic for Sweden as I have been back in CA for a while. One more winter was gonna do me in if I didn't get a break haha.

  3. Just arrived back to the States from Sweden and I stumbled across your blog. It's like reading pages from my own journal. lol. I insisted on learning, "excuse me" and figured out pretty quick it wasnt necessary. But you cant taken the south out of a southern girl :) We have traveled back and forth for 12 years now and it was funny to hear my husband say on this trip how rude the waiter was to him. I asked what he did and my husband replied, "He was really straight forward with me". I quickly reminded him that for 12 years I have complained about his straight forwardness and finally admitted it must be a Swedish thing! lol Looking forwarded to reading your blog!

  4. It´s so interesting find out how an American interpret us swedes are since I´m moving to US soon.
    I just have to explain to you why this woman in the grocery store reacted the way she did. When you say excuse me when you are close to someone it means that you want them to move so you can do what ever you want to do.

  5. Hej! vad kul att jag hittade din blogg. Anledningen till att den första tanten som du sa ursäkta mig till är som anonym sa att ursäkta mig ofta kan tas som att man är oförskämd och vill att någon ska flytta på sig. Men om man istället bara säger ursäkta lite tyst och snällt och ler så brukar det gå mycket bättre :)