2 January, 2016

Are you “duktig”?


In 1977, the twenty-one-year-old writer Inger Edelfeldt published her debut novel: Duktig pojke. Back then it made a sensation, as it told the story of a boy, Jim, who slowly but inexorably realizes that he is gay. This little book has become a sort of classic in modern Swedish literature and it is considered the very first Swedish “coming-out”-novel.

Jim is the typically nice, smart, obedient boy. That kind of son that every petit-bourgeoisie mother wants to have. No trouble in school, no fight with other guys in the backyard, no rebellious behaviors. Nice, smart, obedient. In a word, “duktig”.

Apparently, “duktig” indicates only good qualities, but I have always looked upon it with a suspicious eye.

Maybe because parents often use it when their kids draw a scribble (“Oh, vad duktig du är!” “Oh, how good you are!”) as if they had painted a new Monna Lisa, but I never felt I was so good when people told me I was “duktig”.

So how does “duktig” apply to you as a Newbie?

As a foreigner, you might hear it when you start to speak Swedish pronouncing the “ä” and the “ö” with the correct intonation. You are miles away from fluent, you are not even decent, but someone will say it: you are duktig.

Over the years, I realized that “duktig means that you are good in the way the society expects you to be good in a certain circumstance. Kids are supposed to draw scribbles, foreigners are not supposed to put the “å” always in the right place.

However, do not feel frustrate when you hear that you are “duktig”. Like Jim in “Duktig pojke”, at some point you will also become good – for real.

Written by Alessandro Bassini

Originally from Italy, I have been living in Sweden for the last eight years. Translating Swedish novels is what I do for a living. Languages is not only my work, but also my passion. I believe that every language has some key-words that best express the culture of the place where it is spoken. A cultural map of the Swedish language is what I want to create with this blog.

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