All together now, say after me .. “rød grød med fløde”

Although I’ve been many times to Denmark I’ve never managed to learn a significant amount of Danish. Part of the reason is that most Danes speak perfect English, but another aspect is that Danish is impossibly difficult to pronounce. People have told me that it’s a bit of an advantage in this respect being a Geordie, because the dialect of the Northeast of England has some similarities with Danish. There’s obviously some truth in that. For example, the Danish word for “home” is “hjem” which is pronounced in almost exactly the same way Geordies say it, as in “gannin’ hyem”.

However, this marginal advantage hasn’t helped me get to grips with Danish. To see why, consider this seemingly innocent phrase rød grød med fløde. This is, in fact, a dessert dish but that’s not the point. It’s so difficult for foreigners to pronounce that it’s often used humorously as a tongue-twister and, more seriously, was used by members of the Danish resistance in World War 2 to weed out interlopers.

Listen to how this is pronounced by actual real Danish people, and you’ll probably understand why I never got to grips with the language.

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13 Responses to “All together now, say after me .. “rød grød med fløde””

  1. They eat squirrels for dessert?!

  2. The easiest way to learn Danish is probably to learn Norwegian and then speak while drunk. You’ve mentioned a few times that you’ve managed this second task successfully while in Copenhagen.

    The Wikipedia entry for “Geordie” says “Unusual for language, there is some differentiation in pronunciation in the Geordie dialect based upon the speaker’s sex. “. Can you elabourate on that?

    “For example, the Danish word for “home” is “hjem” which is pronounced in almost exactly the same way Geordies say it, as in “gannin’ hyem”.”

    While the Scandinavian languages have had a big influence on English, and while one can find more evidence of this in regions where the Vikings were, IIRC in this particular case the similarity, though true, is not due to common origin.

  3. I can speak Swedish and, as long as Danes talk very clearly and slowly, I can just about understand the gist of whatever it is they’re phlemming.

    Denmark is a cool place. Its like a breath of fresh air when crossing from Sweden. Alcohol is sold openly, people smoke, are much less reserved and generally look a bit less healthy than the Swedes.

    • Jag talar också svenska. 🙂 The Norwegians say that there is only one language in Scandinavia, but the Swedes don’t know how to write it and the Danes don’t know how to pronounce it. There is a lot to this, since spoken Swedish and Norwegian are almost a dialect continuum, while written Danish and Norwegian aren’t much more different than, say, UK and US English.

      Denmark is definitely different in many ways from Sweden and Norway, not just geographically (much smaller, no mountains, fewer lakes and rivers, different vegetation) but also with regard to the mentality. Yes, in many respects a breath of fresh air. On the other hand, I admire the independence of Norway (no EU) and Sweden (no NATO, only barely joined the EU 16 years ago, not part of the common currency and no plans to join it—respecting the results of referenda), the wide open spaces, good skiing etc. Norway also has the advantage of being extremely rich now, while Sweden is above the critical population size one needs to have one’s own institutions in many respects, whereas smaller countries take over many things from larger ones since it’s not worth building up one’s own stuff.

      Oslo is also a very nice city—certainly worth a visit!

      • I have been to Copenhagen and to Stockholm. Both are lovely cities. I have yet to visit to Oslo or Helsinki. Sadly I have only spent some 24 hours in Sweden, on a trip to Stockholm back in 1986, sent there for the day by the company I was working for at the time. In 2007 I spent a week in Denmark, with about a day in Copenhagen at the end of the week. I found both countries lovely, from what I saw of them. The day I was in Stockholm was in early July, and it was a gloriously sunny day with temperatures in the mid 20s. I do remember the Sun barely setting, I was awake until well past midnight as I was staying in an unusual hotel room, and when I fell asleep it wasn’t entirely dark. By the time I woke up in the morning (about 6am), it was of course light again. My week in Denmark was also during the summer, August. I found the Danes to be lovely people, very friendly and welcoming.

        When I backpacked around in the World for a year in the late 1980s, I met several Danes travelling. They were the only continental Europeans whose accents I could not distinguish from “British” accents. Nearly all the Danes I met could have passed for coming from some part of Britain, at least in the first 5-10 minutes of conversation.

        With regard to things being “difficult” to say or pronounce. It is, of course, what one is used to. I like to think, given how different Welsh and English are, that speaking both is quite a good preparation for being able to tackle a broad range of sounds. Certainly we have sounds in Welsh that do not exist in English, I was just talking to my students the other day about monoglot English speakers’ inability to pronounce the “ch” sound so common in many languages, in particular with respect to saying “Kirchhoff” in a way closer to how a German would pronounce it.

        I remember my sister asking me how my son was coping with saying “chwech” (the Welsh for 6), as it has a “ch” at the beginning and the end. I commented that, for him, “ch” (a common sound in Welsh, and a separate letter after c and before d in our alphabet) was not a hard sound as he had heard it since day one of his life.

        I also remember Paul Flynn, the MP for Newport in South East Wales, and someone who has learnt Welsh, saying that the “ll” sound in Welsh (see e.g. http://gwybodiadur.tripod.com/ll.htm) had only been found in a few African languages. The link I have just included says also in some Greenland Eskimo languages. It certainly does not exist in the other 2 Brythonic Celtic languages (Cornish and Breton). This is the sound which probably gives non-Welsh speakers the biggest problem, and because “llan” means “church” or “church enclosure”, it is an incredibly common letter at the beginning of many place names in Wales (again, “ll” is a separate letter, so “lwc” comes before “llan” in a Welsh dictionary).

  4. I’ve never really quite bought the concept of Swedish neutrality.

    The history of their “neutrality” is an interesting one. At first they were genuinely neutral and this was a clever, self-interested and pragmatic policy during WW2, though morally dubious. Rather than accepting that they have a policy based on pragmatism they elevated it to being a point of principle even when it became absurd i.e. in any European war they planned only for Russia/Soviet Union being the enemy and expected help to arrive from NATO. This is smart since there were no circumstances in which NATO would have allowed a Soviet attack on strategically important Sweden without intervening. However, its barely a neutral stance especially when one considers the close defence ties between Sweden and NATO over the past 50-60 years.

    • There’s the old joke about an Englishman, a Frenchman and a German writing a book about their experiences with elephants in Africa. The Englishman writes Hunting Elephants. The Frenchman writes L’elephant et l’amour. The German writes Eine kurze Einführung in die Lebensweise der Elephanten, unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der geographischen Verhältnisse. I think I was told once that in Norway the joke is continued, with a Swede writing Hur vi har hjälpat elefanterna under andra världskriget (How we helped the elephants during the second world war).

      Recently, some documents have come to light in Sweden which make it even more clear that, to some extent, the neutrality was a facade. On the other hand, if they could count on help from NATO if needed (which NATO would have provided in its own self-interest), then why should they join, considering the obligations involved (potentially getting dragged into a war, where the last war Sweden was involved in was more than 200 years ago). Certainly in the old days there was never a political majority in favour of joining NATO.

  5. I agree. “Neutrality” served Sweden well during cold war as a clever and pragmatic policy. My point was that the Swedes ended up convincing themselves that they genuinely were a neutral people who stood above other people’s squabbles. There was pretty much no moral equivalence between governments of NATO and the Warsaw Pact member states and to pretend otherwise was just daft. However, the Swedes did just that to a large extent. The rhetoric of the well loved (by many) and well despised (by many) Palme carries some responsibility here.

    On a kind of related note, there is some fascinating archive material on the SVT website. I rather enjoyed the news reports about the U137 Soviet submarine incursion in the early 1980’s:
    http://svtplay.se/v/1439114/oppet_arkiv/u_137_karnvapen?sb,k103107,1,f,103195 .

  6. If I ever lose my passport and have to prove my nationality, all I have to do and go to the local Consulate and say…”rød grød med fløde.” Cool.

  7. Cassandra Mae (please don't print my name) Says:

    I LOVE your videos!!! I went to the Univ. of Denmark in Copenhagen in 1981, and I was amazed at how many swear words I remembered (and still use!).

    I have an article from a local paper in Hundig (I think–I was living in Greve Strand), which I would love to share with you. Please keep in mind that I was only 20 years old at the time, and Denmark was the first foreign country I had ever visited. Also, the writer did not write some things the way that I had intended them to be understood. I LOVED Denmark, and I actually went back in 1999 to visit my “Danish Family”, especially my “Danish mom”. I cried like a baby when I met her, I had missed her so much! She didn’t expect that, but she did make all of my favorite foods, and they were DELICIOUS, just the way I remembered them.

    I hate to tell you this, but Danes DO eat kartoffler just about every day. I couldn’t look at a potato for several months after I returned to the USA. Pork and potatoes. . . I also have some sketches I did of what typical Danes looked like. Of course, this was from a time before you were born, but I can scan them for you if you want a good giggle.

    I am getting a new computer in the next few days, so please have patience if you sent me an email. I WILL get back to you, but it may not be right away. In the meantime, I have a Kindle, so I can reply to emails, but there are no pictures or graphics until I get my new computer. Forsatan, it had better work better than this one!

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