At least they tried

The Tomas Tranströmer pocket book. What does that make you think of? I have it on so-so authority from Son that Peter Englund of the Swedish Academy used the word pocket book on Thursday, when talking about Tranströmer and his work.

He meant paperback. At least we think he did.

Pocket book is a linguistic false friend, because it just sounds so English. Whereas it really is Swedish for paperback.

Someone who does know they are paperbacks is my old employer, the bookshop in Halmstad. (I will be discreet, and not identify it further.) They have a good selection of books in English, and I noticed they had rearranged the shop a little, and above the new shelves they had a banner, clearly stating what they contain.

So, they did say English paperbacks. Then, Crimes and Thrillers. And finally, Fictions and Novels.

It doesn’t sound so bad.

The Crimes is obvious. They just don’t know about plural versus not counting, so to speak. I suspect the Fictions stands for novels. Because I’m fairly confident their Novels stands for short stories.

And there we are!

They tried.

So did another Swedish bookshop, many years ago, in another town. The town was overrun by visiting teachers or librarians or whatever, for some conference. The type of people who could be expected to turn up at the town’s bookshop. So the shop put a welcome note in the window. It said ‘Välkommen.’

I was in there when one of the ‘välkommen’ visitors popped in and pulled a member of staff aside and said she was very touched and it was very sweet, but it was wrong. (At this point I began to worry, because I hadn’t caught the wrongness of it, as I sailed through the door.)

It seems she required the note to say ‘Välkomna.’ In the plural. Because the town was full of lots of them.

Her comment was not terribly välkommen, as I recall. It’s like when you bring a gift and the recipient says they don’t want it. (You can always throw it away afterwards. Quietly. When no one is looking.)

What do you think? Would you feel välkomna by the Fictions and Crimes offered?

And anyway, as you enter the shop, you just might only be thinking of yourself. You are welcome. Never mind all the others.


5 responses to “At least they tried

  1. Personally, I would love the Crimes and the Fictions. And the pocket books, which actually was the way they referred to little paperbacks here too, although nobody seems to understand it anymore, but then they don’t understand any other way I describe them either. Usually, I just say, you know those books that you get at the airport? And that generally works.

  2. One can get books at the airport?
    Soft is good. I am currently struggling with large hardback novel which I HAD to travel with. But it doesn’t pack well.

  3. Being pedantic is rarely charming. If some one has gone out of their way to make you feel welcome or tailor for you in some way, its rude to correct the way they have done it. Personally, I think people should take their valkommen or valkomna in the spirit it is intended, be gracious and keep the red pen in their pockets.

  4. But red pens are such fun! Knowing best is absolutely delicious.
    OK, I’ll stay quiet.

  5. I’m just impressed. You can’t imagine an English bookshop being able to put up Swedish signs now, can you? Even wrong ones.

    But I’m still grateful to you for telling me about my misplaced umlaut! 🙂

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