In the 1960s, one of the chairmen within Sweden's National Department of Health and Welfare, a man with the peculiar old-fashioned name of Bror Rexed, declared that within his department, in keeping with a modern social democracy, employees would no longer address their superiors using the formal form of you - Ni - but rather using the informal form, du. And so began a big debate in Sweden that became the so-called du-reform, in which the Swedes collectively decided to do away with the concept of tutoyer. Along with the disappearance of the formal you went the practice of never addressing one's parents and other older relatives in the second person: children no longer directly address their parents by saying things like "Skulle vilja mamma/pappa/morfar få en kopp kaffe?" - "Would mother/father/grandfather like a cup of coffee?"
The idea of getting rid of such a formality, and doing it in the form of a national dialogue in order to drive a concensus, is so very Swedish.
But when they got rid of the "Ni," the Swedes also got rid of other formalities such as saying "goddag" - good day." So oddly enough, in books that teach foreigners Swedish, the book does not begin with a description of how to properly greet someone in Swedish. In fact, a description of how to properly greet someone is nowhere to be found. Perhaps because the proper way of greeting someone is simply to say hej - hi.
However, my Swedish teacher told us that "Ni" seems to be making a comeback.
I wonder what that portends?
- by Francis S.