Swedish Language Blog

Sommarstängt Posted by on Jul 18, 2008 in Culture

The bus strike ended very quietly last Tuesday night, or Wednesday morning, depending on when you go to bed. Our dull and mundane reality has returned even duller and more mundane, if that’s at all possible. And why is that so? It’s July and that means that everything is closed. You think I’m exaggerating when I say “everything”? Ha! Think again! Here are some pictures I took during my lunchtime stroll today. And those were taken just within my local shopping center.

Closed for the summer!
On June 11th we’re closing at 5PM to open again August 11th. Welcome back!

See? I wasn’t making things up, even our neighborhood pharmacy is closed for summer vacation. Everyone is “på semester”. Oddly enough that doesn’t mean they’re busy studying for their final exams, as a semester in English might imply.

Yes, it’s another one of our false friends. “Semester” in Swedish means vacation.

  • semester (noun, def. semestern, plural: semestrar) – tid när man är ledig från jobbet men ändå får betalt – time when a person is off from work but gets paid anyway, in other words – vacation!

And this confuses English speakers a little bit (or sometimes more than a little bit), because “semester” in English (especially in American English) definitely has nothing to do with vacations whatsoever. It confuses Swedish speakers, too. Some mistakenly assume it has the same meaning in both languages, and then you listen to them explain that no, you can’t see the doctor, because “she’s on semester”. And you’re left to figure out the meaning for yourself.
So how do we say semester in Swedish? It’s “termin”.

  • termin (noun, def. terminen, plural: terminer) – del av ett läsår, till exempel: hösttermin, eller vårtermin – part of a school year, for example: fall semester (term) or spring semester (term)

But let’s talk about summer vacations again. While I’m not sure how it works in the Capital of Scandinavia (a.k.a. Stockholm) because I’m not there that often in July, but here in the north, “semester” is taken very, very seriously. Even one of the hotels downtown is closed this month for vacation. Which I guess just shows you that I don’t exactly live in a top tourist destination in Sweden. As you can see in the photo, Hotel Wasa is sommarstängt – closed for the summer.

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  1. Myron:

    Interesting post. Just wanted to point out that over at Wikipedia, there’s a good list of false friends too:


  2. Chris:

    wow thats crazy that its like that there! I wish it was like that here for the summer! haha I would love to get paid and not go to work for a while!

  3. acountrydoctorwrites:

    Hej. Jag kommer ihåg hur kafet vid järnvägsstationen i Luleå hade lunchstängt…..svensk service-anda?

  4. Anna:

    A country doctor,

    That is SO funny! But once upon a time, I also worked at a food take-out service that would close for lunch. Back then I didn’t think anything of it.

    (translation of the post above:
    “I remember how a cafe near the train station in Luleå was closed for lunch. The spirit of Swedish service?”)

    Oh c’mon now, people who work in cafes also need a lunch break! 😉

  5. andy: