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Swedish can be a very literal language at times. Grönsaker for example means vegetables, literally though? Green things. Tandkött are your gums. Or literally, tooth meat. So the formation of the word sambo actually makes quite a bit of sense. Sam a shortening of the word for together, samman, and bo a shortening of the word for accommodation, boende. Sambo. Together accommodation.
Sambo is a term that denotes a couple that lives together but is not married. It can be everything from the couple who met in high school and moved in together when they were 20 or morfar finding someone to spend the remaining years of his life with.
That there is a term describing the phenomenon does not necessarily lend the sense of gravitas that it might suggest. While there are plenty of people that never marry and instead live as sambos all their life, it has by no means eliminated the idea of marriage, as explained by Jennie in her post about Swedish Wedding Customs. Many will go through several sambo partnerships in their lifetime.
There are several theories, reasons, ideas as to why the sambo is so prevalent in Sweden. Everything from the lack of housing options to the secularism that is rife in the country. From wanting to test out living together to the sexual liberalness of the country. Coming from the US where the discussion often centers on the sanctity of marriage, I personally find the whole idea refreshing. There is something inherently Swedish about it, such a simple concept that makes so much sense.
For those of you in one of those long distance relationships with a Swede, I’d like to suggest a similar term. Särbo. This one meaning living separately. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean only those that find themselves with their significant other in a different country, but can also include people who live in the very same city.
Regardless of your relationship status, know that the Swedes probably have a word for it.