Disclaimer: The characters and setting belong to Ngozi Ukazu.
A/N: I'm from the US but I speak Swedish pretty well and I'm writing this with existing knowledge, not just pretending to know Swedish or looking things up specifically for this fic. Thanks to jonsaremembers, who also speaks Swedish, for helping me brainstorm potential Swedish-English miscommunications. Also, I'm not trying to mock Louis at all here; operating in your second (or third or fourth etc.) language is legitimately hard! But miscommunications can be kind of funny.
One: Kent is a band
The Waffles have just wrapped up a game of Mario Kart, and they're gathering up their things to head back to the dorms. Louis hopes at least one of them will get dibs for next year, but that feels like a long shot. Maybe the year after. For now, they hang out at the Haus when they can and then trudge back across campus to their dorms when it's actually time to sleep.
Tonight, they're talking about music they grew up on. Hops has explained that he grew up on old-school jazz, and Bully has just finished raving about his moms' favorite duo, the Indigo Girls, and now it's Louis's turn.
"I know this is the most stereotypically Swedish thing ever," Louis says, "but I mostly grew up on ABBA and Kent. And like, ABBA's fun, don't get me wrong, but I love Kent way more."
A voice—Bitty's voice—calls from halfway down the stairs, "Louis, honey, how did you wind up on first-name terms with Kent Parson and why do you think he's worthy of your love?"
"Who?" says Louis.
"Don't play dumb with me, Louis," says Bitty, descending the stairs. "I know your English is just fine."
"No, Bitty," Bully cuts in. "He was talking about a band called Kent, not a hockey player named Kent."
Bitty gets to the bottom of the stairs and narrows his eyes at all three Waffles. "Really?"
"Really," says Hops. "We were talking about the music we grew up on, and Louis mentioned ABBA and Kent, and he was just saying how he prefers Kent to ABBA as you started coming down the stairs."
"Bitty, you didn't know who Bad Bob was your first year; you might want to cut Louis some slack," Ollie calls from the kitchen.
"Shut your face, Oliver O'Meara!" Bitty replies.
Hops, Bully, and Louis exchange glances and then back out of the Haus. Louis isn't sure about the other two, but he still has trouble reading tone when people are speaking English, and he's not sure whether Bitty is joking or actually mad at Ollie and he'd rather not find out.
Two: Lax means salmon
The bylaws are confusing. Louis was sent to the basement to fetch Dex to help Bitty cook, and on the way back out of the basement the bylaws behind the boiler caught his attention, and he's been staring at them for multiple minutes now. What confuses him most is this: who are the salmon bros and in what way is he supposed to fuck them? Is this a sex situation or a condemnation? In either case, why is "fuck the lax bros" important enough to wind up in the bylaws?
Louis decides to go ask Dex and Bitty. When he gets to the kitchen, he says, "Who are the lax bros?"
"What's a locks bro?" Dex asks, clearly trying to repeat what Louis just said but not quite able to master the accent.
"In the bylaws," Louis says. "'Fuck the lax bros.'"
"Oh, the lax bros," says Bitty, so it rhymes with sacks rather than socks. "That's what we call members of the men's lacrosse team."
"Oh, that makes so much more sense," Louis mutters. "It's spelled the same as the Swedish word for salmon. Which is not the English word for salmon, now that I think about it."
"The L in salmon is silent, honey," says Bitty.
"English is so frustrating," Louis returns.
"I know," Bitty sighs. "You and Jack should form a club."
"So in what way are we supposed to fuck the lax bros?" Louis asks, getting back to the topic at hand. "Is this one of those times when fuck means to have sex or is this one of those times when it's just what you say when you're angry at someone?"
"Definitely the angry one," says Dex. "You can have sex with pretty much anyone except the lax bros."
"Anyone who consents," Bitty adds. "Consent is important."
"True," Dex agrees. "You can have sex with anyone who consents except a lax bro. Don't have sex with a lax bro. Ever."
"But why?" Louis asks, confused both by the edict and by whatever Bitty's face is doing.
"Because they're jerks," says Dex easily. "They think they're really cool but they're awful to women and just mean in general."
"Exactly," says Bitty, who's finally gotten his face under control.
"Okay," says Louis. "Thanks for the explanation." He's still not sure he fully understands, but it will come with time, he guesses. He probably just needs to interact with the lax bros a bit himself and then he'll figure out what's so bad about them. He doesn't think more talking will help, so he heads for the living room to see if the other Waffles are still there.
Three: Svimma means to faint, not to swim
Louis is doing homework at the kitchen table in the Haus while Chowder and Nursey are trying to cook Dex a birthday dinner. Louis has no idea why they're trying to cook rather than ordering in or taking Dex to a restaurant, given how bad they are in the kitchen and how obvious it is that both of them come from families with at least some degree of money, but maybe Dex wouldn't want that for some reason. Whatever the reason, they're trying to cook and making an absolute mess of the kitchen in the meantime.
Louis hoped the mess would be the worst of it, but of course things had to get worse. About half an hour into their cooking misadventure, Chowder accidentally slices his hand open with a rather large knife while trying to cut a butternut squash, and Nursey takes one look at him and crumples to the floor.
"Fuck," Chowder says. "Fuck, fuck, fuck." He grabs some paper towels and begins applying pressure to his injured hand. "Louis," he says as he grabs more paper towels, sounding impressively calm, "can you run downstairs and get Dex? I need to clean myself up and make sure Nursey's okay, but Dex has more first aid training than I do and I think he'd be really helpful right now."
Louis sets down his pencil, stands, and runs out of the kitchen and down the stairs. Dex is in his bungalow, frowning at his computer screen, and doesn't respond when Louis knocks on the doorframe, so Louis darts forward and shakes Dex's shoulder.
Dex makes a growly noise as he wrenches his eyes from his screen, and then he shakes his head and sighs. "This had better be good," he mutters.
"Chowder accidentally sliced his hand open with a knife and I think Nursey swimmed!" Louis says.
"You think Nursey went swimming? That makes no sense. He hates swimming," Dex says. Then he shakes his head again. "Not relevant. Where's Chowder?"
"In the kitchen," Louis replies. "He sent me to get you."
"We keep a first aid kit there," says Dex, getting out of his chair and then crouching to pull something out from under his bed, "but mine is better, so I'll bring it just in case."
Dex and Louis run up the stairs to the kitchen, where Chowder is kneeling beside Nursey's unconscious form, and then Louis nearly slams into Dex when Dex stops in the doorway. "Louis?" Dex says. "Why did you say Nursey went swimming? He clearly fainted."
"Oh, shit," says Louis. "My English teacher even warned us about this one. Att svimma is to faint in Swedish, so it's a pretty common mistranslation."
"Got it," says Dex, kneeling on the floor on Nursey's other side. "C? How badly are you bleeding, and did Nursey hit his head when he passed out?"
"I'm gonna be okay," says Chowder. "Nursey's knees buckled this time, so it wasn't as bad as that time he fell straight over."
"Nothing straight about me," comes Nursey's weak voice as his eyelids flutter open.
"Oh, thank God," says Dex.
"You already knew I was bi, Poindexter," says Nursey, voice a little stronger now.
"I meant that you're conscious," Dex snaps.
"Oh, so you're not flirting with me?" Nursey asks.
"You're just regaining consciousness. This would be a fucked-up time to try to make a move," Dex says flatly.
"So it's the timing, not the fact that it's me?" Nursey replies.
"Of course it's not the fact that it's you," Dex says. "How could it—? Nursey, you're amazing."
Chowder and Louis exchange a glance, and then Chowder stands. "Okay, I'm gonna get out of here. Glad you two are finally figuring your shit out."
"No, C—let me look at your hand first. Need to make sure you didn't cut through anything important." Dex looks down at Nursey. "Give me a minute? And maybe close your eyes in the meantime."
Louis edges his way out of the kitchen. The juniors are weird, but at least Dex and Nursey are finally doing something about their very obvious sexual tension.
Four: Hitta means to find, not to hit
Tango and Ford are teaching Louis and Bully to play beer pong. Hops apparently learned a few kegsters ago, probably after Louis and Bully had finally left to go to bed (Hops is scarily good at all-nighters), but neither Louis nor Bully knows how to play properly. Bully seems to have a grasp of the basic concept, at least, but Louis is struggling. They have different drinking games in Sweden. (And songs. So many drinking songs.)
"Come on," says Ford after Louis misses what should have been an easy serve. "You know how to play ping pong, right? This part is just like that. You hit the ball with your paddle."
Louis says, "No, you hit it later, right? To figure out what cup it's in?"
Bully, Ford, and Tango all stare at him. After several seconds, Tango swings his paddle, miming making contact with the ball, and says, "That's what hit means in English. Does it mean something different in Swedish?"
Louis facepalms. "Yes," he groans. "It means find. I think I'm just drunk. Sorry."
Bully puts a hand on Louis's shoulder. "No need to apologize, man. You're operating in your second language here all the time. You're putting way more effort into communicating than the rest of us, and we appreciate it. Of course you're going to mess up sometimes, especially when you're drunk. It's okay."
"Thanks," Louis mutters, but he still feels pretty embarrassed.
Five: Vrist means ankle, not wrist
Louis takes a hard hit midway through Samwell's playoff run. He feels good to keep playing at the time, but that might just be the adrenaline, because after the game he's definitely in a lot of pain, especially his foot and lower leg.
"Are you okay?" Hall asks him as the team files into the locker room.
Louis grimaces. "I think I hurt my wrist."
"Your wrist?" Hall asks, frowning as he looks Louis up and down. "All right, take your glove off."
"My glove?" Louis asks.
"Yeah, to look at your wrist," says Hall, visibly confused.
Louis returns the confusion until he realizes that he pulled up the wrong English word in his brain. "Sorry, I mean my ankle. The Swedish word for ankle is vrist. And ankle sounds like the Swedish word for simple. It's all very confusing."
"Oh. Yeah, your balance seemed off during the third period and you're limping now, so your ankle being hurt lines up with what I've been observing. I want you to talk to the team doctor as soon as you're showered, okay?"
"Sure, Coach," Louis replies.
Plus one: Uff da is not actually Swedish
Louis's sophomore year, one of the frogs is a kid named Anders Swenson from Minnesota. He pronounces Anders like the first syllable is the same as in Andrew and the S is a Z, and it grates on Louis's ears every time he hears it (the A should say "ah" and the S should say "sh," and the R should be basically silent). Also, what the hell is a W doing in a surname that should definitely be Svensson?
As soon as the kid (who's received the nickname Sweeny Todd from Ford for reasons that Louis does not understand) finds out that Louis is from Sweden, he runs up to him and half-yells, "I'm Swedish too! My great-grandparents came from Sweden and that's why I have a Swedish name! I even know a word in Swedish! Well it's kind of two words, but yeah! 'Uff da'!"
Louis frowns, both at the onslaught of very loud rambling and at the idea that ofta is two words. "Why do you know the word for often?"
"What?" Sweeny Todd says, still at the same overwhelming volume. "It's not the word for often; it's what you say when something goes mildly wrong."
"It's definitely not," Louis disagrees, frowning harder. "Ofta means often. Are you looking for ojdå?"
"No . . ." Sweeny Todd trails off, frowning back at Louis.
Luckily for Louis, Tango swoops in then and starts asking Sweeny Todd a bunch of questions about where he grew up and where he's played hockey prior to coming to Samwell. The next day, Sweeny Todd comes up to Louis apologetically and says, "I Wikipedia'd it and it turns out that uff da is an old Norwegian saying, not Swedish, and it's mostly prominent in the Midwestern US these days. Sorry."
And Louis huffs and says, "It's okay." At least he wasn't the one messing up a word this time.