Saturday, April 8, 2017

19th C. Swedish Social Etiquette

"Skål bror!" —  Or "Cheers brother!"

All through Sweden, social intercourse is encumbered with much ceremonious etiquette, particularly among the landed gentry. The three Scandinavian tongues employ the two personal pronouns "thou" and "you" the first familiarly, the second when speaking to a mere acquaintance. But a well-bred Swedish gentleman, addressing a stranger, will always, with old-fashioned courtesy, substitute the equivalent for, "Monsieur." regardless of harrowing repetitions, and where a title is demanded, even under the difficulties of rapid speech, it is never for a moment omitted. As such politesse, however, in the end becomes both monotonous and wearisome, they have a practical way of cutting the Gordian knot. When a casual acquaintanceship has ripened into genial sympathy or mutual respect your Swedish friend at once proposes a "brotherhood." This is a distinct social ordeal, the initiation to which demands a special rite.

The man who has requested the honor of becoming your brother provides you with a glass of wine filled to the brim, he himself holding another; both rise, each linking the right arm of each, looking one another boldly in the eve and pronouncing the words "Skal bror," the beakers are emptied. Hence you are expected to use the pronoun "thou," and you take your stand on the footing of relationship. Among the reminiscences of this visit to Vermland is an evening when I acquired no less than six new and stalwart brother. On the subject of ancient politesse, I should mention, by the way. that there is a well-known Swedish gentleman who always gives precedence to his own son, because "He has one ancestor more than his father." – Cornhill Magazine, 1887

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