Tag Archives: romance

How Not to Serenade Someone

It hadn’t even been a week.  I had just started college in the United States and here I was, singing backup with a mostly Latino group as my friend serenaded a girl who seemed very happily surprised by the gesture.  I didn’t speak a lick of Spanish at the time so I didn’t have a clue what I was singing, I just copied everyone else.  It went beautifully.  The girl smiled, my buddy did a good job with his solo and everyone felt good to have started the school year on such a positive, if slightly melodramatic note.  I had never serenaded or even back-up serenaded anyone so this was a big intercultural step for me.  It was totally new to me but as most of my new friends were Hispanic, I was eager to learn and fit in. Sadly, it was also the last successful serenade that I remember my friends and I pulling off in college.  Here’s how we botched the rest:

Forgetting the Words

One of the top rules of serenading has got to be KNOW YOUR MATERIAL.  And yet, partly because most of the songs were in Spanish, some of our group (and especially yours truly), had issues remembering words.  We would practice the song or songs a few times but clearly not enough.  After surprising a girl and drawing a lot of attention, we would start off confidently.  But somehow, even accompanied by friends on the guitar and trumpet, we would mess up the lyrics and our grand gesture ended up looking endearingly goofy at best.

Drawing Abuse from Everyone

Our theory was that serenading had to happen at night.  So we would wait until most people were in bed before making our way over to the relevant residency hall and assembling underneath the right window.  As soon as everyone was huddled, the guy who sang the solo (and this was definitely never me), would step forward and we would start.  Between the trumpet, guitar and mediocre singing, the girl would wake up, come to the window and watch the show.  The problem was that everyone else also woke up and came to their windows.  The unamused, awakened masses would then start yelling at us to shut up and go home.  This kind of took away from the romance.

Not Staying up Late Enough

Regardless of the reaction from the angry hordes, those in the know judged the success of a serenade partly based on how late the guys had waited up to do it.  Once some friends of mine thought they were too tired to stay up and instead went and sang to one of our friends for her birthday at 11 PM.  This backfired royally.  I had luckily escaped being part of this one but I was in the room when they got the call from the girl who blasted them for not showing more effort and staying up later to serenade her.


Probably the most high-pressure serenade I heard about in college involved my friend who really could not sing, serenading his girlfriend of just a few weeks.  He was nervous but decided it had to be done.  As he started to belt out his song his backup crew did the unthinkable – they started a competing song with the most mocking lyrics possible to put him off.  I have no idea how he made it through alive.  He even yelled out something about her being the “best girlfriend in the world” at the end.  I hope she was touched.  It was a disaster.

Luckily a serenade was not on the list of requirements my Southern Californian wife had for a husband.  I shudder to think of how things would have gone had she asked for one.  Have you ever serenaded someone or been serenaded yourself?  Tell me about it in the comments…




Bjorn Karlman

Seduce a Swede – Steps 1-5

mouse trap with cheese and "free cheese" sign.

We’ve all had to endure the heavy-breathing commentary about Swedish women, their striking blond hair, long limbs and  “clothing optional” approach to life in general.  Swedish women are characterized by global media and entertainment as sexually liberated, touchingly naive blond goddesses. Swedish men on the other hand, almost always look goofy in movies and seem only to have two names: Sven and Bjorn.  As Bjorn happens to be my first name, I thought it appropriate to lay down a few helpful steps for anyone who might be looking to snare a viking for themselves.

For step one, let the following sink in: “Dating” is not big in Swedish culture.  There isn’t even a real Swedish name for it.  You can “dejta” or “gå på dejt” (Both basically mean “go on a date” and borrow directly from the English.)  What this means is that Swedish dating rules are, at best, unwritten, and visitors often find them very confusing.

The second step to romancing a Swede is to understand that gender equality is huge in Sweden.  Guys, women will absolutely expect to be treated as your equal.  Ladies, don’t be shocked if Swedish men don’t fall over themselves to carry your shopping.  Because gender equality is foundational to modern Swedish culture, some Swedish women may even be offended if males go too far with opening every door and trying to treat them like the “fairer sex”.  Genuine warmth and charisma are appreciated by both sexes but save the dramatic serenades for Southern Europe, Swedes are more low key.

At the risk of completely contradicting myself, here’s step three.  A lot of Swedish women complain about the fact that Swedish men are often very shy and don’t like to make the first move.  Often it seems that the average Swedish male needs to be on his fourth round of beers before he can muster the courage to utter a tepid, “Hi my name is Sven” (Yes, if Sven is under 50 and he is like most Swedes, he probably will speak reasonable, if somewhat sing-songy English). Herein lies the opportunity for non-Swedish males: a little charm goes a long way.  Simple things like you initiating conversation or offering to pay for a meal when it was your idea, will equal points.  Women, if you like the shy, mysterious type, Bjorn may be your guy.  Ask him about Swedish bastu (sauna) rituals. He may open up and suggest you go for “fika” (no, that is not nearly as exciting as it sounds – fika is the Swedish custom of sitting down for
coffee and pastries).

The digital age has enabled step four.  Swedes are BIG on texting.  A lot of conversation that you would expect to take place face-to-face, happens via SMS.  Texts are preferable to talking to new acquaintances on the phone. Pick up a number from Greta at ICA (one of the main Swedish supermarket chains) last night?  Texting is your ticket…

And now for step five in reeling in your Swede:  Cultural sensitivity is fine but DO NOT try to be Swedish.  Anyone in any culture can spot a wannabe and Swedes in particular are turned off by phony behavior.  Many Swedes are fascinated with traveling and getting to know people from other places.  So by all means appreciate Sweden but don’t be reluctant to chime in about your own country, its customs and way of life.  Chances are your guy or girl will find what you are saying interesting and they will want to get to know you better.

There’s absolutely no reason to sit alone in your hotel room or apartment while in Sweden.  Put steps one through five into practice and get to know the Swedes you come into contact with.  You’ll be glad you did.  Lycka till!


Bjorn Karlman