Swedish Mile in Kilometers: the Confusing Swedish Miles “mil”, Grrr

When you are in Sweden and want to buy a coffee or cinnamon bun, you pay with Swedish Crowns (SEK). In many other European countries – the Euro-zone – though, you pay with Euros (EUR). Different countries, different currencies. Okay.

Luckily, if you’re used to pay with Euros and find yourself wondering wheter the SEK 30 for a coffee is a good price in Euro, the only thing you have to do is moving the comma one digit to the left. SEK 30 ≈ EUR 3. Easy.

So what does this have to do with calculating distances in Sweden? Well, every time I talk to a Swede about how far they go by car, say from Växjö to their hometown somewhere in the forests of Småland, they might answer “15 mil“. (Pronounced: “meel”, like in “feel”.)

“15 … what?!? Miles?!”

Swedes measure longer distances in “Swedish miles”, not in kilometers!

Book about Sweden - How to be Swedish

1 Swedish mile = 10 kilometers

Which means to get home to her family my friend drives about 150 km.

My persistent confusion with “mil” and “kilometer”

Even after many years in Sweden, I still get confused when I have to talk to a Swede about distances. Like today when I went to a car workshop to check why my dashboard panel tells me my brake pads should be replaced. I talk to the repair guy and mentioned that:

“It’s a bit early for replacement since I just got completely sets of brakes about
… erm …

(Thoughts: 20.000 km, how much is that in Swedish miles)
… erm …
(damn it, I just say it in kilometers)
(no, I sound un-Swedish when I say kilometers, I should show respect and adjust to their way of expressing things)
20 mil.
(shit that’s wrong. I just say it in kilimoters)
20.000 kilometers.” :/

What my brain wasn’t capable of in this moment of stress, trying to find the right words to describe the problem (in -5°C), in Swedish, was moving the comma in the number of kilometers one digit to the right.

20.000 km become 2.000 mil (Swedish miles) Hur svårt kan det vara?! How difficult can it be?!

With an appointment for an electronics checkup made and the feeling of disappointment over my slow thinking speed, I leave the workshop yard. Making a note to myself to finally write down a memory hook to avoid these confusing situations. So here it is:

SEK to EUR: comma to the left (SEK 30 ≈ EUR 3)
Swedish “mil” to kilometers: comma to the right (15 mil ≈ 150 km)

That said, I already know I will mix this up again, very soon, in a conversation with Swedes about distances.

Something that is very likely to come out of my mouth in the future: “Oh, you go by car to work, every day, about 10 mil… why don’t you take the bike?”

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