Thursday, February 1, 2007

When is a village not a village?

The question of "What is a village?" only started to rattle around in my head when, in 2000, we moved from our "town" flat in our medium sized town in Sweden to a detached house (what Swedes call a "villa". But which in effect bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to white stuccoed haciendas on the Costa del Sol).

Anyway our "villa" (visions of retired East London gangsters lounging by the pool sipping Singapore Slings) is located in what Londoners would call an outer borough. However unlike a London borough or suburb there is very little here, there is no autonomy of any kind, because it is simply an outerlying district of the town. And unlike a dormitory town it isn't even commuting distance into town it is only a five minute drive; because while adjacent to the town it is clearly separated from it by greenery and motorways.

What we've got here is the primary school for several surrounding suburbs, the only shop, and the church and its attached parish centre also for several surrounding suburbs. And a "villlage green" with childrens playgrounds where the church hold regular events and picnics during the summer - everyone is welcome.

So although in Swedish we are called a town district I say that we live in a village, a bit outside town.

BUT, when I look at other outerlying "town districts" I notice that most of them don't have any shops, don't have churches, don't have schools, they are simply dormitory suburbs.

In fact, our area is the only outer district adjacent to the town that has its own school, church and shop. And that is why I say we are the nearest village to our town because we have those public services.

What I would call the true villages a bit further out are more like small urban towns.

Now, what Swedes call villages are simply rural dormitory communities miles from any real towns or in my opinion "real villages", like where I live, and they usually have no public services at all.

Well, this is what Wikipedia says about English villages (although I've removed some aspects specific only to England i.e. Saxons) and I'll write "TRUE" after each element that is true for where we live and "FALSE" after each element that is false. I'll then do the same again for those rural communites in Sweden that are actually called "something or other Village". And so we'll see which are closest in Sweden to English villages, outerlying -in the green belt - town districts like mine, or the rural dormitory communities that Swedes actually call and name as villages.

Where I live first:

"The village is a compact settlement of houses, smaller in size than a town, (TRUE) and generally based on agriculture. (FALSE) In England the main historical distinction between a hamlet and a village is that the latter will have a church, (TRUE) and will therefore usually have been the worship centre of a parish (TRUE) The stereotypical village used to have a "big house" (FALSE) a pub (FALSE) and shops (TRUE) as well as a blacksmith (FALSE). However, many of these facilities are now gone and many villages are dormitories for commuters (FALSE) The population of such a settlement could range from a few hundred people to around five thousand (TRUE) A village was distinguished from a town in that:
A village should not have a regular agricultural market (TRUE), although today such markets are uncommon even in settlements which clearly are towns.
A village does not have a town hall nor a mayor. (TRUE)
There should also be a clear green belt or open fields surrounding its parish borders (TRUE)
The village should not be under the administrative control of an adjacent town or city (FALSE)

Ok that was 8 x TRUE and 6 x FALSE

Now for what Swedes today actually name as villages:

"The village is a compact settlement of houses, smaller in size than a town, (TRUE) and generally based on agriculture. (FALSE) In England the main historical distinction between a hamlet and a village is that the latter will have a church, (FALSE) and will therefore usually have been the worship centre of a parish (FALSE) The stereotypical village used to have a "big house" (FALSE) a pub (FALSE) and shops (FALSE) as well as a blacksmith (FALSE). However, many of these facilities are now gone and many villages are dormitories for commuters (TRUE) The population of such a settlement could range from a few hundred people to around five thousand (FALSE -most Swedish "villages" have only a handful of houses and maybe 50 to 100 residents) A village was distinguished from a town in that:A village should not have a regular agricultural market (TRUE), although today such markets are uncommon even in settlements which clearly are towns. A village does not have a town hall nor a mayor. (TRUE) There should also be a clear green belt or open fields surrounding its parish borders (TRUE) The village should not be under the administrative control of an adjacent town or city (FALSE).

Ok, for exactly the same aspects that was 5 x TRUE and 9 x FALSE

My outerlying town district: 8 TRUE 6 FALSE
Swedish named village: 5 TRUE 9 FALSE

That is only in comparison to English villages of course, but that is what I know and what I can compare to. And supports my view that when translating the Swedish word for a rural community it shouldn't be translated to "village" as it sends the wrong signal to English readers, and anyway isn't a village when viewed from the English idea of what a village is.

Q: So when is a village not a village?
A: When it's located rurally in Sweden.

Have a good weekend,

James, village dweller just outside town.

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