When Swedish television adapted the British 1960s slapstick serial Steptoe and Sons (Albert & Herbert) it became such a beloved phenomenon that it ran for 10 years (1974-84). The Norwegian television series about Fleksnes (a kooky protagonist) ran even longer (1973-1988), both series adopted from British scriptwriter Ray Galton. Here, we want to share with you a Scandinavian chuckle – or maybe a huge laugh.
Enjoy an episode of Albert & Herbert here.
Enjoy an episode of Fleksnes here.
My favorite Scandinavian jokes of the month
A Swede and a Finn sit in a bar. The Swede raises his glass to toast: “Cheers!” The Finn challenges: “Are we going to talk or are we going to drink?”
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A Norwegian is driving from Oslo towards Gothenburg when he hears a warning on the radio: “A lunatic is speeding against oncoming traffic on the highway!” To this the Norwegian mutters as he swerves to avoid crashing head-on into lorry after lorry: “What lunatic? They’re all on the wrong side of the road!”
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Two Norwegian boys were talking and one of them wondered why seagulls turned upside down when they flew close to the Swedish border. The other speculated, “Maybe because Swedes aren’t worth a shit?”
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A Danish alcoholic visited a Swedish doctor to get cured from double-vision, and the doctor asked him to sit down on the sofa. The Dane asked: “Which one?”
The Swedish local Shakespeare, poet and composer Carl Michael Bellman (1740-95) was witty too. He is among other things known for his “Bellman jokes”.
The Bellman joke is a type of simple joke cycle popular among Swedish schoolchildren, always including a person named Bellman as the main character. The jokes first became popular in the 19th century, and were originally inspired by Bellman’s life. In the preface to an 1835 collection of Bellman’s works, in which the publisher reprints an 1808 letter from a contemporary of Bellman, contains the following anecdote.
Bellman rarely owned more than one coat. Once when King Gustav met him in the street he was wearing no more than a nightdress, at which the King said: “But my dear Bellman, you look so ill-clad,” to which he bowed and replied, “I humbly assure your Majesty that I have the whole of my wardrobe on me.”
A less offensive subgenre of Bellman anecdotes is about foreigners, perhaps dating to the ’50s, whence ethnic jokes may have originated as a manner of dealing with the increasingly multicultural complexity of society during the post-World War II Cold-War era.
A modernized version of a typical Bellman joke concerns Bellman, representing the generic Swede, and two foreigners who are in a swimming race to the US and what happened is: The Dane drowned after a kilometer. The Norwegian sunk after 10km. Bellman went on until he spotted Donald Trump pottering outside the White House, but felt tired so he swam back.
To sum up
Two Danes, two Finns, two Norwegians, and two Swedes are shipwrecked on a desert island. By the time they’re rescued, the Danes have formed a hippie commune, the Finns have turned all the island’s trees into furniture, the Norwegians have tinned the fish in the ocean and exported it abroad, and the Swedes are still waiting to be introduced.
In an article on Scandinavian humor, Peter Gundelach Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark writes: “Based on joke collections from books, the Internet and other sources, we find that Danes tell jokes about the Norwegians and Swedes, while Norwegians and Swedes tell jokes about each other, but not about the Danes. In general, the Danes tell jokes in which the butt, or object, of the jokes is a stupid Norwegian or a Swede whose values differ from those of the Danes. The Norwegians and the Swedes tell jokes in which the object is stupid – either a Norwegian or a Swede. The different values/stupid characterizations can be found in other contexts. The character of the jokes can be explained in part by the countries’ respective national habitus, as they have been shaped by the types of conflictual and co-operative relationships among the countries.”
A Scandinavian Chuckle, compiled by Tor Kjolberg