Humor in Scandinavia

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Humor in Scandinavia

Everyone has a sense of humor – at least to a certain extent – although not everybody is willing to show it. Despite the rumor that Northern people lack humor, I claim that Scandinavians are extremely good at making and taking jokes. Why? Read on and learn more about humor in Scandinavia.

One of the reasons why the rumor of Scandinavians’ lack of humor is probably that it often fails to translate. I must admit though that Scandinavians don’t have the reputation of being the clowns in the room. Many foreigners believe that Scandinavians laugh only when they have a facial cramp.

Humor in Scandinavia
We have all experienced that there is usually a chain reaction, when someone starts laughing and everybody starts laughing

The chain reaction
However. We’re not different from other people. We have all experienced that there is usually a chain reaction, when someone starts laughing and everybody starts laughing before they don’t even know what they are laughing at. Such scenes are very familiar to the ones who attend to academic conferences, where you can see the biggest number of people who are ready to laugh at anything.

Related: Is He Norway’s Victor Borge?

Humor in Scandinavia
‘gallows humor’ is very typical of Scandinavia. Illustration by Absurdgalleriet

‘Galgenhúmor’ or ‘gallows humor’ is very typical of Scandinavia, and so-called Scandi comedy is about to become the new Nordic noir.

Thanks to a slew of satires, rom-coms and dramedies, things are changing: Scandi comedy is about to become the new Nordic noir. Lisa Langseth, creator of Netflix’s Love & Anarchy, said, “Sweden is put into a box where dark crime has made us famous abroad. People just don’t think of humor when they think of Sweden.” Her series, about an outwardly successful but secretly dissatisfied married mother of two (starring Ida Engvoll) couldn’t be further from grisly crime drama. A Man Called Ove (starring Rolf Lassgård) is another example of genuine Swedish humor.

Humor in Scandinavia
Rolf Lassgård starring in A Man Called Ove,

Norwegians, like myself, love to laugh, but there is a mix of different types of humors which hit a nerve with Norwegians. Although Norwegians love to laugh, I am not sure there is a typical Norwegian humor like for instance the British.

Related: What Does The Fox Say?

Danish humor is a tricky thing for many foreigners. Danes compete with the Brits for world leaders in dry humor and sarcasm, but it can be hard for foreigners to figure out what’s a joke and what’s not.

Sweden’s ‘The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared’, based on Jonas Jonasson’s well-loved and best-selling book, is a relative recent comedy from Scandinavia that has found international success.

One of the possible reasons that most foreigners do not see that Norwegians have humor is that many Norwegians have a very dry humor. They say things with a serious face, when it was actually a joke.

The Danes have a tradition called the kvajebajer (failure beer) or kvajekage (failure cake.)
The person who makes a big mistake offers this beer or cake to others as a way of playfully admitting that he or she failed to live up to expectations.

Norwegian Sverre Bjørstad Graff is the author and illustrator of the very popular and hilariously funny Absurdgalleriet. Considering his huge fan base, it seems fair to say absurd humor is hitting a nerve in the Norwegian public.

Another home run is the very bad English some Norwegians have, using Norwegian expressions as if they were translatable in English: “Honey, don’t forget to take the dekks with the pigs” (piggdekk is a spiked winter tire), is one of them.  When one of our prime ministers should explain to a Brit that Norwegian cars have the steering wheel on the left side of the front seat, he said, “Norwegian cars have the rats on the left side.” (Ratt is steering wheel in Norwegian).

Related: How To Annoy Scasndinavian

Humor in Scandinavia
Translation of text: “My girl friend dumped me, so I stole her wheel-chair. Guess who came creeping back.”

I cannot end this short presentation of Scandinavian humor without trying my best to share with you a typical joke about the Swede, the Norwegian and the Dane:

Three men and a parachute
So, a Norwegian, a Dane and a Swede are on a private flight. Suddenly, the pilot turns on the speaker and says: “The plane is malfunctioning and is going to crash. There’s three parachutes, and I’m going to take one. You’re going to have to figure out who doesn’t get one”. He then proceeds to jump out of the plane.

The three men panic, but the Norwegian tells the others to calm down and then says to the Swede: “Here. You take one, we’ll figure out who gets the last one.” And the swede jumps.

The Norwegian then turns to the Dane and says: “Let’s grab the chutes and get out of this thing.”

The Dane says, very confused:” But you just gave the second to last parachute to the Swede? There’s only one left now.”

To which the Norwegian replies: “Relax man, I gave him my backpack.”

In any case, one thing is for sure, humor is very important in Scandinavian countries. To survive in an area where it is night time half of the year and raining the rest, you need minimum two things: alcohol and humor. And sex. And holidays in the South. Okay that makes four things.

Humor in Scandinavia, written by Tor Kjolberg

Feature image (on top): Illustration by Inge Grødum for Aftenposten

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