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Prime Time | Art Lee: No end in sight for jokes

The ongoing ribbing and joke-telling between Norwegians and Swedes – both in Scandinavia and America – goes on without apparent let-up.

“It’s all in fun,” both sides claim.

“We’re just kidding,” and that’s fine, except for many those claims may be questionable.

Regardless, these ethnic stories – which usually has one group perceiving the other group members as having cornflakes for brains – have no end in sight. Also unclear is how these stories get started in the first place and who and how and what keeps them going?

A new wrinkle in answering those questions comes as a big surprise for Americans because in Norway the ethnic joke-telling begins early; indeed, it starts with little children. Now comes the biggest surprise of all: it can start in Sunday School.


It’s useful for a little explanation to those Sunday School “lessons in/from Norway.” Background: We had wanted our children to grow up and become interested in their ethnic heritage. Our youngest daughter carried out this wish and then-some. As a high school student she became a Rotary Club exchange student in Norway for one year. (That was fine.) In college she majored in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Minnesota. (That’s OK but what are you going to do with that degree?) Then on to the University of Washington for a master’s degree in — yup, Scandinavian Studies. (Now what?)

Then came a job in New York City working for SAS airlines, and there she met a young man from Norway – and later married him. This was more ethnic-interest than we had in mind. But then followed the capstone: they moved to Norway – which was really more than we had in mind. They live in southeast Norway, in Grimstad, a small city north of Kristiansand. It’s a long way to go to visit your grandkids.


But eventually our two small grandsons began to visit us regularly in Minnesota, and their coming finally brings us to their Sunday School training, because with them they brought along a few of their Norsk books, including comic books (Miki Mus in Norwegian is different only in name changes, e.g. Goofy is called Langbeien, i.e. Long Legs). They also brought along some of their Sunday School monthly magazines, the publication called BARNAS (CHILDREN), subtitled Søndagsblad (Sunday bulletin). This 12-page, attractive, colorful comic-book- size pamphlet has the expected Bible stories and messages, but there is just one page that makes it different, notably for Americans. The page is entitled VITSER (Jokes) and what is different about it is that many of the short jokes printed regularly include “Swede jokes.” Likely there are not many Sunday School publications anywhere that include ethnic jokes, but here are a few (translated).

Q: “Do you know why Swedes climb up telephone poles?”

“To find out if their pears are ripe.”

Q: “Have you heard about the Swede whose face was so wrinkled that he had to screw his hat on?”

Q: “Have you heard of the new Swedish invention? It’s a solar-powered flashlight.”

(That last one seems a little advanced for a 6-year old to grasp.)

And there was one subject not likely to be found in any American Lutheran pamphlet:

“The Swedish teacher received a package and opened it in front of the class and out fell some horse manure. He got angry and demanded, ‘Who done this?’ Petter raised his hand and said, ‘a  horse, teacher, a horse.’”

The BARNAS magazine is a publication of the national Norwegian Lutheran Church (the official state church of Norway) and distributed to every Bispedøme (diocese) in the country. At the end of each VITSER page, children are encouraged to send in jokes of their own, with prizes to be awarded to the selected winners.

Conclusions to all the above?

Well, there are many, most responses probably including some variation of the phrase “A bit too much.”