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Jan 22, 2008

Scandinavia -- Siblings, Rivals, and Foes


When I was planning my trip to Mexico, I thought I'd avoid staying in hostels because there would be too many excuses to speak English, which would shortchange my "being in Mexico" experience.  But I've since realized that a great richness hostel life is meeting cool people from all over the world.*

Yesterday I hung out with Annalee and Andreas, two very nice folks from Sweden, and we talked about Scandinavian relations.  According to Annalee, the Swedes and Norwegians are much like siblings when it comes to national pride and identity.  In sports, Swedes will cheer for any Swedish team against any Norwegian team.  But in international competition not including a Swede, they'll cheer for a Norwegian team over anybody else.  But screw the Finns.  And the Danes? Meh. "They are more Continental, anyway."

My cousin Bent is Danish and when I visited him in Copenhagen some years ago, his national pride was easy to notice.  Give him half a chance to point out a famous Dane and he'd do it.  "Do you Karen Blixen, who was also known as Isak Dinesen?  She was born near here.  She's Danish, of course."  "And do you know your American olympic team's men's soccer coach?  He's Danish."  "Oh, the inventor of [some important gizmo]?  Everyone thinks it was a Swede, but that guy stole the technology from the true inventor [Mr. So and So] and he's from Denmark."

I once read in a travel guide that there were three steps to making friends with a Dane.

"What are they?", Bent asked.

"Step 1.  Buy him a beer.", I said.


"Step 2.  Make fun of the Swedes."


"Step 3.  Buy him another beer!"

"Yea, that's true!  That will work!"

Annalee and Andreas agreed. "Yeah, those Danes -- they like their beer."

Pamela from Saskatchewan asked if Annalee and Andreas knew the show A Prairie Home Companion which features a lot of Minnesotans with Norwegian blood. They didn't know Garrison Keillor's show, but they loved the hell out of Fargo.  "And you know the actor Peter Stormare? [the guy who shoves Steve Buscemi into the stump grinder]  He's from Sweden!"

In this moment, I wondered if Pamela and I were being too quick to buy the idea of Swedish and Norwegian solidarity, so I told this story:

Some time ago I worked with a Minnesotan named Ron Berglund.  Thinking of a Prairie Home Companion, I wondered if his family heritage might be Norwegian.  But not knowing how Swedes or Norwegians get along, I treaded lightly.  "Say, Ron -- where's the name 'Berglund' from?"

"We're Swedish," he said.  Vociferously.

"So... I was wondering... how do the Swedes and Norwegians regard each other?"

"Do you know what we do with retarded people in Sweden?"


"We send them to Norway." [pause] "Where they go to work as TEACHERS".

So.  Somehow, I wonder if the rivalry is stronger in Minnesota than it is in Scandinavia?  Perhaps in America, the Swedes and Norwegians have to do everything they can to not get lumped together by the rest of us who can't tell a Lundberg from a Lindqvist.

A related last story from Scandinavia:  In the mid-80s, my Indonesian grandmother died while visiting my cousins in Copenhagen.  According to my cousins, the Indonesian ambassador was just horrible when they asked for help in processing the paperwork to get my grandmother's remains back home.  The ambassodor seemed to make every possible effort to distance herself from any Indonesian in Denmark.  Why? I'm guessing that the ambassador was doing what far too many representatives of a lower-status group do when they enter the circles of a higher-status group: they start looking down on the folks they came from.

A few years later, our family and the by-then-former ambassador ended up on a long vacation together in the Ujung Kulon Indonesian wildlife preserve.  My Danish cousins and the ambassador managed to avoid each other in even the smallest spaces -- like the tiny boat that took us to and from the camp.

All of the above stories, by the way, are just a preface** to something Valerie made me think of just now.  This year in basketball, I'm cheering for NC State over both UNC and Duke.  And UNC over Duke.  And any of them over anyone else in the tourneys except for whatever Ivy team gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.  And Davidson, which seems to show up year after year.


*Every one of whom wants George W. Bush out of the White House.  Now!

**As Ron White once said on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour:  "I told you that joke so I could tell you this one."

Map courtesy of freeworldmaps.net

09:39 PM in Mexico, Misc.Blog 2007 | Permalink


How odd! I just posted about Isak Dinesen. Coincidence? Or weird blog mind meld?

Posted by: Celeste | Jan 22, 2008 10:15:06 PM

Oh! And btw, I hope you are enjoying your trip. It sounds exciting. :)

Posted by: Celeste | Jan 22, 2008 10:15:55 PM


Posted by: Celeste | Jan 22, 2008 10:18:45 PM

Phil--have a happy trip.

This reminds me of walking around the Tidal Basin in Washington around cherry blossom time last spring. I heard lots of Japanese and other languages, including one in some Slavic-sounding language with a bit of English thrown in. Five guys walked past me, and the snippet I overheard went "Slavic Slavic Slavic, f***ing George Bush, Slavic Slavic Slavic."

Posted by: Glenn | Jan 23, 2008 10:14:53 PM

three steps to making friends with a Scot.
Step 1. Buy him a beer.", I said.

"Step 2. Make fun of the English."

"Step 3. Buy him another beer!"

Your trip sounds awesome - glad you're meeting all those interesting people.

Posted by: Marianne | Jan 24, 2008 10:45:11 AM

Three steps to making friends with an American:

1. Buy him a beer

2. You're done. Americans can't count.

Posted by: claire | Jan 28, 2008 9:55:12 PM