Scandinavian Humor

Today, my uncle from Iowa sent me an e-mail with a Norwegian joke in it.  If there is one thing that my Swedish-American uncles love, it is jokes about Norwegians.  Why?  I don’t know-proximity I guess.  Swedes make fun of Norwegians; Minnesotans make fun of Iowans or Wisconsinites.  The joke below pokes fun of the Norwegian accent, but the Swedish accent is nearly identical to the Norwegian accent. 


Below, is the joke.  Do not read if you have delicate sensibilities or do not like earthy humor.  Hope you enjoy it!


A Norwegian fella wants a job, but the foreman won’t hire him until he passes a little math test.  
Here is your first question, the foreman said.  ‘Without using numbers, represent the number 9.’  
‘Without numbers?’  The Norwegian says, ‘Dat’s easy.’ and proceeds to draw three trees.  

‘What’s this?’ the boss asks.
‘Vot! you got no brain?  Tree and tree and tree make nine,’ says the Norwegian.  
‘Fair enough,’ says the boss.  ‘Here’s your second question.  Use the same rules, but this time the number is 99.’  
The Norwegian stares into space for a while, then picks up the picture that he has just drawn and makes a smudge on each tree. ‘Dar ya go.’  

The boss scratches his head and says, ‘How on earth do you get that to represent 99?’  

‘Each of da trees is dirty now.  So, it’s dirty tree, and dirty tree, and dirty tree.  Dat is 99.’

The boss is getting worried that he’s going to actually have to hire this Norwegian, so he says, ‘All right, l ast question.
Same rules again, but represent the number 100.’  

The Norwegian fella stares into space some more, then he picks up the picture again and makes a little markat the base of each tree and says, ‘Dar ya go.  Von hundred.’  
The boss looks at the attempt.  ‘You must be nuts if you think that represents a hundred!’  

The Norwegian leans forward and points to the marks at the base of each tree and says, ‘A little dog come along and pooped by each tree.   So now you got dirty tree and a turd, dirty tree and a turd, and dirty tree and a turd, vich makes von hundred.’

‘So, ven do I start?


A joke that my grandmother wrote down in her booklet of favorite poems is about another Norwegian.  She used to listen to the radio and copy down her favorites in a small notebook.  This one is very common and people throughout the Midwest have recited this one for generations.  Some people even turned it into a song!


My name is Yon Yonson
I come from Visconsin
I work in the lumber mills dere;
Ven I valk down de street,

all de people I meet,
say, “Hello, vat’s your name?”

(repeat ad nauseam)


My dad and my uncles can do those jokes in wonderful fake Swedish accents.  They grew up around people whose first language was Swedish-my dad’s dad for example lived in an isolated Swedish-American farming community.  He did not learn English until he went to school and he and his brothers and sisters retained a slight Swedish accent throughout their lives.  Unfortunately, my siblings and I can’t replicate very authentic Swedish accents. 


Then, of course are the old Sven and Ole (and sometimes Lena too) jokes.  There are some jokes that say that Sven and Ole were old batchelor farmers that lived together.  That is another standby of Midwestern culture-the old bachelor farmer.  Unlike India where nearly everyone gets paired off (in Satya’s family there was one aunt that never married, but she was over 6 feet tall so perhaps that is why and another who never married because she was blind), there have always a substantial minority of Swedes and Norwegians that never married.  My grandmother had three bachelor uncles that lived together.  Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion website has a whole bunch of jokes submitted by listeners.

Finally, I will end with my grandfather’s Swedish tongue-twister.  He used to amaze all of us with this feat.  (The “sj” sound is unique to the Swedish language and one that trips up nearly all non-native speakers).  Sadly, no one else in my family can now recite it.I myself can’t recall the exact one, but it did involve that sound and seasick sailors.  Here is one version I found: sjuttiosju sjösjuka sjömän sköttes av sju sköna sjuksköterskor, which means 77 seasick sailors were nursed by seven fair nurses.

I’m not sure how much longer these jokes will last.  I think the only ones to tell my future hypothetical kids Sven and Ole jokes will be my dad and his brothers. 

 What are some of your favorite jokes?

Celebrating Winter: The St. Paul Winter Carnival

I haven’t written much about Minnesota, so today I thought I’d write about one of St. Paul’s oldest and most beloved festivals-the St. Paul Winter Carnival.  The St. Paul Winter Carnival began yesterday, January 22.  When I was growing up, the St. Paul Winter Carnival helped to liven up the after-Christmas winter doldrums. 


In my family we, like most Twin Cities inhabitants,  all knew the legend behind the carnival…how the good King of the Winds, King Boreas gets defeated by the god of Fire, Vulcanus on the last day of the carnival.  King Boreas promises to return next winter, and Vulcanus brings the warmth of spring and summer.  The winter court gets selected the first day of the carnival.  There are very picturesque titles: Queen of the Snows, Wind Princesses, Klondike Kate, etc.  During our city festival in June, Vulcanus’ followers, the mischievous Vulcans would scare us with their loud horns and grease paint.  The Vulcans would go into the parade crowd and mark people’s cheeks with a black V for Vulcanus.  We would go to one of St. Paul’s parks to see the beautiful ice sculptures and some years we’d see the ice palace-a huge, multistory palace construction of ice made from ice taken from Minnesota’s lakes.  We would eagerly read the St. Paul newspaper, St. Paul Pioneer Press, to try to figure out where the Winter Carnival medallion was hidden.  We never could make sense of the daily clues, but enjoyed following along.  Usually the medallion is buried somewhere under the snow in one of St. Paul’s city parks.  There are parades too, but we preferred to stay away from the crowds and stay indoors.


Why did the Winter Carnival begin?  It began in the 1880s as a way to show off St. Paul and to prove that it is possible to survive and even have fun during the coldest part of a Minnesota winter, contrary to the view of a writer in New York.  In 1886 St. Paul, MN was actually one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. and city leaders wanted this to continue.  The festival was modeled after the one in Montreal, Canada.  The Winter Carnival has been held every year since 1886.  To this day the metropolitan area of St. Paul/Minneapolis has the dubious honor of having coldest mean temperature of any metropolitan area in the lower 48 U.S. states.  The weather does play a big factor at the carnival.  Sometimes the weather is unseasonably warm and some events like the ice sculpture contest are cancelled due to melting.  Other years there are sub-zero temperatures that keep even hardy Minnesotans indoors and cause outdoor events to be cancelled. 


I would usually recommend visiting Minnesota in either June or September because those months usually have the best weather, but if you ever find yourself in Minnesota around the last week of January or the first week of February check out the Winter Carnival.  I guarantee it will be a memorable experience!

In Search of a Great Yoga DVD

A few weeks ago I went to the doctor and was surprised to learn that I’ve gained over 10 lbs in the past year.  I would have expected that switching to a mostly vegetarian diet would have had an opposite effect, but I was wrong.  I guess it is true that after marriage the weight gain begins.  Or maybe it was all the white rice?  Satya heard someplace that we are supposed to eat what our grandparents ate.  White rice was definitely not on their plates.  So now, I’ve decided to become more physically active and to pay more attention to what I eat.  My current plan involves yoga and walking.  In college I took a semester long yoga class that I loved.  It gave me a great workout that I could also do on my own in my dorm room and that was easy on my knees and shins, unlike running.  With that in mind, last week I tried two yoga dvds.  They are very different, but both give a good workout. 


The first is Ease into Ashtanga.  Ashtanga yoga is very vigorous and is where Power Yoga came from.  I took a few classes at a yoga studio and one of its greatest positives and drawbacks is that it is always the same routine.  I liked that the dvd was divided into segments.  If you want to just do the routine, you can.  If you’d like the postures explained, they are.  The scenery is beautiful-Hawai’i with all the beaches and flowers you associate with Hawai’i.  They also explain basic modifications for beginners like me.  My quibbles are that I don’t think they hold the “down dog” position very long and that the insert says that one of the producer’s goals was to show a variety of different body types.  There is a large group of people doing the flow routine together, but I didn’t think they had a very wide range of bodytypes.  I think this dvd does a great job and I will continue to use it.



The second DVD is Yoga Weight Loss Workout for Dummies.  While this will get you sweating and keep your heat rate up, it is not “for dummies”.  She does not fully explain some of the poses.  For example, you must either know what “chair pose” is or pick it up from watching her.  Some poses I don’t think really exist-I’d never heard of “five point star” before.  The instructor is also fond of “pulses”.  In chair pose for example, you are supposed to raise your arms above your head and then “pulse” them forward and backward.  I liked that she included some balance poses-those have always been among my favorites.  She does not include another of my favorites, shavasana or corpse pose.  Don’t buy this one if you want yoga, but if you want a workout it is perfectly fine.  Overall, it is an enjoyable workout that will burn calories. 


A few years ago I bought a Shiva Rea yoga dvd so I’ll be trying that one next.  Also, Satya’s sister found a good one so I will have to ask her about it one of these days.  Yoga dvds are easy to find in Indian video stores and in the temple shop.  I’m eager to try some of those as well to see the similarities and differences. 


It is funny that some schools objected to yoga being taught in schools on religious grounds.  Both yoga dvds did not have anything religious in them-in fact that is one of Satya’s critiques of them-that they have taken all the spirituality out of them and turned yoga into a workout, nothing more.  He says of the dvds, “I miss the om.”  He also thinks that yoga should not include background music, but I don’t see Americans being very comfortable with that.  Myself, I don’t mind the background music.  The only sounds he thinks are appropriate are breathing, movement, and chanting. 


One thing that surprised me a little about his family is that they actually do yoga.  I thought that it was only a stereotype and not part of modern Indian life.  His dad has been doing it all his life.  Satya and his two cousins went to “yoga camp” for a few summers when they were teenagers and his sister and her husband still do it.  Satya’s mother gives him suggestions about which leaders she likes and which she thinks would be worthwhile for him to find on dvd.  They do place a lot of emphasis on breathing and on yoga to bring peace of mind and balance. 


Does anybody have any suggestions of yoga dvds?  Do you prefer the American style of yoga or the Indian style?

On “The Story of India” and Family History

Last night we watched the final episode of “The Story of India”.  The fifth episode was all about the Muslim invasions and the mingling of Muslim and Hindu culture.  The sixth episode was about the British and the Independence struggle.  For both episodes, Michael Wood glossed over many of the atrocities.  He did not say much or anything about temples being defaced by Muslims or about how Hindus tried to bury some of their temples in sand to protect the temples from destruction.  He didn’t mention how the British impoverished India and even in some cases changed the culture for the worse-creating more landless peasants or putting more of an emphasis on the birth of boys because they would not recognize female rulers.  The series was beautifully photographed. In its defense, how could you compress 6,000+ years of history into 6 hours? Sometimes Michael Wood made huge leaps and he seemed much more comfortable in Pakistan and Northern India than anywhere else.  Overall, we rated the series a 6/10. 


The series did make us reflect on his family’s history.  Both sides of Satya’s family have been shaped by the Muslims and the British.  His dad’s family comes from far Northern Karnataka.  It used to be part of the Nizam state of Hyderabad.  His grandfather spoke both Urdu and Kannada and in fact was an Urdu teacher and farmer.  In his spare time he used to write Urdu poetry on cigarette wrappers.  On the outside he represented a nice mingling of Muslim and Hindu culture.  On the other hand, why did he do these things?  Survival.  He had to blend in as much with the Muslims as possible in order to avoid being killed.  He did not wear the linga, had a goatee, and basically dressed like a Muslim farmer.  After Hyderabad became part of India, there were massacres of Muslims too so that whole region suffered a lot of violence in the not so far past.  To this day, his father’s village is very poor.  Poverty meant his father had to leave his home village at the age of 12 taking his younger brother with him to further his education.


His family on his mother’s side has a different story.  They were middle-class farmers.  Unlike his father’s family, his mother’s family has a man who has memorized their family’s history and who keeps their written family history for them.   He visits every so often to update the family history and Satya says that the family history is written on copper plates.  His grandfather on this side of the family was able to go to a university.  He was a dreamer who loved theater and Shakespeare.  He loved to put on plays and discuss them with his friends.  For all that, he did have a very tough choice during the Freedom Struggle.  He was offered a job with the British civil service but turned it down.  He did have friends who were very active in the Freedom Struggle, but he seems to have tried to stay neutral. 

The most surprising thing to me is his family’s lack of bitterness.  Satya has prayed in mosques a few times with his father.  Satya speaks proudly of a tomb of a Sufi saint that is near his home in India.  His father firmly believes that religion is on the inside of a person and should be left up to the individual.  Satya did not undergo a Lingayat initiation and says that his dad’s family doesn’t know many of the traditions because they couldn’t safely practice many of them.  In some ways, you could say that the persecution his dad’s family suffered made his family more open.  The cost was high, though.

There also have been many posts in the blogosphere about Indian identity.  What makes India special?  What do Indians have in common with each other if not religion, or language?  We’ve also spoken with each other about this.  The best we can come up with is what others have said before…it is the ability to absorb the best from other cultures and make it their own and to look forward to the future while remembering the past.  What do you think being Indian means?

6 Random Things

Hi all.  Honeybee sent me this tag a few weeks ago.  Apologies for the delay in responding.  Below are the rules of the tag:

1) Link to the person who tagged you.
2) Post the rules on your blog (copy and paste 1-6).
3) Write 6 random things about yourself (see below).
4) Tag 6 people at the end of your post and link to them.
5) Let each person know they have been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6) Let the tagger know when your entry is up.


1.  Love to start projects.  My latest project is cross-stitching a Christmas stocking for Satya.  My goal is to have it done by next Christmas. Satya can’t rest until projects get finished.  Other projects: learning Kannada, trying out new vegetarian recipes and organizing the good ones, yoga, learning to drive.


2.  Since leaving for college at 18, the longest I’ve spent in one dwelling is 2 years.  We just decided not to renew our lease which expires March 31st.  Sadly, I’m not yet an expert on moving-my moves are usually somewhat chaotic.



3.  Countries we’d like to visit together: India, Bhutan, Greece, Slovenia.  Satya would also add some islands in the Caribbean.  We’d love to have a honeymoon in Bhutan, but who knows? 


4.  Things we are looking forward to having when we have a house: dog, thick walls, garden, gas stove, guest room and bathroom, kids. 



5.  Things I love about Satya: his kindness, his warm and sparkling brown eyes, how we can finish each other’s sentences, his reliability, his cooking ability, how he likes to hold hands, his joy in simple things like getting a Christmas tree or the growth of his houseplants.


6.  Best things about now:  new opportunities are on the horizon, we have the opportunity to lay the foundation for our life together, tomorrow is still the weekend, and our apartment feels like a home, our supportive families.

I’ll pass this on to Snippets&Scribbles, Evenshine, La Vida Loca, Gori Girl, Milwaukee Masala, and anyone else that would like to do this tag.

My apologies if you’ve all had this tag before.

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

Yesterday was the funeral of Satya’s American grandmother.  Vera was his brother’s next door neighbor and had been a friend of his family for years.  When Satya came to the U.S., Vera welcomed him to the neighborhood.  Vera and her husband took Satya’s parents on a tour of the town and especially showed them the Indian business area with the Indian grocery stores and restaurants.  Vera would visit with his parents and keep them company.  In later years, Satya would take Vera to some of her appointments and then they would go out to eat together.  Sometimes they would just have cake and hot chocolate in Vera’s kitchen. 


I met Vera last fall when Satya and I began dating.  She was the first close friend of his that I met.  We had snacks and hot chocolate in her kitchen.  Vera was an elderly Italian lady.  She was born in a tough Italian-American neighborhood and braved some disapproval when she married an Irish-American.  She loved to go shopping and Satya says she took great pride in her appearance.  She was always welcoming, friendly, and cheerful even as cancer took over her body.  Even when we visited her in the hospital last week she kept those qualities.  She was able to remember small details about us and still cared about what was happening in our lives. Vera proudly introduced Satya to her caregivers in the hospital saying, “he is like my grandson.”  I’m sad I won’t get the chance to know her better.  We have some regrets-that after Satya married me and moved over an hour away that we didn’t visit her more often or that we never invited her to come to see our apartment.  That is how it always is though, isn’t it?  There never is enough time.


I think Satya’s family and Vera got along so well because they both had the same ideas about friendship and neighborliness.  Satya says that when he was growing up, people would just stop by whenever they wanted and have a friendly chat together.  Today in the U.S. that attitude exists in some areas, but sadly not all.  In India too, he thinks that attitude is changing.  Satya thinks it is due to tv.  He and his sister think that kids today are exposed to too much tv and so they’d rather watch tv than interact with the people who drop by. 



After the funeral, Satya said that according to tradition we had to wash all our clothes and take a shower.  This even meant going to a dry cleaner’s, dropping off our winter coats, and then rushing back to the car in the midst of a cold, windy day.  He says he thinks this tradition came to be as a way of preventing the spread of disease.  Now I guess it is a way to brush off the sadness of a funeral and not carry it around??  Has anybody else heard of this tradition?