April Fools’ Day Special:
Oh, you know.
⁓The Voice before the Void
“Ole and Lena”
Ole and Lena (along with Sven and Helga and Lars) are central characters in jokes by Scandinavian Americans, particularly in the Upper Midwest region of the United States, particularly in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota where Scandinavian immigrant traditions are common. The popularity of the jokes was enhanced by the numerous Ole and Lena joke books authored by Red Stangland.
Ole and Lena jokes can be long and drawn-out stories, or as short as two or three sentences. Ole and Lena are typically Norwegian, and Sven and his wife are Swedish.
One would not find Ole and Lena jokes in Sweden or Norway. Rather, they are an outgrowth of an immigrant experience. Language mistakes are a frequent source of Ole and Lena joke material. The characters of the jokes speak with the marring accent and fractured English of the recently arrived immigrant. Turning misunderstandings and mistakes into jokes enabled people to jest about their American immigrant experience.
The core of this folk humor may lie in the strongly egalitarian code that permeates the culture of the Nordic countries. Maybe.
Ole is on his deathbed. The doctor has told him he has only a few hours to live. He catches the scent of his favorite bars wafting through the air. With all the strength he can muster, he drags himself into the kitchen and sees a fresh pan cooling on the rack. He cuts one out and bites into the scrumptious cookie. Lena comes in, smacks his hand, and says, “Shame on you, Ole! These are for after the funeral!”
Ole and Sven are out deer hunting. Ole bags a buck. After they tag the deer and dress it, they grab it by its hind legs and start dragging it through the woods back to the car. A game warden happens upon the pair and, after checking their tags and admiring the buck, tells them that they’re dragging out the deer all wrong. By dragging it by the rear legs, snow, dirt, and leaves are getting caught in the animal’s fur, and the horns are getting tangled in the brush. The warden suggests that they drag it by the front legs. They agree to try this and much to their surprise, it is much easier dragging the deer this way. About an hour later, Sven turns to Ole and says, “Boy that game warden sure was right, it sure is easier dragging the deer this way!” And Ole replies, “That’s true, but you know, Sven, we are getting further away from the car.”
Ole went to the Sons of Norway Hall one night and finally won the door prize, which was a toilet brush. He was so excited that he brought it home and used it often. At the next meeting, Lars asked Ole how he liked the toilet brush. Ole replied, “Oh, yah, you know, I like the toilet brush sure, but, you know, just the same, I think I am going to go back to using paper.”
Ole goes out one day to use the outhouse, and he finds Sven there. Sven has his wallet out, and he’s throwing money down into the hole of the outhouse. Ole asks, “Uff da! Sven, what you doing there? You’re throwing the five-dollar bill and the ten-dollar bill down into the hole of the outhouse! What you doing that for?” Sven answers, “Well, when I pulled up my trousers I dropped a quarter down there—and I’m not going to go down there for just a quarter!”
Sven and Ole are roofing a house. Ole picks a nail out of the pan, examines it, and with a “nope” tosses it over his shoulder, then picks up another nail and does the same thing, then picks up a third nail and after examining it, uses it to nail in the shingle. Sven, seeing all of this, exclaims, “Ole! What you doing there, throwing away nails like that?” Ole replies, “Well, you see, these nails, they’re pointing towards the house, I can use these. But those nails… they’re pointing away from the house, they’re useless!” “Ole, you idiot!” Sven replies, “those nails aren’t something you just throw away willy nilly… those nails are for the other side of the house!”
Ole and Sven are at a funeral. Suddenly it occurs to Ole that he doesn’t remember the name of the dearly departed. Ole turns to Sven and asks: “Sven, could you remind me again who died?” Sven thinks for a moment and says, “Well, I’m not sure,” and Sven points at the casket, “…but I think it was the guy in the box.”
Many of the jokes are bawdy:
Sven and Ole go to Fargo and visit a brothel. A woman says she will have sex with both of them for $20, but insists, “You have to use rubbers ’cause I don’t want to get pregnant.” They agree. A week later, back on the farm, Sven says, “Hey, Ole, you remember that girl we met in Fargo?” “Oh, yah, Sven. So?” “Well, you know, Ole, I been thinking, I don’t really care anymore if she gets pregnant.” “Oh, you know, Sven, me neither.” “Well, Ole, why not we don’t take these damn things off, then?”
Lars is late for work. The boss finds him in the bunkhouse, and Lars explains that the problem is that he has an erection. The boss tells him, “OK, Lars, you need to go in the barn and get a shovelful of horse manure and pack it around there. That’ll take down the swelling and then you can come on and get to work.” So Lars goes to the barn and opens his fly and gets the shovelful of manure ready. At that moment, the boss’s wife walks in. “Lars, what are you doing?” she asks. Lars explains what he is doing. “Oh, Lars, don’t do that,” she lifts up her dress, “stick it in here.” “What?” says Lars. “The whole shovelful?”
Ole wakes up one morning, remembering that it’s his and Lena’s 25th wedding anniversary. Ole punches Lena in the arm. Lena awakes and asks, “What was that for?” Ole says, “That’s for 25 years of bad sex!” Lena then punches Ole in the arm. Ole asks, “Why did you hit me?” And Lena says, “That’s for knowing the difference!”