Author Archives: kknutzen

Ole and Lena Joke – Doctors Office

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 52
Occupation: Communications Manager
Residence: Woodinville, WA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/29/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: Here’s a typical Ole and Lena joke. 

“Ole wasn’t feeling well, so he went to the doctor. After examining him, the doctor took his wife Lena aside, and said ‘Your husband has a very sensitive heart. I’m afraid he’s not gonna make it if you don’t treat him like a king, which means you are at his beck and call every day, 24 hours a day, and he won’t have to do anything for himself.’ On the way home, Ole asks, with a note of concern, ‘Vell? Vat did da doctor say?’ ‘Vell,’ Lena said. ‘It looks like you’re not gonna make it.’”

There are probably thousands, but at least hundreds that I heard from my dad and aunts and uncles. They had books, and every family gathering, it would dissolve into a session of Ole and Lena and Sven and Lars over time. And of course, the jokes are hysterical, because they were silly, and everyone would do the voices, and it was a very traditional thing that they had a lot of affection for. They weren’t offended by the fact that these jokes implied they were stupid. They thought they were funny.

Background/Thoughts:
The informant is the interviewer’s mother, who grew up in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington. The informant’s family adhered to many Scandinavian and German traditions, some of which have been in our family for generations. Ole and Lena jokes have remained a staple in my family as well, on both sides of my family. I’ve always found Ole and Lena jokes funny, although I know many people who don’t come from Scandinavian backgrounds who are afraid to laugh at them, because they don’t want to offend anyone. However, I’m not offended by the jokes, even though they paint Scandinavians as slow or stupid, and none of my extended family members are either.

Ole and Lena Joke – Thermos

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 52
Occupation: Communications Manager
Residence: Woodinville, WA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/29/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: There’s a sentiment, and I’m not sure what the origin is, but there’s a sentiment that Scandinavians, particularly Swedes or Norwegians, can kinda be… slow. That they can do something that’s silly or doesn’t’ make sense. So there has become a whole, uh… cottage industry, of Scandinavian jokes, that star a whole host of characters. The main character is a guy named Ole, who’s married to a woman named Lena, and Ole has friends like Sven and Lars and others with the typical Scandinavian type names. There’s books upon books of Ole and Lena jokes, and Ole and Sven jokes, and they’re pretty funny, but they make light of being Scandinavian. 

As an example, I have one here. 

So another thing that happens when you’re Scandinavian is you ice fish. The ice freezes over but the fish are still underneath, so you cut a hole in the ice and you plop your line in through the hole, and can catch fish that way. So here’s a joke:

“Ole and Lars go ice fishin’. Ole pulls out his new thermos, and Lars says to him,” (imitates a Norwegian accent) “‘Ole, whatchya got dere?’ Ole says, ‘Well, Lars, dis here’s a thermos. It keeps hot tings hot, and it keeps cold tings cold.’ After a while, Lars gets curious, and says, ‘Vell, den, Ole, whatchya got in dat dere thermos?’ and Ole says, ‘Well, Lars, I got a popsicle, and two cups of coffee.’”

Soooo, he’s not quite getting the sentiment of what a thermos is meant to do.

Background/Thoughts:
The informant is the interviewer’s mother, who grew up in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington. The informant’s family adhered to many Scandinavian and German traditions, some of which have been in our family for generations. Ole and Lena jokes have remained a staple in my family as well, on both sides of my family. I’ve had the same experiences as my informant did – even though the jokes portrayed Scandinavians in an unflattering light, everyone I’ve met who’s heard the jokes think they’re funny, not offensive (myself included). In fact, the people that I’ve met who are hesitant to laugh or think it’s offensive don’t come from Scandinavian heritage at all. I think they’re afraid to laugh, because they don’t want to be offensive in case it is offensive to people of Scandinavian descent.

Lutefisk

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 52
Occupation: Communications Manager
Residence: Woodinville, WA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/29/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: I grew up in a family that was part German, on my mother’s side, and part Swedish and Norwegian on my dad’s side. My great-grandparents had traveled to the United States, and my grandparents were born in the United States, but there were still a lot of family traditions from Scandinavia and Germany and… the ones that really stand out in my mind are the Scandinavian side of things, more Sweden and Norway. My dad especially was pretty connected to those kinds of traditions. One I remember vividly – because it was always brought up as a threat – was the idea of eating lutefisk. Lutefisk is a dried fish, except it isn’t dried, it’s kind of… gelatinous, in a really disgusting way. And it’s a fermented fish, so it gets steeped in lye, which is also not something you think should be ingested, and yet it’s a delicacy! And even better, it’s such a delicacy that it’s saved for the holidays! So, you know, bringing out the Christmas lutefisk was something that was supposed to be revered, but I could never get into it. And then it became a running thing in my family that you’d be made to eat lutefisk if you weren’t behaving to anticipation, or what people were expecting of you. 

Background/Thoughts:
The informant is the interviewer’s mother, who grew up in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington. As described in the piece above, the informant’s family adhered to many Scandinavian and German traditions, some of which have been in our family for generations. Lutefisk has remained a threat as the years went on, and I have the same opinions as the informant does. I personally don’t understand the appeal of the dish, but I recognize that many members of my extended family in both America and Scandinavia love it. Even though I’m not personally a fan of the recipe, I do appreciate that it keeps my family in touch more with our traditions and history from Scandinavia.

“A Proper Cup of Coffee…” Tongue Twister

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Kirkland, WA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/30/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: My favorite tongue twister… I learned it in England recently, actually. It’s a teacup one. “All I want is a proper cup of coffee, made in a proper copper coffee pot. I may be off my dot, but I want a cup of coffee from a proper coffee pot. Tin coffee pots and iron coffee pots, they’re no good to me. If I can’t have a cup of coffee from a proper copper coffee pot, I’ll have a cup of tea. A nice cup of tea.” Where that comes from? I don’t know. But a nice British lady taught it to me!

Background: 
My informant is a 20-year-old college student, majoring in theatre, who recently returned from a study-abroad semester in London, England. She’s been doing theatre for twelve years now in various parts of the country, so she’s heard many versions of theatre legends, tales, superstitions, and other pieces of theatre folklore.

Thoughts:
I’d never heard this tongue twister before! I thought it was really fun because my informant learned it in England, where she recently spent a few months studying abroad. It was cool to hear a tongue twister that was so specific to another culture – none of the American tongue twisters I know talk about coffee or tea, and those are both big parts of British culture. Also the use of the word “proper” over and over again, which is a word that doesn’t pop up in America nearly as often as it does in England.

The Ghost Light

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Kirkland, WA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/30/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: A big theatre thing is the ghost light. So, typically, every theatre I’ve ever been to has some sort of ghost, that all the techs and actors swear exists in said space. So before we leave the theatre for the night, we always put a ghost light, which is literally just a light on a stick, in the middle of the stage. And realistically, it’s there because if you don’t put it there, someone will fall off the end of the stage and that will lead to a lawsuit. But! The legend behind the ghost light is that it helps to appease the ghost of said theatre, keep them friendly, guide their way. That, or alternatively, it wards off evil ghosts in said theatre. 

Background: 
My informant is a 20-year-old college student, majoring in theatre, who recently returned from a study-abroad semester in London, England. She’s been doing theatre for twelve years now in various parts of the country, so she’s heard many versions of theatre legends, tales, superstitions, and other pieces of theatre folklore.

Thoughts:
I thought this was very interesting, because I’ve done theatre with this informant for six years, at the same theatre, and we’ve heard very different stories on how the ghost light originated. What I was told was that you put the ghost light out at night so you had a beacon in the dark theatre, so anyone who ventures into the theatre after hours wouldn’t be afraid and there would be less places for ghosts to hide. My informants version works just as well, and we’re both in agreement that the practical reason for it, and probably the reason it’s stuck around so long, is to keep people safe in the dark. It just happens to have a name with a legend behind it.

“Good Luck” v “Break a Leg”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Kirkland, WA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/30/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: So, actors are very superstitious. We don’t know why we are, but we are. It’s probably because we spend a lot of time backstage in the dark, and there’s a lot of things that could go wrong. There are things flying over our heads, there’s moving parts and moving people and it’s easy enough to forget a line as it is, let alone when something is falling on you. So, usually it’s bad luck to say “Good luck” to an actor before going onstage, so you say “Break a leg.” I think this originally originated for a couple of reasons. I’ve heard that originally you used to stomp instead of clap, so “break a leg” was like the audience appreciating whatever you did. As well as the legs on the side of the stage – to enter you have to physically break through them, so it was like “have a good entrance…”? And I think there was one more, along the lines of – I don’t know. Every actor you’ll talk to will have a different answer of why we have these rules, which is confusing as to why we have them at all then. But it’s something you start to think about as you’re getting ready, because if someone says “good luck,” you know how the show’s gonna go… I don’t know if that’s because we psych ourselves out or whatever.

Background: 
My informant is a 20-year-old college student, majoring in theatre, who recently returned from a study-abroad semester in London, England. She’s been doing theatre for twelve years now in various parts of the country, so she’s heard many versions of theatre legends, tales, superstitions, and other pieces of theatre folklore.

Thoughts:
I personally don’t believe in this particular theatre superstition. I’ve never had an experience where saying “good luck” actually resulted in bad luck onstage. I’ve found that many people seem to forget it happened if it’s said backstage, whereas no one forgets if you say Macbeth, which is one of the other biggest theatre legends. Out of respect for tradition and those who do believe in this superstition, I try to avoid saying it.

“The Scottish Play,” Or, Why You Don’t Say Macbeth in the Theatre

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Kirkland, WA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/30/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: One of the biggest is the myth surrounding saying the… “Scottish Play” name, or… Macbeth, which I typically don’t like saying, because – I used to not be as superstitious about this as I am, but… anyway. Originally, I believe, it came from the fact that there are witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and they’re showing magic onstage, and I’m sure to a bunch of villagers seeing Shakespeare, that would’ve probably provoked a different reaction than it would today, hence leading to the idea that the name “Macbeth” is associated with an evil curse. 

So typically, the way this manifests in theatres, if someone says “Macbeth” backstage of a show that is currently running or in rehearsal – first of all, they will immediately be shunned by all of their friends. Second of all, they would have to perform some sort of ritual to break the curse. Now I’ve seen multiple versions. Some are like, spin around three times, spit, and swear. There’s another where you have to physically leave the theatre and wait for someone to let you back in. I don’t know what these are supposed to do besides help me feel better, but it does definitely prevent people from saying it, besides the fact that there is generally bad luck associated within the production itself. It’s supposed to cause some sort of tragedy onstage – which, in my experience, has actually happened, so now I don’t mess with that. 

Me: What happened?

Informant: So, on three separate occasions, when someone said it during a run of a show, a lead has had an injury onstage. Something – I mean, arbitrarily minor. In one, we had this old rusty stove – I was the lead in this production, which is why I remember it the most – and I ended up slamming my finger into it, and causing, like, gushing blood onstage, and they thought I’d need to get a tetanus shot. So that was fun. Now I don’t mess with it, and I will make you spin around three times and spit and say – oh! Or say your favorite Shakespeare show, or favorite line from a Shakespeare show. I don’t know what that’s supposed to do besides, like, appease the Shakespeare gods, but whatever.

Background: 
My informant is a 20-year-old college student, majoring in theatre, who recently returned from a study-abroad semester in London, England. She’s been doing theatre for twelve years now in various parts of the country, so she’s heard many versions of theatre legends, tales, superstitions, and other pieces of theatre folklore.

Thoughts:
I’ve also heard many versions of the Macbeth legend, but the one that I’ve heard most often is actually a different version: I’ve heard that the lines the witches say are actually real witches spells, and the witches he took the spells from were angry (like an early copyright problem!) and put a curse on the play. All of the antidotes though are familiar, and I’m certain there’s more out there that neither me nor my informant had heard before. While I’ve never had a direct interaction with the Macbeth curse, I’ve heard many stories of those who have, enough that I believe in the curse too. At the very least, I try to avoid saying Macbeth in a theatre out of respect for tradition, and out of respect for those who do believe in the curse.

Saci-pererê

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American/Brazilian
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Woodinville, WA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/30/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Portuguese

Informant: This is kinda like a… guardian spirit type of thing? Some people interpret him as evil, though never in my lifetime was he interpreted as evil in anything anyone ever told me ever? I’ve only seen this character as a good creature, but I’ve heard some people see him differently. I don’t know. Anyway, it’s a character called – ugh, this is stupidly named, so I’ll have to say it in Portuguese. Saci-pererê. And he’s a black young boy who wears red shorts and no shirt and a red hood, like a pointy hood that just falls down. Like Santa Clause without the pom poms. And he only has one leg, so he just hops around. He’s essentially just like a trickster, and he’ll mess with people. He’ll make them trip or, like… I don’t know, steal their blanket. When I was growing up I was told he was a friendly… friend. Who would do stupid shit. Nothing serious. I think some people thought he would do so many goofy things that he’d eventually do something serious, like… burn your house down or beat you while laughing. But I think most of Brazilian culture interprets him as nice! It’s just some people… Yeah. Tough crowd. 

Background:
My informant is a 19-year-old college student at a small liberal arts college in Washington state. She was born in Brazil, and grew up there, moving to Florida in late elementary school, back to Brazil for a few years, then finally settling outside of Seattle in our last two years of high school. Her father’s American, and her mom’s Brazilian. Portugese was her first language, and she still speaks Portugese at home with her mom. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this piece was collected via an interview that took place over FaceTime. 

Thoughts:
I find it really interesting that even within Brazil, people have different interpretations of the character. I thought that opinions on characters only differed when the character exists in multiple different cultures, because they would be seen in different contexts and would probably have slightly different versions of the stories surrounding the character. This one, however, is within Brazil, where I assume the details of the character stay the same. It makes me wonder what the difference of opinion says about Brazil, if their opinions vary drastically across the country. 

Boto, the Brazilian Pink Dolphin

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American/Brazilian
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Woodinville, WA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/30/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Portuguese

Informant: A lot of Brazilian mythology is either trying to scare children, or – trying to scare children from being bad – or trying to scare people away from messing with anything nature related. And there’s also a lot of weird ones that involve sexuality, but we don’t have to go into those, those are just strange. Actually no, I will go into one. There’s one – I don’t know what this animal is called in English, but you know those dolphins that aren’t dolphins, they’re just pink?

Me: I think I know what you’re talking about, yeah.

Informant: In Portugese it’s called Boto, and it’s basically just a pink dolphin. And they have them by the Amazons or whatever. And there’s a myth that one of the – ‘cuz these animals are like dolphins, they’re fun and want to play all the time, and they’re usually seen as tricksters or whatever, like they’ll play with you. Well, for some reason, Brazil was like, “Wow, that means evil.” So they took this poor creature, and they – there’s a myth behind it that one of these animals is, like – at a certain point of time in the night, it’ll transform into, like, a man. A really fancy looking man, who’s good looking and kinda shady, and he’s always wearing a hat, because – you know how dolphins have holes on their heads? The man also technically has a hole in his head, and he has to wear the hat to hide it. And essentially, when he comes out of the water and goes out to mingle out at night, he’ll find some random woman and make her fall in love with him in… one hour, or whatever. And they’ll have sex and she’ll get pregnant and he’ll leave. And then – I don’t know exactly what this says about the culture of Brazil, like, I don’t know I don’t know, but a lot of people use it to be like – if someone doesn’t have a father, they’re like “oh haha your father’s a fuckin’ dolphin.” And I’m like… “Whyyyy? Why a dolphin?” It’s supposed to be spooky. Not really. It’s a dolphin. It’s cute and it’s pink. The concept of a man with a hole in his head? That’s spooky. But not the dolphin.

Background:
My informant is a 19-year-old college student at a small liberal arts college in Washington state. She was born in Brazil, and grew up there, moving to Florida in late elementary school, back to Brazil for a few years, then finally settling outside of Seattle in our last two years of high school. Her father’s American, and her mom’s Brazilian. Portugese was her first language, and she still speaks Portugese at home with her mom. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this piece was collected via an interview that took place over FaceTime. 

Thoughts:
I think it’s really interesting that in Brazil, the man to stay away from is actually a pink dolphin, because in America, that’s one of the least threatening animals and one of the least threatening colors. I agree with my informant that it’s not particularly spooky. The fears of getting pregnant by someone who’s evil and will leave you is a universal one, but I can’t think of an American comparison to this myth that would involve a character who had the connotations of a pink dolphin. Maybe the fact that he’s a dolphin is trying to emphasize a theme of being afraid of creatures that seem boundlessly joyful, that maybe they aren’t what they seem? I’m not sure, but I find it fascinating. 

The Headless Mule – Brazilian Folklore

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American/Brazilian
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Woodinville
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/30/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Portuguese

Informant: A bizarre creature of Brazilian folklore that for some reason, people, like, actually believe in, is… there’s a tale of a headless mule, and it’s just a mythical creature that’s a mule without a head. And the part without the head is, like, fire. Neck up of the horse thing is just fire. The legend is that it was a woman that was cursed, and then – I don’t remember why she was cursed, but it was a woman who was cursed by God, and then she… turned into a horse. Without a head. And she would just run through empty spaces…. Just… terrorizing people. Like horses do when they don’t have heads. I don’t know man, I grew up with the story. It’s weird, but yeah. I heard my mom talking about it all the time. 

Background:
My informant is a 19-year-old college student at a small liberal arts college in Washington state. She was born in Brazil, and grew up there, moving to Florida in late elementary school, back to Brazil for a few years, then finally settling outside of Seattle in our last two years of high school. Her father’s American, and her mom’s Brazilian. Portugese was her first language, and she still speaks Portugese at home with her mom. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this piece was collected via an interview that took place over FaceTime. 

Thoughts:
This creature sounds nothing like the creatures in the folklore stories I grew up with, which is fascinating. Part of that may be because mules are much more integrated into the culture in South America than they are in North America, so they wouldn’t be showing up in the most well known Native American myths, especially in the Pacific Northwest, where I’m from. Another thing I found interesting was that she said people actually believe in it. Some of the other creatures she described to me, such as an alligator lady who eats children, seem more plausible to me than this one because this one is missing a head, which should mean it’s not alive anymore. Even though an alligator lady eating children also defies the rules of logic, this one feels a little too out there for me to genuinely believe it exists.