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.
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.