Ole and Lena Joke – Thermos

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.

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.