American Reporter Correspondent
May 19, 2004
SEATTLE, Wash. -- Confession time: my dateline is a lie forced upon me by the post office. Where I actually live is Ballard, one of the many neighborhoods of Seattle with a strong sense of its own identity.
For Ballard that identity is Norwegian. If you chance to be a blonde, blue-eyed person who understands what is meant by the expression "uff da!" then you are a native.
If you are an emeritus Princeton professor who goes about asking people what "uff da" means, and noting down several hundred contradictory answers, then you are an out-of-towner, or, what is even worse for a native of South Carolina, a Yankee.
These thoughts are prompted by the date (yesterday for you) when they were written, known locally as "Syttende Mai." Or Seventeenth of May for the Norse-challenged.
My next-door neighbor, herself a Norwegian, assures me that the parade today in honor of Norwegian independence is the biggest in the world. Not the biggest except for that in Oslo. The biggest, period. And I believe her, for Norwegians never lie. Ask any Norwegian.
This might explain why the King and Queen of Norway sometimes show up here on the date. The Crown Prince was here once or twice. "But if they have a king and queen," asked a grandson, "what are they independent of?" "Uff da," I explained.
Bumper stickers in Ballard play on the Norwegian theme all year long, not just on the Day.
Legalize Lutefisk, reads one. Don't ask me what this notorious seafood dish is-I know only its reputation for being mephitic and, by out-of-towners, inedible. Another on this theme: Old Lutefisk Eaters Never Die-They Just Smell That Way.
Norwegian Driver, reads another, Thank you For Not Laughing.
A parking lot not a thousand miles from my gym has a terribly official-looking sign that reads: Norwegians Only. All Others Towed.
How, one wonders, did the invaders from the Third Reich ever manage to humiliate a people so given to such self-deprecation? Was Vidkun Quisling just another Norwegian joke? There is no record of his ever having shown up in Ballard for the Syttende Mai.
Did I mention that the Mariners first baseman, John Olerud, is from Ballard? He is a local, and is called Ole. That makes him the typical figure in thousands of Norwegian jokes.
Ole joke: Ole was marooned on a desert island for years and years. When a ship finally showed up and sailors came ashore to rescue him, Ole asked them to admire his years of work.
This is my house, and this is my barn, and this is my church.
One of the sailors asked: And that building behind the barn?
Oh, said Ole, that is the church I used to go to.
In many jokes, Ole is joined by Lena. Ole says that Lena is on a banana diet. "She hasn't lost any weight, but you should see her climb trees!"
A knock on the door. Ole goes to open it and finds a masked man with a gun. "Are you a robber?" he asks. "No, I'm a rapist." Ole: "Lena, it's for you."
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.