I can’t write a series about Swedish icons without mentioning the Swedish chef. He was probably my second introduction to the Swedish culture when he appeared on the Muppet Show in 1975. Abba winning Eurovision in 1974 was my first. And in my ears when the members of Abba spoke – they sounded just like the Swedish chef!
The Swedish chef character is a puppet that was invented by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. The puppet’s live hands where performed by Oz, while Henson controlled the head and did the classic voice. The gobbledygook that the character spoke was supposed to be Swedish, and had the occasional English word thrown in. It was basically gibberish and sounded like ‘hurdy gurdy’ and ‘bork, bork, bork’. He was known for his ridiculous cooking methods, his accident prone nature and the fact that he almost always tried to cook living animals that, in the end, attacked him.
As a kid, I thought that the Swedish chef was hilarious. I don’t know if my love affair with Sweden began there but I certainly found him entertaining and intriguing. To date, he has been seen in over 100 countries, and in some places he might be all they know about Sweden. Interestingly in Germany, he’s known as the Danish Chef.
Real-life Swedish chef Lars Bäckman claims that he is the inspiration for the character. Allegedly he performed catastrophic screen test in the USA in the 70’s which Henson saw and imitated. Bäckman’s claim has however never been corroborated by the Muppet Show.
So, does he sound like a Swede? Well, most Swedes would say absolutely not. To them, he sounds more Norwegian. I can say that in all the years I’ve lived in Sweden, I’ve only heard a handful of people speak in the ‘hurdy gurdy’ style of the Swedish chef when speaking English. It is so unusual that it is almost a shock when you encounter it. So, the answer is no – the Swedish chef is not accurate, but he is a comedy icon in his own way.
Over 10 posts, I will give you a recommendation of a Swedish book, translated into English, that is well worth a read. The sixth recommendation is ’The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’ from 2009, written by Jonas Jonasson.
The book follows Allan Karlsson who escapes his old people’s home on his 100th birthday, and embarks on a remarkable journey through Sweden, with the police and bad guys hot in his heels. It is a funny book full of historical reference. It was made into a film in 2013. Jonas Jonasson also wrote ‘The Girl who Saved the King of Sweden’ which is also well worth a read.
Last night I went to see a hilariously funny stand up comedian called Al Pitcher. From New Zealand, this fast-thinking, quick-talking ironist talks about his family life in Sweden, what he finds fascinating about Swedes, why he loves them and how they dumbfound him. In his one man show at Rival on Mariatorget, he bounced between naked toddlers to poisonous ticks, from helping old ladies in a Stockholm suburb to his exploits in the isolated regions of Norrland. He even made the town of Flen sound semi-interesting by describing his dancing a jig to Swedish folk music when he was there.
It was a pleasure to spend a couple of hours in the company of Al Pitcher. If you get a chance to see his up-coming shows, I highly recommend it. You can get more information at http://www.alpitcher.se or likewise http://www.alpitcher.com You can also follow him on Facebook.
Yesterday, I went to see TV celebrity and academic Fredrik Lindström in his one man stand-up show called ”Swedes are also Humans” where he talks about Swedes and Swedish Culture from an inside-out perspective.
One funny thing he talked about was the Swedish pastime of ‘att passa på’. This translates roughly as ‘taking a chance, grabbing the opportunity’. Fredrik Lindström claimed that Swedes love to ‘passa på’, especially when it comes to sitting outdoors. The slightest bit of nice weather and Swedes ‘passa på’ and sit outside, even it requires a woolly jumper, a thick blanket and an infra-heater. This is quite unlike people who live in sunnier climates. He even said that Swedes are provoked by other Swedes who don’t ‘passa på’ and who choose to sit indoors on a sunny July day to watch re-runs of Falcon Crest on TV4Gold.
You probably had to be there to find it funny…..So, maybe you should ‘passa på’ and go see the show. He’s touring around the country.