On this May 17th, I would like to congratulate you on the 192nd anniversary of the drafting of your constitution. I would also like to apologize for the behavior of some of my fellow Norwegian-Americans.
Dear Norway, I cannot explain to you why some Norwegian-Americans do what they do. I can't explain why they have reduced their heritage to a caricature of lutefisk-eating goofballs who talk VIT foo-NEE lil-TING ac-CENTS dat SOUND nu-TING like JOO real-LY talk IN nor-VAY.
I think the reason some Norwegian-Americans perpetuate these stereotypes is they've been in America so long, they've forgotten the dire struggles their ancestors went through to get here. They've lost touch with their real heritage, so they've turned it into a cartoon. They have not heard for themselves that you are a highly educated people, that most of you guys speak beautiful English. That, plus the fact that Americans are celebrated worldwide for being the phenominal multilingual geniuses that we are, has led some of us to get a little bit cocky about our own screamingly impressive language skills. I am sorry for that.
I am also sorry for all the lutefisk jokes. I know that back in the real Norway, most of you guys who do eat the stuff only do so maybe once or twice a year around Christmas to remember the old days. I know you created this gelatinous cod concoction by accident, and that it's not the national Norwegian obsession many Americans think it is. Most Americans have never learned that lutefisk was probably created when some cod fell into some lye, and people were so poor, they couldn't afford to throw it away. I wish more people in America knew that your modern cuisine is quite tasty. I'm doing what I can to get the word out.
Why is it that Norwegian-Americans eat tons more lutefisk each year than real Norwegians? They are trying, dear Norway. They are trying to honor their roots. Yes, they have overblown their lutefisk consumption in a misguided way that makes you guys look ridiculous, but they mean no harm. Maybe they don't understand that Norway now has refrigerators like we do –- and the electricity needed to power them. Maybe they don't understand that you now preserve your fish in more palatable ways. And I'm pretty sure they don't know that Norwegians today are the world's largest per capita consumers of frozen pizzas. (And hey, thank you for that! As a proud Norwegian-American, I'll take a pizza over lutefisk any day!)
What about the Scandinavian stores in Ballard that sell the demeaning Norwegian joke books and the "Uff Da!" T-shirts? Well, dear Norway, I've talked to some of the owners of these stores about that. One of them agreed with me. She finds the stereotypes as tiresome as I do, but she has to sell the books and shirts to stay in business. Those things attract customers, and if that's what she has to do to stay open so I can get my lefse at Christmas time, I'm willing to put up with it even though I don't like it.
There's a community near Seattle, dear Norway, that has been struggling with its modern Scandinavian heritage recently. After the good people of Poulsbo elected 17-year-old Jasmine Campbell their "Miss Viking Princess 2006," pageant organizers received racist e-mails. Campbell, you see, is half African-American, half Hispanic. She was adopted and raised in a Scandinavian-American household.
Dear Norway, I know most of you will agree with me when I commend the good people of Poulsbo for taking a stand against racism and rallying behind Campbell. As a Norwegian-American, I am proud to see Norway's modern ethnic diversity reflected here in America as well.
True, according to the Seattle Times, Campbell won the honor by getting up on stage and telling a joke in a "well-rehearsed" Norwegian accent about lutefisk-gobbling fools. I wish Norwegian-Americans were not rewarding such negative stereotypes by making Campbell their "princess," but I don't fault Campbell for telling the joke. She's a typical 17-year-old Scandinavian-American who is forwarding her heritage in the way she is being taught to by her Scandinavian elders.
Some Norwegian-Americans tell me I need to lighten up. They tell me I need to learn how to take a joke. I am already anticipating the hate mail some will send me for writing you this letter. At times, dear Norway, I wonder if they're right. But then I come to Norway every summer to work as a tour guide, and when some American tourist starts telling his lutefisk jokes in his loud, fake accent, in the middle of a fancy restaurant, and you guys start glaring and making menacing gestures with your forks, I realize there is a time and place for all sorts of humor, but some people just don't know when to stifle it. When I talk to young Norwegian students who are studying in America, and they tell me how sick they are of their American peers running up to them, screaming, "Ya! Sure! You betcha!" -- a phrase that has no verbatim Norwegian translation -- I realize I am not the only one who grows weary of such humor.
Don't get me wrong, dear Norway. Norwegian-Americans are good people, and we're not all running around perpetuating these stereotypes. Many of us are intensely proud of our heritage. On this May 17 –- Syttende Mai –- Norway's Constitution Day –- we are having a huge parade in Ballard, the Scandinavian part of Seattle, to celebrate the struggles you faced for independence. You would find it quite moving if you could see how many thousands of people all the way over here in Seattle flock to the streets to honor Norway. People will be dressed in their traditional bunads, waving Norwegian flags and munching on pølser –- your scrumptious lye-free sausages. I'll be right there with them, taking clandestine swigs of akvavit from a hidden bottle, and thinking the same thought I think every year when the bagpipers walk by: "Ha! Bagpipers! Do they have any idea what the Vikings did to the Celts?"
Gratulerer med dagen, kjære Norge! Congratulations, dear Norway, on your national holiday. I'm really sorry for all the lutefisk jokes. I'd like to make it up to you somehow. Maybe when I come visit next month, I can buy you a pizza.