Notebook: As they say in Norway

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The Independent Online
SO WE'RE knocking the Norwegians again. Just because a man speaks his mind about John Selwyn Gummer, his entire nation is condemned. Out come the old canards: no sense of humour, go to bed at 10 o'clock, dull; in the Sun, there was a blank space under Ten Famous Norwegians in the Twenty Things You'll Never Need to Know About Norway, and a sneer that their 'favourite pastime is reading'.

Enough. (And I'm not just saying that because my mother-in-law is Norwegian.) What about Ibsen and Munch? Not a lot of laughs, I grant you, but we'll come to that. What about Trygve Lie, first secretary-general of the United Nations? And perhaps they do go to bed early in winter, but my mother-in-law says that in summer, when it doesn't get dark, they often stay out all night. And they invented paperclips.

Take, too, this word drittsekk, the one used by Thorbjorn Berntsen, the environment minister, to describe Gummer. It's a good word, far better to get your teeth round than shitbag, its English equivalent. The Norwegians are now congratulating themselves on giving us another word to go with ombudsman.

And there are more. Professor Finn Erik Vinje, of Oslo University, says it is a mistake to say that Norwegians are short on curses. Unsurprisingly, they follow ours pretty closely, in being short and rude and old. Their rudest word, p . . e, is the direct equivalent of f . . k, although to f . . k is to k . . . . e. But enough dots: the professor's favourite word is sussekop, innocuous but satisfying, and less crude than drittsekk, the use of which could lead to blows on an Oslo street, according to the professor. Sussekop means drivel head, which would probably have suited Mr Berntsen's needs better.

Humour. Many people believe that there are no stand-up comics in Norway; the professor says there are, and names the great Rolf Wesenlund. Unfortunately, he couldn't remember a Wesenlund joke, but here is another that is popular at the moment, about some drunken hunters shooting at a farmer on his tractor. The farmer jumps off and runs for his life, whereupon one of the hunters shouts: 'Quick, get the calf, too.' So there you are. I am assured by an unimpeachable source, though, that in Norway the mother-in-law joke simply doesn't exist.