Thursday, September 17, 2009

Are Ole and Lena jokes kosher?

I was in touch yesterday with a Chicago native (or at least a long-time Chicago resident) who had never heard of Ole and Lena jokes. I couldn’t believe my Midwestern ears! I guess Scandinavian-bashing stops east of the Mississippi.

(If you don’t know about Ole and Lena jokes, just google “Ole and Lena” and you’ll see some. Or visit Ole and Lena for more information.)

Even my Swedish husband enjoys Ole and Lena jokes although he raises an interesting issue: He points out that ethnic jokes, for the most part, are socially unacceptable in the U.S. Yet people accept Ole and Lena jokes. (Generally Ole and Lena – and their friend Sven – are portrayed as dumb as doorknobs.) He wonders why this is, and if it’s changing – that in a few years even Ole and Lena jokes will be considered vicious.

He may have a point. A few years ago I was at an optometrist in Minneapolis wearing a T-shirt purchased in Minneapolis that said “Pray for me! I’m married to a Swede!” The woman who was assisting gave me a funny look then said, “What’s wrong with Swedes? My husband is Swedish (i.e. Swedish-American).” She was mildly offended. I then double trumped her, explaining that my mother is “100% Swedish” by American standards and that I’m married to the real McCoy, which is why I bought the shirt! But I wear it only in the U.S., never in Sweden.

What do you think? Is it time to outlaw Ole and Lena jokes?

Friday, September 11, 2009

He still sounds like a man

Yesterday I downloaded the transcript of a conversation between two well-known freelance writers. As I was skimming through it, one section in particular caught my eye. One of the speakers in describing his typical day said he often has two hours free in the middle of the day. That’s when he goes running or to the gym. I noticed he didn’t say that’s when “I go to the dry cleaners, take the kids for haircuts, do the laundry, clean the bathroom, go grocery shopping, etc.” He went on to say how lucky he is to have a wife who “loves to cook dinner,” and the other speaker chirped in that his “life would be over” without his wife.

I didn’t read this conversation looking for justification about why life is tough for women who work full-time outside the home. But when I stumble on stuff like this, it’s just so glaring.

Someone may have the best, most helpful, most liberated husband in the world, who does and shares the obvious household tasks, but I’ll swear until my dying day there is an invisible line in the sand for heterosexual couples that no man will cross. Men consciously or subconsciously leave the “extra” work for their wives because they know, at some level, the wives are there and will pick up the slack. It’s not necessarily intentional or mean-spirited. It just happens. (Maybe it’s because they were conditioned by their mothers. But even here in equality-driven Sweden where most children have been in daycare with full-time working moms for at least two generations, study after study shows that women still do the vast majority of housework, and not by choice.)

Unless the wife is physically out of the picture, men often don’t know, realize, or think about all that the wife does. I know of a situation (in the U.S.) where the wife died and a few months after her death when he had sole responsibility for the household and the kids, the husband admitted he never realized how much his wife did around the house (granted, she was a full-time homemaker). Of course husbands can be asked to do more, beyond the obvious, but who enjoys being a nag?

I wonder if the speakers’ wives work outside the home. And what the first speaker’s wife thinks about his comment, “I’m very lucky I have a spouse who loves to make dinner.” (And clean, and run errands, and patch the siding, and fix the toilet, etc. – all the small stuff I doubt he thinks of.)

There's a difference between telling and showing someone that you appreciate them. You need a little of both.

I don’t know him personally; he may be a good guy.

But he still sounds like a man!