“You're never going to get me to do anything Swedish people do,” Peggy Olson told her boyfriend on this week’s episode of “Mad Men.” What do Swedish people do? Or better yet: What do Americans think Swedish people do?”
In 1955, an afternoon paper in Sweden dispatched the Associated Press to ask Americans pretty much that very question. The Minneapolis Sunday Tribune put the story on the front page. Kudos to the anonymous copy editor who wrote this priceless headline.
Anita Ekberg, Smorgasbord, Nude Bathing
That, Says Survey, Is All Americans Know of Sweden
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN – (AP) – The afternoon newspaper Expressen said Saturday most Americans look on Sweden as “a small, peaceful, stable, beautiful country with smorgasbord, nude bathing and loose morals.”
The big Stockholm paper reached that conclusion from a United States-wide survey it sponsored. It had asked the Associated Press to send reporters in the streets of cities in the 48 states and ask the first 10 Americans they met this question:
“When you hear the name Sweden, who do you think about?”
Expressen said: “The 480 answers told quite a lot about what the Americans know about Sweden, our main characteristics:
“Movie actress Anita Ekberg – smorgasbord – nude bathing – loose morals – peacefulness, King Gustaf.”
Expressen made few comments on the poll. In a double-page spread, it mostly listed verbatim the quotations from Americans and let their readers reach their own conclusions.
Here are some of the quotes:
“I have read that men and women bathe nude over there. I would like to go to Sweden.” – Railroad employe, Florida.
“Massages, women with big busts and flaxen hair and that song they sing in Minnesota … 10,000 Swedes marched through the weeds at the battle of Copenhagen. – Cab driver, Pennsylvania.
|Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie performed in Minnesota with the Ice Capades several times in the late 1930s. Here she shook hands with Gov. Elmer Benson. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)|
“Sweden makes me think about sin. But I always think about sin.” – Publicity man, Indiana.
“Most Swedes I have met seemed rather thick-headed.” – Barber, Arizona.
The poll showed Americans generally remember that Greta Garbo was born in Sweden. But they believe Norwegian Sonia Henie and the Danish fairy tale writer, Hans Christian Andersen, were Swedish, too.
“A noble and artistic people. Just look at Jussi Bjoerling, who makes Mario Lanza sound like an air raid siren.” – Policeman, California.
“Nice, well-to-do, red-cheeked, blong people. – Publisher, West Virginia.
“They’re a people we do not have to support with our taxes.” – Government employe, Kansas.
“Blond, blue-eyed girls.” – Retired air officer, Arkansas.
“Gunnar Myrdal, the author. And tall, cool, blond people who have no morals.” – Office worker, Texas.
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The Minnesota State Fair has featured many unusual attractions in its 150-year history: death-defying aerial acts, colliding locomotives, freak shows, live animal births, the Minnesota Iceman and premature babies in incubators. Wait … what? The Minneapolis Morning Tribune was there:
This Minneapolis Tribune story is a mess. But the headline is sublime.
"We're more popular than Jesus now," John Lennon told an British journalist in 1966. A year later, the Monkees' Mike Nesmith, in the Twin Cities for a show at the St. Paul Auditorium, humbly explained his band's place in the cosmic pecking order.
Read it in the voice of Garrison Keillor for the full effect.
A musically inclined vagrant known as Banjo Ben walked the streets of Minneapolis in the city's early days. His weakness for alcohol and penchant for strong language landed him in court with some frequency. In February 1876, for example, he was sentenced to 20 days in jail for spewing obscenities at the St. Paul and Pacific depot. Later that year, he walked into the Tribune newsroom and issued an invitation to witness a spectacular feat at the new suspension bridge under construction nearby.
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