The Saga of the Grill, Part I

Jun. 2 - Suddenly it's June. I'll get around to that eventually. First I need to begin the Saga of the Grill.

The Saga of the Grill is important because it's helping me understand Janteloven, a debilitating condition indigenous to the Danes.

Like more familiar afflictions such as Stupidity and Bad Taste, Janteloven is one of those widespread conditions that seems to afflict everyone but the person describing it. I have to assume that I've become infected myself, so you'll have to take my words with more than the usual pound of salt.

Janteloven means "The Law of Jante." Jante is a parochial Danish village in Aksel Sandemose's 1933 novel, En Flyktning Krysser Sit Spor ("A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks"). I haven't read it, but Jente sounds like Sinclair Lewis's Main Street could have run right through it.

The law that takes its name from this imaginary village is actually a set of ten moral commandments. After looking around the web at various translations, I've decided to attempt my own, with considerable help from the DMB.

1. Du skal ikke tro at du er noget.
Don't think that you are anyone.

2. Du skal ikke tro du er lige så meget som os.
Don't think you're our equal.

3. Du skal ikke tro du er klogere end os.
Don't think you're wiser than us.

4. Du skal ikke bilde dig ind at du er bedre end os.
Don't even imagine you're better than us.

5. Du skal ikke tro du ved mere end os.
Don't think you know more than we do.

6. Du skal ikke tro du er mere end os.
Don't think you're more than us.

7. Du skal ikke tro at du duer til noget.
Don't think you can ever do anything good.

8. Du skal ikke le ad os.
Don't laugh at us.

9. Du skal ikke tro at nogen bryder sig om dig.
Don't think anyone gives a damn about you.

10. Du skal ikke tro du kan lære os noget.
Don't think you're going to teach us anything.

The American reader will immediately recognize that these commandments apply perfectly to a familiar icon: the sitcom neighbor. From Lucy Ricardo's snarky, status-seeking lady friends on I Love Lucy, to the perpetually hysterical Ethel and her laconic Abner on Bewitched, to Frank Burns, Hot Lips, and Winchester on M*A*S*H, to virtually everyone in Seinfeld's New York and Homer's Springfield (with the possible exception of Ned Flanders, who's irritating because of his goodness), the disapproving, jealous, petty, trouble-making friend or neighbor is a staple of American television.

It is also, apparently, a staple of Danish life. (But please remember that, as I said earlier, it's a condition that only applies to other Danes.)

Now that you understand Janteloven, or at least misunderstand it the same way I do, I can begin the Saga of the Grill.

Like all good Sagas, this one begins with a trip to a great big retail outlet. We made the trip the week we arrived to get the four or five products of human civilization that didn't appear to be jammed into some obscure drawer of our "furnished" apartment. One of the things we needed was a gas grill, and we got one.

It's a little grill, but we figured it'd be enough to get us through the 10-12 months we expect to live here. (Here's a picture.)

A week or two after we got it—by which time we'd used it maybe five or six times—I was sitting out on the patio sipping a cup of coffee when I noticed an Unhappy Person standing on the other side of the flower boxes that separate our patio from the shared courtyard. He was staring at me intently and unpleasantly.

"Hej," I said. (Back then, that was almost my entire Danish vocabulary.)

"Blarg blarg blarg," the man said sharply. "Yarga blarga blar blar yar!"

I shrugged my shoulders and apologized, in English, for not speaking Danish.

"Blarg blarg blarg!" the unhappy creature continued. He jabbed his finger toward the grill. "Snooga blooga yarga blarg!"

"Nej Dansk," I said. "Amerikensk." (That was the rest of my Danish vocabulary.)

Now, anyone with half a brain would have realized that an Unhappy Person abusing them in a foreign language probably wouldn't be mollified by one's American citizenship. He only got more agitated.

He got a good foaming rant up, pointing this way and that and sputtering on with his blurgs and yargles until I finally picked up my cell phone, dialed the DMB, and handed my phone to the Lunatic.

He yurgled at her for a few moments, then handed me back the phone.

"You cannot have grill on your patio," he said in pretty smooth English. "You must cook your food down in the picnic area." And with that he was gone.

The DMB called me back—I guess he had hung up on her accidentally—and said that he'd told her it was against the rules to have a grill on our patio. "I don't mind," he'd told her, "but some people might."

I didn't chase the Lunatic down and lay into him with a heavy dose of choice American yurgles—although some people might have. No, the DMB and I reacted with practiced New York Stoicism: we ignored him. After all, he said he didn't mind, but that some people might. As long as no one who actually minded was complaining, why worry?

How naive a question is that? I'm out of time and space for now, so I'll tell you tomorrow.

# # #

(Once I'm done with the Saga of the Grill there are a few observations I'd like to share from my trip to Germany, especially concerning a certain precious black liquid, but they can wait.)

# # #

A reader points out that I credited JFK for the "nothing to fear but fear itself" quote in the May 27th briefing, when the phrase actually originated with FDR, who used it in 1933 as part of his first inaugural address. JFK should have been remembered for his "I am a jelly-filled donut speech," delivered in Berlin.

I apologize for the error and would like to express the appropriate level of contrition, regret, or remorse. I'd really like to.

I thank the reader for bringing this to my attention and am renewing her subscription free of charge.

Another reader points out that in addition to titillating the search engines with last week's briefing about mammary glands and the textile products designed for them, I triggered his company's porn-blocking filter, which is interesting in that the previous briefing had been about irony.

Yet another reader, reflecting on the May 26 briefing, suggests that I add an "Articles by Idiots" link to my index page, which is a really good idea and one that I hope to get around to soon. The only problem is that before I can do that I need to identify the difference between morons and idiots—a question that has baffled modern science for thousands of years.

# # #

June is the sixth month of the year and consists of thirty days. The ancient Romans gave it twenty-nine days until 46 BC, when Julius Caesar added the thirtieth for reasons known only to himself. The last day of the month is therefore referred to as its "Caesarian Section" by calendar insiders.

The month is believed to derive its name from either the Roman goddess Juno, patron goddess of marriage, or the Greek Juniko, god of charcoal briquets.

June marks the transition from spring to summer in the northern hemisphere, and from fall to winter in the southern hemisphere.

June has traditionally been the most popular month for weddings; it is commonly overlooked that it is also one of the top twelve months for bathtub drownings and spontaneous human combustions.

I've got to play a little catch-up since I ignored June 1 in last week's extended briefing. That was Children's Day in China, Laos, and Mozambique; Self-Rule Day in Kenya; Navy Day in Mexico; and President's Day in Palau. It marked the birthdays of Alanis Morissette (1974), Morgan Freeman (1937), Pat Boone (1934), Andy Griffith (1926), Marilyn Monroe (1926), and Brigham Young (1801).

Today is the second of June, so try to go easy on the Beaver: it's Jerry Mathers's birthday (1948). Other birthday celebrants include Marvin Hamlisch (1944), Johnny Weissmuller (1904), Thomas Hardy (1840), the Marquis de Sade (1740), and King Henry VIII of England (1491).

Happy Monday!

© 2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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