Øresund Øffensiv

The heat hit first. Emanating from the mass of bodies, it clung to our skin as we dithered along the aisle, looking for free seats in the cinema-cum-sauna. We found two too near to the screen, draped clean towels over the burgundy upholstery, sat down and shuffled out of our clothes.

‘Good evening folks! Welcome to Ritz Cinemas and our first showing of Nude Tuesday! As some of you may have already gathered, this is a clothing-optional showing. If this wasn’t communicated to you beforehand or you are feeling uncomfortable, please do let me – or one of our helpers here this evening – know. I’m sure we can get you to a screening of – I don’t know – Top Gun or something else instead. There will also be other clothing-mandatory times you can catch this film too – don’t worry.’

The MC continued to soothe and explain and clarify and take the edge off of the jitteriness in the room. After some final words and applause, the ads began to roll. We held each other’s hands, ecstatic with the novelty.

The spoken gibberish is subtitled in English. The acting carries the story; the subtitles buttress the laughter. A scene of a wife rejecting her husband’s advances doubles its laughs once we read what her excuse is. When her mother then gets nosy and tries to help with the situation, the comedy comes from both the innuendo in gibberish, and its translation. A soaring sonorous poem by the sex guru played by Jermaine Clement is later rendered flacid and pathetic in English. The miscommunication, the subtitles, the gibberish – it’s hilarious.

The gibberish is faux-Scandi. Prior to filming, the Kiwi actors had listened to Icelandic radio for two weeks straight, and attempted to not sound too French, too Italian, too Greek. The choice of Nordic was astute, not only because Northern Europeans are notoriously comfortable in the nude, but also because the Nordic languages have a long history of miscommunication.

Norwegians, for example, cannot agree on how to write their language, and have created riksmål, bokmål, nynorsk, høgnorsk and many other shades of måls and norsks inbetween. Another example is Cnut, King of Denmark between 1018 and 1035, whose musings on the tide dumbfounded not only his contemporaries but has also had historians, linguists and philosophers scratching their heads for almost a millenium. (Ironically, Cnut’s grandfather Harald Blåtand, King of Denmark c. 958 – c. 986, is the namesake of the communications protocol Bluetooth.)

The best example of Nordic confusion though stems from Norwegian television. Uti vår hage, a Norwegian show named after a Swedish folk song, filmed a documentary of life in Denmark in 2003, revealing how Danes were no longer able to communicate with one another in Danish. In the footage, a Dane attempts to buy a new bike tyre, but ends up with a kamelåså instead.

For me, the Danish language has collapsed into meaningless guttural sounds.

An unhappy customer, Episode 1, Uti vår hage

When the documentary first aired in Denmark, it was wrongly interpreted to be a spoof and Swedes were wrongly identified to be the culprits. Danish protestors lined the shore facing Sweden and launched sausages across the strait. Swedes retaliated with meatballs. The ongoing Øresund Øffensiv remains to be the major obstacle to Swedish ascession to NATO.

After the film and dressed again, my partner and I debriefed over a fake-herring smörgåsbord and salmon smørresbrød at Feilkommunikasjon. ‘Läcker,’ my partner grinned, savouring the lingonberry jam. ‘I really enjoyed the film.’

‘Me too,’ I agreed.

‘The choice of Nordic was particularly apt,’ she expounded, ‘given how prevalent miscommunication in that region is. Take, for example, the Öresund Öffensiv, where the Swedes started throwing pannbiff at the Danes. The Danes retaliated with frikadellen. It all started with a Finnish TV documentary…’

‘Wasn’t it…’ I butt in, but she is having none of it. I stand my ground. She retaliates, so I throw salmon and she throws herring and covers me in lingonberry jam but wham what a shot but oh no her towel and we shout at one another across straits descending into meaningless guttural sounds, gibbering away.

I look at us both, ryebreaded and leverpostejed, and ask, ‘What are we fighting about again?’

She blinks and looks at me. ‘I don’t know – it’s all Greek to me.’