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Ole and Lena Walk Into a Bar…

June 17, 2012 by Hailey Goplen

The other night I was sitting around withe friends talking about summer activities we used to do when we were younger. We talked about camping with families and sitting around the campfire at night make s’mores. The difference between our experiences: While I sat around and told ghost stories with my family, they did something very different. “We used to sit around the camp fire at night and tell Ole and Lena jokes,” she said very nonchalantly.

“Tell what kind of jokes?” I asked.

“Ole and Lena jokes… or Ole and Sven depending on the joke,” she replied.

Of course my curiosity was peaked and thus began an evening of Googling Ole and Lena… and sometimes Ole and Sven jokes. If you are like me and have no idea what these jokes are, let me tell you what I learned through my conversation with friends and a helpful Wikipedia search. Ole and Lena are two characters that show up frequently in jokes popular in the Upper Midwest alongside their friend, Sven. Ole and Lena are from Norway and  Sven is usually thought to be from Sweden. These jokes are not told in Norway or Sweden (according to Wikipedia), but instead originated in the Upper Midwest and often poke fun at language/translation mistakes and Scandinavian stereotypes and traditions. Apparently, these jokes can be a little bit… umm… “scandalous” at times and may be a little culturally offensive as well.

Here is an example of a relatively PG rated joke that I came across while Googling:

Ole is on his deathbed. The doctor has told him he has only a few hours to live. He catches the scent of his favorite bars wafting through the air. With all the strength he can muster, he drags himself into the kitchen and sees a fresh pan cooling on the rack. He cuts one out and bites into the scrumptious cookie. Lena comes in, smacks his hand, and says, “Shame on you, Ole! Dese are for after de funeral!”

As I learned more and more about Ole and Lena, I asked the natural question of why be so specific as to use characters with names? Why not just use general terms like “a guy” or “this girl”? For example, instead of saying, “So Ole and Lena went shopping…”, why not just say, “So this guy and his wife went shopping…”? My friends reply, “Well, because they wouldn’t be Ole and Lena jokes then.”

While logical, I still admit that I’m a little confused. How did these jokes get started and why Ole and Lena? Does anyone know? Has anyone else heard of these jokes? Here is my request to you, please enlighten me about Ole and Lena. Where did they come from and what are some other jokes that are… er… appropriate to share on the blog-o-sphere. I look forward to a good chuckle!


  1. Jennifer says:

    Ole and Lena are probably the most Norwegian names you can get. And the accent just makes them even more authentic, to really make them believable and funnier you see!
    I grew up in North Dakota and while I’m not Norwegian, I know my dad (a German) took great joy in telling Ole and Lena jokes. I think he just liked picking on them to show his German superiority ;). Now live in Philly. My boyfriend is from Brooklyn, and I recently took a risk bringing him home with me. Needless to say my dad hammered him with all the Ole and Lena jokes he could handle. And did not limit them to PG ones. He was speechless. And we’re still together!

  2. Elaine says:

    Ole and Lena jokes are an extention of “Minnesota nice.” Norwegian immigrants utilize self-deprecation rather than offend neighboring Germans, Finns, etc. Norwegians can tell Norwegian jokes. If Swedes or Germans tell them, they are just being mean. Norwegians will politely laugh, but the non-Norwegian teller has NOT endeared himself to them.

  3. Elayne says:

    It’s impossible for me to say where they come from; I’ve just heard (and told) them my entire 60-cough-cough years. My “Cherman” (German) uncle would tell me an Ole and Lena joke, and I’d try to turn it around with “Cherman” characters, and it just doesn’t work. I gave up. I fully embrace Ole and Lena jokes (and even if it’s Sven and Ole, it’s still an Ole and Lena joke!

  4. Nyla Ann Thompson says:

    I’v heard Ole, Lena, Lars, Sven and the Swede stories my entire life. Do not know where they originated from. My Fathers parents were born in Holland, and my Mothers parents are from Missouri. Their parents from Sweden or Norway I was born and raised in South Dakota and 70 years old. Guess they just come with the territory. But I too really enjoy a good joke or story.

  5. Brent Casavant says:

    Ole and Lena decided to take a long overdue vacation, and thought it would be fun to go with their friend Lars to see some shows in Las Vegas. Unfortunately they got a little lost and as they were driving through Death Valley Ole’s Studebaker broke down.

    “Vel now, dis here’s a real problem,” said Lars, “I tink we just passed a sign dat said it’s fitty miles to the next town.”

    “Uff-da!” said Ole. “Dere aven’t been no cars on dis road fur a couple hours. I tink we’ll have to walk dere.” Lars nodded his head in agreement.

    “For sure I’m not gunna sit here in da sun fur a couple days til you come back wit a tow truck, so I’m coming too” said Lena.

    Lars thought about it a bit and then added “It’s gunna take a while to get dere, so I’m gonna’ take my suitcase wit me too so I have a change of clothes. You can put some clothes in dere too, I won’t mind carryin’ dem.”

    “Oh, tank you, dat’s a good idea,” said Lena. “I guess we should take dis cooler an water bottles too, cuz we’ll sure be dursty.”

    While Lars and Lena got their clothes and water bottles ready, Ole got out of the car and rummaged around in the trunk until he found his toolbox. A couple minutes later he’d taken the driver’s door off the car. When they started walking he picked up the door and hauled it along.

    “Say, Ole,” asked Sven “whacha bringing da car door fur?”

    Ole looked pretty proud of himself and said “It’s durn hot out here so dis is fur when I wanna roll down da window.”

  6. Tom Lawrence says:

    Vell, the marriage didn’t work out, ya know.
    The judge had just awarded a divorce to Lena, who had charged non-support.
    He said to Ole, “I have decided to give your wife $800 a month for support.”
    “Vell, dat’s fine, Judge,” said Ole. “And vunce in a while I’ll try ta chip in a few bucks myself.”

  7. Tom Lawrence says:

    A favorite:
    Ole and Lena got married. On their honeymoon trip they were nearing Minneapolis when Ole put his hand on Lena’s knee.
    Giggling, Lena said, “Ole, you can go farther if ya vant to” … so Ole drove to Duluth.

  8. Julie says:

    It was late one night, and Sven noticed the lights on in Ole’s barn, so Sven walked over there to see what was going on. He looked in the window and saw Ole dancing around. He was unbuttoning his shirt as he leaned over, the caressed the side of his Minneapolis-Moline. Then he twirled around and caressed the other side. He then went for the button on his pants when Sven opened the door and yelled “Ole! What in the good lords name are you doing?!” Ole was embarrassed, and said ” Well Sven, Lena and I….well, we’ve been having some problems in the bedroom and the doctor said that I had to be more sexy to attract her.” ( he thought a tractor lol)

  9. J.D. Taylor says:

    A guy named Red Stangland published a mess of Norwegian joke books back in the ’70s. He kept on collecting upper Midwest ethnic humor for years. I’ve still got a couple of the old paper bound “pamphlet” versions around someplace. He owned a radio station in Sioux Falls and one in Iowa. As a good Scandinavian he enjoyed making fun of himself and his relatives. Here’s the rundown on Red –

    One of my favorites:

    Ole looked over at the outhouse and saw Sven standing there with the door open. Sven pulled his wallet out of pocket and tossed it down the hole. Then Sven took off his eyeglasses and tossed them in. Ole hollered, “Sven, what da heck are ya’ doin’ trowin’ yur wallet and specs down da hole?” Sven responded, “I dropt in my watch on accident and I wanna’ make it wort’ da’ effort to go in after it.”

  10. Chuck says:

    I am 100% of Norwegian heritage and I take some pride in our ability to make fun of ourselves with these Ole and Lena jokes. I must admit however, that I am sometimes a bit offended if someone who is NOT of Scandinavian decent tells these jokes since they often insinuate a lack of intelligence. (I.E.- Blond jokes also insinuate a lack of intelligence)

  11. lkj says:

    obviously not up on your prairie home campanion episodes either!?

  12. Travis says:

    Not sure if this is PG, but I’ve seen more scandalous stuff on reruns of Seinfeld.

    Ole, Lena, and Lars were on a car trip when they hit some ice and drove into a telephone pole. Ole was killed on impact. Lena and Lars wound up in the ICU with serious injuries. Ole found himself in the company of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.
    “Ole Olson, before I can let you in, I have to ask you a question.”
    “Go ahead”, said Ole.
    “Ole Olson, did you ever cheat on your wife?”
    “Not me”, said Ole. “I never even thought about it.”
    St. Peter looked in the big book of everything Ole had ever done, and it was true.
    “Well done, Ole. As a reward for being honest and faithful, you get to drive through the streets of gold in a shiny golden Rolls Royce.”
    Ole was pretty pleased with this outcome, so he hopped in the car and drove through the Pearly Gates. Meanwhile, Lars had taken a turn for the worse and died. He too found himself in the presence of St. Peter.
    “Lars Larson, before I can let you in, I have to ask you a question.”
    “Shoot”, said Lars.
    “Lars Larson, did you ever cheat on your wife?”
    Lars furrowed his brow and thought for a while. “Ya know, I vas purdy good, except for one time, and I spose you know about dat.”
    St. Peter looked in the big book and it was true.
    “Well, Lars, you were unfaithful that one time, so you get this Moped to drive around the streets of gold.”
    Some time later, Ole was cruising around the streets of gold in his Rolls Royce when he saw a familiar guy grunting and straining to push his Moped up a hill.
    “Hei Lars! How’s it goin?”
    “Vell Ole, it’s okay except for this dumb Moped.”
    “It’s kinda low on power then?”
    “Ya I guess so. Lena passed me on her skateboard just this morning.”

  13. Travis says:

    When Ole first came to America, he was all alone. On payday, he’d go into the bar, order three beers, drink them and leave. After a few weeks of this, the bartender asked “Ole, why do you always order three beers at once?”
    “Vell”, said Ole, “One is for me. Da udder ones are for my buddies Lars and Sven in the old country.”

    A few weeks later, Ole came in and ordered two beers. The bartender was worried. “Oh no, Ole! Did something happen to one of your friends?”
    “Nah. I just quit drinking.”

  14. Bob says:

    It’s important to remember while reading all these jokes, that the accent is very important! Sometimes a joke is WRITTEN without much accent – but without the heavy, rather exaggerated and comical accent – the joke is just a plain joke. I think the accent gives it a fun, playful twist that makes them more unique than say – “blonde” jokes. Even reading them in your head – remember to change their voices, or the joke just won’t be as funny.

  15. Scott says:

    Ole took a trip to Fargo, North Dakota. While in a bar, a Swede on the next stool spoke to Ole in a friendly manner. “Look,” he said, “let’s play a little game. I’ll ask you a riddle. If you can answer it, I’ll buy YOU a drink. If you can’t answer it then you buy ME a drink. Okay?” “Ya,” says Ole, “dat sounds purty good to me”. The Swede proceeded to ask Ole, “My father and mother had one child. It wasnt’ my brother and it wasn’t my sister. Who was it?” Ole scratched his head and finally said, “I give up. Who vas it?” “It was me,” laughed the Swede. So Ole paid for the Swede’s drink. When Ole got back home to Minnesota he ran into Sven in a bar. “Sven,” Ole says, “I got a game for you to play. If you can answer the question, I’ll buy you a drink. If you can’t, YOU have to buy ME vun. Okay?” Sven agreed. “Ok…my fadder and mudder had vun kid. It vasnt’ my brudder and it vasn’t my sister. Who vas it?” Search me,” said Sven, “I give up, who was it?” Ole says, “It vas some Swede up der in Fargo, North Dakota.”

    • Amanda says:

      hehehe. This one made me giggle out loud! I miss hearing Ole & Lena jokes. I do get to hear them every now and again when I get back to visit my Norwegian family & their friends in SD!

  16. Bob says:

    Have you heard about Ole and the pickle slicer? That is a good one!

  17. Tom S says:

    I’m originally from the Iron Range where there are less Norwegians and more Finlanders, so we told the same jokes with Ano and Tiovo instead of Ole and Sven. My adjustment of moving west was a little easier than yours, I just had to change a few names.

  18. Wanna B Sure says:

    An interesting feature about these jokes, that while being ethenic, the Norwegians I know, including my family, and Norsk cousins are not offended. They send them back and forth to this very day. The Swedes I know feel the same way. One of my retirement hobbies is playing the accordion in several nursing homes. I usually share two or three jokes when I play. They ask for them, and they enjoy them. Problem is finding enough “clean” ones suitable.

  19. Kathy says:

    These jokes are hilarious! I think I could become a fan.

  20. Brent Casavant says:

    So Sven decided to build a new barn, and invited Ole over to help him build it. Through the day the barn was coming along nicely, and it was getting near lunchtime, so Sven took his lunch pail and walked over to where Ole was working attaching panels to his side of the barn.

    Sven noticed that Ole would take a nail out of his bag, look at it carefully, and then throw it away. He kept doing this over and over, every once in a while stopping and hammering the nail into the barn.

    “Hey Ole, why are you trowing away all dem dere nails?” asked Sven.

    “Oh, well, you see I can’t use dose nails, doncha’ know. Dere all pointing da wrong way!” replied Ole.

    “Ole, Ole, Ole” sighed Sven as he shook his head. “Don’t throw dem dere nails away — dose are for da udder side uf da barn!”

  21. Jordan says:

    I think part of the reason they’re still around is that they’re the only jokes some people can successfully tell.

    That being said, here comes a pretty long one.

    Ole, having made quite a few mistakes in life, ended up going to Hell after he died. Satan walks up to greet him and notices that, despite the heat, that Ole is still wearing his usual outfit: white t-shirt, a flannel shirt, overalls tucked into his boots, and he’s carrying a hat with ear flaps attached. Needless to say, Satan is surprised. He said to Ole, “Aren’t you a little hot?”

    Ole responded “Oh, I suppose, but you should see NorDakota in the fall when you’re combining barley. You like to stay covered up. And you get used to it.”

    Satan walks off, decides that his mission for the day will be to get Ole to take off the flannel shirt, and makes it about 50 degrees hotter. He walks back to Ole and is surprised to see his flannel shirt still on, although he has the sleeves rolled half-way to his elbows and the top two buttons undone.

    When asked about the heat, Ole replied that he’d spent a couple summers digging ditches in South Dakota, and that while the heat can be bad, he’d get used to it.

    Satan is now more determined to get Ole to take the shirt off, so he increases Hell’s temperature by another 100 degrees. As he walks back, he sees that Ole has unbuttoned the shirt halfway, and rolled the sleeves to his elbows, but the flannel stubbornly remains on.

    “Oh ya, I helped a friend in Nebraska move some irrigation pipes one summer. This heat isn’t quite as bad as that was. I suppose you get used to it,” says Ole.

    Now Satan’s mad. He’s sure he’ll show Ole and cranks the temperature as high as it will go. He walks back, confident that he will have one. But he is amazed to see the stubborn Norwegian with the flannel still on, although it is now unbuttoned and the sleeves are rolled almost to the top.

    Ole had shoveled out grain bins at a cousin’s farm in Texas a couple of times, you see, and this heat was almost as bad as that was, he informed Satan.

    Satan has given up at this point, but wants to see what Ole would do in the cold. So he shuts the heat completely off. All the flames die, molten rivers harden, and ice cycles form everywhere. Satan walks back to where Ole stood and isn’t shocked to see the flannel on tight again, with the buttons done up to the neck and the sleeves rolled down. Ole even had the ear flaps down on his hat.

    He WAS shocked, however, to see Ole running around, cheering, and hugging everyone in sight. Satan stops him and says, “Ole, what’s going on? Why are you so excited?”

    “Why am I so excited? Don’t you know what this means?”

    “No Ole, what?”

    With a huge grin on his face, Ole responded, “This means The Vikings have finally won the Super Bowl.”

  22. troy says:

    I don’t know where it got started but I’ll tell you… as a twelve year old kid, I heard more dirty jokes courtesy drunken parents who forgot that kids can hear about the exploits of these “Ole and Lena” people through thin tent walls…

  23. Wanna B Sure says:

    I used to tell a lot of Norwegian Ole and Lena jokes years ago, but now days, some people can be offended by them, so, now I tell Hittite jokes instead. You know of the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites from the Bible. The Hittites no longer exist, so no one should be offended. Right?—–Did you hear about this Hittite couple? Ole and Lena?

  24. Carla Gira says:

    Ole and Lena jokes were definitely popular when I grew up in North Dakota in the 1960’s and beyond. Quite a few “dirty” jokes included as well. It’s been so long that I no longer remember the jokes. BUT — Barnes & Noble carry quite a few Ole and Lena joke books. Check them out!

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