Sytennde Mai
John Norberg, humor columnist s

Being a good husband I always remember to buy a gift for my wife on Valentine's Day. There are two reasons why I remember.

First, I remember because I love my wife. Second, I remember because Valentine's Day is heavily advertised on ESPN.

          I see this as an ESPN social service project. It keeps men out of trouble on Valentine's Day.

          Now, if I could just get ESPN to advertise my wife's birthday I'd be in great shape.

          One day I never forget every year is Sytennde Mai – which is Norwegian for the 17th of May. Sytennde Mai was Friday.

          To people of Norwegian heritage, the 17th of May is what the Fourth of July means to all of us in America. Sytennde Mai is Norwegian Independence Day honoring the time when they finally threw off the shackles of the Swedish tyrants.

          Norwegians and Swedes have had some difficulties getting along over the past thousand years or so. They're still working on this. They're actually all very friendly people.

          But as we all know, it's easier to get along with someone who lives thousands of miles away than it is to make peace with your neighbors who live on the same peninsula and have this thing about wanting to conquer you every century or so.

          I am a Norwegian American and I celebrate Sytennde Mai and our independence from Sweden to honor my ancestors.

          Sytennde Mai is an easy day to remember because the date is the name of the celebration – the 17th of May. If we renamed Valentine's the 14th of February and my wife's birthday the 17th of November, I'd remember them, too.

          Or maybe her birthday is the 17th of October. I don't know. It's around there somewhere.

          My wife is a naturalized Norwegian. That means my Norwegian friends gave her honorary Norske status just for putting up with me.

          I remember the first time my Norwegian heritage came up when we were dating.

          Me: "Why don't you come to my house two weeks from tonight and I'll make you a very special dinner."

          Future wife: "That sounds romantic. I didn't know you could cook. What are you going to make? And why do you want to wait two weeks?"

          Me: "I'm making lutefisk and it takes two weeks to prepare."

          Future wife: "Two weeks for one meal? That is impressive. It sounds like a lot of work. Is lutefisk French? Italian? Maybe Greek? I love Greek food."

          Me: "It's Norwegian. I'm Norwegian. It's our most famous, traditional Norwegian dish."

Future wife: "I think I've heard of that. But you say it's Norwegian. Don't Swedish people eat it?"

Me: "Yes, they eat it all the time. But the Swedes stole it from us. Whatever the Norwegians have the Swedes try and take from us. Ever since the Swedes first tasted our lutefisk they haven't been able to get enough of it."

          Future wife: "Okay. So tell me about this lutefisk."

          Me: "It's wonderful. It's white fish – cod."

          Future wife: "Sounds delicious. No doubt it's prepared with lots of seasoning and a delicious sauce."

          Me: "Not exactly. I can see you've never dated a Norske. Let me explain. To make lutefisk, first you soak the cod in cold water for six days. Then you soak it for two more days in a lye solution."

          Future wife: "Lye?  Like in soap?"

          Me: "Sort of."

          Future wife: "Lye like in household drain opener?"

          Me: "Wait, I'm not finished yet. You're going to love this."

          Future wife: "I'm going to love eating eight day old fish that tastes like lye? Why couldn't your ancestors have come from Italy? Can you make lasagna or pesto pasta?"

          Me: "When you get through soaking the cod in the lye solution, it has consistency of jelly. And of course it's not edible."

          Future wife: "You're finally making sense."

          Me: "To make it edible you next soak the cod in more cold water for another six days and it gets all puffy. Then you bake it in the oven and bring it to the table."

          Future wife: "So you're offering me a Norwegian dinner of two-week old puffy fish soaked in water and lye. And I suppose you complete the romantic setting with scented candles?"

          Me: "No candles. But I do spray the house with air freshener because cooking lutefisk smells so bad the cat sometimes passes out."

          Future wife: "Gee I'm sorry, but I'm sure I'm busy when you plan to cook this dinner. Just out of curiosity, what else do you Norwegians eat?"

          Me: "Great stuff -- herring, mackerel, reindeer . . ."

          I eventually won her over with my charm, my good looks and a prenuptial agreement that she would never have to eat Lutefisk.

          That was fine with me. Ja, we Norwegians talk all the time about lutefisk being our national dish. Ja, it's our heritage. Ja it's in our blood. Ja it's our pride.

          Ja we talk about it and prepare it. But we Norwegians never actually eat the disgusting stuff.

          What do you think we are? A bunch of crazy Swedes.

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