For those unfamiliar with Norwegian humour, the name of the restaurant Ben Reddik in Grünerløkka refers to one of the characters in an extremely popular film from many years ago, Flåklypa Grand Prix. The film is an emblematic portrait of an important part of Norwegian mentality, with the (anti-) hero Reodor Felgen as its main character.
His title is actually bike repair man (sykkelreparatør), but he is more than that, an inventor type, seemingly modest both in apparition and behaviour, but capable of creating all kinds of fun technical gadgets, like for instance a wooden box for recycling used tobacco smoke, which you strap onto your back. This way you can both save money on tobacco and save your immediate environment from breathing your cigarette smoke.
Reodor looks like a typical Norwegian of my father’s generation, and you can still see his type many places here. The nickname Reodor (Felgen) is still a common expression for the ability to fix or invent anything practical, anytime anywhere, which is actually a typical national inventiveness, also in other connections than practical and technical. It must have developed out of geography, fun, and the relative lack of traditional European education.
The northerners even have a saying for it – vi træng ikkje pæng, vi fikser med stræng, (we don’t need doe, we fix it with wire).
In the real north (remember that Norway is about 2000 km long) – the improvisation has also gone thoroughly even into the language, and the ability to create words and expressions on the spot has been common there and in other parts too. Probably still is.
Reodor Felgen is the product of Kjell Aukrust’s mind, who was an artist and writer and the creator of Flåklypa Times (Flåkypa tidende), the local newspaper of an imaginary place in a valley of Norway, which came in several volumes in the 60’s and 70’s. It actually contains a lot stranger things tham just local news, and the humour touches upon many different issues from public life.
A felg means the rim of a wheel – and this constructed last name illustrates another side of Norwegian humour – slapstick, practical humour, visuality – these tools or modes are never far away.
Flåklypa as a place name actually exists, but I don’t think anyone lives there. I had some motor trouble there many years ago, and accidentally noticed the road sign, not far from Lom.
Aukrust himself came from Alvdal, quite a few hours drive from the actual Flåklypa. Alvdal is partly the inspiration for the fictional Flåklypa.
The author has also given a witty impression of the real Alvdal in Bror min (My Brother) and other autobiographical works. A great humourist and also illustrator of his own books, he has given us a picture of an important part of Norwegian culture. We have after all always been rural to a large extent, despite a normal output also of “European” art, music, etc.
The landscape I grew up in, in Asker, just outside Oslo, is very much recognisable even in those drawings from Alvdal, which is further up the land from my home place. The Eastern hills and slopes resemble each other across a large area.
In the film, one of the sponsors, I believe, of the car race, is sheikh Ali Ben Redik Fy Fazan, who meets our countryside heroes in the tent that he brought with him from his homeland. He also brought with him a beautiful bellydancer, who has just about time to turn the head of Solan, who sees her in a glimpse through the tent opening. Solan is an outgoing and optimistic chap, always willing to take a chance, the complete opposite of his friend Ludvig, whose gloomy slogan is “The Northern winds blow from everywhere”.
The film is animated, played with dolls made by Ivo Caprino, who is also famous for animated versions of Norwegian fairy tales and other stories.
Racism was already rife in Norway when the film appeared (1975), but I don’t think sheikh Ali or the film contributed substantially to it. “Fy Fazan” is a “foreignised” and euphemistic version of “fy faen”, the most common Norwegian swearword, but knowing Aukrust and Caprino and their work you have to think very strangely to interpret the character as racist, rather the opposite. His accent is comic, but all characters are comic, and we see in him, for instance, a guy who is confident enough to give respect to his hosts.
All characters, in the film and the stories, are comic, maybe except Reodor himself, who is actually more of a wise grandfather, the person who “owns” the humour. His personality also resembles Aukrust’s, in the film especially, and also in sequels, which have been made in recent years.
The humour of Norway often resonates to a coarse background, not necessarily in a bad way, but it is completely strewn with irony, hints and double meanings, it is often difficult to see through to the last end of it. Which is also often the point, to pull your leg.