A few months ago, I had the exciting opportunity to take a family trip to Scandinavia. It’s a part of this planet that I never thought I’d get the chance to visit, and I had an unforgettable time traveling through Copenhagen and Stockholm. Beyond the meatballs and the viking paraphernalia, I was on the lookout for one thing and one thing only. A Muppet.
There aren’t many Muppet characters whose nationality we can identify simply by looking at their names. There’s Sam the American Eagle and Pierre the French Rat, but the most famous (and obvious) of them all is none other than the Swedish Chef. The fan favoriteness of this iconic character surely must be global, and my assumption was that there would be something – anything – Swedish Chef-related to find in his home country of Sweden.
Before I left on my trip, I did a little digging. Perhaps the Swedes think of him as a negative stereotype. A Scandinavian Charlie Chan of sorts. Far be it from me to argue this idea, since the Chef certainly isn’t a positive example of anything. He’s sort of dumb and violent and speaks utter gibberish. Truthfully, I wouldn’t think the people of Sweden would find him so insulting, since the only truly Swedish things about him are his name and his overuse of the umlaut. Of course, it’s not up to me to decide who or what is offensive, so it remains a valid possibility.
I asked a good friend of mine who was born and raised in Sweden what he thought of the Chef. I was told that most Swedes didn’t really grow up with the Muppets, so no one seemed to think much of him at all, despite being aware of his existence. So there seemed to be indifference, rather than insult, as proven by my sample size of one.
This shows that, if anything, the Swedish Chef could’ve been seen as insulting solely due to his name, inadvertently creating an easy punchline, making things like the Swedish Chef and Swedish Fish more widely known than IKEA or ABBA. A simple solution would’ve been to change his name in the foreign language translation to avoid further insult. And that’s what happened! His name in his (actual, and not mock Swedish) local tongue is “Svenske Kocken,” which translates to… The Swedish Cook??? Oh no, they changed the wrong bit!
According to this article from Slate.com, some Swedes felt that his accent sounded much more Norwegian than Swedish. Although they aren’t exactly insulted by the Swedish Chef’s existence, they seem mostly confused. But they can certainly find the humor if he’d only laid claim to a different country. You know, like Norway: a country famous for its sense of humor.
Okay, so he’s the Swedish Cook or whatever. Maybe actual Swedish chefs have a real love for the guy. And… maybe not. Check out this video from Good Morning America in 1988, in which chef Jonny Johansson is forced to lay witness to the chaos of the Swedish Chef. He does not seem amused.
Before my visit to Sweden, I spent some time in Denmark (which, to my knowledge, does not claim to be the homeland of any specific Muppet). While I wasn’t on the lookout for anything quite so specific as the Chef, I did have a couple close encounters. First, I spotted this tiny metal Animal figure in a used toy store. It’s a Disney Nano Minifig – one of only two Muppets in the series (the other being Kermit the Frog) and not at all a local offering.
Later, I traveled to Billund for a visit to LEGO headquarters, where I met with the designers of the Sesame Street LEGO set. This is a story for another day, but I did get to see some rare and exciting artifacts, like this life-sized Bert and Ernie portrait in LEGO form.
Already, Denmark is up by two points.
From Denmark, we headed to Sweden, and I kept my eyes and ears and mustache peeled for any sign of the Swedish Chef. My theory was that even if he was considered to be a local stereotype, that could’ve increased the odds of spotting him in a tacky gift shop, alongside the toy viking ships and Little Mermaid snow globes.
Folks, you’re not going to believe this (or maybe you will, since you’ve already read the headline), but I did not spot one visage of the Swedish Chef anywhere in Sweden. Not a single chef’s hat, not a t-shirt that says “Bork,” not a chickie in the baskie. Nothing.
The closest I found was this magnet, found in an aforementioned cheapo gift shop. It’s part of a series of collectible magnets, each of which represents a silly character on a viking ship. The ship’s cook has that big hat, a striped shirt, a necktie, and a cartoonishly large mustache. Could it be him? Could it be a subliminal nod to the classic Muppet character, despite no one in the country wanting to acknowledge his existence in the slightest? Or could it be just an incredible coincidence, and I’m just desperately grasping at straws???
We may never truly know the answer. But we do know this. If the Swedish Chef is anywhere to be found in Sweden, he’s making it very difficult to find him. So we’ll just have to lay claim to him right here in America. Don’t worry, you incomprehensible chef. You’ll always have a home here.
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by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com