Guaranteed Norwegian

Nordic Noir on BBC4 on Monday was a lesson in many things, but pronunciation was not one of them. The Resident IT Consultant (who fell asleep towards the end) fondly imagined that the Danish Mariella Frostrup would cope well with the Nordic names. Not even the Norwegian-born Mariella could do anything but sound British, though at least she did so in that sexy voice people go potty over.

The programme didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, so was one of those I sometimes moan about, which assumes the customer is new to the topic, and there is no need to take it further. Quite fun to tick the number of people who took part who I’d met. Poor souls.

The wise participants, like actor Krister Henriksson (Wallander) and author Maj Sjöwall, were interviewed in Swedish. It must be tempting to say yes to requests to do an interview in English. When you can. But it’s worth remembering you ‘can’ less than you think. Krister and Maj came across as intelligent, rounded people because there was nothing to stop them from saying exactly what they wanted to say.

Val McDermid

Val McDermid, likewise, sounded good, Scottish accent and all. She knows her stuff when it comes to Nordic crime. And OK, Jo Nesbø speaks good English. But it’s not as good as his Norwegian, I’d guess. It was he who mentioned some form of music (Norwegian metal?) and CDs in Latin America labelled as being ‘Guaranteed Norwegian’.

Karin Fossum sounded somewhat less bloodthirsty in English, so it might have been a blessing she didn’t speak Norwegian after all. After hearing Karin in Bristol I remember having a good look at her books, and coming to the conclusion I wasn’t up to reading them.

They rather skirted past Arnaldur Indridason and Iceland. Some nice scenery. Though speaking of scenery, I wonder whether much of any of it was of what they talked about. Ystad is always Ystad, of course. Even when it’s Yshtad.

That wasn’t the only disappointment. I can see that a non-native speaker may choose to put the stress on the first syllable only. Or the second syllable. You’re allowed to get it wrong (though I have said before that most people would try to get a French name correct, and you can always ask around if you are presenting for the BBC). But how come the stress-on-the-first-syllable words invariably got stressed on the second and vice versa? Wallander and Sahlander rhyme. Stress-on-second-syllable names. Mankell is a stress-on-first-syllable name.

Henning Mankell

With Wallander the programme went a little tabloid over the suicide of an actress. Sad but irrelevant. And Stieg Larsson was fat. Really? Maybe Stieg lived off junk food and smoked himself to death, but I wouldn’t call him fat.

His friend John-Henri Holmberg would have come across much better in Swedish. He was obviously in a position to say a lot about his friend, but could have said more. I dare say he’s saving it for the book about Stieg he’s writing with a few others.

In fact, this whole programme confirmed why we often think foreigners are idiots. They are not. And it’s time British television interviewed more people in their own language. In this case we had a bunch of interviewees who make a good living off their mother tongues. I’d have liked more considered facts, spoken by people who were comfortable with what they were saying.

But other than that, I enjoyed my hour on Nordic Noir. It confirmed why I don’t read more of it, though.

10 responses to “Guaranteed Norwegian

  1. Very interesting post, if an uncharacteristically disgruntled one. Martin Edwards has also written a somewhat more gruntled one on the show, if that’s the way to put it. I try to imagine a U.S. station putting this on, however good or bad, but fail, despite the current Nordic boom.

    I’ve only read a little Mankell, a little Indridason, and one Larsson so far. I plan to read more, but time gets away from me, and I’m afraid I will never learn to stress the syllables right, though I would if I was on a TV show about them.

  2. Thanks, Seana. I’ve been over to read http://doyouwriteunderyourownname.blogspot.com/2010/12/nordic-noir.html
    and Martin IS more gruntled, which is good. I’m just a horrible old witch, really.

    You can mispronounce all you want. But I feel presenters should at least try.

  3. I like to pronounce properly if I can and any Bookwitch help with Swedish is much appreciated. Did Frostrup get Sjowall and Walloo right? And what about Kareeeen Fossum? Is that the way to say : Karin?? But I agree with you about the marginalization of my beloved Indridasson. I’ve never read a single Wallander book….the tv version is fine with me. Don’t go for the movie Wallander myself. But do not deny yourself a go at Fossum. She’s marvellous I think. And if you can take Jo Nesbo (I’m not all that mad about him myself) then Fossum will be fine. And yes, always better to interview someone in their native language. Apart from anything else, all these Swedes and Norwegians talking almost perfect English does show up how rubbish we British are when required to say anything in another tongue. Will now go over and see what Martin Edwards has to say!

  4. PS…isn’t Haken Nesser gorgeous?? I like his books as well. Sorry to see no mention of Johan Theorin but they couldn’t do everyone I suppose. Please forgive any misspellings. Too lazy to check on the internet! And can’t do accents…

  5. No, but I stopped moaning. It’s first syllable stress for both Sjöwall and Wahlöö. Can’t drool over Håkan Nesser, I’m afraid. But he is very tall. Have never considered the finer differences between a Norwegian Karin and a Swedish one, but I want it to sound like the vowel sound in ‘Gwyn’, except possibly with a slightly longer vowel. It’s virtually the same as Karen, but with a more closed vowel. And there IS the tonality…
    I felt they wanted to concentrate on Stieg Larsson and threw the others in to make it Nordic. To cover all well known Nordic crime writers you’d need a very long programme.
    Yes, they all spoke English better than most English language authors would French (you excepted), but I still notice what they are not saying because they suddenly realised they don’t know how. And that’s because I do it myself, even after all these years.

  6. I have also read a couple of gruntled posts about this programme so it´s good to hear your Scandinavian take on it.

    And of course most people sound smarter when they are allowed to speak in their own language. I feel rather comfortable writing English, but I´d certainly prefer to be interviewed in Danish.

  7. Hope you know that disgruntled is always fine with me. Martin Edwards is never so, but he might be a saint and we can’t compete with that.

    I am of various minds about Stieg, but he is taking a bit too much credit, even posthumously. Mankell was making inroads to an international audience well before, and I hate to think that anyone thinks all the fine Scandinavian crime novelists are riding Larsson’s coattails. I can’t really account for how good they are, but there it is.

    Now if only everyone would get similarly tuned into the Irish crimewriting bonanza…

  8. Yes, Martin is very polite. Not something that can be said about me.

    I suspect Stieg’s role is that of J K Rowling, as far as press coverage goes. They can’t see anything else, so go on and on about the same thing. There is more good crime out there, just like there is/was a lot more to children’s books than dear Harry.

  9. I enjoyed this programme very much – any noir is welcome viewing for me. Contrary to our esteemed Bookwitch, I’m not entirely au fait with the Nordic varierty. So I was glad to re-visit books I admire and to be introduced to writers new to me. I automatically dislike books with stickers on the front proclaiming ‘The New…’ and this was a welxome lesson in putting such prejudices aside. Thanks to the Bookwitch for a heads up on pronouciation, though, always useful fpr us Anglo Saxons.

    Meery Christmas!

  10. You are so right, Celia. I should remember that not everyone is the same. And no programme maker or article writer can ever please both the novice and the old hand. I suppose it’s just that when I have an interest in something, then I look for/hope for more, rather than same again.

    I’ll just have to go round and interview these people.

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