Annika von Hausswolff, Back to Nature, 1993 © Annika von Hausswolff. Reproduction photo: Alf Pergeman

National Anathema


A slide show:
A cottage on the bedrock.
A sleeping baby in a car safety-seat.
Two freckled ladies in headscarves (chuckling).
A bowl of raspberries.
A man using a mobile, in front of a fountain.
Children playing on a forest path.
A washing-up brush.
A smiling elf (drawn).
Then it begins all over again.
The cottage, the baby, the ladies, the raspberries.

He prepares, looks out at the audience, arranges his papers, fills his glass with water.

They have eight different festivals, and they’re all about different trees.
They have special factories to make toothpicks.

Slide 1: Welcome! (Please switch off your mobile phones).

I’d like to wish you all welcome this evening, it’s nice to see that so many of you have made your way here despite the weather. I can spot several new faces, and that’s always nice. But I also with an afterpush really much underline: anyone who has come here in the hope of finding simple solutions and quick fixes will be disappointed.

I saw one of them, not long ago, down at Giovanni’s front door. He was just standing there like it was raining, the little bugger. Wearing dungarees, as if that made it any better.

They always eat on plastic plates.

They go around in flocks, they do, I’ve seen ’em alright, gathering fruit in those pirogue-like bags they carry on their backs. They stuff all their food supplies in there, dates and stuff (she’s only giving an example, and dates should not be regarded as typical of their eating habits).

In their capital city, apart from twelve licensed pet trainers and some forty dermatologists, there is a shop devoted entirely to well-pump units.

There are too many of them. Far too many.

Slide 2: The contours of an oblong, empty map, cream with jagged black edges. Our start point.

Can the people at the back see properly? If you can’t you’d better move up because I don’t think. yeah, if I. there. can you see now? Is that better? We have to start by letting go of everything we think we know. we have to go beyond our prejudices to contextualisize all the stuffs that we think we know about the reality world.

They won the World Cup in manicure four times in the 1990s.
The fallow-deer is their national animal.

It all fits together. All the facts have to be seen in a larger context in order to. am I repeating myself? If so I apologise, but this is so very central.

10% of their country consists of rivers and lakes. Forests make up 60% of the land and mountains 16%. Today, only 2% of the population are employed in farming.

Their arms are about this big and their eyes, especially when they’re tired, look sort of like this. Is it working?

Slide 3: Same map, now with a network of roads, towns, railways. Aeroplanes to symbolise airports, ships indicating ports. Yellow for arable land, green for forest land. Mountain ranges in the north, tourist resorts along the coasts, nuclear power plants, rivers, lakes, islands. Our ending point.

What we mustn’t forget is that this map isn’t objective either. All we have is interpretations, personal interpretations.

Pick-me-ups and top-ups, that’s my life summed up. But what’s a poor soul to do. Nothing, not now, I guess. I never travelled nowhere, nor ‘ave I stroked a beau’ful lower arm, never ever even seen one of ’em. But mustn’t complain.

The best thing about them is their perfect teeth.

I have nothing against them, nothing at all, it would never ever occur to me even for one tiny second to even begin to feel anything approaching dislike.

They have such funny hats. Paper. Every time I see them I have to stop myself from laughing. They have a kind of table cloth, checked (red and white).

Slide 5: A split image. To the left a long bridge in sunset, black birds silhouetted against the sky. To the right, an empty roundabout with a forest in the background. In the middle: Hidden meanings.

Everything is symbolic. More big patterns and vital truths are hidden in apparently insignificant things. The roundabout, the meeting, the bridge; the crossing. No other people have more numerous, no other people have more open senses. Not only that, it was they who invented the flashlock.

Then you see ’em sittin’ in big circles pickin’ lice an’ nibblin’ at each other and serving desserts. Far from hygienic, the voice-over said, but we’d already gathered that ‘coz that was obvious just lookin’ at it. Fur, just think about it.

If you’d been there you’d’ve said the same, I’m tellin’ you, dear-oh-dear.

When they suck it goes

No, I didn’t press the space bar by mistake but again. When they suck it goes

That’s right. They’re the only ones who can suck noiselessly. And now don’t question what I’m telling you like you always do. I’ve had my share, believe me, hehehe (scratches where his belly changes name). Repeats: had my share and seems to see them all in front of him, a few seconds of silence before he feels obliged to convince you (who don’t feel the slightest doubt and least of all want to be convinced in this way. Or? Am I wrong? Too late – he has already started listing them all): Everything from amateurs to real pros, from pleasure-seekers to deniers, hollow bonnets to mountain ticklers, tight fits to flabby gullies, pussywussies and at least three or four coquarongues and all this (now he looks you in the eye again): Before I was 30. And what have you had, if I might ask?

Before you have time to reply, he continues his enumeration. Slime flaps naked as lab rats or bung muscles hairy as Arab warts. Musclings with four parallel players, intravenously in a train compartment, orally in hospital beds, anally in a mine outside Kiruna. And most recently that rather ordinary secretary from Alabama (she claimed her father was a close friend of Otis Redding).

Anyhow. Tongues are international, throats and teeth too. They’re global if you see what I mean. No difference, from Bangkok to Calgary. The difference is in the noise.

When they suck there’s no noise, just an emptiness, a non-action. As compared to the slobbering of Cubans or the whimpering of Russians. No, with them it’s just sterile total enjoyment. And if you just put on a fairly good act, you’ll make it all the way to the end. Because if they realise it’s too late they’ll just carry on because they like it really. Nutritious and good for the skin. And again his hehehe and his elbow and his scratching although now reversed, the same height but behind.

Statistics show that the most common tattoos are either an Asian symbol (women) or a hockey team mascot (men).

Slide 7: X-ray of an upper torso. An iridescent spine.

Here is a skeleton that is so typical of them. And. this might be hard for those of you at the back to see but. does anyone notice anything unusual? Any suggestions? Now don’t be shy.

(Audience fidgets uncomfortably) Hey, you’re a disappointing lot. OK, here’s a clue. What about thrombophlebitis? Or venous insufficiency? Now, that rings a bell, doesn’t it? This particular defect helps to explain a great deal of what we’ve talked about. And this ladies and gentlemen is the kind of knowledge that could turn into a lethal weapon in the hands of an evil-willing guy.

They are charming hard-working earnest honest naive shy reserved.
Sorry lady, I’ve heard about you and your questions. And I just want to say I’ve seen them. Hundreds of times. At least. I know several of the finer specimens. But the ugly ones roam around here evenings and weekends and pick fights and steal unripe apples and write rude things on the scribbling boards. I’ve worked as a college teacher so don’t think I’m just some [.] No way. And I have loads of friends living in [.]. But they scratch the hospital windows and sleep with their shoes on their pillows and in the twilight, just when it starts to get dark, you can hear them sneaking around the parking lots redrawing the parking lines and filing down the studs on winter tyres.

I like them.
If they could just stop
packing their trailers lopsidedly,
caressing their sweaty cracks,
fare-dodging on our public transport,
warming our forebodings.

Slide 9: A little boy in a yellow cap pulling the tail of a big, muddy sow. The pig traditions.

So if you want to get my attention when you see me you can always shout, “Hey Porky-boy!” (Pause for laughter but no one laughs. Someone in the row behind me coughs.) Well, that was a digression, a personal anecdote just to give you an idea of how I came to be fascinated by the subject in the first place. And now ladies and gentlemen we will resume this evening’s lecture.

.chomping their toothpicks,
flashing their crucifix neck chains,
weighing down our stages,
filling in our crosswords,
repeat twice daily.

Time is running away from us ladies and gentlemen. How will we have time for everything? How will we ever have time for their floor coverings, their strange drinking habits, their hair colour? In two hours? Time is limited, ladies and gentlemen, for you just as for me.

I’ll get back to the fog. This element that is so central to their mentality.

The golden eagle is their national animal.

Well, I’ll be damned if I ever saw a real one. nope, don’t think so. But Steffo down on the third floor. Ask ‘im, ‘coz they say his five daughters spread their legs at the slightest itch.

They have patterned socks.
They smell vaguely of honey.

But why you talk to us? Why you no talk to them straight? Go to their hoods, yeah, walk through their streets, try their back-scratchers, check out their plays, write texts for their museums, soften their limbs with cotton-talk before lining them up against the wall.

They have about thirty synonyms for that particular two-syllabic word beginning with an L which comes from the Viking manner of passing round the mead.

And when you stand there, bending over their bathtubs, massaging their stiff necks and the smell is of pure rose petals and plush bath salts and all their soaps are the kind that float and their towels don’t have logos and the plate has crumbs from digestive biscuits and empty After-Eight sleeves because all the time they live those luxury lives that we dream about, wank about man, you know we’re thinking about it all days every days, every tick of the clock it’s there, the dough we need it we need to take it and while our parents keep on working like dogs and we blaggish and taggish and dealish and bakshish and fenceish and saveish and skimpish and braggish and laaggish and musicianish and frishelinos they’re lying there in their rose bath chillin’ and. where was I? Oh yeah, that’s just why man, that’s why you should keep your voice calm while you massage and soften on: What you need 50000 square metros per person fo’. Why you need?

Slide 12: A blonde woman blow-drying her big 80s-style hair, large, flashy smile, bare shoulders. The Hair people.

Another crucial aspect to understanding them is hair. No one else in the world puts so much emphasis on hairstyles. This is manifested in various ways.
Language (a small difference is called ‘hairfine’, to be too much simple is to ‘hairpull’, something that works out with very small margins is called ‘to be on the hair’.). Education (the difficultest high school to enter in is the hairdresser school) The advertising market (the amount of advertising for hair products is the highest or. how do you say. the largest compared to all other countries).

The polar bear is their national animal.

And that’s why man, that’s why you should keep your voice calm when you massage on and soften up: What you need two car brands fo’. Why you need?

When he reads the text later he is disappointed. He doesn’t feel you’ve captured his womanising qualities adequately, and that you’ve over-emphasised his hehehe. In the message he leaves on your mobile he calls you a swamp-dick, a bleeding pussy-bush-humper, ear fungus, a parked fish finger and your mother a skanky ass hoe.

Ricardo used to say that their national animal was everywhere, wherever you looked, posters or statues or cuddly toys. And on stamps too.

Sorry, I forgetted two things – to be smooth with people they call to strike ‘with-hairs’, to be hard is called to put on your ‘hairygloves’.

They’re so honest it makes you shudder.

No, I’m sorry but I happened to overhear your conversation and would like to put a few things straight. There are so many rumours and misunderstandings about that particular thing. This is how it is: Of course, they have a national animal, and that animal is important to their self-esteem, so you’re both right up to that point. But that this animal should roam the streets every day that’s just a myth and nonsense. Rumours. And the law says nothing about vets. On the other hand, it is compulsory (and the law is very explicit on this point) in connection with your first-born son’s first communion to take him along on a shooting trip, to kill one of these animals and make soup out of its tongue. The soup is sprinkled with feta cheese, deep-frozen and served twelve days later – with the father and son eating every other spoonful, of course.

Here he is, smiling indulgently like only old lawyers do, as though he has accepted his shortcomings and is now fully enjoying a life of rummy with old university friends and making naughty phone calls to his former army officers who are even older.

Slide 13: A gigantic S in the middle. The words come sliding in one by one. From above: IN. From below: EX. From the left: UICIDE. From the right OCIALISM.

This is general knowledge, everyone knows this. But I would also like to add. Pause for effect, mouse click, in from the right UN.

The elk is their national animal.

Nowhere else in the world are people as obsessed with the weather, meteorology is one of the professions with the absolutely highest status, along with the ones we’ve already mentioned (hairdressing, environmentalism, ombudsmanship, horse breeding, river work).

Like the old Arab philosopher Emsion Ben-Kharion said when he visited Saladin’s temple: Ask everything, thou shalt not fear this people, for their polished exterior is a sign of their shameful inner nature.

Saladin’s humble reply has gone down in history: Word that’s my nigga dog he been tellin’ da truth since day one – he ain’t neva been hatin’, youknowhutamsayin?

The slide change is accompanied by a sound effect. The sound of car brakes. He’s the only one who giggles.

Slide 14: A Saab and a Volvo side by side, shiny bonnets, large as barn doors. The photographer lying flat on his stomach. The Car people.

They’ve included it in their national anthem: We are one of the few. with so few. with two

Every news stand and most locksmiths sell decks of cards with the royal family. Their lakes and rivers have 12 species of tadpoles that are not found in any other country.

The cow is their national animal.

An ordinary grocery shop has on average 25 kinds of milk.

Slide 18: A dark, enchanting forest. Clear starry night. The Eternal Nature.

As you’ve probably noticed there is one aspect we keep returning to. The extremely important Nature. It crops up in all kinds of contexts. We find it in first names. They can be called Stig which means Path or Björn which means Bear.

We find it in surnames: Some usual after-names are for example Mountainman, Lakevalley, Meadowstream, Grovebranch, Blossom and Rapids. They can also use animalnames to example Swan or Deer. And of course many people are called Forest or take their names from their favourite trees: Birch, Oak or maybe Linden.

We find it in typical expressions: A crazy person is called that he has not all his horses at home. If you are angry at someone you say you will give him his fishes hot. And for something that is extra fine you say that it is the beauty in the crow-song.

Nature nature nature.

It’s also important to know that their national money-name, the krona is the same word as the word for treetop. Following this logic to the end the name of their hockey team is the “three treetops”.

Here we take a short break for going to the toilet.
Only ten or so of the audience return after the break.
He doesn’t seem to notice.


Wha’s up man, I’s cool here, jus chillin like, you know, nuffin appenin jus hangin out, forget da haters, man dey jus want to test you, fuck dem man, there’ll always be haters, an why you give dem any thought? Waste of time, diss dem in museum texts and let dem feel da boomerang an when I see dem cunt hidin behin alias you know dey’ll be trashed, walla.

Slide 18: As before.

He continues talking about nature. The ones at the top (village priests, senior citizen councillors, mushroom-pickers) have jackets out of Canada Goose and bags made of mountain fox, a common animal on their latitudes.

Oh dat’s right I forget. hm. what are they like? Short description. Dey are well lost, innit, dey look TV and play ice hockey and are proud work fo da fuzz or work fo government.

More? What more? Yaar, dem prince Carlos Felipe, I swear he gay, he got dirt on his knees, he gobble da banana of dat guy Lennart Svahn. No, honest, Saim tell me, you know, his cousin play basket ball with Jörgen in Brännkyrka? He work in cloakroom at Daily’s so he know everytin bout all da famous people.

They have three names.
Maria (450196) Erik (314856) Johansson (286559).

Slide 20: A collage with pictures of inventions. The Invention people.

They’re the world’s best inventors (dynamite, the pacemaker, the monkey wrench, the vacuum cleaner, the tetrapak, the ball bearing, the cheese parer, the axe telecom system, the mouse, the safety belt, the mobile phone, the airbag, Losec, the smorgasbord, the washing-up brush, the CD, asphalt, traffic lights, the aeroplane, electricity, the automobile, post-structuralism, medicine, philosophy, the wheel, fire, and all the Simpsons episodes from that wicked third season).

The guy to the side of me in the row in front has fallen asleep. His chin is resting on his chest but his muffled snoring probably can’t be heard all the way to the front.

They mad ’bout pingpong, honest, every weekend dey go down da basement all da family and play pingpong ’cause nearly all of dem live in detached houses and ‘ave you know, dose skiboxes on da cars and buy clothes Dressman and wear Dockers. Enough? You want more?

They put everything, I mean EVERYTHING in tubes.

Aii, I forgot: dey’s paedophiles, mad paedophiles, I swear all their dads are paedophiles. And mass-murderers. I mean, just think, man, how often you see a mass-murderer or a paedophile on TV an it’s a nigga or an arab? Nevvah. It don’t appen, man, it’s all about da length of da dick, dey don’t ave it, so dey ave to imagine bursting little girls to get stiff.

It’s interesting what you just said, because for me it was exactly the other way round. Yes, perhaps it is a cultural difference. I lived there, for how long? I’d say three or four years and yet, when I was going back home and stood there waiting for the airport coach I still felt exactly the same about it. Oh, OK, sorry, I wasn’t thinking. Shall I take it from the top? OK. Ready now?

It’s interesting what you just said, because for me it was exactly the other way round. I NEVER learned to tell them apart. They all fucking look the same, don’t they. I still feel like that actually. Their faces are like. like. omelettes. I mean you can see the difference between two omelettes if you have them in front of you and can compare them. But if you just see one omelette it’s harder to tell it apart from last week’s omelette. Was that better? Hm. You liked the omelette metaphor? Well, thanks. Thank you very much.

The wank-owl is their national animal.

They are 26, 528 citizens short of matching (in total) the number of London tourists (annually).

Slide 23: A large church choir, the photo is grainy, pixellated faces. Everyone is dressed in black with different coloured scarves.

What many people don’t know is that they have the most choirs per capita. Absolutely everyone sings in a choir, men and women, young and old. This relates to what we were talking about before the break, about their forelove for upgoing in collectives.

They are never late.

But as always, the picture is far from homogeneous. Their language for instance, intimates a totally different tradition. An example: to look like someone else is described with the same word they use for a corpse. To be very similar, jättelik, is to be a giant corpse. To be accepted by the collective is crucial, but you also have to retain something of your own. This is manifested in this photo by the different scarves.

We are near the end. It’s time to take the bull on the horns.

Their consumption of pistachios is 0.4 kilograms per person (annually).
They have duplicate hunting permits.

Their name is Lars Olof Mikael Jansson. They were born in Umeå, they live in Örebro together with their partners and their two sons. They have an engineering certificate from upper secondary school and work as machine operators at the Örebro papermill. Their hobbies, apart from politics, are science, serious literature and film, stamina and weight training, ball games, fishing, trekking and parties with friends. Since 1995 they have coached [.].

Slide 26: Four smaller pictures – A Midsummer Pole. A man in boots in the mountains. An anchored sailing boat. A tobogganing blonde girl. In the middle – The End.

As you’ve probably realised it’s impossible to cover the entire subject in one lecture. Still I hope you now have a little more clear image of my research. I’m also grateful for your forbearance with my little rusty English.

Instead of toes they have flat wooden forks.
Honest, their faces are as long as their country.

Thank you, all you brave people who stayed to the end.

He bows, scattered applause, the guy in the row in front wakes up, stretches, scratches his ear.

The slide show starts up as we move towards the exit.
The cottage and the baby,
the ladies and the raspberry bowl.
The forest path, the washing-up brush and the drawing of an elf.

by Jonas Hassen Khemiri
Inspired by,,

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