In the winter of 1998, Sweden was all abuzz about a movie about two young girls trying to deal with life, and growing up, in a small Western Sweden town called Åmål.
Everybody saw the movie, everybody (said he) loved it, so in the spring of 1999, the writer-director Lukas Moodysson got on stage at the Swedish Film Awards to collect his loot: Best Film, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Actress awards for the two young ladies who played Elin and Agnes.
Two teenage girls in small-town Sweden. Elin is beautiful, popular, and bored with life. Agnes is friendless, sad, and secretly in love with Elin. Åmål is a small insignificant town where nothing ever happens, where the latest trends are out of date when they get there.
On the awards night, Moodysson was more moody than the show audience needed, and the night ended with Moodysson wearing bear ears, flipping the finger (both hands) from the stage, and letting the crowd (and the establishment) have it.
The next day, the Swedish papers ran headlines like, “Fucking Scandal”, “Fucking Idiot”, and other variations with one thing in common. They all had “fucking” in them.
Son’s Godfather, Devin, an American, was upset. Not because he was offended by the coarseness of the word. It wasn’t that. After all, this is a man who wrote a column about the art of cursing your household appliances, and how that helps getting things done around the house. No, he was upset because the Swedes were using his magic word wrong, just casually throwing it around, with no feel for it.
For them, “fucking” wasn’t a strong swear word, it was a joke, punctuation, or a cool thing the cool Americans said in the cool films they watched. How could they have it on the front page just like that? There was no way they would have the Swedish equivalent of the word on the front page, not without punishment, anyway.
And if nobody else was going to say anything about it, and deliver that punishment – and let’s face it, nobody was going to say anything – Devin decided that he would have to do something. In an inspired moment of rage, he wrote a column about it, and sold it to Metro, then an upstart newspaper in Stockholm, handed out to subway passengers in the mornings.
He wrote that “while the word ‘fuck’ might not be all that shocking to Swedes, swear words are very powerful to the native so that when I see it, I feel it” and then ran a list of Swedish swearwords to make them feel it.
The column ran in a Saturday edition, and even I ran down to my subway station to get a copy or three for the archives. It was a big moment for Devin, an aspiring journalist who had lived in Sweden for a little over a year at that point.
It was fucking huge.
Last night, Sweden beat Finland 5-0 in soccer in Stockholm. Normally, the home team beating a team that’s ranked about 60 spots lower in the world ranking wouldn’t be big news, but the special Finland-Sweden relationship, and the fact that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden’s biggest soccer star this century, scored a hat trick, made it sort of a big deal.
This morning, the headline in Expressen, one of the evening papers in Sweden, was: ZLATANA PERKELE! It’s a word play on “saatana, perkele”, two Finnish swear words – for “satan” and “devil”, only stronger than devil – and words that I’ve never seen in a headline in a Finnish paper.
This could be my break.