Kiss Me, I’m Scandinavian!

Statue of the Little Mermaid

Statue of the Little Mermaid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was a bit of a personal mystery, and one that I never exactly articulated.  I’ve always felt what I thought was an inexplicable but powerful pull towards all things Scandinavian.  My background is Irish and French-German.  I love the idea of leprechauns guarding pots of gold at the end of the rainbow, but beyond that, I never really embraced being Irish.  I like the idea of having ancestors from the French-German border better, but there’s very little information about that part of the family.  Though it never made a shred of sense, I always felt, when someone said they were from Norway, Denmark or Sweden, that there was something profoundly wrong with the arrangement of the world that I hadn’t been born with a genetic allegiance to a Scandinavian nation, too.

It didn’t make a shred of logical sense, so placed it at the feet of the many friends I had while growing up who were lucky enough to have been born honest-to-goodness Scandinavians.  I also had a gifted and memorable sixth grade teacher named Anne Tobiassen whose family hailed from Norway.  During the sixth grade at Victor Mravlag School 21 in Elizabeth, NJ, mystery lover that I am, I found the children’s book The Happy Hollisters and the Mystery of The Little Mermaid by Jerry West in the tiny school library.  It was a tale set in Denmark involving the theft of Copehagen’s famous Little Mermaid statue.  Author “Jerry West” didn’t really exist.  The books were a product of The Stratemeyer Syndicate, a publishing group that also produced Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and The Bobbsey Twins mysteries, among a host of others.  All of the books contained cliff-hangers at the end of most chapters to keep kids riveted and interested in reading more.  Ones that were set in “exotic” locales like Copenhagen were part mystery and part children’s travelogue.  That particular little volume was definitely one of the best, perhaps because the real name of the pseudonymous writer “Jerry West” was Andrew E. Svenson, as gloriously Scandinavian a name as can be found.  West/Svenson’s love for Copenhagen shines through the entire story.  It’s now 39 years later, but never forgot how a part of that story was set in a Danish amusement part with the intriguing name of Tivoli Gardens.  When I first obtained Internet access and found it was possible to check out websites from all over the world, Tivoli was one of the first I joyfully looked up.

In the seventh grade there was another book I loved, I Remember Mama.  That one was about the warm-hearted, strong matriarch of a Norwegian-American family.  As an adult, the DVD of the movie based on the book was among the first that made it into my ever-expanding movie collection.  That collection sometimes threatens to take over my apartment.  Oh, my furniture?  Will you be shocked?  It’s from Sweden.

By far the best book of them all that was set in my favorite region of the world became available in 2000.  A Conspiracy of Decency: The Rescue of the Danish Jews During World War II by Emmy E. Werner was so fantastic a read that I bought several copies to give away as presents.  It detailed how the Danish people put up a quiet united resistance, at first, to the Nazis who occupied their land by not speaking to them when they came into the shops.  It was a simple gesture but one that made a powerful statement: you interlopers are just not welcome here!  Then when it became apparent that the Nazis planned to round up the Danish Jews, in order to deport them and kill them, the Danes, as a nation, stood up and took positive action.  They alerted the Jews, hid them temporarily, got almost all of them safely into fishing boats, and transported them to another Scandinavian nation, neutral Sweden, where they stayed until the end of the war, perfectly safe.  When the Danish Jews returned home, the Danes had bands waiting for them at the wharf, playing music to welcome them back.  Many of them found out that, while away, their neighbors had cared for their property and pets, and even painted their houses as a welcome home surprise for them!  I think A Conspiracy of Decency is therefore one of the most appropriately named books in the history of literature.  How fabulous it would be, I recall thinking as I read it, to be Danish or Swedish.  To be connected to people as wonderful as these.

I even loved the Norway pavilion at Disney World.  Whenever I’m there, you’ll find me riding Maelstrom, the water ride about the Vikings, the trolls, and the fjords that ends with a movie on modern Norway, and eating in the little Norwegian cafe.  My mother came along to Disney World with me on year that ride opened and asked me just what was going on that I felt such an attraction to that particular country.  I didn’t know.  I’ve never been there.  I’ve only been to the pavilion, but I adored it at once.

Well, guess what?  The other day I found out that my love for this part of the world where I’ve never been is not an accident or a result of reading books set in the area after all.

Ancestry.com has a new DNA test that can reveal your family’s ethnicity.  Your family’s full ethnic background and migrations can be traced.  I can’t trace my Irish ancestors beyond the 1800’s and I have no information at all about the French-German part of my family, whose surname seems to have been changed.  Yet I know DNA doesn’t lie. Any tiny bit of new information, I figured, could only help.

I was hoping for a surprise when I took the test – and got one.  To me, it’s the best one imaginable.  It turns out the DNA reveals that I’m 43% Scandinavian!  That’s a rather high percentage for an Irish girl.  Apparently I’m a descendant of the Vikings who “settled” Ireland, whether the Irish wanted them there or not.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so pleasantly surprised in my whole life.  No wonder I love an area of Northern Europe that I’ve never seen so much.  It’s not a just some place on the map.

It’s home.

English: Fireworks in the Tivoli Gardens in Co...

English: Fireworks in the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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11 responses to “Kiss Me, I’m Scandinavian!

  1. Carolyn, your excitement is always so contagious. It carries me on all of your adventures. Loved this wonderfully written story. What a discovery. The Universe has such an awesome way of sweeping the path before our feet. (can’t wait to read your book, now)
    ps. “I Remember Mama” was my favorite TV program when I was young. You will have to loan me the DVD. Bring it with you. 🙂

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  2. If you can find the town your ancestors came from that lived on the French German border you will probably be able to research them if they lived in France. All those records are online.

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  3. I have spent the day looking at my DNA results. I am delighted that I may be able to connect to more family members. Some people don’t want to be kin, but I do. We have a lot to thank Ancestry for. The only thing that really worries me is the attitude of some people. I had a gentleman tell me is he saw three people with the same information he considered it documented. It’s not documentation unless you have a document.

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  4. In enjoyed your story. I also found out I was 46% Scandinavian which was a big suprise to me based on my anxcestors coming from Italy, Spain, Germany and the British Isles. Those Vikings really got around. I never identified much with the Scandinavian culture except for the Saint Lucy day traditions. I’ve loved that tradition since I was young.

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  5. So many mysteries and you keep solving them! Bob and I were visiting Denmark at the time of the mysterious disappearance of the Little Mermaid. I remember how saddened the Danes were. I will “hunt” for my slides and will send you anything that might be of interest.

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  6. Carolyn, I found your blog at the Happy Hollisters FB page. My husband and I had a business trip to Copenhagen when I was in my 30s, and I took “The Mystery of the Little Mermaid” with me. When our tour bus pulled into the harbor and I saw the statue, my immediate thought was, “Oh look! The Hollisters were here!” I felt the same at Tivoli, at the statue of the fishwife, at Grundvig’s church ….

    You may enjoy a book called “Number the Stars.” It’s a children’s book, but well-written and a classic. Also, I just got a DVD, Disney’s Miracle at Midnight,about the Danish rescue of the Jews. My one disappointment in Copenhagen was that we were there during a strike of museum guards and thus couldn’t go see the resistance museum. Unfortunately, Copenhagen is now a hotbed of radical Islam, and Malmo, directly across in Sweden, is even worse. So sad … Will we never learn?

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