“But it turned out those artsy Scandinavian films really were just artsy Scandinavian films, not documentaries. This was more disappointing for my friends than for me.”
When it comes to national stereotypes, we Brits have labelling “forinners” down to a fine art.
The Germans have no sense of humour and insist on joining together five or six different words to make one impossibly long word (Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän, anyone?). The French all drive Citroen 2CVs and eat too much garlic and snails. The Dutch float around in a haze of cannabis smoke. And the Scandinavians (it’s all one country, dontcha know!) spend all day naked in saunas listening to audiobooks.
So when I stumbled across an article on Jaun Baba earlier this month about Finns and erotica audiobooks, I bookmarked it for a rainy day.
Then I remembered it’s not going to rain in this part of the world for another four or five months, so I moved it to the top of the Do Something With This Sooner list.
Here’s the thing. As a Brit growing up in the last century, back when Victorian censorship laws still held sway, the only way to see another person naked, apart from getting them drunk or marrying them, was to either go to France on holiday, or pretend you were keenly interested in artsy films from Scandinavia, a mythical country in Northern Europe that was home to Santa’s reindeer and blonde, blue-eyed actresses who seemed quite unable to keep their clothes on.
This before the internet became a thing, and when British kids were taught that the history of the world began in England in 1066 and ended when England won the world cup in 1966. The school map of the world comprised (and probably still does today) the British Empire and the upstart colonial rebels across the Atlantic. Later we would learn there were other countries, like “Latin America” where coffee and footballers with one-name came from, and Australia, because that’s where we sent all our criminals.
We only knew about Germany and Italy from World War Two films, and because Mussolini made the trains run on time, something I’m assured we Brits still cannot manage even in the twenty-first century.
Spain had topless beaches, something unheard of in staid Britland, and it was quicker to fly to the Costa del Sol than drive to a British seaside resort in the rain, so Spain quickly became part of a Brit’s mental world map.
And for the adventurous Brits that did go north instead of south, the disappointment was palpable as they returned from previously unknown countries like Finland and Sweden with the beyond disturbing news that they have day and night, just like us, eat food and watch TV, just like us (apart from the smelly fish), and wear clothes, just like us. And while they do have saunas, and do take their clothes off in them, they don’t do it 24/7 and don’t have wall-to-wall orgies in them.
We’d been lied to all these years! Well, apart from the smelly fish thingy. Surströmming really is as stinky as they say. And tastes even worse!
But it turned out those artsy Scandinavian films really were just artsy Scandinavian films, not documentaries.
This was more disappointing for my friends than for me.
For most British young men, the blue-eyed blonde Scandiwegian girlfriend was the holy grail of shag-and-tell relationships. Something we might even be prepared to taste a tiny morsel of surströmming for.
Well, maybe not. No-one is that beautiful!
But I wasn’t interested. You see, I’d discovered Gwen Dickey of Rose Royce, and my life would never be the same.
Here’s the thing. I was raised in coastal southern England, an idyllic childhood in almost every way, but a very, very white childhood.
This was not America. England played a dark role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, of course, but it was an export business. England – and Britain, as it became – didn’t have slaves in the way America did. Until the post-WWII labour shortage set Britain on the path of importing labour from the dissolving Empire and evolving Commonwealth, it was extremely rare to see a “person of colour”, as they now say across the pond.
There was one black kid at my school, and he was a boy. “Coloureds” were a mystery to us regular white Brit folk who still thought black people only lived in mud huts in Africa. Because all our TV documentaries told us so! These were the only black people we ever saw. The imported US TV programmes we watched didn’t have black folk in. Everyone was white!
Just to be clear here, this was not conscious racism. This was just how we were brought up. This was the reality of UK life for everyone outside the big cities in the mid-to-late twentieth century.
For my age-group, the only black people we saw on TV were singers. And these fell into three groups: kids like Michael Jackson; male groups like the Stylistics and the Drifters; and adult women singers like Gladys Knight or Shirley Bassey or The Three Degrees that were more of my parents’ generation.
Then I saw the up-and-coming pop group Rose Royce on a show called Top of the Pops. VHS recorders were still in the future, so probably I only saw Gwen Dickey twice or thrice, and not in colour, but from that moment on you could have given me a lifetime free ticket to every Finnish sauna orgy going and I would have walked away.
I was going to live in Africa!
Actually it turned out Gwen was from the Caribbean, but a quick glance at the map showed Africa was much closer so I stuck with Plan A.
And it’s from here in Africa that I go full cyber-circle back to Scandinavian erotica fantasies for TNPS, because it transpires the Finns, but not the rest of the Nordics, like audio erotica.
From Jaun Baba:
“When the audiobook company Storytel released last year’s most listened to books, an unexpected phenomenon appeared. While other Nordics had “booktok” as their most common search term, the Finns were looking for something completely different: erotica. It was the most searched word.“
Asked why this might be, Storytel Finland’s Noora Kunttu said, “Could it have something to do with Pornhub being bigger in Finland than the rest of the Nordics?“
Wait, what? What is going over there? Have they closed all the saunas?
It seems Storytel does not have an erotica category as such, hence the need to search for it. And they also – I’m making no judgement here! I’m sure the two are totally unrelated! – search for “horses.”
The most searched for terms on Storytel Finland last year?
6. Cozy crime
Finland is famously the happiest country on Earth. Not that you’d know it from that list!
But who needs Finland when you can live in Africa!
I’m surrounded by the most beautiful women on the planet, but don’t have the time (or energy- it’s exhaustingly hot here!) to take advantage. So I certainly don’t have the time or inclination to search for, let alone sample, audiobook erotica.
But I’m grateful to Storytel Finland for triggering a trip down memory lane. And for those who read these columns for publishing insights, hopefully the Finland Storytel data will be welcome, and maybe the personal insights will help you understand TNPS a little better.
Tomorrow, back to a regular TNPS post that will be catching up on Spotify (so yes, yet another Norse saga about audiobooks).
This post first appeared in the TNPS LinkedIn Pulse newsletter.