What did John Kerry say in Norwegian?

November 18, 2013
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) shakes hands with Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende ahead of a bilateral meeting on November 15, 2013 at the State Department in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State John Kerry (R) shakes hands with Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

It’s an international mystery: What did Secretary of State John Kerry say in Norwegian during an appearance last week with Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende?

After introducing Brende at a State Department event on Friday and saying lots of nice things about Norway (the country is a “a huge global citizen” and a “terrific partner,” yadda yadda), Kerry got a little more personal. He lived in Norway for a few years when his diplomat-father was stationed there, he said, “so I have a special affinity for Norway and Norwegians.”

Oh yeah?

“Say something in Norwegian!” one of the reporters covering the event called out. (Bet Kerry wishes all questions from the media were so easy.)

Kerry obliged, offering a few lines in the language of his visitor. But here’s where the mystery comes in — the official transcript of the event didn’t reflect what he actually said. “(In Norwegian.)” was how it appeared.

So what did he say? A dirty joke, perhaps? Or maybe he mangled the line? Whatever it was, the crowd seemed tickled — it got laughs.

We were intrigued.

So we checked with the Norwegian embassy for a proper translation.  Kerry’s message was actually as nice as his one in English. He said “tusen takk,” which means “thank you,” we’re told. And then he said, “jeg elsker deg” which translates to “I love you.”

Kine Hartz, the embassy’s cultural and information officer, who was there to hear the performance in person, gave his pronunciation high marks. “It was good,” she tells us. “He had that sing-songy Norwegian sound — we were very impressed.”

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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Emily Heil | November 15, 2013