Monday, November 30, 2009

Wer ist Deutsch?

In Canada there is a great deal of racism directed at and immigrants. It seems that many Canadians feel that their family, ever since arriving in Canada, has been somehow jilted by foreigners. Oddly enough, however, there is just as much racism directed at the native population. This paradox has always been all too apparent to me, being of mixed native and foreign descent. While my mixed ancestry provides me with a very strong sense of Canadian identity, most Canadians identify themselves as anything other than Canadian by telling a long tale about their ancestors’ origins. If you are ever at an international conference and ask someone what nationality they are and that person starts to talk about their grandparents then you are most likely face to face with a true Canuck.

Humbuggers take this uniquely Canadian idea of national identity in an unusual direction. By tracing their entire family tree back to the six founding families of Humbug they somehow manage to find pride in thinking that they are completely German while at the same time overlooking the implications of such a genetic bottleneck. To make matters worse, they seemed to know almost nothing about German culture, history, or geography.

Whenever outsiders were baffled by the unusual behaviors of Humbuggers, the typical Humbugger would justify their backward ways by saying, “I’m German!” This was a sort of trump card in Humbug which declared the holder immune from any requirements of social grace or tact. When I once questioned the Humbug affinity for dipping fried potatoes in ranch dressing, I was told, “That might not be the way most people do it – but we’re German!”

What the hell did being German have to do with unusual choices in condiments? Yet once again I found myself looking around for hidden cameras. I desperately longed for Allen Funt to leap from his grave and tell me to smile so that I could know that the joke was over. It rapidly became apparent that rather than holding themselves to the high standards of a 2000 year old people who had been integral in the development of European culture, these mouth-breathing varmints had actually started to use their heritage as an excuse for their behaviors. Nonetheless I decided to play into their displaced pride wherever and whenever possible.

When baking apple danish I elongated and sliced them and called them strudel. I added some zuckerkuchen to the baking display until I got tired of explaining what it was. They instantly rejected any German egg noodle dishes that I attempted. For a few weeks I even replaced the sweet chili pork with schnitzel – only to be shocked when several Humbuggers actually asked me what ‘skanitzel’ was. At least they didn’t complain about the spice, although I was ashamed to serve something so bland. None of my efforts had the slightest effect on the coffee row leeches, however.

When I commented on the inappropriate volumes of coffee consumed by coffee row, Gord Hueber simply declared, “We’re good German!” When I chastised someone for being too aggressive about inquiring where I was ‘FRUM’, the inquisitor invariably said, “Maybe you don’t care where people are FRUM, but I’m German!” As I became increasingly abrasive towards coffee row for not ordering food, Dan looked at me and said, “Maybe you don’t think this is a coffee shop anymore, but we’re German!” I knew that few Canadians viewed themselves as actually being Canadian, but in all my travels I had never run across a population who was so thoroughly and consistently convinced of a such a displaced sense of nationality.

To add to their delusions of being ‘good German’, they had erected signs on the highways out of town which read, “Auf Wiedersehen.” Considering their hostile attitude towards non-Catholics and people who didn’t look quite like themselves, I found this rather unnerving. I continually found myself feeling as though these people were trying to produce the culture that might have developed in Canada after World War II if Hitler had won. They were small town Canadian people in every way, with almost none of them having spent more than a total of a few months outside the confines of the little shire – but they had this uncanny and unshakable affinity for the Fatherland.

Despite my philosophical, if not moral, objections to their social experiment, I continued to try to find ways to play into their displaced pride. One day, as Lyle and Mike were leaving, I waved and said, “Auf Wiedersehen!”

“What?” said Lyle.

“Auf Wiedersehen,” I repeated.

“What the hell does that mean?” he asked.

“It’s like ‘see you later’ in German,” I replied, incredulously.

“Well how the hell would I know that?” he bellowed.

“You regularly tell me how German you are!”

“Well just because I’m German doesn’t mean I speak German. This is Humbug!”

“You can’t leave town without seeing the signs that say ‘Auf Wiedersehen’!”

“Oh! That’s how you say that?” he exclaimed, turning to leave.

I wondered who had come up with the idea for the signs if even Humbug’s leading German businessman didn’t seem to know a single word in German. I began to shudder every single time I heard them refer to themselves as German or speak about how doing things in some backward uncultured way was ‘good German’. One Siesta Saturday the ‘sophisticated’ lady who enjoyed English toffee lattes returned. I was glad to see that she was still not wearing rubber boots. She ordered her latte and decided to try the ‘bah-ja’ burrito.

When I placed her order in front of her, she requested cutlery. I didn’t find the request odd at all for I had seen plenty of people, even outside Humbug, choose to eat a burrito or slice of pizza with cutlery. It seemed that she thought I found her request awkward, however, for she offered an explanation.

“I know this isn’t how you eat a burrito,” she said, “but I am German!”

The references just never stopped. They said they didn’t like spice because they were German, but they had an incredible palate for garlic which they also explained as being ‘good German’. The only menu item that sold in decent volume to Humbuggers was garlic toast, but they had requested so much garlic in the garlic spread that I actually had to warn outsiders to scrape off most of the visible garlic. The remaining butter still left a pleasantly strong garlic flavour for most other customers.

As December approached, the downtown merchants let me know about a plan they had to help boost Christmas sales. They designated a particular Friday evening as ‘Midnight Madness’ so that all the stores could stay open to create a festive shopping environment. It was the first time that I had ever heard any of them trying to do anything to boost traffic – let alone anything that involved them cooperating with each other. I was so encouraged by the concept that I told Lyle that I would be happy to stay open to midnight for the event, even if all I got were coffee sales.

“Oh, you don’t need to stay open to midnight,” he replied.

“But why would I close earlier than everybody else?” I asked.

“Nobody is staying open to midnight. Most of us close at 11.”

“Uh, call me crazy, but if it’s called ‘Midnight Madness’ then shouldn’t we all stay open until midnight?”

“Nah,” he replied, “That might be what city folk would expect, but we’re good German.”

Suddenly I had an epiphany. I realized that when Humbuggers used the word ‘German’, what they actually meant was ‘stupid’. Further, when they said something was ‘good German’, what they actually meant was ‘fucking stupid.’ I began to laugh so hard that I had to go hide in the kitchen. Marty followed me and when I explained my realization to him we both lost control of our laughter.

Finally I had found something about Humbuggers that could make me laugh. I removed my German offerings from the menu, realizing that what these people really wanted was ‘stupid food’. I never did determine exactly what constituted ‘stupid food’, but as near as I could imagine it had to be deep fried, bland, and served with ranch dressing. I never again shuddered when they referred to themselves as ‘German’ but I did have to learn to control my laughter.