Saturday, November 12, 2011

Food Slurs: an e-flection on multicultural mockings

this post belongs to edition #12 of the language/place blog carnival, which is hosted by Linda Hofke at Lind-guistics and has the feature theme: "Food"

Food Slurs

An e-flection on multicultural mockings that starts with depictions of racism, and moves on to ethnical food, blacks and whites of thought and skin colour, to shades of political correctness and situational incorrectness.

Eric (Ohio)
Did you see this link on McSweeney’s? - "Conversations I've Had During A Normal Day In Los Angeles, Modified To Include The Shocking Depiction Of Racism Found In Paul Haggis's 2004 Film Crash, by Brendon Lloyd."

“CO-WORKER: I can't freakin' stand those Indians”
“ME: I'm part Cherokee.”
“CO-WORKER: Then why don't you go smoke a peace pipe and get the hell out of my country?”...

Dorothee (Southern Germany)
That’s rough. Do people really talk like this?

Okay. Ignore the question. It just sounds so weird to me because of the racial references that are uncommon here. I mean, there aren’t that many Cherokees living in Germany. But you might hear Turkish men being addressed with the line: “Was willst du, Knoblauchfresser?”—“What do you want, garlic-eater?”

Wait wait wait wait WAIT.... You actually hear people call Turks "garlic-eater?" And is that offensive to the Turkish man in this scene?

Yes, you sometimes hear people call Turks "garlic-eaters". Just as you sometimes hear people call Italians "Spaghetti-Fresser"—"spaghetti-devourer".
But I would suggest to not try this while visiting Germany. Or, if you try, then RUN — as yes, you bet that this is understood as offensive.

Spaghetti-devourer. I would be amazed when I hear it. Because I would be like, "you can't be serious, but you are." But then, sometimes Americans call Mexicans “beaners”. Not as much here, because there aren't many Mexicans around. But in places where more Mexicans live, there are those who talk like that.

Seen like that, it is a little amusing that racial/ethnic slurs are sometimes based on the food people eat - garlic-eater, beaner, kraut, limey (british). Actually, the more I think of it, the funnier it is, because it is so stupid that this is all the better we can do — to make fun of the food.

I don't know why they call the irish "micks." I think something more descriptive, such as "bog trotter" is funnier. Potato-eater would be the best food one.

Now this is making me hungry. (For colcannon.)

Krauts for Germans. I heard that before, but it’s still odd, as it’s really not very popular any more to eat kraut. Only in autumn, when there are some small towns who have a “Krautfest” with lots of food stalls.

More food-related slurs this made me think of: rice-eater (Chinese).
Smoerebroed-muncher (Swedens).
Vodka-drinker (Russians).

And it's true, it's really the cheapest way to mock someone from another culture, to make fun of their eating habits. But then, eating habits are a basic of daily culture. So this hits right in the daily habits of people.

About rice: I used to work with a guy who—this is lame—when we had to wait to hear back from a client, he would sometimes say, "we'll just let them stew in their juice for a while." Meaning wait and let them make a decision. But we had a Vietnamese client named Bau, and everyone liked him, so I don't think my boss meant anything bad when he said, "We'll just let old Bau stew in his rice for a while."

I'm going to make up my own random food-related slurs. "Ice cream eater!" "Get away from me, you milk-drinker." Or non-food related. "Belt-buckler."

Milk-drinker actually a teasing name here: “Milchbubi”—“little milkiboy.”
It’s tossed from the big muscle guys to those who are slim and don’t have muscles.

Was willst du, Milchbubi?”—“Got a problem, milkiboy?”

And some 2 or 3 years ago, there was a hype of teasing names that went along your ideas, to be tossed randomly at random people, without any further founding of fact and logic: „Bleistiftspitzer“—„pencil-sharpener“. Or things like "Fussföner".

I can't believe someone beat me to milk-drinker. Wouldn't be all that offensive, I guess.
But Fussföner. What does it mean? It sounds fun. "Listen here, Fussföner, I ordered a SOY latte!!"

That would make you a soy-latte-drinker: "Hey, soy-latte-drinker, you think you are somewhat cooler than a Fussföner? Well let me tell you the tough truth: you aren't."

Fussföner: someone who dries his feet with the hair dryer, to make sure they get all dry. Same category as the Duschgel-Anwärmer: someone who warms up the showergel before applying it on the skin.

I think it all started with an overload of political correctness that erupted into situational incorrectness on all levels. You didn't have that in Ohio?

Well, we certainly have political correctness that goes too far. But not so far as to have non-namecalling names. My kids do sometimes. "You eraser head." Things like that—it means nothing but sounds like something.

Oddly, it used to be that a man who draws engineering drawings and blueprints was a draftsman. Now it is drafter. That is fine. A policeman is a police officer—a patrolman is a trooper. Waiters and waitresses are servers. Stewardess is flight attendant. Those are all fine.

But to go so far as to make up the names. And then there are others like "mentally challenged," and differently-abled. And then some people call short people "vertically challenged." On the Ohio drivers license, on the back, there are special categories, and one is "shortness of stature," for short people. Some people are "beauty-challenged."

For the record, I wouldn't order a soy latte, for fear of being accused of being man-challenged. A girly man. And while I don't usually use the hair dryer for my hair, let alone my feet, I am not ashamed to say: I have been known to warm the shower gel. There's no shame in that. Is there?

I have been known to warm the shower gel, too. No shame, as long as no one gets to know about it.

“Vertically challenged.” This one I heard somewhere. It really left me clueless about its meaning at first. And another word I came across today, in the book I am reading right now—it's the yearly diary of Christa Wolf, a German writer who lived in East Germany until the reunion of Germany. It's a fascinating book, starting 1960 and ending 2000. Every year, Wolf described her current life by describing one day, the 27th September. But back to the word: in the diary entry of 1966, she mentions the race riots that happened in San Francisco at that time, and refers to them as: Negeraufstand. "Negroe-uprise". She didn't mean this offensive or negative, it was just the word used for the black people back then: Neger.

Even in the seventies, there was this creamy candy with chocolate cover called "Negerkuss” here in Germany—"negroe-kiss". Later they renamed it "Schokokuss"—"chocolate-kiss" to avoid any racial association. How are those called in the US?

I don't know what we call those kind of candies. Marshmallow cremes, or chocolate cremes. Maybe cordials, but that usually has fruit, like a cherry in the center. And chocolate kisses are like hershey kisses—you have those? They look like a drop, with a little curl on top.

There are a kind of nuts—filbert might be the official name, but some times they are called brazil nuts. They are bigger than the other nuts in a dish of mixed nuts. When my mom was little, they called them "nigger toes." But that was many years ago, now she would never say that.

Which makes me think of the time when I used to deliver furniture with this kid who was semi retarded, I mean mentally challenged. Slow. And we drove through a part of the city where there were a lot of black people standing around, working at a car wash—pretty stereotypical. And he said, "what do we call those people?" And I said “what people do you mean?” He said, "you know, the darkies." And of course I about died, and told him, "african american? or black? but not darkies." And all of a sudden he remembered, and beamed, and ROLLED DOWN THE WINDOW and waved, yelling, (cheerfully), "Hey, negrettes!"

We didn't wait around to find out if that was acceptable terminology.

That's interesting, the concept of Negeraufstand—race riots seem like such a far away thing, for people our age. But even in the early '90s there were the LA riots that were racial, over the Rodney King verdict. Do you remember that?

Right around then, I was painting a house where a crack dealer lived—Mad Maxx—and he was sitting on the steps telling me that he could beat me up and no one would care, since it would look ok that the black guy beat up a white guy instead of the other way around for a change. A couple days later, he told my brother Ian and me that "Jimi Hendrix was the baddest motherfucker to ever cut a record," and then went upstairs and threw a chair out the window at me. Actually it came through the window, glass flying everywhere. Then he came downstairs and took Ian's hammer and ran down the street, hitting street signs with it. Ian chased him and was all, "give me my hammer!" and Maxx gave it back. The next day he got kicked out of the apartment because they didn't want crack dealers throwing chairs at the white boys, I guess. Black rage, they called it back then.

That story about the negrettes is great—and the other one about the crack dealer is scary. I think what was so good about LA Crash that the film addressed the racial theme through different views, and there was none all-bad or all-good character. No black and white of thought, just different shades.

Which makes me remember something a Canadian said to me once, when we talked about travelling, and about options in life. He was still hurt from a relationship that didn’t work out, not because they didn’t love each other, but because they were from completely different backgrounds—she was European and worked in a huge company, he loved to be in the wilderness—and so they didn’t find a place and a way to make it work. That’s why he went to Asia, to get away from it, and also because he had this dream of doing canoe trips in the mangrove forest of Thailand. We talked about life, work, careers, travelling - at that time I was at a kind of crossroad, wondering which direction to take jobwise. And he looked at me, and said: "You are young, you are intelligent, you are white. How could you not be successful?"

This line, it remained with me. I think I never have heard anyone putting it as bluntly as that.

What an interesting equation: young, intelligent, white = success. I think looks and height play a part as well. If you have all those, then it is hard to fail. But the intelligence is important, to know how to capitalize on the other factors.

At the same time it’s true about race attitudes being grey. In Crash, you first see the Matt Dillon character as being a total jerk, but then come to see him in a different way, and you think, how can someone have both of those natures within themselves, but we all do in some ways. We're all a little grey.


Notes & References

This essay is the slightly edited copy & paste of an e-mail conversation between Eric Wrisley, who lives in Ohio and is a contributing writer at Blueswax magazine, and me. "Food Slurs" went first online as part of the "Mulitcultural Minglings" issue of the magazine Sage of Consiousness.

The McSweeney piece is still online: Conversations I've Had During A Normal Day In Los Angeles..

Previous contributributions to the language/place carnival are gathered at: life as a journey of language and place


toomuchpractice said...

plenty of food for thought in this article... pun intended :)

The French & English of course have their food slurs (Frogs & les Rosbifs), but I have always seen these as somehow affectionate in tone. Perhaps because we all love food?

Dorothee said...

i think there is both: the affectionate food slurs, and the ones that are mocking. it all depends on the tone and situation, too. and in the end, yes, we all love (and need) food :)

Laurie Kolp said...

I really enjoyed the format of this honest piece.

Michelle Elvy said...

What a great conversation, what food for thought. Really enjoyed this -- very clever way to introduce difficult themes in an entertaining and informative way! (I think the answer to your question about Negerkuesse is that we don't have them in the US.)

Rose Hunter said...

What I meant: The US has a lot of them (food slurs) for Mexicans. A lot of them are based around the idea of beans.... Interestingly, I don't know of any the other way around (Mexico food slurring the US).... (still haven't thought of any).