Archive for June, 2011

The Harpers ride the Merry-Go-Round
June 30, 2011

Last week’s Canadian Studies conference in Marburg was an interesting affair. Since I was the only Canadian Canadianist present, I was often asked to offer “the” Canadian perspective. I of course obliged, since I love speaking for 34 million people. By the end of the conference I had begun thinking of myself, rather affectionately, as “Canada.” “Canada is hungry!” I would exclaim. “Canada thinks your presentation was wonderful! Bravo.” Or, by the last day: “Canada felt that that your flippant reference to Aboriginal people problematically negated their epistemologies while also normalizing white superiority.”

Luckily all of this was only going on in my head, an academic conference being a place to eat catered food, schmooze, use multisyllabic words, and tell people how interesting their esoteric research topics are.

This particular conference was also a great place to hook up, since the conference organizers, who paid for the accommodation, tried to make all presenters share hotel beds (not just rooms, actual beds). As “Canada” I claimed national sovereignty and refused.

One particularly memorable moment was when I got to speak with someone who promotes Canadian culture in Germany. She told me about meeting Laureen Harper a few years before in Berlin. She introduced herself and mentioned her work promoting culture, to which Laureen answered, “so like circuses and stuff?”

A few things I learned at the conference, notable either for their beauty or hilarity:

“Vancouver is Canada’s westernmost city.”

“The proposed downtown highway caused Vancouverites to be very outrageous.” (outraged?)

“Only God knows where the desert ends.”

“Bubble tea is code for Bomb Toronto.” (that sentence should get my blog lots of extra traffic)

“There is no nation in being good.”

All in all I was pretty blown away that these German grad students knew so much about Canadian culture – a testament, surely, to the time they’ve all spent at the circus.


Do I know Canada anymore?
June 22, 2011

A blog post form my younger brother James.

What is Canada? Every person who reads this probably has a different view of Canada. After all we do live in a culture of diversity. Few people take a step back and ask why we celebrate July first. Our nation, maybe. Many intellectuals and scholars claim that nations are not real. Some believe nations are imaginary boundaries that don’t really mean anything all.

I thought about this and asked myself what makes Canada, well… Canada. Is it the 7% beer, a love of hockey, the supposedly friendly attitude? Everyone here would likely say something different. What about our ties to the British Monarchy and the parliamentary government system? A great many would state our differences from other nations especially the one south of the border. The idea of a set of imaginary boundaries really applies to us, does it not? Canada is so vast and sometimes I wonder if we are even a country, or instead just a bunch of disgruntled neighbours, living under the same government: French vs. English, East vs. West and the natives against French, English, East and West.

I think of a friend of mine who spent nearly all of his time in Canada behind bars with me. He must have had a very different view of Canada. I think about him a lot. I look through the steel mesh covered window and wonder “do I know Canada anymore”? Is it just some past life I use to ground me during this new, colder experience? I doubt that it is just my community and family, though I look forward to returning to them.

Canada is more than the things mentioned earlier. Canada is the ground beneath my feet. It is the people that I talk to in here and who so often enrich my life. It is a division of peoples, government, culture, land, nation; it’s home, wherever that might be. It is all of us. Of course so many people and scholars have a hard time to define Canada, is it so much more than just any person, a place or a thing. Forgive me for going on, but Canada is the sandbox of my life experiences here, now, and before now, the sum of my hopes, which are one and the same as every Canadian who reads this.

-James Hazlett

Please leave James some comments.

With my five brothers, James in the back right corner

Did your drug dealer give you a discount?
June 15, 2011

It’s 8:30 Sunday morning and I’ve been up all night working at the entrance of some pet-food factory turned nightclub.  I’ve spent the last 10 hours asking for the twelve Euro entry fee (Zwölf Euro bitte) and have done so well I’ve almost convinced myself I can speak German. Feeling proud but exhausted I look for my boss on the dance floor so I can get my 8€ an hour and finally go home to bed.

The party is raging. Hundreds of Germans, under the influence of whatever it is that keep a person dancing til 8am, are shifting trance like from side to side, a few of the livelier ones are even jumping up and down. The headlining DJ, only two hours late for his shift, has just started playing. Happy that things are going well my boss offers me a shot of vodka instead of my pay. I take it.

Later, when I tell a local friend about all this, she said, not at all ironically, “Normal Saturday night in Berlin then?”

Anyone who has visited Berlin knows it’s famous for its party all morning all night club scene. So I wasn’t even that surprised when people were still rolling into the club at 7am. What surprised was how cheap they all were.

A twelve Euro entrance fee is a lot of money in a city where your average beer costs less than 3 and a sandwich on the street costs 2 (after 3 months I have yet to establish the going price for anything but beer or sandwiches).

Of the 900 or so people who came in at least a few hundred asked for a discount, assuming they could score a bargain more easily from the friendly Canadian at the entrance than from their drug dealer. Guess again.

“I’m a student” (so is everyone else here) “I only have 3 Euro” (how are you going to buy drinks?) “I’m unemployed” (go find a job). There were many other objections; luckily my German is so schlecht I couldn’t understand them. Typical conversations went something like this:

“blah blah blah”

“zwölf Euro bitte”

“blah blah blah”

“zwölf Euro bitte”

“I’m on the guest list”

“zwölf Euro bitte”

“It’s my Birthday!”

“Happy Birthday. Now that’ll be zwölf Euro”

All in all my first job in Deutschland went swell. So swell in fact that I considered making haggling with cracked out German speaking clubbers my new career.  Unfortunately I went and got myself a respectable job teaching English.

No sex please, I’m British.
June 6, 2011

Travel writer Bill Bryson once wrote that more than 300 million people in the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems, try to. Since I’m looking for a job as an English teacher, I pulled out some of my old teaching materials from when I taught in Paris. At the back of my lesson plan book I found a list of stupid things my students said. I use to write down their mishaps as secretly as possible. Here re some of my favourite ESL (English as a second language moments).

ESL: “I woke up with a big dick.”       me: Excuse me?         “I woke up with a headache.”     oh.

Curious ESL take on Country music song “Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy”  –  “Save a camel, Ride a Tunisian”

Me: What is the plural of Man?     ESL: Men     Me: What is the plural of woman?    ESL: Women       Me: What is the plural of Spiderman?     ESL: Spiderman 2.

ESL: My woman is Portugese. Translation:  My wife is Portugese

Me: What is the name given to the British Flag?    ESL: Black Jack

Me: What Jewish girl wrote a diary of her teenage years that went on to become a bestseller?

ESL: Bridget Jones?

Me: Did you have coffee at break?     ESL: yes.       Me: All of you?    ESL: I love you too.

Me: Give me an example of the expression “Used to”

ESL: “I used to brush my teeth.” ESL: Pump UP the volume!!

Me: What did you have for dinner last night?    ESL: I eat grass and soap. (attempt at salad and soup).

ESL: Don’t eat the cat

Me: So we can all get to know each other better, why don’t we go around the room and everyone can say three things about themselves. Two true things and one lie.

ESL (in French): I don’t like lies. It thrusts people into a dark, tormented abyss.

ESL: (to other ESL in haughty manner): Tolouse is a verb, NOT a city.

ESL: My belly is sick.

Me: Give me an example of a sentence using the phrasal verb ‘to chicken out’.   ESL: Don’t chicken out your meat.

ESL: (old white lady to young black man sitting beside her): “J’ai toujours rêvé d’un bébé noir. Je t’adopte.”

ESL: (while pointing at the wall) “Imagine this is a wall.”

ESL: Do you like to have a lot of pleasure?

Me: Do you know any English proverbs?   ESL: “No sex please, Im British.”

ESL: Can you raise me please?  Translation: (Can you give me a raise?)

ESL: I’m empty. Translation: I’m hungry (well, you can be full).

ESL: Can you ask him to call my back? Translation: (Can you ask him to call me back?)

ESL: Can you change me please?   Translation: (Can you make change please?)

Do you like to have a lot of pleasure? (French person trying to translate “avoir du plaisir”)

Me: How old are you?    ESL: Im fine.

Me: Where is Sylvie?    ESL: in my pocket.

Me: How are you?      ESL: Im 50. (says woman of 40)

ESL 1: Can you give me a ride home?     ESL 2: I apologize. It is not possible to drive your bike home.

Me: Est-ce que tu reconnais la femme dans la photo?   ESL: Non, mais son canapé me dit quelque chose…

Me: What do you put in a China Cabinet?     ESL: Chinese people?

Me: Alain, what do you have in your kitchen?    Alain: My wife.


Afterword: My apologies for not having written in a while. I made one last mad dash through Florida before returning to what is a now a sunny and lively Berlin. More on all that soon.