Last night Laird and I wandered around Marienplatz, watching the last-minute preparations before the opening of the Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) today. I ate roasted chestnuts for the first time in my life, and consequently had to endure that song repeating in my head ("Chestnuts roasting o’er an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at my nose…")
Anyway, back to Marienplatz. I took Laird into Ludwig Beck department store to show him their fantastic selection of gorgeous, hand-made glass Christmas ornaments, things of amazing delicacy and beauty. As we left, we caught sight of a Hudson Bay blanket and Canadian flag on display near the door. Curious, we stopped to investigate, and to our delight found that an entire section of the store had been transformed into a shrine dedicated to kitschy Canadiana. Maple syrup, Moosehead beer, sweatshirts with Haida designs, fringy and and beaded creations made out of moose-hide… I spotted a bleary-eyed fellow in a scarlet Mountie uniform, sporting a long black ponytail underneath the hat.
"Psst. Are you a real Mountie?"
"Yes", he replied. "I’m from Canada", he replied, stating the obvious. I grinned and flashed the little Canadian flag pinned to my coat.
"Oh yeah?" He brightened up. "Where are you from?"
"Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver…. you?", I replied.
"Northern Alberta. There is a group of us here from all over Canada. We’re here for three weeks". He pointed at the kiosks and their wares.
"Nice! So, how’d you land this gig?"
He smiled. "It’s sponsored by Air Canada and the government to promote Canada and its cultural diversity.".
I looked around, and thought to myself that there wasn’t a whole lot of Canada’s cultural diversity on display here. Unless you were only taking into account the various tribes of the First Nations people.
"Do you have to sit here all day? Or do you catch shoplifters too?"
He laughed, and told me that he puts on talks and answers questions, but was grateful for a chair at the moment because he was exhausted from jet lag. We chatted some more, and as we left, Laird and I mused on our tax dollars being spent to promote stereotypical views of Canada. I mean, if they were really trying to push a stereotype, where was the spicy clamato juice for the Bloody Caesar tastings? Tim Horton’s donuts and the rrroll up the rrrrim cups? The 2-4’s of Keith’s beer and I AM Canadian rants? Hockey sticks? Snowmobiles? THIS is the stuff that Canada is made of. At the very least they should have had a stack of Douglas Copeland’s classic book, "Souvenir of Canada" for sale.
I suppose if they were to put a more honest version of Canadian culture on display, it would only confuse people. It would contain all the cultures of the world with samples of an international fusion of food, and music.
Later, outside in the square, we joined a laughing crowd of people who were gathered in a tight circle around an animated busker with a guitar. A comedian. We stayed for a long time, laughing at him take the piss out of just about every nationality represented in the crowd. He spared no-one, but reserved his sharpest barbs for fellow Germans.
A Mountie and a German comedian all in one evening; with respect to stereotypes, one hand giveth and the other taketh away.