OFF THE RECORD
When I read recently that
the word “Qallunaat” meant
“men with big stomachs” in the
Inuit language, the first thing I
thought of was herring-eaters.
Not because fat men eat herring, necessarily, but because
“Qallunaat” has become an
everyday term in Canada’s
north to describe white people.
This reminded me of how my
mother went ballistic when my
father called her a herring-eater. Which in turn made me
wonder why we view certain
stereotypes — often having to
do with food—as violations of
human rights and even indicators of hate crimes, while others
are just fine.
My father’s people came from
the Ukraine, my mother’s from
Lithuania. During the early
20th century in North America,
a tribalistic rivalry developed
among Jewish immigrants from
“Certainly there is a
larger culinary aspect
of such ethnocentric
and tribalistic crime.
In the film “Qallunaat: Why White People Are Funny,” Inuit people create a fictional institute to study white people and
visit their subjects’ European homelands, so as to impose superior Inuit culture there.
these areas. The Lithuanians
styled themselves as the intel-
lectuals, while the Ukrainians
insisted they had more top-
notch religious schools and
sages. Then of course there were
the German Jews who claimed
to be the most cultured of all,
presumably leaving the Ukrain-
ians and Lithuanians to fight
for the bottom of the social lad-
der. Which of course is the first
hint of what might be going on
with the Q word.
During my childhood every-
one I knew ate herring, but only
in its sugary, half raw, sharply
pickled form, on sweet “air bis-
cuits,” albeit only at bar mitz-
vahs. So I often wondered why
my mother took her ancestors’
putative fondness for herring as
an insult. Presumably it meant,
partly, that she was of coastal
heritage, on the Baltic. But
Vilna, whence her people
hailed, was in the interior, on
the way to the Ukraine. So was
it a country mouse-city mouse
thing? Did my father’s poking
at her with a fish stick verify
how deeply the Hatfield vs.
McCoy (or Friedman vs. Mela-
mid) blood-feud ran, such that
a marriage between Galitzianer
and Litvak (to use the Yiddish-
isms) was viewed as a sort of
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