As the world is shocked by the death of Anthony Bourdain, I count myself and other Newfoundlanders lucky that he brought his hugely successful globe-trotting culinary expedition to our island.
And then my eyes clench with a cringe of embarrassment.
Maybe I didn’t prepare my pufferfish right but I was certainly poisoned when I heard Anthony Bourdain received backlash for using the word Newfie.
“Well, Jonny” you say, “you’ve lived in Toronto the last 10 years.”
Yes, and maybe you should.
Anyone who takes offence to the word Newfie needs to get on a plane, travel, and realize that 99.999 per cent of people who use the word Newfie do so because it is shorter than Newfoundlander. It doesn’t harken back to some sort of stigma from a series of jokes from decades ago. To pick a fight with the word now reeks of a self-consciousness and preciousness Newfoundlanders have never been known for.
Imagine you are at some party where some Australians show up. Someone says “Hey the Aussies are here…” and an Aussie stops him and says “Excuse me, we believe ‘Aussie’ carries connotations of backwater, bushwhacking stigmas…”
You’d think “… man those Aussies seem like dicks.”
At this time in history Newfoundlanders don’t deserve to be self-conscious about such a banal bit of terminology. Newfoundland is a go-to tourism place, people are fascinated with the island right now. We are cool, we are not broke, and people don’t think we are dumb. Ever wonder why 75 per cent of Canada’s smartest political satire comes from an island with 1.5 per cent of the nation’s population? How can you concede that Canadians from coast to coast weekly enjoy Rick Mercer, 22 Minutes, Rex Murphy etc., and then still think we are evaluated against Newfie jokes from the 1970s?
What we should be doing now is celebrating the fact that this generation has witnessed the death of the Newfie joke. Most people don’t know what a Newfie joke is anymore.
You know who definitely, 100 per cent, never, ever knew a Newfie joke was a thing? Anthony Bourdain. He came to our island, he was gracious, he said nice things.
Newfies and Newfoundlanders alike — know when someone is doing you a solid.
I will always introduce myself as a Newfoundlander. I don’t love the word Newfie, but if I am going to take issue with every person across Canada and elsewhere who uses it in a completely innocuous way I’d get nothing done.
You get to decide whether or not to take offence to the word. I can pinpoint the moment I did.
It was in a Chicago. Me and the guys walked into a full theatre, an orientation meeting for the biggest sketch comedy festival in the world. The co-ordinator saw our troupe come in, stopped his speech, jumped up, raised his arms with a beaming smile and yelled “The Newfies are here!” — obviously very proud with himself that he knew the “inside” terminology.
I could say one of two things: a) “Great to be here.” or b) “Excuse me, I need to stop you right there…”
I said “Great to be here.”
Jonny Harris is a Newfoundland actor, writer and comedian.
He writes from Toronto