Thursday, May 18, 2017

German Americans in American Culture

I recently had a post about British vs. American English terminology. It was sparked by a YouTube video I watched where Irish people were taste testing different American sandwiches. Since then, YouTube made a few other recommendations for me, on stereotypes different countries or cultures have of one another and so forth. Though perhaps not directly related, this all sparked a memory of when I was a teenager on vacation in Orlando, Florida.

I visited a lot of Orlando tourist sites at that time: Disney World and Epcot Center, Cypress Gardens and Sea World. My parents and I also ate at some novelty restaurants. One of them was a British fish and chips place. There are a couple of Irish pubs near me in New Jersey that serve excellent fish and chips. This place was different, with an indoor bright red double decker bus for seating and one of the famous London red phone booths for atmosphere. I wish I could remember the name of the place. I have a feeling it no longer exists. I tried Googling it but couldn't seem to find a restaurant of that description.

A British tourist sat alone at a table near us. While we were being adventurous and enjoying our French fries/"chips" with the traditional malt vinegar, the British tourist reached for the more American condiment on the table ... a bottle of ketchup. "Heinz?" he says as he grasps the ketchup bottle. "This isn't American! This is German!"

That moment has sparked quite a lot of thought since then, even some twenty some years later. If I had been bolder, I might have started a conversation with the tourist, and we could have had quite the discussion on German-Americans and their influence on American culture. My mother does remember telling him that Americans are made up of all sorts of people.

I have to wonder what the guy was thinking. Surely, he must know that America is a land of immigrants. He might make that observation by watching the people that surrounded him in Orlando, unless he assumed that half of them were foreign tourists just as he was. Orlando, and Disney World in particular, does attract a lot of foreign tourists as well as American ones. Maybe his British pride believed that the majority of us were of English heritage and have nice little English surnames or that an American ketchup company established as far back as 1869 surely must have an English sounding name. German-Americans have not been here as long as the English, who were, of course, our first settlers, but they have been here quite a while and have been influential on a lot of very American things, including ketchup.

My ketchup-eating friend might be surprised to learn that, these days, Americans of German heritage actually outnumber those of English heritage. According to a 2013 U.S. Census, there are more Americans of German roots, 46 million, than Irish, 33 million, or English, 25 million.  Personally, I'm a good mixture of both, with more or less equal parts German and English coming from both parents. It turns out, after one of my brothers took a DNA test through, that my heritage is a bit more complicated than that. Still, this is true.

What can be more American than a hot dog? Not only was America's chief ketchup company started by a German-American, but the foods that commonly accompany ketchup can be traced to German-Americans as well.

There are a few different origin stories of the hamburger and hot dog, so it doesn't seem to be completely settled. Think of the alternate names for the hot dog: frankfurter or weiner, both names relating to European cities, either Frankfurt, Germany or Vienna (Wien,) Austria. Some stories claim that these sausages began in these European cities, predating America. They were later introduced to America by immigrants. It could also be that the American hot dog is slightly different than either of these.

American hot dogs were first called "little dachshund sausages." There's one claim that a German immigrant sold them with sauerkraut and milk rolls from a push cart in New York City's Bowery in the 1860s. Charles Feltman, a German baker, began selling dachshund sausages at Coney Island in 1871.

German-Americans are the reason we sometimes accompany the American hot dog with this odd food with the very German sounding name.


The hamburger is another American food with a very German sounding name, hamburger as in from Hamburg. It likely started first as Hamburg steak, a steak made up of ground beef, a food familiar to German immigrants. It's not really clear who first had the idea to serve it in a roll as a sandwich.

The Hamburg America Line shipping company employed many German immigrants in the 1840s. Ships from Hamburg often came to New York City, and city restaurants began serving Hamburg steak to get business from the German sailors. The hamburger as a sandwich seems to come out of street vendors for major events such as amusement parks and fairs. There are a few different controversial ideas of who invented and/or popularized the sandwich.

Yes, Henry J. Heinz, the son of German immigrants, began his company in 1869, producing and bottling several food products, including ketchup. Heinz isn't the only German surname you will find in major American food companies (and other big companies besides.)

Henry J. Heinz

How about Oscar Meyer, a producer of hot dogs, bologna and other meats?

Oscar Mayer

How about Claussen pickles? Or many or our pretzel companies that have names like Utz, which sells Bachmann pretzels, Sturgis and Snyder of Hanover?

Just about every American beer brewer seems to be started by a German-American, with names like Anheuser-Busch (producer of Budweiser), Coors, Pabst and Schlitz. Although perhaps not as obvious, Wikipedia lists Frederick Miller, creator of Miller beer, as a German-American. Beer and pretzels. Should this be surprising?

As a nice little teetotaler personally, I'll just post a photo of these pretty Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales.

Also, Milton Hershey of Hershey Chocolate, was a German-American.

Milton Hershey

There are other German-Americans who gave their names to big American businesses, unrelated to foods. What about Boeing aircraft? Or Pfizer and Merck pharmaceuticals? There are many others.

Here are some other German-Americans who made great contributions in the arts.

Charles Schulz, the artist behind Peanuts and Snoopy.

Dr. Theodore Seuss Geisel, (Dr. Seuss,) author of The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and many other beloved children's stories.

L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz and Oz series books.

German-Americans have made a lot of contributions to American culture.

Monday, May 15, 2017

I Remember: A Blog Post That Really Dates Me

I was never super-athletic, but, growing up, I did enjoy playing with scooters or the parachute in gym class or other activities that were free of pressure and competition.

I do. I actually do. This was something I remember doing in the first and second grades. I had more fun doing this than playing dodge ball or kickball.

We had a lot of simple ways of entertaining ourselves.

Or jumping through the sprinkler

Or sliding down the stairs.

I remember going down the stairs like this as a child, sliding down the carpeted steps and leading with my hands. I'd put out a couple of big floor pillows on the bottom of the steps. There was some sort of game I played on the stairs where the "lava men" might come and eat me or my friends if we touched the bottom or fell off the pillows. At this point, I can't remember how much of this came out of my own imagination or were inspired by my older brother Dan.

I remember this old Betty Crocker cookie recipe book from the '60s. This is the exact cookbook my mother still has, which contains a lot of traditional recipes she's baked over the years.

I remember '70s latch hook kits. This pattern above looks so familiar that I feel we must have had this one or else someone I knew did. This was one craft I could do well and found relaxing. Mom and I both worked on one of our own while on vacation in the Adirondacks. Mom made a butterfly design, and mine was a brown bunny. Even my oldest brother made his own latch hook rug for his bedroom door, drawing out his own pattern of Snoopy laying on top of his doghouse.

These Makit & Bakit suncatchers are another craft I remember from childhood. At one point, I had one hanging in each of my bedroom windows. One of them was a cute cartoonish hippo.

I remember when these braided ribbon barrettes were popular for girls, some time back in the '80s. I made a pair or two as a craft in my Pioneer Girls church group. It seems you can still buy some or the kits to make your own, and they are labelled as "retro."

Before I'd even heard of a friendship bracelet, there were friendship pins. We made different patterns, exchanged them with friends and wore them on our shoelaces in the '80s.

These are just a few of the many things I remember from childhood.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Jelly, Jam and Jell-O, British and American Language Differences

I've been watching quite a bit of Youtube lately, all sorts of videos on different topics that interest me, sometimes things that I think will inspire or inform me for some aspect of my fiction writing, and sometimes just interesting things without any such application. I usually read the comments. Lately, I've often felt I could add something to the discussion in the comment section but didn't. Instead, I think I will post the video and my commentary here for at least one of them.

I mostly want to add some commentary on the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As you can see, many of the Irish taste testers made the point that the jelly is really "jam," and many Americans commented on the American definitions of these two terms. However, I'm not sure those Americans understood how both of those terms are defined in the UK.

I find these sorts of language differences interesting. I think I'm qualified to comment on this as an American. For one, I have an uncle, aunt and two cousins who lived in Australia for many years, and there are some similarities between Australian and British English, including how jam and jelly are defined. I also read a lot of books by British authors and watch a lot of BBC programs, so I am constantly learning new things about our language differences. Just when I think I know them all, I'll pick up on a new one. So, I'd like to share some thoughts and observations on language that may be interesting to people on both sides of the pond.

As some American commenters already pointed out, Americans differentiate between jam and jelly by whether it is made with only juice from the fruit or has bits of fruit in it. Jelly is made with fruit juice. Jam is made with bits of fruit and juice.

The most classic, common peanut butter and jelly sandwich is made with grape jelly, which is probably why the sandwich has that name. Really, any kind of jelly or jam could be used. I had plenty of sandwiches as a child that were made with peanut butter and strawberry jam. I probably didn't make a point of calling my sandwich "a peanut butter and jam sandwich" on those particular days, in spite of the fact that Americans have different terms for those two different kinds of fruit spreads. We just tend to call the sandwich "peanut butter and jelly" or pb&j in either case.

For Americans, if you look up the word jelly on, the third definition, prefaced by chiefly British, is a fruit-flavored gelatin. I assume this term difference is also used in Ireland where these taste testers in the video live. So, the term jelly in the UK would not be used for a fruit spread but for a fruit-flavored gelatin. So, here is another reason why using the term "jelly" for a fruit spread in the UK might be confusing.

For British, Irish or Australian readers, most Americans call a fruit-flavored gelatin Jell-O after the most popular American brand name for this product. There are some other competing brands, but most Americans will call any brand of gelatin Jell-O regardless. We'd hardly ever use the word gelatin in this context. It sounds too formal. A recipe, that's not a recipe from the Jell-O company, might use the phrase "fruit-flavored gelatin" in order to avoid specifying a particular brand, but that's not a common phrase most Americans use informally. Also, Americans would never use the word jelly in this context.

Here's a Jell-O jingle I remember from childhood.