Borderline-racist German Christmas Markets

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Oh look, it’s a lovely German Christmas Market! How quaint! How traditional! How sodding racist!

As hackneyed as any commercially-appropriated festive tradition, “German” markets are popping up all over the place. Initiated as a festive-ish postmillennial reason to temporarily fill up one of the disused bits of Leeds, they’ve spread far and wide so that every other pretender to the ‘Britain’s Second City’ crown has one. Even Birmingham. Yes.

German markets usually happen in November rather than in the run up to Christmas itself, because they’re on their way to a much more impressive gathering in Manchester – where they really love a bit of ersatz Bavariana. Either that, or perhaps November is cheaper. Yes, come to think of it, that’s it. I bet the stalls don’t pack up five days before Christmas in Frankfurt. I bet they go all the way until midnight on Christmas Eve.

The Weihnachtsmarkt can be relied on to give the very experience and ambiance of an authentic Bavarian street market, without ever selling a single trinket, a single knitted woollen novelty or a single Chinese-made wooden Christmas nativity scene. That’s because all of these traditional stalls, along with those selling candles, lamps, wood carvings, novelty honey or traditional (boring) toys, are essentially full of tat of the kind that nobody actually wants as a gift. I’d take the XBox, personally.

Where they’re making their money is in three key areas: fried goods, glühwein and the sorts of lager brands you can find in the warmth of every independent bar across any self-respecting city. The purveyors of the Christkindlmarkt would have you freeze your nutsack off queuing to enter an outdoor shed done up to look like a Santa’s grotto of fondest imagination, only to discover upon entry that it’s the same temperature outside as in, and you’ve essentially paid a fiver to stand in a wooden theme pub. There are no actual Germans here either.

Food-wise, we can surely rely on the traditional Bavarian staples of bunless pork burgers, fried sliced potatoes which reach an ambient temperature of zero degrees within 5 minutes of having been overcharged for, unpopular-looking pretzels, bratwurst, over-iced doughnuts and of course, erm, candy floss and garlic bread? Hang on – garlic bread? Isn’t that the French Christmas Market, yet to be commercialised?

And then there’s the glühwein, the warming, healing, alcohol-free alternative to having a good time. Mulled wine is a red wine ruined, in any language. Oh look! it’s served in a novelty mug! I do hope they washed it.

The Christmas market is a great new tradition, ruined only by everything they sell and the fact that it’s all a bit fakily not really all that German, and the fact that misappropriating and generalising about other people’s cultural traditions is a teeny bit icky. But equally, they must never stop because I really need my festive crowd-dodge amongst a bunch of sheds.

Fabricated festive food

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Shall we have turkey or Beef Garland this year?

Christmas is coming, and it’s time for the supermarkets to reveal their utterly perplexing range of seasonal food. Leading the pack this year is Iceland’s Beef Garland, essentially a toroidal cross between a sausage roll and a Beef Wellington, but without any of those complicated-sounding ingredients normally associated with nice-tasting food. There’s loads of pastry though, so it’s a bit like going to Gregg’s. And kudos to Iceland for giving it such a straightforward name, descriptive in a Ronseal kind of way, yet vaguely seasonal, whilst skilfully avoiding the use of the word ‘bayonet’.

I’m not sure whether the nation’s collective culinary memories are deeply rooted in the beef garland – maybe this is simply a tradition that didn’t get as far as my house – or are likely to be sourced from there in the future. Like so many current culinary inventions, it seems to have been invented by putting a thing inside another thing. After all there has hardly been any looking back since Pizza Hut decided to put hot dog sausages in their pizza crusts. However did we get through mealtimes when there was nothing but bread at the edge of our meat feast?

Somewhere else, probably (let’s be honest) Asda or Morrison’s, is offering a twist on a classic three bird roast. They’ve actually created a ‘three fish roast’. A fish, stuffed inside a fish, stuffed inside another fish. Merry Christmas, we’re not having turkey, I’ve done us a piscine abomination. Given that a fish takes about 10 minutes to cook and is unlikely to be enhanced by proximity to other fish, the three fish roast is decidedly not a thing. For vegetarians, they are presumably offering the holy trinity of quorn sausages, quorn pieces and quorn mince stuffed and roasted inside a pair of old tights.

And which festive get together wouldn’t be complete without a fully non-ironic spread of canapes? This year’s bang-on-trend orange food is the fish, chip and mushy pea bite, or perhaps a very small burger, or an outré fish finger sandwich. Small burgers have been rebranded ‘sliders’. Next year sliders will be back in a turkey and cranberry sauce variant, stuffed inside a pizza crust or wrapped around a beef garland for that ultimate Christmas treat.

Black Friday

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Not content with having foisted trick or treating on us, the US has now exported Black Friday.

Apparently it’s the first Friday of trading after Thanksgiving, the time in the year when retailers give it that enormous festive push. Distinct from cyber Monday, which is all about panic buying. And now, even those of us who aren’t in the US get to enjoy Black Friday too.

We aren’t told why it’s called Black Friday any more than we know why everywhere has a Blue Cross Sale.

Applying a simple rule sorts out all your festive shopping: if it’s reduced, it’s either broken, outdated or not worth the original price. Perhaps all three. Avoid.

It’s ‘the baby’ not ‘baby’. Ok?

Forgetting to use ‘the’ to refer to a generic, as-yet-unnamed baby is neither endearing nor a thing.

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Of all the infuriating things that midwives encourage – including maternity class dramatisations of how to breathe through a contraction, a general belief that it won’t hurt, and active paternal participation down at the business end – conversations which make use of “baby” to mean “the baby” are the worst paedocrime of all. Unless the parents have actually named the child “baby”, it makes no sense at all.

And how is baby?
Is baby feeding?
Has baby done a poo?

Perhaps because the very act of doing so is one of infantilisation, we don’t return the favour: is midwife feeling tired? Would midwife like a sit down? Does midwife need some basic lessons in grammar? Just because they work with babies all week long surely shouldn’t require them to adopt nursery speak when dealing with adults. Even knackered, messed up adults who haven’t a clue about the carnage for which they’ve just signed up.

Why it’s so difficult to describe the object in front of us as a ‘the’, thereby literally denoting it as a thing, even if it is a living, breathing, sentient being, is a mystery. All midwifery conversations should henceforth be restructured around a he / she format, or else be subject to an initial enquiry about whether a name has been chosen. And that’s the only top-down reorganisation of the NHS that would yield beneficial results.

The not-in-London Eye. Also not a thing.

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If only every city had their very own London Eye. Or, as it used to be called, a Ferris wheel. That’d be something.

At least London has things at which to gaze in wonder, like the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s, the Shard and the ludicrous queue outside Foxton’s whenever they’ve got a tiny, damp one-bedroomed flat offering change from £400K. All these things are clearly visible from the London Eye, which is a not unreasonable way to spend a touristy half hour. Just once, obviously. But the aerial thrill of the London Eye has inspired a range of me-too attractions across the country. It’s quite a different experience paying ten quid to go round and round at the back of a provincial bus station, craning your neck to make out where the Arndale centre used to be before they inexplicably rebranded it “Intu”, and trying to see whether that thing on the low-rise horizon is the library or the swimming pool.

The audio presence of local radio “celebrities” on the ride makes the whole thing more intolerable, especially as you’re not allowed out until you’ve been round at least twice, queues not being what they are on the South Bank. Twenty minutes of listening to two jangle-voiced idiots enthusing about the incredible sights and sounds of… where are we again? Come, friendly bombs.

Such is the waning novelty of the Fake London Eye, that their owner has taken to carting them round a range of cities in rotation. York. Leeds. Sheffield. Nottingham. Manchester. They can still pull a crowd for a few short weeks, but the only way to string things out is to add a couple of attractions: maybe a snack bar, a couple of rollercoasters and a traditional carousel, an arcade, a fun house and a waltzer; a tattoo parlour, an illicit gambling den and a money laundering operation. Before you know it you’ve got an actual fairground going on and you’re attracting all the sorts and types who’d never dream of spending £35 a head to take a ‘champagne flight’ by the Thames.

A can of lager as you fly over the bus station roof though? Now that’s what I call an attraction.

Soup to nuts. No that’s nonsense.

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Nuts for dessert isn’t a thing, invalidating yet another pointless idiom.

Apparently intended to convey a sense of a full-service offering, hearing a software provider repeatedly offer a soup to nuts option had me reaching for my Taser.

I’d wager that the dinner party that starts with soup and ends, presumably after the Tiramisu, the cheeses, the cognacs and coffees, with a handful of dry roast peanuts is an evening I’m washing my hair.

Nuts? Are you sure? Could you call me a taxi please?