How to Speak, Drink, and Fight Like a Newfoundlander
Put a bunch of sailors on a cold rock in the middle of the ocean, make them really poor, give them lots to drink and not too many jobs, wait a few centuries, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what Newfoundland is like.
This article first appeared on VICE Canada.
The cliché that Canada is a polite country, where even people in mosh pits say "sorry," is relatively true. Yes we like to have fun, but for the most part, Canadians are pretty civil and nice to each other. Except, for some reason, when it comes to people from Newfoundland. Somewhere along the way, Canadians decided that while it's not okay to make fun of people from other countries, Newfie jokes—which are basically remixed racist jokes—are totally fine. In fact, there are even entire websites dedicated to them.
That's not to say we can't take a joke. We can. In fact, most of our social interactions are comprised of thinking up creative ways to tell the other person they're an idiot. But sometimes it's hard.
Sometimes you find yourself half cut in some shitty dive bar in Edmonton or Toronto or even Halifax and there's a drawing of a fisherman getting sucked off by a fish with the word NEWFIE scrawled above it. In that moment, you feel 500 years of disrespect and petty, grinding, banal oppression rise with the bile in the back of your throat as the saltwater boils in your veins. Your first instinct is to smack someone but you order another drink and die a little more inside.
If only mainlanders understood the subtle richness of being a Newfoundlander.
Thankfully, VICE Canada has prepared the following insider's guide to traversing the Rock's dense cultural traditions and hopefully, your first trip to George Street won't end with some skeet sticking a butter knife in you.
First things first: Newfoundlanders are not Maritimers. We are the older, harder-drinking, rowdier cousins of Maritimers. Rule number one of speaking like a Newfoundlander is flipping the fuck out if someone calls you a Maritimer.
Contrary to popular belief, there's no single "Newfoundland Tongue." Sure, after a few drinks it's easy to tell most of us are the bastard offspring of Irish seamen, but island dialects have all the fine, subtle, nuanced flavors I heard you can pick up in expensive wine. But why anyone would pay more than $13 max for a wine drunk is beyond me.
People talk differently in every bay, cove, and public housing ghetto scattered across Greater Sin Jawns. It's like history dropped a character from a Shakespeare play into 8,000 different coves, cut them off from the outside world, and let them fuck their cousins for a while. Depending on where you're from you might use "you" or "youse" or "ye" or "piss ass" as a general second-person pronoun. Up in Catalina they pronounce the word "boil" all queer and my crowd in Grand Falls would consider this a "mega scald" on baywops everywhere. Everyone talks funny compared to everyone else and it's fucking super.
At least, that's the way it used to be. Thanks to American television, the internet, and 65 years of state-sponsored snobbery, most Newfoundlanders under the age of 30 have been brought up to talk all proper-like for our oil industry overlords—even in post-Resettlement holdouts like Turks Cove or Christ's Cockles or St. Jones Jacking His Dick. So much the worse for Mainlanders in search of a dancing bear.
For full effect, also replace every th with a d.
There's certain universals, though. "Whaddyat?" is a universal greeting and also works pretty good as a pickup line if you have the charm to pull it off (HINT: if you have to ask, you don't). Also, Newfoundlanders all swear religiously. Like, both constantly and in Biblical vernacular. Everyone knows "Lord Thundering Jesus" but with a little effort you can turn basically any prayer and/or minor Old Testament prophet into a curse. "Jumping Jesus," "Gentle Blessed Mary Mother of God" and "Ever Beloved Elisha, Balding Bear-Fucker" all work.
"Christ" and "fuck" are also more or less interchangeable, e.g. "what the fucking Christ" or "what the Christing fuck." Basically just drop the word fuck anywhere you can in a sentence and it's golden. Bay etiquette also demands you end every declarative statement with "wha," as in, "She's colder out tonight than a nun's cunt, wha?"
Mostly though—and I can't stress this enough—if you aren't from Newfoundland, you probably can't speak like a Newfoundlander, so save yourself the embarrassment. Hearing some aging yuppie from southern Ontario come in trying to articulate a stock tourist phrase like, "How's she getting on, me old cock," or whatever else they charge you to recite at a Screech-in on George Street is like nails on a chalkboard. Unless you're Russell Crowe, do not attempt. Just sit back and drink in the full linguistic beauty of our bargain-bin Celtic lilt and tendency to pronounce the letter "H" in random places.
Oh, yeah. The other key to speaking like a Newfoundlander is to not give a shit about Labrador. Like don't mention it or think about it ever and you'll fit right in.
OK. So, first off, don't try any of this at home. Drinking at a shed-party level is not amateur hour. I'm not going to pretend Newfoundlanders are the world's hardest drinkers (I went drinking with a Russian once and holy fuck) but we're definitely on the A list.
Just think about Screech run. Legend has it an American officer was stationed at a base out in the bay during World War II and stumbled across the b'ys having a beach party and getting wrecked on some homemade hooch. The officer asks for a drink and they hand him a cup of some evil-smelling shit. He takes a shot and immediately lets out this piercing scream and runs to the shore and starts gargling sea water. Forget the cheap shit they sell at the liquor store—our grandparents out-drank the US Army like it was no thing. Dudes came back from shooting Nazis in the face or whatever, but they couldn't handle the fermented sludge Joe Blow was scraping off the bottom of a transatlantic fruit barrel.
I know a lot of Canadians think they're hard drinkers, but they're really not. People in the rest of Canada think a casual half-case on a Friday night is hard drinking. Buddy. Please. A half case is warm-up drinking. A half case is what you serve children and the elderly.
Part of this is purely constitutional. You can either handle your liquor or you can't. There's no shame in not being a big drinker but there's a lot of shame in pretending to be hard as fuck and then barfing all over the dance floor at Lottie's because you had too many White Russians. Know your limit, play within it.
Most Newfoundlanders start their training early. A couple buddies of mine started getting shitfaced on the regular in the sixth grade. That's pretty young, but by grade nine, getting wasted behind the Ultramar or in the woods by the gazebo (every town has a gazebo) is par for the course. This is good because you get all the amateur mistakes out of the way early, like being such a state that you shit yourself in public or projectile vomit Sour Puss all over your buddy's shed because you coughed on a blunt. God forbid you end up like one of the Pentecostal kids who turn 19, go savage, and pass out in the bathroom of a St. John's strip club after their second Bacardi Breezer.
Personally, I was a late bloomer. I didn't start drinking until I was 16, which should have been old enough to know that some people are too gross to make out with no matter how much Golden Wedding you pound. But it's all part of the process, right? You have to be willing to drink anything you're offered and just go where the night takes you. Like, is it wise to start a ruckus at a prof's house because you're too fucked-up on carrot wine? Probably not, but you gotta crack a few eggs to make an omelette and what have you.
Mainly, the secret to playing hard is working hard. If you're out hauling shrimp or processing fish or pumping oil or digging graves or whatever other bullshit tasks the international capitalist order assigns Newfoundlanders, not only have you earned a couple drinks, but you'll be able to put them the fuck away, too. Alternatively, drinking is an awesome way to pass long months of chronic, structural unemployment—not that we'd know anything about that.
You have to keep it fun, though. If you're a really obnoxious drunk and keep having the fuck beat out of you downtown, or you're at it all the time just to get through the day, you should probably stop. But if you can handle it, go to town. One of the most magical nights I ever had in St. John's was passing around a flask of Old Sam on top of the Supreme Court while we were blitzed out of our minds on hash. Newfoundland is best experienced half in the bag.
Full disclosure: Barring a Taekwondo spar I lost when I was 12, I have never been in a fight. I don't believe the good Lord desires that we raise our fists in anger, and also I would get immediately murdered in actual combat. But I totally get it.
Consider, first, the cultural background of the average Newfoundlander. Take every centuries-old stereotype you have about sailors, put them on a cold rock in the middle of the ocean, and make them really, really poor. Then pile on all the charming quirks of Newfoundland history—"the first idiot in uniform who shows up in the cove with a boat gets supreme power" as a system of government, or the British Empire's love of feeding bastard Irishmen like us to German machine guns—and let it simmer for a few generations. Throw in a heroic level of alcohol consumption and voila! You've got a Newfoundlander on your hands.
Obviously it's a gross stereotype that all of us go around starting fights. We'll finish a fight if you start one, but only skeets go around starting fights. Skeets are the distinctly Newfoundland variety of white trash hicks. The b'ys in Fox racing jackets hanging around outside Tim Hortons blasting AC/DC from their trucks at 2 AM? Definitely skeets. Dude with a heart tattoo that says "NAN" on his forearm, whacked out of his mind on oxys, holding up Needs Convenience with a butter knife? Mega skeet. Skeets will fuck you up.
And it's not just the dudes. We were waiting around for a cab by Trinity Pub on George one night and they were kicking some tiny girl out of the bar and my buddy was like, "Are you OK?" and she flipped her shit and kicked him in the chest down two flights of stone stairs. Nonsense. As I was saying, some people just can't handle their liquor. Or coke, or whatever.
Of course, most of us are better than skeets. Most of us are civilized. Instead of fighting with their hands, the genteel Newfoundlander of today prefers to use their words to pummel the shit out of people emotionally, where the bruises last forever. Newfoundland's proudest literary tradition is coming up with clever and elaborate ways to call other people idiots.
Another fine Newfoundland tradition is public shaming. Public shaming is violent, but it's a really civilized mode of violence for the sake of the common good. Thanks to Twitter, we can take this tradition to the next level by posting pictures of people parked in the fire lane at the mall or pictures of fatal car accidents with sick burns about the stiff's shitty driving. And God forbid you publish something unpopular.
Coming to blows is barbaric. We're not savages.
Basically, the key to fighting—or generally just living—like a Newfoundlander is to not give a fuck. Do not give a good God damn. Life in Newfoundland is a black comedy. The weather is terrible, the jobs blow (assuming you're lucky enough to have one), there has literally never been a good government in 500 years, we hunted the cod and the Beothuk to extinction, and everyone upalong still thinks we're a fucking punchline. So have a laugh on the way to the grave. What does it matter how you talk or drink or fuck if you're having a time? We were mastering absurdism before Camus was even a glimmer in his father's eye.
Like drinking, you either have a constitution for this kind of thing or you don't. Generally, most of us are pretty harmless. But sometimes it's not easy.
You are on the mainland and some shit-eating frat boy or businessman or grad school colleague who should know better is jabbing you in the ribs with a big guffaw like "HA HA SAY 'CAR' AGAIN YOUR ACCENT IS HILARIOUS." You put on your best face, laugh, and get a drink in you as quick as you can.
And then sometimes it's really easy. You're just trying to live your life and some dude keeps giving you grief? Crack that sucker in the face. You're a Newfoundlander, man. You don't have time for bullshit.
Drew Brown was born and raised in Newfoundland and grew up mostly in Grand Falls-Windsor. He is now a writer living in Edmonton pursuing a PhD in Political Science at the University of Alberta. You can follow him on Twitter.
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