Hot Diggity


Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Time: May, 1980-something

I’m organizing my first neighbourhood garage sale, thereby meeting people on my three-block-long street whom I’ve never even seen before. One is an American transplant, who tells me that on the day appointed for the garage sale, she’ll be working in the American booth at the Folk Festival.

I think of all the souvlaki, curries, stir-fries, spring rolls, satays, and fry bread that have enlivened my own attendance at folk festivals over the years.

“What food will you serve?”

I’m not making polite conversation: I’m truly puzzled. American cuisine is as varied as the people who call that country home. What on earth will they serve as a representative food for a land with such ethnic diversity?

She hesitates, maybe wondering whether I’m joking or just being stupid. “Hot dogs, of course.”

Hot dogs? Oh. Of course. I shrug, mentally, and think nothing more of it.

Time: July, 1980-something

I’m hosting a departmental barbeque for the new boss of a high-tech employer: the new American boss, as it turns out. I’ve made my own burgers and am feeling pretty good about my menu. Then the new boss arrives with his family. His 12-year-old son looks over my artfully arranged table of condiments and turns to me in some intensity.

“We’re having hot dogs?”

“No, we’re having hamburgers.” I smile reassuringly. Whew! No hot dogs here, no siree.

His response isn’t quite what I’d hoped for. The light in his eyes dies, but it’s clear that he’s not just disappointed: His tone indicates that he’s confused.

“Then why do you have mustard on the table?”

OK, maybe that tone is closer to “betrayed” than “confused.”

I didn’t get it the first time round with the neighbor down the street: I do this time, with the kid in my kitchen, looking as if he’s about to cry. And thus it is that I am introduced to the hot dog as a bit of Americana.

These days, of course, there’s a site for that, starting with the basics — how hot dogs are made, hot dog history and fast facts, hot dog stories and hot dogs in sports, regional and kosher hot dogs — before moving onto important issues like hot dog etiquette (including how to eat a chili dog properly), and whether the hot dog is a sandwich.

And thus it is, too, that I am introduced to the notion that the things that make home, home; that bring us together in spite of everything — the truly important bits of our culture — aren’t necessarily the high-falutin’ bits.



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10 Responses to Hot Diggity

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Seems, doesn’t it, that it’s the little things that matter in the long run. A further example is that what we remember about our loved ones and friends after they’re gone is the little things—the card games enjoyed, the silly things that happened where we laughed until we cried, the time Dad tripped on the way into the potluck supper and dropped the special dish of baked beans Mom had prepared… and so on.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – An excellent point. Maybe culture is “relationship writ large” – and it all depends on the small things.

  2. Marion says:

    I came to Canada when I was almost nine and for the first summer we lived with family. My cousins delighted in showing me all the new and wonderful things that at that time were not available in England – corn on the cob, peanut butter, and the like. When we were all invited to a neighbourhood birthday party at which hot dogs were to be served, they all said “you’re gonna love them!” and I looked forward too trying yet another New World wonder. However, at my first mouthful I got that gag/retch thing in the back of my throat and couldn’t finish it, thus learning the ‘taste this!’ lesson. I’ve tried hot dogs a handful of times in my life, with the same result. I just don’t understand why/how people can enjoy something that tastes so awful to me. Do I have an extra taste bud?

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Marion – Maybe you’re sensitive to artificial flavours/colours, of which there are a whole whack in the average weiner. On the other side, are there still flavours/foods you miss from your youth?

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    Some foods that we (me) take for granted are utterly strange to our visitors. Some years ago we took a family from Edinburgh to the Buffalo airport, for their flight to wherever. We had time for a meal at the airport. The options were pretty much limited to hamburgers, or hamburgers — different fixings, but still hamburgers. So that’s what they ordered. Then they tried to eat them with a knife and fork! Which isn’t, I need scarcely say, easy to do. It took some persuading to get them to use both hands…
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Oh, yes, I can see that, although I’m surprised that hamburgers aren’t global. I hit various forms of haggis in Scotland, and blood sausage (they called it black pudding) on the Isle of Skye, and was not usually impressed. “How” to eat it was clear enough, just not “why.”

      • Jim Taylor says:

        Blood pudding — often served for breakfast — always tasted to me like the scraping off the frying pan after charring hamburgers.
        Jim T

  4. Judith Umbach says:

    My all time favourite TV character ordered a hot dog “all the way” on almost every episode over nine years – Ben Matlock played by Andy Griffith. I do not emulate that part of his fictional life.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – I didn’t know that – thanks. I haven’t seen the Andy Griffith Show for years . . .

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