Frisian Flag

September 1978, bus stop terminal, London, Ontario, Canada.

Because we are of approximately the same age and both wear a moustache, a barb, long hair and carry a backpack and therefore do not match with about a dozen Americans, dressed up with noisy check jackets and striped trousers, mostly with ditto caps, we end up beside each other – with the aisle in between- in the back seats of a bus from London, Ontario, Canada to Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. We shake hands and thus I am sitting next to Horst from Munich, who visited his grandfather and -mother in a small hamlet in a the farthest corners of Ontario. The couple emigrated to this aria in the early thirties. Horst wants to know what I have done in Canada. “I have been in Plattsville for three days.” He shrugs his shoulders: “Plattsville? Never heard of!” “You are not the only one! It has about five hundred residents, therefore you cannot really call it a metropolitan area. Once every two days it has a bus connection and I just missed mine that very Sunday morning. Even Blake, my taxi driver, claimed: “Plattsville? That is not in Canada!”


Together, with his roadmap spread over the hood of his car, we have looked it up.” “What did you have to do there, then?”, Horst curiously asks. I explain it to him: “I visited a girlfriend to redeem the pledge when I said “yes, I will”  to her request “Drop by whenever you are in the neighbourhood”. We both happened to see the Niagara Waterfalls. I cannot resist – still under the impression of the game and the chilidog, that almost took the first two innings to eat it- to tell that I  saw the Blue Jays play the Cleveland Indians in Toronto. Baseball means nothing to him, he shrugs his shoulders again and observes: “What kind of strange flag do you carry on top of your backpack?” “That is a Frisian flag.” “A Frisian flag?”  “Yes, a Frisian flag. I live in Friesland.” “Why do you carry that instead of the Dutch flag?” “Friesland lies in the Netherlands, with its own capital, its port city and above all its own language.” He looks at me sceptically: “Never heard of. Frisian?” “Yes, Frisian. Many English and Frisian words sound or look identical. Because I have not persuaded him , I give him a couple of examples: “Tsiis is Frisian, in English it is cheese.Swiet is Frisian and sweet in English. In Frisian grien almost sounds as green in English.” I guess that he finds it childish or purely sentimental. He summarises it with Spielerei  and he judges: “Moreover, it gets you nowhere in the real world!”

When we leave Canada passing through the long Windsor Tunnel, which links the banks of the wide Detroit River to each other, and drive into the United States, we have to go through customs. The driver communicates by means of his microphone, that there will firstly be a narcotics control  and we are strongly urged to sit still for a few minutes, preferably with our hands on our knees. He has hardly finished speaking or a muzzled German shepherd -a sniffer dog- storms into the bus. With its nose in the air – the animal on duty sniffs a split second at my mild flavoured hand rolling tobacco bag in the breast pocket of my nail jacket-  it runs along all passengers and their luggage. Then it is whistled back by its customs officer-boss, obviously assessing the bus as clean and  disappears. “Accurate, fast and cheap, such a German guest worker,” I gather. Then the second measure of the border crossing follows. The twelve Americans are allowed to sit back again. “But”, the driver announces, “passengers from outside Canada and the United States must get off with their luggage and go to  customs office.” I walk on the left and my German mate on the right side as we are waited for by two in impeccable uniforms dressed U.S. custom officers. Horst briefly meets an officer with black, shortly cut hair, a sphere head and a name plate on the broadly build torso with a long family name, ending in the letters ki. There is no doubt that his family is of Polish origin. I have to pass along an officer with a  Dutch name, which is written in one word here: Vancouwenburg. A strong fellow with blue eyes, a red head and grey “bebop” hair. He points at my flag: “Is not that a Frisian flag?”

I nod: “Yes, you are absolutely right.” He explains his knowledge with a shade of sentiment in his voice: “My grandparents originally came from Friesland in the Netherlands.” I hand over my passport. He makes a repelling gesture with his right hand and shakes his head: “Not necessary!” I put the strings of my backpack over my shoulders and pass through. A few yards further I turn around  with the intention to wait for my companion. He is just directed -backpack included- to a room at the side by Ki. “What happens to him?”, I ask. “Oh”, my officer replies, not restraining a yawn with boredom, “he has to empty his backpack and will be turned inside out from head to foot.” “But he is a European, travelling around just like I do!”, I utter, lost in amazement, “why am I allowed to pass through just like that and why has he…” The officer interrupts: “Because he is a German and you are not.” 


The bus driver honks his horn and waves impatiently at me: I have to get on.


(September 1978)

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