How to piss off a Greenlander

It’s really easy to piss off someone from Greenland, and Tina Egede, a native Inuit explains it much more indignantly than I ever could.

She asks you to think about the questions you ask. For example…

Ask us if anyone actually lives here.

Um, the short answer is yes. We have a population of 57,000. Yes, the whole population. The capital city, Nuuk, has about 16,000 people — this is where I grew up. Greenland is small but far from last place when it comes to countries ranked by population.

A few that come after us: the Faroe Islands, Palau, Vatican City, and dead last, the tiny South Pacific post-Bounty-mutiny nation of the Pitcairn Islands (population: 56). A few that come before us: everybody else.

Accuse us of hunting helpless baby seals.

We’ve hunted our own food since the beginning of time in our huge, magnificent outdoors where animals live free and not in cages pumped full of chemicals. So don’t start in on us about how cute the seals, reindeer, and whales are. We don’t just live in Greenland — we survive in Greenland. So we make damn good use of the meat, fat, and skin every single time.

And we don’t hunt baby seals — that would’t feed enough people and would destabilize the population. A whale, on the other hand, can feed an entire community for a winter. And it goes beyond feeding — the fat is used as oil, the skin and organs are harvested, and there’s wax to be had as well. Everything is used. Can you say that about the last steak you ate? Could you even say where it came from? Or how about that tuna sashimi you had last week? Did you know it’s being fished to near extinction? Our tradition of sustainably living off our land — and its wildlife — would never result in a species extinction. But more than that, remember how we only have 57,000 people?

Call us Eskimos.

The most common description for my kind, and other Arctic-dwelling peoples, is “Eskimo” — and, boy, do we hate it. Unless you’re from Canada or Alaska you might not know the term “Inuit,” but it’s the correct and proper term to use. To us, Eskimo is a word for cartoons and stereotypes; it’s outdated and a bit insulting because it’s a generalization. Some Inuit might even consider it a slur. The word Eskimo comes from Alaska, perhaps from a native word that means “people who eat raw meat.” It might fly in Alaska (and it might not), but the bottom line is it’s not cool in Greenland.

In reality, most Arctic natives from North America, Greenland, and Chukotka, Russia prefer the term Inuit — and certainly prefer it above eskimo; while the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia tend to prefer the term Saami. There are even more tribes and more terms because not all natives have the same roots, traditions, or cultures — despite outsiders wanting to paint us all with the same brush.

“Konnichiwa!” (i.e., greet us in an Asian language).

I realize to some people we look Asian, but don’t assume we are. Yes, I have smaller eyes and very wide, large cheekbones that are common to ethnic Greenlandic — and yes, there are theories about who crossed what continents to populate these arctic places, but that’s not the point. The point is: at least have the courtesy to ask where I’m from instead of blurting out “Are you from China?” It’s a naive assumption, especially considering we’re literally on the other side of the planet from Asia.

Assume we live in igloos.

As “the people” of the arctic, a lot of outsiders assume we dwell in igloos. This comes from the same cartoons, or commercials, or old movies that people get the word Eskimo from. No, we don’t. We live in houses. Igloos are for fun in wintertime when we build them with our cousins, siblings, or nieces and nephews, just as you might build a snowman. I never heard of anyone actually living in one here in Greenland. In places like Alaska and Northern Canada, sometimes Arctic hunters build one for shelter from storms or when out on long hunts. Wouldn’t you?

Tell us how you heard we all get around by dogsled.

As other countries, we have roads. And we went and got cars to fill those roads. We have seasons — believe it or not — and that means we don’t have snow year-round in many parts of the country. What we do have are Greenlandic Dogs. Not huskies, like in Alaska, but Greenlandic Dogs. These dogs are aggressive and only loyal to their owners, and we are told many times as kids to never get close to one that we don’t own. People are only allowed to own Greenlandic Dogs starting in Sisimiut — a town somewhat in the middle of Greenland — and every city, town, and village north of it. Even at this halfway point, dogsleds are mostly used to travel away from the city and go hunting.

Make fun of the language.

We are proud of being Greenlandic, very proud. We have a language that is only similar to Inuktitut in Canada. English, Danish, Spanish, and many other languages like to make sentences out of lots of small words. Well, in Greenlandic, we add letters to the end of the word and make one long word instead of a sentence. For example: “I am going traveling for a little bit”: Angalaalaalerpunga. One word, but a whole sentence/statement. Angalaa (travel) laa (little bit) lerpunga (I am going). Make fun of it all you want, but we are proud of our unique linguistics, which sounds like music to my ears.

Say we’re Danish.

No — we’re Greenlandic. And only Greenlandic. We’re reminded repeatedly that Denmark “owns” us. Denmark is 3,645km from our capital, Nuuk, and has a completely different culture, language, and landscape. For centuries, Greenland was inhabited by Inuit, but explorers came knocking, and Denmark was the first one to offer their help in developing our country. Sure, they colonized us, but that didn’t dilute our Greenlandic identity. Also, that was in 1814, which was over 200 years ago!

This post was first written for Matador Network and republished with full permission by Tina Egede.

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17 thoughts on “How to piss off a Greenlander

  1. What a great post! Greenland is on my top five, to visit! It is a big dream to travel there! However, I have always though of the Greenlandic as Danish. Now, I know they do not see it that way, and that I should not say that to a greelander if I do not want to be punched in the face!

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