“Mai Ling, hol amal die Zigaretten …” or why Gerhard Polt is always relevant

I feel a real urge to link a video today. It is a sketch done by Gerhard Polt, a German comedian and actor, and I remember it from my earliest childhood. Whenever it was broadcast or aired on radio, it used to be an institution.  Phrases from it have become “geflügelte Worte” — standard phrases to highlight ignorance, hypocrisy and supremacy.

However, it needs an introduction: This is satire, of the most bitter sort. Which means, he (Polt) is not actually a racist. This is a character he is playing. The piece is making fun of people thinking like the character in the video; so in fact, the sketch is the opposite of racist. I just felt it neccessary to state this, because I won’t want this to be in any way ambiguous or be lost in the mist of translation.

Why this is relevant

The sketch is over twenty years old, and it has lost nothing of its relevance. What it shows, is that pet love is something entirely else from respect; to “like” something is not the same as to respect someone. Polt’s character there “likes” Asians — he surely doesn’t respect his spouse.  In fact, like or dislike of something is irrelevant for respect.

The character there likes Asians! And he even got himself one of his own! Now … if that isn’t tolerance.  He even let her keep a pair of chopsticks! If this isn’t kind of him … Well, no, whatever it is, it is surely the opposite of respect.

Oh, don’t start with gays again … 

Well, I do. I have to. This clip is not only about Asians, or rather, about how some German men treat Asian women they “bought” from a catalogue. I am reminded of that sketch almost daily, when I encounter any supremacy mentality — be it how some bosses treat their employees, or how white people talk about people of colour, or about how straight people talk about gays.

“But I like Asians! They always look so exotic! I’ve even been to Bangkok, once!” “I like black men, you know, they all *silly giggle*” “I have nothing against gays, one of my friends is gay!” “Gays are the best.” “Gays are so much more gentle and considerate to women. I feel so understood.” I can’t help but finding that this only marginally differs from “Der Asiate an sich ist ja sehr sauber.” (“The Asian per se is very cleanly, really.”)

“I like gays, just they don’t have to flaunt it really. This thing going on at gay pride parades is so offending.” — Polt’s variation on the topic: “I mean, we have other ideas altogether, starting at cutlery. I’ve said right at the start, ‘Mai Ling, those sticks, …’ I burnt them, later on. I let her keep a pair, she can go and play Mikado with them if she likes.” So supportive. Really, she doesn’t have to flaunt her exoticness, really, after all, and offensively use chopsticks.

So, to make this gem of a satire (maybe the best ever done in German) available to all not-native speakers of the German language, I made a transcript, and a translation.

To the language, and his way of speaking

An annotation to his way of speaking: He has a Bavarian accent, so “das” becomes “des”, some words are different, and he uses a lot of so-called “Füll-” or “Füllselwörter.” Things like “But er … I mean, I … hm … isn’t it?” would be the equivalent in English. The excessive use of them — and also his crude way of shaping sentences, and rambling on, and on, is deliberate, and is done to disclose a great deal about his character there. Most noticably and obviously — apart from what can be assumed on the character’s income, and education from his way of speaking — it is showing the character’s discomfort in front of the camera.

What is really vicariously embarassing about this, is that the character is uneasy, but for all the wrong reasons. He feels a little set-back before his peers because “his” Asian is a little more yellow, and he excuses himself for her, in little gestures, mostly, when she refuses to do what he wants, or simply doesn’t understand what he wants from her. (The last line of hers shows she most probably understood all what has been said, which is like a final blow in the guts of the audience.)

Transcript and translation

(I stuck to standard German in the transcript, to make it more accessible for non-Germans who want to follow what he is saying. I tried to stick as closely to the original as possible.)

(to Mai Ling:)
Sag einmal schön Grüß Gott, Mai Ling!
Now be nice, say “hello,” Mai Ling!

(to the camera team, or the audience , then to Mai Ling, then to the audience again.)
Grüß Gott; ich hab sie erst seit drei Wochen. Sag mal schön Grüß Gott, das sind die Herrschaften vom Fernsehen. Also, Mai Ling heißt’s [heißt sie]. Das heißt, ich heiß’ ja Grundwürmer, also und sie natürlich jetzt eigentlich auch, also Mai Grundwürmer, geborene Ling.
Hello; I ‘ve only had her since three weeks ago. Be nice and say ‘hello’! — These are the gentlemen from the TV station. So, Mai Ling she’s called. That is, well I am called Grundwürmer [literally Ground-wormer], well, and of course, really, she is too now, so, Mai Grundwürmer, née Ling.

2785 Mark, ab Bangkok Airport hab ich bezahlt, also hab ich kommen lassen. Das ist, also, relativ preiswert wenn man bedenkt, also, sie ist ja aus der Provinz. Also natürlich, 500 DM mehr wenn ich draufgelegt hätte, dann hätte ich auch eine Vietnamesin kriegen können. Die sind noch etwas robuster, aber da gehen jetzt natürlich die Meinungen auseinander.
2785 Deutschmark, I paid, from Bankok Airport  I mean I had her come. This is, well, quite a decent price if you consider, well, she is from the province. Obviously, if I had paid 500 Euros more yet, I would have been able to get a girl from Vietnam, too. They are yet a little more robust, but naturally, opinions differ on that topic. 

Schauen Sie sie an, ich meine, sie ist doch nicht schlecht, oder? Und sie ist auch sehr sauber, also sie schmutzt nicht. Wie der Asiate an und für sich überhaupt nicht schmutzt.
Look at her, I mean she is not at all bad, is she? And she is also very clean; she doesn’t soil. Just as the Asian as such doesn’t soil at all. 

[1:10]
Also, freilich, gewisse Anpassungsschwierigkeiten, die lassen sich nicht ganz vermeiden, rein küchenmäßig betrachtet, weil ich vertrag’ das Chinesische gar nicht so. Und ich mein’, wir haben da ganz andere Vorstellungen, schon beim Besteck. Ich habe gleich gesagt, also, ‘Mai Ling, diese Staberl’ [Stäbchen; Staberl is Bavarian] — ich hab’s dann eing’schürt [verbrannt]. Ein Paar hab ich ihr dann gelassen, da kann sie dann Mikado spielen damit.
Well, of course, there have been some inital difficulties adjusting; it can’t be avoided on the whole, considering things to do with cuisine, because I can’t stomach Chinese food. [He seems to forget that his wife-to be is from Thailand; this is deliberate. For the char this is one and the same, of course.] I mean, we have other ideas altogether, starting at cutlery. I’ve said right at the start, ‘Mai Ling, those sticks, …’ I burnt them, later on. I let her keep a pair, she can go and play Mikado with them if she likes.

Ich mein, … und sie ist da auch sehr flexibel und anschmiegsam. Überhaupt – das Schlafzimmer. Also, da sind sie ja berühmt, die Asiatinnen. Da könnten sie Deutsche sein, gell? Und sie ist sehr leise, also wenn es irgendwo knarzt oder pocht, dann könnte man meinen, ein Mäuserl [Mäuschen], gell? Das ist sie. Sie tritt ja fast kaum auf; sie schwebt ja förmlich, weil sie nichts wiegt. Ich weiß jetzt nicht, was sie jetzt wiegt, ich müsste da noch mal nachwiegen, oder im Katalog noch mal nachschauen was sie gesagt haben, das sie wiegt.
I mean, and then she is very flexible and slinky. Anyhow — the bedroom. After all, that’s where they’re famous, Asian women. There they’re just as good as Germans, right? And she is very silent; if there is a knock or a creak somewhere, you could well imagine it was a little mouse, hm? That’s her. You barely hear her footfall; she veritably floats, because she weighs nothing.  I can’t tell from the top of my head what she is weighing. I would have to weigh her again, or look up in the catalogue what they did say there about her weight.

[2:15]
Mai Ling, hol eimal den Prospekt da, da, den Prospekt da, mei [short for my God, never spoken out, more similar to the English, “Well, whatever …” in the way it is used], das Deutsche, … Hol einmal den Prospekt, da, hol einmal den Prospekt, da, den Katalog, da wo du drin warst, Mai Ling, hol ihn einmal. Ja, da, den Prospekt, hol ihn einmal her, ja, … na endlich.
Mai Ling, go fetch the brochure over there, there, the brochure, where you were in. Mai Ling, fetch it. Yes, there, the brochure, fetch it now, yes … finally.

Also da, schauen Sie her, das ist der Prospekt, ich mein’, das sind Schwarzweißphotos. Also, aus diesen Photos geht jetzt nicht genau hervor, weil, sie ist ein bisschen gelb, also das weiß man ja vom Asiaten. Sie ist schon ein bisschen sehr gelb ausgefallen. Obwohl, ich finde, sie passt hier sehr gut rein, ne?
So now, take a look here, this is the brochure, I mean, those are black and white pictures. Which means, the pictures don’t reveal exactly, because, she is a little yellow, well, everyone knows that about Asians. She turned out to be a little very yellow. But then, I think she fits in well here, doesn’t she?

[3:05]
Ich mein, schauen Sie mal hier, Seite vier … da ist alles da: Maße, Gewicht, wann sie geboren ist, geimpft ist sie auch. Geht ja nicht anders gell? Bei Importen, da wird da sehr drauf geschaut. Und ich mein’, die Daten, die sind jetzt nicht ganz korrekt, weil, zum Beispiel, da hat es jetzt geheißen, einen Meter 49 ist sie groß, sie ist aber dann doch drei Zentimeter länger angekommen als man gedacht hätte.
I mean, have a look here , page four … everything is there : measurements, weight, when she was born , she is vaccinated as well. Well it’s a must, isn’t it? With imports, they are paying great attention to such things. And well, the numbers, they aren’t quite correct, like, for example, there it stated: one meter and 49 centimeters, but she turned out to arrive here three centimeters longer than one would have thought.

Weil eine Verwandte von mir, die Annie, die hat ein Kinderbett, und da hab jetzt ich geglaubt, dass ich sie reinbring’. Also, vom Mobiliar her gesehen habe ich dann doch etwas umdisponieren müssen. Mei, das sind jetzt einmal Kosten, sagen wir mal, Taxi vom Flughafen, Anfahrtswege, Gesundheitspass, Ausweisgebühren, … sie wird ja dann Deutsche, das wird extra berechnet.
Because a relative of mine, Annie, she has a child’s bed, and i thought I would fit her in there. So, concerning furniture, I had to reschedule some things. Well, of course there were expenses, like, let’s say, the taxi from the airport, the distance she needed to travel there, health card, passport fees, … she is going to be German then, which costs extra.

[4:03]
Aber sonst muss ich sagen, also ich bin sehr zufrieden. Auch diese Flitterwoche, die da absolviert worden ist, also, die hat unsere Erwartungen durchaus, Sie verstehen, … Also ich war dann sehr überrascht, also diese enorme Exotik, die da auf einen hinzukommt, nicht, also, Sie verstehen. Und drum hat auch der Asiate diese enorme Nachfrage, also diese Resonanz in breitesten Kreisen der Bevölkerung, nicht?
But otherwise I have to say, well, I am very pleased. Also this honeymoon that has been completed threre, well, it exceeded our expectations indeed. You understand, … I was very surprised, you know, this enourmous exoticness you’re in for there, isn’t it? Well, you understand. And that’s why the Asian in in such huge demand; i mean, this resonance in the widest circles of the population, don’t you agree?

Jetzt passen Sie mal auf.
Now watch.

(to Mai Ling)
Mai Ling, hol einmal die Zigaretten. Da, die Zigaretten sollst du holen! Die Zigaretten! Und Zündhölzel [he is faking ‘Asian’ there, suggesting that she can’t pronounce an “r”], da, hol sie mal!
Mai Ling, go and fetch my cigarettes. There, the cigarettes, fetch them! The cigarettes! And matches! There, go and fetch them!

Das ist eben, nicht, ich habe einmal einen Schäfer [Schäferhund] gehabt, der ist auch sehr ungern ins Wasser gehupft [gehüpft or gesprungen], wenn man ihm ein Steckerl [ein Stöckchen] reingeschmissen hat, also das ist halt, … Ja, was ist denn, die Zigaretten sollst du holen! Ja hol sie mal, also, nicht, so, ja, brav.
Well, that’s what I’ve been talking about, isn’t it? I used to have a sheperd dog, and it didn’t like to jump into the water just as well when you tossed a stick, so that’s like … Now what is it; fetch the cigarettes! Now fetch them!  Well, not … like this … yes … There’s a good girl.

Ich meine, es ist schon, ein Geduldsspiel ist es schon, nicht, ich meine, die haben ein ganz anderes Zeitgefühl. Also man muss eine Geduld haben und eine gewisse praktische Psychologie, nicht, dann geht alles. Aber sonst muss ich sagen, ich bin sehr zufrieden, nicht.
I mean, it’s testing your patience, isn’t it. I mean, they have a completely different concept of time. So you have to have patience, and a certain practical psychology, then you’ll manage everything. But this let alone, I have to say, I am very content, am I not?

(To Mai Ling.)
Sind wir sehr zufrieden? Sind wir ausgesprochen zufrieden, hm?
Are we very content? Are we extremely content? Hm? 

Mai Ling:
Darf ich mal etwas …?
May I say something … ?

(Polt)
Eh.

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