Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s TV show has apologized for calling Newfoundlanders by a diminutive nickname many find offensive.
The Twitter account for CNN’s Parts Unknown used the term “Newfie” in a now-deleted tweet promoting this Sunday’s hotly anticipated episode on Newfoundland and Labrador.
The official Parts Unknown account shared an article with Newfoundland-related books and local slang, saying “Embrace the Newfies as they are.”
Users were quick to jump on the use of a term that’s considered derogatory, with origins implying Newfoundlanders are unintelligent and lazy.
One man tweeted that “a fair portion of Newfoundlanders find the term ‘Newfie’ offensive” and said it was hard to understand why they used it “in an otherwise excellent article.”
“Ah, you had me until you called me a Newfie. I find it an derogatory term,” another Twitter user said.
User staggcrystal wrote: “Come on CNN. It is Newfoundlanders.”
Even as other Newfoundlanders said they didn’t find the term offensive, Seamus O’Regan, a St. John’s MP and the federal minister of veterans affairs, tweeted simply: “We don’t like it.”
Late Thursday afternoon, the show acknowledged the criticism on Twitter, offered an apology and appeared to delete the original tweet.
“We regret our use of the word ‘Newfie’ to describe the people of Newfoundland. We apologize for any offence and will stick to Newfoundlanders going forward,” it said.
A little later, it added: “Tweets on this account are not written or reviewed by Anthony Bourdain. Once again we apologize.”
James Baker of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., published a research paper last year on the history of the term, and its perception among postsecondary students in Newfoundland. He found that the results were a “mixed bag,” but people were quick to notice when the term was used in a derogatory way – especially on social media.
“When you have someone who’s not a Newfoundlander uses it, people tend to pay much more attention to it, especially someone as famous as Anthony Bourdain,” said Baker.
But Baker says most Americans, including Bourdain, likely wouldn’t pick up on the nuance behind the term, which has been compared to derogatory terms for other ethnic groups, like using “Polack” to refer to someone of Polish heritage.
Baker added that while coverage of the province in American media can be fraught with cultural misunderstandings, interest in Newfoundland from outsiders can be seen as a positive, inviting potential visitors in the future.
“Anything that paints the province in a positive light is a great opportunity for tourism.”
Paul De Decker, a linguistics professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland, says the term “runs a gambit” when discussed in his classes. Some students see it as a “badge of honour” or an endearing term, while others think it’s inappropriate, especially from people who aren’t from the island.
But De Decker sees potential for linguistic change with new audiences like American Parts Unknown viewers, who are likely unaware of the term’s history, or the stereotype of Newfoundland as an economically disadvantaged province.
“They see it 1/8 Newfoundland 3/8 for how Anthony Bourdain has portrayed it,” said De Decker. “They may not take away the same meaning that Canadians and Newfoundlanders have understood the term in the past. To them there might be nothing but positive associations with the term.”
“It would be great if we’re now at the time, and maybe this is one episode, one media outlet, where the term can take on what we call amelioration – it takes on a positive aspect.”
The celebrity chef visited the province last fall, dining with local chefs on delicacies from moose meat to authentic fish and chips.
Bourdain also visited the French island of St. Pierre off the coast of Newfoundland, and embarked on cod fishing and moose hunting excursions.
Bourdain’s Instagram posts, including a photo of himself enjoying a seaside dinner in front of a bearskin rug with the caption “#newfoundland,” generated local excitement at the time.
Jeremy Charles, head chef behind Raymond’s in downtown St. John’s, hosted Bourdain on his visit, serving up menu items and showing off the province’s splendours.
Jeremy Bonia, manager of Raymond’s, reflected positively on Bourdain’s visit, saying the chef himself never used the term in his writing or appearances on the show.
Bonia said the restaurant has already received emails from potential international guests who heard about Raymond’s through early coverage on Parts Unknown, and expects that interest to grow after the episode airs.
“At the end of the day, you’re always gonna have people not happy with something, or use the wrong word,” said Bonia. “Any time Newfoundland gets showcased internationally like this, it makes everybody really proud.”
As the airdate approaches, other locals are expressing their excitement for the showcase of Newfoundland’s food and culture.
Said Twitter user mrsmaris: “All of Canada will be watching. No, seriously.”