Lessons from Lutefisk

The following is taken directly from PrairieHome.org, and I am using it here with no permission whatsoever. I was compelled to reproduce it because I recognize more than a bit of myself in Sarah, and I also recognize some of my more interesting friends in the response. It’s a lesson worth learning.

FRESH LUTEFISK

Dear Garrison,
As an honorary Minnesotan (my Mom’s from here) visiting Stillwater (on the St. Croix) for our annual New Year’s family gathering, I am wondering — What is “fresh” lutefisk? This question arose as we shopped at Brine’s Meat Market (a Stillwater institution — check it out) yesterday, and saw the sign advertising it. I didn’t want to show my ignorance at the local store (I could pass as a Minnesotan most days, with my heavy coat and snow boots). Isn’t lutefisk by definition, not fresh? I would hate to see/taste/smell less than fresh lutefisk.

Any help on solving this mystery appreciated!

Sarah R.
Newcastle, CA

Ah, Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. “I didn’t want to show my ignorance” — that’s the wrong road for an intelligent young woman to travel. Showing ignorance is how we learn, it’s how we get strangers to tell us their stories, it’s how we experience the world fully. False sophistication — putting on a front of cool knowingness — is the road to ignorance. You should never ever be afraid to say, “What is that?” No need to preface it with an apology. I say this from bitter experience, Sarah. I wasted some of the best years of my life in pretending to a worldly sophistication that stopped my education right in its tracks. Even today, people looking at me imagine that I know all sorts of things that in fact I’m stupid about. Such as fresh lutefisk. I imagine it means that Brine’s makes their own lutefisk and isn’t selling stuff in plastic bags that was manufactured a year ago in China. I know Brine’s Meat Market well. I used to shop there almost thirty years ago, before you were born (I assume, though I don’t want to ask), before our radio show was broadcast in Newcastle, before Brine’s was selling lutefisk, when they were mainly selling lean ground round and enormous pastrami sandwiches. Bud Brine would’ve been thrilled if a young woman from California had asked him about fresh lutefisk. He’d have invited her back behind the counter and offered her a taste of it and told her the whole story. Remember this little life lesson, Sarah. Some of the great journalists of our time have found that nothing works so well in gathering information as a display of ignorance. Happy New Year.

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