To be clear, I see being Mennonite as both an ethnic heritage and a Christian denomination. You can be a Mennonite because you joined a church and subscribe to Mennonite beliefs and/or you can be a Mennonite because you were born into a Mennonite family (in which case, you may not even have religious beliefs). This is possible because of the unique history of Mennonites: what began as a purely religious movement became a culture and ethnicity as the people who started the movement joined together from their different countries of origin and separated themselves from the broader culture, creating their own. Ethnic Mennonites have all the markers of a cultural identity: language (low German), names, food, and a shared story. This overlaps with, but is independent from, the Mennonite faith, that was founded on principles of pacifism and adult baptism. Anyone can join a Mennonite church and, if they wish, call themselves a Mennonite. In fact, the fastest growing Mennonite churches are in Africa. Discrimination happening in a church that was founded on pacifism and has its roots in experiences of deep persecution is backwards and wrong.
|Mennonites: We don't all look like this. Source: Wikimedia Commons.|
I am here to answer the burning question in all of your hearts: how to recognize a Mennonite.
What's that? You're not even sure what a Mennonite is? Of course you're not! Nobody is, not even all the Mennonites. We vary from living lives virtually indistinguishable from the Amish to being indistinguishable from the rest of the world. That's right. You could have a Mennonites walking among you, sitting next to you on the bus or working down the hall from your office, and not even know it.
Don't worry. I'm here to save the day. Here is a handy guide to identifying a Mennonite. (Don't worry about understanding what we are - that's a long story that is somehow simultaneously full of dramatic persecutions and super boring at the same time.)
Start with the last name.
Is it Thiessen, Wiebe, Reimer, Klassen, Rempel, or (don't giggle too much) Dick/Dyck? You've pegged someone who is at the very least half Mennonite (or perhaps married to one and erased their cultural background, thanks to the patriarchy.)
Yes, that's right, there are Mennonite names. We spent a lot of time getting chased out of European countries together and thus didn't mix much with the general populace. We were like super stodgy gypsies.
Prime them with a classic Mennonite joke.
Mennonite jokes generally refer to our cheapness or distrust of dancing (terrible - leads to sex). Lead lines of Mennonite jokes include "What is a terrible dilemma for a Mennonite?" (Answer: free dance lessons!) or "Why won't a Mennonite have sex?" (Answer: because it might lead to dancing!)
It might feel weird to walk up to random people and ask them about Mennonite sexual habits, but the payoff if they are Mennonite and know the joke will... well, it will still be awkward.
Pay attention during the holidays.
Mennonites have some very specific seasonal foods, and we take them very seriously (they are mostly deep fried dough, so why wouldn't we?)
At New Year's we will make New Year's cookies. Don't let the name fool you, these are not cookies at all but little balls of deep fried dough, often with raisins in them, even though that's gross. Often served dusted with icing sugar or with Rogers Golden Syrup.
At Easter, look out for paska. This is like Mennonite Gold. It's a very sweet, dense bread served with icing. Every family has a slightly different recipe (for example, some people erroneously ruin their paska with lemon zest, I assume to hide the secret of how good paska really is from the general public.)
In the summertime, it's time for Mennonite Gold II: roll kuchen. This time we roll our dough flat and cut it into rectangles before deep frying it. It is supposed to be served with Rogers Golden Syrup and watermelon, but some people have jam or icing sugar or whipping cream (they are still Mennonites though... I guess.) Always with the watermelon though.
Pretend you're Mennonite.
Mennonites are all supposed to know their entire family tree, so that when we encounter one another we can go back through our family histories and figure out where we are related or which village our great great uncles-in-law both lived in. This is called The Mennonite Game. (I am very bad at this part of being Mennonite - unless you knew my grandparents, the game is over.)
Ask where to buy farmer sausage.
Any self-respecting Mennonite, even ones who betrayed their heritage by becoming vegetarian (like me) know where the best place is to buy farmer sausage. If said Mennonite has left their family's rural/suburban farming community for an urban centre, they may only be able to direct you to a source in their hometown, but it still counts.
Talk more about food and heart attacks.
Like every culture, we are deeply attached to our food and eating habits. Sunday evenings is when you have faspa, a light dinner of svebach (that's a bun with a bonus bun on top), cheese, and cold cuts. Older Mennonites will enjoy pluma moos, basically a cold, pruney fruit soup. Wareneki are pierogies with cottage cheese, served with a "sauce" made of melted butter and sugar mixed together. Bubbat wurst is a thick biscuit-like dough you cook in a cake pan with chunks of farmer sausage in it, served with a heavy cream sauce.
Did I mention heart attacks?
Ask them if they are Amish.
The eye roll will be your answer. Mennonites have been mistaken for the Amish basically since Amish people separated out from the Mennonite movement.
If they are deeply confused at the question, then you just asked a random person if they are Amish out of the blue and that's super weird.