One of the many advantages of being Jewish is that I am heir to one of the great languages of the world. French may be the language of love and German that of precision, but Yiddish is definitely the language of fools. No other language has so many terms to describe fools. We have schmo, schnook, schlump, schmuck, schlemiel, schlamasel, schmegeggy, schmendrick, not to mention the forever unpopular putz. Do not think that these are synonyms. Each has its distinct connotation.
For example, a schlemiel is the type of person who will do a friend a favor by carrying a grand piano single handedly up four flights of stairs. Should the grand piano fall out of a window, it will inevitably fall on top of either a schlamasel or a schmendrick, who for different reasons, are forever standing exactly in the place where grand pianos fall. The piano will never fall on a bonafide schmuck who deserves to have a grand piano fall on his head. No! The schmuck is just smart enough to find some poor schnook or schmegeggy and persuade one of them to stand under the window to catch the grand piano before it hits the ground.
That covers most of the terms except one – putz. In fact there are very few true putzes in the world, for which the rest of us are eternally grateful. It very difficult to explain what a putz is – even to a putz – because the putz is unaware that he has achieved putzhood. In fact, the putz thinks he is smarter than everyone else, only no one ever sees this.
The easiest way to explain Yiddish terms is to tell a story or a joke illustrating that term. Yiddish has literally thousands of putz jokes. For example:
Two putzes have a contest – who can name the highest number.
The first putz hesitates, thinks, and then says: “Nine”.
The second putz says, “You win.”
A more contemporary example would go like this. In 2005, China will be the world’s largest importer of hi-tech products such as commercial aircraft, telecommunications equipment as well as services such as banking, insurance, technical consultancy. There are two major exporters of these products – the EU and the U.S.
In 2005, when quotas are scheduled to be phased out, China, which is now the world’s largest exporter of garments, will become an even larger exporter of garments. There are two major importers of these products – the EU and the U.S.
Am I going too fast? Does everybody follow me? In the event that one of the listed schmucks is reading this, I would like him to understand. Perhaps he can pass this on to the Great Putz.
Now under the terms of China’s accession to the WTO, the Chinese Government agreed that either the EU, the U.S., or both may re-impose quotas on Chinese garment exports for an additional four years after the 2005 phase-out.
You can understand that if Chinese garment exports are discriminated against by either the U.S. or the EU, the Chinese will retaliate. Of this, there can be no doubt. If the Chinese feel they have been wronged, they will take action. And while it is totally untrue that Chinese will hold a grudge forever, they will be the first to admit that sometimes the Chinese take a bit longer to forgive and forget.
For example, in a tomb in Hangzhou are the cast iron statues of Qin Hui and his wife kneeling before Yue Fei. People would travel from all over China to visit Yue Fei’s tomb and while there take the opportunity to spit on the statues of Qin Hui and his wife. A few years ago, the PRC Government put a stop to the spitting. After all, people had been spitting on Qin Hui and his wife since 1193 and the government felt that after 800 years, it was time to forgive and forget – or at least to stop spitting.
Getting back to the garments and the putz. The question in everyone’s mind is, What action will the EU and the U.S. take in 2005?
This week the U.S. and the EU gave a preliminary answer. On Monday, Pascal Lamy, EU Commissioner for Trade, told a meeting of garment industry professionals that although the European textile and garment industries are important, Chinese imports which now total EUR350 billion annually cannot be jeopardized just to protect a bunch of T-shirt makers. In short, no quotas.
On Wednesday, President Bush invited U.S. textile and garment makers to write in their concerns about post-2005 Chinese garment exports in order to be prepared to re-institute quotas immediately after they have been phased out. First on the list are brassieres and luggage. In short, the U.S. places a higher value on brassieres and luggage than commercial aircraft.
The essence of a good Yiddish story is to imagine the scene at the punch line.
It is January 2005. The U.S. has re-imposed quotas on Chinese bras and luggage and Airbus announces a 100 gazillion dollar order from a group of Chinese airlines. I am trying to imagine the scene where President Bush explains to Boeing why the U.S. has sacrificed its single largest exporter to make the world safe for American brassieres. Surely, this is the apotheosis of putz.
Of course, this need not occur. President Bush could go to President Chirac cap in hand – or in this case, brassiere in hand – to work together and jointly re-impose Chinese export quotas. This should be interesting. After all, the U.S. and France have now established their own special relationship. But that is another story, the one about the two putzes.