Local man Arnold F. Thiessen, 81, like many Mennonites in western Canada, spent his entire life under the false impression that he was a ‘Russian’.
“All these years I’ve been eating borscht, cheering for the Russian hockey team, and closet-drinking vodka,” said Thiessen. “But it was all a lie. I feel so violated.”
Thiessen is referring to his recent subscription to a Mennonite genealogy website which revealed to him that his ancestors had lived in Russia for only about a century (and even then it was actually Ukraine). Before that they had lived in Prussia for a while, but almost everyone on Thiessen’s family tree originated in The Netherlands or Dutch-speaking areas of what is now Belgium.
“A man lives his whole life thinking he’s a Russian,” said Thiessen. “Of course, my surname should have tipped me off to the fact something was a little amiss. But as far back as I can recall we were always referred to as the ‘Russlander.'”
Thiessen plans to spend his remaining years celebrating his newfound Dutch heritage by wearing wooden shoes and eating gouda.
“I can’t believe all those times I lied on the Canadian census, telling them I was Russian,” said Thiessen. “I hope they don’t throw me in prison. I’m an old man. I don’t think I could handle it.”
Thiessen has convinced many of his friends to follow his lead and refer to themselves as Dutch, rather than Russian, Mennonites from now on.
“I’m going to correct this error if it’s the last thing I do,” said Thiessen, who plans to spend summer 2017 in one of those nice Amsterdam coffee shops he’s heard so much about.