Ask McArdle: Do people actually eat Filet-o-Fish sandwiches?

Plus, office gifts for men?

(Illustration by Peter Arkle)

(Illustration by Peter Arkle)

What do nutcrackers have to do with Christmas anyway?

Wee McArdle looks forward to many holiday traditions: trimming the tree, drinking eggnog, dissecting the many plot problems in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He is not as fond of pulling on his Christmas turtleneck and venturing to the Nutcracker ballet with his mother. Intriguingly, the annual torturing of young boys with Tchaikovsky is a relatively recent trend. The solider-like nut destroyers that now adorn Christmas mantles everywhere have existed for hundreds of years, but carvers in Germany’s Ore Mountains popularized them in the 1890s. The handcrafts were a fallback industry, launched after all the minerals contained in the hills had been extracted. The nutcrackers were caricatures of authority figures and became popular in Germany’s famed Christmas markets.

Around the same time, Tchaikovsky adapted an 1816 story by E. T. A. Hoffmann into a ballet for a St. Petersburg theatre, but the Nutcracker did not become directly associated with Christmas until the 1950s. Even then, New York’s City Ballet regularly staged it during their summer season in Saratoga. But in 1957, the complete ballet aired on CBS on Christmas night, an event that repeated the following year. From that point forward, audiences came to associate the ballet with Christmas, the toys with the ballet and nutcrackers with the festive spirit.

Do people actually eat Filet-o-Fish sandwiches?

You are clearly skeptical about whether the fish sandwich still deserves its place on the McDonald’s menu, kind sir. Because it is rarely advertised, the Filet-O-Fish may seem like a second-class citizen of McDonaldland, and one now headed for exile thanks to salads, wraps and other modern fare. But the grand burghers of hamburgers assure me the Filet-O-Fish remains popular. Indeed, it serves to hook and reel in (fish puns, ahoy!) the same customers for whom it was created in 1962. At the time, Lou Groen, who owned a McDonald’s in Cincinnati, suffered a severe downturn in business at the end of each week. The reason? The surrounding populace was 87% Catholic and eschewed eating beef each Friday and throughout Lent. So Groen conceived of a halibut sandwich similar to one offered by a nearby Big Boy. He took the idea to head office, where he faced resistance.

You see, McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc had his own plan for a meat-free sandwich—the Hula Burger, which consisted of a slice of grilled pineapple with melted cheese on a bun. The company eventually tested the offerings in a side-by-side challenge, with a select number of outlets offering both on the same day. At the end of the test, customers had bought 350 Filet-O-Fishes and six Hula Burgers. Today, 300 million fish burgers are reportedly sold each year. And the popularity still surges during March and April—the period of Lent—and on Fridays, says McDonald’s Karin Campbell. That said, the recipe is not exactly as its creator intended. Groen’s fillets came from halibut, but head office changed it to less expensive cod. The Filet-O-Fish now features Alaskan pollock, which the company notes is a sustainable fish caught wild. A happy fish for your Happy Meal.

Men send women flowers at the office. What can women deliver to men at the office?

Gift-giving—like hosiery and responsibilities during childbirth—is a place where life is easier for men. We can always buy flowers. For women, it is worth remembering the path to a man’s affection passes through his digestive tract. Send cookies. Or ignore stereotypes and send flowers. Even Don Corleone loved roses.