I. Am. Canadian.

I. Am. Canadian.

Happy Canada Day!

July 1st is Canada Day, and tomorrow my homeland will celebrate its 144th birthday. There’s a huge party going on at City Hall, a 10-minute walk away, but I won’t be going — introvert that I am, I can’t stand crowds. We’ll celebrate quietly at home, with a barbecue for our extended families and a red-and-white cake to finish off the feast. When it gets dark we’ll enjoy the fireworks (and feed the mosquitoes) from our back yard.

I’ve been Canadian for most of my life, but like many of my compatriots, I haven’t always been able to articulate exactly what that means. One of the best (and briefest) explorations of Canadian culture I’ve seen in recent years came from a most unlikely source: a television commercial for Molson Canadian beer that aired in 2000. Titled The Rant, it struck a chord with Canadians because it addressed a number of popular misconceptions and stereotypes about Canada and its citizens. Plus, it made us laugh.

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One of the criticisms of the ad was its tendency to define “Canadian” as “not American.” It’s true that Canadians seem to suffer from a collective identity crisis; our proximity to the United States, the close trade partnership between the two countries, and the fact that we’re inundated with American media products make Canadians somewhat defensive about our need to differentiate ourselves from our neighbours to the south.

A closer look at the text of The Rant unearths a few more clues about what it means to be Canadian:

Canadian sled dog race

Actually, I drive a Toyota Corolla.

Hey, I’m not a lumberjack or a fur trader. I don’t live in an igloo or eat blubber or own a dogsled. And I don’t know Jimmy, Sally or Suzy from Canada, although I’m certain they’re really, really nice.

Abroad, Canada is often stereotyped as a vast, frozen wasteland, populated by “Eskimos” and lumberjacks. Historically, the Inuit, First Nations, and Métis — as well as the French and English settlers — each played a significant role in molding Canadian cultural values and national identity.

The comment about not knowing Jimmy, Sally or Suzy is classic, sure to prompt a knowing smile from expat Canucks. Foreigners generally have a difficult time grasping the enormity of the country, which spans 5,000 km (3,000 miles) from Atlantic to Pacific and encompasses 6 time zones. We’re always being asked if we know so-and-so, as though all 34.5 million of us routinely swap recipes and go bowling together. (On discovering my nationality, a complete stranger once asked me if I knew his cousin in Vancouver. When I gently explained that the distance between Vancouver and Toronto is well over 3,000 km, he stared at me slack-jawed. I would have to fly five hours to visit his cousin — it only takes me an hour and a half to reach my brother in Minnesota.)

Nice is an adjective often used to describe Canadians. It can be interpreted in a variety of ways, from bland (particularly in comparison to our more flamboyant American neighbours), to polite. This national quality of politeness was even a factor in The Rant itself, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:

After shouting out the final words of the speech — “My name is Joe, and I am Canadian!” — [the actor] says a polite “thank you.”… At least one high-powered executive thought it was a wimpy cop-out. Others, however, maintained that it was a very Canadian ending to the commercial, and they decided to keep it in.

It’s not just our history that helps define us; our geography also plays a part. The Rant notes that Canada is “the second-largest landmass,” and a sparsely populated one at that. These factors contribute to the regionality of the Canadian experience. In many ways, Vancouverites are as different from Newfoundlanders as Mexicans are from Spaniards – they may speak the same language, but their vocabularies, histories, and worldviews can be drastically different.

Another geographical aspect worth noting is our extreme weather. Long, cold winters perhaps contribute to the slight reserve that coexists with our niceness.

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Canada beaver

Proud and noble… with big teeth.

I have a Prime Minister, not a President. I speak English and French, not American. And I pronounce it “about,” not “aboot.” I can proudly sew my country’s flag on my backpack. I believe in peacekeeping, not policing; diversity, not assimilation; and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal. A tuque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch, and it is pronounced “zed,” not “zee.” “ZED!”

Canada has been an officially bilingual country since 1969. Canadian French differs from that spoken in France primarily because of its distinctive accent and vocabulary. Canadian English is a mixture of standard British and American English, with a bit of French and a sprinkling of First Nations and Inuit words thrown in for good measure.

Americans often claim Canadians pronounce about like aboot, but it’s not quite so. For this illusion we can blame the phenomenon of Canadian Raising, which involves diphthongs and voiceless obstruents and other linguistic terms I know nothing about. I can tell you, however, that Canadians really do say eh a lot.

Although the reference to the beaver may have been tongue-in-cheek, it’s worth noting that it’s an important symbol of Canada. It recalls our past as a fur-trading outpost, but it also embodies the Canadian value of industriousness. We’re a task-oriented people with a strong work ethic. We also have an official policy of multiculturalism and an historic role in UN peacekeeping missions.

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Hockey: Canada's national pastime

I know nothing about the game, but apparently we Canadians are pretty good at this hockey thing.

Canada is the second largest landmass, the first nation of hockey, and the best part of North America. My name is Joe, and I am Canadian!

My name is Maria, and so am I. Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canucks, at home and around the world!

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About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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16 Responses to I. Am. Canadian.

  1. naomi says:

    love it! (so you refer to yourself as a Canuck? I referred to a Canadian friend that way on a blog post and kind of got the “that’s disrespectful” vibe ??)

  2. Hi Maria,
    I love “The Rant!” I remember it well…and I have the baseball cap! Happy Canada Day to you too. I’ll never forget the one and only Canada Day I was in Ottawa and the crowd was so thick I literally got picked up off my feet and moved in a direction I didn’t want to go. That was the day I developed an anxiety around crowds so I understand the backyard BBQ plan! Have fun.
    Anne

  3. Jenna says:

    I’m still always amazed at the number of Americans who know so little about the world outside the USA.The classic ‘Do you know Suzy, John etc’ is certainly real.I am Australian(currently living in Hong Kong) but certainly realise just how large Canada is and also just how diverse the inhabitants are. To not know these things about your immediate neighbours to the North is just embarrassing for the American people! BTW , while travelling through the USA recently I lost count of the amount of people who asked whether we could speak Japanese coming from Hong Kong? After a while we just smiled and wondered whether one day they might look at a map and see what a ridiculous question they were asking….

    • Maria says:

      It’s not just Americans, though. Quiet countries like mine fly under the radar all over the world. The “do you know my cousin?” question came from a Singaporean — his country is only 40-something km from end to end, so he had some trouble grasping the enormity of what I was telling him. I once had an Australian ask me what “Canadia” was like — that was fun.

  4. Judy says:

    And because we are a nation of immigrants, pretty much everyone you meet overseas has a connection with the country. When I visited a heritage village in Abu Dhabi, a Palestinian tailor was showing me how he embroidered bisht – the traditional overgarment worn by Arab rulers. When I told him I was from Canada he insisted on calling his cousin in Mississauga on his cell phone, despite the fact that it was about 5am in Canada! He passed me the phone and I had to apologize profusely to a total stranger for waking him. But of course, he was Canadian, so politely told me it was fine and I should enjoy my visit with his cousin. 🙂 Happy Canada Day!

    • Maria says:

      My first reaction when I read your comment was to be glad none of my overseas cousins call me at 5 a.m. to tell me about random Canadians they’ve met. But early morning phone calls aside, it’s a lovely story, isn’t it? Thanks for the pre-Canada Day smile, and enjoy the long weekend.

  5. msleetobe says:

    Happy Canada Day Maria!!! I’m back in the Motherland for July 1st for the first time since 2003! I hope you have a lovely day of celebration at home! 🙂

  6. lexy3587 says:

    Happy Canada Day 🙂

  7. Hello Maria, I enjoyed your post! =)

  8. A belated but heartfelt ‘Happy Canada Day’ to you! I loved this ‘rant’ and think most countries ought to follow suit. No one loves to be stereotyped, and certainly not mistaken for coming from other countries. (Yes, Americans are geographically challenged, but I can assure you I’ve learned firsthand that we are not alone in that regard.) Citizenship and ‘home country’ are important concepts that are sometimes taken for granted and certainly appreciated more when you’re living elsewhere. Hope you had a very Canadian Canada Day with you and yours!

  9. Stacey says:

    I just ran cross this post. A marvelous use of the I am Canadian commercial. 😉 Cheers from a couple of Canucks in Singapore.

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