EVAN: I was going to start off this introduction with a whole slew of Canadian stereotypes, complete with obnoxious faux-Canadian-written-accent, but let’s be honest, my inexperience with all such things is what originally made me opt for this topic in the first place.
This commercial should help fill in a few blanks, though.
It should be no secret to many of you that Kat hails from the Great White North, and while I myself was born there I’ve spent much of my life abroad. In today’s discussion our goal is to work through some of what it means to count oneself a Canuck.
KAT: This will be no easy task, since in our two corners of the country Evan and I are both closer to the States than we are to each other. Does Canada even have a distinct culture? Or are we like one massive tumour growing onto American pop culture?
Why don’t we start by spitballing some of the things we both tell people about when describing our “home and native land”?
EVAN: Well, I think right off the bat there’s the assumption that we’re a more polite people. It’s the first thing that came to mind when wanting to broach this topic, and I guess I was wondering if this was as much a burden on everyone else as it is on me.
Given that general assumption I have to admit that I often remind myself that I have a certain reputation to uphold.
KAT: Haha. I’ve never felt compelled to keep up a reputation of politeness, but I do get in trouble regularly for saying sorry (too much), especially when I’m not actually the one at fault.
EVAN: In general, though, have you ever found that people have expectations of you after finding out where you’re from? It’s definitely something I’ve had more experience with, having lived abroad and studied in the States.
KAT: No, I haven’t really found that. But maybe that’s because the two most recent places I traveled to were French speaking (Niger, then before that, France). Whenever I said I was from Canada in those places people would respond with “Oh, Celine Dion.”
But Maybe English speaking Canada and Quebec have slightly different reputations. I know here out West people tend to resent Quebec for “special treatment” (different laws, etc) and never really describe ourselves as partially French (although personally I really wish I had been brought up bilingual). Is it different in Ontario perhaps? And when you’ve traveled, did people assume you were bilingual?
EVAN: I’ve definitely had people ask me if I knew French, or how good my French was, so I suppose that’s also a common knowledge for most.
You brought up a really interesting question starting out, which is whether or not we even have a distinct culture. Seeing as you’re the one who’s lived most of their life in the country I was wondering if you could answer it yourself-
KAT: Well, yes. I think we do. I think a big part of that culture is because we have very carefully protected our media. Did you grow up listening to or watching CBC for instance?? I love listening to CBC radio. They discuss such relevant Canadian issues, and have basically every amazing Canadian on there at some point or another. After being bombarded with American News and Television, listening to CBC is like being in on a great big inside joke with other Canadians.
Describing that culture, however, is much more complex.
I think it requires referring back to our unique history, our famous writers, musicians, actors, etc, and then applying humour to it all. I think that’s the best way I can try to describe Canadian culture.
As a Canadian who grew up outside Canada, did you see it represented as a unique culture?
EVAN: Honestly, it was more or less just a word for me for a pretty long time. A word I strongly identified with, but a word nonetheless.
I knew that we had Mounties and maple syrup and the CN Tower, but not what it really meant as a whole to be from this place. The history classes I took at a public school in 7th and 8th grade helped a lot in helping establish a sort of heritage, how this nation came about.
As far as any sort of unique culture, though, my main observation has been that a lot of how we identify ourselves [and this is a personal opinion] is always is in relation to our neighbour down south.
KAT: Yeah, as in “not American” eh?
EVAN: More or less.
I mean, it’s not just that so many of our shows are “[Show Title] CANADA”. It’s the fact that Toronto is basically “New York City but smaller and with less to do,” among many other things.
It makes total sense, though. It’s not only that they’re our neighbours, but also because they create the media and culture that influences the world as a whole. The fact that we’re both young countries that came into their own [through wildly differing means] just adds to that, of course.
EVAN: Definitely. I think there is also something to be said about the different ways our two countries were formed. Where the States broke away in a blaze of glory, Canada stuck with Britain until they decided to ditch us (partially) because we were costing them too much. In my post on literary piracy I talk about how the States was able to produce far better literature for a long time before we were able to because we were still stuck under Britain’s thumb. Perhaps this extended into other cultural aspects of Canada as well.
Then again, perhaps it is an issue of sheer numbers. There are many more Americans out there than there are Canadians.
KAT: Well, population has an effect, for sure, but we also have to recognize that the States has been a massive superpower since WWII. Everyone has to know about them because at one point they almost blew up the planet (between them and the USSR). Like Pierre Trudeau once said Canada is “like a mouse sleeping beside an elephant. Everything is fine until the elephant twitches.”
They have the firepower and still hold a good portion of the political power. Everyone has to care what is going on there because it could backfire badly for us. Whereas no one really needs to care about Canada because really, what are we going to do? Polite them to death?
EVAN: Not a bad way to go, by any means.
Since we’re really running through our relationship with the US, how would you explain to someone how you, a Canadian, are different from an American? Honestly, this is as much for me as anything else.
KAT: Well, most Canadians turn to the “mosaic vs. melting pot” ideology to point out our differences. Canadians are (supposed to be) more accepting of differences, new cultures, etc. This was an idea Trudeau introduced as “multiculturalism”. In some ways this was his excuse to try to undermine any special rights we had given to First Nations while settling Canada (and, you know, taking all their land and handing out smallpox blankets)… but I’m getting off topic. Ideally, Canada is a mixture of cultures rather than it’s own unique culture. Whereas Americans are… well, Americans. Does that make sense?
I also found this list of (mostly very surface) differences between our two countries.
The one that is worth pointing out is Health Care. We Canadians are very proud of our “Welfare State” and the belief that everyone has a right to be healthy and not in physical pain.
EVAN: Seeing as we’re running out of time, now would probably be a good time for me to talk just a little bit about why I’m proud to be a Canadian, which appropriately enough is very much a list of contrasts with Americans.
Health care is certainly a big thing, but I’m also glad that we’re not seen as a sort of global task force. While we’ve had our fair share of military activity, even having troops in Afghanistan, we’re not actually at war. While that act isn’t something we’ve ever discussed in depth I’m glad it’s not something I have to think about in relation to this country.
I’m also thrilled that our education is overall better, that we’re healthier, friendlier, and more polite [look up a poll, doubters]. It’s painfully obvious, but for me it’s some consolation that if we’re not going to be affecting everyone else via our music, TV, and film we can at least trump them in almost everything else that matters.
KAT: And I’m proud of our musicians, artists, writers, comedians, etc who are often featured on the CBC! (The best ever radio station, which you should all support by signing this petition)
EVAN: Well, that too. I love me some Feist [as well as many others].
KAT: And with that lovely song we’d like to thank you again for joining us, and please let us know what amazing things about Canada we may have forgotten.
EVAN: We’re sure there are many, I mean, it’s a big country.
Pingback: Culture War Correspondence: Patriotism | Culture War Reporters