I’ve made it something of a tradition, come Canada Day, to write about being a Canadian. I’ve written about all the neat stuff we’ve invented, all the Canadians who are or ever were famous, about our ever-so polite ways, and about the Canadian view of the world.
So we can agree on the fact that Canadians came up with any idea that was ever worth a damn (like duct tape, for example), that Pamela Anderson would have made a great Governor General, that we hold doors open for other people, and that we don’t go to war just because Americans say we should.
When our security agents frisk people at the airport, they do it politely — no unnecessary groping, just a light pat-down. In meetings, we build consensus, carefully, rather than getting loud and proud (we say things like, “let’s not drink from the fire hose” and “let’s not boil the ocean,” rather than “you’re totally out to lunch” and “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!).
This is a good start to understanding what being Canadian is all about. But sometimes it’s good to take a look at ourselves as others see us.
There is, for example, that small business of the Vancouver riots, which utterly shocked the rest of the world because everyone outside of Canada had grown up believing Canadians are polite no matter what.
It even surprised Prof. Paul “PZ” Myers, the American university guy who was in town this spring to tell Canadians who believe in God they’re stupid. (Instead of calling him stupid back, Canadian theists politely argued the point.)
Following the riots, Myers was moved to blog that “Canadians aren’t all nice and polite, except the godless ones.”
Mind you, Myers thought Vancouver fans (or, “hooligans” if you prefer) were rioting because the Canucks won the Stanley Cup. He can be forgiven for thinking a Canadian-based team would never actually lose at hockey, but his error is typical of the lack of attention Americans pay to what’s going on in Canada.
American film maker Michael Moore has always liked Canada, mostly because we have a health care system and gun control. At least, we had gun control until we went and re-elected Stephen Harper, and maybe our health-care system isn’t what it used to be either.
Moore says American media will “only tell you about Canadians if they have some connection to Justin Bieber.” Of course, U.S. media never mention that the Biebz is Canadian.
Former U.S. president George W. Bush also liked us, I think mainly because Canadians didn’t make fun of him the way Americans did. More accurately, we didn’t laugh out loud.
“I want to thank all the Canadians who came out today to wave to me — with all five fingers!” he said during one of his visits to Ottawa.
If you notice a preponderance of American sources for this analysis, it might be because we in Canada tend to define ourselves according to American standards — that is, whatever America is, Canada isn’t.
Nothing makes us madder than being mistaken for an American. But really, we’d feel better about ourselves if Americans acknowledged our existence a little more often.
It’s important not only what Americans think of us, but that they think of us at all. So when they’re surprised we’d have a riot when a Canadian team made up of Canadians and Europeans loses to an American team made up of Canadians and Europeans, it’s better than being ignored.
But being ignored by the most powerful country in the world isn’t so bad. The less people know about this place, the easier it is to keep it for ourselves.