Ten Signs I’m Still (Even A Little) Canadian

Nellie McClung
Nellie! She helped Canadian women win the vote. Image via Wikipedia

We were heading out to the diner for pancakes when I bumped into one of our neighbors, who saw me carrying a clear plastic tube that held maple syrup — I don’t eat pancakes or waffles or French toast without the real thing.

“You are Canadian,” he sighed, laughing.

I left my home and native land in January 1988 to move to a small town in New Hampshire, then in 1989 to suburban New York.

Born in Vancouver and raised in Toronto and Montreal, I haven’t lived in Canada since then, but I’m still semi-Canadian:

I speak French and love using it whenever possible. I really miss living in a country that values two languages, and people who speak both of them.

Health care is a right, not a costly, insecure, easily-lost privilege tied to employment. ‘Nuff said.

Any nation with only two truly viable political parties — neither of which is hard left or socialist — is toast. Policy debates need serious, significant challenge from a different perspective. Right, center-right and wingnutville don’t count.

Accepting — and wanting — government aid is not, de facto, a sign that Satan is loose upon the earth. We all need help sometimes. Some of us need a lot more than others. Arts funding is not a contradiction in terms.

A passport and intense curiosity about the world still matter deeply to me.  Most Americans don’t even own a passport.

“Our way” is not the only or best way. I have zero patience with American exceptionalism. There is much to be learned from how other nations and cultures make their choices.

I believe firmly in a level playing field. Watching rich kids get SAT-prepped after decades of private education, slithering into the Ivies as legacies, makes me nuts. My university education cost $660 a year. No, that’s not missing a zero. Today my top-rated Canadian school, the University of Toronto, (hey, it’s Malcolm Gladwell’s alma mater) still only costs about $5,000 a year.

A quality education should not bankrupt those who need it most. Higher taxes, well-administered, can reduce the cost of adding a few rungs to the ladder of social mobility.

The real thing beats the simulacrum every time. If you want to experience Paris, go to France — not to its sanitized versions in Vegas or Disneyworld. Shielding yourself from cultural difference (ooh, all those weird coins! They don’t speak English!) only reinforces ignorant prejudice.

Women’s reproductive and legal rights are sacrosanct. My body belongs to me, thanks.

What behaviors or attitudes still mark you — even if you’re a long-time ex-pat — as distinctly Irish/American/English/French/Australian….?

17 thoughts on “Ten Signs I’m Still (Even A Little) Canadian

  1. My Canadian friends think I am being far too idealistic about how the country is these days. It’s still not nearly as toxic economically and politically as the U.S. has become. It’s shocking.

  2. I watched a documentary on German TV last week about how Canada is embracing its Indian immigrants and how they are enjoying enormous success in business. They also showed huge machines chopping down a select few trees in forests. Apparently, they take sustainability very seriously. Each tree in an area of felling was marked with a colour, which meant that the remaining trees couldn’t be touched for another two decades.

    I’m part Irish, part German and glad to be speckled. From the Irish, I think I have my sense of humour and an appreciation of the ridiculous and from the German, my very steadfast belief in consistency and loyalty.

    I work at a language school where I come into contact with people from all over the world every day. For me, meeting so many people from the middle east has been the most interesting part of my job. I’ve started learning Arabic and am finding the language fascinating. (I’m chronicling that journey on my blog in case you want to learn the alphabet too!).

    Over here, when we see the comments made by some of the Republican candidates about homosexuals and God, it all feels terribly surreal. Are these the future leaders of the ‘free world’ speaking? That said, of course there are many, many things to admire and individuals to respect in the US too. That conflict was one of the things I noticed most when I travelled there.

    Also, I linked my friend to your book. She’ll be working her sixth Christmas in retail and said she thinks your book might help her get through it. She’s one day off for the day and then back in for the sales.

    1. Don’t even get me started on the Republicans!!!! They’re all insane. Worse, they’ll probably get elected. People are so fed up and so worn out by the recession here under Obama. The approval rating for Congress? 9%. Yup.

      Your job sounds so interesting! Lucky you to be learning as much as you are teaching.

      Thanks very much for telling your friend about “Malled.” I bet she’ll find some comfort in it; the worst part of the job for me (and she’s got a higher degree than I do), was being treated every single day as though as I was extremely stupid. Rude and demoralizing.

  3. Marlo Heresco

    So as to not incur a radical debate or backlash from fellow readers, I will only say “ditto”…to all of it…particularly your comments on education, politics, health care, the ‘our American way’ mentality and the outstanding ignorant prejudices that is the result of an absence of travel and understanding of other cultures. Who on earth does not want to own a passport?? Ohhh, how that gets me *right here*. Proudly Canadian, living in another country and missing Maple Syrup…

    1. I do admire things about the American way of life, but after 22 years here I have seen too much of the ugliness and greed to be wide-eyed about it. The current recession — my third in all these years — is NOT going away and I doubt will improve within the next 3-5 years. So much for earning power.

      The danger of being an ex-pat (and some Canadian friends have chastised me for this post) is idealizing the home country when it, too, has changed.

  4. Hi. I’m a Korean guy.
    I got to know of the way of life of westerners through this article.
    and Americans don’t even own a passport.
    Keep it up!
    (Sorry, my English grammar is sucks.)

  5. Wow, $5000 a year for college huh? That’s pretty damn good.

    I’ve spent most of my life here trying to get away from being a Singaporean, and I think i’m still actively engaged in that on some level 😛

    Things that mark me as a Singaporean:

    1. Reflexive acquiescence to the pessimistic, down side of any situation – it’s this Asian submission deal where EVERYTHING is bigger and more powerful than me, especially if it’s an “authority,” and i should therefore not even try. I hate this about being where I’m from.

    2. Comfort food is still hawker food, despite the fact that I’ve forgotten what the authentic flavours actually taste like, and will chow down on decent and not so decent facsimiles with gusto (which a Singaporean will normally NEVER admit to doing)

    3. Despite the fact that I spent most of my schooling years flunking my second language, and haven’t spoken anything but English for the last 12 years, I can still construct a sentence that contains English, Malay, Hokkien and Mandarin without thinking too hard about it. Some things, you never lose, and pidgin is one of the few things about the motherland I do cherish. It’s really colourful!

    Those are the only ones i can think of right now though, although I’m sure there is plenty of that latent beast lurking around in me. Haven’t had breakfast yet!

    1. Thanks. What interesting national remnants! Anyone who can do a sentence with 4 languages is very impressive in my book.

      I don’t miss the Canadian issue — which you see in Oz — of tall poppy syndrome: cut down the tallest; i.e. don’ be a star and don’t want to be one and don’t tell us if you *are* one. I had to really alter my style in NY where bragging is like breathing and reflexive self-deprecation (v. Canadian/British) is seen as odd and weird. I hate how Canadians squirm in the face of celebrity — and squirm at Americans’ appalling sucking up to it and chasing it. It’s a no-win.

  6. My Canadian family tells me I am “too” American and my American family celebrates how “Canadian” I still am.

    Depending on who I am around, it’s either interesting or odd … whatever.

    I took my Canadian curiousity (passport- yes!) with me and learned how to speak up/not talk myself down by living/surviving in the US. I’ve learned to not be so naive. I still say “Chesterfield” (couch) and “shanty” (porch) and Zed, not Zee.

    It’s an eclectic mix of cultures that are uniquely mine .. and yours 🙂


    1. Interesting! I left Canada in 1988 for NY, having been told for years I was “too American” (direct, brash, opinionated, openly ambitious) and found I was about 42% too Canadian to survive.

      I’ve heard of chesterfield but never shanty! I say “zee” and “prah-cess” but also refer to loonies, toonies and too-fers. 🙂

  7. oldsalt1942

    I DO own a passport and I’ve used it, too. There’s the old, stupid statement by mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging, booger-eating Republican neanderthals who say “Love it or leave it.” Well, both sides of my family arrived in New England in the 1630s. Both sides of my family fought on the winning side in the American Revolution, I am a Navy veteran. And it’s BECAUSE I love it that I left it. There is nothing that passes for civil political dialog any more. Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, hell, old Honest Abe himself would be labeled a RINO by today’s bunch of clowns. No, as soon as I was able collect my Socialist Security checks I high-tailed it south. (Couldn’t put up with Canadian winters.) I now live in Panama near the border of Costa Rica. For me, it was a good decision.

    p.s. enjoying your blog.

    1. Interesting post of yours…none of those (appalling) issues are terribly new to Canada.

      You’re very likely right that I mythologize Canada. Living in the US right now, we need to believe in *some* utopia!

  8. spurandprod

    Things I love about Canada (even though I’ve never traveled much further north than Kentucky):

    1. General view that human rights are rights that all humans should have
    2. The healthcare system
    3. SCTV
    4. Rick Danko and Richard Manuel
    5. The Rhinoceros Party
    6. Stompin’ Tom
    7. Alice Munro
    8. poutine
    9. Real maple syrup
    10. Sierra Noble

    Yeah, okay, so I’m pretty shallow and mostly know the entertainment field.

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