I’m writing this while the prairies of Saskatchewan fly past me outside my car window. I’m overwhelmed in watching the sky stretch on forever. People feel small standing beneath a Rockie, sure, but there is nothing to dwarf a man like a plain. Mountains crowd your mind and distract you, they stir up peace in you and stand tall before you and beget security and consistency. Prairies expose you. They make you vulnerable. There is nothing to hide you from yourself, nothing to interrupt your thoughts, no matter how self deprecating they may be. My thoughts today are not self deprecating, they are just a ceaseless appreciation for Canada and this beautiful land I call home.
Life story recap: born in Manitoba (year 1), moved to Texas (year 2), moved to Alberta (year 14). It’ll be my sixth anniversary for moving to Canada soon. Living in Canada, as a Canadian, but feeling American (only in the beginning – now I feel like an all Canadian girl), has given me a unique sort of insight into the culture here. I believe cultures are best observed by outsiders, not natives, and I was certainly an outsider for my first two years here. Natives are too accustomed to the happenings in their culture to even notice what makes it up, which gives everything about it a sweet sort of innocence. It isn’t until culture is threatened, removed, or unknown altogether that people really start paying attention.
Before you delve into my thoughts on Canadian culture, please understand the following: Canada is my home. This is the land of my parents and their parents, and it is my home. While, yes, I’ve lived more than half my life in America, if for some odd reason the two went to war, I would take the (probably losing) side of Canada, because this is my home. What I am trying to establish here is that I am loyal first and foremost to Canada, but I am an incredibly sarcastic personality and I do not want Canadians to take unnecessary offence. I’m a bit blunt, but I’m the most Canadian-loving-blunt-blogger out there. Please take all of this with a grain of salt. This is *my* impression of Canadian culture, but that does not make any of this gospel truth. I’m not an anthropologist or an expert on Canada or anything, these are just a few things I’ve picked up along the way.
Let’s go ahead and address these stereotypes upfront, shall we?
Are you actually sorry? Most likely, ya. Sorry to reaffirm that particular stereotype. Do you — Before you even ask, I have never seen, built, touched, or been remotely near an igloo. And I do not live in one, nor do I plan to. It seems as though that would be an unpleasant and altogether cold experience, and we have these great things called “houses.” Also, no, I do not ride a polar bear to school. “Say a-BOOT!” Wow, so original. For the record, that’s only the weirdos out East. In the West, if anything, it’ll be more like “a-boat.” A personal favourite: “You’re from Canada, AYYYY?!” Well, you’re certainly not, eh? And lastly, I do not sweeten my coffee with maple syrup. As a matter of fact, I actually prefer tea. Must be the lingering English influence. Moving along, now.
There is no greater connection than land.
In a country that is home to countless ethnicities and cultures, there can sometimes be a severe lack of unity and a definitive disconnect between my countrymen and I. Multiculturalism is unbelievably beautiful in theory, but certainly offers it’s frustrations in execution; for instance, at any given time on the road, the drivers surrounding you could be following any number of different countries’ traffic laws, instead of Canada’s, creating a *barely* functioning chaos. On any given day, walking through a grocery store, or high school hallway, multiple languages swirl around you, creating a much more captivating sort of chaos. There is a richness to the culture that can lay a tiny claim to multiple parts of the world, and the only culture like that is Canada. What is a Canadian? Is she Japanese, Iraqi, Russian, Mexican, Indian, Kenyan? To welcome a Canadian is to welcome the world. So what brings all these different people together to form one hodge-podge of a nationality? Our land. Not all of us speak the same language, we certainly do not have a distinctive look about us, there really isn’t a certain food that counts as Canadian. (Unless we really want to stick with poutine, in which case, can we please not count those carbs in favour of patriotism?) The only thing we all truly share is The Great White North. We share her rolling plains, blanketed in a sea of greens and yellows, mountains unyielding against weather torn skies, crystal clear lakes and ice cold rivers running in the company of it all. A few years ago a friend and I road tripped down to Seattle. After ten days amidst (what can hardly be considered) “foreign” mountains, I’ll never forget when we saw the Rockies again after crossing the border. It felt right and true, and a lot like home.
Tolerate everyone; trust no one.
I truly don’t know of a more skeptical population. Canadians challenge everything while simultaneously accepting everyone. How?? Like it makes no sense and yet it is at the core of Canadian culture. It comes across in politics, I’ve seen it in all its glory in ministry – my oh my, you’d think every pastor is trying to make off with millions – but mostly I’ve observed this socially. “It’s SO nice to meet you,” but almost 6 years later I’m still not sure I ACTUALLY know anyone. This is not a criticism of my friends, either, it’s just the cultural norm. Canadians are polite, but reserved. They are an inch wide, and a mile deep. (Whereas I feel Americans oftentimes to be the opposite.) Canadians place absolutely no value in trivial conversation. Small talk doesn’t naturally take place, not because they are incapable, but because it would not occur to them to initiate it. I’m still not sure this is actually the truth, but it feels like a Canadian has to decide that you’re worth the effort before they will bother, which makes being a newcomer particularly fun. No one wants to take the step toward the inner circle when you’re on the outside, but if you’re in Canada, buck up and do it. No matter how long you wait, no one is going to reach out. (Trust me, I speak from personal experience on that one.) The one comforting thing you can take away from this paragraph is that once you make it in, Canadians are so very worth knowing.
Passive aggressiveness: the way of life.
Hell hath no passivity like a Canadian scorned. Honestly, any country that claims the peace we know but celebrates a sport as violent as hockey probably needs to visit a psychologist. Canadians are famously non-confrontational, occasionally to a fault. Sometimes it’s nice and allows you to dodge a lot of bullets. Other times, when the beaver dam finally breaks, you nearly drown.
Adults are not adults.
Okay now this was a bit of a curve ball after being raised on Southern manners and etiquette, and I have no explanation for this, it’s just a fact. Adults here despise being called Mr, Mrs, Sir, Ma’am, etc. I was so uncomfortable calling adults by their first names when I initially moved here that I just put ‘auntie’ or ‘uncle’ in front of their name – it was the only term of respect I could offer that they would allow. Any time I’ve tried to say ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ to an elder, they quickly correct me or give the classic “Mr. Whoever was my father.” Even my high school teachers often went by their last names only; instead of “Mr. Speers” it was usually just “Speers.” So odd. Six years later, and I’m still not used to six year olds summoning my dad’s attention with “Colin” instead of “Pastor Colin.” The innate Southerner in me gasps at the disrespect, when in reality, there was no disrespect intended. It’s just a cultural difference.
Expect and applaud mediocrity.
It’s hard not to compare the events of my childhood in America to my current reality in Canada. Exhibit A: The Super Bowl vs The Grey Cup. There are exactly 8 teams in the Canadian Football League. They have one less down than the NFL, which obviously makes them entirely superior to those lazy American players that need four downs. (In reality, it just means the kickers are basically the MVP of the CFL, because there’s no other way to get any yards.) The pride Canadians take in their three downs astounds me, as the climax of the whole season is the Grey Cup. Not even a silver cup. Just a lacklustre Grey Cup, which is inevitably attended by some drunken idiot wearing only his boxers, who freezes to the seat courtesy of spilled Molson by halftime. I honestly think, as a whole, Canada very begrudgingly sees America as the over achieving big sister, so it has relaxed and reduced itself into the punk little brother that is secretly brilliant but makes absolutely no effort in school. Exhibit B: Independence Day vs Canada Day. Just before Canada Day I asked my friend if his family would be celebrating and he said no. Just a simple no. A no with a sense of normalcy. As far as I can tell, no one actually knows why we celebrate Canada on July first, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less surprised each year when people let it pass without much ado. This surprise is undoubtedly born of my history with the Fourth of July, the day on which Americans spontaneously burst into “The Star Spangled Banner”, millions of cattle give their lives valiantly for the sake of barbecue, bald eagles can be seen roaming every corner of the country, and fireworks go off to punctuate the end of each sentence. *cue fireworks*
The small town illusion in big city living.
I’m sure if you’re actually from a small town, Edmonton wouldn’t strike you as one. But you have to hand it to the E-Town.. Parks on every corner, festivals every other weekend, live music, the best public libraries known to mankind, tiny cafés to celebrate the gift of coffee. I’ve only lived in Edmonton, so I can’t really speak for every city, but I have come to appreciate Edmonton for what it is. What that is exactly, I’m not entirely sure. There is an undercurrent of charm and, so long as you stick to the sunny side of the street, there is something that gives off the impression of security and safety. A collaboration of beautiful architecture and horrible, 70s styled buildings make up the character of downtown, and built into the framework of the city are bike trails and diversions to help you escape city life. Our ravine will take your breath away in fall time and outside skating rinks and ice sculpting festivals make winter bearable, if not enjoyable. If you care to discover it, Edmonton is waiting.
Health care as it should be.
Okay, now, I do not think our health care system is perfect. It is not without its complications and challenges, but they are complications and challenges worth facing. Public health care isn’t just something Canadians boast of, it’s a huge statement to their character. You want to know how they can “afford” free health care? Canadians truly believe everyone is worthy of health care, which is rooted in a deep, profound understanding that everyone is equal. Before I understood this, I argued with my Social teacher on behalf of privatized health care endlessly, but how can you look the truth of equality in the eye and still believe in privatized health care? How can any government deny their people health care? I consider health a basic human right. This should be a non issue, globally, let alone in the Western world, where we are blessed with more than enough resources to ensure the health of our countrymen.
Canada, you’re great. Canadians, you’re greater. May your Timbits always be fresh, may your winters be short and far from this moment, may your hockey team’s draft pick become the next Gretzky.