The fabric of society
The nation aspires towards a “cultural mosaic,” something like a patchwork quilt, whereas Americans have aimed for the “melting pot.” Canadians are essentially practical, and have figured out that the bat-brained idea of a melting pot would simply never work in a country where 50% of the land never completely thaws at all. A quilt is a much more pragmatic idea: it's cold outside.
On a clear day you can see forever
Having so much land has a great effect on the character, customs, and culture of the nation. Take, for example, the prairies. The plains of Canada stretch out endlessly. The flattest spot in the world can be found here, with nary a tree to obstruct the view, which leaves the prairie observer with a remarkably huge view of nothing. In Saskatchewan it is said that you can watch your dog running away for three days.
Honesty is the best policy
In the settling of the Canadian prairies, the early pioneers had no-one to rely on but themselves and their near neighbors. Honesty and integrity were important, not to mention things like a good reputation and a virtuous character. It's an attitude that persists to this day. In areas with sparse population, one cannot underestimate the power of public opinion (and the potential damage of the rumor mill). Peer pressure promotes public propriety. Politicians are expected to live up to their promises (and are regularly voted out when they regularly don't).
The bear truth
Canadians are down-to-earth, even earthy, people, and there are fewer extremes of class in Canadian society than in many others. Arrogance is curtailed by a lack of things about which to brag, although in your presence a Canadian might have caught a larger fish or climbed a higher mountain than you have, and killed a more ferocious grizzly bear (with his bare hands, naturally).
Read an Excerpt
Xenophobe's Guide to the Canadians
By Vaughn Roste, Peter W. Wilson, Catriona Tulloch Scott
Xenophobe's GuidesCopyright © 2012 Xenophobe's Guides Ltd
All rights reserved.
Nationalism & Identity
Canadians are a disparate lot, their huge country created by volunteers from every other nation and consequently none too sure of just what it is itself.
The story is told of an early European explorer, Jacques Cartier, who asked the local natives what the area was called. They answered "Kanata" and the term was subsequently applied to the northern half of the North American continent. Only later was it discovered that the word actually meant 'a small fishing village'.
Canada is the second largest country in the world (after Russia). Most other countries would fit several times into one Canadian province. Its largest island, Baffin Island, is roughly twice as large as Great Britain (yet has only 28 settlements); there are national parks that are bigger than Switzerland; some of its lakes are larger than most seas – there's surf on a windy day on Lake Superior, for heaven's sake (though the most surfing that Canadians are ever likely to do is at home on the net).
Bordered by no less than three oceans, Canada is the country with the most coastline in the world. One glance at the northern islands and you will understand why. The nation doesn't have much coastline on the Pacific side because the Americans somehow got away with buying Alaska from the Russians and thus laid claim to more than their fair share. But that's OK. Canadians are not resentful, and it turned out to be more of a liability in any case after the Exxon Valdez oil tanker had passed by.
Canada as a country is a conundrum. It is a savage land with gentle people, an enormous territory but sparsely populated, a wilderness at the forefront of technology, a culture defined as much or more by its regions as by any homogenous whole. Common ground comes with layers of protective clothing against -30°C of cold.
How they see themselves
To talk glibly of a Canadian identity is to conjecture, because this has yet to be firmly established. As one of Canada's poets sagely noted: 'It is only by our lack of ghosts that we are haunted.' The fact of the matter is that Canadians have no identity and are keenly seeking one. Canada's political bestsellers are often angst-ridden commentaries with titles such as Canada on the World Stage: Is Anyone Listening? and The Future of Canada: Does Nationalism Even Matter?
Much time and government funding has been spent in the public contemplation of the question of nationalism. One thing that everyone can agree on is that Canadians are NOT American. Any other statement made about Canadians pales in the face of this one.
Being NOT something else could be seen as the guiding principle around which the whole of Canadian society is based. (French Canadians have less of a difficulty with being NOT American, but are equally obsessed with protecting their identity and being NOT English Canadian, so the principle is the same.) Consequently, anything the Americans do Canadians are compelled to NOT do, even if they secretly envy the Americans for doing it.
Americans seem to have staked a monopoly on patriotism (on the North American continent at least), which makes Canadians feel oddly uncomfortable about it. Canadians would be much more patriotic if they just didn't feel so American when they are.
That said, Canadians tend to be fiercely loyal to their own particular region: Atlantic Canada, Central Canada, Western Canada, and the North. To that you need to add an intense loyalty to tribe – French Canadians, British Canadians, Native Canadians and Métis (descendants of marriages between the earliest European settlers and the earliest inhabitants) who make up the largest and most easily identifiable groups, but don't tell that to the others. To name but a few, there are proud Italian Canadians (who claim that they "built Toronto" – a slightly exaggerated but not totally inaccurate boast), Portuguese Canadians, Greek Canadians, Chinese Canadians (whose ancestors constructed huge sections of the Canadian Pacific trans-continental railway and whose Chinatowns in Toronto and Vancouver are the largest in North America), German Canadians, Indian Canadians, Ukrainian Canadians (who farmed the early-ripening wheat that led to Canada becoming 'the Granary of the World') – and, of course, Americans who seem to move to Canada in droves (particularly if there is a US war on).
With the price of cross-country flights taxed into the stratosphere (it costs less to fly from Toronto to Prague than Vancouver), Canadians don't see much of each other. Some members of the older generation have never strayed far from the province of their birth. Only in recent decades has the populace become more mobile.
This has aggravated the already acute case of regionalism. 'Central' Canada, meaning Ontario and Quebec, is the most populous, and thus decides the bulk of the seats in federal elections. 'The West', defined as anything west of Ontario (when in fact Manitoba is geographically quite central), cries foul at every opportunity and complains constantly of being ignored and under-represented. The Atlantic provinces in the East would complain too – as would British Columbia at the other extreme – if only other Canadians would listen.
These geographical divisions do not begin to address the deeper linguistic and cultural ones. Quebec does not have the monopoly on French-speaking citizens but has appointed itself to speak for them anyway, so when French-speaking Manitobans or Ontarians or Maritimers (New Brunswick is completely bilingual) are not complaining that they are being mistreated, they feel they have grounds to complain that the Quebecois are interfering.
Whenever the global price of oil is high, Alberta (which oozes with it) starts grumbling about having to 'subsidize' the Eastern provinces. Albertans will tell you with a straight face how much like Texans they are, with their cattle ranches and oil wells. It seems not to register with them that the climates are somewhat different, with the average Texas cow not having to spend the coldest nights of winter wrapped in a parka.
The British Columbians with their liberal attitudes would like to think of themselves as a northern extension of California. In Nova Scotia (at least outside the port of Halifax), they are too busy trying to bring back Scots Gaelic and arguing about the ruination of traditional fiddle tunes by modern performers to worry about less pressing concerns in other regions.
First Nation peoples (only the brazenly politically incorrect would still call them Red Indians) struggle for self-government within the confederation of Canada but it still remains a distant dream for most of them – a situation that has even been condemned by the United Nations. Self-government has, however, been largely achieved for Canada's Inuit (no longer called Eskimos). With the creation of the Territory of Nunavut in 1999, the Inuit were granted an unprecedented land claim in Canada: 26,500 people were given self-governing powers over an area roughly four times the size of France. Canadians elsewhere were by and large quite content with this decision. Not only was the land being returned to its original inhabitants, but it was a fairly painless process. The remainder of the population was frankly astounded that anyone would really want to live that far north.
Sheer geography is the first formidable obstacle in getting Canadians to see each other at all – it takes over 100 hours just to cross the country one way by bus (not that many would consider doing so). This has led the government to invent ways for some of its young people to see their own country. One programme, Katimavik, enables willing teenagers to spend a year in three different demographically representative areas across the country. Such programmes are one of the few ways that Jason Oglukark from Whitehorse, Yukon, will ever find himself in the same room with Jessica Petersen from Bawlf (AB), Angela Chang of Agassiz (BC), Shane Hugotrimsky from Mozart (MB), Patrick McCormick of Moncton (NB), David Two Horses from Kenora (ON), or Marie-Claude Bourgeau from Rimouski (QC), let alone be friends. This is what ex-participant Will Ferguson had to say about his experience within one scheme: "It's a purely Canadian programme: painfully well intentioned, resolutely optimistic, vaguely socialistic, very idealistic, and publicly funded. National brotherhood by bureaucratic mandate."
Regionalism begets isolationism, so when visitors from another part of the country do come tramping through your neck of the woods, they may be welcomed or may not, depending on what preconceived ideas you might have formed about them from the media or Aunt Josephine's experience of them when she was there in '68.
It is the hard luck of the inhabitants of Newfoundland (semi-affectionately nicknamed 'Newfies') to be singled out for special attention. Because of their accent, and the fact that the rest of Canada secretly suspects them of being inbred, Newfies are the butt of merciless jokes. Witness the Newfie old-timer who, talking about the sighting of beluga whales off the coast, exclaimed: "There was t'ousands and t'ousands of 'em, maybe even hundreds!"
Newfoundland was a colony of Britain until 1949, and is thus Canada's newest province. A time zone has been created specially for it. Canada spreads across six time zones and Newfoundland is one half hour set off from the zones on either side. This makes it appear as if Newfies get their information 30 minutes behind everyone else and are always running to catch up. Television announcements which go Canada-wide have to accommodate the special time zone: "The news tonight at seven, seven-thirty in Newfoundland ..." The implication is that when the world ends, Newfies will be the last to know.
The Canadians maintain special relationships with the British and the French, the two founding nations that discovered their continent and settled its shores, all about 20,000 years after the indigenous peoples had already done the very same thing.
Because Canada is a constitutional monarchy the Canadians have close ties with Britain and the Commonwealth. Canada is also a major member of the Francophonie (France's answer to Britain's Commonwealth). However, most Canadians (French Canadians included) do not have a lot of warm fuzzy feelings for the former French Empire.
The Canadians' most special relationship, naturally, is with the Americans. Although reluctant to admit it, Canadians admire the free-wheeling worldliness of their North American counterparts. Many have American origins or are married to Americans. Others have lived and worked in the U.S. for extended periods. Interestingly, almost 90% of Canada's population live within 300 kilometres of the American border. Can't live with them ... so they live near them. When the order is given for Canadians to invade the U.S., 30 million people are going to be across the border within three hours.
But it is a tenuous situation to be so perilously exposed to the world's only superpower. Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau compared it to being in bed with an elephant: one can sleep, but only very lightly. It is understandable therefore that Canadians have persistent and paranoid fears about being assimilated, culturally or worse, into the United States. One really LARGE 51st state.
Canada and the US share the longest undefended (in the military sense) border in the world. Until the post 9/11 American security paranoia, many small crossings along the frontier were actually unmanned. But, in a cultural sense, the border is rabidly defended. Niagara Falls (Ontario), and Niagara Falls (New York state) may be neighbouring cities, but they belong to separate nations. (The famous landmark is shared, but the awesome Horseshoe Falls belongs exclusively to the Canadians, so they definitely got the better half of that deal.)
Living next door to the Americans has imbued Canadians with a natural sort of inferiority complex. It's tough to prove that you are the worthier partner if your attention-seeking spouse continually steals the limelight, gladly takes the credit and bathes in all the glory afterwards. (Their neighbours to the north, over the Pole, are the Russians. This does little to ease the Canadian sense of nervous inferiority.)
Canadians would love to get more attention, even if that recognition is not always in the most positive light. Hence they were more elated at their prominent role in the South Park hit 'Blame Canada' than upset at the ludicrous manner in which they were portrayed. It was reassuring to know that at least they were being noticed.
The French Connection
Though Newfoundlanders will point out that their capital, St. John's, was a bustling centre for trade decades before the French arrived, French Canadians feel they have the longest history in Canada and that in many ways Quebec was Canada.
After the British conquest, Quebec became a French-speaking colony in what was then British North America. The practice of their Roman Catholic religion was guaranteed by Britain, as was their language. Later, the American Revolution brought a torrent of refugees from the 'land of liberty', few of whom spoke French. Most subsequent immigrants tended also to be English speakers. English-only Canadians coming to Quebec expected to communicate in English, but French-only Canadians could not go anywhere with the expectation of being able to communicate in French.
By the 1960s Quebecers had had enough and calls for separation began. Two referenda on the separation issue have been held, in 1980 and 1995, where the separatists obtained 40% and 49% of the vote in favour of divorcing from Canada. These referenda tend to be viewed by English Canadians as a Quebecois ploy to get more attention, but enviously so, because it works.
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that if a majority of any province gives a clear indication that they want independence, Canada as a country should not stop them. The populace waits to see if the French majority in Quebec will decide to put up with the rest of Canada, or if it thinks it worth the cultural and economic estrangement to break up.
Emotions on both sides of the debate are quite intense: if one thing is obvious it is that the two lots of Canadians feel strongly about their weak attachments to each other. Any movement in Quebec to separate is matched in fervour by the other regions saying how badly they want Quebec to stay in Canada. It is easy to see why: with the loss of Quebec goes the reason for all those years of painfully learning French.
How they see the rest of the world
Living in such a large country, the Canadians have a kind of 'Over There' perspective on anything that happens overseas. Europeans are treated with deference, but are definitely part of the Old World. Events 'over there' have little effect on day-to-day life 'over here'. They see overseas as somewhere very nice to visit, but can't really imagine any rational Canadian wanting to live there.
How others see them
Canadians travelling overseas are best advised to say they come from Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, whether or not this is true. Nobody has ever heard of anywhere else and, if they have, they'll ask if you live near there and whether you know Jack. You will never get anywhere trying to describe where it is close to: nowhere in Canada is close to anywhere else.
Americans do not tend to view Canadians as being any different from themselves. If they do perceive any differences at all, these are mostly meteorological: cold fronts come 'down from Canada'. To Americans, Canadians are merely Americans inhabiting a colder part of the continent somewhere 'up there' in roughly the same place as Alaska. Al Capone reportedly said, 'Canada? I don't even know what street that's on.' (In fact he did know, since Canadians were smuggling lots of booze to him at the time.) Americans have all heard of Canada, but they seem to have missed the part of the lesson where it was specified that it was a separate and sovereign country.
However, they admit that Canadians sure know how to play hockey and have somehow figured out how to make better beer, though for some inexplicable reason Americans seem to harbour a nagging suspicion that all Canadians are born with the instinctive knowledge of how to gut a bear.
The French, seemingly still somewhat bitter that things didn't quite go according to plan in the war (that's the Seven Years War of 1756–1763 featuring Generals Wolfe and Montcalm and the walled city of Quebec), are always keen to welcome Canadians back from the colonies – and show them around civilisation. They view French Canadians as siblings, and are disconcerted to discover that there are some Canadians (about 40%) who cannot speak any French at all.
Excerpted from Xenophobe's Guide to the Canadians by Vaughn Roste, Peter W. Wilson, Catriona Tulloch Scott. Copyright © 2012 Xenophobe's Guides Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Xenophobe's Guides.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Nationalism & Identity,
Manners & Etiquette,
Attitudes & Values,
Culture (or lack thereof),
Sense of Humour,
Custom & Tradition,
Industry & Business,
Law & Order,