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Friday, 19 July 2013

Talking to Canadians?

A friend of mine posed an interesting question to me today: Why are Canadians so offended when mistaken as Americans?

While the topic has been covered many times, I thought it made good practice so here are some of my thoughts:

The Dissociative Principle
I don't know about you, but I dislike being thought of or referred to as anything that isn't me. I had a hard time with nicknames growing up, not because they were embarrassing but because they were not my name. I'm still this way, although less so. Even being referred to in a positive, inaccurate manner bothers me as it feels like I'm living a lie.

Sibling Rivalry
Canada and the United States are the children of the British empire and sometimes brothers don't get along. The US, being the older brother, went his own way and forged his own destiny. Mother England wasn't too happy but that's okay. Canada, the quieter child, fought in a different way and managed to strike out on its own, but maybe that which keeps us a loving colony of England also keeps us separated from the US.

Commonly mistaken enough to annoy
Maybe it's just circumstance. We share a lot in common, especially media and cultural connections, and we do live right next door. We speak the same language and both countries arguably have similar foundations and whether it be a mixed salad or melting pot, we add a lot of global culture to our own. So, being mistaken must be quite common. And, just as common, people are annoyed for being thought of as someone or something else. Even if you love your brother it'd be annoying to be mistaken for him or referred to as simply his brother.

The United States of America has a rich history full of colourful characters and has been a powerfully active global presence since its inception. For good or ill, the perceptions that people have of "Americans" will be clear and possibly extreme. Perhaps Canadians are not prepared to face thse opinions.

Canada has had an equally impressive history but we seem to be quieter about it. We didn't fight a war for independence, we signed some paperwork and had, in comparison, minor squirmishes. We have been active members in events of world history but we don't seem to make our presence as known, even to our own people.

I have heard Canada's identity labelled as a case of "not being". We're not British, we're not "American", but what does it mean to be Canadian? While an interested question, it is not one I wish to pursue right now. Suffice it to say, Canadians seem to have a harder time identifying what is our own unique culture and so, it seems, does the rest of the world. Perhaps, the sprawling geography and mixed salad approach contribute to that but the long story short is: we don't know what we are, but we know what we are not.

Finally, you may have noticed that I wrote "American" with quotation marks and that I painfully attempted to not even use the term. Why? Well, technically, Canadians live in North America, and anyone in North or South America could claim to be an American. I've often had trouble with only the one country using the term but it's my own foible.

I suppose with my move to France, I will experience this mistaken identity quite often. As always, I will smile, shake my head, and politely proclaim that I'm from Canada, in true Canadian fashion.

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