What happened to you, America Jr.?
By: Andrew Katz
Disclaimer: This article is loaded with generalizations and stereotypes. Most Canadians should probably stop reading now, before they are incensed to respond with a less than couteous remark.
I would like to take this opportunity to talk about something very dear to me that has haunted my thoughts over the last few years: Canada’s developing national identity. Canada is a young nation. Depending on what measuring stick you use, it has been a country since (a) 1867, when the Dominion of Canada was formed, or (b) 1982 (the yardstick I use), when it was finally allowed to legally amend its own constitution instead of depending on Great Britain. Either way, Canada has officially passed its “cute younger sibling that is largely ignored by the rest of the family (i.e. the world)” stage and has entered its “Look at Me! I’m obnoxious” stage. As an American, I know what this second stage is all about, which is in large part why I am writing this article.
Yes, as an American, I have a lot at stake in Canada’s current transformations. I have summered – man that word makes me sound like a douche – in Canada my whole life and have grown accustomed to the nice, gentle, sing-song ways of the Canadian. However, these past few years, I have noticed a shift in Canadians’ attitudes. I have gotten into many arguments with Canadians lately, and have noticed a consistent and somewhat disturbing trend. Canadians continue to differentiate themselves and elevate themselves in negative terms. In other words, it seems as though the country’s entire national identity and source of pride is based upon the idea that it is not the US. Most Canadians, I would therefore say, have a national identity crisis.
Nationalism can be a great thing. And I think that there is something to be said for people taking pride in and caring about the country and place they are from. But there is a difference between negative nationalism – being proud to be from a certain place because it is not another place – and positive nationalism – taking pride in where you are from because of what it stands for and what it has contributed. To illustrate my point, many Canadians reacted with muddled enthusiasm when America elected Barack (out with your cock out) Obama. Their reaction was muted not because they didn’t like Obama (they loved him), but because, while Americans were able to pick a cool black president, Canadians were still stuck with Sweater Vest Steve, whose leadership they had to justify to me by saying “at least we didn’t elect Bush!”
Now, I do understand that a country whose crowning cultural achievement is beating the US in a winter Olympic hockey game (it pains me to write those words) may struggle to find a reason for its own self import, but I don’t understand why Canadians have to try to build their national identity off of not being American.
I love going to Canada and I love Canadians in large part because every motherfucker up there doesn’t (yet) have a chip on his or her shoulder – thinking that he or she is the greatest thing since ultra thin latex condoms (same great protection, half the desensitization). But when Canadians justify Canada’s greatness by trying to make themselves out to be better than America (I’m not making a judgment call either way), they are actually being very American. Canadian modesty and “niceness” is giving way to a very American attitude of superiority. In essence, Canadians are becoming what they wish to differentiate themselves from.
But maybe I should stop complaining. They do say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery.
I don’t want to offend, but I find your ideas offensive
By: Katie Burrell
OH JOY – another enlightened American perspective on Canadian identity. Thanks to the well-placed disclaimer, I feel entirely justified in writing what might end up being an American-esque, less than-courteous response. Who knows, I might not even apologize – and oh dear, there I go understanding myself vis-à-vis my non-American-ness.
Who am I? Apparently I’m lost in a sea of misunderstood identity and am yearning for a sense of pride in what my big ‘ol country has contributed. Whatever is a little girl on the prairie to do?
Well, with regard to our negative nationalism, there is a little bit of self-deprecation being used here: when you know you’re pretty damn good at something and somebody draws attention to it, being an average, modest human being, you use the opportunity to play it down, poke fun at yourself and escape the spotlight. This means that you can fly under the radar being fucking awesome, and nobody will ask too many questions when you decide to not take on the problems of the rest of the world.
Next. During the Obama campaign, I found more Canadians excited by the prospect that the leader of the overbearing next-door neighbour might no longer be an idiot than I found Canadians dealing with pangs of jealousy about the potential for a “cool black” leader. I think going so far as to say that there was an overwhelming sentiment that Harper wasn’t as cool trivializes the nature and significance of the campaign. It was more than just a moment for Can v. Am, it was a moment for the world: the nature of the international system means that everyone is affected by a superpower, and America’s undeniable superpower-dom means that more than just Canadians were paying attention to the election in 2008.
I also find it highly interesting that our young American spokesperson’s notion of Canada’s crowning cultural achievement is an Olympic gold medal. This seems to be a pretty US-centric idea: losing hard-fought battles never stomachs well for the populace south of our tightly-monitored border. I don’t know if Canadians would give you the same response if they were asked what they see their nation’s crowning cultural moment to be. I think a diverse population would give diverse answers, and in a typically Canadian fashion, all of those answers would be accepted and probably made into a beer commercial that would make me cry.
The fact of the matter is that America seems to worry more about what our identity is than we do – there might be a case of the “others” going on here more than anything; you can’t understand it, and therefore it is dangerous. I’m not going to spend the next hour pointing out all the things that make Canada Canada or that make Canadians Canadians; why? 1. I only have 22 minutes and 2. I’d rather go hang out with my American roommate.
I don’t think Canadians clarifying to foreigners that they aren’t American (or vice versa) is any different than an Australian pointing out that he’s not a Kiwi, or a Norwegian stating that she’s not Swedish. It’s not the basis for a national identity – it’s a point of reference. So let’s not flatter ourselves, America, and let’s not make assumptions based on social experiments that involve small sample sizes and large liquor consumption rates (ie: pot-lucks).
But what do I know, I’m just a Canadian.
Since posting this article, we changed commenting systems – and promptly lost all of the great comments that people posted in response to Andrew and Katie’s opinions. To make sure that members of the bloguments community always have their voices heard, however, we’ve rescued the comments and have posted them here. Enjoy!
Patrick Stedman: Preach it to the choir brother… I said hello to a Canadian traveling in Chile with me yesterday and literally after exchanging names and nationalities she went on for 5 minutes bragging about how the Canadian dollar had (for a day or two) passed the US’ dollar. She also refused to acknowledge that the US economy was actually recovering, and assured me that “canada would always be ahead of america from now on”. It ended up being a short, obnoxious conversation.
For more evidence of this ridiculous insecurity complex, see recent pollings on Canadians regarding their Arctic views… they view the US as much as a threat to their sovereignty as the Russians do. CBC has done a fantastic job with indoctrination (it must be those tasty beaver tails).
Margot Bishop: I agree with Katie. Suggesting that Canadian nationalism is rooted in being “not American” is not only condescending but also exemplifies, what has come to be, an American stereotype- thinking everything concerns them. Meaning it is not surprising that this American bloguments contributor prefers to see Canadian nationalism as an extension of American identity/culture. Let’s look at Canadian identity without the red, white and blue coloured lenses on.
Jason Tan de Bibiana: Andrew… you propose that Canada’s national identity is based on the premise that it is NOT the US. Why do you think you noticed this shift in attitudes? Is your observation based on personal experiences, or do you have some evidence to suggest that all Canadians share this sentiment? I would guess it is the former – after all, you say you have gotten into many arguments lately. How many of those arguments did you start? Let’s be honest, during your time in Canada, as an American you’ve always enjoyed starting USA! USA! USA! chants, letting us know that you think Canada has only been a country since 1982, wearing ridiculous leather jackets with large American flags across the back etc. etc. etc.
I definitely don’t want to argue whether Canada is better than America with you, as much as you may or may not enjoy that debate. But I do strongly object to your opinion that Canadians only define themselves in comparison to the US, which I think is very much biased by your own experience. At times, it is useful to highlight differences between our two countries, but that is far from what wholly defines either.
What does it mean to be Canadian? This is really the interesting question, which Katie only briefly touched on. If I asked that question openly to all Canadians, I also agree that the answers would be incredibly diverse. But my guess is that the top answers would have little to do with the US.
We do have a national identity crisis in the sense that being Canadian means different things to different people, and each Canadian would be unlikely to agree with all of our polices, actions, and attitudes that get attributed to us as a whole. Canada is definitely still a young nation trying to figure out its history and its future. I used to think that multiculturalism, open-mindedness, and an acceptance of diversity defined Canada… but I’m never 100% sure about that anymore. I used to think that Canada’s health care system was our crowning achievement, but… I’ll probably deal with that in another bloguments post.
Nikhil Wilmink: “I used to think that multiculturalism, open-mindedness, and an acceptance of diversity defined Canada… but I’m never 100% sure about that anymore.”
Jason I think this is still true and from someone who is neither Canadian or American this is why I love Canada. Every country has their problems with multiculturalism/mutliracialism (with only Malaysia and Singapore being touted as shining examples). When I compare Canada to places I have lived such as England (with its underlining superiority complex and racism stemming from the colonial period), and Holland (where there is this awful standoff between rightwing xenophobic anti-immigration parties and the muslim community which is radicalizing people on both sides) Canada really does it will.
Jason after writing that I realize you are probably talking about the tendency for Canadians to sweep the native problem under the carpet/up north…maybe the next topic of debate!
Andrew – I do agree with the fact that Canada does not hit you around the face with their national identify like most other countries do. So in principle this is a very interesting point. Its not really an identity crisis but Katie I can’t think of another country which gets teary eyed over an identity boosting beer commercial which was incidentally written and directed by an America.
Also Andrew I think the sample you and I are basing our arguments on are the university going upper echelons of Canadians who we call our friends!It would be interesting to ask how those nova scotians you summer with how they define being Canadian. As this debate proves identities are inherently subjective.
Great debate, great website Jake! Keep it up.
Alex Heller: Andrew, have I got a story for you:
One day at my American school I noticed a kid with a “fuck Canada” tattoo. I asked him why he had the tattoo and he told me “becasue Canada is the hat to the party that is America.” He repeated this several times after I asked him why America was such the superior of Canada. The incident culminated with me making a rude comment about him and his country.
All I wanted to know whas WHY he had the tattoo. I wasn’t interested in defining Canada primarily as different from the US (although, it is different at the very least in the sense that it is a different country) or asserting that Canada was definitively better than the US.
I know that I feel different than most people on this campus. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I wear my Canadian tuxedo out on Saturday morning. Maybe it is the fact that all (yes, all) my friends chuckle at my correct pronunciation of the word “pasta”. Maybe it is the fact that I know more how to make maple syrup than american wars or presidents or that I am the only one who laughs at my own impression of the Queen. But I do know one thing for sure, if someone asks me IF or WHY I feel different, I’ll have no problem telling them what I just told you without any talk of hats or parties. I don’t give a shit about telling people I am first and foremost not American, I tell them that I’m a Canadian.