CALGARY – A couple months ago, the CanCulture editors asked if I would be willing to write a satirical column on the topic of how to spot Canadians. I replied that I would be, for stereotyping and making wild generalizations have always been my greatest strength.
Unfortunately, after contemplating the topic for weeks, I was hit with a terrible existential crisis and could not go on. Far from being fun and relaxing, identifying Canadians had become loaded with uncertainties and nationalistic baggage. I began to question every micro-fleece sweater I saw on the streets of Ottawa and Calgary. Was the wearer Canadian? Or were they merely an adventurous German? I could no longer tell.
As the days went on and alarm took hold, I began to question even myself. Was I – a bona fide Canadian passport holder – even truly Canadian?
Don’t pretend this hasn’t happened to you. You say a word over and over again – for example, “Canadian” – and it begins to lose it’s meaning. I stared at my face in the mirror and listened to the CBC.
A childhood’s worth of “sea-to-sea” hymn singing and flag waving faded into uncertainty. How did I know I was truly Canadian? I thought about cowboys. I thought about lobsters. I thought about the street name “Spadina” and Margaret Atwood. My confusion only grew.
To be fair, I know I am not alone. The question of Canadian identity has consumed national media, politics, and history class practically since Confederation.
But instead of going back to 1867, I decided to look at my childhood for answers. It was a simpler time — a time when my sense of nationalism was untainted by knowledge of the country at large.
Unfortunately, that didn’t make things much clearer. I believe my first understanding of “being Canadian” came when I realized I was ineligible for most of the contests advertised in magazines. I was partial to the maple cream donut, but otherwise I was unsure. There were things that produced a swelling of pride and affection for home, including driving through the Rocky Mountains, or swimming in Lake Okanagan. But many of my ideas about being Canadian, I came to realize, were not based on my own experiences. Instead, they were based on the Bruton’s.
The Bruton’s live down the street from my parents, and to me, have always to been the pinnacle of Canadian-ness. Both parents are from Toronto, and the whole family is lightly freckled. The CBC always plays in the background at their house, and their walls are painted warm colours — the colours of brownstones and autumn in Montreal. Growing up, all the kids seemed to know what a street car was, while I merely had suspicions.
Even after I moved to Ottawa, a place that takes its Canadian-ness very seriously, I still looked to the Bruton’s for guidance. I still watched Tim Hortons’ commercials for clues. I felt more Calgarian than ever, more Albertan. But the nature of being Canadian remained a mystery.
You may wonder why someone with so much nationalistic baggage will be writing about what it means to be a Canadian. But eventually, I realized what many a Canadian has come to know. Leaving Calgary made me feel Calgarian. And when I lived in Denmark last year, I felt, for the first time in my life, truly Canadian.
I may not be particularly qualified to talk about being Canadian. But I am qualified to leave the country. There, I will be your guide. I will inform you of the combined, confusing nature of us – if not at home, then at least abroad. My understanding will surpass regional differences, first languages, accents and even country of birth. Using only the occasional Mountain Equipment Co-op windbreaker and blind intuition, I will meet Canadians everywhere I go. And when we meet, we will all say to each other, “Man, these people are rude compared to back home, eh?”