Once upon a time I was called “repressed” for apologizing for bumping into someone on a bus. I felt pretty witty when I rebuffed the man by pointing out that what he mistook for repression was something called ‘manners’, a thing he was obviously unfamiliar with. He was understandably taken aback – having not imagined that a Canadian girl would actually talk back to him – but the incident got me thinking.
I have a lot of acquaintances and even friends all over North America because I am a gamer. I love mmorpgs, it’s a thing and I’m not sorry. What these games do is afford me the pleasure of meeting people all over the world. Less often do I get to play with European gamers, due mostly to time differences, and sometimes language barriers, but I have met many interesting people in my career as a gamer, in customer service to tourists, and as a traveller. One common thing I run across are the stereotypes Canadians are labelled with. “Nice” being one of them which amounts to the fact that we apologize for everything. Like I told the loudmouth tourist on the us that day: actually, no. It’s called manners. It’s getting a little rarer that people hold the door for the next person these days, but by and large we are a polite group of people. We had manners impressed on us by our parents: always treat your elders with respect. Let the old people get on the bus first so they get the good seats. Give up your seat for the elderly or infirm or that pregnant woman who’s so front heavy a breeze might tip her over. We pick up garbage on the street and toss it in the bins, we give change to the homeless guy or buy him a coffee when it’s cold. We apologize for bumping into each other because we’ve invaded each others’ personal space without invitation and that’s just polite.
See, these things go by another word too: consideration. I’d like to change that stereotype to ‘considerate’ – and honestly I’d like everyone to be considerate. Think how nice it feels when someone thanks you for what you’ve done or you’ve been offered a cool drink on a hot day, or invited inside to visit with a neighbour. You’re far more likely to pay that good feeling forward, just like a smile passes from one passerby to the next and that just makes the day better in my opinion.
There’s nothing wrong with having manners and I think giggling about how ‘nice’ we are is a tad rude. But let’s move on to some of the other stereotypes and assumptions I’ve come across in my time. Some of them are completely true and others have come from a place of just plain old ignorance .
Our beer is stronger than our southern neighbour’s beer. This is true if you’re just looking at the alcohol % on the label, but technically not when you start talking about how that content is measured, but shhh that might start an argument!
Yes, Tim Horton’s is an institution and no we don’t want Bieber back. Many of us say ‘eh’ but only in eastern Canada will you hear ‘aboot’ regularly. We spend Loonies in the grocery store and have to buy our booze in a liquor store. Most of us still identify with our ancestral origins and keep some of those traditions and many refer to themselves hyphenated Canadians. Our pride as a nation is solid, but our national identity is still diverse. Maple syrup, bacon and poutine are very Canadian, but you’ll not find a “traditional” Canadian meal without some ancestral influence. We can get our milk in bags. We have Peacekeepers instead of soldiers. Most of us have strapped on a pair of skates at least once in our life and most of us watch hockey. And though not all of us are rabid fans, everyone knows who the local team is and when hockey season is on. We don’t see social programs as communist agendas, mainly because we believe that every person has the right to the basics of life: shelter, medical care, food and education. You could probably chalk that up to our manners again: we care about the well being of our neighbours. Though many people own guns, it seems to be for a purpose rather than to merely own one. It’s not easy to get them and most people feel just fine having never seen one in their lives. They’re registered and locked away for a reason.
The number one question I get asked when I travel though is “is it cold there”? I blame the fact that our capital is in Ontario, where snow and ice storms abound in the winter. People think of Canada as that only, when it’s really a hugely diverse country, both climatically and ‘ethnically’. Some parts of Canada don’t get huge drifts of snow and no one certainly gets snow all year ’round. Related to this; Igloos. Yes, I have been asked countless times if I live in one. I’m not kidding. (This could get tiresome if I didn’t think it was so damn funny.) I live on Vancouver Island, which has two seasons. Wet and not wet. In the summer it gets hot enough to swim, so getting asked if I live in a house made of ice made me laugh outright the first few times. Then it kind of got annoying to answer with the truth every time and then have to explain that I live in an actual house. I started responding to the question with ‘yes’ and being terribly amused with the ensuing hilarity. “How do you stay warm?” “Do you have electricity?” In one forum I have the group completely convinced I live in an igloo, take a dog sled to work and have a pet Moose named Freda who comes to the kitchen window every morning for Tim Horton’s coffee. And the internet delights in perpetuating our more outlandish stereotypes. I will admit that I like it when people run with it like I have. I mean, why not?
But what’s really hard about being Canadian? When people assume we’re pushovers or doormats because we’re polite. Not so. Chris Hadfield anyone? Emily Carr, Margaret Atwood, Michaëlle Jean, James Doohan, Susan Musgrave, James Naismith, oh hell, just go have a look: here. You can be polite and still accomplish a great many amazing things.
We’re more than our stereotypes. We’re hardy, diverse, industrious and kind. We create, build, contribute, defend and support. Welcome to Canada.