How to tell if you're Canadian
by Damien Ponech and John Bayko
In the same month my little e-mailman, dodging the e-dogs, brought not one but two Canadian culture tests. With the authors' consent I've combined them. Both are English Canadian; there is a separate Québecois culture test. Items identical to the American test are in grey.
Damien was born and lived most of his life in Toronto, Ontario; for the last three years he's been studying linguistics and second language teaching in Ottawa. Born in Regina, John lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where he works as a programmer. He's also lived in Ottawa and Winnepeg, and married an American ("from just outside Chicago, where it's quiet".)
If you're Canadian...
Our football fields go up to 110
- ...you are of course not American. You're fascinated by
minute differences between the U.S. and Canada, and a bit annoyed at Europeans who can't tell you apart.
- You are vaguely familiar with the charters of rights and freedoms in the constitution but really have no idea of what it's about.
- It seems perfectly normal for your country's Queen to live on another continent. You don't really think about it since it's not like it makes any difference; and if you're Quebecois, she's not really your Queen anyway.
- You might not even know the words to the National Anthem (in either language). You like that beer commercial though.
- You're familiar with virtually all of the American personalities on TV and movies, as well as a number of Canadian ones if you watch the CBC, like Graeme Green, Paul Gross, John Candy, Jim Carrie, Tom Jackson, Patrick McKenna, Eric Peterson, William Shatner, Megan Follows, Bruno Gerussi.
- You're familiar with Kids In The Hall, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Made In Canada, Red Green, North of 60, Anne of Green Gables, Royal Canadian Air Farce, Due South, Road to Avonlea, Raccoons, Danger Bay, Spirit Bay, Kids of Degrassi Street, Street Legal and maybe Traders, or if you're older, The Beachcombers, Wayne and Schuster, Don Messer's Jubilee, Front Page Challenge, and King of Kensington, even if you haven't watched them personally.
- You either watch or listen to CBC television and radio, or you don't. That fact
tends to make a difference in your view of the world.
A planet where Liberals run the government?
- Hockey is the sport of passion and (if you're male) you know almost every Canadian player in the NHL and what team they play for. If you're over 40 you remember the 1972 series with Russia and how we won and probably remember what you were doing when it happened.
- You also know baseball, basketball, and both American and Canadian football (which has 10 extra yards on the field; unfortunately, the CFL has been something of a disaster). You know what curling is, and know at least one person who plays it. In Québec, Formula One is more important.
On the other hand (and unless you're under about 20), you don't care that much for soccer. Cricket is a mystery.
- You expect two weeks of vacation a year (possibly more-- it depends on your province).
- You're fairly likely to believe in God, though you don't take it to extremes like the Americans do. There are more Catholics in Quebec, more Protestants elsewhere, but differences between different churches and religions aren't that important.
- You think of McDonald's, KFC, and A&W as cheap food. You can get poutine at most of these places, even the American chains.
Canada may or may not make the best doughnuts in the world, but it's gone the farthest in perfecting doughnut shops as a lifestyle.
- You probably own a telephone, a TV, and you do your laundry in a machine. You probably have a car, and a place in the garage to plug it in. Your place is heated in the winter and has its own bathroom.
- You don't kill your own food. You don't have a dirt floor. You eat at a table, sitting on chairs.
- You don't consider insects, dogs, cats, monkeys, or guinea pigs to be food.
- A bathroom may not have a bathtub in it, but it certainly has a toilet.
- The railroads, and auto manufacturers are privately run;
utilities (telephone, electric, gas) used to be all run by the provinces, but many of them have been privatised. Opinions differ on whether this is a good thing.
Air Canada is technically a private company, but it's subsidized by the federal government.
- You expect, as a matter of course, that the phones will work. Getting a new phone is routine.
You may live for years, however, with just a cellular phone.
- The train system, by contrast, isn't very good. The bus system reaches more places, and it's cheaper.
Planes are the best if you can afford them, since distances can be so large.
Over there first, twice
- You find a multi-party system natural: everyone's viewpoint is represented politically, for better or worse, even if only the major parties ever get members elected. You know what Tory and Grit mean. You think politicians mean well, but are better at generating hot air than solving problems.
- You probably don't think the Senate does anything useful, and would like to see it abolished.
- Although you might hold socialist views, you wouldn't call it that-- except in provinces like B.C., Manitoba and especially Saskatchewan. Communism is kind of old-fashioned though.
- There are a number of races, but thankfully it's not the huge problem it is in the U.S. Someone with one white and one black parent isn't necessarily white or black-- maybe something in the middle. If there's a persistent racial underclass, it's the Natives.
- You think most problems could be solved if only the three levels of government would put aside their differences and work together.
- You take a strong court system for granted, even if you don't use it. You know that if you went into business and had problems with a customer, partner, or supplier, you could take them to court.
- You're well aware that your country speaks two major languages-- but you yourself don't, unless you live in Ottawa or Montreal, or one of the francophone communities outside Quebec. You probably learned some of the other language (French or English) in school, but don't remember much of it. If you live in English Canada, you find French interesting but irrelevant; if you live in French Canada you find English useful but annoying.
- You don't speak a langauge other than those two, unless you're a Native or an immigrant. You respect people who do.
- You think an income tax level of 45% is ridiculously high
and a sales tax of 15% is way too much. You may blame this for educated people moving to the States. On the other hand, you're afraid of losing government services if its cut too much.
- School is free through high school (at least, it's an option, even if you went to private school).
Colleges and universities are subsidized by the government, but
they're by no means free (tuition can be up to $5000 a year).
You can get a scholarship, but only an academic one, not for athletics.
- University is (normally, and excluding graduate study) four years long. Colleges are schools where people learn trades and the like.
- Mustard comes in jars or squeezable bottles. Shaving cream comes in cans. Milk comes in plastic jugs or cardboard boxes , or in some areas, in bags.
- The date comes second: 07/01/1867. Or maybe (especially on government forms) first: 28/9/1972. Or occasionally, as on the tax forms, third (year first). (And you know what happened on those dates.)
- The decimal point is a dot. Certainly not a comma.
- A billion is a thousand times a million
And it's not (quite) "aboot", either
- World War II began in 1939 when Britain and Germany went to war-- Canada didn't wait to be attacked like some nations to the south. Granted all the suffering, it was a just war which brought the country and its allies together, and ended all right.
- (World War I was a terrible war, but one in which Canada fought
proudly as an equal among the allies for the first time. And again got there before the Americans did.)
- You expect marriages to be made for love, not arranged by third parties. Getting married by a judge is an option, but not a requirement; most marriages happen in church. You have a best man and a maid or matron of honour at the wedding-- a friend or a sibling. And, naturally, a man gets only one wife at a time.
- If a man has sex with another man, he's a homosexual. Gay and lesbian couples aren't considered "married", but they're entitled to spousal benefits. This seems reasonable to you.
- If you're introduced to someone your own age, you can call them by their first name. With superiors and older people it's better to use a title.
- If you're a woman, you have the right to go to the beach topless, but you don't.
- A hotel room has a private bath.
- In English Canada, you'd rather a film be subtitled than dubbed (if you go to foreign films at all).
If you're French Canadian, you're more used to dubbed
- You seriously expect to be able to transact business, or deal with the government, without paying bribes.
- If a politican has been cheating on his wife, that's his business.
- Most stores will take your credit card, and if they don't, they'll accept your debit (ATM) card. If you've been in the U.S., you may have found that the same sort of places that would accept your debit card back home demand cash instead.
- A private company can fire just about anybody it wants, unless it discriminates by doing so--
but occasionally its decision will be reversed by the provincial labour review board.
- You like side bacon crisp, and back bacon less so. You have no idea what it is about back bacon that make Americans think it's "Canadian".
- Labour Day (mind the "u") is in the fall.
- You know why everyone wears plastic poppies pinned to their jackets at the beginning of November.
- You may know little about purely Canadian films (as opposed to Hollywood films with Canadian connections, like Ghostbusters and Titanic). If you do, you've seen
Crash, Exotica, Last Night, Hard Core Logo, The Red Violin, and many others, and you know directors David Cronenberg, Bruce McDonald, Denys Arcand, Atom Egoyan, actor/director Don McKellar, and actors Callum Keith Rennie, Paul Gross, Pat McKenna, Sandra Oh, and Sarah Polley.
- You know Bryan Adams, Colin James, Celine Dion, Susan Aglukark, Tragically Hip, Tom Cochrane, Anne Murray, Great Big Sea, Rankin Family, Ashley McIsaac, Alanis Morissette, Crash Test Dummies, Amanda Marshall, K.D. Lang, Jann Arden, Blue Rodeo, Glass Tiger, Roch Voisine, Barenaked Ladies, Soul Decision, Jack Soul, Sara McLachlan, Chantal Kreviazuk, Shania Twain, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, and others.
Some of these became popular here before in the States, due to "CanCon" laws requiring a percentage of Canadian content on the radio. Not that you can generally tell Canadian from American performers, except that their videos look cheap.
- You count on excellent medical treatment.
You wouldn't think of privatizing health care... though non-emergency care does seem to take a long time. Well, you can always go pay for it in the States.
You know you're not going to die of cholera or other Third World diseases... except perhaps if you're a Native living on a reserve.
You expect very strong measures to be taken to save very ill babies or people in their eighties. You think dying at 65 would be a tragedy.
- You went over Canadian history in school. You're also used to seeing those 30-second government sponsored "Heritage Minutes"
on TV, and maybe watched the CBC History of Canada series. You also got some U.S. and European history. You get a kick out of the fact that Canada (OK, well, Britain) is the only nation besides Viet Nam to win a war against the U.S.-- in 1812, when the U.S. tried and failed to invade Canada, and the White House was burned down.
- You know authors Pierre Burton, Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, and Farley Mowat. You know political figures John A. MacDonald, John Diefenbaker, Pierre Trudeau, René Levesque, William Lyon MacKenzie King, Lester B. Pearson, and Métis leader Louis Riel.
Our 800-pound neighbors
- You know hockey legends from Maurice "Rocket" Richard to Wayne Gretzky, and sports announcer Don Cherry (and Blue, of course). You've heard of ballerina Karen Cain, pianist Glen Gould and figure skater Elvis Stojko.
- You expect the military do peacekeeping, not fight wars. (It's way too underfunded to do any fighting.) Peacekeeping missions have produced some stars-- Lewis MacKenzie (Bosnia), Romeo Dallaire (Rwanda), John de Chastelain (Ireland)-- but you probably can't name any other top Canadian officers.
- Your country has never been conquered by a foreign nation-- though if you're Quebecois you may take the British conquest in 1759 personally.
If you're a Newfoundlander, you might still be suspicious of the referendum for joining confederation.
- You're used to a wide variety of choices for almost anything you buy-- though you think there's more choice in the U.S. On the other hand, over there they don't have Aero or Coffee Crisp bars, or dill pickle flavoured potato chips,
or butter tarts, or Nanaimo bars, or Sleeman beer.
- You measure things in litres, kilograms, and kilometres, except when you use feet, pounds, and gallons. Usually the older generation uses the imperial system, and the younger generation uses the metric system. Most things are labelled both ways anyway.
- You are not a farmer-- though it seems like there's more farmers than
there really are, with the noise they make about unfair American and European farm subsidies driving them out of business.
- Comics in English Canada basically come in two varieties: newspaper comics and magazines; the latter pretty much all feature American superheroes. (One American publisher did come up with a Canadian super-group, Alpha Flight, created by Canadian artist John Byrne. There was briefly a Canadian-published Captain Canuck, which was better than it sounds.) French Canada is more likely to be familiar with French BDs.
- The most popular talk shows are the American ones; Canadians
generally don't even bother competing with them. At least one American-style talk show has managed to be successful on
Canadian TV, Open Mike.
- You drive on the right side of the road. You stop at red lights even if nobody's around.
(In Saskatchewan, you might wait for the light even as a pedestrian, in freezing weather.)
If you're a pedestrian and cars are stopped at a red light, you will fearlessly cross the street in front of them.
- You think of the U.S. as a powerful neighbour with a lot of money, but rather ignorant about Canada and generally the outside world. Individually they're very
friendly people though, but their government is a stupid bully. You've probably seen and enjoyed Rick Mercer's "Talking To Americans" special, even if you realize they only used the funniest bits.
- During the Cold War, you never viewed the Russians as "the enemy", and were frankly baffled as to what America's problem with them was. You're glad they both came to their senses. Now if only the Americans would get some sense when thinking about Cuba...
- You think of Europeans as being more civilized than Americans or even Canadians in some ways. You still identify somewhat with England or France.
- You remember learning about the seal hunt a long time ago, and
you're glad that they outlawed it, or something, and it's not a problem anymore. (In fact it still happens.)
- You consider the Volkswagen Beetle to be a small car.
- The police are armed, but not with submachine guns.
- If a woman is plumper than the average, it doesn't improve her looks.
- The biggest meal of the day is in the evening.
- The people that you most often hear jokes about are the Newfies.
- There's parts of the city you definitely want to avoid at night.
- You feel that your kind of people aren't being listened to enough in Ottawa. Nor in your provincial capital.
- You wouldn't expect both inflation and unemployment to be very high (say, over 15%) at the same time.
- You don't care very much what family someone comes from.
- The normal thing, when a couple dies, is for their estate to be divided equally between their children.
Space and time
- You think of opera and ballet as rather elite entertainments. It's likely you don't see that many plays, either.
- Christmas is in the winter. You spend it with your family, give presents, and put up a tree, unless you're not Christian.
- The day for fireworks is July 1 (Canada Day, used to be Dominion Day), or June 24 (Fête Nationale de Québec, also known as St-Jean Baptiste Day) in Quebec. Also New Year's Eve, though it's a bit cold for watching them.
- You may think the church is too powerful, or the state is; but you are used to not having a state church and don't think that it would be a good idea.
(But the Catholic Church had extraordinary influence in Quebec till the middle of the last century; and until recently the entire education system in
Newfoundland was government-funded but church-run, and in many provinces Catholic schools are supported with government money.)
- You'd be hard pressed to name the capitals or the leaders of all the nations of Europe.
You can probably name all the capitals of the provinces and territories, though... except for Nunavut. (What's that? Vancouver, Calgary, and Saskatoon aren't capitals?)
- You've left a message at the beep.
- Taxis are generally operated by recent immigrants to Canada,
who may have PhDs in their own country but are often deplorably ignorant about the city.
- You think that welfare and unemployment payments are a good idea, but you think that a lot of people abuse the system. On the east coast where a lot of work is seasonal, you see Employment Insurance as completely different, kind of like a bank-- you pay into it in the summer, and get paid back during the winter.
- If you want to be a doctor, you need to get a bachelor's first.
- There sure are a lot of lawyers. They wear robes in courts, and in some provinces wigs-- which seems odd to you, since that's not what they wear on American TV.
- If you have an appointment, you'll mutter an excuse if you're five minutes late, and apologize profusely if it's fifteen minutes. An hour late is almost inexcusable. You get more leeway in the winter, however.
- If you're talking to someone, you get uncomfortable if they approach closer than about two feet. Maybe three feet would be better.
- About the only things you expect to bargain for are houses, cars, antiques, and produce sold in open markets.
Haggling is largely a matter of finding the hidden point that's the buyer's minimum.
- Once you're past college, you very rarely simply show up at someone's place. People have to invite each other over-- especially if a meal is involved.
- When you negotiate, you are polite, of course, but it's only good business to 'play hardball'. Some foreigners pay excessive attention to status, or don't say what they mean, and that's exasperating.
- If you have a business appointment or interview with someone, you expect to have that person to yourself, and the business shouldn't take more than an hour or so.