Things I Learned About Being A Canadian By Dating An American
While I was born and raised in Canada, I’m also a US citizen thanks to my American mom. I vote, I pretty much know the anthem, and I spend a fair amount of time south of the border. Overall, I consider myself a pretty solid American. But not long ago, I dated a guy from New York who was living in Seattle, and I have never felt more un-American and extremely Canadian than I did in the seven months we were together. He spent a lot of time up here, which gave me the opportunity to look at my country (or Bizarro America, as he called it) and my Canadianess in a whole new way. Here are a few things I learned, eh.
We do have an accent.
Okay, so yes, there’s the “eh” thing, but it goes way beyond that. My American boyfriend was always pointing out (in a joking way of course) the things I said differently. Pasta (pas-ta), sorry (sore-y), bar (ber) for example. Then sometimes I would say something like “I need another loonie for this two-six” and it was like a totally different language to him. There are also many small differences in vocabulary that kept popping up. Grade eight versus eighth grade, washroom versus restroom, first years versus freshman, double-double, two-four, and the excessive use of the word “brutal” just to name a few. Once a homeless guy asked my ex-boyfriend for a toonie and he thought he was soliciting him for sex.
We are polite.
It’s a stereotype that Canadians are polite, and it’s totally true. Once we were out for brunch and while the waitress was pouring our coffee, my American dude asked if she would change the channel on the TV. I was secretly mortified. Mostly because the curling championships was on, but also because you don’t ever ask for a channel change, or anything that requires someone to go slightly out of his or her way. You grin and complain about it under your breath. If you must ask someone for a favor, make sure to pad it with a few apologies (or sore-ys).
But we’re not that nice.
While we’re known for our politeness, Canadians really aren’t the warmest people. I was leaving a Starbucks in Seattle and as I walked out the door, a construction worker eyed my latte and exclaimed, “Hey, did you get one for me?” I laughed but I was really taken aback. A sane, or at least sober Canadian would never have said something like that. Up here, we tend to avoid talking to strangers at all costs. I’m not sure why, exactly. Maybe it’s too cold and we can’t spare the energy, or perhaps we’re just jerks. If a sales associate or waitress makes small talk with you, the common reaction, after a very polite conversation of course, is often “what the heck was that all about? She must be bored or something.” Once I made that comment about a woman working the checkout at Trader Joe’s in Bellevue and my boyfriend looked at me like I was trash talking his grandma.
We have our own pop culture.
While we share most of our pop culture with our American neighbors, we still keep our own little pocket of Canada Only music. Let me run a few names by you: Our Lady Peace, The Tragically Hip, The Guess Who, Matthew Good Band, 54-40. To Canucks, these aren’t bands that maybe had one hit ten years ago, they’re institutions. If you’re a Canuck, you can probably name at least three of their hits. And whether they want to or not, your average Canadian, when drunk, will emotionally sing along to Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway.” It’s just something you do up here. I was surprised at how many of these Canadian hitmakers my boyfriend, who works in music, was unfamiliar with. Unfortunately it made my stories about kissing Raine Maida and seeing Gord Downie in a Starbucks a lot less interesting.
Kraft Dinner is Canadian.
Once, over brunch I confessed that while I try to eat healthy, every few years I get the urge to eat a box of KD out of the pot in front of the TV. “What’s KD?” he asked. “Ya know, KD. Kraft Dinner.” Nothing. “Uh… gotta be KD?” He had no idea what I was talking about. Apparently Kraft Dinner, and therefore, the lovable slogan Gotta be KD! is 100% Canuck. “Kraft Macaroni and Cheese” is what it’s known as south of the border, which to me sounds about as foolish as hiding a mickey full of toonies in your toque, eh?
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If you’ve been looking for a chance to say something then this very well could be it.
I wish to God I’d had a list like this when I was 23.
Answer phones better than anyone else has answered phones before. Relay messages so brilliant, they bring people to tears. Turn the coffee run into the choreography of Swan Lake. Become best friends with every intern and every underling and every taxi driver you encounter.
I remember taking the pen and notebook from that woman outside the courtroom, flipping to a clean page in the book, and writing, JESSICA IS SAD in big, bold, uncoordinated letters. “My sister is going to be a good writer someday! Look at how nice her lines are!”