How I feel being Canadian
Note: this post was written in early 2015. A few things have changed since then and they’ve been noted at the bottom of the page.
Walking around Split, our guide mentioned a few times how proud she was to be Croatian. Later, having a beer on our balcony, Lissette asked me what I thought of that. And then asked me if I feel proud to be Canadian.
Firstly, I can see why Croatians would be proud of their country: Croatia. It is a new nation and their independence had to be fought for. They are united by both that struggle as well as Catholicism (most of the Balkans are either Orthodox or Muslim). Nothing unites people more than being surrounded by historical adversaries with religious differences (look no further than Israel). Croatia’s economy is outperforming that of much of the region and they have recently been accepted as members of the European Union. Besides all that, they have a beautiful country with an incredible history dating back to the Greek and Roman empires. Croatians have many reasons to feel pride in their country.
I had to think harder about how I feel being a Canadian. I know I don’t feel the same pride as I did when I was younger. I remember Canada in the 80’s, and even the 90’s, when being Canadian stood for something. We were peacekeepers, diplomats and aid workers. Canada had a large role in Foreign Aid and I travelled to Africa several times in my late teens (i.e. in the late 1980’s) where I saw the impact of that. Back then, flashing a Canadian passport usually brought a smile or comment. Even before that Canadian moms would sow a Canadian flag on their children’s backpacks. That’s what my mother did before I went off on my first independent trip to Spain in 1984. One of the reasons for all the Canadian flags on backpacks was that no Canadian wanted to be misidentified as American. Sorry, but Americans weren’t well regarded. Even Americans sowed Canadian flags on their backpacks. Being Canadian stood for Goodwill. I think if you ask any Canadian they’ll tell you that they felt a lot of pride being Canadian in those days.
Much of that Canadian identity has gone by the wayside. We are no longer peacekeepers (we are actually the only Western nation right now engaged in ground warfare in Iraq), we’re no longer known as diplomats (our current Prime Minister, Mr. Harper, is more right wing than the American President. This basically makes him an extremist on the world stage) and we have a minimal role in Foreign Aid (gradually scaled back, then obliterated by the Harper government). This government has bent over backwards being isolationist, divisive and un-cooperative. Outwardly, Canada’s reputation has gone the way of Bill Cosby’s – we’re no longer the ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ of the world. We are no longer Mr. Anything of the world.
So I am I proud to be Canadian? In one sense the answer is ‘No’. Not right now.
But politics aside, as a Canadian and a traveller, I can tell you a few things. I don’t know of any people anywhere who are as friendly as Canadians. Canadians are an incredibly friendly people – walk up to someone on the street and ask them a question and they won’t wave you away or look in the other direction. They’ll almost always try to help you out and you might find other people joining in, curious to help. Really. Meet Canadians overseas and you’ll almost always end up in a conversation, there is an openness in Canadians that you won’t see in many other nationalities. At home, Canadians are among the most tolerant and welcoming people on earth and have historically opened their arms to all nationalities and colours. I remember as a teenager having Chinese, Muslim, and black friends. It was never an issue. Many Canadians, especially those raised in cities, will have the same experience (most Canadian cities are very racially diverse). I saw a piece in the news a few months ago testing the openness of Canadians to immigrants; it portrayed two actors, one a white guy, another a Muslim dressed in Islamic garb. The shot was filmed around a bus stop in downtown Toronto and shows the white guy bullying and harassing the Muslim man. Bystanders all had the same reaction, telling the white guy off, telling him to leave the Muslim alone. A woman started yelling at him, shaking her finger in his face and telling him how you don’t “act this way in Canada”. The white actor ended up getting punched in the nose by a young man. How they stood up to the bully brought tears to my eyes. We are not immune to certain feelings towards minority groups with all that’s going on these days but, push comes to shove, 99% of Canadians will defend a minority group’s rights to be and to express him/herself. I think as Canadians this openness and tolerance is what we are most proud of. And if you want to feel good about being Canadian, listen to all the stories of people leaving prosecution in places around the world for a life in Canada. They love the freedom, the liberties, the safety, peacefulness and the multiculturalism of Canada (on top of all the natural beauty).
Check out the great Molson Canadian ad above. It was done back in 2000. It’s sad that Canadian patriotism can be stirred up by a beer ad (and ironic that Molson was bought out by an American company in 2005). But Canadians are not very patriotic and this ad did strike a chord with many. Have we Canadians changed that much since then?
I think the answer to the above is ‘no’. But I have to do a lot of digging into what being Canadian is about to feel proud these days – because Canadian policies no longer reflect a kind and gentle vision of Canada. And while we can feel pride in our beliefs and values, our national psyches take a beating when others no longer look at us as a positive influence in the world.
Are you proud to be (insert your nationality)? Do you consider Patriotism over-rated or even dangerous? Or are you just apathetic to the whole thing? Interested to hear your thoughts.