I never knew much about Canada growing up. I loved "Rocky and Bullwinkle" and knew William Shatner was from Canada, and later I bought Raffi tapes for my kids to listen to, but that was about it.
As an adult I once drove across the lower part of Ontario from Detroit to Niagara Falls and I watched Canadian television one evening. Which I found passing strange. The news was naturally in both English and French but the worlds being portrayed on these two channels might as well have been in different countries. The French Canadian news was all about what was happening in Paris. Ok....? The English news was a panel discussion led by a fellow who seemed to be of Indian descent. The panel was all in agreement that things had been much better when Canada was a direct part of the British Empire. In both cases, the longing for a lost Europe hit me like a 2 by 4. No American longs for Europe. America is about standing up for yourself and "having the courage to get up and do what needs to be done". What's Canada about? One clue came from the radio: there were several programs which seemed to be dedicated to complaining about "our neighbor to the South", inevitably enunciated with that fearful but superior sneer with which members of Old Families will discuss parvenus.
More evidence has come in the last couple of years. My company bought a Canadian company and I took my first overnight trip to Ottawa, which I liked a lot. It looked very much like a nice Midwestern city. I enjoyed listening to the French radio--what a treat!, I thought. But when I talked to the English-speaking employees I discovered that, although they had been required to take French for twelve years, not a one of them had the least interest in speaking or learning more French. And these are people who live in a city which is one third French-speaking. They didn't sneer when I asked about French, but they did express the closest thing to a sneer which that peculiar social restraint I associate with well-bred British people, but which I now know to be a trait of the English-speaking Canadians, will allow.
My final experience came a few weeks ago when we drove to Vancouver on the family vacation. Coming to the border we picked up a French-speaking station and a Cantonese-speaking station on the car radio. I couldn't understand the Cantonese station. The French-speaking station had five or so people in a panel discussion who were complaining about Walmart. Their comment was that "Canada is different". Vancouver itself, however, seems to have little or no French-speaking part (other than official government business). Rather, it has a huge part which is Cantonese-speaking, Hong Kong II. Yet when I found myself that night in a hospital emergency ward, all the signs were in both English and Bengali. What gives? Will Cantonese become the official second language in fifty years?
Canada is very confused about its identity. Mainly, its identity consists of being multi-culti-er than thou, and we all know who "thou" is. Will the real Canada please stand up? Or perhaps I should say, Can it?
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