O Canada, never stop be­ing weird and charm­ing

The Guardian Weekly - - The guardian weekly - Emer O’Toole

The first day of July is Canada Day and this year it was a big one, be­cause the coun­try has turned 150. I re­cently be­came a per­ma­nent res­i­dent of Canada, and re­ceived an arm­ful of pam­phlets in­tended to ac­cli­ma­tise me to life in Amer­ica’s hat. The Wel­come to Canada hand­book de­tails the na­tion’s ge­og­ra­phy, cli­mate, sys­tem of gov­ern­ment, rights and free­doms, laws, and more. Yet it left me strangely bereft of in­for­ma­tion on the Cana­dian char­ac­ter.

There’s a pre­con­cep­tion that Canada is bor­ing. Even Cana­di­ans share this pre­con­cep­tion, be­cause they have no idea how weird they are. I reckon, there­fore, that other trav­ellers and im­mi­grants to Canada might ben­e­fit from the in­sights I’ve gleaned from my four years among these odd yet charm­ing peo­ple.

In the 80s and 90s, Canada tele­vised many ter­ri­fy­ing pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ments that of­fer in­sights into the cur­rent na­tional psy­che. In one rep­re­sen­ta­tive ex­am­ple, As­tar the Robot falls through whirring blades that chop off his arm. He then in­forms the watch­ing chil­dren: “I am As­tar, a robot. I can put my arm back on, you can’t. So play safe”, teach­ing them noth­ing ex­cept to avoid fall­ing through a pit of chain­saws.

There is a cor­rect side of the pave­ment. Sorry, of the side­walk. If you are walk­ing down a street and think­ing: “Woah – Cana­di­ans are so friendly, ex­cept when they’re walk­ing places”, this is be­cause you are on the left side of the pave­ment. You might think there isn’t a cor­rect side; you might think that peo­ple could sim­ply walk around each other. Do not sug­gest this. Stick to your side.

Cana­di­ans have no idea how bril­liant Canada is. “I can’t be­lieve how long I’ve been on hold,” says the Cana­dian who’s been on hold for the length of time it takes a ket­tle to boil.

“I can’t be­lieve this train is so late,” says the Cana­dian who has waited three min­utes for a train that will ar­rive in an­other three min­utes.

“Why aren’t these streets clearly sign­posted?” com­plains a Cana­dian, aware that in a block or two there will be a street sign in­form­ing them, with geospa­tial pre­ci­sion, ex­actly where they are. Shut up Cana­di­ans!

You don’t un­der­stand late trains! You live in a land of in­hu­man ef­fi­ciency. Your coun­try is bril­liant, OK?

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