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Being Canadian
December 29, 2010 2:17 PM   Subscribe

What does it mean to be Canadian? It isn't about an ethnicity, a religion, a language, or a shared heritage or history. From CBC's Ideas comes the two-part radio documentary, Being Canadian. "From east to west, public intellectuals and private citizens (both new and old Canadians), tell film-maker Sun-Kyung (Sunny) Yi about the concerns, the questions, and the challenges of living together in a multicultural and diverse society." It is also the story of how and why a Korean family became Canadian, first in the law, and then in their hearts.
posted by Hildegarde (120 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been waiting for many a year now for the CBC to create a response to This American Life's 1997 episode Who's Canadian, and this comes pretty darn close.
posted by Hildegarde at 2:20 PM on December 29, 2010


Wait, wait, I can answer this question for you. Being Canadian means a bloody lifetime of listening to people ask WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE CANADIAN?
posted by bicyclefish at 2:24 PM on December 29, 2010 [27 favorites]


I Am Canadian!
Hey, I'm not a lumberjack, or a fur trader...
I don't live in an igloo or eat blubber, or own a dogsled...
and I don't know Jimmy, Sally or Suzy from Canada,
although I'm certain they're really really nice.

I have a Prime Minister, not a president.
I speak English and French, not American.
And I pronounce it 'about', not 'a boot'.

I can proudly sew my country's flag on my backpack.
I believe in peace keeping, not policing,
diversity, not assimilation,
and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal.
A toque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch,
and it is pronounced 'zed' not 'zee', 'zed'!

Canada is the second largest landmass!
The first nation of hockey!
and the best part of North America

My name is Joe!
And I am Canadian!
posted by ericb at 2:26 PM on December 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


The 'I Am Canadian' Anthem.
posted by ericb at 2:27 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I Am Not Canadian!

Blame Canada!
posted by ericb at 2:30 PM on December 29, 2010


Oh, good grief.

I'm pretty sure being Canadian means not having to give a fuck about what your nationality "means."
posted by Sys Rq at 2:30 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


What bicyclefish said. And if you live in Toronto you can tack on endless obsessing over whether or not T.O. is a "world-class" city.*

But while we're here: O Canada.

* This issue is, I'm convinced, entirely a media creation. I've been living here for over ten years and have never met anyone for whom it was actually a matter of any concern.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:35 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Having listened to the CBC since the Gzowski days, I know that the answer is a careful combination of comedians, short story writers, hockey, the Arctic, health care and multiculturalism.
posted by TimTypeZed at 2:38 PM on December 29, 2010 [9 favorites]


I'm pretty sure being Canadian means not having to give a fuck about what your nationality "means."

I'm Canadian and I've spent more time thinking about what it means to be Canadian than any healthy person should. And the fact that the question still exists probably means that I'm not the only one.
posted by spoobnooble at 2:40 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes, The Card Cheat, YES! I favourite your comment about the media a thousand times! Nobody talks about this in real life. Nobody.

Huh! On preview, it seems spoonooble does. Do you work in the media, spoonooble??
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 2:45 PM on December 29, 2010


Clearly we need to have a meet up so you guys can meet people who actually do discuss this question!
posted by Hildegarde at 2:47 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'll stick with the standard answer that we're different from Americans, but aside from lacking guns, we're still not entirely sure how.

I would agree that this lack of definition is of minor importance to those whose livelihoods do not depend on public broadcasting, faculty publishing requirements or art council grants.
posted by Capt. Renault at 2:49 PM on December 29, 2010


No, I don't work in media. And it's probably for the best that I don't. But I've been reading a fair bit of history books on Canada over the past few years, partly because I have felt a little insecure in the past over the lack of historical knowledge on my own part.

MY name is Spoobnooble, and I! AM! PART OF THE PROBLEM!!!
posted by spoobnooble at 2:52 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, I'm Proud To Be A Canadian.



*CIRCLE PIT*
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:54 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I always assumed it was like the Kids in the Hall said: "an unarmed American with a health plan".
posted by Asbestos McPinto at 2:56 PM on December 29, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'm not Canadian, and found Douglas Coupland's film Souvenir Of Canada to be an odd trip into an alternate universe. Maybe this will be equally as displacing.
posted by hippybear at 2:56 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The very best version of Oh Canada by far.
posted by binturong at 2:56 PM on December 29, 2010


What is a Canadian? As Canadian as possible, given the circumstances
posted by Blasdelb at 3:00 PM on December 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


I think this about covers it. And seasonal to boot!
posted by binturong at 3:01 PM on December 29, 2010


I got kind of mad at the doc about 20 minutes in because it's mostly Jack Granatstein spouting his right wing nonsense, but then they bring Trudeau in for the KO, and then I was delighted.

That's when I realized how fully I am the first generation of Trudeau's Canada. Everything he says in part one here is like the alternate lyrics to O Canada for me.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:01 PM on December 29, 2010


Q. How do you get 17 Canadians out of a swimming pool?
A. You say: "Would you all please leave the pool?"
posted by binturong at 3:03 PM on December 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


The sort of open-answered question that the CBC loves to ask because there is no right answer, but it sounds good. Also, I both love and hate that a beer company was the one to answer this question most effectively.

In the broad scheme we'd like to think it means a general liberal-democratic viewpoint, a trust in our government and the services it provides, multiculturalism and an identified hockey gene. Practically, it amounts to a 6-12 month lag for consumer products and needing a valid passport to be warm in January.
posted by jimmythefish at 3:06 PM on December 29, 2010


Being Canadian is essentially living as an American without suffering the embarrassment of actually being one.
posted by Construction Concern at 3:08 PM on December 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


My name is Joe!
And I am Canadian!


First: Ugh! I cannot believe the CBC replaced Barbara Budd—ostensibly for "lack of journalistic experience"—with that beer-shilling bag-of-dicks as cohost of As It Happens.

</apoplexy>

Second: As a relatively recent Canadian "what Canadian national identity 'means'" often seems like the only thing that Canadians do think about. Bonus points if you can work in musings on how "the Canadian Landscape" shapes character.
posted by wreckingball at 3:11 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I try so hard to explain to non-Canadians what it means to be a Canadian and I fail miserably at it. Maybe it's like how a bird doesn't need to be told it's a bird because it knows it's a bird :-) I just know I am Canadian.
posted by Calzephyr at 3:14 PM on December 29, 2010


I've always assumed you're all EXACTLY like I learned about in Anne of Green Gables.

Although as a consequence of getting all my knowledge about Canada from a book published in 1908 about the 1880s and 1890s, I've long wondered about your strange aversion to electricity and blue jeans. However, your Parliamentary seat distribution makes a hell of a lot more sense if we just freeze things when the Maritimes were super-important and before people really started settling in the west.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:14 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


First: Ugh! I cannot believe the CBC replaced Barbara Budd—ostensibly for "lack of journalistic experience"—with that beer-shilling bag-of-dicks as cohost of As It Happens.

What the..? Oh, ferfuckssakes...

Surely, if we can make an artificial voice for Roger Ebert using his own recordings, we can easily do the same for Alan Maitland. GRR.

posted by Capt. Renault at 3:19 PM on December 29, 2010


William Shatner? Canadian.

When I look around me,
I can't believe what I see
It seems as if this country
Has lost it's will to live
The economy is lousy,
We barely have an army
But we can still stand proudly
'Cause Canada's really big!


—Beware Tractor Jack... the politest pirate on the planet.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:27 PM on December 29, 2010


For the first half of last century, being Canadian meant cooking potatoes from PEI on a stove made in Missisauga, and eating it with some bread made from wheat grown in the Prairies by Ukrainians, while wearing clothes made on St-Laurent Street in Montreal by Jewish tailors and French Canadian seamstresses.

It also meant beating up people for being the wrong ethnicity/language/religion if they ventured on the wrong side of the river/track/hill.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 3:28 PM on December 29, 2010


Hey, I disliked the new guy on AIH for his dreadfully laboured build-ups to unfunny jokes before I even knew who he was.

If you haven't experienced As It Happens, which still covers some decent stories, you can live in The Future and listen to any part of tonight's show here.
posted by maudlin at 3:38 PM on December 29, 2010


Or you can live in Leonard Cohen's version of The Future. Still Canadian.
posted by maudlin at 3:40 PM on December 29, 2010


I am Canadian.

I do not care about hockey. I do not trust my government. I haven't tried to drink beer since I was seven and my father allowed me to have a swallow of his O'Keefe Ale and it was unspeakably ghastly. It seems to me that Canadian Health Care is not nearly as good as American Health Care for People with Tons of Money and Insurance Coverage, but is rather better than American Health Care for People With Out. It makes me cringe when Nationalistic and Patriotic Canadians tout us as Peacekeepers as I am almost certain that when Our Troops go somewhere they go somewhere as a favour to someone about something political. Even if they maybe keep the peace when they get there.

I am perplexed by the fact that I owe more to the Quebec Government than to any other part of the Canadian Political Behemoth, but distrust them still more than the rest of the Government.

I do not identify with Maritimers (where I live), Quebecois (where I grew up) or the rest of Canada. I gather that people from the Prairies, Ontario and from BC do not identify with having anything in common with me either. Somewhere along the line somebody took away my status as a British Subject (Hey!), took away "God Save the Queen" as one of my two National Anthems (Hey!) and then put God into the previously perfectly serviceable National Anthem we still had (Hey!) taking away all meaning from it for me. I still don't know the revised, revised lyrics. But then again neither did most of any crowd I have been part of. Perhaps to be Canadian means to peter out a quarter of the way through the National Anthem and switch to humming? This means all I don't feel very Canadian and would probably forget to mention that I was one if anyone asked me about my identity.

I like snow. I do not ever want to go away somewhere warm for the winter, although I do like to come inside where it is warm. I like to shovel snow.

I do not consider my nation to be Christian. To be a Christian Nation would of course mean that the Nation was not a free one, since its citizens would not have Freedom of Religion.

I wear a tuque. Sometimes even inside, if the house is cold enough. I have indeed seen a polar bear. It was in the Washington Zoo while I was visiting relatives. On the other hand this year there was another nest of bald eagles just on the other side of the pond a few hundred yards to the east of my house and it was pretty cool in the summer to watch them soaring over the water pursued by hysterical crows.

I cannot spell. Some of my teachers wanted me to spell American and some of my teachers wanted me to spell British and what was marked as correct one year was marked as wrong the next. I have seen so many words written in French that I am baffled as to the number of d's in the word "adress", I think the word "Place" is pronounced plass, and I call a convenience store a depanneur and if someone jostles me in a crowd I automatically say, "Je m'excuse." This is despite not being bilingual.

I am a Canadian... I mean, a Canadienne... whatever.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:49 PM on December 29, 2010 [27 favorites]


The very best version of Oh Canada by far.

sorry, binturong, but that was fucking awful (the first minute anyway; I had to ditch). Hip-Hop, I can love sometimes. Canada, too (though truth be told, I've never felt I had to; I was born here; I pay my taxes; I love the food choices a truly multi-cultural town like Vancouver has to offer). But please spare me the struttin', macho tough-guy-bullshit-patriotism. I'd say save it for the Americans but honestly, I think they've got too much taste.
posted by philip-random at 3:54 PM on December 29, 2010


Being Canadian is essentially living as an American without suffering the embarrassment of actually being one.

That made me laugh, partly because I agree with it more than I would rather admit.

One thing I have learned from reading about Canadian history is that Canada has often used its loyalty to Britain as its prime differentiation from the United States. Canadian confederation was partly a business initiative (people like George Brown and Alexander Galt cited improved inter-colonial trade as an asset), but a union of British colonies was also a defensive move against American influence and actions, particularly the Civil War. There were also minor incidents like the Fenian Raids -- Irish nationalists launching half-hearted attacks on Upper and Lower Canada in an attempt to attack Britain's occupation of Ireland -- that politicians like John A. MacDonald cited as arguments for unifying the colonies. And then there was the influx of ex-Americans, a.k.a. Loyalists, who beefed up the local population and reinforced anti-American sentiment.

The more Canada moves away from the British sphere of influence, the more it inevitably drifts into the American sphere, for the obvious reasons of geography and the power of American media. Whereas previous politicians spoke of the British model of government as being superior to the American republic, we now have Stephen Harper being addressed as "Mr. Prime Minister" in a direct echo of the American "Mr. President", and confusion over the parliamentary model which allows Conservatives to label coalition attempts as "treason". Canadians watch plenty of American television and movies, to the point where you have to explain to people that there is no Fifth Amendment or Miranda Rights in Canada. Quebecers have a specific sense of self-nationhood, and regions like Newfoundland and the northern territories enjoy a geographic remove, but even they are affected from these confusions from time to time, to say nothing of Albertans and Ontarians, who are accused of being ersatz Americans more often than not for varying reasons.

Canadians still cite "Public Medicine" and a lack of guns as differentiating factors, but these seem like surface differences at best. More to the point: when you live so close to the most powerful media conglomerate in human history it's easy to forget that you're not part of the same country. You forget that Canada had a full infantry decision in the storming of Normandy in World War II, or that a Canadian brokered a key peace deal and helped prevent a Gulf war in 1957. Nowadays jokes about the Canadian military are par for the course, but when you find out that many Americans don't even know that Canada has troops in Afghanistan (previously [semi-self-link]) you're brutally reminded of your insignificance on the world stage.

And that's where knee-jerk Anti-Americanism comes into play. A good example is Rick Mercer's "Talking To Americans", which is funny to a point, but after a while comes across as simply mean-spirited and churlish. It's almost flattering to realise that (according to one Wikileaks release), expressed concerns about “knee-jerk anti-Americanism” in Canadian TV dramas, partly because anti-American jabs are a more-than-occasional staple of local comedy broadcasts.

And that might be part of the reason why the "What does it mean to be Canadian?" question comes up with such annoying regularity. Sometimes it's easier to ridicule Americans than it is than to acknowledge the fear that you are coming pretty close to being American yourself.
posted by spoobnooble at 4:00 PM on December 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


I heartily recommend John Ralston Saul's Reflections of a Siamese Twin: Canada at the End of the Twentieth Century. I understand that since that book he was written more on Canada specifically, but I have yet to read it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:02 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


(P.S. pardon my grammatical errors in my previous post. I worked on that for far too long, and then I hit 'POST' by accident. Oh well, at least the hyperlinks go to the right websites...)
posted by spoobnooble at 4:04 PM on December 29, 2010


Sorry, by 'it' I mean the newer work.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:06 PM on December 29, 2010


Hah! Dueling smalltexts!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:07 PM on December 29, 2010


O Canada!
Our home on native land!
posted by Knigel at 4:21 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sometimes it's easier to ridicule Americans than it is than to acknowledge the fear that you are coming pretty close to being American yourself.

Some key differences in attitudes between Canadians and Americans on the following topics off the top of my head: religion; patriotism; crime and punishment; drugs; homosexuality; taxes; role of government vs private sectors; immigration; international relations; education; and appointment vs election of judges. Sure we watch US tv programs, like much of the world, but I wouldn't underestimate the strength of resistance to Americanization among the population at large.
posted by binturong at 4:49 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]




Q: Why did the Canadian cross the road?
A: To get to the middle.
posted by YamwotIam at 5:00 PM on December 29, 2010


For the record, the linked documentary doesn't make any comparisons between Canada and the US as part of the definition of being Canadian. I know we're all really good at carrying on long conversations without ever reading/hearing the linked media, we should get a medal for that. Maybe a parade.
posted by Hildegarde at 5:01 PM on December 29, 2010


Albertans and Ontarians, who are accused of being ersatz Americans more often than not for varying reasons.

As someone born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario, I'd like to explain to Canadians that those politicians that live there that you complain about whenever someone tells you they're from Ottawa? You voted for them and they're only in Ottawa because you put them there. Complaining about the corruption and the "fat cats" and all that stuff is basically throwing your trash over the fence and complaining that your neighbours don't take care of their lawn.

Thank you.
posted by Hoopo at 5:04 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I, too, wholeheartedly agree with bicyclefish. I find this kind of hand-wringing to be embarrassing. I was particularly dismayed by the tone of the opening and closing ceremonies at the Winter Olympics this year. Broadcasting to the world about how polite you supposedly are is anything but. It just made us sound full of ourselves.

Patriotism sucks.
posted by good in a vacuum at 5:22 PM on December 29, 2010


For the record, the linked documentary doesn't make any comparisons between Canada and the US as part of the definition of being Canadian. I know we're all really good at carrying on long conversations without ever reading/hearing the linked media, we should get a medal for that. Maybe a parade.

Fair comment, Hildegarde. I'm going back and listening to the documentary right now.

posted by spoobnooble at 5:26 PM on December 29, 2010


We love our beaver.

(I wish it was an original saying but it comes from one of the videos linked to above)
posted by ashbury at 5:42 PM on December 29, 2010


Reposting Pirate Barber's first link, because any time you have Henry Rollins talking about recording an album with William Shatner it is hysterical.

And I pronounce it 'about', not 'a boot'.

....Okay, I have to ask something here.

I have absolutely no idea where the stereotype of pronouncing it "a-BOOT" even came from in the first place, because the "stereotypical Canadian dialect" has never sounded like that to me in the first place. And I say that even after having extensive conversations for a couple years with a guy from Ottawa, and with my grandmother from New Brunswick, and also from repeated viewings of You Can't Do That On Television. Sure, I noticed a difference -- but if anything, it sounded more like "a-BOAT" than "a-BOOT." But not so much that I didn't know the word was "about" anyway.

So, I have to ask -- where the hell did the "a-BOOT" thing come from? Seriously?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:44 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


The best thing about the question is that it has no answer, probably deliberately.
posted by unSane at 5:45 PM on December 29, 2010


So, I have to ask -- where the hell did the "a-BOOT" thing come from? Seriously?

South Park (the movie). In particular the scene where the Americans mock the Canadian Ambassador, who then threatens the U.S. by saying "We'll give you something to cry a-BOOT!" Later the Canadian Air Force bombs the Baldwin Brothers' house.
posted by spoobnooble at 5:56 PM on December 29, 2010


Isn't it the lack of need or desire for ghetto scenes, war machines, and colored-light-eye-sparkling?
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:57 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


South Park nothing. When I first visited Canada in 1998 I was astonished at the Torontonian pronunciation of 'about'. It's not really 'a-boot' so much as a strange dipthong with a W in it, sort of 'abouowt'. It is basically, like so many things in Ontario, a consequence of so many Scots having arrived here in the mid 1800s. Of course, now I don't hear it any more and probably say it myself.

It is INCREDIBLY hard to mimic accurately. I only ever met one English person who could do it right.
posted by unSane at 6:00 PM on December 29, 2010


'A-Boot' is a Newfoundlandism; people from that province have a very unique accent. My theory abootabout its presence is that the person who wrote that commercial only hangs around Salter Street Film media types, the studio that gave us Rick Mercer, This Hour has 22 Minutes and its many Newfoundland comic talents.

Outside of The Rock (and the Oilsands) you'd hardly ever hear ABOOT it.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:03 PM on December 29, 2010


South Park (the movie). In particular the scene where the Americans mock the Canadian Ambassador, who then threatens the U.S. by saying "We'll give you something to cry a-BOOT!"

SOUTH PARK was perpetuating the stereotype, not launching it.

It is basically, like so many things in Ontario, a consequence of so many Scots having arrived here in the mid 1800s.

*jumping up and down and pointing* YES! That's EXACTLY what it sounds like!

I KNEW I'd heard it before but all this time hadn't figured out where!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:04 PM on December 29, 2010


unSane, I would argue that for many Canadians, no one was even aware that we pronounced the word "about" differently from the U.S. until the South Park film was released. I saw that film twice: once in Toronto, and once in Montreal, and both times that scene with the Canadian Ambassador drew a lot of blank expressions in the audience. Only after a fair number of public discussions and re-listens to CBC radio broadcasts did it become clear for many that there was a difference, although nowhere near as severe as the Parker/Stone production portrayed it.
posted by spoobnooble at 6:04 PM on December 29, 2010


In my case, being Canadian means being fat, lazy, and a naturalized US citizen who has not lived in Canada since I was two. I like to think I'm fairly representative of Canadians as a whole.
posted by maxwelton at 6:07 PM on December 29, 2010


Interesting, spoobnooble. When I saw South Park in a theatre in Vancouver, that scene drew hysterical laughter.
posted by good in a vacuum at 6:09 PM on December 29, 2010


EmpressCallipygos: "So, I have to ask -- where the hell did the "a-BOOT" thing come from? Seriously?"

Canadian raising confuses some people who don't pay close attention, and for others, it's yet another opportunity for a cheap joke. (There's some helpful sound files here.)

Most Americans pronounce the ou dipthong in the noun AND verb "house" in a relatively sprawling way, Canadians generally tighten up the noun "house" but pronounce the verb "house" almost as loosely as Americans, and Scots tend to tighten up the dipthong even more than Canadians in both words, although I think you can still hear the difference between the noun and verb in Scottish speech.

But while the Scottish pronunciation still isn't "hoose", it's closer to it than the Canadian pronunciation is, which means that we generally imitate Scots by doing the same thing that drives us batty when Americans do it to us.

(The Scottish Vowel Length Rule is pretty cool. This may explain why I hear the Scottish pronunciation of "on" sounds close to -- but not exactly like -- "own").

On preview: Huh? What "w" in the Toronto version of "about"? I came here from Montreal when I was 14 and I don't remember hearing anything like that.

And the aboot stuff WAY predates South Park. Trust me. I remember attending a class in southern Ohio in the mid 90s, where my class included students with a wonderful assortment of accents, some of which sounded very Southern to me, others more generically midwestern. They made very sure that I knew that I sounded really foreign, and I remember the aboot thing specifically. (They also burst out in laughter and applause around day 4 of the class, when I finally said "eh" at the end of some sentence, because they were starting to worry that I'd never do it.)
posted by maudlin at 6:10 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


It is basically, like so many things in Ontario

Well Ontario's not really part of Canada, but don't tell them that.
posted by philip-random at 6:20 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


It would seem that I am outnumbered on the South Park about-aboot hypothesis. I can only go by my own experiences, which include a lengthy discussion with friends in Toronto where none of us could figure out where the a-BOOT think came from (for context: I was raised in Kingston, and my friends came from rural Ontario). Though I will point out the line from the famous Joe The Canadian rant where he insists that "I pronounced it a-BOUT! Not A-BOOT" The commercial it comes from was first aired in April 2000, roughly a year after the South Park move hit Canuck movie screens, and I strongly suspect that the one line is a reaction to the South Park film.

Then again, I distinctly recall being on a business trip in Rochester in 1998, and having a waitress commenting that "you Canadians have such cute accents". I had no idea what she was talking about/aboat/aboot/whatthefuckever.
posted by spoobnooble at 6:20 PM on December 29, 2010


Well Ontario's not really part of Canada, but don't tell them that.

I always thought the problem was that Ontario thought it WAS Canada. :)

/Hi, I'm from Toronto. Please put your hate-mail in the in-tray on the left side of the table, thanks.

posted by spoobnooble at 6:22 PM on December 29, 2010


I am far more Canadian now that I live in the US than I ever thought about being in Canada.
posted by joannemerriam at 6:32 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Has nothing to do with South Park. I got jabs about my "about" sounding like "aboot" all the time when I was doing a master's degree in the US. In 1997. And even then it was clearly a joke all the Americans knew to use and thought was HILARIOUS.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:37 PM on December 29, 2010


....Okay, now I have that "Ontari-ari-ario" song stuck in my head.

(Although I wish you could still find a clip of the time Jim Carrey came and sang it on Conan O'Brien's show, cause dude sold it.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:39 PM on December 29, 2010


One small data point on the "about/ aboot" debate: when I came back to Wisconsin from a year in Hungary on 2001 (where I'd picked up the language pretty well), I was told with some frequency that I "sounded Canadian." I'm not sure what this was all aboot, but I think it had to do with my rounding my vowels a bit more. It took about a year to wear off.

I'm sorry I can't tell you guys what it means to be you.
posted by wandering steve at 6:55 PM on December 29, 2010


Okay, one more comment on the about/aboot pronunciation, and then I promise I'll leave it alone:

I have a buddy who works in Toronto on various American TV productions. Around 1999 he noticed that a number of producers from the U.S. started making pejorative comments about how Canadians had a weird way of prnouncing the word "about". He soon learned that if the American producer made this comment early on, then he was in for a long, aggravating night. (For context, some American movie people derogatorily refer to people in the Canadian industry as "frostbacks" and only do work above the 49th Parallel under duress.)

Maybe South Park caused the phenomenon, at least in the TV/movie world. Maybe it didn't. Or maybe as Stan Marsh might say: "I think I've learned something today".

Good night. Eh.
posted by spoobnooble at 6:55 PM on December 29, 2010


Canadians are the world's worst experts on the whole 'aboot' thing, because they can't hear it except in exaggerated versions like the Newfie accent, which makes them think 'they're not talking about us', when WE ARE TALKING ABOUT YOU.

I like to think of 'aboot' as the linguistic equivalent of The Beer Store. Something so strange to outsiders, but completely accepted by the vast majority of Ontarians, who somehow manage to blank out the fact that you can buy beer at the grocery store when you go to Quebec, or dismiss it as some weird Francophone madness.
posted by unSane at 7:02 PM on December 29, 2010



(BTW, anyone who's interested in the whiny "Qu'est-ce qu'un Canadien?" question should listen to the audio link in the OP. It's good stuff.)

posted by spoobnooble at 7:05 PM on December 29, 2010


Maybe this patriotic Canadian song will make it clear...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_RPp4dbam8
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:08 PM on December 29, 2010


I went to university in Ontario and we had an American prof whose first name was Edward and whose last name started with Z. He insisted the initial was zee and it drove him right round the bend when we referred to him as Ed Zed. Which is why we did it, of course.

Also: "A true Canadian is one who can make love in a canoe without tipping." -- Pierre Berton
posted by angiep at 7:11 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, that effort at putting in a link didn't work very well... Sorry about that!
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:12 PM on December 29, 2010


Don't worry, Jane. Cut-n-paste got me to the link without any problems. Thanks!
posted by spoobnooble at 7:16 PM on December 29, 2010


Also: "A true Canadian is one who can make love in a canoe without tipping." -- Pierre Berton

I thought it was the other kind of Canadians that don't tip.

[NOT RACIST]
posted by Sys Rq at 7:41 PM on December 29, 2010


I used to get annoyed when people in the States told me that my accent was cute, but now that I've been living in the US for 9 years, I have to admit I come home and think everyone sounds adorable. Soar-ry aboat that.

(The accent thing that people tease me the most about? Words like pasta and cilantro.)
posted by cider at 8:14 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


(The accent thing that people tease me the most about? Words like pasta and cilantro.)

Lemme guess: Southern Ontario?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:24 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Maybe South Park caused the phenomenon, at least in the TV/movie world."

It dates AT LEAST to Canadian Bacon (1995) where "We have ways of making you pronounce the letter O, pal" and the Mountie replies, "I don't know what you're talking ... aboot." But it certainly predates that because it's a throw-away joke in the movie that everyone is assumed to get.

And I think Unsane is right; the "aboot" seems pretty widespread, though some of it's not much abootier than Minnesota or Wisconsin. I'm totally hooked on Heartland (the Alberta-set CBC horse drama), and the characters mostly sound like my neighbors in the American midwest (except they can pronounce their short As properly, I can't), but I do notice them ever-so-slightly say "aboot" and "soar-ry."

Coincidentally to this thread, I JUST saw the How I Met Your Mother where Robin's deciding whether to give up her Canadian citizenship. Lots of jokes about curling, drinking, hockey, and Tim Horton's.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:26 PM on December 29, 2010


in sydney, nova scotia, it was certainly a-boot - ontario is much more subtle than that - a kind of softer michigan accent in some ways
posted by pyramid termite at 8:37 PM on December 29, 2010


I have never heard a fellow Newfoundlander say "aboot."
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:49 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


The guy I live with is from deepest Maine, and he says "aboat" and "aboot" or something that's somehow right in between the two so my ear exchanges it. He also says "hoose" or "hoase" instead of "house". I've always assumed it was bound up with the Canadian vowel somehow, but am not enough of a dialectist / linguist to have any real clue.
posted by hippybear at 8:51 PM on December 29, 2010


in sydney, nova scotia, it was certainly a-boot

Well, Cape Breton's the Scottishest place outside Scotland, so, yeah.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:52 PM on December 29, 2010


It wasn't South Park, The Movie, it was the original South Park episodes with Terrence and Phillip. (Not Without My Anus, I believe?) I remember the bafflement it caused in Guelph, where I was at university, when it aired.

Given the fact that many of you are coming up with anecdotal examples of being ridiculed for aboot before 1997, when that episode aired, then let me propose the following: This wasn't the origin of the complaint. But it was the first that most Canadians themselves had heard of it.
posted by bicyclefish at 9:17 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Me: Canadian, 29 years old. I knew about "aboot" long before South Park existed.

You: Not "most Canadians."
posted by Sys Rq at 9:27 PM on December 29, 2010


Well Ontario's not really part of Canada, but don't tell them that.

This is true. I immigrated from Toronto to Vancouver in 2003 and it involved a difficult citizenship test - I was required to tame a grizzly bear and ride him for 12 city blocks, while lighting a bong and distributing my spare change to the homeless. When I crossed the line they checked to make sure I still had enough coin to buy a latte, and that was it, I was in.
posted by mannequito at 9:39 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I remember hearing that "As Canadian as possible, given the circumstances" story, radio contest & all, back in the late '80s in a Poli Sci class. I think I half-assumed all these years that it was apocryphal.

Also, some months ago I worked a Canada Day picnic for expats down in Silicon Valley. Really fun, the daughter of the Embassy rep sang the national anthem. Oh, Canada! We stand on line with thee...

Some late arrivals to the picnic lamented "Oh man, we missed the national anthem".

I immediately said "I could break out some Rush for you. A modern day warrior / mean, mean stride..."

They laughed.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:43 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hey Canada... I know the other kids think you're kind of nerdy, and they sometimes can be a little cruel with their jokes and putdowns, but honestly you're really nice and kinda cute with your glasses. So, uh... can we maybe go out together? I'd really like that.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:45 PM on December 29, 2010


One thing actual Canadians may not have been exposed to was a Canadian Tourism ad that ran here in the States eons ago -- I would say the early 90s -- that ended with a barely heard accented "Out and about in a boat", the stereotypical phrase showing the Canadian raising, that was sort of touting the relaxing lifestyle as well as being an in-joke for those aware of the accent issue. This was well before South Park ever existed.

For my money, anyway, the best Canadian-ness video out there is Canadian Please, even though it too defines being Canadian in ways of being not-American.
posted by dhartung at 9:55 PM on December 29, 2010


I grew up on the border. When I was in library school (in Detroit), I had to do an internship. A friend suggested I do it at the Windsor Public Library, on the southern (Canadian) side of the river.

WPL had shelves of books on the border experience. I learned that most Gale reference books include Canada in the US edition, even though they sell special Canada versions for a lot more money. Canadian gov docs are arranged differently than US gov docs. They were thrilled I wanted to intern there and seemed a bit tickled that a USian wanted to come learn from them.

Detroit Public Library, despite being tons bigger than WPL, had no books on the border experience that I could find. There were a few Mordechai Richler novels in the system, no Pierre Burton. DPL staff constantly called WPL for Canadian reference questions that could be answered (and generally were) by Gale reference books that DPL owned.

So, a lot of my experience watching Canadians suggests that a big difference between USians and Canadians is that Canadians wonder what it is to be Canadian and how they were shaped by their history, and USians just don't give a shit.
posted by QIbHom at 6:11 AM on December 30, 2010


I'm pretty sure being Canadian means not having to give a fuck about what your nationality "means."

No, we don't have to, we choose to. Isn't it fun?

(The accent thing that people tease me the most about? Words like pasta and cilantro.)

Lemme guess: Southern Ontario?


As a very general rule, Americans pronounce those vowels like the one in father, and Canadians like the one in cat. (See also nacho, Mazda, drama, etc etc etc.) I do not know which pronunciation Southern Ontario follows.

I really wish I were not currently at work so I could watch all those videos.
posted by jeather at 6:41 AM on December 30, 2010


Well, ah know when ah'm awt aboot the haus, nah one sez nuffin aboot that accent, then, eh. 'Course, they're all kin, then, what. I'm inclined to agree with the long vowel noises.

As to 'what is a canadian?' If you're asking, you're either in 7th grade social studies, or doing more thinking than most do on the subject- until someone does a piece on the CBC.

Also, for those from away, a couple tips, if you want to saound a little more north-of-the-border. Toronto: Tah-ron-oh, Saskatchewan: Skatch-w'an.

Wikipedia seems to have a fairly good covering of 'eh,' for those interested.
posted by LD Feral at 7:01 AM on December 30, 2010


I am currently Christmassing in Newfoundland, where being Canadian means kissing a puffin's bottom and speaking with an Irish accent, or so I understand. I am new here so maybe I am wrong about this.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:13 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Card Cheat: [...] "And if you live in Toronto you can tack on endless obsessing over whether or not T.O. is a "world-class" city."

Are you sure you aren't talking about Winnipeg? Here the phrase is repeated by politicians and the media so often it's becoming a running gag.

posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 7:59 AM on December 30, 2010


I am a world class buffoon, does that count?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:48 AM on December 30, 2010


Are you sure you aren't talking about Winnipeg?

To clarify: Winnipeg is not a world class city. But it is the Paris of central Canada.
posted by philip-random at 9:07 AM on December 30, 2010


In a wordreference.com discussion about Canadian accent, someone posted
this pronunciation guide:

For American English, words like "house" are pronounced with the "a" sound from "lot" plus the "u" sound from "cook." (a + u)

For Canadian English, those words are pronounced with the "uh" sound from "but" plus the "u" sound from "cook." (uh + u)

posted by bentley at 9:29 AM on December 30, 2010


Hey, I'm not a lumberjack, or a fur trader...

Me neither but I did have to cut and split my own wood two winters to keep from freezing.

I don't live in an igloo or eat blubber, or own a dogsled...

In my travels, I have had no experience of this particular misconception about Canada.

and I don't know Jimmy, Sally or Suzy from Canada,
although I'm certain they're really really nice.


Ditto. This cliche has been around since at least the mid-1960s (when I first heard it, age 7) but I'm still waiting to actually hear it from a so-called foreigner.

I have a Prime Minister, not a president.

But I'd currently take America's President (for all his imperfections) any day over the uptight, conniving prick I'm supposed to consider honourable.

I speak English and French, not American.

I speak English. In spite of five years of high school French, the best I can do is pronounce certain hockey player's names more or less correctly.

And I pronounce it 'about', not 'a boot'.

To my ears, most Americans throw a bit of an "oww" into their "outs" and "abouts". But I'm sure they don't hear it that way.

I can proudly sew my country's flag on my backpack.

Which makes you exactly the kind of person I avoid whilst traveling.

I believe in peace keeping, not policing,

Haven't been keeping up on current events of late, have you?

diversity, not assimilation,

Really? Then why are shilling for the most bland, homogeneous beer in pretty much the known world. Yes, I'm talking about Molson Canadian, the client for whom this embarrassingly awful bit jingo-ism was vomited together. Also worth noting, it's not even a fully Canadian company anymore.

and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal.

No, it isn't. It's a fucking rodent. If you had them on your property, you'd call an exterminator, or perhaps a fur trader.

A toque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch,

My mom, at least six generations Canadian, calls the really big ones chesterfields and the smaller ones couches.

and it is pronounced 'zed' not 'zee', 'zed'!

I've always gone both ways on this myself. Am I suddenly wrong? Gosh, I'm so sorry.

Canada is the second largest landmass!

The vast majority of it is fucking tundra that 90 odd percent of so-called Canadians have only flown over, but the black flies love it.

The first nation of hockey!

I prefer high-end motorsport myself. 1997 was a very good year.

and the best part of North America

Oregon coast is pretty damned fine, and I hear the Grand Canyon brings tears to the eyes. And I've never even been to Mexico. Let me guess, Joe, you went to Buffalo once, and someone made fun of the maple leaf tattoo on your forehead.

My name is Joe!

Wracking my brains but I don't think I've ever had a male friend named Joe. A few Josephs, definitely two female Joanne's who shorten to Jo. Oh yeah, there's a guy I hung with in Germany for a while. Joachim. Told me to call him Jo.

And I am Canadian!

What are you shouting about?
posted by philip-random at 9:46 AM on December 30, 2010


The vast majority of it is fucking tundra that 90 odd percent of so-called Canadians have only flown over, but the black flies love it.

To get where? Russia?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:37 AM on December 30, 2010


West coast bias in effect. You tend to fly north if you're Europe bound. But you're absolutely right. Most Canadians never even fly over their vast chunks of tundra, but nimrods are fiercely proud of it regardless. Am I to take to take it you otherwise agree with my point-by-angry-point rant?

and when I say, "nimrods", I intend the "silly or foolish" definition, not "hunters". Serious hunters are actually far more likely to have experienced tundra than most.
posted by philip-random at 10:50 AM on December 30, 2010


I have been asked all the stupid questions. "Do you know Joe?", sure (I did, in fact, once know Joe. Or Macy, in that case.)

Other questions that people have asked me, in person:

Do you live in an igloo? How come it doesn't melt?
Do you take a sleigh to the border?
Is there television in Canada?
Where do you get your bathing suits? Do you have to buy them in the US?

I might have encouraged these beliefs at times.
posted by jeather at 11:02 AM on December 30, 2010


Meh. The backpack one, yes, definitely.

(BTW, our head of state is the Governor General, not the Prime Minister.)

>Hey, I'm not a lumberjack, or a fur trader...

Me neither but I did have to cut and split my own wood two winters to keep from freezing.

>and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal.

No, it isn't. It's a fucking rodent. If you had them on your property, you'd call an exterminator, or perhaps a fur trader.


Having beavers on your property makes cutting down trees a lot easier, 'cause they're already half chewed. Really, though, if you have beavers on your property, and you don't want beavers on your property, you're probably just shit at buying property.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:03 AM on December 30, 2010


Having beavers on your property makes cutting down trees a lot easier, 'cause they're already half chewed.

There speaks someone who knows nothing about either beavers or cutting down trees.

Beavers usually fell trees so that they land in other trees, becoming snag trees, which are the most dangerous to cut down. It's an easy way to get yourself killed if you don't know what you're doing.

Beavers are incredibly destructive and hard to get rid of. Conservation agencies round here are not keen on them because they degrade riparian borders and turn cold water streams into warm water ones.
posted by unSane at 11:30 AM on December 30, 2010


Conservation agencies round here are not keen on them because they degrade riparian borders and turn cold water streams into warm water ones.

"Conservation agencies" can go take a flying jump. The NRA is a conservation agency. Ducks Unlimited is a conservation agency. Their goal is to conserve nature so they have animals to kill. Excuse me if I don't take their pleas of "We have to kill these beavers, or they'll ruin our nature!" too seriously.

As if beavers do more damage to the Canadian landscape--which was largely created by beavers in the first place--than the humans they're inconveniencing. Dude, fuck that. It's not "conservation." It's human exceptionalism.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:43 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Feel free to call the Grey-Sauble Conservation Authority and tell them yourself.

Beavers do a lot of damage currently because they were eradicated along with their natural predators. The beavers are back but the predators aren't. In areas which were totally clearcut in the 1800s, the forested riparian borders are the only way for many kinds of wildlife to move from area to area in search of food and mates. If these borders are destroyed by beavers, the pockets of wildlife become isolated, which makes it much harder for them to survive.

It's not humans they're inconveniencing, it's species which are a lot more threatened than the beaver and rely on riparian borders for their survival.
posted by unSane at 12:06 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


In areas which were totally clearcut in the 1800s, the forested riparian borders are the only way for many kinds of wildlife to move from area to area in search of food and mates.

So the clearcutting is the beavers' fault. Okay.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:41 PM on December 30, 2010


what
posted by unSane at 12:50 PM on December 30, 2010


our head of state is the Governor General

*cough* the Queen *cough*
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 2:21 PM on December 30, 2010


BTW, our head of state is the Governor General, not the Prime Minister.

Sure, but try telling that to Harper
posted by Hoopo at 2:28 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Toronto: Tah-ron-oh

Nope. Tuh-RAWN-oh. We can all agree, though, that the second T is only visible to foreigners.
posted by gompa at 7:52 PM on December 30, 2010


BTW, our head of state is the Governor General, not the Prime Minister.

Ah, my poli sci class comes back to me! The US President fulfills the dual role of Ceremonial Head of State and Executive Branch head of government.

In parliamentary systems like Canada & UK, the Head of State is the Queen (as represented locally by her Viceroy/Gov. General/etc) while the Prime Minister is the head of government.

So yes, the Gov. General is the representative of the Queen, AND Joe has a Prime Minister, not a President.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:28 PM on December 30, 2010


how does the beaver fit in, and should we kill it?
posted by philip-random at 10:49 PM on December 30, 2010


..."frostback"?
posted by twirlip at 1:19 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Canadian pronunciation of "about" as "aboat" or "aboot" definitely does not come from South Park. My school friends and I used to make fun of this back in the mid-80s, usually after having listened to some Canadian musician being interviewed on the radio or MTV. What's really funny is how Canadians can't seem to hear themselves pronouncing it that way and insist that they don't. Yes you do!
posted by Marla Singer at 2:55 AM on December 31, 2010


We pronounce the dipthong ou differently from most Americans. We don't change it all the way to oo or oa. See my remarks above about failing to pay attention or going for the cheap joke.
posted by maudlin at 7:31 AM on December 31, 2010


To restate: Americans say it way an "owww". Canadians pronounce it correctly.
posted by philip-random at 9:53 AM on December 31, 2010


with an owww
posted by philip-random at 9:56 AM on December 31, 2010


None of us will ever admit that we pronounce "with" as "way". Never!
posted by maudlin at 10:20 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hear the Canadian raising in about now, but didn't before I moved to the States. I still can't hear the difference between "cot" and "caught" that people around me claim is there.

I have been asked all the stupid questions. ....
I might have encouraged these beliefs at times.
posted by jeather at 1:02 PM on December 30


Me too. I've been asked if I knew another Canadian (and have had the experience of actually knowing them, which was kind of annoying). Sometimes I say, "Oh yeah, we all know each other." I've also been asked how I can stand the French (don't remember how I responded to that, but I was horrified), and to demonstrate my accent by saying various things, usually "about" and "process" (which I'm happy to oblige because I think the accent thing is fun too). I've given a number of remedial geography lessons about the location of Nova Scotia vs the Pacific Ocean. But y'know, when I moved from Cape Breton to the mainland of Nova Scotia, people asked me if we had telephones, and jeans. And I'm sure I've asked some pretty dumb questions in the States.

I've also convinced several people that pickup games of street curling are a real thing. Everybody just carries their rocks with them in their backpack during the winter.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:45 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pickup games of street curling? Tsk!
posted by maudlin at 3:39 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


maudlin, that's hilarious.
posted by joannemerriam at 7:00 PM on December 31, 2010


I was once on a ski lift in Canada with a stranger. When they learned I was from England they said "Do you know X" and I was all ready to unload on them and set them straight that in fact all English people do NOT know each other, when I realized I did actually know X.
posted by unSane at 6:59 AM on January 1, 2011


I'm Canadian and I love it.

A Canadian is the only person in the world who will apologise when you step on his foot.
posted by bwg at 4:33 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


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