Another Reason Not To Be Proud Of My Homeland

Sometimes, in Korea, Canadians get a little uppity about how wonderful Canada is.

Maybe it’s a function of always being asked, “Are you American?” or hearing the Korean word for American—me-gook—at every turn, uttered by kids, college students, parents of kids, and even old folks as soon as we come into view. Personally, I find that less irking than the way that all conversations suddenly seem to hinge on the issue of English study… how suddenly everyone in the cafe is talking about the best way to study English, and what their last foreign English teacher was like, and all kinds of other things I can’t quite understand besides hearing the Korean word for the English language—young-uh—liberally peppering the conversations around me.

The way I deal with that is to speak in (rather sloppy) Korean to take the attention away from the fact I’m an anglophone. I knew a French guy once who counseled me to simply pretend, outside of work, that I don’t know any English and am indeed Frenchman, something he guaranteed would help me improve my Korean. I haven’t resorted to that, though. But I do have my coping mechanism.

For those Canadians who are very bothered by being continually mistaken for Americans, they tend to become unwittingly very ironic creatures. They tend to become more nationalist than even the most ridiculous examples I’ve met back home; now, in Canada, spouting inferiority-complex-rich diatribes about how Canada is the best country on earth and so much better than America is normal, but Canadians in Canada tend at least to have the decency not to do it in front of people from other countries, especially not in front of Americans. But abroad, I find, Canadians sometimes become more jingoistic than the most, and they become experts in the crimes of America.

Maybe John Ralston Saul was right, and Canada is a Siamese Twin… but not the way he meant. Maybe, with all of its inferiority-complex issues, Canada is the withered siamese twin of America.

“I’m not the bad twin! I’m the nice twin! I never mistreat girls! I never mouth off at teachers! I never act like a bully in the schoolyard at recess!” shrieks the Canadian twin.

The American twin isn’t listening, though if it were, it’d just grin and say, “You don’t do these things only because anyway, nobody would notice. Nobody cares what you do, you’re a wimpy withered Siamese Twin. Shut up and let me get on with getting this darkie’s lunchbox, okay?”

Could it be that this view of Canada is the solution to that stupid dilemma I was presented with so many times, in high school, in University, I think even once or twice in grad school, that pointless question of, “What is the Canadian identity?” Could I have solved it in a flash, Canada is the wimpy siamese twin of America?

Sadly, even that is giving Canada a little too much credit. Canada’s not so virtuous as we would like to think. While America has voted against some pretty ridiculous things in the UN, for really suspicious reasons, and with only the support of Israel, the way that Canada is getting behind Monsanto is just as disturbing.

I come from a part of Canada where everyone knows someone from a farm. At points in my life, many of my friends came from the countryside, from farm families. While the farmers in general aren’t doing so very badly anymore, thanks to decades of organization and the socialization of sopme aspects of the Canadian economy, many people—even those not from a farming background, even those with no rural background at all, including me—keenly have a sense of the harsh, difficult life of the people who first arrived in Saskatchewan, and the way the farmers scraped their way through the Great Depression.

So anything that makes life hard for farmers, for me, is more than un-Canadian. It’s anti-human. I’ve had no love for Monsanto for years now, and discovering that my home nation’s government is backing this vile “Terminator” seed which has been the subject of moratorium for years. If you want an intelligent assessment of Monsanto’s “contributions” to world agriculture, I’d recommend two sources. A passing one, but one which will give you a better sense of the company, can be found in the documentary “The Corporation”, which I believe is pretty easily found online if there is not a copy of the film in your local video store.

The second source I would highly recommend is the book Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply by the Indian activist and scholar Vandana Shiva. Shiva, who’s traveled widely in India and actually seen the way farmers live sustainably by saving seed, and seen what happens when they are prevented from saving seed, knows what she’s talking about, as far as I can tell, anyway. (It’s little surprise that she, too, is interviewed in the documentary, “The Corporation”.) Having read this, and thought a lot about the kind of power that bio-agritech companies will be weilding over the world’s population if they are not vigilantly watched and checked at every step, I find that I am just a little less proud of Canada today. Blue-helmed UN forces aside, if we really are peace-keepers in the world, we must recognize that peace comes from helping ensure people are not hungry, not poverty-stricken, not desperate. And preventing the saving of seeds, which forces farmers in developing nations into poverty and desperation, into a crushing cycle of dependence, will not contribute to the building of peace in the world. It is one more block yanked from the jenga tower we’ve been building all these long years.

Canada is taking the wrong side. Unfortunately, I am pretty sure that contacting your local MP will do absolutely nothing. I have a feeling there’s little or nothing we can do unless people are willing to work together, in a big, serious way, for longer than most people seem able to hold interest in one thing. Hmmm. How damned sad.

4 thoughts on “Another Reason Not To Be Proud Of My Homeland

  1. When my family moved to Vancouver from Virginia when I was in the 8th grade, so many Canadians asked me 1. if we left the U.S. because there was too much violence and drugs there, and 2. which country I prefer among the two. I found it funny at first, but you gotta admit, Vancouver is definitely safer than D.C., and also has nicer weather (at least in the summer).

  2. The funny thing is, though, I think at least part of this is that American news portrays American cities as dangerous, violent, drug-infested places. When you watch Canadian news, Canadian cities seem so much safer (and yes, most of them certainly are) but I think that the degree of difference feels bigger for us because we’re trained by news on American channels to expect a major focus on crime which I think is (or was, when I lived there) much less pronounced in Canadian news programs.

    Vancouver is a city I know only a little about. I stayed there for a week before leaving for Korea, and that was about it. I’d like to visit it again, sometime, though, and I have a friend to see there when I do pass through town.

  3. The neverending Canadian identity question. I once said to an Albertan that being Canadian is mostly centered around not being American. It seems that whenever I hear a Canadian answer a question about what it means to be Canadian, the answer is a list of differences from Americans. Some will mask this by using affirmations like “We have health care.” but let’s face it, policy can not be subsituted for culture.

    Canada has two major differenciating points with the USA: it’s French culture and heritage and it’s Native culture and heritage. Unfortunately, both of them are treated as foreign cultures by the English speaking majority who is left with watching Canadian beer commercials during American TV shows.


  4. Jean-Louis,

    You’re right! But the problem is, that since this is not on the cultural radar for a majority of Anglo-Canadians, “Canada” in the main does not actually “have” them.

    I do think that the Western-based old CCF (now NDP) notion of socialism in Canadian policy does in fact reflect a cultural difference, or at least the remnants of an older cultural difference.

    I also think there’s more of a British-Canadian cultural link than most of us admit, though maybe that’s just my affinity for Britishness via my old man. Seeing Toronto for the first time a few years ago, I was shocked to find all these references to Britain: “Kensignton Market”, “York” Street. It’s not just street names; there’s something about the city itself that feels much more British, even now, than a place like Saskatoon does. Saskatoon feels at once very prairie-Canadian, and very American to me. Austin reminded me a lot of Saskatoon, where to me Toronto and Montreal and Quebec City didn’t feel so “Americanadian” as other places I’ve been. Which is weird, since at least in Toronto and anglo-Montreal, the influx of American media culture is just as pronounced as anywhere else in Canada.

    I dunno, but I have the distinct impression I am rambling.

    Hey Jean-Louis, I think I lost your email, but if you’re curious about looking into my manuscript, email me and I’ll give you a link so you can get at it.

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