Being Canadian means Not Being American?

May 2, 2008 at 3:07 pm 18 comments

Canadians, as a nation, are a proud people, and the government has spent a lot of money and time to develop a sense of nationalism amongst its people. One of the things that people – often people who are not Canadians – think, is that the sense of being Canadian comes from a desire to be not-American.

In other words the Canadian psyche is built around not being American, rather than being Canadian; the negative stance is more important than anything that may be positive.

So, dear reader, I have a few questions for you:

If you are Canadian, are you proud to be Canadian, and why?

If you are not Canadian, what do you see as the difference, if any, between Canada and America? What do you think of Canada and Canadians? Please state where you come from.

Please keep it civil. I will delete any comments that are obviously baiting in nature and whose only purpose is to flame another nation and be abusive.

I would also like this to be an ongoing project.  No matter how long this post has been up, feel free to add a comment to it.


Entry filed under: canadian, Canadian/American relations, culture, discussion, international, opinion. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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18 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Fraser  |  May 2, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    I’m Canadian. I’m proud of being Canadian.

    Often we – as a nation – are all too quick to define who we are by saying what we aren’t.

    Recently I moved to NYC and as a gift I received a Canadian shirt that defined why Canadians were great. There were 10 points. All but 2 of them were in the negative.

  • 2. daranee  |  May 3, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    Disclaimer: I’m going to be as open and honest as possible which may reveal that I am greatly ignorant about Canada, but I would rather that you get a true impression of one American’s view of Canada than a censored one. I sincerely hope that I do not come across as offensive.

    You are right that to a certain extent Canada is defined by what makes it different than America – at least to Americans, because that is what we will notice. I think of Canada as a quirky alternate universe to America. The people look and talk quite similarly but they are different. I happen to be huge fan of the filmmaker Atom Egoyan, so I think I may have a rather perverted view of the quirkiness of Canada. But then you have David Cronenburg and I think, yes, the quirkiness is definitely prevalent. My favorite living author and one of the greatest writers ever is Margaret Atwood. Once again, she’s a bit out there and quirky.

    As part of the British Commonwealth, I think Canada has shown itself to more independent than Australia or New Zealand. My proof: the Queen looks awful on Canadian currency and you have one of my favorite flags. The flag is original and shows a pride in the natural quality of the American continent that I think is admirable. When I wander about in Europe and see the Canadian flags on rucksacks, I do admit I think it’s kind of ridiculous. I feel it shows a defensiveness that is not needed. I don’t feel the need to pander to the people who would be prejudiced against me because of what they think is my country. If someone cannot look at me as an individual then they are not worth my time. On the other hand, after the 2004 election I promised myself that I would never attempt to defend America again which is something an American may feel the need to do when wandering around Europe. But I digress.

    I love Quebec. Sure the language is French, but the identity is pure Canadian. Perhaps a Quebecois would not think so, but as an outsider I see it. In France, the French have an air of superiority – and who can blame them it’s a great country. But in Quebec there is pride without superiority. The people have a relaxed air that is very Canadian in my opinion.

    I love Vancouver especially at how international the city is. I hope to sometime get the opportunity to try out some of the ski resorts in Alberta, but so far I haven’t made it. As for Toronto, I’ve only been to the airport but I hear there’s some amazing burger place that I have to go if I ever make it. Thanks for listening to me drone.

  • 3. C. Fraser  |  May 3, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    I don’t want to respond to comments very much – at least not here, but perhaps in future posts – but thanks to both Fraser and Daranee for your comments and observations.

    Fraser – What makes you proud to be Canadian that isn’t a negative/comparison?

    Daranee – great comment, thank you. I don’t think there was anything offensive in your opinions. Egoyan has a new movie coming out, if you didn’t know, and I think Atwood is a Canadian treasure. I’ve enjoyed everything of hers I’ve read. Interesting comment about Quebec. I’m not sure most Canadians, other than perhaps Quebecois, see Quebec in this way. That’s an interesting topic to explore…how people outside of Canada view Quebec compared to how Canadians view Quebec.

  • 4. paulmct  |  May 4, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    Actually, I agree with daranee’s take on Quebec. Whenever I hear the separatists talk about their unique and distinct society, I can’t help thinking it’s uniquely and distinctly Canadian. When they talk about what an independent Quebec would look like and what they would do, it sounds like Canada, but in French only. No surprise there, really, considering federal politics has traditionally dominated by Quebecers.

    Btw, daranee, a lot of those Canadian flags on backpacks belong to Americans. Americans started to get the idea about 10 years ago that they’d be less likely to be a target abroad if people think they’re Canadian. Bonus point if you can guess how to still spot the Americans…
    They have big Canadian flags on their backpacks, whereas Canadians have more modest ones. 😉

    I’m Canadian and live in Vancouver. Yes, I’m proud to be Canadian, but sometimes I get annoyed by Canadians’ parochialism and tendency to think small. Same with the habit of adapting American politics to Canada, which just doesn’t work, as I discuss here:

    I agree we have to think in the positive and be proactive rather than reactive.

    I think the tendency to show how we’re not American stems from the United Empire Loyalists and then the War of 1812. After Confederation, the Americans thought Canada would fail and it was actually U.S. policy to wait for it to happen and annex the provinces or territories as they ‘fell off’. This policy allowed them to leave the northern border largely undefended and divert their attention to Mexico (present day, New Mexico, Arizona, and California). Sorry, Mexico.

  • 5. paulmct  |  May 4, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    Sorry, forgot to finish that…

    So, there was an ever-present fear of attack up to Confederation. All that talk of manifest destiny kind of made the neighbours nervous…

  • 6. Raymond  |  May 15, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    I’m from the Philippines. I have an uncle and aunt and cousins in Toronto, another cousin’s family newly migrated to Calgary, and my best friend’s in Winnipeg. I’ve been to Canada twice (Ottawa and Toronto in 99, Montreal in 02), and to the US four times. On first glance there appears to be little if any difference between Canada and the US (aside from differences in English and bilingual signs). My uncle and aunt in Canada have always proudly stated their being Canadian and not American (even though another uncle who is a brother to them lives in the US), and I’ve read at times about Canucks taking pains to differentiate themselves. Watching Canadian TV I saw a lot of American shows (especially during Prime Time) though I saw Canadian programs as well.

    I heard about how Canadians were supposed to be more easy-going to towards foreigners, so visiting Canada for the first time after two visits to the US I wanted to see the difference. Since my stay was all of 11 days (compared to a whole month for each US visit), I naturally had fewer interactions with the locals. Those interactions that I did have were very civil, similar to what I experienced in the US. Going about Ottawa on my own I ate at a local Burger King, and it wasn’t until my uncle and aunt drove my mother and I around that I got to eat at a Canadian-branded fast food place. Of course they were proud of it. Knowing that both AMD and Corel are both Canadian-owned IT companies (my cousin by marriage works in AMD), I heard from one Canadian who said he was happy a Canadian company is there among the Microsofts, Dells, HPs, etc.

    Montreal was a different experience for me and I wondered how I would fare differently. At first I was afraid that I might be treated coolly if I did not speak French, but my fears were unfounded when the locals realized I was a foreigner and contentedly spoke in English. And because I am Catholic and saw signs of Quebec’s French Catholic heritage in places (I visited St. Joseph’s Oratory) I identified with the churches and the Mass-goers.

    After comparing the two I said to myself that if ever there’s a drastic need for me to migrate, I’d choose Canada over the US. Aside from the climate, I felt more at home in the former.

  • 7. C. Fraser  |  May 15, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    Paul and Raymond – Thanks to both of you for your wonder and insightful comments. Again, I don’t want to comment to much on other peoples comments right now, but I appreciate the efforts!

  • 8. Sun Warrior  |  May 20, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    Am I proud to be Canadian?

    I think I feel like Americans feel about their country right now. I’m proud of Canada, its history and what it stood for up until the Mulroney administration.

    But I am not proud of our leaders, who have no sense of that history, no vision for the future in that great tradition, but simply caving in to the Canadian business elite’s hunger to scrape up our natural resources and sell them to the States.

    There doesn’t seem to be much of the ‘Canadian soul’ coming from our politicians. No sense of the past, and even less about the future, or who we are in our traditions.

    Canadians instinctively have that still, just below the surface. But its not being expressed, and so we just drift… do we suffer just the same symptoms of every modern democracy right now?

    Our leaders are trying to wash-out who we are so we all become just one giant global suburbs of consumers, no different from anyone else… so Madison Avenue only has to make one commercial for the whole world, not 200 nations… lowering cost…

    I think Harper reflects this, Dion is behind the times, and the premiers are just a bunch of managers of the status quo… for this, I’m embarrassed to be Canadian…

  • 9. C. Fraser  |  May 21, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    “Our leaders are trying to wash-out who we are so we all become just one giant global suburbs of consumers, no different from anyone else… so Madison Avenue only has to make one commercial for the whole world, not 200 nations… lowering cost…”

    Interesting comment, thanks S.W. Here’s an interesting article,
    The authour ties Canadian identity with beer commercials. Although I don’t agree with everything in it, she makes a good argument and it’s an interesting read.

  • […] made a post asking readers to share their opinion on Canada, within the framework of ‘Being Canadian mean not being American’. So far the responses have been excellent, and I want to thank everyone for the time and effort in […]

  • 11. paulmct  |  June 10, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    Sorry if this seems like a shameless plug, but Sun Warrior’s comment caught my eye. I agree about the lack of vision – which I discuss in the post linked to in my comment above. If you’re interested, the following post also talks about the lack of political and business leadership.

    Keep up the good work, CF.

  • 12. C. Fraser  |  June 10, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    I’m all for shameless plugs, so plug away!!

    I need to do more self-promotion myself…

  • 13. Stephie  |  November 16, 2008 at 2:43 am

    Hi i am canadian but i live in Australia and because i have lived in aus for 11 years of my life (im 13 years old) i don’t have an accent but the rest of my family does 😦 . anyway when bits of my accent show everyone laughs at the way i sound and it hurts. I get told to go home and have been called a little Canadian Bitch and a little Canadian whore and i am constanly told that Canada isn’t a real country or that we are just American and i am fed up with it because i try and defend our country but they won’t listen does anyone out there know how i can respond?


  • 14. C. Fraser  |  November 19, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    Stephanie, Kids can be cruel. Best thing is to not give them a response and move on. It’s tough, but the best solution.

  • 15. Sanjo  |  November 21, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    I’m definitely not proud to be Canadian. I’m extremely embarrassed. Sometimes I think I might not always be ashamed of being from this embarrassing country, but then I hear from another non-Canadian and that’s the end of that.

  • 16. C. Fraser  |  November 21, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    I’m sorry to hear that Sanjo. You should probably move.

  • 17. John Kleist  |  December 29, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    I am a Canadian. How to define being a Canadian is strangely paradoxical, in that we define ourselves in the effort of the definition. We are so seemingly insecure as a people that we constantly feel the need to explain ourselves to others as to who we are…or are not. What other Country does this?

    I had written a lot more than what is written here and erased most of it…this subject always makes me feel like my head is going to explode and also somehow strangely inadequate, sort of like having an older brother or Sister that is more popular than you are and then being jealous of the miserable fact. I want the world to look at Canada differently…I really absolutely hate the Hockey, Beer and snow associations that those looking in make even though I love Hockey, Beer and well not really snow…but such is life. I have no idea as how to change global perception of Canadians…I am not sure that I should even care?

    In the end, I love my Country and I would choose to live nowhere else on the planet. Canada is a great place to live for so may reasons and I know that sounds just so ridiculously cliché and boring and predictably Canadian that I hate the fact that I even said it! I just can’t help it; I am a Canadian.

  • 18. Robert  |  April 28, 2012 at 3:52 am


    I am a dual citizen of Canada and the US. I was born in Canada and grew up in Nova Scotia, and I have lived in New York and Vermont for a total of 14 years now.
    I find a great deal of condesention towards Canada here in the US, and it has seemingly gotten worse since this War on Terrorism has gone on. The USA has gotten much more tribal and unrepentantly nationalist since I have moved here, and it seems that the Canadian identity in the US is much different than the Canadian identity in Canada. What I mean by this is that I think that here in the US when people say something about Canada, they feel they must make it a negative or distancing comment in some way. This being because they feel that to say someing GOOD about Canada, is the same as saying something BAD about the USA. I think it is simply nationalism. If Canada was the exact same as it is now, only part of the USA, then noone would say anything bad because there would be no notion of defending one’s nation involved in the discussion. Simply because Canada is another nation makes it an automatic target for negative views, and associates any positive views of it with a small or large sense of betrayl.
    The two countries have been very cooperative in recent years, but after seeing how easily the American public is manipulated and urged into barbaric crusading and arrogance, I hope to see Canada take its soverign national defence very seriously. America has a way of making up reasons to dominate, humiliate and aggress upon any nations or groups that are vulnerable, and I hope that Canada minds its vulnerability.
    One last thing I feel is relevant is how the American social structure works to turn people against their own backgrounds and cultures. I have always thought that because I have had the chance to experience two nations instead of just one, that this makes me a better person and thus a better American. However, even though I still know this to be true, I am very aware of how a great many people here see any association with the outside world as a deficiancy, and not an asset. Although America is still very open and cooperative, it is also very fraternity-like and vain.


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