Strangely Canadian

“Canada is the largest exporter and the second largest producer of mustard seed in the world, accounting for 75-80 per cent of all mustard exports worldwide, according to the Canadian Special Crops Association.”

So says HUFFPOST Canada. I have no reason to doubt it, though I find it odd that the information was presented as a slide in a slideshow purportedly about the Most “Canadian” Words and Phrases; the word for the slide was, of course, mustard. I’m relatively sure mustard is not a uniquely Canadian, nor is it used in unique ways by Canadians. But I am not certain. Relatively sure leaves room for doubt, whereas certainty does not.

I find myself drawn to articles and stories about Canada because, deep within the bowels of my soul, I believe I am Canadian. I would not be surprised one day to learn I was snatched, as an infant, from a Canadian birthing centre and spirited away to Mercy Hospital in Brownsville, Texas, where I was switched with a tiny Texan. That little Texas boy now lives in coastal Nova Scotia, where he is retired from a distinguished career teaching linguistics at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He also was a professor of sociology and social anthropology. Lucky bastard! He was rumoured to have been engaged in a torrid affair with a current faculty member, Taghrid Abou Hassan, before his retirement. But she denies ever having met the man; I believe her. Some say he started the rumour; he does have an overactive imagination, after all, one that causes some to say he lives in a dream world. His name? Oh, he’s really nobody. You don’t need to know his name. Oh, what the hell, his name is Calypso Kneeblood. Or it may be James Kneeblood. Or maybe it’s Preston Kneeblood. Yeah, that’s it. Preston Kneeblood! His friends and students called him PK. More about PK in another post, perhaps.

Anyway, back to the Most “Canadian” Words and Phrases. Many of them are not linguistic tags that would tend to identify the user as Canadian, so I’ll ignore them. I’ll focus on the words I find interesting for one reason or another.  Like these:

    • Hydro: This word refers to electricity, presumably electricity generated from hydroelectric generators.
    • Deke: A word, rooted in hockey, referring to a player “faking” a move. According to HUFFPOST Canada, it also can mean “to detour,” as in, “I’m going to deke into the store after work to buy beer.”
    • Two-Four: A 24-beer case.
    • Toque: A close-fitting knitted hat, often with a tassel or pom-pom on the crown, generally worn in the winter.
    • Gitch: men’s briefs, used mainly in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
    • Gut-foundered: Craving food.

I won’t be able to pass for Canadian until I master these words, along with many others, and until I become much more familiar with dozens and dozens of unique Canadian customs. If not for the fact that Canada’s mustard crops are largely, perhaps exclusively, grown in the prairies (think Saskatchewan), I might become a mustard farmer when I master the culture and move to Canada. Alas, I do not wish to live in Saskatoon or its environs (though, to be fair, I’ve never been to the city, so I shouldn’t knock it).

Canada is not all maple syrup and mustard seed. That is, the country has its share of right-wing nutcases, fascist pigs, and nasty politics. But if the good, peaceful, progressive people of Canada politely demand the country maintain its sense of decency and civility, all will be well. I’m counting on it. I have the sense that I will return to my real birthplace before too many more years pass and I’d like it to be the kind, gentle, forgiving place it was in the early 1950s.

When I finally take that giant step toward what must surely be called destiny (that is, when I move to Canada), I think I’ll start in the eastern part of the country. Perhaps Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland. Then, in a dozen or a hundred or a thousand years, I’ll slowly make my way across Quebec and Ontario and points west. Eventually, I may find myself in Victoria, BC. Or, I might reach the Pacific coast and then begin a leisurely circle, heading north for a while and then east. I might find myself in a community called Déline, Northwest Territories. There, I would learn a painful lesson about the Dené people, whose men died of cancer, in large numbers, after being exposed to radioactive materials. I would learn, too, how the Canadian government supplied uranium from the area to the United States, which in turn used the material in the manufacture of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even happy stories sometimes have ugly undersides.

I don’t think I’m alone in knowing very little about the geography of Canada, nor about its culture and history. That’s an embarrassment I believe I share with the vast majority of people who grew up in the United States. We know very little about other countries, even our close neighbors to the north and south. We’re indoctrinated, from grade school on, to believe the United States is the center of the universe and that our country is “the best.” Questioning the veracity of those claims subjects one to ridicule, at best, or accusations that one is traitorous. I used to think such parochial “education” was an accidental byproduct of a system designed to instill a sense of pride in the place we call home. Today, I believe we were, and are, subjected to intentional jingoist training meant to serve those in power. Knowledge of our neighboring countries’ geographies and cultures serves no useful purpose to our country’s commandant-class. Such knowledge could, in fact, endanger their positions of power and privilege; so, we are spoon-fed a diet of hyper-patriotism that purposely excludes much detail about the rest of the world.

How is it, I wonder, that genuine patriotism and pride has gone so badly off the rails? That question has too many answers that require too deep a dive into our nation’s psyche for me to even begin to answer here. So let me return to my future Canadian citizenship.

Inasmuch as I was, by birth, a Canadian (remember, I was snatched away as a child and left in a hospital in a Texas border town), I think my affinity to my home country has its roots in my genes. Canadians, as you are no doubt aware, are genetically unique; their (our) genes predispose us to our well-known Canadian traits. It’s no accident that Canadians, as a class, are known to be polite, kind, and of above-average intelligence; it’s in our genes. Oddly, that is true whether the Canadians in question are Aboriginal Canadians or, as I call them, late-comers. Apparently, our genetic makeup arises, in part, from the soil. Whether First Nations, Inuit, newly-born Quebecois, or Banffite Albertan, soil-borne Canadian genes permeate our gene pool.

I suspect that, when I move to Canada, my genetic Canadianism will be activated. I’ll be more receptive to information about Canada’s history, geography, and lifestyle. And the information will stick; growing up in the U.S., I (along with most of my fellow countrymen) was coated in some sort of hyper-slippery knowledge-repellent that causes “foreign” information to slide off my brain cells. It’s like WD-40 but even more lubricous. Anyhow, when I return to the country of my birth, I’ll begin the process of absorbing one thousand years’ worth of knowledge. My transformation won’t take long; I suspect I’ll be fully Canadianized by my third year of permanent residency. Part of that process, of course, will be my inevitable introduction to that Texan who took my place: Preston Kneeblood.

It’s coincidental, I suppose, that Kneeblood has lived his entire lifetime with a yearning to “return” to Texas. But, given his deeply progressive political views, he has always known he would not fit in. Still, he imagines he could enjoy a life of peace there if he could just live in isolation, perhaps in a desolate area of west Texas, far from cities. And he’d have to be miles and miles and miles away from the nearest oilfield; he could not abide the stench and noise of drilling rigs and the men who work on them.

But this post isn’t about PK, is it? No, it is not. But it is about to come to an end. I feel confident, though, that more will come about my life as a returning Canadian.

It’s just after 5:30 and I’ve been up for two hours. This is madness. I should be asleep in bed. Instead, I’m hallucinating about things Canadian. Perhaps if I play a French-language audio CD while I sleep, I’ll be fluent in Canadian French by the time I awake.  Hah! I doubt I’ll go back to bed at this hour. That, too, would be madness. I’ll just drink my coffee and wonder what’s up with this world we live in.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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3 Responses to Strangely Canadian

  1. Hope says:

    Hahaha. I would so love to hear your thoughts on Canada if you moved here!

  2. Thanks for the “bunny hug” information; I’ll add that to my growing Canadian linguistic repertoire! I’ve read various things about unique Canadian terminology, from HUFFPOST to Maclean’s. I may just search to see if I can find a “Vocabulary of Canadian English.” If there isn’t one, perhaps I should write it when I move to Canada! 😉

  3. Hopester says:

    I never heard the word for electricity being “hydro” until I lived in Ontario. I know it’s used in Manitoba as well. I’ve never heard the term “deke” before but I am familiar with a two-four! Also use “toque” and “gitch” but “gut-foundered” is new, too. I was born and raised in Saskatchewan where we have the distinct honour of calling a “hoodie” a “bunny hug”.

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