I’m not a lumberjack,
or a fur trader…
and 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,
and I pronouce 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 PRONOUCED ‘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!
Do you know this ad for Molson Canadian beer? It was a phenomenon here in Canada when it started to run in March 2000. Crowds cheered the Jumbotron at hockey matches. The Calgary Herald reported that high-school students began reciting it spontaneously in corridors between classes. Over three years later, I’ve bumped into so many references to the rant that I searched for the transcript. For a new arrival, it helpfully clarifies that Canadian national identity is based solely on not being American. I was beginning to piece this together anyway from the number of news articles I’ve read that slam the neighbo(u)rs with savage Canadian politeness.
Below the transcript, there are two dead links that sum up the geopolitical situation with tragic brevity:
Canadian Beer ‘Rant’ Stirs Nation’s Pride
–Reuters, April 18, 2000
Americans haven’t noticed We Are Canadian
–canada.com news, April 18, 2000
We too understand what it’s like to feel like a flea on a moose. Irish actors, broadcasters, and comedians have been London’s court jesters for years. I’ve spent a shameful amount of time reclaiming Irish writers from my English friends, who have the temerity to act pleased for us over these discoveries.
“No, Oscar Wilde was ours. You put him in jail, though. And Shaw was ours. And Yeats. And Johnny Rotten.”
We grew up in a British cultural soup. Our cities are lined with UK high-street chainstores. Drunken English stag parties spill out of Dublin pubs every Friday night. British television was always more popular than our own underfunded, parochial channels. British tabloids outsell home newspapers, which causes occasional editorial complications: famously, when four Irishmen were released after fifteen years of wrongful imprisonment, the Irish edition of The Sun ran the headline “Guildford Four Freed”. In the British edition: “Guildford Bombers Freed”. (The film In the Name of the Father was based on this case.)
We were steeped in their media and absurdly sensitive to any slights we found there. We got chippy at every mention of “the mainland”, which implied that our republic was still an offshore island in the Kingdom. BBC newsreaders routinely mangled our leaders’ names:
“The Irish teashock, Charles Hockey…”
They called the country “Eire” when trying to be culturally sensitive, which baffled us.
We tallied each acknowledgment and oversight. While Europe poured in the funds that made us a rich, modern nation, we continued to look for approval from England (not caring much what our fellow Celts thought). Sometimes we found startling ignorance instead.
“Now, Dervs, remind me: is Belfast in the Republic?” asked a well-educated English colleague a few years ago.
“No, Sally, it’s in your country. I suppose you could say that’s the trouble.”
But aside from the rabid few who assumed we were all hateful, ungrateful terrorists, the most common English reaction to Ireland, if any, was puzzled, paternal benevolence and genuine goodwill. What did we really want? When it came to the Irish Question, the Irish, apparently, kept changing the question. Many English friends have told me they feel awkward in Ireland, unsure of the reception they’ll get in a country supposedly famous for welcomes. It makes me sad.
The complex feelings are inevitable. We are a tiny three and a half million people, next to Britain’s 56 million. The country has been independent for just 80 years, and ours is the relationship of an adult child to a parent. For centuries we were dependent on a parent country that was often cruel and authoritarian, though sometimes benevolent and protective. They shaped us, and were partly shaped by us. As an adult (or adolescent) nation, we still look across the puddle, sometimes with resentment, sometimes with fondness, to measure how far we have come. We note our similarities and our differences with a fascinated, narcissistic eye. England seems smaller to us now, and frailer, as we take our place in the broader world.
But as historical peers Canada and the US have a different relationship. I’ve heard Canada described as the little brother, but it seems more like the responsible older son who worked hard at college and now slogs away at a good career. Canada spends summers at the cottage with its lovely family, and volunteers at the soup kitchen in its spare time. Canada calls Mum. Life is great, but the responsible eldest is still needled by the brash kid brother who became a rock star, and who now pontificates about saving the world from his Long Island mansion. The one who sends a Christmas card but never visits. The one who married Pammy. Canada wants the rockstar kid brother to look up to it, to ask its opinion occasionally, to give a shout-out from the world stage from time to time. But the little asshole takes phone calls through an assistant now, and barely knows the children’s names.
It is easier for the Irish to assert an independent identity, perhaps. We have a full library of stereotypes to work from, and none carries the sting of a charge of blandness. Canadians, the lazy wisdom goes, are polite, civilized, and nice: what can you construct out of that but a list of We Are Nots?
I’m not a potato farmer
or a hod carrier
and I don’t live in a thatched cottage,
or drink whiskey, or own a horse and cart
I probably do know Jimmy, Mary or Sinéad from Ireland
and I’m sure they’re really, really good crack.
I have a Taoiseach
not a Prime Minister
I speak English and Irish
not Received Pronunciation
and I never say ‘Top o’ the mornin’ to ye’
I’m too cool to sew a shamrock on my backpack
but I believe in peace keeping, NOT policing.
SPONTANEITY, not respectability
AND THAT MICHAEL FLATLEY’S HAIR IS A TRULY PROUD AND NOBLE ANIMAL.
‘FECK’ IS BETTER THAN ‘CRIKEY’
TACKIES ARE TRAINERS
A PRESS IS A CUPBOARD
AND THE PLURAL IS PRONOUNCED ‘YE’ NOT ‘YOU’. ‘YE!’
IRELAND IS THE LARGEST CONSUMER OF TEA IN THE WORLD (per head)
THE FIRST NATION IN RIVERDANCING
AND IT IS THE MAINLAND
MY NAME IS DERVALA
AND I AM A PADDY