I am still having trouble with Canadian English. Producing it, that is. I understand it fine. It’s not even that I feel the need to pass; rather that I’m afflicted with an obsession with how people speak. Ranger Tim is patient with the elderly three-year-old who follows him around the staff kitchen.
“What do you call this? Tin-foil or aluminium foil?”
“Do you ever say _al-you-MIN-ee-um_? Or is it always _a-LOOM-in-um_? ”
“Always a-LOOM-in-um here.”
“Hey look! The French side of the packaging writes “aluminium”, like us!”
“That’s really exciting, Dervala. But I don’t think that’s how it is in the periodic table.”
To get me off his back, Ranger Tim has defined a useful rule:
“All terms relating to technologies newer than, say, fire, are American.” I have limited access to post-Stone-Age technology in Lake Superior Provincial Park, but it’s good preparation for a return to urban life to deduce all by myself that Canadian phones are busy, not engaged. Canadian kids get diaper rash, not nappy rash. Canadian cars have trunks and hoods, not boots and bonnets. (This last is a sad loss. Bonnets are so much cooler than hoods. Think of _Emma_ versus Eminem.) Everything else is English-English, except that Canadians have asses not arses. Do asses count as technology? Maybe Britney’s does.
Not that it matters what words I use. No one in northern Ontario realises I’m a Paddy Without Papers. They assume I’m a displaced Newfie with a poor work ethic. Even my sister suffers this confusion, though she is less twangy than me. She has just arrived in Ottawa to start an MBA, and now sits through management lectures on ‘Sow-hwest Airloins’ by a professor from Co. Leitrim.
“So where did you do your undergrad?” she asked him during the designated suck-up period after a seminar.
“Ireland. That’s in Europe.” he said. Pause.
“Yes, but where?”
“Cork. That’s down the south.”
“I know where Cork is. I’m from Limerick.” He gaped.
“Are you _sure_? ”
We’re learning. The Canadian “eh?” is addictive. I don’t know how I managed without this little nudge, at once wheedling for approval and inclusive. It is free of the slack-jawed tone of “huh?” and the hectoring note of “right?”. But I try not to overuse it just yet. Now that my haircut is growing in to a full mullet, no sense getting taken for an Ottawa Valley hockey player, eh?