The Monarchy is a polarizing institution on both sides of the Atlantic.
I’ve never been a royalist. The idea of a group of well-to-do people being idolized and lauded through the good fortune of birth never quite sat well with me. It could be my working class roots. It’s pretty difficult to sit there in your council house, wondering if your Dad’s ever going to get off disability, and wishing you had the money to go on a school trip, while ‘your’ Royal Familyare off swanning around all parts of the globe, playing polo, and talking all posh. It definitely always felt like a ‘them and us’ situation. And they seemed to do alright out of our tax dollars… I mean, pounds.
I have mellowed over the years. I think there are a number of reasons for this: I’m now definitely in the middle classes – money is less of an issue; I’ve met some of those well-to-do, posh speaking folk, and a lot of them are actually ok; and I’ve seen the impact the British Monarchy has on the rest of the world.
I’m still not a royalist, but I appreciate the history, and I do feel a little sense of pride when I see the whole world obsessed with my country of birth and it’s traditions.
It has been truly fascinating to see the American and Canadian media covering the pending wedding of our future King Billy and Queen Kate. What other event could possibly stir so much interest, and throw so much attention on the UK? British tin tray, key ring, and mug manufacturers must be boosting their retirement funds as well.
And, then there is the realization that these people are human beings. I simply cannot imagine having to go through this very personal process under the glare of the whole world. I get tetchy when people look over my shoulder at lunch time and ask me what I’m eating. As for Wills – he seems ok really, not a bad apple.
So, I wish them well. I hope the world enjoys the show. But there is no way on Earth that I’m getting up at 4am to see it.
A recent comment on my blog got me thinking. The comment, from my friend Maria, questioned what pieces of the accents of his English dad, American mom, and Quebec home he would pick up. It got me thinking about his ‘identity’.
I am a dual citizen – British by birth, Canadian by naturalization. Kerri – my much better half – is American. My son was born in Pointe-Claire, Quebec in 2009. He is Canadian.
I never got round to applying for my Canadian passport, so I travel on a UK one. Kerri holds an American passport, and my boy has a Canadian one. This seems particularly confusing and disturbing for US customs officials. And, I find myself wondering if Evan (that’s my son) will grow up confused about his national identity.
When you ask Canadians about their nationality, many tend to answer by describing their heritage. I had a conversation with two Canadian colleagues recently on this subject. One is of Indian heritage, but was born and has lived her entire life in Montreal, the other has Iranian ancestry, and has been in Montreal since her formative years. They felt that when someone asked where they were from, they were actually enquiring about their lineage. That’s why, when asked, they tell people of their heritage.
Does it matter that people who were born and raised in this vast country answer ‘Scotland‘, or ‘Morocco’, or ‘Italy’ to the question ‘where are you from’? Does it dilute Canadian national identity? Or add to the eclectic melting pot we live in?
I’ve reminded myself of someone I met very early in my Canadian adventure. He was a barman (go figure – I met a barman in my first days in Canada. No idea how that happened). He was a big guy. I’d put him at 6 foot 3 inches. And wide too – strong, muscular. He was wearing a tartan skirt. Or as the Scots like to call it, a kilt. His chest was adorned with a blue t-shirt with the cross of St. Andrew blazoned across the front, and the word ‘Scotland’ in old-fashioned, intricate looking lettering. I got talking to him.
“You’re Scottish?” I asked.
“I’m Scottish and English” he replied.
“My Mum…”, he emphasized the ‘U’ in mum, “…is Scottish, and mi Dad is English. From Caaaarlisle.” He explained. The emphasis on the ‘U’, the use of ‘mi dad’, and the drawled out aaarrrr in Carlisle, adding what he thought was authenticity to his claim. It was somewhat contradicted by his obvious Canadian accent.
“Oh great!”, I said. “When was the last time you were back?”
“Never been. I’d love to go.”
Is this my son’s future?
Although the UK is a place of diverse accents, I think that the Birmingham or Black Country accents are the most maligned. (Footnote: people from the Black Country will have you believe that their accent is distinct from Brummie. They – we – can get quite offended at the suggestion they sound similar. The uneducated would not recognize the difference). As both Birmingham and the Black Country reside in the same county, I’ll lump both accents together here and refer to them in general terms as the ‘West Midlands‘ accent.
It’s a drawling accent, spoken with emphasis on the vowels. And, because it’s riddled with dialect, it’s not easily understood by those from outside the area. To give you an idea, Ozzie Ozbourne is probably one of the clearer conversationalists to have emerged from the region. In the UK, if you want to portray a character as a little ‘slow’, you attach a West Midlands accent to them. For Canada, think Newfie. For the US, think deep south. It’s the accent of national ridicule. I was always conscious of this.
This could have resulted in an element of paranoia, and a lack of confidence. I always felt that I was at a disadvantage in the UK just because of my accent.
I have to say at this point that I love accents. They add colour to language. And, I particularly like the the one I grew up using. As I have become older and moved away, first to Derby (“Ey up mi duck”), then Sheffield (“Where’s tha bin”?), and finally Montreal (er…”Go Habs Go!”…?), my accent has evened out a little. But, it’s still obviously different from most I am surrounded by.
I have, on occasion been mistaken for Australian, South African, a New Zealander, Irish, and perish the thought, Scottish. Usually though, I get credited with being what I am – an English man, with a distinctly English accent. And, contrary to the perceived inhibition I felt in my homeland, I have found my exaggerated vowels and missed consonants to be quite advantageous in North America.
In North America, when I speak, it is an immediate conversation starter; “Where is that accent from?”, “I have family in the UK”, “Are you Scottish?” (shudder). It also buys some credibility. I have been told on more than one occasion that I can say anything and make it sound plausible. But the biggest advantage my accent has provided on this side of the pond? Well, I’m not particularly good looking, and I’m certainly not a wealthy man. But the mother of my child is a very attractive American. 😉
As we all know, the clue is in the name. It’s FOOTball for a reason; because you kick the ball with your foot. It appears pretty obvious. It seems like there is no argument – case closed.
Of course, here in Canada – and the other country in North America – they just won’t have it. Apparently, over here football is something that is played predominantly with the HANDS. I have explained this irony on many occasions to my North American friends and colleagues. When I do, they give me that stare, you know the one: “I never thought of that. That kinda makes sense.” But then, in a flash, the logic is lost and still, they won’t accept it.
Some Brits get quite agitated at the whole ‘soccer’ thing. In all truth, I don’t care that much. I call it soccer now myself. When in Rome… or Montreal. I get ‘crucified’ for it on visits to the motherland.
But, where did this random term ‘soccer’ come from? How did these North Americans come up with that? I did some research – they didn’t.
Legend has it that the term soccer can be traced back to a Charles Wreford-Brown, an Oxford University student who preferred ‘brekkers’ to ‘breakfast’ and ‘rugger’ to ‘rugby’. He shortened ‘Association Football’ to ‘soccer’ (derived from ‘association’), and it stuck.
So, if you’re a Brit who cringes when some North American spouts out the word soccer in reference to the beautiful game, remember – it‘s our own fault.
The ‘Habs’ are the Montreal Canadiens. To be fair to the Habs, they are pretty much universally recognized as the lifeblood of ice hockey. Montreal is hockey mad, unlike any other city on Earth. And, Habs fans are acknowledged as being some of the most passionate and knowledgeable of all. And, just like British football fans, they can get a little feisty. It has been known for violence to erupt on the streets of Montreal after a big game from time to time.
Having experienced both big football occasions in the UK, and important hockey games in Canada, I am of the opinion that the level of intensity at football exceeds that of hockey by some way. And, (I say this with no particular pride) hockey ‘hooliganism’ is not at parity with even the much reduced British version of recent times.
I have an old school friend in England who has visited me on this side of the Atlantic on a few occasions.We’ll call him Adam, because, well, that’s his name. On his first visit, I sold him on going to a hockey game. I told him he would see a lot of goals, and a few fights. Exciting stuff. In those days the Bell Centre was called the Molson Centre. If you sat in the cheap seats, right at the back (where locating the puck is impossible), you would see a giant Habs shirt hanging from the scoreboard in front of your section. The shirt would be adorned with a player’s name and number. If your guy scored, everyone in the section got a free beer. I have no idea if they still do this, but it was the pitch that sealed the deal for Adam. We were off to watch the Habs play the Florida Panthers.
I haven’t seen enough hockey to be able to claim this with any authority, but it was possibly the dullest game of hockey ever played. Florida won 1-0. There was one half-hearted scuffle. It seemed to go on forever. Adam looked at me as if it was my fault.
A couple of years later, Adam returned. The Toronto Maple Leafs were in town. For the uneducated (Brits), this is like Liverpool vs Man. Utd. Probably the most significant rivalry in hockey. I suggested we take in the game. I got a look. We ended up in a bar instead.
The game was on the big screen. We ate, we drank, we chatted. The game was intense. All the things I said that hockey was: heated, passionate, fast, action packed. And we could see the puck. There were goals, lots of them (I think the Habs won 4-3, but don’t quote me on that). There were fights – blood was drawn. The patrons in the bar were obviously excited. It drew us in. Very enjoyable.
We left the bar a considerable time later, and walked along St. Catherine Street (the main thoroughfare in downtown Montreal). There were not many people around. It was late, it was March, it was cold. We ambled along behind a small group of young men draped in Habs shirts. Across the almost deserted street, a similar group of 4 or 5 came into focus. They were wearing blue and white. Leafs fans.
You could see the agitation, an increase in excitement, as each group spotted the other. Nudging and pointing ensued as the two groups slowly followed a trajectory that would see them pass.
Adam, being English, had experienced situations like this before. Rival supporters, after the big game, and no doubt a few alcoholic beverages, coming face to face in the city centre. It was bound to get ugly. At times like this adrenalin kicks in, your senses go into overdrive, the blood rushes through your veins. It’s the danger. Anything could happen, and you’re right there.
The two groups were now almost parallel to each other, on opposite sides of the street – separated only by a few yards of tarmac.
The Leafs fans started first: “You Suck!” was the cry – repeated several times by each of the individuals in blue and white as they pointed across the street. Well, you have to understand, that is quite the insult in Canada. The Habs fans had no choice. They volleyed back with “You Suck!” in an equally animated fashion.
The two groups passed and continued in opposite directions.
Adam stood in silence. He looked back over his shoulder at a disappearing rabble of blue and white as they walked down the street. And then back at the red group, who were likewise going on their way. “That’s it?”, my friend enquired. “Yup. That’s it”, I replied with a chuckle.