During the Olympics I got my answer. My wife and I started pointing out the British, Canadian and American flags when they appeared on-screen. My son, whose favorite sports seemed to be swimming and diving (I put this down to his recent engagement in weekend swimming lessons), soon picked up the national branding.
When the British flag was shown – and I say with enormous pride that it was often shown on the top of a flag pole – my son would point at the screen and say “Dada, Dada, your country Dada. Moma! It Dad country! Dada from Eng-er-land!”
A couple of things here. First, my son hasn’t worked out the difference between England and Britain yet – but then, he’s not the only one, is he? Second, “Eng-er-land” is not a speech impediment or the result of a 3-year-old trying to master the language. It is in fact the result of a summer watching his Dad, watching Eng-er-laaand play at Euro 2012 – together with way too many renditions of Fat Les’ Vindaloo.
Go on, give it a listen and then try to get it out of your head for the rest of the day.
Back to the Olympics and my son’s first stumbling steps into working out his national identity. The boy got very excited every time he saw the maple-leaf sporting red and white rectangle. “DAAADDDAAAAA! My country Dada! It Canada Dada! Dada it my country!” There’s my answer, my son is Canadian. Bless him.
It was almost upsetting for his mom and me that every time there was an actual final or a medal contest, my son’s rhetoric would go something like this: “Moma, there your country! Dada there your country! Where my country?”
“Your country will be in the next race son.” We would assure him time after time, giving the fake hope that parents do despite the knowledge that it will never happen. Sod’s law he was at his swimming lesson when the women’s trampoline competition was on. (Canada won its only gold medal in this event for those that don’t know. And, yes trampoline is an Olympics event if you missed that too. I know, I know.)
Captain America is a fictional character, a super hero who appears in Marvel Comics. The boy got a Captain America action figure for his last birthday. You think I’ve wondered off topic don’t you? You’re thinking: I thought he was talking about the Olympics and his son discovering his national identity. I can see why you’d think that… hang on, I’m about to tie it all in…
So, in a way that only a 3-year-old’s mind works, whenever the Stars and Stripes was hoisted, we’d hear the following ring out: “MOOOMMMAAAAAA! It your country Moma! It Captain America!”
It is far too cute to correct. So for the time being, my son is going around telling people: “My country Canada. Dada from Eng-er-land and Moma from Captain America.”
So, I haven’t posted in a while. The Montreal summer, house hunting, a job that has required my focus, allergies… there have been many reasons I haven’t dipped my virtual pen in my virtual ink pot. Really though, all excuses.
I was speaking with a colleague last week and somehow – I don’t remember how – we got to talking about being ‘detail oriented’. I had mentioned something along the lines of how I have to check certain things because some people are just not detail oriented. “It’s a matter of desire” he said. “People are as detail oriented as they want to be.” It rang true for me, being one of those non-detail-oriented people in a former life.
Blogs are a matter of desire too. When all said and done, if I’d had the desire to actually write a blog post over the summer, I would have, regardless of parenting duties, late nights at work, or marching around open houses on the weekends. It’s not as if nothing has happened, or I’ve had nothing to say either:
– The rioting in England. I sat and watched, and shook my head at that. I’ll put my thoughts in the next post.
– A hot, hot, hot summer in Montreal. As hot as I remember in my 11 summers here. What a pity I’ve spent most of it…
– House hunting in Montreal’s West Island. And, without any luck.
– And, I believe we had a Royal visit in Canada too… when they came to Montreal, I donned my England football jersey, got in the car… and left town for the weekend.
Has my blog posting desire returned? Well, only time will tell, right?
It’s recognized as a great British pass-time; talking about the weather. And, it’s true. I don’t think I’ve had a conversation with my mother in the last 10 years where she hasn’t mentioned the weather. The Brits just love talking about it. Or should that be complaining about it?
The irony is, in general the Brits don’t have any weather. Ok, they have ‘weather’, but not ‘weather’. Not the kind of weather we have over here in Canada. We have seasons in Canada. In spring it rains, the sun shines and it gets hot in summer, the fall* is a little chilly but we’re treated to the beautiful foliage. And in winter, well it snows. A lot. And it’s cold. Very, very cold.
In the UK it’s usually mostly a grey and wet spring, followed by a largely cloudy summer with showers, a gloomy autumn with some downpours, and a miserable wet and cold winter. Barring a day or two of sun in July or August, and the annual few days’ national shut down due to an inch and a half of white stuff, it’s pretty standard fare. Of course, I understand that this is some justification for the complaints, but it’s hardly riveting conversation is it?
“Bit wet and chilly today, innit Bob?”
“Yup, mind you not as wet and chilly as yesterday, Bill”
“Ye’r right there. What’s it supposed to be like tomorrow Bob?”
“Gonna be gray Bill. With a bit of rain. And chilly.”
“Tut, tut. Bloody weather.”
“Yeah, bloody weather, tut, tut.”
Conversations like this have been going on for centuries across the British Isles. There are probably thousands of conversations like this taking place right now.
I genuinely admire the Canadian resilience in the face of extreme weather. “A bit chilly” to them is -10°C, with a -20°C wind chill. They’ll also wear shorts at the first sign of sunshine on grass, regardless of the temperature, and they’ll be sitting outside on terraces milking the last glimmer of sunshine until the last leaves fall.
Now that’s weather, and how to deal with it.
*Fall is Autumn in North Americanish (for the Brits without North American experience)
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?
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.
Have you ever noticed that whenever you get Italian or Chinese migrants coming together, a community evolves? You get a China Town or a Little Italy. We have both here in Montreal. They’re usually small hives of activity brimming with cultural trinkets, cafes and restaurants, shops and places of worship.
But what happens when the Brits become ex-pats? Well, they usually seek out a British pub, to drink a British pint, watch British sport, and moan to other Brits about… well, Britain.
Other than that, we seem a pretty apathetic bunch. Not exactly over-enthusiastic about coming together to support each other’s causes are we? Don’t get me wrong, to call all British ex-pats apathetic would be a broad and unfair generalization, but barring important sporting occasions, we don’t seem to quite unite as other nationalities resident in this foreign land seem to.
Maybe it’s a security thing. Maybe we don’t HAVE to stick together to get on and be successful in Canada. In the majority of of the country, we can get along just fine in our mother tongue, and our Canuck cousins are not all that dissimilar, culturally speaking. Hell, we even have our Queen on their money. We shouldn’t exactly feel insecure should we?
I can’t help feeling that we’re just a little bit lazy when supporting each other.
During a conversation a couple of years ago, one, not so young English fellow (name withheld because I can’t remember it) told me that he moved over here to “get away from that lot”, and questioned why he would seek out in Canada the very people he was trying to get away from in the UK. You could question his choice of immigration destination if the objective was to avoid his compatriots, I suppose.
So why do we not see the same sense of ex-pat community among the Brits as we appear to with other nationalities here in Canada? Is it apathy? Is it that we don’t feel the need for that type of security? Do we just not like each other very much? Or, have I got it completely wrong, and we’re as connected as any other community? I would love to hear other Brit perspectives.
Many in Montreal would have you believe it’s the longest-running St. Patrick’s Day Parade in North America (the first one was in 1824 apparently), although some folks in NYC might dispute that. Regardless, the 187th Montreal Paddy’s Day Parade will go ahead on March 20, 2011. And Montrealers just love it.
I’ve seen various attendance estimates – anything from 300,000 to 500,000 line the streets to watch the parade every year, depending on which article you read. Exactly how they count is beyond my comprehension. Let’s just say a lot of people show up.
They wear tacky Irish themed hats, paint their faces green, and pretend they’re from the Emerald Isle for the day. The irony that St. Patrick was born in Britain (England or Scotland depending on which legend you subscribe to), that the colour originally associated with him was blue, and that his name was probably not Patrick at all, is undoubtedly lost on most. Still, why let facts spoil a good party?
For many, the Paddy’s Day Parade signals the end of winter, but you can still be standing in snow, freezing your arse off watching it. For others it’s a day of too much green beer.
I used to partake in the green beer fest. But, alas, time has caught up with me. The pubs are just too busy for me now. Too many people, standing on too little floor space, drinking far too much beer that they had to wait too long to be served. Somehow this was fun in 2002, but now, it’s not for me. I have work the next day. Yes, I think I am old.
But, I will be there on Parade day. As always. This time I will be with my young boy. We will clap our hands as the marching bands pass, wave at people dancing on floats, and point at inflatable objects. We’ll have a blast – and be home for nap time.