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?
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.
In 1988, the organization launched its first Red Nose Day. I’m old enough to remember it. They’ve been doing it every other year, ever since. It’s a telethon with a twist. It’s funny. That’s the twist. Brits will know all about it. Basically, a bunch of British comedians come together for a few hours on TV, make people laugh, and raise money for charidee mate. They even rope in some major celebrities from the worlds of film, music, politics and sport. You can see some clips – including a guest appearance from Johnny Depp, here.
On Red Nose Day, people are encouraged to wear… (can you guess?)… a red nose. Of course you’re supposed to buy the official plastic ones, but I confess to making my own with a ping-pong ball, a pair of scissors, and some red paint courtesy of my Airfix modelling kit that first year. We were poor. It hurt – scraped my nose. And everyone at school made fun of me. I bought an official one in 1989.
Red Nose wearing antics ensue on this special day. Across the UK, people can be found sitting in a bath of cold baked beans, or participating in an egg and spoon race dressed as clowns. All to raise money for the cause. I once wore a skirt for the day. But, back to Comic Relief.
If you are a student, you can take part in a Comic Relief event right here in Montreal this year. McGill University’s British Appreciation Society (BAS) is hosting its first Comic Relief Pub Quiz at Gerts’, McGill’s student bar, on Saturday, March 5. Students only unfortunately. To find out more, click here.
For the rest of us, we can cut out the fun bit, and donate directly right here.
Happy Red Nose Day!
I worked at one of the town’s largest employers – a glass works. There had been a glass works on that same site since 1751. I will resist the temptation to suggest that many of the folks I worked with had probably been there since the opening day. But, there was a history of generations of families earning their living there. I worked with people whose Dad had worked there, and their Dad too.
Basically put, the majority of the workforce were local – from Rotherham, Sheffield, Barnsley and Doncaster. As a native of the Black Country, I was definitely the ‘exotic’ one. This type of local community was one that I was familiar with. Most of the folks I went to school with were from within a couple of miles radius. I suspect that things may have changed a little since I left the UK, but in my day, when you entered a community, you usually found yourself with locals.
Canada is made of immigrants. And they emanate from all corners of the globe. Montreal is a melting pot of diverse nationalities and cultures. In my first job in Canada, I remember working with 1st generation Canadians with Italian, Indian, Greek and Israeli heritage. Added to that, bona fide, just-off-the-boat immigrants from Sri Lanka, Ireland, Scotland, Poland, Lebanon and myself from England, and it was an extremely multi-cultural environment. I’m not talking about folks scattered throughout the company. These were not people I’d bump into every now and then – these were my closest working colleagues, sitting within yards of me every day.
At the moment, I work directly with two Iranians, a Japanese, a Filipino (spelled correctly, I checked), an Armenian, an Italian, a Venezuelan, and a couple of Canadians… not to mention the South Korean and the Frenchman I occasionally engage with, and the recently departed German.
I suspect that the UK is becoming more diverse too. When I speak to my old friends back home, they talk about the people from eastern Europe currently living their lives in the cities and towns of Britain. On my last visit, I was served coffee by a Czech, I was waited on by a Pole, and an Albanian cleaned my table. Three different venues between breakfast and lunch. And, they all seemed pretty Indian in Shimla Pinks (I recommend this Indian restaurant if you’re in Birmingham – and they’re not paying me to say that).
The Migration Statistics Quarterly Report: November 2010, seems to support the theory of a changing demographic in the UK. The report, published by the UK Office for National Statistics, shows Poland as one of the top suppliers of immigrants for the year up to March 2010, joining more traditional immigrant providers such as India, Pakistan and Ireland.
I’m not sure that the Brits are as comfortable with this type of diversity as the Canadians are, yet.