July 1, 2010

The True North

Happy Canada Day! As has become my tradition I use Canada's Birthday for an opportunity to provide a little education on the nature of this place.  I feel lucky to be a Canadian and extraordinarily privileged to have been born in a country with such wicked wealth and extreme charm.  In past years I've done quotes about Canada, lists about Canada, random stuff about Canada - and this year - this year is about what Canadians are.

Canadians are living in a a very peaceful place.  We rank 14th in the world.  (New Zealand is #1.  Iraq is last. It's a really interesting map.)  I think most Canadians would agree both that they are very proud of being at peace, and that the number would be super different if we hadn't won a gold medal in women's and men's hockey at the Olympics this year.  Interestingly, Canada invented Peacekeeping (which is sort of like an international version of standing between two people who are having a fight and not letting them hurt each other.) You can read about it here.

Canadians are living in an extraordinarily developed country. The Human Development Index (from which we get the term "developing countries") ranks Canada as the 4th most developed place in the world, coming only after Norway, Australia and Iceland. (Frankly, I think it's the wool and knitting that's doing it.)

Canadians are the worlds largest consumers (per capita) of Kraft Dinner. (Same stuff as Kraft mac and cheese in the US.) We can't explain this at all, but there you have it.

Canadians live in a country where the universities don't award any entrance scholarships for athletics. 

Canadians are all about the water.  We have the worlds longest coastline 243,977 kilometres (151,600 miles), 1/4 of the worlds fresh water,  and two million lakes. We've got the worlds largest lake within a lake, the worlds highest tides. It's no wonder that Canada is the birthplace of the kayak and the canoe. It has been said that this country was built from a canoe.  (For the record, National Canoe day is June 26th.)  All this water might explain how we feel about skating, hockey and our exceptional navy, which marks it's 100th anniversary this year.   The Canadian Coast guard is a really big deal and responsible for operating over ocean and inland waters of over 8 million square kilometers. (That's almost 5 million miles.)

Canadians are not weirded out very easily: Canada's longest serving Prime Minister (and actually, the longest serving leader of any English-speaking country) was William Lyon Mackenzie King. (He should not be confused with his grandfather, William Lyon Mackenzie, who led revolts in the 1830's.) He was a brilliant leader, giving us the Old Age Pension, Family Allowance and Unemployment insurance.   This may be because he was a bright guy, but may be because he regularly communicated with former Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier.  While having an advisor isn't at all odd, the fact that Laurier was dead at the time and Mackenzie King communicated with him though his pet dog is sort of out there.  Still, he really got the job done and even knowing he was odd as fish, we kept him around for a long time. (22 years.)  Further to that, Canadians are living in a country where the "civil war" (if you can even call it that) was essentially a barfight led by the definitely drunken and likely insane aforementioned William Lyon Mackenzie.  According to legend, it took about an hour.)

Canadians are unaware that  labelling "homo milk" (homogenized milk) is unique. (Tip for Canadians. If you're in the US, homo milk is called "whole milk". If you ask for homo milk they'll giggle.)

Canadians are: loving their health care.  90% of Canadians support universal health care. “There are very few, if any, pillars of Canadian public policy of which Canadians approve as strongly as the principle of universal health care, which has been with us since it was first adopted by the Pearson government in the 1960s.” - Nic Nanos.  Personally, I can tell you that after a year in this family marked by three members experiencing serious, life threatening accidents and illnesses that required extensive and prolonged expert care... I'm so grateful none of us had to pay a dime for it.

Canadians are: living a long time.  Canada's life expectancy is third in the world after Switzerland and Japan.

Canadians are: Not very worried about same sex marriage. We've had it for a good long while now.  Nothing bad has happened.

Canadians are: believing in aliens.  78% of us believe in the existence of life elsewhere, and almost one in ten of us have seen a UFO.  (I haven't.)

Canadians are: speaking our own language. We say washroom (not bathroom)   eat chocolate bars (not candy bars) someone who’s too eager is a “keener”, a small bottle of liquor is a mickey. A two-four is a case of beer, a double-double is a coffee and we all know what a hoser is, and it’s really hard to explain- but you know it when you see it. We sit on the chesterfield, Elvis is a skater and hydro is electricity.  Pissed means drunk (or angry, depending on the context only) we use loonies and toonies to pay for things. We wear touques, carry knapsacks and are delighted when a chinook blows.

Canadians are: Obsessed with mosquitoes, and for good reasons.  There's a town in Manitoba called Komarno (Ukrainian for mosquito) that boasts the worlds largest (and perhaps only) statue of the beast - It's sculpted out of steel and has a wingspan of about 4.5 metres.  (15 feet) Anyone who has been to Manitoba during mosquito season will tell you that is just about life-sized.  Canadians say that the best mosquito repellant is a shotgun, and we have no end of jokes about them, which is really just a way of trying to survive - and in parts of Canada, we're not even kidding.  Canadian researchers in the Arctic reported as many as 9000 bites per minute, which at that rate could drain half a full grown man's  blood in 2 hours. We have all manner of describing their size here, from "mosquitoes so big they have landing lights" to "mosquitoes so big they carry off babies" to my all time favourite.  "Au chalet de ma grand-mère, les maringouins sont tellement gros qu’ils doivent se mettre à genoux pour nous piquer dans le front!" (This translates roughly to "at my grandmothers cottage the mosquitoes are so big they have to get down on their knees to bite you on the forehead".)

Canadians are: Proud of the diversity of their country.  Canada is the most diverse country in the world, and a recent poll showed that 97% of us are proud of the way this country mixes cultures, ideas and faiths and lives peacefully together, and Canada leads the world with reported tolerance for ethnic minorities and immigrants. 

Canadians are:   really educated. Canada is second only to Finland in high school student performance among OECD data.   Unicef ranks education systems and says that Canadian 15 year olds score 4th among the worlds richest countries.  Interestingly, only 8% of Canadian students attend private school, and 62% of us go on to college or university.

Canadians are online: More of us own a personal computer than anywhere else in the world.

Canadians are living in a Constitutional Monarchy.  That means that there's a Queen of Canada. Mostly, we like that.

Canadians are the hosts of the oldest continuously-run  horserace on the Continent.  It's called the Queens Plate, and the Queen will attend it on Monday.

Canadians are funny. In fact, it is often said that our biggest export to the rest of the world is humour. Mike Myers, Dan Aykroyd, Samantha Bee, Tommy Chong, John Candy, Jim Carrey, Michael J. Fox, Eugene Levy, Rich Little, Howie Mandel, Lorne Michaels, Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, Leslie Nielsen, Cathrine O’hara, Caroline Rhea, Seth Rogen, Martin Short - all Canadian. In fact, if we were to ever invade another Country (which we wouldn’t, we’re totally not like that) then an army of Comedians is what we would send to disarm them first. (You might want to note how many of those names live in the US now. I'm sure it's a coincidence.)

Canadians are not paying outrageous taxes. (No matter how it feels.) We like to complain, but among OECD countries, we're 20th.

Canadians are proud today.

Canadians are spending today drinking beer, knitting and reflecting on their great good fortune.   (The majority, I think. I have no stats.)

Posted by Stephanie at July 1, 2010 3:20 PM