Published: July 4th 2012July 4th 2012
Canada to me is best represented by this curiosity - 1 July is Canada Day. Born in 1867, Canada's now 10 provinces celebrate the birth of a largely peaceful and well functioning democracy. Quebec, which is part of Canada, celebrates its own day, St. Jean-Baptiste, a week earlier.
No one in the rest of Canada appears put out by this - they cheerfully point out that for me, being in Quebec, I would be able to shop on the Monday public holiday. Interestingly, not on the actual day - being a Sunday & a public holiday was a double whammy for the cashed-up and planless - it had the shopaholics keening wistfully at the well-lit, but locked glass doors of the shiny stores all along St. Catherine in Montreal! I cruelly enjoyed watching them walk into the unresponsive glass doors at speed and then rage impotently against the Canadians inexplicable stand against rampant commercialism.
I was advised that while there would be some fireworks, I wouldn't be inconvenienced by the nuisance of proud Canadians celebrating their diverse, beautiful and wonderfully unpretentious country.
The day was splendid & even the Quebec-quois I saw enjoyed it. Althoug there was free cake, I believe the sentiment was genuine! It seems Canada's identity and history may be demarcated along Anglo-French lines, I only saw one overt example of separatism during my time in Montreal - a car with the Quebec fleur de lise flag on one side & the Canadian Maple leaf with a back cross through it on the other. No one acknolwedged or responded to it.
The language police in Quebec (yes, a real job!) still occasionally strike down the lingually-inept, such as the dentist forced to go to language school and close his business for 6 months to gain a basic level of French - after practising successfully for 25 years in the English part of Montreal! But the police were unsuccessful in their bid to have an Irish pub rename all their beers into French equivalents - there may be Le Body Shop & Cafe Starbucks Coffee, but Guinness & Kilkenny remain as is! My French is awful, but the locals are forgiving and a tentative bon jour
will be met with a smile and assistance .. even a joke!
To an outsider, it appears that the Quebec-quois are catered to in a way Anglophones are not (mandatory bilingual signs in the west & centre, but not Quebec) but a deal is a deal. The deal they signed with the British to fight the Americans in 1776 in return for a guaranteed culture & language considerations still stands. Interestingly, it's the anniversary of the aware of 1812, and the Canadian take on events has surprised some Americans, who remember it as the time the British burned Washington. The Canadians are commemorating the succesful repulsion of the Yankee invaders! History is subjective my friends.
Canadians seem to rub along together - as their boring newspapers attest, it's good to be from a place where the political scandal of the day is a politican who spent $16 on an orange juice! Canadians are friendly, courteous to a fault and generally pleased to be Canadians. And they should be proud - from hip Vancouver to green and thriving Toronto and swank Montreal and charming Quebec City - Canada is a well thought through country - mandatory green belts make cities welcoming and give Canadians a chance to enjoy their very brief summers al fresco. New developments need to include at least a park with hill, so folk can toboggan in the winter. They are perhaps a little over regulated, but if the news papers are anything to go by, crime is low in most places. All I have seen is some kamikaze jaywalking (and I think the perps may have been Americans) as well as the occasional littering! Canadians laugh about the nanny state: some funny examples are repeated content warnings after commercials on TV - just in case you forgot how violent cartoons can be and extensive contraindications for medical offerings (although these ads may be from over the border). The variations between provinces are interesting - for example, you raise your hand in Toronto and traffic stops to let you cross the street; if you do it in Quebec, putting your hand up will identify you as someone easily lured into the traffic!
They are inclusive and diverse, for example marriage equality is already here, and the population comes from around 190 countries. They embrace their past (Quebec is over 400 years old) as well as the new (Nunavat territory was established in the late 1990s). I have greatly enjoyed Canada and would gladly visit again; I feel at home here - its different enough to be very interesting, but similar enough so that we can share jokes and compare petrol prices. Of course, come winter, the story would be very,very different! Bon Nuit :D