What do folks from other countries immediately assume when they hear the word “Canadian”? Perhaps they imagine an interesting combination of bacon, maple syrup, moose, poutine, beaver and striped Hudson’s Bay jackets. Or maybe they think of people who are fanatical about hockey, or are overly polite and apologize a lot. You’ve gotta admit there are worse things to be associated with than maple syrup and bacon, and good manners are always better than rudeness and defiance.
In my experience, Canadians are well-received in Europe, although some Europeans have an unusual ideas of us and our country. For example, when I was nineteen I took my first trip to England. During that time I met relatives we had only before seen in pictures.
Over tea, my English family expressed surprise that I wasn’t wearing “traditional Canadian gear”. As it turned out, a popular television commercial for candy bars was playing in England then, which depicted a group of burly Canadian lumberjacks busily chopping down trees in a British Columbia forest.
These men sported raccoon hats, checked red and black mackinaws and each wielded an enormous axe. After long hours among the trees, these fellows paused to ceremoniously consume a bar of delicious Yorkie Chocolate. My family felt sure this must be a true depiction of life in Canada.
Several years ago, a few European friends of ours flew into southern Alberta and joined a bus tour through the Rockies. After peering hopefully out the windows of a cab on the way to their hotel, they expressed acute disappointment.
Where were the longhorn cattle and the “little dogies”? The howling coyotes? The cowboys on horseback, wearing Stetsons pulled low over their eyes as they “rode the range”? (The “range” otherwise known as the Calgary Trail.)
In Switzerland once, a train conductor, after determining where we were from, asked if I might know a friend of his who had moved to Canada in the 80s. He offered the man’s name, fully expecting there was a good chance I’d have made this persons acquaintance. The guy lived somewhere in Toronto; population six million; three thousand miles away. Sheesh.
Then there was the boyfriend of a childhood chum. She’d met this young man while she lived and worked in California for a time. He’d accompanied her back home to Saskatchewan for Christmas and was shocked to find we Canadians lived in “normal” houses. On his first trip into our nearby city, I distinctly recall his astonishment over this fact and his further surprise over our amenities.
“You have taxis here?” he asked, rubbing at frost on the window to get a better view as one rolled past. “This is unbelievable. I thought you rode horses and tied them to a hitching post outside the general store when you went shopping.”
“Yeah,” I responded dryly, “amazing isn’t it. Say, here’s a thought – if you guys would like to come over for whale blubber tomorrow I could pick you up in my dogsled and introduce you to my polar bear Ralph.”
“That’d be great,” he said unhesitatingly. “Does he live in the house with you?”
Yup. People have some strange ideas about us Canadians.