Through Immigrant Eyes: Casual Observations on the Average Canadian

By Tom Sproat

Canadians. We’re a loveable bunch, generally speaking: affable on our best days and annoyingly conversational on our worst. Hockey, plaid, blah blah blah. Defined as often by what we are not (American) as by what we are (the people living above America). “Eh”, hosers and the Canadian tuxedo; loyal to the Crown (I suppose), but oi! it’s a bit much sometimes, innit?!

These characterizations are well known. Having lived abroad in Asia and Africa for the past five years, I could reliably trust at least one of them to be leveled against me when engaging with strangers from another country; a boxy, restrictive classification serving only to categorize and minimize my essentially varied and elaborate essence; a stamp across the forehead labelling me “Canadian” for all that supposedly is and is not. But do not I—do not we—contain multitudes? Are we not layered, at once both simple yet profound in our collective complexities?

For more on this matter I approached my wife, a recent immigrant from South Africa, and was relieved when she responded in the affirmative and both confirmed and expanded on our national nuances, adding a refreshing take on what it is to be Canadian: apparently, we don’t use umbrellas.

“What, like some prehistoric relic of evolution, the link between our aquatic forbearers and terrestrial successors; living on land but basking nostalgically in an open down-pour, pining for the days spent living underwater?” I cried, noticeably hurt at the association. “No, more like you just don’t seem to use umbrellas” she replied coyly, artfully dodging my conclusions to spite me. I love her so much.

After downing a few pilsners, eating a box of Timbits and listening to Rush’s Moving Pictures to calm me down, I was able to consider her claims more thoughtfully. Surely, this can’t be! A quick scan of my house will solve this, undoubtedly revealing umbrellas stuffed into every architectural orifice like some rainy-day Easter egg hunt. First closet: nothing; second closet: nothing; the basement? None! Behind the chair in the porch…one! Ah-ha! Victory…was short lived, for one umbrella in a house of six people does not a refutation make. The day’s forecast is promising, though: rain, rain, glorious rain all day! Out the door and into my car; key, ignition, vroom; downtown, to main street; park, wait, gleefully observe the sea of umbrellas unfolding before me and to the horizon.

No, no! A woman here with her hood pulled tight, beige pants speckled with rain; a man in a t-shirt with a child in tow, oblivious to nature’s fury unravelling above them; this one’s drinking a coffee; is that person riding a bike…and smoking a cigarette?

Whose country is this?!

Canadians. We’re a loveable bunch, generally speaking: affable on our best days and annoyingly conversational on our worst. Hockey, plaid, blah blah blah. Defined as often by what we are not (American) as by what we are (the people living above America). “Eh”, hosers and the Canadian tuxedo; loyal to the Crown (I suppose), but oi! it’s a bit much sometimes, innit?! We also don’t use umbrellas.

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