How to be Canadian

again from the Big Blue!

I am
reluctantly giving this week’s Scootie award to the chicken-leg-chopping owner
of the Para-Trooper Motel. How could I not? After all, it’s not every day you
see someone with two hands of bananas, (weighing about 40lbs each), hanging off
each side of their scooter and an adult cat (with all four legs intact, I
should add), perched on the handlebars. Congratulations, you freaky little man! 

again, the name of my…will remain a mystery because this is a special Canada Day
Edition of the Coconut Chronicles! On July 1st, Canada turns one
hundred and forty-one years old, which makes me feel, at 38.92 years old,
positively juvenile. And it’s not just Canada’s birthday, the Ripster flips the
page on another year of life on July one. About this, Prez and I are more than
slightly melancholy. You see, this year’s party, back in Nelson, promises to be
the social event of the century as the Ripster’s friends and family gather, en
mass, to celebrate both his birthday and his successful Everest summit. Oh, we
received an invite – three houses, four BBQ’s, tons o’fun – but Air NZ has yet
to establish a cheap commuter flight from Aitutaki to Nelson, so we’ll have to
send best wishes from afar. Sigh.

And how
does it feel to be a Canuck who spends so little time in Canuckland? Well, it
was once suggested to me, by a friend, that nationalities tend to be at their
most stereotypical when abroad and I think I must agree. I feel most Canadian
when I am not in Canada. Whether this is a subconscious desire to hold onto my
“roots” or if I’m merely more cognizant of my behaviour when compared to other
cultures, is impossible to say. But let’s just say that, last week, when I went
for an underarm wax, and the cap of the super-heated roll-on waxing device came
off, and my poor pit was burned by molten lava wax, and after the “waxident” I
still tipped the esthetician, and said thankyouverymuch, and smiled politely, I
felt more Canadian than I ever have in my life. 

Radio, last spring, asked listeners what, for them, was most striking about living
in Canada. Interestingly, the answer from fifty years ago when 80% of Canadians
lived in rural areas and 20% urban, was exactly the same as today’s answer,
when those statistics are now reversed: The overwhelming vastness of the land.
But there’s much about being Canadian that nestles into our hearts and minds.
For me, I love our sense of humour and humility…although I acknowledge it is a
sort of backhanded humility as we all secretly harbour superiority complexes.
But I feel my friend Sue, aka “Mompoet”, captured the essence of Canuckism in
her poem, Hey Canada. She has been kind enough to let me reprint it
here, though I must let you know that this poem was commissioned by CBC Radio
for its 2007 Vancouver Poetry Face Off.

are many uniquely Canadian references in here, so feel free to ask if you’d
like anything explained! Now, without further ado…

Hey Canada


I’m lying on a cot in the nurse’s office

At David Oppenheimer Elementary

in Vancouver

where my parents enrolled me in Grade 1

when we came to Canada.

I’m bleeding maple leaf patterns

into a mound of tissue, clutched to my nose.

Up on a wall, the Queen is watching me

otherwise I’m alone

missing another assembly.

It happens every time

we file into the gym, stand to sing the song

racing pulse, sweaty palms, and WOOOOOSHHH!


I pinch my nose, raise my hand

and Mrs. Forbes takes me to the nurse’s office.

I don’t know how many NFB films and recitations of

“The Cremation of Sam McGee” I’ve missed this year,

but I never miss your song, Canada,

even if it is just the Queen and me

singing it to each other.


At school and at home, I learn to be Canadian:

to celebrate Thanksgiving in October,

to call my french fries “chips”

and to eat them with gravy.

my “sneakers” are “runners”

my “mom” is “mum”.

I learn that zed is a letter and gorp is a food.

I dump Captain Kangaroo for Mr. Dressup

and learn the words of Dennis Lee,

“Alligator pie, alligator pie. If I don’t get some

I think I’m gonna die…”


I grow up proud to be a member of this

hockey-loving, CBC listening

Toyota-driving, draft-dodger-harbouring

wilderness haven of Hinterland Who’s Who.

We’ve got Emily Carr, The Group of Seven

Margaret Atwood,

the NDP, MSP,

Participaction and the Canada Council for the Arts,

Miles for Millions, the Marathon of Hope

both Expos

and those awkward aluminum teapots

at Bino’s restaurant that spill tea on your plate

so nobody will ever steal them.


By the time I finish school, I know you

in more complicated ways, Canada.

Most of the time you’re red and white and green all over

but you’re also shades of grey.


I wonder, Canada, how I’ll explain to my children

that it’s taken a dozen forevers and still

we can’t outgrow

scraped naked landscapes of clear-cut logging

highways that grow wider

as ice floes slip into the sea

how we never managed to truly

open our hearts and share the richness of this land

with each other and the rest of the world.

And I’m hoping I love you enough

that I can help us change our ways

even if I’m not sure how to do that, most days.


But some things are simple and always true

like the way we eat our cake and watermelon on July first

your birthday, Canada.

This year, I’m giving you

a pony, a hockey stick, a Canada flag

a model of the CN tower

a puppy, a medal, socks

a recipe for carbon reduction

a toque, a new Prime Minister, a CD of the Vinyl Café

and a giant croquet set

so everyone in the country can play.


After the croquet game, I’ll take you on a date

just you and me, Canada.

We’ll write a poem in the Bay of Fundy, then

watch the tide sweep it away forever.

We’ll dump a whole bottle of bubble bath

into Niagra Falls

just to see what happens.

We’ll kayak up the coast and marvel

At the mystic beauty that is Haida Gwai.

We’ll walk down to Starbucks

pay 5 bucks for a coffee

and complain about the Americans.


After that we’ll go far from the city, where darkness is

all around. Cradled in your arms, I will breathe in the

grey, green and brown of your mineral soil, and breathe

out blue, purple and gold into a crackling Northern

sky. This I will do for you, Canada, to say thank you for

making me want to learn more about you, for making

me want to stay.


As we gaze at colours and stars all around

you will whisper in my ear,

You are Canadian. You will always be a part of me, and I

will always take care of you, even when you are very old.


so much to Sue for letting me use her wonderful words! Happy Canada Day to the
folks back home, Happy 4th of July to our American amigos, and lots
of love to everyone else, wherever you call home.

What does being Canadian mean to you?

next week, I hope this finds you healthy, happy & lovin’ life!


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