Why I Hate Canadians by Will Ferguson. I've wanted a copy of this ever since I saw the title in the "About the Author" blurb on Hokkaido Highway Blues. A quick bookstore run on the last day of our visit to Montreal finally provided the opportunity to get one.
The book is a rambling collection of essays about various aspects of Canadian identity, and some of the inherent absurdities of Canadian life (most notably the fact that they allow the continued existence of a political party whose stated goal is the dissolution of Canada). The combative title (and a few harsh remarks about various Quebecois leaders) aside, it's actually a fairly positive book. What Ferguson hates about his fellow Canadians is largely the fact that they've failed to be quite everything they could be-- he vehemently denounces the treatment of Native Canadians, and some of the sillier excesses of his countrymen, but doesn't hesitate to point out the positive bits, as well. He rants and raves about Canada and Canadians because, deep down, he loves the place, and would like to see it be even better than it is. (I'm not psychoanalyzing the author here-- he basically says this outright in the last chapter...)
Some bits of his rants, particularly those about Natives and multi-cultural issues, could apply equally well to the US, and, indeed, I was a little surprised that he passed up the opportunity. But then this is an unapologetically Canadian book, and not one interested in taking pot-shots at the United States. It makes for a slightly odd reading experience for an American-- while many things seemed familiar, a large number of the political and pop-culture references flew over my head.
The bits that I did get included some delightful broadsides, like this:
The three great themes of Canadian history are as follows:
- keeping the Americans out
- keeping the French in, and
- trying to get the Natives to somehow disappear.
These three themes represent the political/social mission of Canadians. Americans: out. French in. Natives: invisible. If Canada were a hockey team, this would be our chant.
There are other minor themes as well: Sucking Up to the Royal Family; Waxing Poetic About Nature While Huddling Inside Shopping Malls; Electing Boneheads; Trusting Authority; Avoiding Extremes; and Resenting Success. All of which are played out against the larger Myth of Niceness.
Our feelings toward America are complex, but they can be summed up in the following five (5) axiomatic propositions of Canadian Nationalism vis-a-vis the Americans:
- Boy, we hate Americans.
- We really do.
- I'm not kidding. We really hate them.
- So how come they never pay us any attention?
I'm sure that reading this would be a vastly different experience for an actual Canadian, as opposed to merely an American who happens to know a number of Canadians. Still, even if you don't get all the references, this is a fun read in the same way that, say, Bill Bryson or Joe Queenan is a fun read. It's a snappily written collection of slightly over-the-top cultural criticism, with a fairly serious point at the core. If you like that sort of thing, you'll probably enjoy this book, even if you don't know who Farley Mowat is.
(Previously posted on The Library of Babel.)