Saturday, September 10, 2011

I’m sorry ... I’m Canadian

It is said that Canadians apologize all of the time, even when there is no reason for apology. Why is it then that I don’t feel the urge to do the same? Could it be that I have lived so long in Israel that this essential part of my Canadian identity has been erased? Israelis do not apologize. Even if an Israeli steps on your foot, he will find a reason for claiming that it is your fault.

But surely we are overgeneralizing. How can we say that a whole nation has an obsessive tendency to apologize? True, a few Canadians have told me that they even apologize to a table when they bump into it. But I am sure that if we dig deep enough we will find a few Canadians who rarely apologize, if at all. The thing is, we like our stereotypes, don’t we. Americans are chauvinistic, Canadians struggle with an inherited inferiority complex; Americans are crass, Canadians are cultured but too laid back; Americans keep guns at home to shoot burglars, Canadians apologize to the burglar for locking the door ...

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Canadians do have an irrational desire to apologize for … well, just about anything. Why is it then, that this came about?

One of my guilty pleasures is watching the reality show “So you think you can dance.” The Canadian finale is in another few days and in discussing two of the top contenders (Lindsay and Melissa) with a good Torontonian friend of mine, he commented that Lindsay comes across as very modest, which is a very endearing trait to Canadians,whereas Melissa shows fierce determination and consistency, qualities that would ensure her victory if it were the US voting.  But this is Canada, and the shy Lindsay speaks to Canadians much more.

Why do Canadians feel it is wrong to aggressively assert themselves? If a Canadian and an Israeli are standing talking to each other, you will see the Canadian continually moving backwards, as the Israeli continuously steps forward into his coveted space. Israelis like things right up front; Canadians prefer them a little more laid back. Israelis live the moment and are continually checking the hourly news to see what new trauma/disaster/flock of rumours have transpired. Canadians may read the morning or evening newspaper, and catch the 6 o’clock or 10 o’clock news, but this is more of an afterthought. If something really important is happening, someone will tell them … sooner or later. There is no such thing as a real waiting line in Israel. Israelis are consumed with how to work the line so that they can make their way up to the front as quickly as possible. Canadians come with a sandwich and a book to read in preparation for the long wait. Israelis act at times as if there is no tomorrow. Canadians often act as if there is no today.

Is the Canadian lack of aggression simply a matter of being polite, or is it a sign of lack of confidence? Canadians are meek, but will the meek really inherit the earth?

In my early years, I remember a Canada which suffered greatly from an inferiority complex. We watched American television and movies, listened to American rock and pop, studied British history and World Geography rather than Canadian, ate at fast food joints that were a part of American chains. And when it came to football, we tried to create our own field dimensions and number of downs, and once again felt the need to apologize afterwards. And even though our North American cultural identity was mostly borrowed from the States, we hated it when people told us that there was little difference between Canadians and Americans.The one thing that did instill confidence in Canadians, though, was our belief in our ice hockey superiority. Everyone knew that Canadians learned to skate even before learning to walk. But that confidence was badly shaken when we just managed to scrape by and win the first hockey competition between the NHL and Russia. Until that point, we were sure that we could crush any competition.

And what else did we have to brag about at the time? Brador beer? Much stronger than the American watered down stuff, but you could only get it in Quebec. There were stories of success, Canadians who had made it: Lorne Greene ... William Shatner. But they had to go and live in the States first. It seemed that a Canadian hadn’t “made it” until he was recognized outside of Canadian borders. Otherwise we continually questioned his worth. But we are finally past all that ... aren’t we?

I thought so until this season of “So you think you can dance, Canada”. My doubts began to surface when the Canadian judges on the show not only applauded the Canadian talent, but went on to say that this talent was just as good as anywhere else in the world. That, in itself, was not the reason for doubt. Quiet affirmation of our own worth should be commended. But the week after, and the week after that, the judges came out more and more vehemently in claiming that Canadians were not only just as good, but even better than dancers outside of Canada. It appeared to me that they were trying very hard to convince themselves, more than anyone else. How far had we really come?

So, if you are Canadian, the next time you feel the urge to apologize - stop for a moment and ask yourself “why?” I am not saying that you should claim the world “as your oyster”, as Israelis are so apt in doing. But stand your ground. Remember, the Americans have been eyeing Canadian territory for some time and they never really did learn from The War of 1812.

As for me, I’m sorry if any of this offends your Canadian, American or Israeli sensibilities.
Whoa... I just apologized. There may be hope for me yet.


  1. I think you are under estimating the Canadian race-I believe we are an envied nation worldwide. I don't get the sense Canadians apologise--if anything they just stay quiet----which is a huge strength.

  2. I agree with you that Canada is a nation which is envied by many. When people hear that I am originally from Canada, they usually always have something positive to say about Canada. And when I backpacked through Europe in the 70s, Americans were putting Canadian flags on their backpacks so that they would be treated better.

    It seems that one of the things that Canada has managed to do is not make enemies, which is not an easy thing to do in this complex world.

  3. I respectfully disagree with you, David. I am a Canadian of many generations back, on both my mother and my father's side. Both grandfathers fought at Vimy and in the trenches of France and Belgium. My grandmothers and great grandmothers raised their families on this land, farmed and fished, and taught in one roomed schools. My people were tough and proud and I was always taught to be proud of where and what I come from. I have no inferiority complex based on my nationality. Modesty, quiet confidence, and politeness, are cultural traits that I believe should be cherished.

  4. Hello David
    I enjoyed reading your blog. I think I've got over the habit now....
    Sorry, but..
    When I came here in 1980, we contacted a distant relative of my mother-in-law whose wife had been a "Haluza".
    She often regaled us with stories of her early years in the country, and we were suitably impressed. However,if I ventured a word of complaint about anything in her company, she would counter with "you have nothing to complain about!. ..In those days we..... battled giant mosquitoes, dug canals to empty swamps, planted crops that didn't grow, lived in tents, had no water....." whatever related to the subject of complaint.

    I never had the nerve to apologize and tell her that even though we didn't live in primitive conditions, we still gave up many important aspects of our former lives like family, friends, a steady decent income, and a life in a country that didn't have people who hated us living a stones' throw away.
    Since then I have broken down despite my Candian training in good manners, no longer apologize when someone steps on my toe or butts in front of me in line, or even complains about something. I'm not sorry when I tell my grandson he can't watch tv any more today, or when a student disturbs the class and is punished by having to leave or stand in the corner with a dunce cap on his head. Now, I only apologize when I am truly sorry for something I have done or to commiserate.