An uneducated American on Canadian culture

Observations after almost a week north of the border

A few days ago, probably as we were starting to realize our visit to Montreal had been a little below our expectations, my wife asked — “What is Canadian culture?”

Of course, as an American who, while having visited Montreal twice, Toronto twice, Quebec City, Vancouver and Ottawa (plus the obligatory just-to-say-I-did-it Niagara Falls cross-border trek), has done nothing more than scratch the surface of Canada, I am spectacularly unqualified to give an actual opinion that’s worth reading.

That being said, Canadian culture is poutine …

… and Tim Horton’s.

OK, that was a joke, but seriously, you can find both of them seemingly everywhere, although only one doesn’t appear to be disgusting. (That would be the Tim Horton’s, BTW.)

But there have been a few things I’ve noticed through my American-in-Canada lens.

In the news

Canada’s prime-time, hour-long newscast is called “The National.” Its anchor, Peter Mansbridge, is a Canadian institution and will be retiring after the upcoming Canada Day celebrations.

The lead story on last night’s show was National Aboriginal Day, complete with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing that it would be called National Indigenous Peoples Day.

In addition, the former U.S. Embassy across the street from Parliament would become a center devoted to indigenous peoples, and the name of the building where his office is located would be changed so as to no longer honor Hector-Louis Langevin, “who proposed the creation of (residential) schools as the most expeditious way to assimilate First Nations children into Euro-Canadian society.”

There was more than just the first segment.

And the CBC debuted a new website, “I Am Indigenous.”

Do you know when Native American Heritage Day is in the United States? Neither did I. It’s annually the day after Thanksgiving, or Nov. 24 this year.

I’m guessing the annual midnight rush for large-screen TVs will be the lead story that night.

Have a look around

Our hotel was next to Parliament Hill. The above photo, in fact, was taken from my hotel room.

The Parliament Hill/Rideau Canal area is amazingly beautiful, and even though the seat of government is there, it’s not exactly an armed camp.

After seeing the sunset, we decided to walk over. Sure, there are fences and bollards, but the gates were open when we went over at about 9 p.m.

There were definitely police — quite a few, in fact — to keep an eye on things, but as long as people seemed to be playing it cool, they didn’t give anyone a hard time.

Hockey, hockey, hockey

I was joking about Tim Horton’s and poutine being Canadian culture, but saying that it’s hockey may not actually be a joke.

As obsessed as Americans are with the NFL, imagine if all but seven of the teams were in another country.

That’s the NHL.

It doesn’t seem right. There are so many American cities where the NHL is an afterthought or at best third or fourth on the list.

Meanwhile, in Canada, where hockey is everything, it’s just Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Like I said, it doesn’t seem right.

Over the border, another world

From Ottawa, getting to the Canadian Museum of History requires going across the river into Gatineau, Quebec.

We took the water taxi.

I wonder what it’s like for the people of Gatineau, in the shadow of the capital of a nation that your province is a unique enclave within, and has tried to leave.

Sorry, no really … sorry

Before I left on vacation, I had a moment of confusion with a coworker.

It was nothing major, but she apologized profusely, like I knew she would.

She’s French-Canadian, so I told her that if nothing else, the incident would prepare me for unnecessary apologies from Canadians.

She laughed.

The people I encountered were certainly nice, although they didn’t seem any nicer or more-apologetic than most.

However, they must be self-aware, or Roots and John Fluevog Shoes are doing some serious humblebragging.

A trip to a bookstore, though, would have you think Canadians aren’t too interested in writing about themselves.

While any significant event in America is bound to have numerous books written about it, Canadian history takes up about two shelves.

Strangely, there were two books about the rise of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (father of Justin), both called “Trudeaumania,” that based on the dust jacket, reach opposite conclusions.

Time to celebrate

Canada’s about to throw itself some kind of party.

July 1 is Canada Day, which is a big deal on its own, but this year is the 150th anniversary of confederation (although Montreal wants you to know this year is its 375th anniversary, thank you very much).

Using the Tom Friedman school of gleaning life’s important information from cab drivers, a waitress told us last night that hotel rooms in Ottawa for Canada Day sold out in January.

I’ll be watching from back in the United States. I hope they have fun.

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