Friday, October 23, 2009


How To Tell Canadians From Americans
A Guide Book for the Unwary

Too many people in the Commonwealth, and outside of it as well, fail to differentiate between Canadians and Americans. Canadians find that very insulting. I know I do.

It must be conceded though that, from afar, the Canadian English dialect is not unalike many American dialects to the untrained ear, and to those not intimately acquainted with North American life our conduct and appearance would indeed seem indistinguishable from Americans. Sure, Americans drink watered-down beer, play boring 4-down football, don’t live for ice hockey, say “huh” instead of “eh” and don’t know what an adverb is. But other than that, we blend in. Especially when a Canadian becomes a movie star or a comedian. Then to Americans, he always was an American. Nevertheless, I would assert that there is a distinctive Canadian personality, and it can be evidenced by our respective attitudes to freedom and national pride. Attitudes that can be illustrated by contrasting the following statements:

American: “Give me liberty or give me death.” (Patrick Henry)
Canadian: “Give me an entitlement or I will vote you out of office.”

American: (Quoting Voltaire) “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Canadian: “I don’t agree with what you have to say so take me off your email list.”

American: “It’s a First Amendment issue”.
Canadian: “It’s a Human Rights issue.”

American: “I want to be free.”
Canadian: “I want to be safe.”

American: “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Canadian: “Peace, Order and Good Government.”

American: “God helps those who help themselves.”
Canadian: “I need government funding for this.”

CNN (American): “We welcome your views,”
CBC (Canadian): “We welcome your views but we will make damn sure no one else will hear them.”

American: “Everyone has a right to their day in court.”
Canadian: “Send everyone to Kangaroo Court (The Human Rights Tribunal) and watch the defendants file for bankruptcy while the taxpayers pick up the complainants’ costs.”

American: “I can’t argue with you there man, I think you’ve made a good point”.
Canadian: “Racist!”

American: (Quoting Descartes) “I think, therefore I am.”
Canadian: “It must be true, I heard it on the CBC this morning.”

American (Quoting JFK) “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge truth and falsehood in an open market of ideas is a nation afraid of its people.”
Canadian: (Quoting any Canadian politician) “We can’t talk about immigration because there are too many bigots out there. “

American: (Quoting Thomas Jefferson): “The only school for liberty is liberty”
Canadian: “You can’t have freedom without responsibility. The people must be educated.” (by the CBC of course).

American: “Let’s put this question to a referendum” (ie. a proposition or initiative).
Canadian: (Quoting Edmund Burke) “A member of parliament owes his constituents not his opinion but his good judgment (ie. the good judgment of the party whip).” Modern translation: “Government knows best”.

American: “Let it all hang out”
Canadian: “This editor will not accept submissions that are racist, sexist, homophobic. ethnocentric, or disrespectful to transgendered dwarfs who are differently abled.”

American: “The Second Amendment guarantees the First Amendment.”
Canadian: “Guns kill people.” (Matches cause arson).

American: “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”.
Canadian: “If guns are outlawed, criminals won’t use them, because it would be against the law for them to do so.”

American postman: “Through rain, sleet or hail, the mail will always get through”
Canadian postman: “That’s not in the contract.”

American (firefighter): “Get the hell out of here NOW! MOVE IT!”
Canadian (firefighter): “ Uh, ahem….Excuse me sir, but could you possibly consider forgetting about saving your CD collection and leaving your house rather imminently, if that is at all possible? I am sorry if I am offending you but I do think you might be negligent in putting your possessions above the safety of your children. Unless your cultural values clash with mine, that is, then of course you are perfectly within your right to ignore my advice and practice your customs which I will celebrate at your funeral service as having enriched my life. I think we can negotiate a peaceful solution to our differences here, if we are sensitive to them. I am sorry to have to convey this information in English, but all 52 of our translators are presently preoccupied, and our fire brigade is not yet inclusive of the entire United Nations whose absence must be a result of systemic racism and not the fact that most foreign-born applicants are 90 pound weaklings who can’t navigate 5 steps up or down a ladder with anything heavier than a 5 kilogram bag of sugar on their backs.”

American: “Hello, this is customer service, can I help you?”
Canadian: “ Yeah, this is customer service but I’m on my coffee break right now…can you phone back in another half-hour maybe?”
Customer then demands, “Let me speak to your manager. Hello, are you the manager”?
Canadian manager replies: تعلم اللغة العربية
Canadian customer answers, “I am sorry sir, I didn’t mean to offend you by speaking to you in one of our official languages, or in a communication style that affronts your cultural sensibilities. May I offer an apology for all the historical wrongs that were committed by people with my skin pigmentation long before I was born but whose actions I am nevertheless responsible for? Would a generous compensation package to accompany my groveling English-Canadian apology heal the scars of the trauma that my phone call has put you through? I don’t understand Arabic yet, but I did make out the words “Human Rights Tribunal”. I must congratulate you sir, on your ambition and success in acquiring precisely those words in our language which will allow for your smooth integration into our society. You have met me halfway, so now it is up to me to bow down to your great prophet, Muhammad. Allah Akbar and have a nice day!” Then he hangs up the phone, and mutters bitterly, “That goddam camel-pumper!”, and then reflexively looks over his shoulder in panic that someone overheard him or the Thought Police had planted a bug in his room. Now that’s nation-building!

American customer’s response: “Look buddy, the language here is English, get it? You either serve me in English and to my satisfaction or I’m getting a refund and taking my business elsewhere. Do you hear me Bin Laden? And BTW, I want to see Christmas decorations up in your store this December. Those are our traditions and you knew that coming in.”

Tim Murray,
October 18/09

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