Tuesday, April 3, 2007

I am Canadian

When I was working in Krakow in February, I noticed several distinctively Texan references hung prominently throughout the office. It took me a few moments to realize that the business unit responsible for the Krakow office is headquartered in Texas, and that the director had obviously given the Texan mementos to the Krakow team.

It made me realize I wanted to bring something with me that identified me as Canadian, and reminded me of home - something that I could hang up in my office (and I admit, distinquish me from my American counterparts - the grown up version of the maple leaf on my backpack.)

I sent a note to my two friends who are a painter and printmaker respectively, and to my little brother who's a graphic designer, asking them to make me something identifiably Canadian.

My brother sent me back this response:

"Last year I wanted to design an icon set based on distinctly Canadian images. The plan was to create a set of icons or simple illustrations that would correspond with every letter of the alphabet and then I would make a font out of it and give it away for free on our website starting on Canada Day."

I loved it, and immediately showed it to the nearest Pole.

That's when I realized that what is Canadian to me is not necessarily Canadian to the outside world. I had to explain the signficance of each icon (with the exception of beer) to my Polish colleagues.

When I asked them what symbolized Canada for them the answers were fairly typical: maple syrup, mountains, wide open spaces, elk (who knew?), the flag, and ice hockey. I was surprised no one mentioned the beaver, but it turned out they didn't really know what a beaver was. I had to show them a nickel.

Of course what does the average Canadian know about Poland other than vodka, pierogies, and cabbage rolls?

I've been thinking about what is Canadian to me. Since I grew up in western Canada, it's grain elevators, rocking horse oil wells, the Oilers, wearing my snow suit under my Halloween costume to go trick or treating, French on the back of cereal boxes, the northern lights, sunsets at midnight in the summer, and Old Dutch potato chips.

But Canada is also the red, red streetcars in Toronto, calling the May long weekend the May 2-4 weekend regardless of the actual date, traffic jams no matter what time of day it is, and working with people of 35 different ethnic backgrounds in a 50 person office, who are all proudly Canadian.

It's the Montreal Canadians and the Toronto Maple leafs on a Saturday night (no matter how much you hate the Leafs) and a football league that used to have two teams with the same nickname, and it's a Leonard Cohen song, or anyone singing a Leonard Cohen song. And it's Michael Ondaatje writing about the Bloor St viaduct, and Margaret Laurence and The Diviners, and the numerous other Canadian authors whose books I am taking with me.

And it's a million other things, which no one but another Canadian will understand.

What says Canada to you?

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