The Minority Report: From “Eh” to “Zed”

Beth Rotenberg

It’s strange being Canadian on campus, because although Americans don’t really consider you international, they’re pretty sure that you’re not from here. Something is off, not quite right. “Oh you’re Canadian…”– puzzled, what does that mean?

I’ve always loved the way that Americans talk about Canada, as this great unconquered abyss. As if the second you cross the border, the temperature plummets and you must hurry to find food and shelter before night falls. As if there is no government, electricity or land divisions. Just an uncharted mass full of meese and French Canadians. Driving north, Canada is only about three and half hours away from Colgate. The fact is that students from the Midwest or the West Coast live much further away from campus than many Canadian students.

Canada may only seem far away because of our cultural differences. We have a Prime Minister and not a President; we use the metric system, not the imperial system; our land is divided into provinces and not states. However, these basic tenets of Canadian society seem to have fallen from the American conscience, to the point that provinces like Saskatchewan are hardly even recognized

as nouns.

Granted, Canada was founded a full 48 years after Colgate’s brave 13 men collected their 13 dollars. And yes, it is slightly less populated than the U.S, but it should not be so unknown. Canada should not be referred to as “up there.” I have been asked if we celebrate thanksgiving in Canada – yes, we killed Indians too.

I often get caught saying “eh” and then mocked by someone who uses it in the wrong context. “Eh” is a deeply rooted Canadianism, a subtle hint at a question – rhetorical in nature, the kind of thing you say while drinking a Tim Horton’s coffee.

The word/sound magically turns any statement into a question, as in; “It’s warm out, eh?” “Eh” can also be used, primarily by French Canadians, as a way of asking someone to repeat something – equivalent to the American “huh” or “what.”

Canadians are accused of being too polite; well, the queen told us to be good and, for the most part, outside of hockey rinks and Saturday nights, we are. We say “pardon” because we’re polite; however, we will not back down from using the same word with a rough inflection to show that we’re angry. Again, very subtle.

And then there are those words that we draw from our British forefathers, bits of English rule in everyday speech that seem to stand out in the American light of day. Freshmen year I asked someone where the washroom was and I was taken to the laundry room. When I asked my professor if I could write my final exam – she looked at me oddly and said she already had. Despite my nature I now say soda instead of pop, grades instead of marks and “shoot” instead of “gosh darn.”

Canadians often define themselves as NOT American. But our two identities are inextricably intertwined more so by our similarities than our brief divergences. Despite this, every year Molson Canadian makes millions of dollars producing commercials that make fun of Americans, advertisements that proudly state “I AM CANADIAN!” And yes, we should be proud, not let this proclamation become muffled by Americana when we cross the border. But instead of bringing down one culture in support of another, we should celebrate our successes and ways of life.

We invented lacrosse, basketball and hockey. We invented standard time. We invented ski-doos, jet-skis, Velcro, zippers, insulin, the paint roller, roller skates, duct tape, the jolly-jumper, air-conditioned vehicles, the Zamboni, the barcode, the Blackberry and the telephone. We are the home of Terry Fox, Alexander Graham Bell, Rush, Rachel McAdams, Don Cherry and of course Pamela Anderson.

Canada is not America’s hat, it’s America’s toque. Our civil war was fought in a bar and lasted little over an hour. We have the longest unprotected border in the world – and proud of it! The following all require a ‘u’: flavour, colour, favourite. Nobody says “aboot”. Everyone likes donuts. A seal pup in French is a phoque. Smarties are chocolates like M&M’s, not Rockets. Celine Dion would jersey Whitney Houston. And 4 a.m. Montreal Poutine is the best thing you will ever eat.