My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Our Canadian identity

Often the question arises: what is Canadian? How do Canadians identify themselves as Canadians? How do non-Canadians identify Canadians? What represents Canadian culture?

The answer usually boils down to the commonly held view that we are "not American". And it's true. We Canadians love to distinguish ourselves from their counterparts south of the border. But that can't be all we are--call me crazy, but I suspect there are other countries who also see themselves as "not American". Pretty much the only countries that wouldn't would be the United States (because they are America) and Tony Blair (because he wants to be). So there has to be more to our identity than that.

The trouble comes from the fact that Canada encourages multiculturalism (or at least, we say we do). This leads to strong cultural diversity across the country--a country which is rather big. Even so, there's bound to be things in common from coast to coast. The CBC, for one.

Yesterday I went to see Stuart McLean and The Vinyl Cafe at our local auditorium. For those of you not familiar with it, The Vinyl Cafe is what Wikipedia calls a "variety show" on CBC radio. It has musical talent from across Canada, other cool things, and my favourite part--stories by Stuart McLean featuring "Dave & Morley" and their family. These stories, and the show itself, are quintessentially Canadian. I could tell by the number of people in the auditorium and their diverse ages. The youngest person was 6 weeks old, and the oldest was 88. And McLean does the show all across Canada, so the turnout must be good no matter where he goes. The Vinyl Cafe is something in which Canadians the country over can share and enjoy. I certainly did (and I fell for their merchandising scheme and bought a book and 2 CD collections of Dave & Morley stories, because I love them so much). Only in Canada... :D

So anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is more of a note to my non-Canadian friends. If you really want to understand what makes Canadians, well, Canadian, you need to really experience Canadian culture. If you catch an episode of The Vinyl Cafe (you have to hear him talk, the books are good for those familiar with the show, but not for first-time viewers) you'll get a glimpse at one of the facets of Canadiana. Obviously not every Canadian loves The Vinyl Cafe. But the stories and the show give you an idea of what's going on in our society that makes us the way we are.

After all, I spend way too much time watching exports from the United States. How about some quid pro quo?