What does it mean to be Canadian? For most of us, we define ourselves by what we are not – we are not Americans. But when you take us further away from our metastatic, noisy neighbour to the south, what’s left? Our national food? (There is none.) Our national dress? (Do cool sweaters count?)
When I meet other foreigners in Addis, most of them assume I’m American. I correct them quickly. But apart from the correction, what makes me identifiable as a Canadian in Ethiopia? The answer is: nothing really. I have been known to spend an exorbitant amount of money on maple syrup. I did make a point of watching the Men’s Hockey Finals at a restaurant fittingly called “Oh Canada”. I have registered with and gravitate to the Canadian Embassy whenever required to do so.
But mostly I find myself quietly giving space to people to do their own thing. It might be the most Canadian, albeit most obscure, thing about me. So if you see me out at a bar or a wedding or at a restaurant or in a meeting, I’m Canadian and I’m simply giving you space to do your thing. But please don’t misconstrue it.
Giving people their space can go wrong. “Giving space” is often misinterpreted as (at best) shyness or (at worst) a willing door mat. But Canadians know what they want: a sour cream glazed and a double-double. Please. We might not be trying to convince you of x, y, z because it’s “zed”. We might give you space but we do have a blue line. Don’t penalize us with pushing because the CanadArm of tolerance will reach out and slightly shove you. Sorry…that was harsh, eh.