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I was talking last night with friends of mine about trying to get my mind around the culture here. "Is it really something very offensive if I call you English?" I asked, thinking that it really just amuses me when people assume I'm American.

"Well," said Simon, "For some people, yes."

"And if there's alcohol involved, completely," said Myles.

"But, why?" I asked. "I can't figure it out."

"We had a royal family, and they disappeared."

"And there was the battle of Culloden."

"Those were hundreds of years ago!"

"Yes, but they're still relevant today."

This all sort of came out of a conversation about tourists wearing kilts and claiming clans, and about whether or not William Wallace was a 'hero' before That Movie came out and ruined everything.

We ended up with a fascinating comparison between Wallace, pre-movie, and Louis Riel.

I won't bore you by explaining the whole Louis Riel thing. There is a wikipedia article on him which seems to be rather well done, but I can't claim to have read the whole thing. I studied Riel in school, many many times, and no longer find him interesting. I make awful (and incorrect) jokes about how Canada is dull - we had one rebellion, it lasted a weekend, and afterwards everyone went out and got drunk. But it's not *too* far off the mark, depending on which part of Canada you're from.

Riel, you see, is either a Father of Confederation (in Western Canada, where I am from, because his actions led to the creation of Manitoba and Saskatchewan as provinces), a Traitor (in Eastern Canada, because of executing Thomas Scott, and then being hanged), or a Saint (which I've been told is how he's seen in Quebec).

Canada is a country that doesn't give a lot of thought to it's Larger than Life characters like that, although everyone knows about him. There are statues to Riel, and schools named after him, but he hasn't really captured the national interest or spirit. No one's going to go out and buy a replica Louis Riel gun, for example.

I got the impression last night that this is the way things were in Scotland before That Movie. People knew about Wallace, they had some opinions about him, everyone would know who you were talking about if you mentioned him, but he hadn't really captured the national consciousness until That Movie came out, and suddenly people were speaking in bad Scottish accents in places like New York, LA and Edmonton. Some people enjoy disliking the movie, because of how historically inaccurate it is, and others enjoy watching it as an heroic tale with varying degrees of accuracy. {I recommend you read this discussion about the historical inaccuracies in Braveheart. It's fun, and funny, and very full of facts. But mostly, it's funny, as is their take on Elizabeth and The Sound of Music.}

It was suggested that if I really wanted to understand the culture here I'd have to go back in time and just watch everything for 600 years, and even then I'd probably not get it. I don't get the papers here, and why it's okay to call people NEDs and Yobs. (NED = Non-Educated Deliquent. I don't know what Yob means, but basically the same thing. They told me it's more English to call someone a Yob than a NED.) To me, for some reason, those terms are really offensive, or at least shocking to see in a newspaper. I can't believe that it's okay, here, to write that sort of thing.

Of course, in Canada, we're more concerned about offending people. We tend to fret about that a lot.

Hence, I think, why I don't care if people assume I'm American, but I'm always quick to correct them. One of the few sentences I can still remember in Chinese is "I'm not American, I'm Canadian", and in bargaining, that was always useful. People do react to me differently once they hear I'm Canada, make assumptions about what it's okay to talk to me about. I hear a lot of anti-Bush rhetoric from cab drivers.

I think, because Canada is so immigrant-heavy, we don't really know how to deal with being an immigrant. I would never assume that anyone speaking to me wasn't Canadian - I don't care where your accent is from, or what colour your skin is. Canada is full of people of various levels of immigration, whether newly 'off the boat' or been here since forever. We just sort of blend people in.

I could live here until I die, and I think I'd still be an outsider, not understanding why it's more amusing than offensive that the statue of Wallace up in Stirling looks like Mel Gibson.


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Random tidbit: My adopted brother Louis (he's Metis) was named such after Louis Riel.

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