I admit it. I’m not the most patriotic Canadian. I don’t think we’re all that polite. I don’t think we can handle cold weather better than anyone else. Heck, I don’t even think we’re all that good at hockey. But the one thing I was always proud of, what made us stand out when you compared and contrasted the maple leaf with other equally ridiculous national symbols…was that when it came to taking out politicians, we preferred pie to guns. Can you imagine John Wilkes Booth deciding to use banana cream, pumpkin, or American apple pie on Abraham Lincoln? Or a JFK Pie Conspiracy? No, you can’t, because that was in the United States, not Canada. Here, Thomas D’Arcy McGee notwithstanding, Canadians use pie. Eh?
That changed the other night in Montreal. Montreal, by the way, is my favorite city. I like it even more than Red Deer.
A few summers ago, I was in Quebec to learn French. I was lucky enough to get into a program which allowed me to study there for 5 weeks – which I spent in a town called Trois-Rivières. The city is mostly Francophone. In a manner of speaking, I didn’t exactly fit in. During my first few days there, I was eating in a restaurant, and was asked by an obviously concerned waitress if I knew where I was, and if I needed help getting out of town. She relaxed when I told her I was there to learn French, and didn’t stumble into the city by accident.
I, uh, studied hard, and visited Montreal when French Camp was over. By this time, I was ready to speak French in public, to anybody. My bravery had me ordering pad thai en francias, but as I spoke the server looked at me with a blank stare. I switched to another phrase and spoke slower. Still blank. I mentioned poutine. No luck. I harnessed all my powers of the French language and it still did no good. I was ready to concede defeat – jump on a plane back to Alberta and never mention jambon or fromage encore – when the server said: “I don’t speak French.”
My confidence restored, I thought about the diversity of Montreal, where Francophones and Anglophones lived side by side, and differences in language didn’t stop the city from being even better than Red Deer. Later, I visited the Metropolis Theatre, for a Dumas concert – a band I had never heard of before going to Quebec. French-speaking and amazing, I marveled at how Dumas had such a strong following – packing the Metropolis – but on the other side of the country not many people had heard of ’em at all.
My time in Montreal made me feel something unusual: patriotic. Here was this myriad of cultures, and I felt a connection to it, and more importantly, I wanted to participate in it. That’s my version of patriotism – being excited about positive community involvement. So when I saw the news reports saying a man had opened fire at the Metropolis, where Quebec’s new premier was giving her victory speech, my heart sunk. This is something new to modern Canada – differences heightening tensions, rather than enlivening experiences. It isn’t something we’re used to.
Luckily though, there’s another thing about Canadians I like; our typical lack of extremism. Pies are still the normal weapon of radical political protest, not guns. Most people try to understand each other’s differences, and that makes our communities stronger, not weaker.
So if you want to be patriotic, don’t tell folks from other countries we’re more polite, better hockey players or snow shovellers. Tell them you come from a country that believes in understanding differences and building off them. Inclusion is the name of the game, not being trapped by your own cultural nuances or language. And when somebody tries to disrupt that positive relationship with violence, you throw a pie in their face and say no.