Living on the 49th Parallel: Unheimlich


On Facebook this past Friday, I declared my contempt for the royal wedding. Or rather, what it symbolized. Yes, Kate Middleton is lovely (if, poor thing, she is forever forbidden from playing Monopoly), her dress was beautiful, and all those stand-up hats were a sight to behold!–

Princess Bea and Mrs. Posh: two examples of the royal wedding’s millinery madness 

-but as I self-righteously stated, the royal wedding is “a reminder that Canada is still, hideously, a monarchy and not a republic. That one day Will, the future head of a foreign state, will be on OUR money.” A phone chat with The Great White Chef–a friend in western Canada–as well as 32 comments on Facebook–revealed that many thought I was a cynic, that I should remember that I am a subject of the Queen (how dare she subject me! I do not care to be subjected to her will or her Will, and if I am to be, at the very least I should be able to work in her country without having to obtain a visa!), and that I should be grateful for “free” healthcare (isn’t that what those hefty Canadian taxes pay for?). GWC sounded triumphant: “Now you have confirmed what I have always suspected,” she gloated, “You and The Scientist are NOT Canadian at all. You never were. You’re Americans in a witness protection program.”

Funnily, she’s not the first person to say as much. It’s not merely my anti-royalist feelings, but also my accent, my love of Target and and Peet’s coffee and San-Diego-style weather, my frequent trips south, maybe even my religion (one student in western Canada told me that I was like watching Seinfeld reruns; another, a rare Jew, asked me in hushed tones if I, too, were Jewish, and when I said I was, he grinned ear to ear and whispered loudly, “That’s! So! Cool!”), my boredom with Canadian fiction (so much poetic language, so little action), my utter lack of interest in the North (one of our friends wrote a book and films documentaries about the extreme high Arctic; GWC and her husband, St. Paddy, spent 10 years living in Inuvik, in the northern Northwest Territories, where the sun sets for a month at a time . . . Wouldn’t it be funny if you were an observant Jew and accidentally got stuck there on a Friday in mid-December? Your Shabbos would be over some time in mid-January! Hope there’s an eruv! Hope you remembered to turn on the bathroom light!), my unfamiliarity with such words as “parkade,” “toque,” and “parka” (the latter two not quite unheard of so much as not used in my daily life!), my fear of the temperature dropping to -40 and hanging out there for days on end (-40 for 40!), that seem to mark me as “unCanadian.”

But how do I fare here? I am certainly not American. Admittedly, I am rarely accused of being a foreigner, but once I out myself, suddenly people magically hear an accent (“I knew I heard you say ‘aboot’!” What–I’m a Newfie?). They want to discuss how bad universal healthcare really is (“You have to wait, like, 100 years to see a new doctor there, right?” To which I confess: “I’ve heard of such things, but it’s hard to say.” In Canada, LL got nursemaid’s elbow, and we called up our favorite pediatrician and darling doctor-friend, the Flying Dutchman, who was at our house minutes later to fix it. The Scientist exhausted himself packing up our house, and our sweet doctor-friend, Mrs. 1950s, took him over to see our other doctor-friend at the ER, Dr. Jolly Green Giant. Ankle–twisted or broken? The Scientist scanned his x-ray over to a radiologist doctor-friend, Dr. Snarky, and got his answer in seconds. Moles? Already checked out by three dermatologist doctor-friends–none are cancerous, thank goodness!). Everything I say that is what they say is adorably wannabe-American (on the dance floor of the Orient Express, Jerusalem, 1993, bopping to “It’s Raining Men.” Poor Princess: “Wicked!!” Boston Boy: “Wicked!!!!!” BB: “Wait a minute–” –stops dancing–“Did you just say ‘wicked’?” PP: “Yeah! This song is wicked!” BB: “But only WE say ‘wicked.'” PP–stops dancing–“We say it too.” BB: “No way! You must have heard one of us say it.” PP: “No.” BB: “For sure! You did. That’s so cute! You’re like an American!”). And everything that I say that is not what they say is adorably Canadian, even if it’s not (Me: “Wow, there’s a huge lineup outside the CVS. You would think they’re giving away drugs today.” Boston Girl: “That’s so cute. We in AMERICA don’t say ‘lineup’ to describe a ‘line.’ We use ‘lineup’ to talk about what happens when you’re trying to pick out a criminal from a group of guys–that’s what we call a lineup. A CVS doesn’t have a lineup! Teehee!”)(“It’s not ‘Lego’ for the plural–it’s ‘Legos!’ Canadians are so funny.” Actually, Lego, a Danish, not American company, does not pluralize itself. They pluralize the bricks. As in ‘Lego bricks.’ For the record.).

With a zip code but a complete incomprehension of American healthcare (“THIS IS NOT A BILL. ER visit cost: $1,056. Your insurance paid: $223. You owe: $0.” Huh??), the more typically liberal biases of and voting rights in Canada but a disdain for the Canadian passport (why is there a unicorn on the front of my passport–am I from a fairy kingdom?, and why does The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada have to request “in the name of Her Majesty the Queen,” that “the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary”?), I am neither here nor there, not quite this and not quite that. I am “unheimlich” (unhomely, the literal definition, rather than “uncanny”)–a creature both familiar and foreign to my North American peers . . . kind of like this hokey unicorn:

Canada’s coat of arms: What’s hokier–the lion holding up a maple leaf or the unicorn?



One response »

  1. Eh, I still love you. The whole national-identity thing is hilariously vague, really. I have rabid monarchists and rabid anti-monarchists in my family.

    (Using “eh” to prove I’m Canadian?)

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