Thursday, August 20, 2009

It Goes Both Ways

Stereotypes, of all kinds, abound.

Ah, Canada. The home of maple syrup and beavers, where people sport toques on their heads and speak fluent French, love poutine, and play hockey.

Where they say "eh" in the beginning, middle, and end of every single sentence.

Wait. Really? That's not true? You're kidding!

Our first eh-counter was in a Game Spot store in Bend, Oregon.

"But you don't sound Canadian," the guy narrowed his eyes at me, as if inspecting a bug that he wasn't quite sure of. "You don't say "eh" after everything."

"Um, ya. " (big sigh) "That whole thing about Canadians saying "eh" after everything? It's a stereotype. No different than you guys saying 'huh' or 'you know'. I mean, we do say it occasionally, as in "it's nice out today, eh?" but we don't say it after everything. That would just sound, um, kinda stupid. "

"Really? I don't know..." his voice trailed off and he studied my face carefully. "Are you sure you're not American? You sound American."

Ummm...yes, I know my nationality, thanks.

"Well Vancouver is really close to Seattle, so we probably sound the same. I mean, if I was from Newfoundland, I'd sound really different. Plus I've been in the USA for three weeks, so maybe I've picked up a slight drawl."

He was beginning to look like his head would explode from this new revelation. Soon, a video game caught his eye and he changed the subject, moving on to the best way to blow up animated people.

The next day we were at a farm that also was a family rock shop business, poking around and looking at the rocks on display. Suddenly a voice came out of nowhere.

"How did Canada get it's name?"

An older gentleman was sitting in the corner, grinning at us.

I opened my mouth to tell him the historical story that I know; the one where Jacques Cartier was talking to the Iroquois and they were pointing out the route to a village that became the future Quebec City. They used the Huron-Iroquois word "kanata", which means "village".

Only this gentleman wasn't curious about Canadian history, but instead was telling us a joke.

"Well these guys were all sitting around and put the letters of the alphabet in a hat, and then they drew them out one by one. So this guy says, "C, eh? A, eh? N, eh?" He guffawed loudly while Jake and I stood there, not really sure what to say. Um, what? Did he expect us to say "eh" like a trained seal?

Jake was clearly insulted and as soon as we were out of earshot, grabbed my arm and hissed,

"What the hell was that? Why was that guy making fun of us? That just makes Canadians sound stupid! "

"Jake the man was old, " I soothed. "He probably thought he was being funny. Just let it go, it's nothing to get worked up over." But I have to admit that a bit of me felt the same way. It's funny to a point but sometimes, you just get tired of it, especially when it comes off making Canadians look...well, DUMB.

The last time was at our hotel in Bend, when a friendly business man struck up a conversation with me and asked all the usual questions about Canada; what our health care is like, what we think of Obama, and then out of the blue, about the famed use of the word "eh".

"You don't say it after everything."

Again? Really? Oh my God, what is with this town? Do people really believe that?

"Nope." Okay I admit that I say it sometimes, but rarely.

"So it's just a stereotype." Ahh, he's catching on!

"Sort of. There are people out there who say it all the time, but not everyone. Just like how we don't all speak fluent French, live in igloos, drive dog sleds, and have snow all year round."

"Ahhh," he nodded thoughtfully, as if digesting a new revelation. "So what do Canadians think of Americans? You can tell me the truth, you won't hurt my feelings."

"Do you want to know what I think or the stereotypical version?" I grinned back at him.

Touche!

His blue eyes twinkled and suddenly he began to laugh. We both sat there in the garden, laughing until our eyes watered.

"Point taken."



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