Canadian students head south with national pride

Contrary to common misconceptions, Laura Hartenberger ’07 did not spend her childhood in an igloo, does not say “eh” at the end of every sentence, and did not grow up in consistently sub-zero temperatures. She is, however, Canadian.

But despite sustaining frequent teasing from her American peers, Hartenberger, who belongs to five Canadian pride groups on thefacebook.com, still holds her country in the highest esteem. Many of the 83 undergraduate Canucks, like Hartenberger, said their patriotism did not develop until they ventured over the border.

“Any kind of change of environment for anyone makes you realize how much the place you were before affected who you are, and makes you recognize certain things specific to that place,” Hartenberger said. “Meeting different people, you realize, ‘Oh, people in Canada are actually really laid back and friendly.’”

Many of Yale’s Canadians said the idea of Canadian pride is even more striking when one takes into account that patriotism in Canada is not as prevalent as it is in the United States.

Sam Walker ’05 said that like Hartenberger, he did not fully realize the benefits of being home until he left.

“I was never very proud to be a Canadian until I started coming to school in America,” Walker said. “Canada here is sort of a joke to a lot of people — So as a result, you distinctively develop a sort of Canadian pride. Canadians at home are modest and quiet about their patriotism. Patriotism is not in vogue in Canada, but when you come to America you suddenly realize how different you are and how proud you are.”

Walker noted that before his southward move, his mother pulled him aside and warned him not to become “too American.”

It often seems, however, that Canadians are more concerned with not being mistaken for Americans than with actually becoming too American. Nicole Neatby, a visiting assistant professor of Canadian Studies and History who taught last semester’s “Canadian and American Identities: A Comparison,” said that the distinction plays much more into Canadians’ self-definition than into Americans’.

When asked what makes them Canadian, Neatby said, Canadians will define themselves vis a vis Americans and often invoke stereotypical ideas about the American character.

“But for example if you ask an American, ‘What makes you American? What traits would you identify with American-ness, 10 out of 10 times an American is not going to say, ‘Well, we are not like the Canadians, who are this or that,’” said Neatby.

Defining themselves as Canadian rather than American has also become an important tool for travelers who go abroad, especially to Europe. Recent inventions, such as a “Canadian kit,” complete with a Canada T-shirt, patch for a backpack, and Canadian flag stickers are becoming popular among Americans who recognize that Canadians are generally better-liked outside North America.

But Canadians who choose to travel with prominent Canadian flags are not doing anything new, Neatby said. Canadians often make concerted efforts to display their nationality abroad.

Matt Campbell ’07, who is in four Canadian pride groups on thefacebook.com (including one called “Canadian World Domination”) and manages two of them, said Europeans love Canadians so much that they would “want to give you their first born child.”

“As you may or may not know, being an American in the rest of the world is generally not a very good thing,” Campbell said. “People often assume that [Canadians] are Americans and treat you accordingly. The problem with [the Canada kit] is you’re going to have a bunch of Americans being their loudmouth selves in Europe. But they still won’t pass for Canadians. It’s so easy to spot and American tourist abroad in their khaki shorts, socks pulled up and T-shirt with the eagle on it. I don’t think putting a little patch on your backpack will change that.”

He paused.

“But I love Americans, I really do,” he added.

In addition to material expressions of his Canadian pride, like the Canadian flag hanging in his room, Campbell’s pride and love for Canada has become more ideological. Campbell said his love for Canada at this point has much to do with the current American political climate.

Listening to the Speech from the Throne, the Canadian equivalent of the State of the Union address, last semester helped Campbell to see just how much Canadian politics appeal to him.

“It was during the U.S. election campaign, right after a debate, and I was really embroiled in the whole election thing,” Campbell said. “But [listening to the Speech from the Throne], I couldn’t believe how damn sensible everyone back in Canada was. There was nuance; they weren’t invoking the Bible every second. It was very refreshing.”

Contrasting typical American political sentiments and world views with those of Canadians also helped Sydney Skelton ’07, who is in three Canadian pride groups on thefacebook.com, become more patriotic.

Skelton said Canadians often feel that they are overshadowed by the United States and want to show that their country has its own unique customs, traditions and manner of speech.

“Also, what’s not to be proud of?” Skelton said in an e-mail. “Canada rocks. And as each day goes by, I find many American qualities that I disagree with, or just plain don’t like. I miss Canada when I’m gone, and I think a lot of my fellow countrymen feel the same way, so we do whatever we can to create a community here at Yale that reminds us of home.”

Conversely, there are some Canadians who have embraced their move to the States and have no plans to head back up north. Al Jiwa ’06, who is president of both the Yale College Republicans and the Canadian Student Association, is not a member of any Canadian appreciation groups on thefacebook.com.

“There’s a realization on my part that I’m going to be American as soon as I possibly can,” Jiwa said. “I appreciate Canada, but I mean in terms of the stuff that I really find more pride it, it’s in the United States of America. I’m different from many Canadians in that regard.”

Despite Canada’s more socially conservative history, Campbell said there was a “bizarre flip” about 30 years ago which produced the more liberal Canada we know today. Jiwa said, however, that Canada’s newfound liberalism is not the utopia many Americans believe it is.

“Let’s take the [Canadian] Medicare system,” he said. “It sounds great, but when you have to wait several months to get an MRI, as I have, the health care system doesn’t seem so great after all. When you’re paying taxes and dealing with problems, you see these cracks that it’s really not as rosy and happy as people maybe like to believe.”

Still, Jiwa’s sentiments are far from those of other Yalie Canucks.

“Being Canadian is not just a flag, it’s a way of life, an attitude,” Walker said. “I was never so proud of Canada until I came here — It makes me realize that my home is up north, which I hadn’t grasped before.”

Matt Campbell ’07, a member of four Canadian pride groups on thefacebook.com, joins his fellow Canadians in expressing pride in their home country.
Sophie Perl
Matt Campbell ’07, a member of four Canadian pride groups on thefacebook.com, joins his fellow Canadians in expressing pride in their home country.

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