Part VII: O Canada, Our Home and Native Land

Friday 2 August 2013

After a short break, we're jumping back into my series 'O Canada' where I feature some of my favourite Canadian bloggers speaking about our homeland.

Time abroad and travel often help us see our home country in a different light but it also makes us aware how little the rest of the world knows about our vast and beautiful nation.  Despite our humble nature, we Canadians are fiercely proud of our country and we'll gladly sing its praises.



Stranger/acquaintance: “Where are you from?”

Me: “Canada.”

Stranger/acquaintance: “No, no…where are you really from?”

Me: “Um, Toronto? British Columbia? Still Canada”

Stranger/acquaintance: *sigh and eye roll* “No, I want to know where you are really from!”

The above is an exchange that I’ve had time and time again. It’s one I’m sure countless other Canadians – those born and bred in our home and native land I might add – have endured; citizens, who, for one reason or another, seemingly do not look, speak or act the part of a “real” Canadian.

Whatever that means.

If I had a dollar for every time I was asked this question, I’d be so rich that I wouldn’t be typing this entry right now. Someone else would be doing it, because I’d be busy sipping vintage Krug, eating bonbons and burning a paper trail all the way up 5th Avenue. Though I can understand where the stereotyping/ignorance/misunderstanding behind the question comes from, I still can’t help but get a bit miffed when it’s posed. It makes me bristle. It sometimes makes me cringe. It has – on occasion – lead me to despair.

Just a bit.

This YouTube video by Ken Tanaka (about stereotyping in the US) says it all.

I mean, I could understand the confusion if I divulged I was from an über homogenous country, a place like Norway, Japan or Lithuania that doesn’t have the same colonial history Canada does, and that doesn’t naturalize as many citizens as we do on a yearly basis. Canada is one of the most culturally/racially diverse countries on the planet. It was the first country in the world to politically adopt a multiculturalism platform (1971) that ultimately served to uphold the “value and dignity of all Canadian citizens regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, their language, or their religious affiliation.” It’s a country where six million Canadians have a language other than English or French as their mother tongue (with Chinese, Italian and German topping the list), and where the ethnic breakdown of Canada’s 35 million citizens include 10% Germans, 4% South Asians, 4% of Chinese origin and 2.5% Black/Africans. Just to name a few.
A love of Tim Hortons and Lululemon is a better barometer for how “real” Canadians should be distinguished perhaps?

In spite of these numbers though, there are people who are utterly fixated on trying to figure others out and put them into neatly defined boxes. I get it, I get it, what people ultimately want to know is one’s heritage and when people ask the feared “where are you from?” question 98% of the time it’s done out of genuine curiosity. The thing is, while it’s not offensive to ask where I’m from, it is kind of rude to keep pushing the envelope and make assumptions about my citizenship/person that are often wildly off base. I was born in Canada (I’m a steel town girl). I speak English rather well (and French too for that matter). My parents did not emigrate from Africa. Yes, I’m quite certain they didn’t emigrate from Africa.

This is where I’m REALLY from: small town Canada.

So the next time one of your wildly curious friends encounters a Canadian (or an American, Australian, Brit…or just anyone else for that matter) who may not look or sound the way they expect a Canadian (American, Australian or Brit) to sound, just tell them to roll with it. Accept it. If they’re extremely overburdened though by whatever niggling query burns at the back of their mind, tell them to satiate their curiosity by perhaps rephrasing the question so it reads: “Oh, what are your roots then? Are/were your parents/grandparents Canadian as well?”

Because it’s all about semantics, and that’s really the question they’re getting at anyways.

Canadian, expat, yogini, serial shopper and traveller…JoAnna is an Intolerant, but the really nice kind. Always on the lookout for delicious intolerant-friendly food (sometimes vegetarian, often without gluten and always dairy-free) JoAnna also enjoys engaging in unconventional things on her travels and uncovering places to while away an afternoon, indulge in glass of wine and/or score a killer vintage handbag. JoAnna rants about all the goodness she comes across on Twitter, Instagram and her blog For the Intolerants.


  1. i adored this post ;) being american, i can completely sympathize with it. i have had friends visit or ran into other americans that visit norway and they don't look like the stereotypical california blonde and people see that they are of asian descent and always ask where they are from and when they say 'american', the people look beyond shocked!

    it's so funny, b/c as an american in the US, we kind of have an unwritten rule that says when people that are american ask you where you're from, you tell them your ancestry. but when you travel to europe, you say you're american. it was so weird telling people i was american. i was so used to telling them im 1/4 lithuanian, 1/4 czech, 1/4 native american, and 1/4 german LOL. but now i just say that im american. doesnt sound nearly as exotic ;)

    the other day i was working and a guy who spoke spanish came in to my cafe. one of my coworkers asked him where he was from and he said boston, MA. then of course, they asked him where he was 'from from'. LOL. i apologized to him and explained to him and her that the US has no official languages and we speak hundreds of languages within the country and norwegians dont know that ;)

    i understand where you're coming from. i seriously do. and i know that until someone lives in a country like canada or the US, they wont truly understand how multicultural the places are.

    btw...i love your blog and instagram acct :)

    1. Thanks Megan for a very thorough and thoughtful comment! I find that multiculturalism is so layered in countries like Canada and the US and while it's similar in both countries, the issues of assimilation and integration are different in both. I find it interesting (sometimes amusing) how Americans can break down their heritage to quarters, fifths and eights. There's always a hyphenated labelling where people seem to capture their identity as "Italian-American," "African-American," "Chinese-American," "Mexican-American," and on...and on. I think it's an interesting point to make, because in terms of identity - for the most part - Canadians are just "Canadian." With the exception of the Quebecois and First Nations, it's rare to run into someone who says "I'm Korean-Canadian" or "Dutch-Canadian."

      It makes me wonder about the labels we give ourselves (man, woman, black, white, Canadian, American, gay, straight, etc.) as I think the identity markers we use say a lot about how we view ourselves and the world around.

      Thanks also (re: blog + Instagram)! I enjoy your feeds/writing as well, it's nice to see Scandinavia through your eyes. :-)

  2. lol I giggled about your Timmys and Lulu mention ;)

    PS - I've been awful about checking in with my favorite blogs - I love the new look around here! Very fancy and fresh!!

  3. Replies
    1. This series does make me a little nostalgic for Canada too, Justina!

    2. I'm chiming in: "me three." ;-)

  4. I couldn't agree more with what you and Megan said!

  5. The photos of lululemon and Timmy Hos make me so excited to visit home in a few days!! And yeah, JoAnna, I see that happening all the time and I have to be like PEOPLE PLEASE just think about the semantics and then use your words and ask what you really mean! Especially being from Saskatchewan, we have such a low low population of visible ethnic minorities, even people from inside the province do the dreaded, "but where are you actually from?" to anyone who doesn't look Caucasian.

  6. Ha! I know the small-town mentality all too well. When my family moved across the country (from Ontario to BC) to a smallish town in the interior and it took me years to settle in, adjust and find my footing. It didn't help this happened during my high school years, but at least it got me accustomed to some of the curious/interesting/strange/borderline offensive statements that can come out of people's mouths.

    Enjoy your visit home Rika and make sure Timmy Hos is a daily indulgence! *mmmmmmm, the coffee*

  7. this is really annoying and it happens in australia too!


I love comments! Thanks for taking the time to leave one!

These days, I'm replying to comments directly in the comment feed. Check back!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
by mlekoshi