It has taken me over 14 years, with numerous setbacks along the way (some bizarre, some mundane), but, as of today, I am a Canadian citizen. I cried most of the way through the (Zoom) ceremony, and completely choked up singing the anthem.
I love Canada. I love that Canadian culture is guilty deep to its very heart (sorry), that caring for your neighbour is fundamental to our (yes, our!) identity, that line-ups last forever because everyone in front of you is having a fine and leisurely conversation with the person serving them, even in the biggest cities. I love waiting to cross a road on the corner of an empty street where a single truck heads nervously towards you half a kilometre away, but we all know the rules and it just works better that way. I love hockey, and the fact that the only riot I have ever seen here was when the Canucks (just, at the last possible moment) lost the Stanley Cup Final, but that half the city was up before work the next morning cleaning up the mess. I love the vast, vast land. I don’t think I’ll ever understand Tim Horton’s (really? Is that pale brown water actually coffee and what kind of doughnut doesn’t go bad for over a year?) but I love that it is so deeply embroiled with what it means to be Canadian that the awfulness of the coffee and doughnuts doesn’t matter. I love that there’s a hairdresser on every corner but that everyone’s haircut looks like it was done by their kids. I love the fact that diversity is a cause for celebration and delight, not division. I love plaid. I love that Canadians will describe themselves as German, or Scottish, or Polish, or pretty much anything (though almost never English) other than Canadian, even though the last person in their family to actually live elsewhere died a century ago. I love that I live in a city where over half the population was not born here. I love poutine, and mac n cheese, and beaver tails. I love that, wandering past my home in the very heart of a huge city are skunks, raccoons and coyotes, while seals, the occasional whale, beavers, and otters swim by, and giant bald eagles circle constantly overhead, eternally plagued by crows and seagulls trying to chase them from the sky. I love that everyone knows at least one person called Gord. I love that Canada is not America, and that’s part of the definition. I love that a gang of teenagers on a street corner will invariably wish you well and help you out rather than abuse you. I like maple syrup. I love maple leaves. I even like the anthem, though the words could do with far fewer gods and (in the French version) way less swords.
I could do without every second vehicle being a poorly driven truck or an SUV, the deep and unresolvable guilt at the horrific way indigenous people have been treated and continue to suffer, the mega-scale rape of the land that persists to this day, the many nonsensical practices and cultural quirks caught like diseases from south of the border, the fact that any prepared foodstuff contains more salt than food, and a few other things. But abhorring such things is quite Canadian, too.
I do miss the good-natured cruelty and friendly belligerence of old Blighty, the blithe disregard of rules, the bitingly dark humour, and cask beer in nearly every pub that won’t plaster you to the floor after a single cold, fizzy, strong yet peculiarly flavourless pint (and it’s an actual pint, where ‘pint’ means exactly the same thing literally everywhere). And, though a proper, salt-of-the-earth Canadian pub is a truly wonderful thing, I miss those English pubs – real pubs that smell of history and tobacco smoke (despite that smokers now smoke outside), where no one cares whether you are still working on your food or expects a tip for asking it. I miss the word ‘fuck’ used as a punctuation mark in every sentence, and ‘cunt’ used as a term of endearment. I miss the layer upon endless layer of the past that oozes out of every tiny cranny, and fills every little nook with tired ghosts that cling to the living. I miss the fact that people are bound together by mutual gloom or shared hatred of everyone else, but that there’s something chummy in it, a sort of kindness, a recognition of shared adversity that runs deep. And I miss the NHS.
But, on balance, I’d really much rather be here, and I am very proud indeed to be a citizen of the wonderful, apologetic, law-abiding, kindly mosaic that is Canada. It’s good to be Canadian, eh?