Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Review: Why I Hate Canadians by Will Ferguson

Why I Hate Canadians by Will Ferguson

So this was recommended by a close friend as being hysterical, along the lines of Bill Bryson. However that wasn’t my experience.

Large parts of this book went right over my head. I am not only American, but I am from the South, so there’s very little I know about Canada. I did kind of know that already but this book really pointed out how very little I know about Canada. My friend who read it, his wife’s family is Canadian and they spend part of each summer there, so I think that’s a big reason why he liked it so much more than I did. I think he already knew more, and he had people around that he could ask about confusing parts.

Now I will say that Mr. Ferguson is a very good writer. He’s authoritative but casual in a way that speaks to everyone (or at least to every Canadian). But as he pointed out in the introduction (to the new 10th anniversary edition) he considered this book in a lot of ways to be his journalistic resume, so he filled it with a wide variety of topics to show his breadth and skill, not necessarily to be the best grouping of essays for readers. And it’s true at times it did seem a bit wide-ranging, though still entertaining. As an ignorant America, the parts about Quebec wanting to secede and issues with First Nations were not fully explained. This was obviously written for a Canadian audience. (I was reading a Canadian edition, though it was also published in the U.S. The American edition is not out of print, and I don’t know if perhaps it had a different foreword that explained more. But I do think it’s appropriate that this is the edition that lapsed quickly.) Some parts were just too serious and political for my taste. I wanted it to be more humorous, like the essay about how the 3 goals of Canadians are 1) keeping Americans out 2) keeping French in and 3)making the natives disappear. I think his conclusion that instead of being subsumed by American pop culture instead it helps to define Canada as not-American, and really they are more voyeurs than wannabes, is very perceptive. The last section, titled “Sex in a Canoe” is the funniest. The diatribe against the poor beaver, as the official symbolic animal representing Canada was certainly amusing. “It’s sad, really, that a nation would try to emulate a fat, flat-tailed rodent. Sadder still that we don’t measure up.”

Naturally, a book with a large focus on politics doesn’t hold up well more than 10 years on (1997). The fall of the Berlin wall was just a few years ago in this book, and September 11 certainly hasn’t happened yet. While it can be interesting to look back at these spots of history frozen in time – at what we thought the big problems were and see how they worked out, it’s also of course turned out to be a bit dated.

Overall, I think this is a good book to read as an introduction to Canada, if you will have a Canadian available to explain Katimavik, Rick Salutin, and Micmac. Otherwise it’s a bit esoteric for your typical American. I found it at times frustrating.


Carin said...

I love Canada! I've been twice now to opposite ends of the country (BC and Nova Scotia) and have decided that if I would live in any other country that would be it. The people are top notch (especially in Nova Scotia) and the country is beautiful. I did actually see a sign in Vancouver that said something like, "USA out of Canada!" spray painted on the side of an electrical green box thing on a street corner. That was a little sad, but oh well. I found all the Canadians I met to be extremely nice and welcoming.

Cath said...

I first visited Canada this summer (PEI) and I definitely want to know more, so maybe I'll check this out just for laughs. Great review!

Teacher/Learner said...

Ha ha...I have to read this as I'm Canadian and the title is too ironic to pass up :oD The comments here are so nice. I'm glad you like the country & hope you'll visit. I think Canada is best described as the most unassuming country in the world--we like people & will mind our own business, but if you're in trouble (i.e. Hurricane Katrina) we're the first to help out!