If there is one thing I have learnt from my expatriation, it is to better appreciate my French status. More often than not, I would only be asked about stereotypes earned many years ago by people who, I can only assume, were poor representatives of who and what France is really about. Yes, I shower every day, (most of) the French women I know shave on a more-than-regular basis, and even though I miss the sweet taste of overly priced baguettes, I have now gone one and a half years without shedding a tear about it.
I couldn’t help but notice that those who would try to reduce me to a fixed mental image they have of what a French person should be, never actually understood what being Canadian is all about. And although I cannot blame them for it — after all, one’s identity is sufficiently hard to define — there is always this feeling that something, anything, can be said about it. What makes you more Canadian than me?
Stereotypes often do come from some kind of truth. I would know: France hasn’t won a war single-handedly in eons, and after fifteen months teaching and living amongst Canadians, I can honestly say that your amiability is nothing less than what you are celebrated for. However, I have yet to be proven that Australians aren’t as welcoming as Canadians. Your politeness does not, can not and should not define you. Politeness is a polished façade. It is a social commodity that governs over people’s interactions. When I meet you on campus, even though I do not know you, I will hold the door for you, smile and even answer your greeting. What part of me truly wants to do all of this, and what part only applies a protocol learnt and mastered in response to the need for social recognition? My humanism, for all you know, could very well conceal my hypocrisy.
In my years of studying various subjects, I have found helpful to resort to differences in order to qualify, or better define, a notion. What, then, differentiates Canadians from their neighbours to the South? There is the obvious answer that while your Constitution holds both English and French as official languages, the Americans have none. Or better yet, that you do not have a President, but a Prime Minister, and don’t engage so often in wars on (insert noun here). To be honest, most of us Europeans could not tell apart an Edmontonian from a Detroit-dweller, especially if the latter exhibits the Maple Leaf flag on their backpack.
Canada has so much potential. Its heritage is vivid, its legacy still warm. Your future is yet to be determined, and it can lead you anywhere —from mediocrity to greatness. Yet, I feel something missing in people from my talks with McMaster students: passion. I am genuinely concerned whenever I ask, “what is your passion in life?” and hear some people answer “Twitter and Facebook,” or even worse “I have none.”
Each and every one of you should be passionate about shaping the future of your country. Strike while the iron is hot. Commit. You have been given an opportunity to attend a post-secondary institution and gain an outstanding education. Be it in Mechanical Engineering, Life Sciences or Religious Studies, you have the opportunity to make a difference in your field. Use it. Talk to each other, try and understand if the vexation you may feel is only yours, or if more people relate to this discomfort in which case, address it.
I hear your disinterest and drifting away from anything political. Please, in turn, hear this: politics, for better or for worse, will play a part in your life. Politics does not have to be dull, it is not about thinking: “who elected this guy?” while watching Mayor Rob Ford’s latest idiocy on the news. It is about being involved and using the right to take action. Authority does not stem from having been voted in office some time in the past, it is a constant renewal of trust in one person’s ability to act in your best interest. Only you can know what this best interest is. Challenge the authority — it is the only way for it to be legitimate. Without your confidence, authority is nothing but despotic. “Without the freedom to criticize, there is no true praise.”
Your country’s destiny is yet to be written. What Canada needs is dedication. And although you should be proud of your country, the way I am proud of mine, what you should do, above anything else, is to give your country and fellow countrymen a reason to be proud of it.
What makes you more Canadian than me? Is it your passport? Is it your way of pronouncing “about” or is it your ability to influence your country’s future? Know where you come from, where you are now, where you want to be headed and perhaps, too, where you do not want to find yourselves. Do not let the United States test its chemical weapons on your soil as they did during the Vietnam War (with the approval of your government), refuse to pay for winter maintenance on a highway that is not even yours to begin with, but still costs you an average of one million dollars per year (Alaska Highway in Yukon). Do not let your 70-year-old neighbour from down the street cast your vote. Do not let others dictate what will become of you, but seize your own authority and assert it.
If you are to be Canadian citizens, do for yourselves what no one else will do for you: stand up.