The Cultureless

I don't really consider myself Canadian.

Of course, that's kind of a lie. It does say "Canada" on my passport, so there's that. If you ask me about my nationality, I'll say I'm Canadian. If you mistake me for an American, I'll politely correct you. I mean, everybody's got to be from somewhere, right? And I'm from Canada. So I guess that makes me Canadian.

But I don't feel "Canadian" in the same way that many people feel, say, French or British or Indian (or even, dare I say it, Quebecois). My place of birth doesn't form a big part of my personal identity. The nationality of my parents takes up even less head space - I don't consider myself Italian, for example, despite the fact that my mother was born in Sicily. I've never felt a strong desire to go "back to my roots". It rarely occurs to me to care very much, beyond a fondness for lasagna and rapini.

In all seriousness, national pride just isn't really my thing. It's not a big part of my life. I always feel vaguely silly when the Olympics roll around.

George Carlin has this routine where he talks about ethnic pride:

I'm fully Irish, and when I was a kid I would go to the St Patrick's Day parade and they sold a button that said "Proud to be Irish", but I knew that on Columbus day they sold the same button only it said "Proud to be Italian", then came Black Pride, and Puerto Rican Pride. And I could never understand national or ethnic pride, because to me Pride should be reserved for something you achieve on your own.

Being Irish isn't a skill. It's a fucking genetic accident.

You wouldn't be proud to be 5'11". You wouldn't be proud to have a pre-disposition for colon cancer.

Hey, if you're happy with it, that's fine. Put that on your car. Happy to be an American. Be happy, don't be proud.

I think he nailed it. I couldn't have said it any better.

Of course, this is all is complicated by the fact that Canadian culture is, if not exactly non-existent, at least very muted. Oh, various pockets of stuff certainly exist. There's a Maritime culture out east, a vaguely hippie culture out west, and French culture in Quebec. And we've imported more cultures than I can count - most of them seem to end up in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. But unifying features? You'd have to look very hard. The regionalism and the multiculturalism is strong up here.

So maybe it isn't so much that Canada doesn't have a strong culture, it's that we have many.

It's very possible that my lack of preoccupation with my roots stems from Canada's explicit policy of multiculturalism - one of the first countries in the world to adopt it as such. Or maybe I'm like this because I spent a lot of my formative years in Toronto. Toronto's a place where literally half the population consists of people who were born in a different country, where the term "visible minority" will soon be a misnomer and where Caucasians are just another ethic group. Growing in a place like that influences your perspectives on culture and race.

I do know that, for whatever reason, a unified, strong Canadian culture, if such a thing exists, is hard to find. Maybe it's because of the multiculturalism, or maybe I'm reversing cause and effect, but there it is. To be perfectly honest, though, whatever the reason, I like it that way.

No, we have something much, much better than a strong national culture. We have a cultural vacuum and, since nature abhors a vacuum, it gets filled with every other culture in the world. Lacking a strong culture of our own, we've adopted everyone else's. They're all here, free for the taking and, all joking aside, it's beautiful.

In a nutshell, being Canadian means that I get to define who I am, in a way that goes deeper than if I were from a more homogeneous country like Japan or Italy. Being exposed to a multitude of cultures, without being brought up in any particular one, means that I get to pick and choose the bits that I like from each, like so much Lego. This is what Canada gives me, and I'm grateful. To take a cue from George Carlin, I'm happy to be a Canadian, if not exactly proud.

Some will say that I lack a sense of identity. This isn't true. I have what I consider to be a rather strong sense of identity. I have a good sense of what my strengths and weaknesses are, of what and who I like and don't like. It's just that this sense of identity doesn't revolve around something as random as where I was born or - even more absurd - where my parents were born.

Don't you think personal identity should be much, much more than that?