Douglas & McIntyre, pb, 201 p.
How to Be a Canadian is a hilarious insider’s look at the country, covering subjects as diverse as fashion, culture, sports, religion, politics and mating rituals. Sample topics include Twelve Ways to Say “I’m Sorry”, Rules of the Road, The Mating Habits of Canadians, and Canadian Cuisine (and How to Avoid It). Fast and funny, loaded with wry advice and barbed commentary, this book will teach you everything you need to know about how Canadians really act.After reading Will Ferguson’s Japan travel memoir last year, Hitching Rides with Buddha, I knew I needed to read more. So when I found this on the discount shelves (if you’ve read this and remember his comment in the introduction, that might make you smile) at Munro’s in Victoria last fall, of course I had to get it. And it was the perfect antidote to my recent summer heat-induced lethargy and general feeling of blueness. Even though I’ve lived away from Canada for over 11 years now, I’m still a Canadian at heart, and the Ferguson brothers had me chuckling throughout. A very fun read.
Canadians speak French and English, often at the same time. Trayz sophisticated, n’est pah? Known far and wide as master linguists, Canadians excel in particular at translating cereal boxes. Often, when the U.N. needs a cereal box translated, they call in the Canadians, who parachute out of stealth bombers clutching boxes of Capitaine Crounche and K de Special. In a situation unique among the world’s nations, English Canadians know what the French is for “riboflavin”, “niacin” and “part of a complete breakfast”. And vice versa. English Canadians don’t know what riboflavin is (no one does), but they sort of know what it looks like in French. And vice versa. (p. 12)My Rating: 4/5
[Tips on how to write a Canadian novel]
Setting – Setting is important. It has to be bleak and foreboding: maybe Cape Breton or outport Newfoundland or a cabin in northern Ontario.
Plot – Avoid this at all costs. Instead, the characters should just sort of mope from scene to scene, maybe staring into the distance now and then to remember events that happened long before. You don’t want a sense of forward momentum in a novel. You want “atmosphere.”
Humour – God, no. Instead of humour, you want irony. And lots of it. Your book should be drenched in irony. Soaked in it, even. When someone squeezes your book, irony should ooze out from between the pages. It should reek of postmodern alienation and ennui. The more postmodern the better.
Character – In Canadian novels the men – especially the father figures – should be brooding alcoholics, or brooding violent alcoholics, or pathetic losers who aren't really alcoholic but are still quite pathetic, or recovering alcoholics, or violent losers, or brooding pathetic recovering alcoholics who are also violent.
The main female character must be victimized. That goes without saying. She has to be victimized. But here’s the thing – she should also be empowered. That’s right. In Canadian novels, you get to have it both ways: “empowered victims.”
Style – Keep it simple. Stark. Unfurnished. Underwritten. Subject + verb + object again and again and again and again. SVO. SVO. Stick to the bare minimum offered by the English language. Do not use adverbs. And if you have to use adjectives, keep them short and simple and obvious to the point of redundancy (i.e., “blue sky,” “white clouds,” “wet rain,” “unfaithful husband”). (p. 144-146)
(#32 for 2008, 2nd Canadian Challenge)