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Not all Canadians live in igloos: addressing common misconceptions Americans have about Canada

Ilana Quinn

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Growing up, I always admired the United States. Almost every movie and television show I watched took place in New York City or Chicago or Los Angeles. My childhood coincided with the early 2010s, before the United States became known for its unpleasant political climate, so I hadn’t become yet become jaded about the darker aspects of the country.

As I watched grand adventures play out on the silver screen, I thought visiting an American city meant falling in love with a handsome stranger at a quirky coffee shop or being randomly thrust into a high-stakes espionage conspiracy. It seemed like exciting things only ever happened in the United States.

Alas, when I visited the Big Apple for the first time, I was very disappointed with the very unglamorous, overcrowded subway system and lack of fast-talking mobsters or spontaneous alien invasions.

Apart from debunking my own false assumptions, one thing I did learn about the United States during my mild childhood obsession was the fact that Americans have a lot of thoughts about Canadians.

Some of these assumptions are fairly understandable, while others are blatantly untrue.

While I know not all Americans believe these things, I hope my thoughts bring some clarity to the confusion caused by these popular myths. Without further ado, here are some of the misconceptions I noticed when speaking with Americans about their neighbours in the North.

Canadians say "eh"

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For some reason, most American television shows and movies perpetuate the belief that Canadians say “eh” every other word.

I noticed this pervasive misconception when I was watching Saturday Night Live and a segment about a Canadian news show, loosely based off CBC, the predominant news channel in Canada. The segment featured some American actors using very exaggerated Canadian accents that sounded more Irish than Canadian, and saying the word “eh” as a greeting.

Despite the segment’s funny view of Canadian culture — one which made me laugh—I regret to inform my American readers our accents aren’t very different from yours. Unless you’re from Texas or New Jersey.

Plus, the only person I’ve ever heard say “eh” is my dad, but I am pretty sure he uses the term ironically when he’s trying to make a point. Other than from my father, I hear more Americans say “eh” when feigning a Canadian accent than bonafide Canadians actually do.

It’s always freezing in Canada… and all Canadians live in igloos

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When I met a group of American students in elementary school while I was travelling abroad with my family, the first question they asked me was: “what is it like living in an igloo?”

Needless to say, I was rather shocked by their question.

They also marvelled at the ability of Canadians to withstand the unbearable, constant cold of the region. Popular culture probably taught them this myth, since many movies about Canada depict endless sheets of snow and ice. In reality, the vast majority of Canadians live in regions with mild weather.

Although the Inuit — a group of Indigenous peoples living across the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, and Alaska — have historically used igloos or iglus as temporary winter homes, not all Canadians live in these structures.

However, according to archaeologist Peter Whitridge, many Inuit people still use igloos, which have transformed overtime to accommodate work and sociality.

Canadians listen to the same music as Americans

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Although Canadians and Americans live geographically close and watch many of the same movies — a great number being filmed in Hollywood North, my city of Vancouver — we do not listen to all the same music.

This is because when the United States began emerging as a great world power in North America, many Canadian government officials feared Canadians would be culturally absorbed into its wealthy and influential neighbour.

During the nineteenth century, there was a lot of fear about the United States taking over Canada because of the Manifest Destiny theory, where America was thought to be divinely destined to rule over the world.

As a result, the Canadian government established laws forcing all Canadian radio stations to ensure at least 35% of popular music programming remains Canadian rather than American.

Luckily—or unluckily, depending on your personal preferences — this means us Canadians still get to hear Justin Bieber, Drake, Alessia Cara and The Weeknd on repeat.

Everyone in Canada speaks French

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Many Americans believe all Canadians speak fluent French. Because of this, Canada is sometimes viewed as the more elegant and cultured neighbour of the two countries — despite the fact I only know about two Canadians who speak French fluently.

In total, only 22.8% of Canadians speak French fluently.

While French is technically one of Canada’s two official languages, people in provinces other than the French-speaking and former French colony Québéc only learn the language in elementary school, and sometimes secondary school.

Some of my friends also attended French immersion school to gain a more robust understanding of the language.

Canada’s language division has caused some significant problems in the past, especially since Quebeckers feel left out of the national Anglo-centric narrative.

Canadians are more progressive than Americans

Ever since Donald Trump’s presidential victory in 2016, I’ve seen some Americans literally apologize to Canadians about how morally inferior and backwards their country is. Many liberal Americans have also spoken about moving to Canada because of how progressive our country supposedly is.

I’ve also watched some of my fellow Canadians use this opportunity to boast about how progressive and enlightened our country is in comparison to our southern neighbours. This myth has existed since the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom, which Canadians began bragging about despite still allowing racism to thrive for years after.

The narrative about Canada being morally superior to the United States is far from the truth. The discovery of mass unmarked graves of thousands of Indigenous children who were forced to attend residential schools is perhaps the most sobering proof of this. Indigenous peoples in Canada have been historically marginalized and mistreated, as well as other people groups.

So, it is a myth to believe Canadians are somehow immune to the injustices of the world.

While Americans have historical and current injustices to reckon with, Canadians do too.

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