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The Globe and Mail review of How to be a Canadian

Joseph Kertes is the director of Humber College's creative writing and comedy programs and a Leacock Award-winning writer.

How to be a Canadian
Joseph Kertes

How to Be a Canadian is an antidote to our grim times. What qualifies the brothers Ferguson to write such an amusing book on the subject of being Canadian? The beauty of such endeavours is that you do not need qualifications: "Ian and I are both Canadians. And we are brothers. We have been Canadians our whole lives."

In fact, Will and Ian Ferguson have been very funny Canadians for much of their lives:

    Will is the author of the hilarious Why I Hate Canadians and the satiric novel, Generica.

    Ian has been writing funny plays, as well as radio and television shows, for years. He created the improvised soap operas Die-Nasty and the wildly original Sin City.

Now I am reminded of Twain's admonition, with which we are greeted when we open Huck Finn: "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted." I can do little more than let you share some of the treats in this book.

Will and Ian remind us good-naturedly that, "If Canadians were porridge, Goldilocks would find us just right." They teach us many valuable lessons about ourselves. One is that we have two official languages which are especially handy for reading cereal boxes of "Capitaine Crounche and K de Special." The English know the French word for "riboflavin" and vice versa, even though "English Canadians don't know what riboflavin is."

We learn that our national emblem is "a fallen leaf (see also Toronto)" and that our mascot is not the mighty Russian bear, British lion or American eagle, but rather the beaver, a "forty-pound water rat whose most heroic trait is that he thinks to slap his tail to warn his buddies before he runs away."

Our national pastime is hockey, "the Muzak of Canadian society," and the corresponding haircut is the "mullet" which, when "done properly should look like a cropped porcupine wearing a cape."

And what about the regions? The Fergusons tell us that life would be richest if we could be "nineteen in Montreal, thirty in Vancouver, fifty in Toronto, and sixty-five in Victoria. (Regina only enters into it after you've died, and then only if you've been very, very bad.)"

Newfoundlanders, the authors inform us, have the most sex. They are also the friendliest -- largely because "they want to have sex with you." We come to know that PEI is "home to Anne, the Never-Ending Musical," and that British Columbia's provincial flower is "mildew."

If that weren't enough, we find out about our political parties. Where others have platforms, the "Liberals have public opinion polls," as well as a "weathervane where their heart would normally be." Hence, they are "the Tin Woodsmen of Canadian politics."

Meanwhile, aptly named, the Progressive Conservatives are the "Pushme-Pullme Party." The Alliance does have a platform, but "what they believe in is capital punishment and arming unborn babies." The NDP is as fashionable as "permed hair and disco sideburns," and has fewer supporters than there are "members of the Rankin family."

So what, then, are we left with? Why, the Quebec question, of course. And what better way of communicating the complexity of the question than by studying the referendum ballot itself:

    "YES: I do not want to not accept a rejection of this proposal,"

    or, "NO: I do want to not accept a proposed rejection of the accepted proposal."

So just how Canadian are you, exactly? Will and Ian invite you, in the final chapter, to take the quiz to find out. Examples of some of the most telling questions: "If you hear the name Elvis and immediately think of figure skating, give yourself 1 point."

This book is, in fact, a reminder of what Canadians do best: make ourselves (and others) laugh. Bring on some more Ferguson brothers.


The Globe and Mail
October 6, 2001

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