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
How to be a Canadian
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
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
The Globe and Mail
October 6, 2001