by Mark Tarses

Here are the answers to the questions that Americans most often ask about our mysterious northern neighbors:

Where did the expression "vast frozen wasteland" come from?

In 1913, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany said in reference to Canada: "I think it is positively inhumane to send people to that vast frozen wasteland." This comment was not well received in Canada, where the Kaiser was already unpopular. But 5 years later, in 1918, Canadian troops entered Berlin after Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated his throne and fled to Holland, where he spent the rest of his life in exile.

Adolf Hitler didn't have any more respect for Canada than the Kaiser. Hitler said about Canada: "Even an idiot could run that country!" In 1945, Canadian soldiers were back in Berlin again. Prime Minister Mackenzie King (who was not an idiot) was still governing Canada, but all that was left of Hitler was a small piece of his skull, which is kept in a filing cabinet in Moscow.

Why is most Canadian cheddar cheese sold in the U.S. white?

White Canadian cheddar cheese is not white because it is unripe or spoiled. The reason that Canadian cheddar cheese is white is because there are no chemicals in it. In the U.S., cheddar cheese is orange is because it contains orange food coloring. Most Americans will not buy or eat hard white cheese unless it has holes in it. Since cheddar cheese has no holes, cheesemakers have to add orange food coloring to get Americans to buy it. Some U.S. health food stores sell Canadian white cheddar cheese.

Is Canadian bacon really Canadian?

No, not unless it's actually made in Canada. Canadians don't call Canadian bacon "Canadian bacon." They call it "back bacon."

Canada Mints aren't Canadian either. They are made in Boston by NECCO, the New England Confectionery Company.

Canada Dry Ginger Ale isn't Canadian either. It is made at bottling plants across the U.S. Canada Dry is owned by Cadbury-Schweppes, which is based in England.

Does Canada have a capital?

Whenever I ask my students to name the capital of Canada, they name every Canadian city, province, and lake that they can think of, after which, somebody always asks: "Does Canada have a capital?" For some reason, Americans cannot remember Canada's capital, which is Ottawa. Americans can't remember the name of Australia's capital either: Canberra.

What do they call Indians in Canada?

This is a sensitive issue in Canada, just as it is here in the U.S. In Canada, Indians are not called Native Americans or American Indians. Some Indians in Canada use the word Indian or the term Aboriginal People to describe themselves, but most prefer to be called by their individual tribal names.

Don't call them "Eskimos"! The people known as "Eskimos" are Inuits. Inuits don't like the word "Eskimo" and don't use it themselves. The Eskimo Pie Co. is a U.S.-based company. For most of it's history, Eskimo Pie was owned by U.S. Foil, which later became Reynolds Metals. That is why Eskimo Pie was the first ice cream bar to come wrapped in aluminum foil. Eskimo Pie ice cream bars are not made Inuits , nor do the Inuits receive any money from the company for the use of their tribal name. (Some people think they should.)

Is it Blackfoot or Blackfeet? In addition to "Eskimo", there are many other Indian tribal names in Canada that are controversial or misused. About half the Blackfoot/Blackfeet nation is located in Montana, U.S. The other half is in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada. According to recent surveys, the majority of tribal members living in Canada prefer the collective noun "Blackfoot", but the majority of the members in the U.S. prefer "Blackfeet".

How come Nova smoked salmon doesn't come from Nova Scotia?

This is another sensitive issue in Canada, especially in Nova Scotia itself. In order to understand why, you need to understand something about smoked salmon first.

The word "Nova" is used mainly on the U.S. East Coast. When stores and restaurants in the United States use the term "Nova", "Nova smoked salmon", or "Nova Scotia-style", they mean cold-smoked salmon, regardless of where the salmon came from. Canadians object to this definition, which they argue is just consumer fraud. Canadians say that only salmon caught and smoked in Nova Scotia should be called "Nova." (Personally, I think that Canadians are right about this. I don't think that smoked salmon from France or California should be labeled "Nova", no matter how good it is.)

What is Zed?

Traditionally, Canadians have always pronounced the last letter of the alphabet "Zed." Schools in Canada still teach children that "Zed" is the correct pronunciation for this letter, but American-made movies, television, and Sesame Street have been eroding this traditional British pronunciation. By the time Canadian children reach school age, they have already been taught by Seasame Street to pronounce the letter "Zee." A lot of young Canadians have made the switch to this Americanism.

Canadian vs. American Sofas

In Canada, a "Chesterfield" is a large, overstuffed sofa. In the U.S., "Chesterfield" is a brand of cigarettes. In Canada, a "Davenport" is a wood writing desk. In the U.S., a "Davenport" is a large, overstuffed sofa.

Do Mounties have police cars?

Many Americans believe that Mounties chase criminals on horseback, or else they couldn't call themselves the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Besides, in Dudley Do-Right cartoons, everybody gets around on horseback.

Well, although this always comes as a big disappointment to my students whenever I tell them: Yes, Mounties do have police cars! If you stop and think about it, it would be ridiculous for a Mountie to try to catch a bank robber making a getaway in a sports car at 70 miles an hour on horseback! (And by the way, Dudley Do-Right is not a real Mountie.)

Why are Canadians so tall?

You have been watching too many old movies on TV! Hollywood has always stereotyped Canada and Canadians in very unrealistic ways: singing Mounties with guitars, bearded French Canadian lumberjacks, and igloos galore.

Canadians are no taller than Americans. Michael J. Fox is Canadian, but only 5'4" tall. Real Mounties carry guns, not guitars. Most French Canadian men are clean-shaven, and Quebec's #1 industy is tourism, not lumber. Most Canadians have never seen an igloo or a dog sled, and there are no penguins in Canada. Penguins are only found in the Southern Hemisphere.

Back to Other Subjects