Points North: Split Nationality...

By James Fife

I am constantly realizing new ways in which our decision three years ago (to eventually pull up stakes and move to James Bay) has had an impression on our attitudes and everyday lives. I've written about some of them that I have semi-conscious control over: like wearing my Canadian flag pin, as a subtle distancing from the state of affairs in Home South these days. Or how, right after we return from a visit to Victoria, I find myself acting more 'Canadian,' almost as a way to bring it all south and continue—for a little while—the same attitude and atmosphere.

But, as time passes, I'm coming across more ways in which my thinking is subtly altered and things here in San Diego are not quite as they have been. A myriad of little things now show that my bi-nationalism is becoming ingrained in a way I hadn't expected.

I noticed just recently a new, unanticipated effect of our connection with Victoria. I tried to trace it back and come up with some sort of time-line for the 'symptoms.' It started out simply and innocently enough. Once you own a home somewhere, especially one that you aren't constantly occupying, there's a tendency to start watching the news about the locale. At first, you tell yourself, it's just a way of staying abreast of any events that might affect your property. But, for me, a bit of news junkie anyway, it morphed into a daily ritual of flipping through various websites on my ride home from work: first the currency exchange websites, then leading Canadian news, and finally going full-bore and poring through all the stories in the electronic version of the Times-Colonist . Still not sated, I flip to the City of Victoria website, what’s trending on Global News, then I check my BC Hydro account, what's playing at Hermann's Jazz club. And so on. Desperate for info, I even started glancing through the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and Legislative Assembly websites, because, hey, maybe there's something Les Leyne didn't catch that I need to know about. By the time I get off the train, I am thoroughly immersed in all the latest Canadian minutia.

But once I started getting this double-shot of Canadiana every day, it began seeping into my conversation with fellow Americans. It must have been a shock to their systems. After all, who in the United States pays the slightest mind to what's going on beyond the 49th parallel? Most of my compatriots are blithely unaware of anything connected to Canada, unless it's when the Prime Minister is wreaking traffic havoc on the streets of America. But here I was, without even realizing it, trying to discuss with my co-workers the momentous event of the words being changed to the national anthem. I drew uncomprehending looks. So, with the spiralling turmoil enveloping Washington, DC these days, all Canadians have to deal with is song lyrics or taking umbrage over "peoplekind"? Surely, others could see a change in me, even if I couldn't.

The result was that those around me started believing I had 'gone over,’ and they started treating me accordingly. I had become some sort of ambassador of all things Canadian. If anyone had a question about some Canada-related topic (a rare event), I was pegged as the go-to. Tellingly, this happened most often for other people who, like me, had Canadian roots and were interested in the process for having their dual citizenship recognized. Thus, I was now a facilitator for those plotting an escape route North—if and when needed. I was having this effect on others just from my sub-conscious conduct, but Down-Southers were reacting to it fully. For instance, a friend who likes to bake made me a batch of Nanaimo bars, after I had enthusiastically praised the ones we had gotten from the Dutch Bakery during a recent visit. Normally, the friend would have made some more culturally neutral pastry, like brownies. But Nanaimo bars just teemed with hidden significance.

I think I caught on to what was happening to me when the biggest about-face in my personality occurred: I had developed an interest in sports. Not all sports—Canadian sports. I have never had more than a fleeting and merely abstract interest in any sport. When I lived abroad, it was just part of getting to know the culture to learn about and have some interest in a local favourite. So, when I lived in Wales, I followed rugby; when I lived in Ireland, it was hurling. But now, I caught myself watching the news crawl at the bottom of the TV screen during the U.S. sports segment, looking for the scores for any Canadian teams: baseball, basketball, even hockey. Hockey! That was unheard of for me. But then came the real shocker that revealed how warped my state of mind had become. We went out to brunch with friends one Sunday and, totally mechanically, with no conscious thought, I had positioned myself so I could see the TV over the bar. Why? To catch the Olympic curling competition between Norway and China. When I realized what I was doing, it hit me like a ton of bricks: curling? I mean, come on. And not even a match involving Canada? I had clearly now gone over the edge.

I once thought that I'd be so impressed with myself if I did not just look blankly when a James Bay neighbour mentioned some event in Canadian history or a former PM's name. Now, I know all that, and more. And I'm also well versed in some of the latest newsy tidbits. So, I felt satisfied surprise that I had a genuine understanding of what it meant as a historical event when I read about Dave Barrett's recent passing. Because, until recently, I had no idea there ever was a Dave Barrett.

I wonder now, where did this all come from? It's not a withdrawal from the U.S. (though some acquaintances may suspect it as such). It's more subtle. My Dad never spoke to us of his life in Nova Scotia or what being born there meant to him, if anything. But I like to think part of this shift in mentality is something he passed down. It's not entirely rational, but then nationalism isn't. It's a feeling of attachment, because you admire your country—or you don't. It's kind of like family: some relatives you like, some not so much. I'm fascinated how this attitude shift has come unbidden, unannounced, just seizing hold. A sort of geopolitical schizophrenia. Mostly I am pleased, because now I have two places with which I can identify. I'm not disturbed to have this new, bi-national mind-set. At least not yet. It may change the day I find myself at a curling match. Then I'll know I've truly lost it.

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