Wednesday, November 30, 2005

St. Andrew's Day

Today is St. Andrew's Day. St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland. St. Andrew's Day is the Scottish equivalent to St. Patrick's Day, though it is far less well known in North America. Ironically, St. Andrew's Day is celebrated more by ex-patriot Scots than native Scots. (This is probably why St. Andrew's Day is a little bit better known outside of Scotland than St. George's Day for England — April 23 — or St. David's Day for Wales — March 1). My mother, a Scottish nationalist, was always a little bit disappointed that I missed being born on St. Andrew's Day by a few hours.

This St. Andrew's Day I find myself thinking about my "roots" and my national identity.

Yesterday, the Canadian government fell. American media outlets that don't understand such things seemed to imply a collapse of governmental order. This isn't the case. The ruling party, the Liberals, were in a minority situation, meaning that they had more seats in the House of Commons than any other party (so they formed the government) but fewer seats than all the other parties combined. Certain pieces of legislation, when voted on and defeated, can result in a call for a "non-confidence vote". If the majority of parliament votes for "non-confidence", the governing party is required to ask the Governor-General to dissolve parliament, and an election campaign gets under way. This is the same as any other election campaign, but it's brought about by the minority government.

Okay, so much for the Canadian civics lesson. I heard about the non-confidence vote when I was channel surfing Monday night and came across the C-SPAN coverage of the vote from the CBC. I didn't know it was coming, though the Canadian government apparently did. This highlighted how out of touch I am with Canadian news.

When I first moved to Monroe, LA, I read the Toronto Star (where I used to work) online. After a while I stopped, partly out of homesickness and mostly out of a lessening connection with the city. Now I'm woefully ignorant of Canadian current events (except for what little filters through via The Daily Show, or the Colbert Report, both of which had hilarious segments on Canada last night).

I didn't really think of myself as Canadian until I was in my twenties. I was born in Scotland and grew up in a Scottish family. Until high school, my best friend was an English immigrant so the two of us revelled in our "not Canadian-ness". Now that I no longer live in Canada, I find I'm losing my Canadian identity. I am a Canadian Football fan, but you just don't see the games down here. (More specifically, I'm a Toronto Argonauts fan. Torontonians bug the hell out of me by going out of their way to ignore the CFL. Instead of watching some of the most exciting football on the planet, they'd rather watch a dull NFL exhibition game. End of rant.) Very little Canadian news filters down here. I've lost touch with most of my Canadian friends. Right now, about the only thing connecting me to Canada is my family, those few friends that still stay in touch, my accent, and my love of butter tarts and Tim Horton's doughnuts.

I've noticed that my Scottish identity has increased. While I miss my family, I no longer get homesick for Toronto. Weirdly, I do get homesick for Scotland, in spite of Scotland being a foreign country to me. I guess it must be an instinctive and ancestral attraction, as I was 4 when we moved to Canada and I've only visited Scotland once, for 3 weeks 13 years ago.

I may be losing my Canadian identity but I'm not gaining an American identity. My accent is wrong. I have no nostalgia for this place. My political views are certainly not the norm for this area, and probably too far to the left for most Americans (though as a Canadian I considered myself centrist). Being a secularist (the current neo-con label for anyone who's not an evangelical Christian) I don't fit in well with the Bible Belt.

(This having been said, I don't see Alana, the kids, or our friends as foreign, either. This is a very strange feeling living in a foreign country, and yet surrounded by foreign friends and family that aren't foreign. I don't think anyone can understand this unless they've been through it themselves.)

Not having a national identity is a bit disorienting, but it's not a negative thing. I get to pick and choose a national identity when I need it. I've always been particularly Scottish on St. Andrew's Day. I get to be Canadian on Canada Day, and still participate in the 4th of July. When a country inevitably does something stupid I get to pick and choose my nationality. If Americans get peeved at Canadian softwood stump fees, I can claim to be Scottish. If there's an anti-American riot in Scotland over a G8 summit, I'm Canadian. I have two different passports (a Canadian passport and a British/Euro passport, both expired) and a Green Card, so I have plenty of travel options.

On reflection, maybe having a strong national identity is more of a negative than a positive. After all, wars are usually fought between nations or between religious groups. Americans have a strong national identity but can't figure out why Europeans are repelled by that. The two world wars ravaged Europe for largely nationalistic reasons. Europeans have suffered the downside of intense patriotism, so they find patriotism in Americans to be disturbing. (At some point in the future I'll explain why Europeans misunderstand American patriotism, and why the patriotic feelings of Americans is quite different from the feelings that plunged Europe into war.) Perhaps the world would be better off if people lost their sense of nationalism.

Or perhaps not. The recent riots in France have a lot to do with young people who live in a country where they don't have a strong national identity. Without nationalism the world might plunge into the chaos of tribalism. Perhaps what is needed is not a loss of nationalism, but an identity that transcends nations. Europe is trying this now, with mixed results. Canada and the U.S. have forged a "North American identity" (even if it does ignore Mexico and Central America) without consciously trying. Maybe the road to peace isn't the dissolution of national identity, but the creation of continental identities on the road to a worldwide (or human wide) identity.

Anyway, it's St. Andrew's Day and I'm wearing blue (I don't have anything tartan to wear). If we had a flag pole I'd run one of my Scottish flags on it. While on many days my national identity may be conflicted, today I am Scottish.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

"The recent riots in France have a lot to do with young people who live in a country where they don't have a strong national identity. Without nationalism the world might plunge into the chaos of tribalism."
I often feel the need to start my own militia. Is that along the same lines?

Allan Goodall said...

I don't think that counts. I know too many people who would want their own militia now for that to count... particularly if that militia were used to bring the politicians in Washington or Ottawa to their senses!

Anonymous said...

Darn it doesn't count... Did Vikings originate from Scotland?

whowantstoknow said...

I'll join the standing militia if I get to hold all the guns

Thrakazog said...

America might be much better without a national identity... considering that our identity basicly consists of a conviction that we are always right and that anyone can speak english provided you speak slooowwwly and LOUD ENOUGH.

Anonymous said...

I actually prefer when someone speaks slow and loud...

Sgt. Rock said...

Anyone wanting to start a militia I will offer military training if I can join the militia. The time is coming that the only safe place will be the compounds! I kid you not! You heard it here first. There is safety in numbers and mountains!

Doug said...

I'll join the militia if I get to hold all the beer.