Lough Corrib, Cong, County Mayo, Ireland
Harbourfront, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
When I was in Vancouver two months ago I was having dinner with a large group. The group consisted of my sisters, my aunt, a nephew who lives in Vancouver, and a gentleman friend of mine who also lives in Vancouver. My friend was kindly serving as the tour guide for our group that evening. My sisters were commenting on what a lovely city Vancouver is, and my gentleman friend (who grew up in South Africa and has travelled all over the world) told them that he believes it is the best city on the planet. I, in my typical argumentative way, begged to differ and said that I would argue for some other cities, including places like Cork in Ireland. My friend is the sort who loves a good "wind up", as the English say, so I knew his next statement would be interesting. He looked at me and stated that the problem with Cork is that it's full of the Irish as opposed to Vancouver which is full of Canadians, and really, who would I rather be with, Irish or Canadians?
One of my sisters looked at my friend with shock. She told my friend that she couldn't believe he'd just said that - didn't he know that I believed I AM Irish? He snorted and replied that this was exactly why he'd said it, and he challenged me to write about whether I'd prefer to live in a city full of Canadians or full of the Irish. It's taken me a couple of months and some thinking, but here's my reply : it doesn't matter, because aside from geography and accent the Irish and Canadians are practically the same.
Why do I believe this? I've had the good fortune in my life to meet people from all over the world. I've noted that some are very different from Canada in many respects, and some differ in almost every respect. The thing that I suspect made me feel so at home in Ireland is that the Irish are so very similar to Canadians in so many ways.
The Irish don't take themselves too seriously, and neither do Canadians. Both nations have a ferocious sense of pride and nationality, but it's of the quiet sort. We are both quite able to take jokes aimed at us and about us, and often tell the best ones about ourselves. We both feel a bit misunderstood by the rest of the world, and marvel at how little our neighbouring countries truly know about us. We both know we have something special in our countries, and we know that other countries haven't quite figured that out yet - and we also think that's quite okay, too.
We don't take our politicians too seriously, either. We don't expect they will work miracles, walk on water, or otherwise rescue us single-handedly from our own appetite for destruction. We don't believe in the mythical "Superman" politician who will supposedly solve everything (only to disappoint as no one person, or even one government, can solve everything). We aren't even particularly concerned with our politicians' private lives. There have been rumours floating around Canada for months that our prime minister is separated from his wife, but no one really seems to care. Can you imagine a similar rumour about President Obama? The media would be frothing at the mouth over that, as would many citizens. No, as long as our politicians manage to keep their names out of the local court briefs for criminal charges we don't much care what they are up to (and even if they do appear in the court briefs we tend to be remarkably forgiving and tolerant as we all have foibles, right?).
We also don't really take our celebrities all that seriously. One of the most charming stories I heard in Ireland was about Bono of U2 fame. Bono has a house (okay, mansion) in Dublin, but still frequents a small local pub. Apparently the other pub patrons, including the local postmaster, have taken it upon themselves to insure Bono doesn't get too big an ego and whenever he turns up they give him a bit of a hard time for being such a "big star" (accompanied by snorts of derision and laughs). It's not that they don't like him, as they do - it's that to them he's a local boy who made some money, found some fame, and needs to be reminded that he's just as Irish as the rest of them. Charming, really.
We are both nations that roll with the punches. When I was in Ireland it was just as news of their financial crisis was reaching a fever pitch, and quite honestly they seemed rather unconcerned. Oh, it was a bit of a bother, but really it was nothing new, and nothing they hadn't seen before. It would all work out in the end, and why get all worked up about it? I was actually mildly astonished by this attitude, but it's quite Canadian, too. We aren't really the sort to get all worked up over much, and thus we don't really have much in the way of violent protests or rallies about, well, anything. We might be concerned, and we might get upset, but massive protests of violent action? Not really our style. Now, one thing the Irish might get worked up about is football matches, but us Canadians have a similar weakness in the form of the NHL, so we share that passionate nature, too.
The Irish and Canadian sense of humour is so similar, too. With jokes often based on puns and word play we are both playful nations who enjoy a rousing discussion and love nothing more than a good verbal joust. This is even more prevalent in a pub (or a bar as we Canucks prefer to call them) when the beer has been flowing. Which of course brings up another similarity - both nations love a good beer, and preferably a real beer, not that watered-down version popular in some other nations that shall remain nameless.
I could go on, I suppose. I could talk about the similarities in how both nations view life in general, and how we interact with each other. There are differences too, of course, but they are of the infinitesimal variety and not worth mentioning. Hey, they even have Tim Horton's coffee in Ireland - when I saw that I knew the similarities to Canada were no mere coincidence and were, in fact, deep to the core. My true point is that for this Canadian Ireland felt like a second home. I was speaking to someone recently about my trip and they said to me "You really should consider moving there considering how you feel about it", and the truth is that some day I may do exactly that. It's not because I'd want to leave Canada, as I love Canada and am so proud of this nation. It's simply because if I ever wanted to live in another country I now know exactly which one it is. It's because I know that living in a city surrounded by the Irish would feel very much like living in a Canadian city and being surrounded by Canadians. So, there you have my response at last, dear friends. Which would be better, a city full of the Irish or a city full of Canadians? Both, dear friends, would be quite lovely, and both would very quickly feel like home.
Dublin Tim Horton's