Are Canadians still hosers? A self-examination
Jul 01 2012
So, as you prepare to pin your maple leaf flag onto a mini-dress and high-heel it down to the Inner Harbour for the annual Canada Day fireworks/fête du regurgitation, it is worth asking: Are you still a hoser?
More to the point: Are Canadians?
Don't know if people even say "hoser" any more. The term became popular in 1980 with the SCTV sketch comedy show and Bob and Doug McKenzie.
Bob and Doug wore tuques and lumberjack shirts, knew what a twofour was, could roll smokes while wearing snowmobile mitts, played Name That Beer with earmuffs over their eyes and, yes, called each other "hoser."
They were, in short, the Canadian Everyman.
"It's a lot closer to the truth than a lot of Canadians may like to believe," said Will Ferguson, who with brother Ian coauthored the bestseller How To Be A Canadian (Even If You Already Are One). "We like to believe we're an edgy, urban nation, but that may really only apply to five square blocks of Vancouver, 10 square blocks of Toronto and eight square blocks of Montreal."
We had that conversation close to a decade ago, after I accused a couple of drug smugglers of cementing Canada's image by committing the ultimate hoser crime: paddling a canoe full of marijuana-stuffed hockey bags into the U.S.
Hosers should not, Ferguson cautioned, be confused with the American redneck. Jeff Foxworthy defined the latter as someone who has been married three times but still has the same in-laws, keeps both his wallet and his dog on a chain, and has at least one child who was born on a pool table. Hosers are a gentler version, just like Canada. Rednecks played Deer Hunter, hosers Beer Hunter, substituting a shaken beer from a six-pack for the revolver's bullets.
But does the stereotype still hold? For one thing, we're much more urban than we think. The latest census shows four in five Canadians are now townies. In fact, more than one in three of us are packed into just three cities: Toronto, Montreal and Toronto By The-Sea (all of which will get more excited about the European soccer final than Canada Day on Sunday). One in five of us was born outside Canada.
Nor do we live up to our outdoorsy image. Pierre Berton defined a Canadian as someone who knows how to make love in a canoe, but when was the last time you went paddling? (And, considering our low birth rate, we won't even ask about the other half of the equation.)
Pffft, replied Ian on Friday, picking up where his brother left off. Canada is still Hoserville, save for a 64-square-block bit of Toronto where all the decision makers drink each other's bathwater. "These are the people who cancelled Tommy Hunter."
As for being a nation of city-dwellers? "When you say 'urban,' you're including Moose Jaw, Kamloops and Parksville." Or Victoria, for that matter. "You could drop Victoria in south-central Los Angeles and nobody would notice," says Ian, who lives in the latter but used to call L.A. home.
As for immigration, assimilation to hoser culture only takes a generation or two, just as it always has. "The only thing I liked about the Vancouver riot was how multi-ethnic it was."
So what does a hoser look like now? Ian, whose Seven Best Canadian Jokes are in the Canada Day issue of Maclean's magazine thinks it's a woman who carries jumper cables in her purse. Me, I say a hoser knows what's in a Nanaimo bar (hookers and bikers), can translate poutine ("heart attack in a bowl") and doesn't think it odd that despite official bilingualism and four years of high school French (or, in the case of Jeff Bell, nine), you still speak less French than the average American does Spanish.
Hosers know we Canadians are humble, too. And polite. And modest. Sometimes we stop strangers on the street to tell them so. "We're so much more polite than you Americans," we say to the tourists. "Thinner, too."
This is the thing about self-image: Sometimes we confuse who we are with who we would like to be. Just something to think of as we celebrate Canada Day/Festival du face peinture et de la shopping crossbordeur.