The apologetic Canadian

The apologetic Canadian

Mitch Miyagawa has an interesting piece in the December 2009 issue of The Walrus on Canada’s proclivity for apology.  As is often the case with magazines, we are enticed with a title (“Please Forgive Us: why Canadians apologize”) that is simultaneously provocative and enticingly inaccurate. 

For those of us who grew up with the stereotypical image of The Ugly American (from the 1960 book), The Apologetic Canadian seems like a good match for our national personality.  Has any Communications Theory dissertation explored how frequently we Canadians use hedging terms like “sorry,” “maybe,” “kind-of” and such?

But the article is not so much about why Canadians apologize as it is about why the Canadian government apologizes. Being less interested in the Canadian government than in Canadians, I was somewhat disappointed by this journalistic bait-and-switch, but then if every article delivers exactly what one is expecting, one only reads pieces that confirm existing knowledge and opinions.

So it was that I read the piece with a bit of an attitude. But Miyagawa has an engaging voice and soon had me hooked into the world of Canada’s minority groups, the various ills that they have been done by governments and official agencies of those governments, and the intriguing disconnect between citizens and their ‘leaders.’ 

Miyagawa has the life credentials to write this piece, with family connections to ethnic wrongs ranging from incarceration of Japanese Canadians to native residential school abuses to the Chinese head tax. Yet he was, until recently, a homogenized and largely indifferent cultural case study.

What gives the article its appeal is the deft blend of personal anecdote and public policy. The personal keeps me interested, and keeps the author real, while the political points bring in an important broader perspective. How do our governments directly impact our everyday lives?  This article is a fine exploration of characteristics that make Canadians Canadian.

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