What do internationals think and know about Canada and Canadians? This is a question that I asked myself before going on my exchange to Norway, and I figured what better time to find out when I live with 500 other international student from around the world.
However, it would have been unrealistic for me to interview or have a conversation with everyone; so to combat this challenge I created a survey/quiz to see what willing participants know about Canada and Canadians.
I was able to get 53 students to complete this survey from 18 different countries around the world. However, given the open access to the survey, there were countries with more representatives than others. For example, 15 Germans answered the survey compared to the often lone representatives from the other countries I surveyed. In the end, these results are not the most official or scientific but give an insight into how Canadians are perceived outside of Canada.
In this form I asked participants 12 questions, varying from their opinions or personal knowledge of Canada to identify iconic images that are typically associated with Canada. I started by asking them what they think of when they see the Canadian flag.
I wanted to set the context for the rest of the survey. This was interesting as many of people either just said the national flag or were more figurative with their answer and stated Canadian stereotypes. The stereotype mentioned the most was maple syrup. Perhaps, the maple leaf on the flag may have served as inspiration for some these figurative answers.
To try to understand a little more deeply what internationals think about Canadians, I asked them what do they know about Canadians followed by asking how they feel about Canadians? These two questions are where I got to see the real understanding of international students’ knowledge and opinions of Canadians.
When I asked students what they knew about Canadians, the majority described Canadians as polite and apologetic for everything. I won’t deny that this is true for many Canadians, as I catch myself saying sorry quite often, however I think it adds to a kind of Canadian charm. Another trait of Canadians that came up often was that we are a bilingual nation, which is an excellent identifier of our country. However, what not many internationals and some Canadians know, is that there is only one official bilingual province, New Brunswick. All other provinces and territories are officially English with exception of Quebec being French. It goes to show how little our large nation is not actually bilingual on a day-to-day basis for the average Canadian. As I continued looking over the answers, one recurring theme stood out to me. Most international students believe that Canadians are friendlier than Americans. I had not given much thought about how people might compare us to America when creating this survey/quiz, but according to the students who took the quiz, it is difficult to talk about Canadians and not compare us to Americans. However, our tie to America is positive perception for Canadians, but a negative perception about Americans. I wonder whether when asking the same question but with Americans as the focus, whether or not they referred to Canadians as a reference point, but that is a different article for another time.
Now knowing all of these people’s opinions about Canada, I figured I should ask them whether or not they have been to Canada or have met any Canadians. What was surprising was that 85% had met a Canadian before, but only 15% of the students had been to Canada. Judging by these results Canadians have a strong connection internationally and have made friends with internationals, and that these connections are what influence the international perception of Canadians and our identity. These two questions genuinely put into perspective what, and maybe how our Canadian identity is seen internationally. This international image of Canadians can be summarized as friendlier Americans, who love maple syrup, hockey, and nature, and talk about our passions in both in English and French. Whether or not this is true for all Canadians, there are large portions of Canadians that do fit this idea.
However, the Canadian population is much more diverse than what is seen internationally based on the answers in the survey. The majority of Canadian society has some connection to a person who has immigrated to Canada and has brought their culture with them to the country. Canada is known for being a tossed salad of different cultures. It’s a place where we appreciate and help to maintain lifestyles from all around the world, rather than have to assimilate into the common Canadian identity. I was surprised that this significant part of Canadian culture was not mentioned when looking at the results. Whether this is connected to how we are represented in tv shows and movies, or our Canadian celebrities, there is a disconnect. I hope that in the future, our diversity in our culture is something that we are seen more clearly by internationals.
But moving on to the other half of my survey/quiz, where the questions are about Canada facts, to see how much knowledge people have about Canadian life. I showed four photos and asked them to identify what it they were. These photos were of Canada’s most popular coffee and donut restaurant, Tim Hortons, an image of the Toronto Maple Leafs, professional hockey team, poutine, and Justin Trudeau.
Most people guessed that Tim Hortons was fast food chain, which is not wrong, however I think the most accurate answer came from Czech student who called Tim Hortons, “the beloved Canadian coffee place.”
When it came to the Leafs, a lot of people said a hockey team, some thought they were the national hockey team, one felt that they were the Vancouver Canucks, but in the end, only a handful guessed the team correctly. What I found humorous is that team logo was on their jersey in the image.
Looking at the answers for poutine, a lot of people were quite confused. Some thought the gravy was caramel, others thought it looked gross, but the real gem of the answers was from people who had eaten poutine before, and all of them gave this Canadian staple a raving review. These final answers for poutine show, that looks can be deceiving.
Finally, when students were shown the image of Justin Trudeau, nearly everyone knew who he was! I was honestly surprised at how internationally well-known he was. Evidently, he has made an impact internationally and which has resulted in him knowing beyond our Canadian borders.
The final question I asked was whether or not people knew what the Canadian capital city was. When asking this question, I predicted that Toronto would be one of the more common answers and I was eager to find out if my suspicions were true or not with my sample of students. In the end, 75% of the students guessed Ottawa as the capital correctly, much higher than I expected. The rest of the results showed that 13.5% thought Toronto was the capital, 9.6% thought Quebec was, and lastly, one person believed that Vancouver was the capital. Regardless, the majority of international students I surveyed knew a fair bit of trivial facts about Canada.
Coming away from this survey/quiz, I am impressed with how much international students know about our country. I have to say, that if the tables were turned, I don’t think I would be as successful as them. Of course, this was only 53 students, but to me, it showed how much Canada is recognized internationally. It goes to show that in the end we are all connected around the world despite our physical distances, and that you can share your culture proudly with many people.