Today is Canada Day and the country is celebrating its 150th birthday. For many Canadians this anniversary is a special one to commemorate. The marketing of the maple leaf is a common sight year round, but these days it has reached a near frenzy. A world famous hamburger joint is carrying a maple leave in its golden arches, a life insurance plan is advertised especially for ‘proud Canadians’ and the tagline of a chain bookstore proclaims ‘The World needs more Canada’. With Canada’s birthday just around the corner it has even published a book of the same title, in which famous Canadians explain why their home-country is the best place in the world. The origin of this tagline is highly official: The government used it in the 1990s as part of its tourism campaign. Today it’s a bestseller. From wall hangings to beach towels, no desire for patriotic products remains unsatisfied.
The market is reacting to a trend that citizens have set. National pride is a point of honour. People love to spangle themselves with the maple leaf, and of their home-country they speak loudly and in superlatives. The point often seems to emphasize what is better in Canada than elsewhere. One might even think Canadians would welcome a policy of ‘Canada First’ if only the right come-over came along. But that is not the case. They are proud to be a melting-pot of cultures, to be world travelers, always friendly and mindful of the environment. And, not to forget, they have public health care, unlike their neighbours down south. Altogether, Canadians like to differentiate themselves from the United States. Founded roughly 100 years after the USA, they have spent the intervening time defending not just their territory, but their culture. An underlying fear of being politically as well as culturally overruled makes self-assertion a survival strategy for this nation of just 35 million citizens.
In North America, the United States determines normalcy and a strong sense of patriotism is part of that. Nevertheless, Canadians think of their national pride as moderate (compared to… you know whom). One lives with the paradox of he who declares cockily that he does not do as the cocky.
Even though I can understand Canadian patriotism better now, it still remains a foreign concept to me. To not be proud, to not raise your flag, to not feel superior to others – this is a lesson we as young Germans had to learn early. The Holocaust is our nation’s original sin, as filmmaker Michael Moore describes it, and it leaves no space for black-red-and golden extravaganzas. ‘The World needs more Germany’ was taken off the shelves in 1945 and the ‘true partriot love’ sung about in Canada’s national anthem became frowned upon. “And when everything turns to shit, you are broken and have no talents / then just be proud of your country”, sings the German band Kraftklub (Schüsse in die Luft). Therefore, discomfort has been my reaction to national pride – and I don’t seek to change that. Our history is a memorial and it is our duty to foster remembrance, especially these days. However, Canada shows that patriotism does not have to be equal to intolerance. On Canada Day, we celebrate multiculturalism, maternity leave and maintaining a clean environment. I’ll gladly join the cheer for that – for Canada, and also a little bit for Germany.