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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

How to be a Canadian (Even if You Already Are One)

Reviewed: July 26, 2002
By: Will and Ian Ferguson
Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre
225 Pages, $19.95

How to be a Canadian (Even If You Already Are One) is the Ferguson book that didn't win the Leacock Award for Humour this year. The one which did, Generica, has just made it to paperback with a change of title.

I'm not at all sure why it is now called Happiness™. There's a note on the cover explaining that this is new name for the same award winning book.

Did the publisher think that the Canadian public would confuse Generica (a funny book) with Guernica (a depressing painting)?

Actually, this book is a logical follow up to Will Ferguson’s last several, except that this time he’s drafted his brother, Ian, to share the writing chores. This will help Will in his apparent ambition to write as many books about Canada as Pierre Berton has by the time he’s fifty. (He’s been described as “Pierre Berton - with attitude”.)

If you look at his career so far, you have to admit he’s off to a running start. First there was Why I Hate Canadians, a satirical look at what politicians are always calling our greatest natural resource. Then there was I Was a Teenage Katima-victim!, an autobiographical tome which failed to scare my son away from signing up for an eight month stretch with the federal government’s premier volunteer program for youth.

Next came a look at the history of Canadian leadership, called Bastards and Boneheads. Somewhere in there was another one called Canadian History for Dummies.

Along the way, Will’s spent some time on radio, and currently holds down a regular spot in MacLean’s magazine, sometimes writing about quirky Canadian habits and, most recently, profiling cities; Victoria was the latest target at this writing. I’m sure if Front Page Challenge still existed, he’d be there, too.

Ian has not been as visible nationally, but is an award-winning playwright, a television director and an aspiring novelist.

This book is organized into seventeen chapters which purport to tell you how to find Canada on the map, mingle with Canadians, get lost while crossing the country, talk, waste time, watch television, eat, be romantic, have sex, drink, be cultured, be upstanding, make money and rule like a Canadian.

In chapter 3 the boys take us on a cross-country tour, hitting many places they have never been, including the Yukon, where we learn the following quick facts:

“Saying: There’s gold in them thar-- Aw, what’s the use?

“Location: Look up, look waaay up ...

“Motto: For the last time, we’re not part of the United States. You’re thinking of Alaska. We’re right next door.”

Actually that’s pretty amusing. I do take issue with this item, though:

“Use of ‘The’ in front of Yukon: Discouraged.”

Obviously the boys have only been talking to recent imports from other places (“Well, you don’t say THE Ontario, now, do ya?”) or long standing civil servants with delusions of grandeur.

The letterhead used by our government may say Government of Yukon, or Yukon Government, but most people still call it YTG, meaning the Yukon Territorial Government (sometimes the T stands for “Terrified”).

Later on, we learn that “the” Yukon has “the highest per capita divorce rate in the country”, sometimes causing it to be known as the Land of the Midnight Sin.

There are some good bits in here, stuff that you want to read out loud to other people. Their comment on the ever-expanding hockey season was a beaut. The instructions on how to avoid having lunch with Jan Wong have unfortunately lost their currency since Jan decided not to do the column any more. (That’s the trouble with topical references - they date so quickly.) The 12 step guide to using the word “sorry” just might be worth the price of admission all by itself.

If you’re not sure about your status as a Canadian, you can always flip to chapter 17 and take the quiz, 106 items (I think - they’re not numbered and I had to count them myself) spread over nine pages, complete with a scoring guide.

How to read this book: I kept my copy in the bathroom and found that it was just the thing to help me lighten my load at the end of a long day. It took me two months to read it but, hey, I would have been there anyway.

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