Almost imperceptible witticisms

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Week 7: No True Scotsman
caile
You have to understand, in Cape Breton we don’t used hyphenated identities. There are no French-Canadians in Cape Breton. There are plenty of people whose first language is French. They’re just not French-Canadian. That’d mean they were from Quebec. In Cape Breton, they’re just the French. We’ve got the French, the Scottish, the Mi’kmaq, the Dutch, the Irish... what am I missing? Oh, right, the English! We’ve got a couple two or three of them, too. Just a handful. But nobody who calls themself Canadian.

I thought this was completely normal and right, up until I went to university.

So there I was, a sweet little innocent abroad in the world, telling people I’m Scottish. And they’d say:

- What do you mean, you’re Scottish? You don’t say Och Aye. You don’t eat haggis. You’ve never mentioned your sleekit wee beastie. And look, you were born in Canada, right?

- Yes.

- And your parents were born in Canada, right?

- Barbara and Scott, yes, that’s right.

- And were your grandparents born in Canada?

- Yes, Francis and Corrine, Johhny and Jessie, all born in Canada.

- Well, maybe your great-grandparents were born in Scotland and that’s why you say your Scottish?

- Well... no, Rory and Sarah, Veronica and Angus, Mathilda and Angus, Catherine and John Angus, all born in Canada. Keep going, I can go back eight generations until you get to the ones who came from Scotland.

And then we’d just be at an impasse. Staring at each other.

- Well, why in the name of all that’s holy do you think you’re Scottish? You’re not Scottish.

- What do you mean I’m not Scottish?

What am I if not Scottish? Anybody’d have to concede there are some points that suggest I am. Red hair- well, reddish. I own a kilt. I’ve taken bagpipe lessons. I’ve danced a highland fling in my day. I've tasted a deep fried Mars bar. I know the words to Flower of Scotland, when will we see your likes again? That fought against him, proud Edward’s army, and sent him homewards to thiiiiiiink again. I speak Gaelic. I've picked ticks off a sheep. I'm fey and proud and as good as anyone.

I’m a MacDonald. It wasn’t until I travelled outside of Nova Scotia that I realized how much of a joke that was. In Mabou, where I grew up, approximately 20 per cent of my high school class were MacDonalds. Even in Halifax it was a fairly common name. Elsewhere though... I was quite surprised when people faces lit up when I said my name. They’d get this big grin and they’d start to laugh. “MacDonalds!” They’d say. “Like the restaurant!” I realized that from their perspective, I was essentially introducing myself like this: "Hello, how do you do? My name is Joyce Burger-King."

The thing is, we don’t have fast food restaurants in Mabou. It’s a 45 minute drive to the nearest Tim Horton’s, for Christ’s sake, and that’s on the other side of the Causeway. So the restaurant was so remote from my mind. And then I felt ashamed. Thanks, Mcdonalds, for making my name an international laughing stock and synonymous with crap food and crap jobs. That’s just super. Thanks. On the plus side people everywhere can pronounce my name, so there’s that.

Still all that stuff is not evidence that I’m Scottish. It’s just a collection of stereotypes. And here’s the thing - I’m not Scottish. I mean, obviously I’m not a citizen of the nation of Scotland. I'm a Canadian. It says so right on my passport. But ethnically, I'm a Gael. And Gaelic identity is so tied to romantic notions of Scotland that when I talk about my cultural identity I confuse everyone right into thinking that I am Scottish. (It happened a few weeks ago in this very competition.)

But I always wear something under my kilt, so I suppose I am no true Scotsman after all.

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It's an interesting perspective and a nice examination. Certainly people take a great deal of pride in their heritage, which typically hails from some place other than where they are. It's the personal myth! How we define ourselves. And certainly the McDonald/MacDonald issue is a sensitive one, now more than it was before the term "fast food" was a pejorative! Fun and funny!

OH!!! I love this!!! Just absolutely love it!!!! It's just so factual and brings this habit to the most plausible forefront. Really well written! And then the zinger of the ending which ties it perfectly back to this week's prompt. This is brilliant.


As usual, this was a very well-written entry. It's obvious that you love your heritage very much. This is far from a bad thing.

But I always wear something under my kilt, so I suppose I am no true Scotsman after all.

Ooh! Ooh! Let me guess! It's a bowtie! You wear a bowtie under your kilt!

I saw this a lot in college, and it was a pet peeve of mine. "You read Angela's Ashes and your last name is Doyle. But you and your parents and grandparents grew up in a rich suburb of Omaha, Nebraska, so you'll pardon my skepticism when you tell me how much Bloody Sunday affects you." I think it annoyed me so much because my grandparents and great-grandparents couldn't get off of that godforsaken island fast enough. They busted their asses so that their descendants could be born here.

But those students were young, and looking for identity. We all do that.


Interesting perspective! I've been Canadian for seven generations, so even though I was born in the USA, I think of myself as Canadian a lot of the time :)

I never really understood the whole claiming ethnicity thing until I moved from one part of the country to another - now I claim my heritage more ;) this was really well brought

I always say that my heritage is Welsh, but I'm American. Some family members have been over here for centuries, others just a few generations, but almost all of them originally hailed from Wales.

That's really the distinction, though-- most people describe themselves in terms of nationality and not heritage.

Learning any of the Celtic languages outside of their country of origin is difficult, though. They were all almost killed IN those coutnries, as it was!

I enjoyed reading this..:) a nice read! it's fine to be a Canadian Scot I guess..:) you sound pretty amazing to me!

Edited at 2014-04-29 03:54 pm (UTC)

*hugs* I figure, what you identify as is more important than what the government says you are.

Great points! Don't women typically wear something under their kilts? I thought it was only men who were Regimental?

As usual, this was a very well written entry. You obvious love your heritage very much and this is far from being a bad thing.

I'm very proud of being a Yorkshire lass and my family have been here since the mid 1800's. But as I've said before, I just really have this feeling that somewhere in the past my family came from Scotland!

Loved this insight into your cultural identity and the complications of it. I'm always learning something new with your pieces!

I realized that from their perspective, I was essentially introducing myself like this: "Hello, how do you do? My name is Joyce Burger-King."


Oh, that must be SO frustrating!

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