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?
- 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.
Almost imperceptible witticisms
- Week 7: No True Scotsman