How the world sees Canada

As Canada celebrates its national birthday, people around the world give their views on on Canada's image abroad.

Knowledgeable people give their views

Canada Day seems an appropriate time to engage in that particularly Canadian custom of wondering what the rest of the world thinks of us.

CBC News asked people knowledgeable about Canada but outside of North America to give us their views on Canada's image abroad.

The responses touch on a range of emotions, from humour to love, joy and distress. Here they are.

Nasser Hussain, U.K.

Nasser Hussain (Kaley Kramer/Courtesy Nasser Hussain )

One issue about being Canadian in the U.K. — I've lived here since 2003 — happens every time I get into a taxi and open my mouth. No matter how hungry, tired, rushed or tipsy I am when I tell the driver my destination, the conversation is always the same:

'What part of America are you from, then?'

'I’m not from America. You’re close, though.'

A moment's thought, and, 'Oh! I thought I heard something in your accent! You're from Canadia!'

And it's that little slip of the tongue that tells me everything I need to know about my audience. Canadia is not Canada. It is a fantasy of Canada, full of maple-syrup-soaked bears wearing plaid shirts and drinking weak beer. Canadia is as cold and wintry as the U.K. is wet and moldy. Canadia is 'nice, isn't it.'. And everyone in the U.K. has a cousin who lives there, but they can never tell you exactly where.

This is the point in the conversation when I say 'It's all right, mate. All you Irish guys sound the same to me' – which usually gets an initial laugh, but when the irony sinks in, the rest of the ride passes in the peace that only silence can bring.

O Canadia, stand on guard, for the English still think you're mostly America.

Nasser Hussain is Pakistani by heritage, British by birth, and having lived the first 30 years of his life in Ontario, is fundamentally Canadian. But let’s see you try explaining that to a cabbie in Yorkshire.

Elodie Rousselot, France/U.K.

Dr Elodie Rousselot, University of Portsmouth, U.K. (Photo courtesy Ross Hair)

I first discovered Canada through its literature: some of the most prominent contemporary authors are Canadian, even though most readers don’t realize that.

After reading the work of Anne Hébert, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields, I became interested in finding out about the country and its people.

As a French national living and working in the United Kingdom, Canada holds a very strong fascination for me: it offers the promise of a society where multi-linguality and cultural diversity can be fostered and protected.

With the recent rise in extremist political views in Europe, we can learn a lot from Canada's example, and from the way it has handled its national challenges. In its ability to harmonize contrasting, and at times clashing, political views, Canada proves that it is possible to have a very distinct yet diverse national identity.

Happy holiday!

Elodie Rousselot teaches English literature at the University of Portsmouth in Portsmouth, U.K.

Kumi Naidoo, South Africa

Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, joins the People's Summit march for social and environmental justice during Rio+20 conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on June 20. Rodrigo Paiva/Greenpeace (Rodrigo Paiva/Greenpeace)

The world has come to understand that Canada is not interested in being an environmental leader, but we always believed you respected democracy, freedom of speech and the right to dissent. In short, we didn't question your ethics.

Then I learned that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews compared environmentalists to "white supremacists" and "terrorists." Another minister accused environmental charities of money laundering. And a federal budget was passed promising more auditing of non-profit organizations.

These moves were tactical decisions intended to silence and intimidate voices opposing the proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline.

This is a slippery slope. As a young member of the African National Congress fighting for the end of racial injustice in South Africa, I know what happens when governments shut down dissent. It's undemocratic and quickly pervades a society. It’s a poison disguised as medicine (in this case, for the good of the economy).

Canadians need to stand up to their government; to be motivated, rather than intimidated, by injustice.

And to the government which persecutes or demonizes these heroes we say: the world is watching. We won't forget and future generations won’t forgive.

Kumi Naidoo is a South African human rights activist and the international executive director of Greenpeace.

Eugene Lee, South Korea

In Korea, Canada is known for its pristine nature, and, perhaps, cold weather. If Koreans plan a short-term trip to Canada, they would have in mind Jasper, Banff, the Rockies, Niagara Falls, Thousand Islands, etc.

Canada’s multiculturalism and welfare state are regarded highly as well. Some may remember the UNDP Human Development Index that for a few years in the 1990s ranked Canada as No. 1 in the world. Overall, Canada's image is very positive.

Canada is a very good friend to Korea. Many of us are aware of Canada’s generous help during the Korean War. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Canada was a No. 1 destination for potential emigrants and students who wish to study abroad. But for most Koreans, Canada is not in their daily consciousness.

Canadians are regarded as genteel, decent and generous people, unlike the Americans who are often perceived as self-righteous and obnoxious. Koreans are not aware that Canadians are big beer drinkers and turn into maniacs during the hockey season.

Eugene Lee, ia a past president of the Korean Association of Canadian Studies and professor of political science at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul, South Korea.

Elizabeth Jones, U.K.

Elizabeth Jones (Scott Henderson/Courtesy Elizabeth Jones)

In the U.K., Canada has long been the butt of jokes. Or maybe it's just me.

After I moved to the U.K. in 1987, I felt slightly wounded by what I read in the newspapers and the way people talked about Canada as sort of a joke thing. But in the last few years, I don't know what has changed, but there does seem to be a kind of awakening to Canada being the best kept secret in the world, to the extent that an English friend of mine who runs a cocktail bar on Saturday nights decided to have a Canada Day cocktail bar.

Twenty years ago that would have been unheard of. Now it's slightly cool. 

People gather to celebrate Canada Day at the Midnight Apothecary Cocktail bar in London, U.K. Maple Martinis, Strawberry Maple Fizz and S'mores were some of the special treats. (Eleanor Salter Thorn)

Canada still has a lot of goodwill from the days it poured money into developing economies. While working in Africa it often seems like most Africans have a relative somewhere in Canada and they think I would know them.

I don't think most Africans are aware of Canada's role in terms of mineral exploitation and things like that, and that's not so great. From my travels, overall Canada still has a terrific reputation.

Canadian journalist Elizabeth Jones earns a living as a freelance foreign affairs producer of TV documentaries and is now based in London, U.K. She has been a Rory Peck Award finalist six times.

Emilie Smith, Guatemala

Rev. Emilie Smith, right, poses on June 23 in Guatemala City with her friend Yolanda Oqueli, who was shot following a peaceful protest in Guatemala on June 13. (Alexandra Pedersen/Courtesy Emilie Smith)

Happy (ahem) Canada Day. I wish we could return to the days when that would have made me proud. Canada's name is mud in Guatemala, where mining companies with the maple leaf have been ravaging community after community.

Every one of us, as we quietly remove the Canadian flags sewn onto our backpacks, and pocket those little pins they give us on Canada Day, should know by now: around the world, in our name, and to our financial benefit, Canadian mining companies are destroying the earth. Chasing after the love of gold and money, they care not for communities, the land, the water, or due process of consultation, or the fair sharing of profits. They come, blow the earth up, suck up the water, leaving cesspools of poison behind. And promising trinkets, 'development' and jobs to the desperately poor and starving, they divide households and communities, leaving bloodshed and fear in their wake.

On June 13, my friend, community leader Yolanda Oqueli, was ambushed and shot as she was leaving the peaceful blockade to the entrance of the proposed site of the Canadian-owned Tambor gold mine, near Guatemala City.

Rev. Emilie Smith, a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada, based in Guatemala, is also co-president of the Oscar Romero International Christian Network in Solidarity with the Peoples of Latin America (SICSAL).

R. K. Dhawan, India

On the face of it, India and Canada are not supposed to be the countries of the same dimension or character.

In certain ways, they are opposite: India is a third world country, Canada is an advanced industrial nation; India is an ancient civilization, and Canada a new state; India has dense population and limited space, Canada on the other hand has meagre population and vast open areas. Again, both the countries are widely separated both geographically and culturally.

In the recent years, however, this perception of Canada has undergone a paradigm shift.

Today, there are strong bilateral relations between the two countries — India and Canada — and these have been growing steadily. These two countries that come under the umbrella of Commonwealth have much more in common than just the English language.

Like India, Canada is multicultural and liberal in outlook. The most important factor which helps in determining Indo-Canadian relationship is the presence of more than a million Canadian residents of Indian origin.

For many Indians now, Canada is a country of their dreams, and they aspire to be there. No wonder, Canada is a complete world in microcosm because it has various distinctive ethnocultural communities and a vibrant democracy.

R. K. Dhawan is a former chair of the Asia-Pacific Network of Canadian Studies and the past president of the Indian Association for Canadian Studies.

Samira Omar, Tanzania

Samira Omar

It is one of those known and widely accepted truisms that Tanzanians love and respect Canada and that Canadians, through their goodness and generosity to Tanzania over the past 60 years and more, have shown in a clearly measurable way, their affection for my country, Tanzania.

The record is good. Canadians have put an indelible stamp on Tanzania's trade with extensive work in railroads, roads, natural resources and, above all, education.

I am a beneficiary of Canada's generous education resources having spent four exhilarating years at Dalhousie and now I look forward to a master's degree in conflict studies at Ottawa's Saint Paul University. I am truly fortunate to have these chances and excited by the realization that, when I return to Tanzania, I will be that much better prepared to contribute to my country as a dedicated public citizen. We all have an ethical demand to give back to our countries, and I hope to make great contributions to my home country.

What lessons Canada teaches the world when it comes to living in peaceful diversity and respecting all people! I saw that as a living reality while at Dalhousie. Canada shows the world civility, respect and humanity.

We Tanzanians have our heroes as, I am sure, do Canadians. Former United Nations peacekeeper Romeo Dallaire, now a senator, during those terrible days of the Rwandan atrocities, showed Tanzanians and the world the utter depth of Canada's devotion to peace. It is a great joy to note that Tanzania responded with a sometimes unknown generosity in giving some 120,000 Rwandan/Barundi refugees Tanzanian citizenship.

Samira Omar is a postgraduate student at Saint Paul's University in Ottawa.

Jason Blake, Slovenia

Jason Blake is the author of Canadian Hockey Literature and Culture Smart! Slovenia.

After a strenuous armpit fart lesson, my daughter wanted the "Alligator Pie guy" before bed — "It's red for STOP, / And green for GO – / And catch him all over / Ontario!" She has no idea what Ontario is, but she knows Dennis Lee and Robert Munsch and Margaret Atwood (For The Birds, not The Handmaid's Tale) and the Brady Brady series.

Last week, she rolled her six-year-old eyes before lunch and said, "Don’t tell me, another recipe from Chatelaine." In terms of what she reads and sees mom (Slovenian) and dad reading, she's more Canadian than most of us. Or should I say "you guys?" I’ve been away for 10 years, after all.

Ten years away means I can no longer vote in Canada, or anywhere for that matter (it’s a constitutional monarchy thing).

Each week I resolve to read the local Slovenian newspapers more seriously, to live more fully where I actually live.

Inevitably, however, I start my day with the Globe or the Star or the Post online. Or the latest Walrus or Queen’s Quarterly or LRC arrives. Even when I do tune in to the local news instead of my hour-a-day dose of podcasted Radio-Canada, it doesn’t touch me.

I get paid in euros and the euro is tanking, but though the head says this is important to my life, the gut and heart — though not homesick — remain back in Canada.

Jason Blake is editor in chief of the Central European Journal of Canadian Studies and teaches English at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia.

Fjaere van der Stok, the Netherlands

Canada Day celebrations at the Groninger Museum in Groningen, the Netherlands, on June 29 are attended by members of the University of Groningen Centre for Canadian Studies Student Platform, along with Princess Margriet of the Netherlands. From left: Scarlett Stenhuys, Princess Margriet, Fjaere van der Stok, platform president, and Betina Bogdanova. The event included the unveiling of an art exhibit on Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. (Photo courtesy Scarlett Stenhuys)

In the Canadian studies minor offered to students of all disciplines at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, we are taught to look beneath Canada's surface, to look past stereotypes of a land overflowing with maple syrup and moose. Unique in the Netherlands, this program teaches us to explore and retrace Canada’s identity and history.

What social and historical forces have shaped the Dutch image of Canada? How does this image differ from that held by Canadians of their own country?

This year’s Canada Day festivities were held in Groningen, a city that extends an especially warm welcome to its Canadian visitors because of Canada’s role in liberating the city from Nazi Germany in 1945. These events are still tangible and embedded in the city: the shrapnel scars left in some of Groningen’s most important buildings have not faded with the years.

The first art exhibition in the Netherlands of the Group of Seven painters has just opened here. It's an exploration of Canadian identity formation on canvas in the 1920s and '30s, of a desire to paint Canada’s landscape in unifying, often spiritual images. The collection portrays the wild and desolate beauty with which the country is often viewed from foreigners' eyes, providing Dutch museum-goers with the opportunity to link their image of Canada with the country’s internal, historical identity.

Fjaere van der Stok is the president of the Centre for Canadian Studies Student Platform at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands. 

Om Joneja, India

Om Joneja is President-Elect of the International Council for Canadian Studies.

As a career Canadianist for over 27 years, I see a major role for Canada in the globalized world of today, as it has a unique "Canadian parallax" that is pacifist, anti-colonial and pluralistic. It is nationalistic without being aggressive and coercive.

By linking international trade with foreign affairs, in its Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), the Government of Canada decided to pursue the path of economic growth through international trade, sustaining it well even during the gloomy days of economic meltdown around the globe.

The International Council for Canadian Studies, with its huge resource of 7,000 Canadianists in many countries, has made significant contributions that boost the image of Canada through the "Understanding Canada" program, which most unfortunately Canada is terminating.

The direct consequence of this will be seen on the 43 centers/programs related to Canada in Indian universities as the exchange of books, research and teachers will stop soon, resulting in a lack of interest in the academic community. If it is not checked, Canadian Studies in India may disappear.

Om Joneja is president-elect, International Council for Canadian Studies and the president of the Indian Association for Canadian Studies.

The discussion on how the world sees Canada continues on page 2. 

There are more comments from the United Arab Emirates, Panama, India and the U.K., as well as a forum for readers' comments.