Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Signs, Sports and Signs About Sports: Canadian Culture Part 2

Ricademus asked if the outdoor rink pictured in my last post would get converted to a basketball court now that the ice has melted. This is a perfectly legitimate question coming from an American, and if the question was directed at someone living South of 49 the answer would no doubt be yes. However, because the question was directed at someone living North of 49 my response was the following:

Ric - Um....this is Canada. In the summer the ice hockey rink gets converted to a floor hockey rink. What's basketball? :-)

I should also mention that once the ice has melted the rink also doubles as a lacrosse box. Which brings up an interesting piece of Canadian trivia. I am sure it is no surprise when I tell you that hockey is one of Canada's official sports. What might come as a surprise to many people, Canadians included, is the fact that lacrosse is our other national sport. Lacrosse is basically the Native game of baggataway, and First Nations people have been playing it for over 500 years.

This leads to another difference between Canada and the US. In the US it is still quite common to refer to Native people as Indians. Not so in Canada. In the 30+ years I have been living here the language has slowly evolved. The terms Native, Aboriginal or First Nations have, for the most part, replaced the term Indian.

A note to my European readers. A friend told me that some relatives visiting from Austria were so enthralled when they saw a Native they kept circling around the person to take pictures, effusing about the "red Indian." This term is definitely not on the acceptable list. As far as the circling for pictures behaviour I will withhold judgment. Perhaps I would behave in a similar fashion if I encountered a guy in Lederhosen while strolling through the streets of Salzburg.

The city of Kamloops borders reserve land belonging to the Tk'emlups First Nation. The stop signs at Thompson Rivers University are in both English and the Tk'emlups language, as are the signs on the reserve itself.

Encountering signage in both English and a Native language is not an everyday occurrence North of 49,  but finding signs in both of our official languages is commonplace.

This sign is largely ignored, making it dangerous to cross the street in either official language.

Signs in both English and French can be found at locations with federal involvement such as airports, national parks, border crossings, and military bases. However, you do not have to visit any of these if you want to practice your high school French.

All labelling in Canada must be in both official languages so everything from shampoo to ketchup will give you ample opportunity to see if you were sleeping through all those dreary language lessons. Two years of French left me totally unprepared for the task. Most of the French I know has been learned through the corollary to the fact that if you drop your toast on the floor it will always land jam side down. Inevitably I turn to the French language side first on any given item I am looking at. This has had the unintended consequence of making me quite fluent in what is referred to as "cereal box French."

Last but not least, and going with this blog post's rather eclectic theme of culture, signs and sports, I would like to point out that there is another popular sport Canadians play on the ice. In fact, we are very good at it. Our women won silver and the men gold at the 2010 Olympics. It is curling, a game where a heavy stone is pushed down the ice, accompanied by two players with brooms who help by sweeping the ice if need be. Which should clear up any confusion about this sign in front of one of our local stores.


  1. We are an odd bunch, aren't we? It's quite fun seeing it through your eyes, this all sounds perfectly normal to me!

  2. :o)
    I've never seen curling live, but I enjoyed it during the Olympics. Lacrosse is huge at many of our local colleges: Johns Hopkins, Navy, Georgetown, Maryland. They attract almost as many fans as high school football--which is sad because they have great programs. So "huge" is relative.

    My attempt to learn French ended with French II in the 9th grade--the 3rd (and last) of my French teachers suggested I try something else.

  3. I can assure you that most Europeans would never behave in such a manner. And believe me any Austrian walking down the road in lederhosen is basically asking for people to take photos!

    Most items in Europe now come with about 6 or 7 languages of info on the back. It makes the writing so tiny you need a magnifying glass to even read it let alone learn a cereal box language.

    Oh and my posh boarding school near London played lacrosse too, it's not a common sport in the UK except in fee paying schools. And boy is that sport fun to watch! I never played cos I only went for 2 years between 16-18 and they let you choose sporting activities at that age - trampolining anyone?

  4. @kate - Of course all of this is normal. It's everyone else who is odd. :-)

    @Ric - Did you know curling is a fairly recent entry to the winter Olympics? I think it has gained a lot of popularity after being made an official Olympic game. It is fun to play, but I am absolutely useless at it.

    @CraftyCripple - Yes, we get those instruction sheets with all the
    languages as well. They usually come with appliances and that sort of thing. What's fun about those is laughing over how bad the translations are. I admire you for doing the trampoline. I was always afraid to do the flips on the trampoline so was completely useless. Trampoline and curling have both been crossed off my sporting list. :-)

  5. Haha.. don't judge Europeans by Austrians, even for us Slovenians they're sometimes very weird. Maybe because their country is full of mountains and valleys and a lot of towns have less contact with the outer world, so they don't see other races or nationalities than their own. Anyway, in Slovenia, we have two terms: For Native Americans we use "Indijanec", for Indian we use "Indijec". Both words have the root "Ind-" (India), but the endings are different, which makes it impossible to mess up these two cultures. And the terms are purely neutral in Slovenia. But I think it does sound weird, if someone says "red Indian" in English, I would never use that term, nor would I take photos of them in the manner you described.

    Thanks for the lessons, I learn a lot about Canada. We actually have 2 bilingual regions near the Italian and Hungarian border, where their minorities live, so I can relate to that, too.

  6. @MKL - That is interesting about your language having words with different endings to differentiate between the two groups of "Indians." And I have learned lots about Slovenia and Taiwan from reading your blog. In fact, reading your blog has made me want to travel to both countries! Hopefully between Rebekah and me we have made you want to visit Canada.

  7. Hello Kristie - I love to watch curling - from the warmth of my home! It bears some resemblance to lawn bowling. I know lawn bowling is big in Victoria/Vancouver - do you have it in Kamloops?
    Janet, in Seattle and missing the lawn bowling season about to start in Dublin

  8. @Janet - Yes, it is similar to lawn bowling. We used to live in Vancouver and I often drove by the lawn bowling grounds off of Oak Street. There is no lawn bowling in Kamloops. It is more of a hockey/rodeo kind of city.