Things like Baltic states and the peculiarities of Canadian English
This week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received some mediocre, but comedic negativity during a series of rapid-fire questions asked by Maclean’s magazine to promote an upcoming town hall at the National Arts Center in Ottawa. The light-hearted questions included the following: Last thing you cooked on the stove? – “Scrambled Eggs.”
What’s the first line of poetry that comes to mind? – Recites Cyrano de Bergerac
What’s your Achilles heel? – “I geek out way too easily.”
Nova Scotia or British Columbia? – “Yeah, not a chance I’m answering that.”
Favourite Baltic Nation? – “That’s not a thing.”
Baltic States: It is okay. Everything is going to be fine and Canadians understand where you misinterpreted the somewhat simple, yet simultaneously adventurous thing called English and we can certainly help you clear things up. So it goes.
Before we get to the bulk of things, Canadians are unfathomably kind folks and so we have already forgiven you for the video where you lecture us (we still do not understand why) about Baltic states, the Toronto Raptors and Skype. You are right, Jonas Valančiūnas is a great player and we are glad to have him play in the six – a reference to the city of Toronto.
Many of us are aware that the Baltic Sea is home to some the most gorgeous honey gold amber in the world and is filled with an abundance of cod, herring, perch and pike. In recent years, we have also studied the decrease in ice formation and oxygen levels in the Baltic sea and we are hopeful that the recently signed climate agreement in Paris can help lessen some of these environmental concerns for your country – we are really big on those things.
We are also aware that Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, was once a part of Poland and that many Poles still live there today. You may be glad to hear that one of the first Canadian towns in which Polish settlers nested in, is called Wilno and sits comfortably near the Kaszuby region of Ontario.
But down to the nitty-gritty (the specifics): as you know, language is a living thing and just like children, it grows, matures and eventually evolves into something new and colloquial. It is difficult to fully understand the breadth of our English if you’re not a part of everyday life up-north. For example, many of us say “aboot” instead of “about”, we agree in French with “ouain” instead of “oui” and we name our children Guy – using a hard g and pronounced “Gee”.
When Canadians say “it’s not a thing”, we are not necessarily referring to an actual materialistic object. Here is the spoiler: it means “it’s not an option”.
For example, we commonly say that “curling is a thing in Canada”, alluding to the fact that this wonderful sport is fashionable. One can also say “it’s not a thing to ignore aboriginal issues”, which means it’s not okay to beat around the bush (avoid responding) on topics pertaining to aboriginal affairs.
In your defense, you simply may not have known any better because these English things are not part of your everyday vocabulary. Perhaps you just wanted some media attention to your jingle bell-themed Christmas wishes – and that’s okay too. We get that. As I sit here between the Baltic States and Canada, it’s important for me to to play political counsellor and just ease things up a bit.
And friends, if it makes you feel any better, Mr. Trudeau did not answer which Canadian province was his favourite either.
Lukasz Lukaszek is a Polish-Canadian currently living in Warsaw.