Saturday, July 01, 2006

The real Canadian national anthem

I have spent a fair amount of my adult life as an expat, and if you count my years in Quebec, even more as a language-minority. Hence I tend to bill myself as a "professional foreigner," because after all this practice, I'm getting fairly good at it.

Inspired by the Canadian national anthem playing in the background of the e-card I received from the Ditzy Democrats, I want to share the story with you of the *real* Canadian national anthem, aka how to spot a Canadian overseas.

Years ago I worked in Hiroshima, Japan (the prefecture, not the city) in the Office of the Mayor in a city of 400,000 people called Fukuyama. I worked in the Mayor's International Affairs deparment, and received the updated foreign registration numbers on my desk at the beginning of every month. I not only knew the Western foreigners by sight (vs the ethnic Koreans and Chinese who, even if their families have lived in Japan for multiple generations, are still required to register as foreigners), but I knew exactly how many foreigners were in the city at any time -- usually 100 to 120, plus the third-generation Japanese-Brazilians who had been repatriated to work at the NKK steel plant. And, through the foreign community grapevine, I usually heard as *soon* as a new foreigner came to town.

In fact, because part of my job was to make sure foreigners could make use of municipal services -- without unduly traumatizing municipal employees in the process -- even if foreign tourists were just passing through town, I usually got introduced to people soon after they arrived, whereupon I handed them my business card with my personal "bat phone" number on the back, so they could reach me 24 hours a day if they ran into any trouble in the city.

But, occasionally, I'd wind up a karaoke or at a bar like Shoot The Moon when a new foreigner would walk in that I hadn't met. Now a foreign community overseas is like a small town -- new blood is *very* exciting. And, inside the community, there are strong factions: the Canadians all know each other, the handful of Kiwis are incredibly excited to find another Kiwi, the Australians go drinking together, the Brits deplore everyone else's atrocious abuse of the Queen's English, and the Americans connive to get flag decals from everyone else to stick to their travel gear. So the trick was to find out if a new foreigner was "one of ours"...without being so gauche as to actually ask.

And the Canadian method was fool proof.

You just sidle up behind the new guy or gal at the bar, and start to hum the theme from Hockey Night in Canada:
doot de Doot de doo
Doot de DOOT de Doo
Every Canadian in the room bolts around...and starts singing along.

And all the other nationalities completely ignore you.

The test is way better than the ring tone that only teens can hear -- it is a sound that only Canadians will notice!

You may think I'm kidding, but the Hockey Night in Canada theme is really known as Canada's second national anthem. It was written in 1968 by Dolores Claman, and has become one of the longest running theme songs in broadcasting history. It is also certainly (clearly!) one of the most recognized pieces of music in Canada. When the sheet music was released in December 2000, it immediately became the country's number one seller, beating out the likes of even the ever-popular Pachelbel's Canon.

The theme is tied up with great hockey memories from my childhood: going with my Dad and my little brother to watch our JHL team, the Kelowna Buckaroos, play at Memorial Arena; playing pick up street hockey (badly); collecting hockey cards, trading them at school and with the kids in our subdivision, and saving up to buy the special hockey card box shaped like a locker; and best of all, the whole family riveted to our little black and white screen for the 1972 Canada Russian hockey series and Paul Henderson's incredible winning goal on September 28, 1972. (Canadians still consider that win to be one of the greatest moments in Canadian history.) I expect that people who grew up in Canada, especially if they are my age or older, have similiar nostalgic associations.

38 years after the song was written, it is still a great song (despite the many "updates" at the hands of Hockey Night in Canada sponsors), it is still intrinsicly Canadian...and it will still stop an expat Canadian dead in his or her tracks across a crowded bar.