Book Review – How To Be A Canadian by Will Ferguson & Ian Ferguson

Summary from Goodreads

Being Canadian can be a chore, says Will Ferguson, but it can be a lot of fun, too. For this follow-up to his runaway bestseller Why I Hate Canadians, Ferguson, a Canuck himself, recruited his brother Ian to create this ultimate guide to the country’s cultural quirks, from diet and sex to sports and politics. The result is a nonstop comic ride through such topics as “Canadian Cuisine—and How to Avoid It,” “Regional Harmony (Who to Hate and Why),” and “How to Make Love Like a Canadian.”


How To Be A Canadian by brothers Will Ferguson and Ian Ferguson is a humorous guide to adapting to Canadian culture. Unlike its predecessor, this book is much more tongue-in-cheek, the humour taking centre stage. Why I Hate Canadians was very funny, but it collected essays and anecdotes that used humour to explore and critique aspects of Canadian society. This book is a lighter approach, lampooning different facets of Canadiana, from language to leisure activities. Sometimes these vary depending where in Canada they cover, while others are shown as more inherent to the Canadian identity.

While largely funny overall, I found the book a little esoteric at times. I’ve never really visited anywhere else in Canada; frankly I’ve barely ventured out of Southern Ontario. Some jokes I only understood because of hearsay and others not quite at all. Certain references did feel a little dated as well. At one point it jokingly calls the Conservative Party a “fringe group,” that they used to be a political party. Obviously this is a joke first and should not be taken too literally, but it seems to reflect an attitude specific to 2001, when this book was published and the Liberal Party had been in power for a while. From 2006 – 2015 the Conservative Party was in power, so this attitude of irrelevance doesn’t have the jovial punch for me that it probably had at the time.

What it captures fantastically are Canadian attitudes. When covering Canadian clichés and points of pride, like beer, it “exposes” cynical and unflattering reasons behind the subject’s cultural importance. We didn’t invent beer, we don’t even make the best beer, but ours is better than the U.S.’s, so there! — stuff like that. This is done throughout the book, and is in many ways one of the most Canadian things about it. We’re great at making fun of ourselves, so what better way to demonstrate how to be Canadian than taking jabs at the cornerstones of our national identity. The chapter “Twelve Ways to Say ‘I’m Sorry’” is especially good too.

In some areas it does a great job in the reverse, pointing out the positive despite negative stereotypes. Notably for me is the section on Canadian history, which is often considered “incredibly boring.” I myself have dreary memories of mind-numbing history lessons that this book exposed as not quite History at all. When bringing up just how “boring” Canadian history is the book goes into a page and a half spiel on fascinating points in our past that I don’t remember ever learning about. As it turns out, we’re primarily taught “social history” in school, which is more sociology than coverage of important figures and events. The line that recalled these lessons for me best was this: “‘Forget John A. Macdonald and the conquest of a continent,” they cry. ‘We want to know more about the social conditions of the eighteenth-century textile workers!” I can’t help but feel a little cheated.

How To Be A Canadian was a lot of fun. I may not have gotten some of the references, but there were plenty of moments that hit the nail on the head so well I was genuinely laughing out loud. A personal favourite section was in the chapter on art, which hilariously breaks down and emulates the common/overused tropes of Canadian literature. The only other downside to it for me, as a follow up to Why I Hate Canadians, is I didn’t feel I took nearly as much away from this book. It has a similar style and bite to it, but the two are rather different. I only bring this up because the binding and presentation of the book makes it look like they’re more related to each other than is actually the case. Nevertheless, it was a legitimately laugh-out-loud experience that’s worth picking up.


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