Friday, April 07, 2006

French Tongues, other foreign things in me,* my big confession AND a joke – and it all connects

I have a confession to make. And it’s a biggie. But you’ll have to read on...

Pop Quiz. How do you pronounce “Ruttan”?

As I suspected. You’re all a bunch of failures.

Seriously, this is one of the bizarre quirks of being Canadian. We are sometimes more defined by where our ancestors came from than the country that we live in.

I think this is why we don’t have as much recognized crime fiction as other parts of the world, and why much of our homegrown talent leaves. We are, in short, oddities. It isn’t like we’re Australians, who have a distinctive environment and culture. We’re so close to the US that the subtleties of what distinguish “us” from “them” are eroding over time, and to many in the rest of the world, they can’t see the difference.

Now, before anyone gets offended, I am speaking in generalities.** See my note below.

I am often asked about my ancestry. Particularly with the name “Ruttan”. The one nobody can say right. One day, I was driving home and a song came on the radio. “When You Come Around” by Deric Ruttan***. The announcer, after it was over, said the name of the song by “Deric (insert noticeable hesitation) Ruttan.” And he said it right. But then he said, “Did I say that right?”

Host 2: “Yes, that’s right.”

Host 1: “Really? Because it looks more like ruttin’. You know, like rhymes with nuttin’.”

And on went the joke. I nearly drove off the road I was laughing so hard.

Because you have to have a sense of humour about this stuff.

Back in high school, in the days when Deric’s hair was longer than mine. There were too many of us, too well known, for mispronunciations.

We had Deric doing CCR in The History of Rock ’n’ Roll and winning songwriting competitions. J.P. Ruttan has always been a phenomenal talent as well, earning a trip to the vice-principal’s office for a rendition of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” that got him into hot water. Mick would’ve been proud.

And then there was me. Known enough. Another musical member of the Ruttan clan, but no, I’m not telling you what I play, that’s not the confession. If anyone guesses, I’ll own up to it.

It’s pronounced RUE-tan. Rue rhymes with Sue, tan rhymes with fan.

It isn’t really French either. But we say it is. For simplicity.

The original Rutant left what was then The Duchy of Lorraine in 1670. The town, Metz, has since lost its affiliation with Luxembourg and become part of France.

So, like I said, it’s just easier to say its French.

But that line left Europe in 1675. Yes, at the age of 18, Abraham Rutant set sail for America and married a German girl.

Now, my ancestry is primarily Irish, Scottish, English, a bit of German and Swiss…

And I have a French name.

Which means I get away with insulting the French. At least, more than the average person. Which still isn’t very much.

But what does that all have to do with me? With who I am? Am I nothing more than the sum of my heritage, or am I, in fact, Canadian?

A few years ago, there was a commercial that was one of the most popular ever on this side of the border. The infamous Molson’s Beer ad, featuring Canada Joe, dubbed THE RANT**** Please give it a few seconds to start uploading – you’ll find it interesting.

You know, I never do spell tuque right. I’ve been Americanized! Argh!

And, of course, some Americans didn’t like The Rant very much. Unfortunately, the ones griping didn’t seem to get that it wasn’t ANTI-AMERICAN but rather PRO CANADIAN.

Seriously, I’m on this little kick about the quirks of language in part because I was told that there were Canadianisms in my manuscript. I’ve since been trying to locate them. What have I learned?

1. Americans don’t listen to Bruce Cockburn.
2. A double-double is a Canadian term.
And that’s all my American readers have told me. Which seems minor indeed, but I’m just so darned excited that there are Canadianisms people pick up.

Although, that being said, I know an Americanism when I hear it.
Now, I am going on a soap box for this one. Because I’m pissed. I go over to the site for a Canadian magazine and what do I find?

The region I grew up in, Muskoka, being referred to as “The Muskokas”.

It was always a common joke when I lived there that anyone saying “The Muskokas” was obviously American and you know what? I’m offended.

Not because of another Americanism creeping into our dialect.

But because we allow our culture to be eroded over time and then we complain that nothing identifies us as Canadians. This is supposed to be a Canadian magazine. Some fine fucking example it is of our culture.

We aren’t supposed to get upset. Polite Canadians never kick up too much of a fuss. We aren’t supposed to feel patriotic, yet I still get a lump in my throat when I hear The Rant.

You know, I’m proud of my Irish heritage. I’m thrilled that I was able to spend some time living in Ireland.

And I’m proud of my Scottish and English heritage too, and that I’ve spent a fair bit of time traveling to both places over the years.

I’m proud of my Swiss, pseudo-French, German and Luxembourg contributions as well. How many people say it’s important to them to go to Luxembourg? But when I went to Europe, it was the first place after England that I visited and spent time exploring.

And I am also very proud to be Canadian.

We aren’t perfect, but we have a wonderful country. I’ve been to the Bay of Fundy, and I’ve been to the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Vancouver Island. I’ve swum in the Arctic and seen beluga cut and smoked and stored for food. I’ve ridden horses across the prairies on a moonlit summer night, and in the dusk in the Yukon. I’ve photographed grizzly bears and black bears, wolves and moose, fox, snowy owls and humpback whales. And I do own two sled dogs that do nothing more than pull kids on toboggans. The kids I know have names like Ravdeep, Sunata, Zenaira, Zane, Roisin and Griffin.

This is a country not about colour but about principles and values. We value our freedom. We commit ourselves to helping others. We don’t live in isolation or shut our eyes to the rest of the world.

We aren’t perfect. But we’re still okay. I’ll tell you one of my little travel horror stories, then make my confession.

We were in Tunisia and a group of us were having lunch. Our server was trying to understand where we were from.

“British Columbia.”
Puzzled look.
“AH! Quebec.”

Yes, the Tunisians know Quebec. Having a long affiliation with France, Quebecors have been going to Tunisia for holidays for a long time.

“No,” we tell him. “British Columbia.”

I finally used my hands to say, “Tunisia” - “Morocco”. “Quebec” – “British Columbia”. He seemed to finally get it.

“Big country.”

Then another group of people came in to eat. Same conversation starts over there – where are they from.

“Ah,” the server says, eager to apply his new knowledge. “Canada.”
Poor man walked away so confused.

So, yeah, we aren’t perfect. But I still love my country. And nothing makes me more aware of the things that define me as a Canadian than when I travel. I love the world – I’ve been to North Africa and all over Europe, saw the Berlin Wall come down and have been to southeast Asia, have tried seaweed in Japan and fresh coconut milk in Costa Rica.

But this is my still home.

Despite my confession. What is it that, in my discussion of heritage, I neglect to tell people?

That technically, my ancestors in the Rutant-Ruttan line were also Americans. It wasn’t until the revolution that the Ruttan’s went north, to Quebec, remaining loyal to Britain.

Now, isn’t that ironic? Moving to Quebec made them officially loyal to Britain.

But there’s a part of me that’s proud of that chapter of my heritage too. Because hundreds of years ago, when the Huguenot’s were fleeing religious persecution, there was a place they could go and be safe. America. And they had a chance to start new lives and achieve independence and practice their religion without fear.

We see the abuses of that freedom, with Waco and Jonestown. But let not the few who misuse the great privileges they have – that others would kill or die for – undermine how wonderful it is that there are places on earth where people have freedom.

And as much as I might tease y’all, I love America too. You are my neighbours, and you are also my kin.

Immigration Policies*****
Mujibar was trying to get into Canada legally through Immigration.

The Officer said, "Mujibar, you have passed all the tests, except there is one more test. Unless you pass it, you cannot enter the Canada."

Mujibar said, "I am ready."

The officer said, "Make a sentence using the words Yellow, Pink and Green."

Mujibar thought for a few minutes and said, "Mister Officer, I am ready."

The Officer said, "Go ahead."

Mujibar said, "The telephone goes green, green, green, and I pink it up, and say, 'Yellow, this is Mujibar.'"

Mujibar now lives in a neighborhood near you and works at a Sympatico help desk.

I talked to him yesterday.

* You’re all sick, you know that?

** I’m not anti-American. I’ve been to Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Washington, Minnesota, Maine, Alaska… Likely some other states I’ve forgotten at the moment. And I have good friends from coast to coast. New York. California. I’m dying to go to Baltimore.

*** We’re distant cousins, like 3rd cousins. We were in home room together in high school. And we might be legal in Alabama but still, in my mind, we’re too related for that. Blech!

****'m not a lumberjack, or a fur trader, and I don't live in an igloo or eat blubber, or own a dog sled, and I don't know Jimmy, Sally or Suzy from Canada, although I'm certain they're really, really nice.
I have a Prime Minister, not a President. I speak English and French, not American, and I pronounce it "about", not "aboot".
I can proudly sew my country's flag on my backpack. I believe in peacekeeping, not policing; diversity, not assimilation; and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal.
A tuque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch, and it is pronounced "zed"; not "zee" – "zed"!
Canada is the second largest land mass! The first nation of hockey! And the best part of North America!
My name is Joe! And I am Canadian!

*****It’s a joke, people. Just a joke.


Bernita said...

I have the lamentable tendency to cry when I hear the anthem.

Boy Kim said...

It may be "just a joke" but it's also true.

I too have a fondness for beavers.

I'm not anti-American either, but I'm fed up of people saying "Wales? That's in England, right?"

Oh and "Kim? That's a girl's name, right?"

And my back hurts.

James Goodman said...

I work with two men named Kim and one woman of the same.

I didn't think it was that uncommon of a name for a boy...

I'm not a lumberjack, or a fur trader,

You know, The Fur Trader was the name of one of the coolest night clubs I have ever attended. Though throughout the entire evening, there was myself and only one other man to be spotted in the entire establishment.

Bernita said...

Never thought "Kim" was exclusively a girl's name, ever since I read Kipling.
As a girl's name, I suspect it began about the time Kimberly Mines made the news, sometime in the '60's? Then every time one turned around, girls were named "Kimberly."
Pretty, but staled by custom.

My maiden name - which I will not divulge - suffered the same as yours, Sandra.

Erik Ivan James said...

I'm glad you love your country. I love mine. I'm glad we are neighbors.

Trace said...

*Loud applause* You said it, Sandra! Double-double. I haven't heard that in six years. It's funny that when I mention Canada to the Americans I know they automatically think Quebec. Maybe it's because Quebec is just four hours away.

I miss Canada so much it makes me want to cry sometimes. But I'm coming back! I AM!

They don't have smarties here. And they JUST got dill pickle chips. They don't have bottles of vinegar on the tables in restaurants here, or the little packages of them at fast food joints.

There are no arrow bars, either. There's a million things. Poutine. Although I think you can get it in Maine. I'm told that the northern part of Maine is just like being in Canada :)

JamesO said...

You'd think Oswald was a simple enough name to get right - but I've lost count of the times I've been called Osbourne or Oswell. And pity my poor cousin Christopher Harvey Oswald when he was trying to get a work visa for the states. 'Are you intending to assassinate our President?' Hmmm.... let me think.

Having been to both countries, I can honestly say I much prefer Canada (albeit I've only seen Alberta and BC) - Canadians are less gushing than Americans, more straightforward. I still like Americans, though - I went out with a girl from Ohio when I was at University.

As for ancestry, sure it's important, but not as important as who you are right now. And since we're owning up to embarrassing truths, here's mine: I was born in England (the horror, the horror)

Anonymous said...

I took bagpipe lessons from a Ruttan, so I did know how to pronounce it! I could see how many would get it wrong, though.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh Bernita, that's so sweet. What's wrong with that?

Kim, you know, I think the understanding we have of Great Britain is pretty lacking. "Wales, that's in England." Smack!

James G - I'm not even asking about that club.

Erik, you're awesome.

Trace WTF? They don't have SMARTIES? And no MARS BARS either, right? ARROW? POUTINE? And you guys call America the land of opportunity? Clearly not the opportunity to get fat eating the best foods (ducks and runs)

James, I'd think Lee Harvey would have cleared up any mispronunciations for you.

Jason, that's pretty cool!

Unfortunately, thanks to that damn actress, I get called "Susan". Which I hate almost as much as Sandy.

AND NONE OF YOU KNOW WHAT INSTRUMENTS I PLAY! Hahahaha. Maybe some secrets are safe!

Boy Kim said...

I reckon you play bagpipes, and quite possibly penny whistle.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Nope. No sticker for you.

Trace said...

Sandra, it's horrible! No friggin' Smarties!! I could live without the other stuff (though I love poutine!) but Smarties?! Actually, now I can't eat them. Maybe they'll make a sugar-free version. One can only hope and dream.

Boy Kim said...

Just give me the stick part then.

Adam Hurtubise said...

"Now, my ancestry is primarily Irish, Scottish, English, a bit of German and Swiss…

And I have a French name."

Nice. I'll alter that to say MY ancestry is mostly Irish, with a little Dutch and Scottish, and a healthy dose of Cherokee thrown in... And my father's family came from Quebec and settled in Vermont.

And I have a French name.

And my uncle and aunt have a vacation home in Muskoka (it's been in my uncle's family for a hundred years or so)... and they call it Muskoka, not "the Muskokas" even though they're all American.

Great post, Sandra.


Sandra Ruttan said...

Trace, now if I was cruel, there'd be a joke about Americans and smarties just beggin' to be made.

Ah Kim what will I ever do with you?

Adam, glad you liked the post! And that your family is so wise. You too have the curse of the mysterious French name - I really shouldn't have said "only in Canada" - I'm sure it happens in the US all the time, and likely a fair bit with Hispanic names too.

I was going to say originally that Canada and the US are like siblings. We bicker and smack each other around behind Mommy's back, but at the end of the day, we're there for each other. Or so I'd like to think.

Steven said...

Baltimore? Wow. Wouldn't have guessed that one.

Been to Toronto. Liked it. Never been to Quebec, but that does get more commercial time for travel and tourism.

Sandra Ruttan said...

It's simple, Steven. I'm a huge fan of David Simon and The Wire and Laura Lippman books.

I'd also love to go to Boston.

Megan said...

I admit to being confused. I thought it was obvious that your last name was pronounced like the Sontarans' perennial enemy.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Like the what?

You'd be surprised. And my married name, being Icelandic, is prone to all sorts of mispronunciations as well.

Another confession - my hated nickname off the perverted form of pronouncing 'Ruttan' - Rotten Ruttin.

I hate those people. And the ones who always thought they were so origina saying I should open a "Ruttan's Rattan" shop.

E. Ann Bardawill said...

We should do a Canadian American CANDY exchange!

Coffee crisps and Macintosh toffee and stuff!

Let's make a list of candy bars and partner up!

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For The Trees said...

Whew. Back to a safe topic, a rant. Yesterday's talk of asses and expensive pregnancies had me wondering if, should I post, would I make an ass of myself?

I had to Google "Molson I Am Canadian" twice to find a site where the advert played. Your link wouldn't let me play it. So I went and played it and LOVED it!! My God, beer adverts are the world's best! And I thought the whole thing was exceptionally well done. Too bad about the Americans ranting about how UnAmerican it was. But there are people who think (mumble mumble mumble) is bad, too. (I will NOT be made an ass of!)

I have Canuck in my background - Arcadian, to be exact. My last name is Landry. My dad was from Louisiana. And because he married a north Texas girl, I got Scotch Irish and French in me. I see myself as being lucky to have all those flavors. Means when I go to Europe I have more than one country to visit. Not as many as you do, though.

Thanks for a great rant. I enjoyed it. And thanks for the pronunciation guide. Cleared it up for me!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Aw Forrest, you found a site that played the whole commercial? Can you email me that link? For when I want to get all misty-eyed and feel patriotic.

I like the way you put it. Flavours. Exactly. I'd like to think I connect to more people, not fit in with less.

And you never need to worry about making an ass of yourself. We're all pretty free here. A great loving bunch.

Kate said...

The Rutans and the Sontarans were alien races on Doctor Who. Just to fill this shocking gap in your general knowledge:

"In their natural forms, Rutans resemble large green jellyfish, glowing blobs of biomatter with long ropy tentacles. They are amphibious and can cling to sheer vertical surfaces, with considerable mobility out of the water despite their shape. Rutans can also generate lethal biolelectrical shocks, and seem to be able to absorb electrical energy directly for sustenance."

"It isn’t like we’re Australians, who have a distinctive environment and culture."

When I was at school multiculturalism was in full swing and we were basically taught that culture was what non-English speaking migrants had - Australian of UK descent had no culture at all.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Next you'll be telling me G'day mate is just a tourist promo gag and not something people really say.

So, those mutant alien 'rutan' things - is it pronounced right?

God, that's just disturbing! And at least I won't be easily mistaken for them.

Unless I'm really really drunk

Daniel Hatadi said...

SOME people say "G'day mate", but plenty don't. Foster's beer is definitely a tourist schtick. The last time I saw Foster's was in a liquor department store in New York.

So if it's instruments, I'm guessing you learned a few in a religious school so that would probably make them piano, guitar and clarinet.

One of those has to be right.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Forrest just sent me the commercial link.

I play the piano a bit.

But what kind of guitar?

And there's another nobody's come close to yet.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Ooh, don't tell me you have a 12 string acoustic? Or is it pedal lap steel?

Or is it a banjo?!?!?!?!

Sandra Ruttan said...


You're going in the wrong direction.

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