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Canada Day came three weeks early for me.
An American citizen, I’ve lived more than half my life in Canada, and I’ve long preferred Canada Day to the Fourth of July.
I suppose this is largely because I like my patriotism diluted, with a soupçon of collective self-restraint. In a word: understated.
Three weeks ago, my wife Denise arrived home from a shopping safari in nearby Sechelt, B.C., having bagged an exotic novelty number that was right up my alley. A baseball cap. (I have a modest collection.) Not just any baseball cap, mind you, but a cap that promotes a country, not a team.
Black with red trim, comfortable and adjustable, this commoner’s chapeau features a red maple leaf with the expression “eh!” (in white) embossed front-and-centre just above the bill.
On the back, all in red, stitched just above the cut-out “ponytail hole,” is the word “I” followed by a maple leaf followed by the word “Canada.”
(Does this translate to “I leaf Canada?” As in, perhaps, “I came to Canada, but now I leaf.” Just wondering.)
Denise’s intention was to ship the cap off to our daughter Samantha – a patriotic Canadian who lives on Vashon Island, a 15-minute ferry ride from West Seattle.
Although she’s a longtime resident of the United States, Sam makes a point of celebrating Canada Day, and her mother knew Sam would love the cap and wear it with pride.
But I really wanted the darn cap!
Denise admitted she wanted one as well, so the next day I trekked into town and bought two more.
Denise immediately put hers on. Later that day, while she was discussing some gardening arcana with our next-door neighbour, Warne, he noticed the cap and said he wanted one, too.
It wasn’t until a day later, when I took the cap off during a Blue Jays game to scratch my head at some now-forgotten boneheaded defensive error, that I idly turned the cap around to brush off some white cat hair and realized that whoever designed the logo had blown it big time.
“Eh,” our quintessentially Canadian linguistic tic – an identity expression of some real cultural import – is never followed by an exclamation point!
It must be – indeed, demands to be – followed by a question mark.
It is “eh?” not “eh!”
Try saying “eh” without having your voice rise at the end. I guarantee you cannot.
Since the cap was made in China, I assumed that some Chinese logo designer had simply not properly understood how the expression was employed by Canadians. (Ditto for his or her boss who manufactured the item.)
Checking out the headgear on Skype from Saigon, my friend Von G. agreed that “eh!” was a most egregious faux pas.
A born-and-raised son of Saskatchewan, Von G. felt a bit of outrage, too.
He suggested the designer was probably working for a Canadian firm who outsourced the making of the cap to a Chinese manufacturer.
As it turned out, the cap is a Loblaws product – about as Canadian as you can get, right? So how could those mercantile hosers get it so wrong?
“Well,” prairie-drawled Von G., “It was either accidental or intentional.”
Accidental I could almost understand, but why intentional?
“They probably figured that an exclamation point was more upbeat, more likely to attract attention,” Von G. suggested, “like wristwatch vendors who set the hands at 10 and two to create a smiley face.”
“Yeah, well, if they did it intentionally, that strikes me as cynical, bogus and motivated entirely by the bottom line,” I fumed.
“I think it’s called the profit motive,” Von G. said with a yawn, it being 6 a.m. in Vietnam. “I’m sure you’ve heard of that, eh?”
I suggested – and Von G. agreed – that whether the mistake was a mistake or not, the dissemination of the cap might well be seen as a subtle manifestation of language corruption – bought and paid for by the unsuspecting wearers. Then we ended our Skype call.
But not before I tipped my cap and yelled “Happy Canada Day, eh?”
Jan Michael Sherman lives in Halfmoon Bay, B.C.