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From ‘kindred spirit’ to ‘socialist nanny state’: Canadian expats share what the world thinks of Canada

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What the world thinks of Canada, as told by Canadian expats

For Canada's sesquicentennial The Globe asked Canadian expats what people thought of Canada where they lived, what they themselves think of Canada and how that perception has changed since they've been living abroad. Here's what they had to say

What do people think of Canada where you live?

People used to talk about Canada with mild interest. In these politically volatile days, people express envy. They want to know how difficult it is to get citizenship, whether their professional credentials will transfer, how much tuition costs for non-Canadians. - Alexandra Wragge (Annapolis, Maryland)

Attitudes are split. Some see Canada as a wonderful ideal that the United States should do more to emulate. Others see Canada as a socialist nanny state they want no part of. Canadian winters probably don't help. - Murray Rice (Denton, Texas)

In a nutshell, they picture Canada as a cozy and friendly, albeit occasionally cold, Hobbit Shire full of rustic folks and comedians. - Cindy Chen (Washington, D.C.)

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People here think Canada is uniformly cold and snowy. They see Canada as an enormous, peaceful land mass with diversity, hockey and a lot of apologies. It's as if the Americans saw the Molson "I am Canadian" ads and took them a little too seriously. - Yonah Krakowsky (Boston, Massachusetts)

Canada is well loved and appreciated as an open country filled with friendly, good-natured people. Canadians are considered humble conciliators. Our artists (singers and actors) are recognized for their talent. - Frederick Russell-Rivoallan (Paris, France)

Canada is looked on favourably by most Spaniards. They struggle to differentiate us from Americans and consider our cultures identical for the most part, although they recognize that we tend to be a bit more liberal in general than our neighbours to the south, which they appreciate. The usual stereotypes of being polite and welcoming are there. A usual conversation when I tell people I'm Canadian goes something like, "Wow that's really cool, I'd like to visit, I heard it's cold." It's a little unfortunate that there isn't much exposure here but I'm doing my best to change that. - Savroop Toor (Madrid, Spain)

I've lived around the world, and for the most part, Canadians are always viewed as friendly and jovial. Wherever I go, I'm proud to say I'm Canadian. Funny – when I was living in Australia (for 1 1/2 years), whenever I told somebody I'm from Canada, they would say, "Oh wow! I've always wanted to visit Canada. I want to go to Montreal, Vancouver and Alaska!" So apparently, in some parts of the world, the fact that Alaska is a U.S. state is conveniently overlooked. - Nora Dunn (Cuenca, Ecuador)

Canada enjoys a positive reputation in Dubai. It is viewed as a dream country with tremendous future promise. Dubai itself is a transition city on most expats' agendas and many, especially families, immigrate to Canada from Dubai. Canadian education and work experience is also valued here, but I would like to see more Canadian presence in terms of art/culture and society. - Farida Talaat (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)

Canada is perceived as an open, egalitarian society with a healthy respect for the environment, rule of law and personal freedoms. Canada, to the people of Taiwan, is also an enormous land of overwhelming beauty, nature and wholesome food. While Canada is viewed as a wonderful place to raise children or grow, many young people in east Asia (ages 25-50) feel that Canadian cities lack excitement and opportunities for gainful employment/entrepreneurialism. - David Bostwick (Taipei, Taiwan)

Canada is well known within the forest-products and mining sectors. Both of these sectors are large in Indonesia. Generally outside of these two natural-resources sectors Canada is viewed as a good country with a neutral international military policy and reputation. The U.S. and U.K. are vilified to a large extent due to interference in largely Muslim countries such as Iraq, Libya and Yemen. - Patrick McBride (Pekanbaru, Indonesia)

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Japanese people think Canada is very cold in winter, but a large country filled with natural beauty. Regarding food, the strongest images are maple syrup and smoked salmon. Autumn leaves and Northern Lights are considered to be two "must-sees" while visiting the country. - Selinda England (Isehara, Japan)

Australians generally love Canada! We have similar senses of humour – self-deprecating, dry, sarcastic, don't take yourself too seriously. We are both small in power geographically but have an above-average presence on the world stage. Every Australian that I meet, when I let them know that I'm from Canada, says that they either wish to travel to Canada some day, have travelled to Canada and think of it fondly or have friends and family currently living in Canada (typically Whistler). Canada, for them, is definitely all about snow, mountains, clean water and being polite. - Anne Tosky (Melbourne, Australia)

Kiwis see Canada as a kindred spirit. They imagine a place of amazing natural beauty populated with sensible, kind, tolerant people who live near/next to a country that is much bigger and a lot noisier. - Leanne Pooley (Auckland, New Zealand)


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What is your perception of Canada and how has it changed since living abroad?

Second to none. Canada doesn't pay lip service to core constitutional and liberal values. It exemplifies them at every level of society. This isn't to deny that there are still challenges and obstacles in Canada but that it is committed to meeting the ongoing domestic and international challenges. I miss it more than ever. I often point out examples from Canada to illustrate to my students that ideas of health care and cultural pluralism are absolutely possible and viable. - Mohamad Al-Hakim (Fort Myers, Florida)

Since living abroad, I've come to appreciate my country much more – for it being multicultural and accepting of differences while celebrating the uniqueness of our diversity, which unified us. I've grown beyond the bilingual divide of French- and English-speaking Canadians. Our upbringing is much more global than I realized when comparing expat Canadians to, say, expat Americans and Australians. We take a global approach much more easily than most. - Frederick Russell-Rivoallan (Paris, France)

I now recognize many more of the shades of grey. I'm still a fervent supporter of universal health care, yet having lived in countries with hybrid systems (Germany) and ones with private systems, it becomes apparent that universality comes at a cost in terms of service levels. I have the feeling that Canada is not as present on the world stage as it once was. The Harper years damaged Canada's reputation as a diplomatic player abroad. - Derek Tronsgard (Frankfurt, Germany)

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I think Canada is a place where multiculturalism has worked out remarkably well, and it's something that the rest of the world needs to emulate. But we have our own strains of nativism, and that worries me. I used to be extremely patriotic and nationalistic. After living abroad for 16 years I think nationalism is overrated. Every country has its great sides and its dark sides, and being proud of a country simply because you were born there (i.e. if you've never lived outside of it) seems a bit absurd to me. - Christopher Kyba (Potsdam, Germany)

I love Canada. I love the diversity of the country and how it is embraced. Many Canadian "ideals" reflect my own moral leanings. I'm concerned by the ongoing mistreatment of First Nations people in the country and I don't think that is something that many people know about where I'm from. I think my perception has stayed fairly similar but I've grown generally fonder of Canadiana (Tim Hortons, CN Tower). I love visits back to Toronto and almost see the city as a tourist. - Jessica Longo (Glasgow, Scotland)

Canada is a great country that remains peaceful and kind … but cold. I've come to appreciate how well run and transparent it is and appreciate the quality of education it offers. It does feel uptight and reserved to me after living in Colombia. - Robert Sims (Manizales, Colombia)

A welcoming country, one where people are open to other cultures and ideas. For me, Canada is nature, parks, the outdoors. I appreciate so much more our freedoms that we enjoy and that I took for granted. In Canada I would never worry about saying what I think, even if it was critical of our government. For me, Canada is a land of equality, something that I never fully understood until moving to a country where class lines are still more firmly drawn. - Leza Warkentin (Puerto Vallarta, Mexico)

I love and miss my home. We are nation with a wonderful international reputation that I hope we can maintain throughout the changes in the U.S. I think more Canadians could benefit from international travel as I see a danger in small-town echo chambers fostering uninformed groupthink perspectives. - Fletcher Planert (Guanzhou, China)

Given the political climate this year, I am really proud of Canada. Most Canadians have really embraced the progressive ideas and refused to give into a lot of the negative and hateful sentiments that have spread in many countries. I have come to appreciate the regional diversity within Canada since living abroad. Every province has its own unique cultural identity, while also maintaining a shared sense of national pride. I've come to see that this is very special. - Marielle Hawkes (Wellington, New Zealand)

I think Canada is a fantastic country that has its flaws. I'm proud to say I'm from Canada when people ask where my accent is from, but I think it's important to acknowledge that nowhere is perfect and Canada is no exception. I love Canada but that doesn't mean I'm willing to look at it through rose-tinted glasses and gloss over its problems. Living abroad has shown me how other people, countries, and cultures do and see things. I've found that there's much we can learn about ourselves if we look at Canada and Canadian culture through the lens of an outsider. I think we Canadians have a bit of superiority complex and mythologize about ourselves and our country (I'm guilty of engaging in this too). For example, we like to think of ourselves as friendly and polite, better than the U.S., and as peacekeepers. Australia is not perfect either and is just as guilty in engaging in this myth-making. But learning about its flaws while living here has helped me realize and come to grips with Canada's flaws as well. In essence, living in Australia has taken off some of Canada's 'shine' in my eyes. - Chris Cowan (Canberra, Australia)

Having spent time in several countries that aren't as affluent as Canada, I am struck by how wealthy Canada is and it's interesting to me that Canadians don't seem to know this. Because the U.S. is so much bigger and richer, Canadians have a distorted view of their own assets. Canada has one of the highest standards of living in the world - Canadians should be cognizant of how lucky they are! - Leanne Pooley (Auckland, New Zealand)

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