Wow – Canada!

Canada through the eyes of world literature

Canadians: The Decaf of North America?

Java Jive by Ben Schott

Java Jive by Ben Schott

Ben Schott, “Java Jive,” The New York Times (Sunday, February 10, 2013)

I’m not sure how legible that image is; it shows part of “Java Jive,” an “Op-Chart” by Ben Schott (he of the Original Miscellany, various spin-off miscellanies, and related products. One can only assume the world is better for having so many miscellanies in it.)

But returning to “Java Jive,” it’s essentially a glossary, giving definitions of barista terminology from coffee shops across the U.S. It’s mostly unremarkable: for example, a “crushtomer” is a customer on whom a barista has a crush, and “spro” is a common abbreviation for espresso. Nothing earth-shaking there.

But then we come to the entry for Gimme! Coffee (locations in New York City and the Finger Lakes) pictured above, and what do we find? Why, this:

CANADIAN
A decaf Americano.

FRENCH CANADIAN
A CANADIAN with an extra shot of decaf.

Ouch! I try not to take these references to Canada personally, but … ouch!

First of all let me state, for the record, that I have never in my life ordered a decaf Americano. I regard coffee primarily as a palatable caffeine delivery system, and don’t really see the point of decaf.

But I don’t think the idea here is that Canadians are always ordering decaf Americanos. Call me paranoid, but I think something more insidious is at work.

The real joke is this: Canadians are to Americans as decaf is to “real” coffee; that is, lacking in punch, kick, force and power. By now we can recognize this as a recurring trope: Canadians are essentially the same as our neighbours to the south, only less warlike, more polite, and more socialist. In short, we are weaker, less interesting Americans.

This is a bit rich when you consider the origin of the Americano. According to my extensive research, the Americano came into being when American soldiers in Italy in the Second World War added hot water to the espresso they were served there in order to more closely approximate the weak, watery brew they were accustomed to at home. So if Americans are just weaker Italians, and then Canadians are just weaker Americans … and where does that leave the French Canadians?

Here lies, to me, the most interesting crux of the joke. A French Canadian is a Canadian with an extra shot … but an extra shot of decaf. In Canada, we’re accustomed to hear about how French Canadians – or at least Montrealers – are so much more sophisticated and cosmopolitan than the rest of us, with a passion for art and literature and public intellectualism English Canada can only regard with sick, pathetic envy. (We hear this mostly from Montrealers who live in Toronto.) This seems to fit with the “extra shot” idea: a French Canadian is a Canadian, only with an added dash of alluring intrigue.

But the extra shot is an extra shot of decaf; it’s more blandness piled on top of something that was already rather bland; it’s an extra dose of dullness. This presents a view of French Canadians directly opposed to what we’re used to: they’re just like other Canadians, but a little more blah.

As a side note, one of the eager young writers on staff here at Wow Canada Publications Inc. suggests that a “Canadian” should actually be what we up here call a “double-double,” i.e. a coffee with two creams and two sugars (a common order at Tim Hortons, a Canadian chain purveying vile coffee and uninspired doughnuts to rushed commuters and named after – what else? – a hockey player. I try to outrun the cliches, but they keep catching up.)

If it were up to me, a Canadian would be a quad espresso – my personal Starbucks order, on the rare occasions when I buy coffee out. But that’s neither here nor there.

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