In 1967 — Canada’s centennial — Lester B. Pearson was prime minister. His friends called him Mike, because his flying instructor in World War I decided that Lester was insufficiently bellicose.
Mike was a politician who got things done. In 1966, universal health care was made law by Mike’s Liberals and, one year earlier, they introduced the Maple Leaf as our country’s flag.
One of Mike’s lesser known accomplishments was the invention of a Canadian toast. In a half-baked attempt to make Canada cool during our country’s centennial, Mike asked our country’s leading authors, historians and linguists to create a national greeting that would encapsulate the Canadian spirit. After what we can assume was one-minute’s thought, they picked an Inuit word that means, “I’m friendly.” So, if you happen to be Canadian and drinking an alcoholic beverage while reading this, please raise your glass and say, Chimo, because Chimo isn’t just American prison slang for child molester; it’s the official Canadian toast.
I spoke with a small number of people who were of drinking age in 1967, and they told me that it was fashionable to say Chimo for about three months after the word’s introduction. Then, Chimo disappeared. One might assume that Chimo lost its cool because Canadians rightly decided that the government should not be in the business of telling drunks how to address one another.
This inconsequential footnote of Canadian history may have been forgotten had it not been for the implacable momentum of globalization. In The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman posited that distinctions between cultures would become more entrenched as the world became more globalized (how a globe becomes more globalized is a question without a proper answer). We are in the early stages of globalization, but it would appear that Friedman’s thesis is correct. Anyone who has spent time in the European Union will have noticed that people of different nationalities cling to pointless cultural nuances because they believe that these minor distinctions are what make people different from one another.
If Chimo is to work its way back into our lexicon, it will happen because Canadians decide there is value in having a unique national identity. A distinct national identity should be important to Canadians because the country located directly to Canada’s south is the greatest engine for cultural imperialism that exists in the world today. Simply put, America is contagious. Hollywood, fast food, Apple Computers, MTV, Facebook, obesity, Evangelical Christianity, human papillomavirus and reality television are all key exports fueling America’s cultural trade surplus.
So, if a sense of creeping Americanization keeps you awake at night, remember to lift a glass, say Chimo and protect Canadian culture … whatever the hell that might be.
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Samuel Kirz received an MA in Creative Writing from City University London. He writes nonfiction on the topics of sport, culture and Canada; his fiction is about sex. To contact Sam, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.