Canadian Takes a Hard Look at U.S. Citizenship : After 20 years, he decided to take the plunge. That meant studying for the test and grappling with the prospect of a new identity. In the end, though, timing was the real issue.

<i> Earl Pomerantz is a television writer in Universal City</i>

You’d think as an adult, you’d know your own mind. But sometimes your mind knows things that you don’t find out till later.

In September, I decided to become an American citizen. It was a surprising decision. For 20 years, I’d been very happy being a Canadian citizen who happened to work, pay taxes, marry, buy a house and raise a family in the United States. But in my heart, I was still 100% Canadian, even though I did nothing there but visit once a year in the week that wasn’t cold.

The impulse hit me the way motherhood hits childless women in their 30s. Suddenly, I wanted to vote, have a say in things, help decide the future of the place my daughter would grow up in. I also had the sense that, for the first time in years, we had a President who wasn’t totally from another planet, someone who inspired the hope that things that weren’t right could actually be changed.


Still, me? An American? I’m not knocking the place, it’s just that you have to understand what being an American means to Canadians.

To Canadians, Americans are the neighbors whose parties are too loud. They’re the rich uncle you have to be nice to, so he’ll give you a nickel.

Americans behave like there was a contest for Best Country and they retired the award in 1945. “Hey,” they ask, “can you imagine all those Cubans and Haitians and Mexicans risking their lives trying to sneak into Portugal?

Well, maybe America does rate the overall crown. But in the lesser categories, I’d vote for Holland for Best Tulips, Italy for Best Shoes and India for Best Treatment of a Cow. I’d vote for anywhere but here for Best Place Not to be Randomly Slain.

Still, if you want to take whatever talents you have and try to make the most of them, you come to the United States. No question. And if the work is in California, they throw in a bonus. Sun.

Yeah, but turn my back on Canada? My daughter says, “They’ll never run you over in Canada.” That’s her way of saying Canadians are nice guys. And clean. Every American who’s ever been there always says how clean Canada is. The only thing here that’s comparable are the bathrooms in Disneyland.

As I struggled with these conflicts, I started to study for the test I’d be given at my interview, exploring the history and government of America. I love to study and I found the material very interesting. “Who succeeds the President if he can’t perform his duties?” (The vice president.) “Who succeeds him ?” (The speaker of the House of Representatives.)

I learned the duties of the Supreme Court (to interpret laws), what the Bill of Rights is (the first 10 amendments to the Constitution) and who elects the President (the Electoral College). Helping my daughter with her fifth-grade homework, I even memorized the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. It wouldn’t be on the test, but maybe I could recite it for extra credit.

Then months after I’d applied, a letter came notifying me of the date of my appointment. It was 10 days away. I was very excited. I was also upset.


Ten days left. Ten more days and I become one of the Noisy People. How could I do it? How could I be . . . them? And in 10 days, it wouldn’t be Them anymore. It would be Us. Slavery? That’s me. Wiped out the Native Americans? Yo. Vietnam, that’s me too. Pollution, poverty, crime . . . hey, come on. Nobody’s perfect.

And what am I giving up? Did becoming an American mean I couldn’t root for the Blue Jays anymore? Was I barred from singing, “O, Canada” at ballgames? How far did it go? Did switching sides permanently deny me the right to say, “Eh?”

“How long is the term of office of a senator?” (Six years.) “Which ship brought the Pilgrims to America?” (The Mayflower.) “In what year was the Constitution written?” (1787.)

Finally, early one Wednesday morning I walked into a large room in the basement of the Federal Building. It felt like a milestone in my life. I was wearing my best sports jacket, shirt, tie and very serious shoes. I could be married in these clothes. In a way, I was going to be. I was marrying a country.

I handed a woman my notice of appointment and took a seat near the back of the room. Too pumped up to read the book I’d brought, I looked around, noticing people of various backgrounds, many speaking languages very different from English. I wondered how they’d do on the test.

Ten minutes into my wait, my name was called. This was it. I got up with all the self-assurance I could muster and headed to the front of the room. But instead of directing me to an interview stall, the woman handed me back my notice of appointment. There was a small problem, she said. I’d come on the wrong day.


I looked at the letter. She was right. My appointment was for Monday. So how come I showed up on Wednesday?

Trying not to look too jerky in front of the non-English-speaking applicants, all of whom knew the difference between Monday and Wednesday, I went off to another office to reschedule my appointment. They said it could take months.

Who knows, maybe by then I’ll be ready.