My son was born in the UK four years ago. I’m a dual citizen of Canada and the UK, which means that I am able to pass Canadian nationality on to my son. Shortly after his birth, I registered my son as Canadian citizen with the Canadian High Commission in London. Registration is the first step toward applying for a Canadian passport, which is something that might be useful to him in adult life. My son has three nationalities, as his mother is the citizen of a third country, which happens to be a high-income society in East Asia.
Today, the certificate of registration as a Canadian citizen arrived by courier at our house. In contrast, the equivalent certificate from the East Asian government arrived within 10 working days of my son’s birth and he had the passport from that country by the time he was a few months old. Needless to say, my son’s application for his first British passport was very quick, although that’s not quite a fair comparison, as we were applying from within the country.
I could write a paper on cross-cultural management about this hilarious incident. I’m mainly surprised there weren’t donut crumbs on the certificate from the clerical worker in Canada. [I should explain that Tim Horton’s Donuts, which are rich in nourishing sugar and carbs, are Canada’s national food].
What is so appalling about this incident is that growing up in Canada I often heard white Canadians complaining that immigrants from South Asia and “the Islands” had “no sense of time”. I heard teachers remark that Black students were “on Jamaican time” and thus habitually late for class. That’s not a fair comparison since very poor countries can afford fewer timekeeping devices. Relative to people from other developed countries, Canadians are very time insensitive. For instance, they rank at the bottom of the developed world by such metrics as observed walking pace in financial districts. Canadian postal clerks are also slower at selling stamps than postal clerks in most other OECD countries, although they are faster than postal clerks performing the same task in impoverished tropical nations.
I see from the paperwork that my son’s citizenship application was processed in an office located in an economically-stagnant part of eastern Canada that has, unfortunately, been largely bypassed by the waves of immigration that have invigorated the urban centres of central and western Canada. Census data for the community in question suggests to me that the workers who processed the application were, unfortunately, native-born white Canadians.
It so happened that the certificate of Canadian nationality arrived when I was writing the notes for a lecture that discusses, among other things, attitudes towards time in emerging markets.
I’m not angry with the Canadian government, since their Third-World tardiness had no practical costs for my son. I am, however, somewhat amused and disappointed at the same time.
I’m sending a letter about this incident to Gordon Campbell, the Canadian High Commissioner. As an individual who was Mayor of Vancouver during a period of rapid economic growth and ethnic transition, he may be able to understand the cultural roots of this evidently dysfunctional bureaucracy.
Don’t get me wrong. Canada has many positive features. Efficiency aint one of them.
For more background reading, see
Levine, Robert V., and Ara Norenzayan. “The pace of life in 31 countries.”Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 30, no. 2 (1999): 178-205.