So last night, I was enjoying a friendly Twitter argument with @ScientistMother and @27andaphd about Tim Hortons commercials. During the course of our conversation, it transpired that both ScientistMother (born in Canada to foreign-born parents) and I (born in the UK, moved to Canada in my 20s) think that we’re first-generation immigrants: I think she’s second-generation, and she thinks I’m a New Canadian and am not assigned a generation number.

Convinced that I was correct, I headed self-righteously to Wikipedia – where, instead of the unambivalent validation I was expecting,  I found the following:

“The term first-generation, as it pertains to a person’s nationality or residency in a country, can imply two possible meanings, depending on context:

  • foreign born citizen or resident who has immigrated and been naturalized in a new country of residence.
  • naturally born citizen or resident of a country whose parents obey the previous definition, or

This ambiguity is captured and corroborated in The Oxford English Dictionary‘s definition of “generation“:

…designating a member of the first (or second, etc.) generation of a family to do something or live somewhere; spec. designating a naturalized immigrant or a descendant of immigrant parents, esp. in the United States…. (OED definition of “generation,” section 6b., emphasis added)b

In the United States, among demographers and other social scientists, the term “first generation” is used to refer to foreign-born residents (excluding those born abroad of U.S. parents).

There is not a universal consensus on which of these meanings is always implied”. 


How can this have been allowed to happen?! My logical science brain just can’t cope with this! (And ScientistMother agrees!)

This makes determining what generation my parents would be if they moved here to join me even trickier than before! (But no less hypothetical, unfortunately).

Oh well – ScientistMother and I have agreed to share first place, which is nicely Canadian if nothing else. However, we still disagree about those Tim Hortons commercials: I’m Team Airport Dad, and she’s Team Hockey Granddad.

Must be a generational thing…


About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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28 Responses to FIRST!

  1. chall says:

    As I just said on twitter… back home the term “2nd generation immigrant” is really mostly used to by certain ppl to make sure that “these ppl are not real swedes” (e.g right wing extremist and not pc). Otherwise mainly used in terms of statistics… but not all uncontroversial. First generation immigrant though, it’s useful when talking about the stigma of moving to a new country (with a small language base) and the problems that may arise due to prejudice etc… still in stats context.

    Then again, being from a strange place when comparing to Canada and USA (when it comes to being more viewed as being “immigrant nations from the start”), we don’t normally distinguish the Scandinavian countries (i.e. Finland, Norway and Denmark) as “immigrant” as much… think we would benefit immensly from talking more about “ppl who can understand and speak the language” since in the end that is a huge deal when it comes to ‘assimilating’ and making a new life. Hope I’m making somewhat of sense…? (after all, it’s a small place with a small language, not like English – or French – which are larger language by too much)

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      yeah, a lot of people seem not to think I’m really an immigrant, because the UK is so similar to Canada in many ways. To the extent that I’ve had more than one person complain to me about immigrants / immigration / theytookourjobs!!1!!, and when I’ve asked them why they’re complaining to an immigrant, they say “oh, well, I don’t mean you“.


      • the cynic in me says its because you’re the “right” type of immigrant “european” you’re not about to change the demographics or “culture”

        • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

          yeah, people have been known to follow up “I don’t mean you” with “because you’re…”, and then they stop, and I always imagine they were going to say “white”, but then they say something about speaking the language already or being well qualified or something. But they always pause before they say that part.

        • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

          on the flip side, my Vietnamese-born former neighbour became much friendlier when he found out that I’m a fellow immigrant – he’d assumed I was Canadian born. When he found out we shared that experience, we started to bond over complaints about the immigration department’s phone system and things like that.

        • Mike says:

          It’s not a cynical concept, ScientistMother, it’s a societal concept. A study in Finland about Finns (sorry, too lazy to link) showed there are clear classes of immigrants, white european being the most acceptable, spanning down to black african.

  2. Natalie says:

    I had never seen Airport Dad, and now I’m crying.

    I guess that defaults: Team Airport Dad.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      By the way, this whole thing started with a tweet from the excellent spoof @stats_canada account, saying

      “2% of Canadians are still crying because of that Tim Horton’s commercial where the African dad meets his family at the airport”

  3. Frank says:

    Sounds similar to the confusion as to whether “first floor” means the floor on the ground level, or the floor above ground level. It depends where you start counting from.

    • Ah yes. I used to think this was a Europe vs. North America thing, until I realized that there are plenty of buildings on this side of the pond that use the “M for main, 1 for the next floor up” method – and plenty of others that use “1” for the ground floor.

      Of course, the hospital across the street uses “1” for the sub-basement, so that the ground floor is “3”. Which is very confusing when you cross the bridge to the hospital next door to it, magically transitioning from the fourth floor to the sixth.

      • Or the sixth floor to the fourth, depending on which direction you’re going.

        • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

          Really? I thought it was North America vs. everywhere else thing, too.

          Here in Vancouver there are lots of big buildings built on very steep hills, so the floor number when you enter is one or two floors different at the front versus the back of the building.

  4. Cath – I think my tendency would be to use ScientistMother’s definition (i.e., I am a first-generation immigrant, being in the first generation of my family born here, whereas my British-born parents are just immigrants,or naturalized citizens, or something).

    On the other hand, I’m not sure I’d accept Wikipedia as the authoritative source on this (or anything, for that matter).

  5. I”m crying watching the proud father. Way way better. #TeamProudFather.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      that’s because you relate more to your immigrant parents, you second-generationer! Us proper first generation peeps relate more to the dad moving here by himself and missing his family

      (both are awesome and give me warm-and-fuzzy feelings, by the way. The difference is that hockey granddad makes me smile, but airport dad makes me cry)

  6. nina says:

    I cried watching airport-dad. That is one amazing commercial. (proudFathers is good too). It makes me wonder if it would be better if the Tim Hortons-management became Canada’s pm.
    Because on a related note, in a pubquiz the other week my friends thought Canada had a female progressive green PM, and I had to bitterly correct them.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      I’d vote for them!

      • nina says:

        sorry, I just remembered YOU are going to dominate the world soon! Please take TH as your advisors Cath …
        And yet, I’m not sure how I would feel if I came to a dark snowy country and my husband would give me mediocre cold coffee in a paper cup. But then again, I am (brr) white and I grew up with mediocre cold coffee, so how could I compare.

        • Lisbeth says:

          Loved the proud-daddy-commercial but like Nina, I were also thinking: would I really want a cup of coffee at that moment??!
          What happened to flowers, balloons and big banners of “Welcome to Canada, my loved ones” 😀

          • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

            I don’t think most airports let you put up banners unless maybe you’re a returning Olympic champion or something.

            But he could at least have bought a box of TimBits.

  7. Eva says:

    One of my now-Canadian friends moved there with her parents when she was 11. So both her and her parents are the same generation of immigrant, which I also find terribly confusing.

  8. Where then does that leave those who live and obtain citizenship in multiple countries? Are they, like the Queen who rules both Canada and the UK at the same time, multi-first generations. I met an artist who, like me, born in Canada, lived in the UK, with UK citizenship, then lived in US, with pending US citizenship. Are we both multi-generation Canadians with first generation immigrant status as a British and Americans? I think when laws of naturalization and loopholes take over, science takes a back seat.

  9. Oh, this whole thing is getting even more confusing than I’d first thought! Why can’t we all just be citizens of the world?!

  10. Scientist mother says:

    Really the Q should be, why can’t Canada just take over? It really would be better world

  11. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Um… maybe after the next election?!

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