I May Regret Writing This But…

It’s a complicated  thing– this Canada – USA relationship. And speaking for my 300 million countrymen, we just don’t get it.

As I read through some of the American press coverage of the Vancouver games, I remember how I felt as I stumbled through my first few months in my new country, trying to make sense of things.

I recall being shocked to hear –during the summer Olympics of 2004—a new friend admit, “I cheer for whoever is playing AGAINST the Americans.”  Yowza! Who knew we aroused such passion? I can promise you, you’ll never hear an American say, “I cheer for whoever is up against the Canadians.” It’s just different.

If I were asked to give a Coles Notes (please note:  these are NOT Cliff Notes) version of 6 things that most Americans don’t understand or appreciate about our “Neighbours to the North” (that was the expression we were taught in school) they’d be:

  1. Terry Fox. I confess I didn’t know who he was before moving to Toronto. Shame on me. Everyone everywhere should know about this inspirational individual.
  2. The War of 1812 still matters here. “We cleaned your clocks in 1812!” is something I heard quite frequently during my first year here. “We” of course, were the British back then, and that identity issue only adds to the confusion. Don’t even talk about the Battle of New Orleans. That was after the war ended, remember? And the British-Canadian identity issue is still sorting itself out. In the meantime, a toast to the Queen!
  3. Manifest Destiny might have moved North. Most Americans have never heard of the Fenian Raids. I’ve tried to apologize. I’ve told my Canadian cousins that this was all a colossal misunderstanding, and that the USA is now willing to throw in Buffalo as a peace offering. (After all, I think most Buffaloanians are now living in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle.)
  4. Gretzky: Most Americans know of the Great One but few appreciate what he represents in Canada. It’s not unusual to hear Canadians say, “I remember exactly where I was when the trade was announced” in a way that echoes how Americans recall November 22. 1963.
  5. Canadians understand American politics, but we don’t reciprocate. When I walked in the common room the day after the 2004 elections, I was pelted with half-eaten muffins. My colleagues were not celebrating President Bush’s re-election (I haven’t seen many “W” hats since then, either.) By contrast,  my own informal poll suggests that fewer than 1 in 10 of my countrymen know the name of Canada’s Prime Minister. Like the weather map on the “Today” show, Canadian politics just disappear.
  6. Canadians want to win. This is evidently something of a surprise to my fellow Yanks. We were nursed on too many episodes of “Dudley Do-Right.” If Americans ever had the chance to see TSN’s coverage of the “World Juniors” on Boxing Day (when is that again?), they’d know just how competitive Canadians are on things that matter (re: hockey.) Under that veneer of  Canadian niceness, we share a lot in common. And when it comes to the national passion, this can be an almost scary thing. If Canada doesn’t win the gold medal in THE ONLY SPORT THAT REALLY MATTERS, I may grab a few bags of milk and head to Buffalo!

One thought on “I May Regret Writing This But…

  1. Just throwing this out there – some Canadians seem to have awfully irrational, expectations of Americans. In my opinion, there is an almost unhealthy obsession with American politics.

    How many Canadians can name the Minister of Foreign Affairs off the top of their head? How many can name the American Secretary of State? Minister of Defence and Secretary of Defense?

    There are excellent reasons to be informed, with regards to American politics. And their are also good reasons for Americans to understand how Canada operates. But before criticizing how little the American’s know of Canada, consider why we know so much about America? It is, in large part, due to the American cultural experience we often seem to only partake in as spectators.

    Consider Fox news – a channel not even aired in Canada, as far as I know, yet still manages to raise the ire of Canadians everywhere. Or Ron Paul, the libertarian American presidential hopeful who somehow managed to grab Canadians’ imagination. Or Iraq, or the health care debate, or the banking crisis, or don’t ask – don’t tell. Via the internet, magazines, comedy|news show hybrids (Colbert, Daily Show), American political discourse is constantly being digested.

    Canadians, and indeed, people all over the world, develop opinions on these matters without having a (significant) individual stake in the outcome. I concede that what happens in American does have an impact upon Canada, but I would suggest that this fact is not what drives the average teenager to consider American affairs – rather it is largely the consumption of American culture.

    I don’t mean to sound like some Canadian nationalist calling for the CRTC to mandate Canadian internet content, or some such nonsense. But some self reflection is certainly necessary – perhaps we’d be better off if we knew less about America, and more about ourselves. When the American troop surge in Afghanistan is more debated then Canada’s own, fast approaching, deadline for withdrawal there is a problem. When real American problems get distorted into nonexistent Canadian problems (re: Canadian banking crisis?) there is a cultural cataclysm forming. Canada has enough problems of its own.

    I’ve gone on much longer than I planned to, and there is certainly much more to be said on these matters, but I’ll attempt to summarize here:

    Our interest in American politics is often a matter of societal influences, not an individual interest.
    The reciprocal effect is largely nonexistent – Canadian culture (what there is of it?) does not permeate the United States.
    The disparity between the average Canadian’s knowledge of the US, and the average American’s knowledge of Canada is, then, not surprising.
    Canadians’ information of American policies and politics may be coming at the expense of information about our own government.
    This is a bad thing.

    Finally – self-righteous condescension, with regards to American politics, is never appropriate, yet remains endemic in any discussion of the States.

    Disclaimer: its late, this may be totally incoherent.

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