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:
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!