Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Yo Canada!

I have thought of posting something on Canada..well..pretty much since I started this blog. But now seems the most favorable time, given that the beautiful, if glitchy Vancouver Winter Olympics are winding up and many families are awaiting the return of their Dear Ones (and maybe a few gallons of maple syrup). Attending in person wasn't ever in the budget, but I watched a lot of it, though I didn't see that tragic luge business or the melting stands that the news said disappointed - like 28,000 ticket holders? Imagine having your bleachers melt out from under you! Yikes! Mind you, the figure skating was terrific and the hockey games stayed tight right to the bitter end. Never thought I'd find that sport so interesting. My favorite bit of all was the opening ceremony, especially the bit with the CG whales. Really this post is inspired by that ceremony, specifically by that young man's poem about what being Canadian meant to him..because I thought quite a bit afterward about what Canadians have come to mean to me.

Actually, to be completely honest, I didn't think much about Canada in my growing years. The country came to mind on geography tests as a positive thing because it was easy to spell and took up a gratifying large space on the map.

I vaguely took in all the Hollyweird positive mentions as well as the goofy jokes about their dialect and fondness for beer (mostly done by Canadian humorists). I remembered their existence whenever I went to "New France" at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, but wasn't daft enough to think this a real representation. Otherwise the Great North didn't mean much to me, good, bad, or indifferent. Why should it? Most Canadians don't come this far south. I noted that the geese native to North America are called Canadian geese....and I also realized that many of those geese only vacation there in summer. I didn't let it bother me. ;)

I haven't mentioned maple leaves/syrup as a Canadian connection for the simple reason that the main source of that tastiest of saps was/is least in the states of my youth. Maple trees are commonplace everywhere on the east coast. In some places they outnumber the oaks. Why would I 'especially' associate them with Canada?

My attitude was probably best summarized in Local Hero (one of my fav films of the 80's). I don't remember the exact quote, but in context it referenced the Northern Scots and the fact that the corporation in question didn't feel they had any cultural/educational advantage. 'They are people just like us.'

Yea, exactly. And even more so than Scotland, given that Canada is also a nation of immigrants & surviving native peoples. We know they had their own gold rush. We know too that they were founded by 2 of the 3 countries that colonized the United States, and that they eventually achieved a measure of independence from Europe...That is how they mentioned it in school...though some of the English I met online said they were simply given self-rule much later. Wikipedia agrees with the English. But we were told they had declared for independence 'just like us,' though they kept a closer tie to England and fought under her banner, which is why you don't hear much about them in the World Wars...etc.. etc..

So, yeah. Americans in general were always hearing generally good things about Canada & how much they were like Americans.


Even now- after all the internet imagery, and Micheal Moore healthcare cracks- what does the name evoke?

Part of it must still be those vast virgin lands ending in ice, beautiful streams in highland meadows, grazing elk, wolverines dashing across trackless forests, totem poles, old French-Canadian cities, colonial trading posts, kayaks in ice-choked bays, and Canadian Mounties in formal attire. Its a beautiful place, say the pics, and it rarely draws much international criticism. Watch out for the rampaging polar bears/golden grizzlies and you'll do fine. :)

We weren't taught how densely populated central Canada has become. (Its like New Jersey!) We knew little of Toronto & Vancouver's ambitions, and only a little about Montreal (most of that was at least 1-2 centuries out of date.) I was, were, and am a history nut so I had also read about Indian tribes being deliberately infected with smallpox, battles between the French-Canadian and Anglo-American forces before the Revolution, and the explorers/traders who mapped the icy reaches of the frozen north. Sounded a lot like the more familiar heroes and villains of the United States of America's founding.

Does America really know much about modern Canada?

I'd say "Not until very recently," when the pervasiveness of Canadian broadband allowed the general populace the means to introduce themselves and to become a significant presence on many English/French-speaking forums.

& Those who shared the borders with Canada know what they think of their immediate neighbors. Some places its a totally friendly exchange, other places it definitely isn't. I have heard both sides claim the other side is leaching resources they don't deserve, and taking jobs that should stay local.

Americans further away just thought of them as equal to ourselves, just with much colder winters, a population 1/10th of ours, and quieter stance re: world politics. We assumed they were happy keeping to themselves, having their own economy, trades, connections, multimedia, joys, and sorrows. They didn't involve us much but why should they? Canada is big enough to take care of itself. Live and let live and all that. They'd let us know if they needed anything. Right?

Most Americans have historically regarded Canada with a particularly friendly eye. According to survey, we mostly still do feel that way. I know I always did.

We tended to assumed that Canada is as friendly to us as we have been to them. Unfortunately, this has often been a mistake. Even the Canadians are starting to face this disparity. Indeed, many Americans, myself included have been increasingly aware of a groundswell of competitiveness and hostility.

Challenge a company closing an American shop/factory in favor of leaving the Canadian one and you will hear noises about how we are all part of North America etc. Have a more successful convention or business in America and you will hear how the Canadians are being left out, instead of how they can have one of their own or use ours...unless the American brings their goodies to Canada they will not be pacified...and that's not looking for parity, but dominance.


On one memorable occasion, as a teenager, I met a family of touring Canadians. They had stopped at our gas station/restaurant in the semi-rural area where I worked and asked for help. It seemed the banks in-county didn't know how to exchange foreign currency, the ATMs didn't run their system..and they were running out of gas. Could we possibly accept Canadian funds? we could and did pass the hat so they could get to the next (far bigger) town which surely would have the services they needed. The lady thanked us and insisted on 'paying us back' in Canadian coins. (We were never able to get them cashed. I eventually passed mine on to my kids.) She then made this comment. "You know (giggle), you really should be able to use our money. I mean, at least the banks here should know about it."

"Well, the banks should." I was curious "But seriously, do Canadian banks & businesses use US dollars?"

"Well, least not away from the border. A few may do at the border..."

"Well, there you go then," offered a colleague, "you're like, what, hundreds of miles away.."

"You don't have to be like that," she responded huffily, "I mean. I was being nice."

And she stomped off and drove away...on our dime(s)

Do you see the problem?


I might have felt less kindly -even growing up- if I had known that Chevy Chase, who made so much fun of Pres. Ford, was Canadian. If I had known that Doonesbury, which tried so hard to influence &/or lampoon all conservative politicians...was Canadian. That Canadian actors & Comedians were getting opportunities to dominate American culture AS Americans.

People have made fun of our 'Captain Kirk' attitude...and he's CANADIAN. That awful song from the 70's "Hot Child in the City" - listed in some places as proof as how debauched America had become- was the reflection of a naughty Canadian. (Course Captain & Tennille, Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot etc were also Canadian hits. But they were cool..also nobody ever pretended they were American.) Many more 80's bands were Canadian than people at the time were told. Alex Trebek, Keanu Reeves, Bill Murray, Jim Carrey...are also Canadian. I honestly believe these performers would have been hits had their nationality NEVER been hidden (or at least minimized until lately), but by the time I'd learned how many 'American' stars weren't 'from here' in recent decades - and did some figuring, I honestly began to wonder if American kids have been getting a fair shot in my lifetime! I remembered someone mentioning the 'kaka connection' as a kid, and it stuck with me because of the humorous possibilities. ;) Only when I was well grown and on the net did I realize what I'd heard. Turns out its spelled "Ca-Ca" and references a special relationship between Canada & California...and that's all I will say about it.

And while America was being infiltrated by Canadians at so many levels of our entertainment industry, and their cities were offering lovely incentives for our factories to go north (all's fair in love and trade, I guess), their kids were being taught not to respect us. I caught a CBC documentary online that I feel expresses the problem very well. The title was something about Canada's 100 best inventions. I chose it because it sounded interesting. By & large, it was. But there were several debatable entries, like claiming Alexander Graham Bell because he had a vacation home up there? I might agree with Canada's argument (I think I do), but why did it have to be put in such a hostile fashion?

And then there was the tale of Marine-screw propeller. They told this story of how this captain in Canada had invented it, and took it immediately to America to have it patented, only those awful Americans wouldn't do it..and then a few years later an American guy happened to claim he'd made one so the Canadian got ripped off from all those royalties and mentions he should have gotten... NO

There is just so much wrong with that account.

First off, said captain should have been filing with HIS OWN COUNTRY then he would have a date, evidence, with which to pursue any perceived patent violations in other countries. The show thought they covered that by pointing out that international patents were not yet agreed upon. Just the same, according to law at the time, he should still have filed in Canada THEN pursued recognition elsewhere. It really sounded kinda bad that this guy's first thought was he was gonna take a chunk off American shipping, rather than selling his product in Canada, giving Canada something special to market fairly etc...

& It so happened I had recently seen one of Prof James Burke's documentaries on inventions that just happened to reference the same invented first in England. Actually Professor Burke allowed that it was simultaneously being worked on in several countries and the first to make workable models were in UK, US, & Canada (Gold, Silver & Bronze?)...but that 1) the filing dates definitely put the English first by a narrow margin & 2) England had the biggest shipyards so most went with the English model. I believe him. I also don't think the English guy ripped off the Canadian OR the US inventors.

How is this possible? Well...Prof Burke mentioned different models that performed the same function. Each one could be declared the first of its kind, and be right. The winner was the one put into production, which was mostly the English variety.

You see this a lot in the various countries claims to be first with this or that invention. I didn't blame Canada for doing the same thing, I just didn't appreciate the anti-American slant.

A number (by no means all!) of Canadians I have met online have been rather hostile to Americans AS Americans. They have reported they feel they are better because they are "more peaceful" (never mind how provocatively this was put!), have a more liberal government (not a bragging point IMHO), and more unspoiled countryside than we do because they are more environmentally minded (I don't believe that is true.). They have complained about our supposedly looking down on them as a '51st state' (we weren't looking...period.), and have complained that our media doesn't mention them often enough (Given that its OUR media and not the CBC, why should it?). I used to think that their entertainment shows wouldn't mention us (or Mexico) all the time either. Now I just hope they aren't always mentioning us negatively, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear this was the case. They certainly seem overly free in criticizing our culture & government, given they don't live or vote here, don't think we have the right to criticize their government or healthcare, and don't wish to be the 51st state...

Canadians have told us that even their preoccupation with judging us is our fault, because our nation's sheer size has been intimidating and given them a bit of an identity complex.

Most of the mouthing off seems to be from Ottawa/Ontario. Quebec has its own attitudes, and given their Gallic ancestry, this neither surprises nor bothers us. Rural Canadians from British Columbia/Alberta/Newfoundland etc may or may not like us better, but they sure have better manners. They actually DO come off as fair-minded.

I am not the only who has noted how unfriendly many urban Canadians have been online. Sadly, the result has been an ever increase in snotty comments between Americans & Canadians on many of the international articles I read in recent weeks. Familiarity is not breeding friendship of late, despite the promise of the Olympic Games. I can only hope this improves.

I have wanted to say something for a long time, but I didn't really want to down on Canada or make any decent Canadians feel bad. I know of at least 5 really GOOD Christian ministries based there, the most famous of which is Ravi Zacharias'. He's really from India, but at least being in Canada didn't ruin him, right? I have met several Canadians online that I think very much of, and it saddens me to think they may be upset after reading this, but this is weighing heavily on me right now.

I am NOT proud of the name-calling that has gone on, especially that done by Americans, but it sure would be nice if Canadians would face how provocative the jobs and relocated factories issue is alone, without adding in all the 'superior' attitudes and judgmental crud Americans have been seeing out of many Canadians in the last 10 years.

So Canada, Congratulations on winning your fair share of the medals & on a spectacular show. Congratulations to the United States athletes too. It would be nice to think they were welcome there. Maybe they were. Certainly, they won't ever be allowed to say to the contrary, but I could easily see where it mightn't have been all that fun a trip.

I hope they did spend a few days to see some of Canada's wonders. All those documentaries were made there for a reason, after all. In all honesty, there are bits of Canada that could be great fun to see, like the other side of Niagara Falls & Prince Edward Island (where the Anne of Avonlea series was made). I have long wondered if British Columbia is very different from Washington state?

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