What I Learned about Being Canadian
while Living in America
I've recently moved back to Windsor,
Ontario. Perhaps you've heard of Windsor?
It's a pretty shitty place to live, despite what Michael Moore has to say about
it. It has one Starbucks. Starbucks has become important in my life because I
lived in Seattle for three and a
half years. I worked for a dot.com. Hey, don't hold it against me. I thought
it was a good idea at the time.
I'm going to say something that you probably don't hear a
lot from other Canadians. I like America.
No really. Windsor itself is a
hot bed of anti-Americanism. The problem with Windsor
anti-Americanism is all their first-hand experience with America
is Detroit. And they sort of
generalize from there. Lots of America
is very different from Detroit.
For example, when people go to dinner in Seattle,
they usually put on shirts. Seattle TV isn't just endless commercials for
slip-and-fall lawyers, small engine repair courses, and companies that
install bars on your windows. Most Seattle
people, when they buy a new t-shirt, they don't immediately cut off the
You're Going To Get Shot!
When I moved to America,
my Windsor relatives were quite
worried. They were like "oh my god, you're going to get shot!" As
if this was part of my company's relocation package. I can picture them
imagining some relocation specialist handing me a brochure and saying
"We have a move-in special this month, you can select either being
murdered by a hand gun or developing a taste for really shitty American
beer." "Ummm I'll take death."
Let me take a moment here to expose a popular myth
Canadians hold dear. American beer isn't all piss water. Sure if you compare
Molson's to Bud, no contest. But that's like comparing Survivor to TemptationIsland. It's all piss.
One is just a less nasty kind of piss. I assure you, beer lovers in the USA
have no shortage of wonderful microbrews, especially on the west coast. From Seattle
down to Portland and into San
Francisco, you'll find microbrews that make Molson
and Labatts seem like the proverbial piss water.
My only issue with Seattle
is the people don't know a lot about Canada,
even though most of them own pricey pleasure bunkers up in Whistler, purchased
back in the day when vested stock options were worth real coin. I was
actually asked by my coworker Molly -- an otherwise intelligent woman who
dresses well and smells nice -- if Canadians celebrate Christmas. While this
sounds like a stunningly ignorant question, you have to understand that once
an American discovers Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving at a different time,
all bets are off when it comes to assumptions about the universality of
In general, Seattle
people understood Canadians to be a very polite people. My American coworkers
would come back from their fabulous holidays in Whistler and they'd be like
"Wow, Karl, you Canadians are so polite and kinda stoned all the
I would try to disabuse my American friends of this notion
that Canadians are polite. The truth is, we're not, especially in Winter when
it gets fucking cold. It's just that when Americans come up to Canada,
we act polite around them because we can tell they're American, and we're
afraid. They might be armed. We're not. An American pulls out a gun, what can
you do? You whip out your copy of Margaret Lawrence's Stone Angel and
read it to him until you bore him to death?
They say an armed society is a polite society. But in
fact, an unarmed society living NEXT to an armed society is a polite society.
The one thing I didn't like about American society is
they're a bit xenophobic. As Canadians, we just have this inborn knowledge
that there's a lot of Canada that no one wants, that we don't want ourselves,
so no one spends a lot of time getting paranoid about sinister forces
planning to snatch up, say, Manitoba. But those Americans, they have a good
thing going on down there and they're afraid someone is going to come and
take it away.
isn't the most multicultural city in America
and the food, even the "ethnic" food, tends to be very bland. See,
if you're Indian and you open an Indian restaurant in Toronto
or Vancouver, you've got critical
mass of real Indian people who will eat at your restaurant. You don't have to
hold back on the spice. If white people want to eat at your restaurant, fine.
If they don't like the spice, they're free to fuck off. However, in Seattle,
your bread and butter tends to be the white breads. And lots of cuisine tends
to get dumbed down.
I picked up on this xenophobic vibe and I generally
avoided telling people in Seattle
I was Canadian. If pressed, I told them I was from a small city south of Detroit.
Even many Canadians who never make it past London
don't realize Windsor sort of
dips under Michigan's thumb and
you have to go North to get into Detroit.
I figured because I was a white, average-looking male, I
blended in. I could pass for one of them. I eventually realized, however,
once I opened my mouth, I was foolin' no one.
My schedule was pretty light so I was oot and
aboot in my Zed 3. I picked up a two four, a sack of crullers, and a bag of
homo milk. I went home, slouched on the couch, drank a couple a' three beer,
and watched the hockey game, eh.
They really do think we say "oot" and
"aboot" there. And apparently "slouch" and
"couch" sounds funny to them.
What sucked about being Canadian in America
is, unlike say the Irish, we're the only former British colony that doesn't
have sexy accents that make American women swoon.
"Ohhh you said oot and aboot. You know I'm not
wearing any panties."
Never heard that once.
To Americans, the Canadian accent is some place between
"harmless sounding" and "faintly irritating". When an
American listens to a Canadian talking, it's like he's listening to an AM
radio station that's not quite tuned to the right frequency. Ultimately
Canadians are the anti-Southerners. An American would trust a guy with a
Canadian accent to fix his car but he doesn't want a Canadian watching his
six in a bar fight. Like a fight breaks out, first thing a Canadian would do
is grab a pool stick and then a white dish rag, tie it to the end of the pool
stick and start waving it around, calling for a negotiated end to hostilities.
Canadians we are peace keepers by trade. As most of us
know, a Canadian actually invented peace keeping. I realized, living in the
States, only a Canadian could come up with this kind of concept. You've got
two heavily armed nations, ready to exterminate each other. The American
solution would be to figure out which side has more ethnically related
registered voters in key swing states and then bomb the other guy. The
Canadian solution is air drop in the Royal Winnipeg Curling Team armed with
Peace Keeping is ultimately like the playground when the
girl took pity on you and defended you from the bully and the bully just
walked away because it was all too pathetic.
Peace Keeping, then, is based solely on the notion if you
start killing Canadians in large numbers, it will play badly for you on CNN.
I think even Canada's
own defense follows this line of thinking. A number of years ago a NATO study
determined the Canadian military couldn't adequately patrol its Northern
response was to set up a 1-800 number that locals could call toll free if you
noticed your part of the Yukon
was being invaded. Canadians truly do have a justifiable reputation for being
cheap bastards, but umm, if I saw some Russian paratroopers setting up a Scud
launcher in my backyard, I really like to think I'd happily burn some of my
cell's anytime minutes to make a call to Ottawa.
Canada is Number One
When I was moving to America,
my friends gave me a lot of grief. "You're moving to America?
greatest country in the world you know!" As if I was the only one who
wasn't tapping into this cross-border gestalt where an overwhelming number of
Americans were all saying "I'm tired of America
being second best. I'm moving to Saskatchewan!"
I think we get this idea we're number one because a few
years ago a UN report came out that said Canada
provided the best quality of life out of any nation on the face of the earth.
Now, the thing is, if you base your sense of national identity on a survey
prepared by Swiss accountants, you just might not be the hot shit you think
you are. You know?
Canadians really ran with this UN survey but they didn't
read the fine print. The fine print was Canada
was the number one place to live if you were a white male between 30 and 65.
If you were a woman, a child, a minority, or retired, Canada
dropped substantially in the ratings. And that makes you wonder if Canada
was number one for white males simply because Canadians are the best when it
comes to looking the other way while society's elites stripe mine your
birthright for their own enrichment.
Another funny thing about this Canada-is-Number-One survey
is it came out at the same time when other studies were saying the brain
drain to the USA
was at an all time high. Which begs the question, if Canada
is so great, why are the smartest people leaving it?
What Do You Miss About Home?
A couple years ago I was at a Japanese friend's dinner
party. There was one Canadian (me), three Japanese people, and two Koreans.
We were all ex-pats living in the USA,
Seattle to be specific. Ex-pats
living in Seattle tend to first
talk about how nice the weather is, as compared to where they came from.
Winters are mild; summers are mild; spring and fall are nearly what God
intended them to be. Yeah, there's rain, but we all agreed that any amount of
rain, even a drizzling rain that lasts four months with only intermittent
breaks, is preferable to having to park your car in a snow bank or spending
June through August huddled around your A/C duct trying to stay cool, dry,
After the classic weather topic, our conversation turned
to the second most popular topic ex-pats engage in: "What do you miss
Quality food, movies that make sense, being around people
that don't automatically treat you like you're stupid because your English
isn't perfect or you pronounce "Coke" like "cock", and
finding clothes that fit properly seemed high on the list of most present at
the dinner party. When it was my turn to list what I missed about Canada,
my grievances seemed minor. I missed some Canadian junk foods (Harvey's
hamburgers, Swiss Chalet sauce, grocery store butter tarts, Double Big Macs)
and Canadian news. (My cable sucked and didn't carry CBC.)
One of the Koreans turned to me. I think she was reacting
to the needlessly dramatic, plaintive tone I was using in my voice as I
bemoaned having to give up butter tarts for a more favorable tax structure.
"Oh, come on, I mean Canada
and the USA
are pretty much the same."
"I know I know… it doesn't seem like a huge
difference to you but there's just a lot of little differences between Canada
and the USA
that a Canadian notices."
I tried to explain milk in bags.
To make the point more salient I noted it's a bit like how
a lot of Americans tend to assume all Asian cultures are the same. To many
Americans, Korean and Japanese society seem highly similar, but God help you
if you ever suggest to a Korean that they're Japan Lite. Anyway, I think she
got my point.
One thing I did not miss in Seattle
was hockey. Seattle is not a big
hockey town. Which is okay because I actually hate hockey. There's something
disturbing about a sport where an official piece of equipment is called
"a fighting strap". I probably hate hockey because my dad forced me
to play hockey when I was 6 and I sucked. Getting the puck in the net was
challenging enough, but when they started putting a goalie in front of the
net in my second year of Pee Wee hockey, it just seemed harsh and vindictive.
My dad thought I'd improve at hockey if I learned the fundamentals, so he
made me read a bit of Helter Skelter every night.
What I hate most about hockey, though, is hockey season
itself. It runs from September to June. Not only is the season far too long
but, come on, hockey in June? Isn't hockey a winter sport? I think when it's
too warm for natural ice to form, hockey should not be played. This is my
idea, an idea I borrowed from the French who keep a platinum bar in Paris
that defines the official meter. The NHL should set up a hockey rink in a
field some place north of Winnipeg.
In Fall, they flood it with water. When it freezes, hockey season starts.
When it melts, hockey season is over.