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Friday, 14 April 2006



And it looks right purty.

Hey, Simon, I know this is a loaded question for Friday, but maybe this way you'll have a chance to comtemplate things over the weekend. Of course, anybody else reading this (sure, on your blog) is welcome to chip in, too. If I'm totally off base, then I encourage expostulation. I'm considering posting the answers on my blog (but will maintain anonymity of the respondent, if so desired).

Why do so many Canadians dislike Americans or being mistaken as American?

What do those people see as better about Canada or worse about the United States? I'm curious because I've never lived anywhere but the U.S., and tend to be a "grass is always greener on the other side" kind of guy. If you guys are livin' la vida loca, footloose and fancy free, then I gotta know.

Why does crossing the border from the U.S. to Canada morph the word "flavor" into the more lengthy and dinstinctly European "flavour?" Same goes for color = colour, splendor = splendour, et cetera.

If I said, "Where's the Beef?" would a Canadian over the age of 25 understand its origin? Yeah? Then what is it?

If I live in Canada and need to have a pain in my side checked, how long before I can see a doctor? Can that doctor have me pee in a cup and have the urinalysis back within 15 minutes or less? What if it turned out I needed surgery to break up and/or remove kidney stones? Within a week? A month? How long? I wonder not because I've been told I need surgery, but because I've heard things about long waits and just want to get the straight scoop. Oh, and while you're at it, who pays for all of the above, and how?

On that note, have a great weekend, you nutty Canuck. Man, I love knowing people from other countries. It's almost like having multiple pen pals, if you can get over the term "pen pals."


Or, if you can't "comtemplate," then at least try to contemplate.


Sweet. Stay tuned here for Simon to wax grandiloquent in response. I think I've been using that term too much lately, but whatever.


Important distinction: American at home and American abroad are two different things. It's like y'all undergo a radical personality shift when you leave your own borders. Phenomenon seems to not affect those Americans who have come under strong Canadian influence, like, for example, BWers.


Paul - I like to think that I would not be arrogant and expect residents of another country to treat me special because I'm American. I am a guest in their country (well, when I finally visit another country), and would act as such. I also would not yell at them in loud, slow English thinking that it helps them understand me. Is that the kind of behavior to which you alluded?


As someone who lives in a northern-tier US state poised like a dull butterknife at the vulnerable frozen underbelly of Ontario, and who might increasingly feel more affinity with our cuzzes across that imaginary line which separates the imaginary rights of one country from the imaginary rights of the other (nod to Ambrose Bierce), I could imagine that a Canadian being mistaken for an American might experience feelings similar to those of, say, a Minnesotan being mistaken for a Texan: a sense of incredulity ("You can't tell the difference!?") at the impercipience, followed with a need to get some distance ("No cowboy hat! No Dubya, no Delay, no Perot! Not crazy!") from that mistaken ID.


Whew, I'm stayin' outta this. Happy Easter to all you Canucks and 'Mericans alike. :-)


Paul, no fair using inside terms outside of that inside arena. Some folks just don't know you for the rather dry, shit-disturbing side of your personality.

Mark, it's a very Canadian trait to justify via explanation the potentially misinterpreted commentary of a fellow Canuck. I'm pointedly not going to.

Rick, where the hell is your blog so that I might further expose myself to your perspicacity?

Linda, happy Easter!


Mark, there have been countless books written about those questions, each one giving a different answer. I was going to email you my thoughts, but will assume Simon won't mind if I put a few of them here. I'll try to keep it short. :) (Simon, I don't know if this is breaking blog etiquette, so feel free to delete if I'm usurping your space)

First of all, most Canadians don't dislike Americans as individuals, but are more likely to take issue with some of the policies/attitudes of the nation as a whole. I suppose it's a similar distinction to people supporting the troops but not the war. Much of the teasing is friendly in nature and the natural result of any two places being near each other, and is little different than all the Canadian jokes I see on television now that I'm living in the States.

Why Canadians dislike being mistaken for Americans comes down to identity. A common metaphor up here (coined, I believe, by one of our more beloved Prime Ministers: Trudeau) is that the Canadian experience is like sleeping next to an elephant. When asked what it means to be Canadian a lot of people can only respond "not American" and get uncomfortable when pressed for details. Everyone agrees we have a distinct identity, but there is little agreement as to what that is. Universal health care is often suggested, or the idea that we're a multicultural mosaic rather than a melting pot, but it's tricky to pin it down. My personal opinion is that one big difference in our outlooks can be traced to the fact that the States became independent in a war, whereas Canada became independent step by step in a peaceful and mutually agreed upon process with Briton. I'm NOT saying America's way was wrong, but simply think it shows where some of our differences have come from (i.e.: views on gun control). Whatever our identity is though, people feel threatened over how easily it can be lost because of the huge effect America can have on us versus how little we can have on America. On some level, we're worried about being culturally assimilated and shiver at the words "manifest destiny." To answer another question, yes, we've heard the "where's the beef" slogan, because so much of our pop-culture these days comes from the States. Historically, governments have tried to control this, regulating that a certain percentage of magazine or tv content had to be Canadian in origin.

Healthcare: Short answer is it depends on which Province you're in and what procedure you need. It will take you longer than it would in America if you're rich, less time than it would take you if you were too poor to afford it. It's paid for by taxes (mostly at a Provincial level, with some funding that comes from the Federal government in return for meeting certain conditions/standards).


Alec, I enjoy this level of dialogue too much to even think about it as breaking any sort of etiquette. Especially when you put it so succinctly. 'Propriety' is a worse word, in my mind, than, say, 'bitch-ass-ho-motherfu--er'.

But I have to admit a sort of childish glee at the opportunity to correct a couple of your spelling mistakes. Please forgive my presumption.


God, am I the only person who got the day off on Monday...



Mark, I'd like to think that, too. Here's my experience. During any of the many visits I have made to the USA, I have found the people to be delightful. Friendly, warm, welcoming, everything a visitor could desire from a host.

During any of my significantly fewer visits to other countries, American tourists I have encountered have sent me scurrying for the other end of the bar, and rummaging around in my back-pack for my Canadian flag patch.

Discussions with other Canadian travellers have revealed other similar stories.

Note that my experience with Americans visiting Canada has not been the same, only with Americans in places where I am also a tourist. Perhaps we (collectively, the Canadian tourists who have shared these anecdotes) only remember the one obnoxious American in a room full of wonderful people. I'm certainly not claiming there is anything scientific about my observations.


I figure in one or two years I'm going to start asking Declan to proofread my posts for me before I make them, assuming of course he isn't already a better speller than I am.

It occurs to me that, love it or hate it, no discussion on Canadian identity is complete without reference to the "Joe, I am Canadian" rant.


Though hugely popular and hard to take too seriously, the nature of the rant actually pinpoints a few things.

One, it's a beer commercial, 'nuff said. Gotta love the fact that nothign inspires Canadian patriotism more than beer. (Ironically and, given this conversation, quite telling, Molson retired the "I am Canadian" slogan--having merged with an American beer company.)

Two, almost every comment is what a Canadian "is not" rather than what a Canadian "is," which illustrates the problem many of us above the 49th have: we too often establish our identities in comparison to the States rather than independently. It's one of our failings in my opinion.

Finally, it illustrates Canadian's annoyance/insecurity with how little (in our opinions anyway) Americans seem to know about us, which comes back to how the States have so much more influence than we do (every Canadian would know America's leader but not every American would know Canada's). In many ways, it makes sense that Canadians would know more about America than vice-versa given the population and power difference. However, it also has helped lead to the belief that Canadian's tend to learn more about the cultures/history of the world outside their borders than Americans; but tend to know much less about their own culture/history than Americans know about theirs. Each has it's strength and weakness, and how true the view is is probably a whole other discussion.

Hmm...what was meant to be a quick comment seems to have turned into another rant, but you invited it Simon! (and it's no doubt given you a couple more spelling mistakes to gleefully fix up ;)


I am slightly worried about this issue because our son, Rick's and mine, has decided to go to college in Canada in September. He has a sort of imaginary love affair with Canada, as do many people in our particular part of the states, seeing as how we're right over the border and our present government is so delightful. You'll all be kind to him, won't you?

I promised Rick that I wouldn't embarrass him here by divulging various secrets about the familial Canadophilia. So I won't! Even though I just drank a large Mexican beer! That's all, I'm not saying another word.


A bit late to the party, but I just had to say to Paul: honey, I so hope you're implying I'm one of those 'under the influence' ;)

This has been an amusingly fascinating comment thread to follow. Can't help but add two or three Lincoln cents m'self.

First, am I correct in my vague memory that you made a post here in blogistan about making sure everyone knows you're Canadian/not-American when you go abroad, Si?

I've heard other non-Americans make comments similar to Paul about how while it's possible most Americans can be discreet tourists (one one wouldn't know, if they are, eh?), whenever you do meet an annoying tourist anywhere in the world, they do tend to be obnoxious and/or ignorant Americans. But then, I think a lot of the world thinks that about us whether we're at home OR abroad, already. Stereotypes? Sort of like my teasing Paula about how overly polite and reserved and proper all Canadians seem.

Oddly enough, I was talking with my mother today about all the crazy wonderful Canucks I've been getting to know and I had the thought that though it's embarassing that I knew next to nothing about Canada just a few years ago, I'm a lot more familiar with geography and politics up 'thar' these days and I LIKE that. Ya'll are all right, eh.

Can I come back now?


Y'all are welcome to trot on up here any ol' time.

And to answer your question, I did sort of post something along those lines, but if you go ahead and click the link, it's of a somewhat satirical nature.


I'm glad so many have responded. I just drove 6 hours from my new home in Texas to my original home in Arkansas. Easter weekend and all, you know.

It's very late and I'm trying to wake neither my wife nor my son (with whom I get to wake up in about 5 hours), so I need to jump back in at another time.

Again, thanks to all and I look forward to your post Simon. I'll comment on the comments a little later this weekend. Probably will find some time Saturday.

Man, I just cannot stop typing.


I hesitate to even enter this discussion, am inept at expressing strong opinions and, in fact, know little aboot Canadian life/culture/politica, etc. But this is just a theory I have, knowing Americans as I do. Chances are, we feel a little self-conscious coming up there. We all know this country suffers from a certain degree of arrogance and ostrich-head. If most Americans are like me, they don't really have a sense for how others see us. We're too busy voicing opinions aboot how WE feel aboot others. So I'm guessing there is a certain amount of discomfort and insecurity going on when we come up there. Typically Americans compensate for that kind of thing by over-doing it and probably coming off as cocky and obnoxious. I long ago lost any pride I had in my American-ess. Don't take what I say as a general rule. Just my humble opinion. No need to comment, I feel like I should have stayed on the porch. Anything you Big Dogs say will just make me feel more inclined that way.... :-) I do have to say though, the Canadians I am getting to know via the blogosphere are some of the greatest people ever.


A certain unassuming diffidence has long been seen as a Canadian national character trait, at least down here in the Bumptious Empire. A well-know Canadian author recalled being at a party in BC back in the 60s when the announcement was made that Lester Pearson (Liberal PM) had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. There was a moment of silence, and then someone said, "Well, who does he think he is?"

But it seems to me that over the past decade or so, at least among friends and acquaintances in Ontario, there's an increasing sense of confidence in being Canadian, or even an increased sense of what being a Canadian might be, as opposed to just a negative notion that "well, we're not like Americans" used to distinguish themselves from those elephantine American cousins south of the line. The "Joe- I am Canadian" rant is just one hopped-up manifestation of this, perhaps.

But I'm probably mistaken, eh.


Just to put in a quick word here.

I have this same arguement with my wife all the time about being an American and how badly done so many of our institutions are run. She is constantly talking about "in her country" things are differnt.

She is from Puerto Rico.

They do not want to be known as American. I can easily understand why Canadians would be twice as adverse.

I personally have always enjoyed the reparte in the communities that I frequent that have large non-American populations. I like the open discussions about the pros and cons of the various systems. A friend and I want to switch local governments. His from Calcutta and ours from New Orleans to see which set of disasters gets worse.


who has always had wonderful visits to Canada and the pleasing ammount of seating


Being outed as reserved and proper by that Georgia peach, Elizabeth, I will say, Simon, that I will ALWAYS prefer propriety over that misogynist turn of phrase you use.

I have been charmed by all the visiting Americans I have met in person lately (Elizabeth, BOB, Alec....Oh, Alec, you HAVEN'T decided to pledge yourself to Texas??) However, having recently traveled Mexico and Central America with mostly Americans, I've seen a few demonstrate a certain overbearing gracelessness usually in response to being out of their element, and there's some degree of insecurity or need to master the situation. It only takes one or two in a group to brand the whole, and that, unfortunately, is where the stereotypes begin.


I feel that I've missed my chance on this conversation. Family holiday weekends will do that.

Alec - Your answer brought up some great points I've never considered -- especially the one about the differing attitudes on gun control. A country that did not win its independence through war naturally would be less apt to turn violent at the first sign of conflict. My history classes of the past have told me little about Canadian history. I feel enlightened with even the few words everybody wrote here.

I've never met a Canadian (whom I knew was Canadian, anyway), besides the few I've "met" online.

I did not ask any of my questions at the top of this comment thread out of any anymosity toward folks from the Great White North. In fact, I've always wondered at the number of talented people who come from Canada. Some of my favorite entertainment originated there. Most recently, of course, Simon of Space, which is where I first made this Simon's acquaintance. I'm sure there are very bright people in other fields, as well, but American media outlets rarely feature individuals known for their left-brain smarts, unless they're either a) making somebody a lot of money, or b) depriving somebody of a lot of money.

I grew weary of hearing about Canada and its government and healthcare system through the U.S. media. I figured that people who live in the "real" world would be better sources for answers.

I still look forward to your post, Simon.

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