Monday, October 11, 2010

The Trouble With Canadians

"The three great themes of Canadian history are:

1) Keeping the Americans out.
2) Keeping the French in.
3) Trying to get the natives to somehow disappear.

These three themes represent the social/policital mission of Canadians. Americans: out. French: in. Natives: invisible. If Canada were a hockey team, this would be our chant.

These three forces push and pull us; they haunt us with doubts, they enrage us, they engage us...they are us.

There are other minor themes as well: Sucking Up To The Royal Family; Waxing Poetic About Nature While Huddling Inside A Shopping Mall; Electing Boneheads; Trusting Authority; Avoiding Extremes; and Resenting Success. All of which are played out against the larger myth of Being Nice.

Of these three great themes, the Americans are first. Why? Because without the Americans there would be no Canada, at least not in the political sense. The people living on the northern half of this continent would be an odd, introspective, stir-crazy bunch no matter what course history had taken, but the fact remains that two nations were created by the American Revolution.

Bloodied but still standing, the U. S. of A. - last of the superpowers - is at once obnoxious and enticing. Love them or hate them, and Canadians manage to do both better than any other non-Americans in the world. Americans are impossible to ignore.

Which brings me to the famous Skis on the Car Roof Mentality. Memo to any Canadian nationalist muttonheads out there: No American has ever - ever- shown up at the Canadian border in July with skis strapped to the roof of his car, asking "Where's the snow?"

I must have heard this stupid story a million times in my life and if I hear it one more time I'm going to punch somebody. So the next time some idiot Canuck starts in with the old "Skis On The Car Roof" story, I reserve two boots to the head.

And while we are at it, Americans do not think we all live in igloos. No one thinks we live in igloos. These folk legends reveal more about Canadian insecurities than they do about American ignorance. The fact is that Americans don't think about us at all!

Our feelings towards America are complex, but they can be summed up in the following five axiomatic propositions of Canadian nationalism:

1. Boy, we hate Americans.
2. We really do.
3. Really.
4. I'm not kidding. We really hate them.
5. So how come they never pay us any attention?

It's a classic love/hate relationship, and it defines us in ways we can never transcend. We measure ourselves against Americans. We crave their attention and their approval, we revel in their ignorance of us, and we take masochistic glee in slights, perceived or real. It is a form of neurosis, one step away from a compulsive high school crush. We pout, flirt, pass notes and talk maliciously about the object of our fears and desires. And they ignore us.

Canada's intense preoccupation with America is like one of those old black-and-white movies from the 1940s where the heroine beats her fists on the man's chest, sobbing "I hate you. I hate you. I hate you." only to collapse into his embrace.

America is sexy. It is exciting, dangerous, crass, brash and violent.

The problem isn't that America is screwing us regularly - which they are - but that they never send flowers or call afterwards. They barely remember our name. "See ya around, doll. Here," as they toss us a coin. "buy yourself somethin' nice." It is intercourse without foreplay, when all we need is a little respect (cue the sobbing, chest-beating litany of "I hate you's").

As the United States careens by like a parade on crack cocaine, amid fireworks and gunplay and racially-motivated riots, we watch from the sidelines, thankful we are not caught up in it and yet - and yet, somehow, wishing we were.

So why should we care? There are many quiet, backwater countries that have attained a degree of civility and respect that Americans can only dream of. Sweden comes to mind. So does Switzerland. The problem is that Canada is still very much a North American country; we are a frontier-bred people and we will never be satisfied with mere comfort and security. We are nagged by dreams of greater things, of something more. It is a state of mind we share with Americans.

We worry far too much about America.

Why should we give a damn about how we stack up? Whether our gun laws are more civilized than theirs or whether our medicare is more human doesn't really matter. We have nothing to gain by using the Unites States as our yardstick. We should be setting our standards by who we are and want to be.

Let us put an end to the wailing, woeful lamentations about our impending Americanization. That we share many similarities with those foreigners to our south is not a cause for despair. Given the simalarities in geography, history and background, the surprising thing is that we are different at all. And we are. That Canada exists at all is remarkable. It is one of the enduring, and endearing, miracles of North American history. That we have made a damn good show of it, despite all odds, is even more impressive. We will always be something more - and less- than American."

-Will Ferguson, "Why I Hate Canadians"

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