Friday, July 8, 2011

A Canuck in Uncle Sam's Backyard

Last night it rained so hard that it washed away the grass.

This is a strange land full of fireflies and alien insects, of trees and plants that look like they belong in a jungle far away. But I guess I am the one far away, and it is I who am out of place.

Last weekend we drove. Our destination was Sean's family in New Brunswick, Canada. We were driving home. We left here the evening of June 30th and arrived, appropriately enough, on Canada Day.

Despite my 5000 km trek across the continent, the drive was a challenge because it was 1300 kms in one leg, overnight. We drove through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine before crossing into New Brunswick.

An interesting anecdote; 30 minutes south of the border in Maine we stopped at a gas station for provisions and the clerk told me she'd been to Canada once, but she didn't know which state (province) she'd been in. I was thinking about this last night and wondering if we (Canadians, and everyone else in the world) paint Americans as ignorant because they are, or just because we don't really understand them (or like them- as a group, not individually). Is it ignorant to live just across an international border and not know anything about the other side, or it just a result of nationalistic navel gazing? Are we any better? I mean, I could probably name 40 of the 50 states before I moved here, and all of them now, but is this because I'm a well rounded, educated, informed citizen of the world (ahem, if i do say so myself), or is it a result of living within the sphere of dominance of a culturally pervasive Hegemon? I can't say I know anything about Mexico.

Education aside, (that's a whole other argument) I'm thinking that the differences in global awareness between Canadians and Americans is cultural. Americans are proud, extremely proud of who they are. They have remained more or less isolationist culturally, despite messing around in everyone else's business militarily and economically. While there are regional differences, as an outsider it's clear that Americans are patriots. They know where they came from, they know their own history (as they choose to remember it), and they know who they are. They are red, white & blue, apple pie & BBQ, thanks giving, God-fearing Americans. They don't apologize, but they do feel slightly sorry for anyone who is not American (so long as you stay in your own country). Maybe there's nothing wrong with that.

As a Canadian, I find all this flag waving a bit disturbing, but that is a product of my own cultural education.

In Canada, we're all really interested in our individual roots (mine are Scottish, English, Algonquin First Nations* by the way (*we think)). Many families spend generations in Canada and still identify with their home country. And we're more or less ok with that. We speak French and English, but you'll find signs in Chinese, Hindi, Punjabi and others in many of our bigger cities. We're still apologizing for the awful things our ancestors did to our First Nations peoples. We're not too worried about our own politics because we know that whoever gets elected, it won't make that big of a difference in what does or doesn't get done. When pressed to identify a 'typical Canadian food' to an outsider, a lot of us would cop out and say Kraft Dinner. We see Canada Day as a day off work, and not a whole lot more.

What binds us together as Canadians? Hockey, high taxes and health care would be my guess, paired with an strong sense of being 'un-american'. You'd probably have a different answer, and I guess that's my point. You can't really put a finger on what it is to be Canadian, but we still love our country.

We just shut up about it.

One of Sean's coworkers (also Canadian) told him when we got here that you'll never feel more Canadian than when you're living in the States. This is very true. Right now my biggest hurdle in accepting my new home is losing the chip on my shoulder about what 'They' don't know about 'Us', and instead focusing on letting go of my own prejudices about them. It'll never be home, but I want to learn to love it for what is is.


Amber G said...

Isn't it different Amercians seem and yet how similar they are in many ways? The border is so arbitrary in places and yet our two countries have some fundamental differences.

I know when I travel in the US I do seem to notice the differences more then the similarities. Perhaps you can be our ambassador and educate some of our Southern neighbours on what Canada and Canadians have that they don't...while discovering Baltimore's best-kept secrets :)

MandD said...

Interesting thoughts on crossing the line in both directions. Next tattoo... a tiny maple leaf over your heart...useful at baseball games and drive-in theaters for the all important pledge and anthem.