Let’s face it—most Americans don’t spend much time thinking about Canada. You have other things to think about: The global war on terrorism. A massive budget deficit. Whether or not Brad and Jen will ever get back together.
Canadians, on the other hand, think about the United States all the time. Next to the weather and hockey, you’re our number-one national obsession.
We know an awful lot about you. Probably way more than you know about us. But don’t let it scare you. We mean you no harm.
Think of us as the shy kid in the back of the classroom who studies the popular kid’s every move. On the one hand, we wish we could be more like you—confident, stylish, outgoing.
On the other hand, there’s nothing that makes a Canadian angrier than when someone mistakes him or her for an American. We’ll point to the flag on our backpack, mutter something about socialized medicine and the Stanley Cup, and politely storm out of the room.
That, of course, is ridiculous. We’re so much alike that if you kidnapped someone from Michigan and set him free in Ontario, the only way he’d realize he was in Canada is that up here we call our Krispy Kreme doughnut stores “Tim Horton’s.”
But if you want to make a Canadian happy, you might want to learn about the tiny differences between our two countries that are a really big deal for Canadians.
So in the spirit of friendship—and in honour of the 100th anniversary of the CRC in Canada—here are a few things Americans should know about Canada:
We’re funnier than you are. Don’t feel bad, it’s just a fact. You can project military might all over the globe, but we control the comedy section at Blockbuster.
“But what about all the great American comedians?” you ask. Like Mike Meyers? He’s Canadian. Jim Carrey? Also Canadian. Martin Short, John Candy, Eugene Levy, Dan Ackroyd, Michael J. Fox, and even new-to-the-funny-world William Shatner? All Canadian.
And those aren’t even the really funny ones. We just send you all the comedians who can’t make a living up here. The rest we elect to Parliament.
2. System of Government
Speaking of Parliament, our system of government is different from yours. Ours is modeled after the British Westminster system—which you rejected in a bloody revolution. In one clear, confident stroke, you threw off the shackles of a foreign oppressor and never looked back.
Canada, on the other hand, gradually earned its independence from Britain through a series of long, mind-numbing conferences. Then one day we all just left for the grocery store. They still haven’t realized we’re gone.
I n the United States, if you call someone a liberal it’s considered an insult. In Canada, it’s a statement of fact. Our governing party for most of our history has been the Liberal Party. We’re so liberal, even many of our conservatives prefer to be called “progressive” conservatives. We’re so liberal, if John Kerry were our prime minister (and 80 percent of us would have voted for him), he’d be considered a raving conservative. It’s not for nothing that Pat Buchanan called us “Soviet Canuckistan.”
4. Alberta and Quebec
There’s one part of Canada that’s not liberal—the province of Alberta. It’s full of oil wells and beef cattle and guys who like Lynyrd Skynyrd. Think of it as Texas with snow.
Then there’s the province of Quebec. Not only have folks there proudly kept their French language and heritage centuries after being conquered by the British, we made the whole country officially bilingual just so they’d feel at home.
Yet Quebec has been quietly trying to gain its independence from Canada through a series of long, mind-numbing conferences. One day, they’re going to step out for groceries . . .
Perhaps the only thing keeping English and French Canada together is our love of hockey. Baseball may be America’s sport, but if a Canadian team wins the World Series, Americans don’t seem to mind. And Canadians don’t bother to boast about it—probably since most of us are watching something more interesting than baseball, like curling or golf or paint drying.
On the other hand, when Canada beats an American team at hockey, we issue a new stamp, mint a new set of coins, and declare an unofficial national holiday. We put on parades, we take out newspaper ads, and we do our very best to rub it in your faces—which is hard, because you’re not watching.
6. Manners and Military
We Canadians consider ourselves polite and peace loving. We follow instructions. We don’t cause a fuss.
There’s an old joke: How do you get 50 Canadians out of a pool? You say, “Hey all you Canadians, get out of the pool.”
Of course, we don’t have much choice. We HAVE to be polite. The entire Canadian military could buy tickets to see the Toronto Blue Jays at their home opener and there would still be room in the stands. If Uzbekistan woke up tomorrow and decided it was a nice day to invade us, we’d try to hold them off as long as possible with two leaky canoes and some ski poles until you guys arrived.
You wouldn’t even have to send the Marines. The last 15 finalists of American Idol probably pack more heat than our military.
7. Getting Your Attention
W e want your attention, America, and we’ve been going to great lengths to get it.
We won the World Series. Twice. You didn’t pay attention.
We set fire to the White House during the War of 1812. You just redecorated.
We sent Celine Dion to Las Vegas. You didn’t even retaliate.
We’re so desperate for attention that when American sitcoms mention Canada—as did a recent episode of “The Simpsons”—it becomes a front-page news story. Of course, since the only comedy writers living in the United States are Canadians, it was a very funny episode.
8. Spelling and Vocabulary
It’s pretty amazing that any Canadians are even allowed to work in the United States, because we are terrible spellers. “Honor” and “neighbor” are spelled “honour” and “neighbour” in Canadian. “Theater” is spelled “theatre” and “center” is spelled “centre.”
We pronounce the letter z as “zed,” and our every sentence really does end with “eh?” We don’t have dollar bills; we have coins called “loonies” and “toonies.” We wear toques in winter, not stocking caps. We pronounce the “ou” sound in a way that sounds like “oo” to Americans.
So a typical Canadian sentence might go something like this: “I asked the guy at the theatre if he’d give me two loonies for a toonie, eh? And he tells me to blow it oot my toque.”
9. The Canadian CRC
I f you went to Calvin or Dordt College, you probably saw clusters of Christian Reformed Canadians huddled together in the coffee shop or standing around outside having a smoke.
For most evangelical Americans, that’s rude, antisocial behaviour at best.
But we don’t mean to be rude. It’s just that we’re still very Dutch, which apparently means subjecting your body to all kinds of unscriptural substance abuse.
For CRC Canadians of a certain age, smoking homemade cigarettes and drinking gallons of black coffee is as normal as passing King Peppermints before the sermon.
10. Living Next to an Elephant
The late Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau once told an American audience, “Living next to you is like sleeping with an elephant; no matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”
Cartoonists of the time quickly seized on the image and drew the United States as an enormous pachyderm and Canada as a tiny mouse.
Many Canadians still feel that way. We’re the mouse to your elephant. We just want you to notice us, to treat us well, and every now and again—especially on the ice—to fear us just a bit.