Sunday, March 30, 2008

Canadians (long--sorry)

Living in the north, at least compared to the rest of the United States, has its advantages. We get four seasons, although they are hardly equal in length. The people are made of some hardier stock than the hothouse variety that live in the southern climes. They are, for the most part, nicer, Chicago notwithstanding.

We are also closer to Canada. For those living in non-bordering states, you have to understand that Canada is its own sovereign nation, not an extension of the United States. It has its own government. It has its own culture. It has, with loose interpretations, its own cuisine.

Working in the outdoor industry means that I bump up against a lot more Canadians than the average American. The more I bump up against them, the more they rub off on me. In general, my Canadian friends are more self-effacing while remaining confident in their abilities. They are less prone to brag about the greatness of their country, but in many ways more patriotic. More go, less show.

Canadians are naturally poor marketers. They sell the steak, not the sizzle, and take it for granted that people who partake of a certain product are smart enough to figure out the relative benefits of a potato chip without being told by a cartoon character that they’re fresher than those that just say “potato chips” on the bag.

Canadians don’t go for flashy, which is why until just a few years ago, the most popular car in Canada was the Toyota Tercel. I have no idea what it is now, but my guess is something smaller and practical, but not a Kia, which they are probably too smart to import, let alone purchase.

Canadians buy things other than tires from a tire store. They put corn meal on their bacon, put gravy on their French fries, and drink coffee from a chain owned by a former hockey player. Starbucks is for the elite, of which there are fifteen in the entire country, all ensconced in an upscale condo building in Toronto. Everyone else drinks Tim Horton’s coffee, which they affectionate call “Timmy’s,” as in “I need to stop at Timmy’s.” Their money is prettier, and now it’s worth more than ours, and while it does have a bunch of dead Prime Ministers on it, it also has loons, caribou, beaver, and polar bears on it, and Queen Elizabeth II. Ours has dead presidents and a random secretary of the treasury. We refuse to accept coins worth more than fifty cents, even though we mint them.

In short, they are not Americans. I mean to say they are American, in that they live in North America, just as Mexicans are Americans too. Another indication of the hubris of United Statsians, oblivious to the two countries to the north and south.


A few years ago I was at a rendezvous for wooden canoe builders in upstate New York. I participated in teaching a few classes, and was demonstrating strokes while Jodie-Marc Lalonde explained them. Jodie is obviously Canadian, as no self-respecting American would name their son Jodie. As Jodie talked through strokes, his Canadian heritage was clear in his pronunciation of particular words. Contrary to American thinking, Canadians do not say “a-BOOT” instead of “about.” They say “a-BOUWT” or something like’s hard to write exactly what they say.

At any rate, Jodie and I were chatting later that day with an older gentleman, a Canadian who must have been every bit of eighty. Jodie and this distinguished man discussed canoe paddles, and the conversation turned to “Ray’s paddles.” There was a long discussion about Ray and his paddles, which I found interesting, as I am pretty familiar with the concept of canoe paddles, which end goes in the water, and so forth. After five minutes, I had to admit ignorance, as I had not spoken ten words since the conversation started.

“Who’s Ray?” I said.

Jodie looked at me patiently, but the old man was startled. He eyed me suspiciously, held my gaze, and stage whispered to Jodie, “Jodie, is this man a Yankee?”

He said “Yankee” as if it were a pejorative. Not mean-spirited, but almost with pity.

Jodie remarked that yes, I was indeed a Yankee.

The old man continued to stare at me for a few more seconds, sizing me up.

“Well, he sure doesn’t paddle like a Yankee.”

It was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.


Not that Canada doesn’t have its problems, or as we call them here in the United States, “issues.” A good chunk of their country would like to break off and start their own little French kingdom called Bouchardia. We, on the other hand, would like to offload at least part of our country, starting with New Jersey. Until just a few years ago, they had a Prime Minister who spoke neither English nor French, rendering his communication somewhat less than effective. That said, our President doesn’t speak one language, not two. Their medical system lacks resources but serves everyone. Our medical system lacks for nothing, but a surprisingly large number of Americans can’t get a check-up except at an emergency room.

To many Americans, the Canadians are all left of center, socialists, and a little disdainful of Americans. Their medical system may be socialist, but there’s a subtle but important difference between socialism and community. In a socialistic society, one is forced to participate in a community. In a real community, it is voluntary, and it is my observations that Canadians are more interested in community building and are fiercely proud of it. Not that they’re not individuals, indeed, most of my Canadian friends are a quarter bubble off plumb, individualistic more so that many of my American friends. Community is created by a group of people who share values, not likes and dislikes.

I am proud of much of what my country has done for the world, and in general, we’re good folks, just like Canadians. Our government doesn’t represent us, just as theirs does not represent Canadians. We try to vote for people who are good folks, but inevitable an idiot or two or fifty get elected because most of us are too intelligent to run for public office.

While I can’t say, like the Molson ad, “I AM CANADIAN,” I can say that at least part of me is Canadian. I found a few Canadian ancestors in my genealogy, which means that I can claim at least some Canadian blood. Even if I hadn’t, it wouldn’t make any difference. My Canadian friends accept me as one of their own, since I paddle Canadian canoes, eat Canadian food (including Cretons), and read the Globe and Mail on-line. I love them, they love me, and that transcends borders.

If I may take a liberty with the Molson ad, I’d like to state for the record, “I COULD BE CANADIAN if it were not for an accident of birth.” Borders are arbitrary, geographical and geopolitical artifacts to divide, not unite. I choose to accept the physical border as an inconvenient reality while ignoring it in every other aspect of my life.


mk said...

Brilliant. BRILLIANT!! *Stading Ovation*

Rosie said...

Ok, so, several things here.

First of all, thanks. We rarely get recognition and it's welcome when we do. I must say though, it's also too much attention, and I'm a bit uncomfortable right now.

Secondly, Canada may rock, a lot, but your own country is not without its merits, and for me these include: the greatest hockey team on ice at the moment (live from Hockeytown, Michigan), Culver's, widely available Cherry Coke, several spectacular national parks, and some grand legislation guaranteeing roadless wilderness areas.

Finally, you and your family COULD be Canadian. Amazing hospitality, an obsession with paddling, a fondness for maple syrup... that's about all it takes. Throw in an appreciation for nature and the intelligence to be friends with MK? A done deal.

There you go, you're pseudo-Canadian.

(btw, a minor correction: most Canucks just say "Tim's" and he did own it until his death in 1974, but in 1995 the whole kit and kaboodle was taken over by... an American.)

pete witucki said...

Darren, thanks for a wonderful post. Someday I hope I can paddle like a Canadian.

Also, did anyone notice mk and rosie posted exactly 12 hours apart?! I'm not making another worn-out bizzaro-megan joke, just stating the facts.

mk said...

Wait a minute. "Worn-out bizarro Megan joke"? Are you implying that I am bizarre? And I have no idea who this Rosie character is and why she is trying to steal my identity is beyond me.

canoelover said...

An American (excuse me, United Statsian) owns Tim Horton's? Aren't there laws against that? It's like the Chinese owning most of our country...

Oh. Never mind.

RP and MK are separate and distinct beings. Rosie is not Bizarro-Megan. She has her own particular flavor of bizarre that is beyond compare. I love 'em both.

john said...

you forget to mention that Tim Horton's also, or did, sponsor the Canadian national cycling team, not NASCAR.

kim jong ill

canoelover said...

Tim Horton's sponsored the cycling team? Cool! I think our cycling team is supported by the US Postal Service.

NASCAR is a weird, weird thing. I will never understand it. Even after seeing "Cars."

john said...

team discovery was dropped by Postal almost two years ago. i made the comparison from growing up in new england and visiting Dunkin Doughnuts, who do sponsor NASCAR. I'm no nascar fan but have traveled to france to see Lance race.

troutbreath said...

Nice post Darren. Maybe someone will mistake my paddle stroke for a Canadians someday – though it will take a little more work. You did a graceful job of dealing with the differences and similarities between our two countries.