The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Conversations With Americans

by Steve Gajadhar

It must be the proximity of the 4th of July that has Anna and I ranting on the same thing.

Disclaimer #1: I don’t hate Americans, in fact I’ve become friends with a lot of them. This piece is meant to be illustrative rather than pejorative. As with all things in life, it takes too much energy to hate something, it’s much easier to try to understand and coexist.

Disclaimer #2: Americans are always right. It’s pointless to argue with them.

Some quotes from conversations with Americans:

“This is my friend, Steve, he’s Canadian.”

At no point during my life in Canada did I ever introduce my friends in this way. They were simply my friends. Americans see the world as America and then everyone else. If you’re not American you’re some other kind of alien novelty act they can show off to their American friends.

“Neil Young (insert famous person here) is Canadian?”

Yes he is. Ask him, I’m sure he’ll tell you.

“We think of you as a northern state”

A sweet older woman said this to me. It is one of the most infuriating declarations I have been subjected too in my short time living in the US. I wanted to punch her.

“Canada has a day? What for? It’s not like you guys kicked some English ass like we did. You’re not even a real country, just a colony.”

Every person is allowed to be proud of their country, and I’m damn proud to be Canadian. I also pointed out that we burned down the Whitehouse the only time Americans and Canadians fought and that even though the American forces outnumbered Canada’s 10 to 1, they still chose to leave us be. Smart move. We’re nice. We’re tolerant. Just don’t piss us off. I think the same can be said of me.

“O Canada, our home and native land…”

An American friend of mine sang me the whole Canadian anthem. I then proceeded to sing him the Star Spangled Banner. We were drinking. As you might have guessed, he was a hockey player.

“You’re commies”

A popular belief in America is that Canada is full of leftist commies. I’ve had this discussion many times. To them Canada is a welfare state full of unemployed bums. I tried comparing our unemployment rates, but discussing facts with most Americans is a pointless exercise. They don’t want facts they want you to shut up and listen to their opinion. The only point that seems to work here is that America does indeed have a welfare system, only they call it the prison system.

“It’s not like your country was attacked.”

I won’t delve too deeply into this one. The Iraq War is a touchy subject in the US. I’ve had a couple late night discussions regarding Iraq’s involvement in Sept. 11 (i.e. none) and all have ended in the quote that follows this section. In the new millennium America, no American wants to be viewed as unpatriotic, and that means no American wants to voice dissent. I don’t know about you, but this scares the bejesus out of me. Canadians pie the faces of their political leaders and openly dissent about every little thing. Except being Canadian. It’s the way it should be.

“If you don’t like it leave.”

Ah yes, the ever popular fuck off and die answer. But in a sense, they are right. We did choose to come here, so while we are here we should stick to their rules. We can think what we want, but in America, if you’re not American you’re not allowed an opinion. Thank God they haven’t found a way to bug our thoughts yet.

Disclaimer #3: I’d like to sincerely thank the Edmundson’s for inviting us into their home on July 4th. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and the food was great.

Disclaimer #4: America is great. But deep down inside of me I can’t shake the feeling that is used to be better. I hope history isn’t able to pinpoint the exact date the world’s last Superpower spun out of control. This is exactly what the terrorists wanted.


Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I think every country has smart people and idiots and a whole range in between. What's happened to America over the last few decades are that the idiots have taken over the conversation and the smart people are demoralized and silent. And the people in between are voicing only their dumb thoughts because they’re safe to do so.

Our Canadian idiots are just as bad but our smart people are still in charge of the conversation. I fear this may shift here, too. And then just generally across the world. The twentieth century could have been our "renaissance" and we are now entering a dark age. This cycle repeats throughout history and there was no reason to expect that our progress in technological and social innovation would continue indefinitely.

Neo-medieval values are ascendant.

Wed Jul 12, 07:56:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger kim said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Wed Jul 12, 11:08:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

I appreciate your take seeing as you made the US your home, Steven. Thought provoking final line.

Wed Jul 12, 01:39:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Exactly, Anna. We chose to be here. So when our friends try and egg us into arguments about Canada, we just remain silent.

It's weird, Andrew, I'd like to think of the people we associate with as smart, but sometimes they can be the most intolerant of the lot.

Might = right, manifest destiny and all that crapola.

This'll be my last post on America for a long time. I'm starting to repeat myself...

Wed Jul 12, 04:57:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger kim said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Wed Jul 12, 06:42:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

Hi Steven, all I can say, is that you're hanging out with the wrong are....and well, I also have to say, and I hesitate, but feel I must say something as my name is also affiliated with this blog, I don't like this post,I do not agree with it at all, you can disclaim all you like...and well, it's my have stated yours, and well, I'm stating mine...this is in no way a reflection on you, I don't know you, however, I do know alot of americans, alot of them and I know them to be loving, kind, wonderful people, alot of people that are against their countries politics, who are interested and passionate in learning about our country, etc..... and...well, steven...I don't know....good luck to you down there honey...xoxoxoo

Wed Jul 12, 11:48:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

No worries, Patricia. I didn't mean it as negative, just illustrative. Everyone we know here is great, just different from all of the Canadians I have ever known. It's an almost uber patriotism.

It's a sensitive subject, and one I plan on staying away from in the future.

Thu Jul 13, 03:07:00 am GMT-4  
Anonymous Kim Teeple said...

Have you considered that perhaps you are eliciting this response from your American friends? If the content of this post is indicative of your conversations, then I would guess that this so called “uber patriotism” you’re encountering is a reaction or response to your own presumptuous and negative generalities. I’m not “uber” anything(I’m not even sure what uber is) but I’m American, and I might add, about as political as a banana, but you even managed to get my hackles up.

You yourself wrote everyone has a right to be proud of their country, and yet in the same breath you criticized Americans for being proud of theirs, so, aren’t we allowed to be patriotic, to love our country despite its flaws?

And interestingly enough, you also, in your last disclaimer, put forth a sentiment that so many fundamentalists do, that America was better in days of old (go back to the good ole days) and I have to wonder when we were better? During the Vietnam war, the Korean war? During the import and export of Africans to be bought and sold as slaves? During the years (not that long ago) of the Jim Crow laws, when Americans, Black Americans, were subjugated to abuse and oppression? During prohibition? Or the “good ole days” when women weren’t allowed to vote? All countries redefine themselves and change, sometimes for the worse, and then again, sometimes for the better.

I guess in conclusion, for a moment, walk in my moccasins, read your post back to yourself, and wherever you wrote “American” change the word to “Canadian,” and, if in switching around the perspective you’re not offended, then, well, okay, I’m being overly sensitive-- or uber patriotic?

Thu Jul 13, 08:12:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

You know, guys, to be fair--thank God the top half of Canada is cold as heck, because if it wasn't, it'd be choking with people. We'd have a big army, muscles to flex. We'd see opportunities in foreign lands, and a need to defend our ventures. There'd be no melding of the right and the left. In fact, we'd have a right and a left. Football(hopefully soccer, too)would eventually stake a claim over all the new grass growing. We'd have hundreds of mega-cities with all kinds of mega-city problems. Gated communities, anyone? I could go on and on, until the point where global warming eventually drowns the whole whack of us, Americans and Canadians together.

When I think of Canada, I see the geography. I see the mighty Rockies, the expansive and fertile plains, the Great Lakes, the frozen tundra of the north. I don't see the people. Why should I? People move around a lot. People are finicky, partisan, biased, and they always leave some garbage behind--the world over. We need to understand that, once and for all. I say I'm proud to be a Canadian, but what I really mean is that I feel lucky to be here, on this GEOGRAPHY where it's relatively quiet at the moment, under-developed for the most part, peaceful--still king!

Oooh! I just had a good idea! Let's make global warming our global cause...

Thu Jul 13, 09:01:00 am GMT-4  
Anonymous redpen said...

I liked this post. I also very much enjoyed reading the comments it has elicited (good word, Kim; forgive my petty theft).

Obviously, there exists in the American population, as in all populations, a cornucopia of diversity, and any attempt to generalize cannot avoid being, at least in part, incorrect. However, the recognition of patterns is the very essence of human intelligence ; it forms the basis of our entire understanding of the world, and so it's hardly surprising that we tend to paint the world with an over-thick brush at times (red state, blue state...).

If it's not valid to think generally about a country's population, then how is it possible to be patriotic? Whence comes the sense of community, if not from some shared belief system, or history, or achievement? For some people (like, say, the previous poster), the physical geography may be relevant, but I'm not going to count those people - I'm referring to pride in the nation, not the physical country.

If a person associates themselves with some generalization of their country, and labels themselves as a proud American, or Canadian, or whatever, then they rightly get to bask in the magnificent acheivements of their country. By so doing, in my opinion, such a person is tacitly accepting the concept of viewing their population as a homogeous mass, and would be hypocritical to complain about stereotypes.

Not sure that that made much sense. However, before I distracted myself, I was intending to offer at least one relevant comment:

I share Steve's observation that some people, and not just Americans, react to dissention from immigrants with a "if you don't like it, then leave" attitude. I would prefer to see that attitude replaced by the following:

"If you don't like it, then try to change it. Start a grass-roots movement, draw up a petition, do something, anything, about it. If you win over a majority, then good for you, I guess I didn't have the right concept about my own country, and it's incumbent on me to get things back the way I prefer. If you fail, and you can't conform, then leave."

Thu Jul 13, 10:28:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I agree with redpen and was going to write something to try to make the same point. You can't have it both ways: generalize about the good stuff and then resist generalizing about the bad trends.

Public discourse in America has become more mean-spirited and irrational. Of course, there are exceptions. But the general trend is away from a careful respectful presentation of the facts and towards the rant. The difference between the Dick Cavat show and the Jerry Springer show, say.

Thu Jul 13, 11:01:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

I agree with Antonios regarding the geographical aspects of Canada, and the impact this has on one's feeling of "Canadianness." But a nation is also found in the characteristics of its people. One identifies oneself with their country, this harkens to the pattern recognition that redpen mentioned: we search for sameness in the people that surround us, or that sameness eventually comes about from the imprinting of behaviours and traits. Each country shares different value sets and these are reflected in its people and their actions. I like to think of Canada as a carpet, sure there are spots, but it's still a carpet. Same goes for the US, only different spots in different places.

This was not meant to be an incendiary piece, and I did not set out to imply that Canada is a better country than the US. I set out to show how my being Canadian is reacted to by my US friends. Most of these quotes are the first words out of people's mouths when they find out my citizenship. Easy to shrug off at first, but eventually they start to wear on you. If the tone of my blog came over as confrontational, I apologize (there's my damn Canadianness showing again). In the future I'll leave more time for proofreading. Conflict of this nature is not something I try to foster, because it seldom leads to solutions.

Thu Jul 13, 08:24:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

I chose to speak about Canada's geography because I'm the son of immigrants. It's the only way I knew to get in on the discussion without feeling like a hypocrite. But that's another story...

Thu Jul 13, 10:27:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Joseph Young said...

I'll (as an American) gladly be viewed as unpatriotic, Steve, if it means saying that the current US federal policy, whether domestic or international, is about as fucked as it can be. We quite literaly have a demagogue in power, one who shows no remorse in abusing his power in any manner possible in order to increase it. His main tool is, of course, fear. If we in the US gave into fear after 9-11, there are now indications (my fingers are crossed) that the midterm elections will indicate some inroads back to courage. Of course, this is unless something happens in the meantime. How will
Bush manipulate what's happening in Israel/Lebanon?

Sun Jul 16, 10:19:00 am GMT-4  
Anonymous Matthew Kilgore said...

Personally, having been roughly quoted in Steve's anti-America blog more than once, my reaction varied from outright laughter to being vaguely annoyed. I do not have a large amount of time to relate my perspective, but I would like to say a few things. Steve would argue with a brick wall about the color of snow, especially after a few drinks. And let's not get started on the origins of the Olmec culture in Meso-America, eh Steve?

To be sure, America is a fantastic country where literally anything is possible for anyone, even newly imported Canadians who are not feeling the love. Just ask Steve about our new business venture together, an American corporation, where his American partners bent over backward to accomodate legal restraints that we encountered because of Steve's foreign status (even though it was and is detrimental to our tax liability).

Let me say again, America is a great place full of wonderful people and opportunities. I have toured five continents and lived abroad in Mexico and Switzerland. I have been to Canada many times, mostly to ski. Damn is it cold! My point being, I have seen the world at it's finest and it's worst. No one country can claim perfection, but at this time of post Cold War and the Global War on Terror, there is only one big dog. For better or for worse, that big dog is America. Would you rather the Soviets had won the Cold War? "Free" healthcare for everyone! At what price?

Yes, we have problems. It is easy to sit up there in the frozen north with your population a mere tenth the size of ours and point fingers at our problems. If Canada was such a wonderful utopian society, I am quite sure there would be a mass migration north. As of yet, I have not seen that exodus north. In fact, evidence would suggest it is the opposite. Why?

Yes, we have crime and some herd mentality appearances (to the rest of the world). But, hey, what more do you want from us? We are the largest, most powerful economy and military. We police the world for the betterment of all humanity, fostering democracy and individual freedom. War for oil? Maybe. War against a certifiable genocidal maniac? Certainly. Whether or not you agree with that, well, that just depends on if you are on the outside looking in, or, in Steve's case, in our backyard grilling hamburgers and telling us how to run our country.

How rude.

Wed Jul 26, 02:43:00 am GMT-4  

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