Through the Looking Glass: What Alex Found
Having lived in Ontario, Canada for most of my life, I thought that I had a fairly comprehensive grasp of the American gestalt in that the two countries share the world’s longest undefended border, media, resources, language and history. When Like the Dew first contacted me with a request to submit my articles, several emails winged back and forth. One of them suggested that it might be interesting to hear the thoughts of someone who was fairly new (four years) to the United States.
I have often been tempted to write of this “stranger in a strange world” experience but have resisted that impulse for I worry that I might, inadvertently, cause offense. My intention is not to damn either Canada or the US by comparison…but here goes (I can feel the keyboards of “commenters” warming up even as I type).
First the superficial minutiae:
Language: we do share a common language – up to a point. Southerners giggle at my pronunciation of such words as “house” and “about”. Apparently, I enunciate as if those words were one syllable instead of the three required by the Southern accent. (Think “hoose” as opposed to “hay-ow-s”).
When I request a “serviette” at a restaurant I am in need of a “napkin”. The Canadian lexicon is rich with British terms so if I suggest that someone not get their “knickers in a twist” or lay off the tequila lest they become “royally pissed”, I am seldom understood (just two of the many examples that cause others to look at me “gormlessly.”) I also spell “colour” and “neighbour” with the letter U. Such is the English language.
By the way, no, I am not fluent in the French language – nor are about 92% of Canadians.
Food: having come from a place with a staggering abundance of fresh produce (and being a vegetarian) I grieve the loss of vegetables that taste like vegetables and not cardboard replicas. I also had no idea that every conceivable part of a pig could be eaten: jowls, trotters, fat, snout, ears, tail…the mind boggles.
Flora and fauna: unless one is wandering the far reaches of the northern areas and confronts a disgruntled mother bear, there are few animals in Canada that pose a threat. In the Deep South I have been warned of ‘gators, brown recluse spiders, rattlers, scorpions and other “critters”. Kudzu and spiked vines are in abundance and maple trees scarce. The beauty of the salt marshes, the egrets, the riotous azaleas, the live oaks and the spanish moss more than make up for the risk to life and limb of outdoor excursions. Cumberland Island (on my doorstep) is a wonderland of beauty. If you have not visited there, you owe it to yourself to do so.
Attitudes: Canadians tend to be somewhat more reserved (though known world-wide for being tremendously polite). Americans in the South, generally speaking and in my experience in St. Marys, embody the ideals of hospitality and charm.
Those are the facile issues, so now on to weightier subjects.
Health care. There, I said it (and no one has thrown a rock through my window – – yet). I have never had to contain the words “health” and “money” in the same thought bubble. MRI immediately? No problem. Extensive surgery? Okay, then. A three-week hospital stay due to being in a coma because that horse disliked my presence on his back? Alrighty. Aging and ill parents? No worries.
It is inconceivable to me that the world’s leader in freedom, capitalism (which I consider rather a good thing) and quality of life lags behind Canada (pop. 33 million plus) in healthcare. Since being in the US, I have doled out my Aetna payments each month and yet have incurred debt – and a whole new language of “co-pay,” “billing department” and “are you sure you want that test? It’s expensive!”
I find it morally reprehensible and completely inexplicable.
Gay marriage (legal in Canada). In my opinion this should be a non-issue. Either “all men are created equal” or they’re not. One does not (or should not) get to pick, choose and create “levels” of equality.
Guns (unpopular in Canada). Timely and affordable healthcare is a Right – bearing arms is not viewed that way. That fundamental difference goes a long way towards explaining the fact that Canadians live longer than Americans and seldom die of gunshot wounds. (Contributing to over-all health and life expectancy is the fact that we do not hesitate to seek medical attention if we’re concerned about something.)
White versus Black (or the inverse). History plays a massive role in this never-ending issue, for Canada does not bear the weight of the albatross of a past that includes enslaving others — and America still struggles with its grisly ghosts. On the grand stage, the USA has come so far and yet I have found that in the smaller theatres of life the specters still rattle their chains and wail.
Environmentalism: in Canada, if you are not environmentally sensitive you are considered a complete idiot. Change is slow in coming to southern Georgia (when I arrived here there was no city-wide curbside recycling program so I, and others, formed the St. Marys EarthKeepers and now our recycling rate is almost twice that of the national average). I have been called a “socialist”, an “Alinskyite” (at first I didn’t realize that that was intended as an insult) and a “leftist”. I find nothing seditious in the act of recycling, preserving greenspaces, tree-planting or common-sense resource stewardship.
Media: Limbaugh, Beck, Coulter. Need I say more? The money-hungry hate-mongers are lining their wallets while creating an atmosphere of divisiveness, anger and hatred. It is appalling.
All of that being said, I am entranced by this nation of possibility; intrigued by its dichotomies; enamored of the South’s beauty and charm; exhilarated by this new world and thrilled to have (after thousands of dollars, years, several injections, draconian restrictions and multiple finger-printing sessions) become an American citizen. You may now feel free to throw verbal rocks.
It has become apparent to me that few in this country know anything about the massive land to the north – Canada. So, in the spirit of communal knowledge I offer these tidbits of information:
24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Canada (the nation’s capital). Built in 1744, it has been the residence of all Prime Ministers. 34 rooms, no massive bulwarks or weaponry – this is the view from the public road. The only security measures are main gates, two guards and several mounted cameras. At this time the Prime Minister is Stephen Harper (Conservative Party).
The Canadian Constitution includes a handy device known as “The Non-Confidence Measure” (similar to Britain’s etc.) If our leader has proven him/herself unworthy, we are able to demand a general election and rid ourselves of him/her. This has occurred twice in over 250 years. Yes, we have had female Prime Ministers, black Governor Generals, Asian leaders, gay leaders and so forth. It matters not to us the race, religion, sexual leanings or creed as long as they are highly intelligent, experienced and competent – and reflect the democratic will of the people.
Canada is a Federation consisting of 10 provinces and three territories. It is a parliamentary democracy, with the monarchy as the figurehead of state.
- The name “Canada” comes from the Iroquois word “Kanata”, meaning “peaceful village of many”
- It is the second-largest country on the planet (after Russia) with the longest coastline in the world and is the richest in natural resources.
- Pop. 33 million plus
- Average summer temperatures vary from 75-80 – and as high as 105 in some locations. Winter temps run from 5 to 60 degrees depending upon location.
- Canada is among the world’s wealthiest nations with the highest per capita income.
- On July 20, 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world and the first country in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide
- Canada was the first to declare war on Germany with other nations to follow more than a year later. We have fought in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, alone in Afghanistan (until recently)…and in every other military conflict in which the USA has engaged. We did not officially declare war on Iraq or Vietnam for we agreed, as a people, that the evidence was far from compelling. (We were punished resoundingly for not declaring war on Iraq through Presidents Bush’s economically punitive “you’re either fer us or agin us” policies). Our soldiers went to Iraq and Vietnam – and our soldiers died. They die still.
- Canada possesses over 20% of the world’s fresh water and the second-largest oil deposits.
- Canada has the highest per capita immigration rate in the world, driven by economic policy and family reunification.
- Canada’s official global title is “International Peace-keepers” – a U.N designation that the country bears proudly.
- Canada is a “multicultural” country as opposed to a “melting pot”: ethnic celebration and diversity form much of the fabric of national pride.
The Human Development Index 2009 (United Nations Development Program): an index combining normalized measures of life expectancy, literacy, educational attainment, and GDP per capita for countries worldwide. It is a standard means of measuring human development — a concept that, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), refers to “the process of widening the options of persons, giving them greater opportunities for education, health care, income, employment, etc.” Canada occupies position #4: the United States # 13.
So there you have it: a “crash course” on Canada – the United States’ largest trading partner, source of resources, brothers in arms, history and democracy. I am now a dual citizen of (what I believe to be) two of the finest countries on this planet. Do not dismiss Canada, please. United we stand, divided we fall.