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.

____________

OH, CANADA

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.

http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/

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.

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Alex Kearns

Alex Kearns

Alex writes for a variety of national and international publications. A relative newcomer to the United States, she co-founded her town's first environmental organization (The St. Marys EarthKeepers, Inc.). In turns bemused, confused, entranced, frustrated and delighted, she enjoys unravelling the eternal enigma that is the Deep South.

31 Comments
  1. Cliff Green

    Welcome aboard, Alex. Just don’t put sugar on your grits, OK?

  2. Alex Kearns

    Thank you, Cliff! Sugar on grits? Dear Lord, it just keeps getting more strange. I did bear witness to someone eating a large bowl of the gruel with two slices of Kraft singles on top. At that point my right ventricle slammed shut in sympathy. Now someone, please, explain why Americans refer to some bacon as “Canadian bacon”.

  3. Frank Povah

    Maybe because it is a different cut (round). Canadians refer to Canadian bacon as “the good stuff that’s exported to the US, leaving us the seconds”.

    Canadians are a lot like Australians in national attitudes, except that are a less cynical, though only slightly so. It has always puzzled me that the two countries don’t form a special alliance (along with the Shaky Isles) because whenever group[s of us get together, it’s like meeting old friends after a long separation or discovering a sibling you didn’t know you had.

    Alex I sympathiz/se with your schizophrenic spelling problem. Just between you, me and the gatepost, I blame Noah Webster. I suspect he was a closet mild dyslexic. He began changing the spelling of some words because he thought they should be moderniz/sed but sort of gave up and let the fledgling advertising industry do it for him. He had trouble with diphthongs, and so left us fetus and gynecologist but gave up on medical terms and only half-finished USis/zing diarrhea.

    Of course we Australians – those of us who can spell past iPod, that is – in the past had a problem with the ise/ize ending and plumped for ise, though we pronounce it “izzze”. But in our defens/ce I’d like to point out that the different spellings were once there for a reason, and to quote a famous essayist and reformer of the official written communication; “…if we use ise, we are nearly always right; if we use ize, we are very often wrong.”

    I am in a grumpy mood this morning; I just had the “pen” over the umpteenth article that someone was paid good money to write and then given to me to reform for a pittance, a mere crust of bread – vitamin D enriched and fiber/re enhanced bread at that.

  4. Alex Kearns

    There. there, Frank – be not in a grump. Actually, the only time that the spelling issue annoys me is when people insist on telling me that “colour”, “cheque”, “doughnut” etc. are “wrong”. Nope – not wrong…just English (and I believe that the usual telephone option is “Press 1 for English”). Ah well, vive la difference!

  5. I find it to be an incredible coincidence that you and the 4 Canadian snowbirds I play tennis with have the same obviously incorrect opinion of universal health care. All of us Americans know that you have to wait a long long time for an appointment, and that when you reach a certain age you can’t get any care due to the government bureaucrat allocating most of the health care money to the young people. Welcome to all knowing and all seeing America. I could not agree more about Rush, Shaun, Glen and the other hate spewers. You picked a great place to live. FYI, proper ladies in the south don’t sweat or perspire they glisten.

  6. Noah Webster was nothing compared to Melvil Dewey, who lopped off every “non-essential” letter he could find — and yet saddled legions of librarians with the Dewey Decimal System, well-known for its infinitesimal possibilities (following the decimal, of course).

  7. Alex Kearns

    Not a “coincidence” perhaps, George. But what do I know? I can only base my opinions on my 45 years of experience – and that of friends, family and others. Wait times: I have never had to wait – and nor did either of my chronically ill, elderly parents who received superb and comprehensive care for years. I read such utter nonsense from the anti-universal healthcare faction here – and most of it about the much-cherished healthcare system in Canada. Piffle and poppycock!
    (“Glisten”?? Dear Lord, I shall never get the hang of that. I sweat through the steamy summer months like a galley slave with a glandular disorder! C’mon winter!)

  8. Frank Povah

    Do you have a “gladular disorder” because you are unhappy at heart, or is it because you laugh at inappropriate times, during political speeches for example?

  9. Alex Kearns

    i hav a riting-befor-thurd-cofee disordre. (I also laugh during political speeches. Doesn’t everyone?)

  10. Loved your article, but please don’t saddle all of us Southerners with the practice of making one syllable words into multi-syllables.

  11. Alex Kearns

    No offense intended. I have found that the accents of Georgia are hugely varied in nuance and rhythm. Generally speaking, though, my own dialect sounds rather clipped and rapid-fire in comparison.
    There appears to be a slowing down of both life and speech here in the far southern reaches of the state (again, not a criticism, just a personal observation). Having lived on a small island in the Bahamas I noted the same tendency and have come to believe that it’s both cultural as well as a survival tactic: I myself slow to a snail’s pace in 90+ degree weather.
    Lyrical, creative, slightly hypnotic, often hilarious and altogether fascinating, the dialect and adages of the Deep South (whether spoken or in literature) are delightful to me…but I’m afraid that I will always request a “hoose” salad. Such are the travails of a Canadian raised by an English mother and Irish grandparents :)

  12. Mandy Richburg Rivers

    I think you just summed up every conversation I’ve ever had with my multitude of Canadian in-laws – and made reference to the ludicrous ideas we Americans have been led to believe – in one solid, well written article. You did fail to mention what I consider to be one of the greatest advantages Canadians have on the States – poutine!

  13. Alex Kearns

    Thank you, Mandy

    For those who wonder what poutine may be: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poutine

    Speaking of things that will cause an aorta to slam shut, poutine may be Canada’s coronary answer to the South’s biscuits with sausage gravy…but indecently good!

    I do miss it, but not as much as I miss Canadian beer. I come from the home-town of Sleeman Breweries and lived in a city of people who were of predominantly British origins, hence pubs galore and superb beer. I’ve often thought that the word “Molson” should be incorporated into the Canadian flag (with a little Tim Horton’s logo).

    1. Mandy Richburg Rivers

      Oh, how could I fail to mention Timmy’s?! The amount of money we spend on TH when we visit blows my mind. Don’t get me wrong, it IS good but leaving your home in the falling snow 6 times before noon to making ‘Timmy Runs’ is insane. I don’t know how many times I say, “Can we just, I don’t know… MAKE A POT OF COFFEE??”

  14. Frank Povah

    British and superb beer in one sentence – an oxymoron. England, the land of warm beer and cold meat pies.

  15. There’s still some space left in the South, although it is vanishing fast. Maybe some small part of Canada could be relocated. Everyone would benefit!

  16. Alex Kearns

    What a lovely thing to say, Quincy. There is so very, very much to admire in America and its people. This is a brawling, passionate, courageous, innovative and challenging country. To be sure it’s wrestling with some divisive and difficult issues…but you have in the past and emerged all the stronger for it.
    One thing that does strike me repeatedly, though, is the general absence of knowledge about the world beyond your borders. For example: I have been stunned by the complete, blithe ignorance about Canada (often I wonder if it’s a joke…and then I realize that, no, it’s not). Canadian children are taught globally – the histories, cultures and religions of other countries in the world – for it is in this way that xenophobia, jingoism and myopia are best combated. Peace, tolerance and wisdom begin with the knowledge of others.

  17. Frank Povah

    An opinion which I heartily endorse. The USA is also ill-served by the news meja in all its manifestations. Coverage of world events is, for the most part, non-existent.

  18. Then, Frank, there are those of us native sons and daughter who rage against that most abhorrent and ugly of human traits — xenophobia.

    1. Frank Povah

      My comment on the limitations of the US media can hardly be labelled xenophobic, but you must interpret it how you will.

      I will however, confess that I tend to be xenophobic about the English, or at least that segment of the population who believe they are “the English”.

  19. Alex Kearns

    http://www.tribune-georgian.com/articles/2010/05/05/news/top_stories/1topstory5.5.txt

    This article was published today. As of right now (7:12pm) I have a roster of 129 volunteers (and St. Marys is a very small town compared to most). This, too, is America – the America of legend where neighbours reach out to one another and no challenge is too daunting. Some (the Becks, Limbaughs, Coulters and their heinous brethren) would have us all believe that this country is broken and that power is found in division and anger. As it is in Canada, so it is here: an outstretched hand will be grasped.
    I hope and pray that the seductive rhetoric of these money-grubbing “bloviates” won’t serve as a siren song to the terminally bitter, ignorant and disenchanted for hatred is the only terrorist that can truly bring this country to its knees.

  20. The Alex Kearns, I presume, whom Jay Moreno accuses of taking multiple forms, whenever he encounters someone who disagrees with his take on the world. :)
    Welcome to South Georgia. I discovered this corner of the U.S. in 1992 and determined it is where I would live and I do. Mostly. At the moment, I’m back in New Hampshire, having returned my 90 year old Novascotian (born in Halifax 2 years after the explosion, which has coloured his whole life) to his chosen home town. He was particularly pleased to see the Union Jack at Fort Frederika and Fort King George and Georgia for the winter was nice.
    I shall return mid-summer, probably too late to unseat our Rep, who’s got nothing going for him but his regal moniker with which many Americans are easily impressed. Several years ago I was informed by a conservative that the U.S. did not revolt against the English monarch, but rather against those “European” laws like habeas corpus, which are now being shoved down our throats by the likes of Justice Kennedy. From which I have now concluded that there’s a significant population hankering after special status and that’s what accounts for the rejection of equality in favor of a stratified society. I think it’s because a deep sense of insecurity is bred into the population, generation after generation, by foolhardy people who crossed the oceans without thinking and frightened themselves near to death. Earlier European settlers had no idea where they were headed and had no-one to blame but themselves. I myself had several relatives who tried America and didn’t like it and had the resources to go home again. The “land of wild Indians” is a scary place for the environmentally unaware. There is a third alternative to “fight and flight;” it’s to cower. There is safety in “don’t move.”

  21. Alex Kearns

    Oh dear God…Monica, I cannot believe that you are familiar with J.M. (I shan’t befoul these “pages” with his name). My strange, death-threat-muttering, possessed and psychotic cyber-stalker seems to be everywhere these days. Who knew that being a Canadian environmentalist in the Deep South would attract such lunatics? I am allergic to cowering, however, which irritates a bully no end.

    1. LOL Well, I went trawling in the interest of getting the lay of the political landscape in the first district of Georgia and found the sage of Camden County. His insistence that I was an other apparition of an Alex was evidence of an absence of sagacity and the presence of some sloth, since he refused to validate his suspicions. Since I happen to think all citizens should be politically involved and many must be offer to serve, if we are to have choice, I can’t fault him for entering the Camden County Commission race.

  22. Ok, so a word from the English now landed in Ontario – amazed at how the small differences make life sometimes disconnected, was quite happy walking on the pavement, but now that has become the road and I walk – where the municipality has deigned to bother on the sidewalk. Language and customs vary and I still have a hankering for ‘proper’ beer – ah but remember an old fashioned English summer is like a mid December Southern day – I like to taste my hops. If we get past generalities and actually talk to the people they are all varied and disparate in their views- there good and bad everywhere- just a matter of finding the good. And now I would not go back for all the tea in China. I like Cold Winters and blazing Summers, a little work on a nice Spring and perfection – but then what would a winging Pom find to complain about then….

  23. Alex,

    Just got back from vacation so read your interesting article. You know that the anti-health care Americans don’t care what you say, they know the “truth.” Also, I have a question — are you able to understand the accents on BBC? It’s ridiculous, I know, but I usually have to use closed captions on them!

    Welcome to America and the Red State of Georgia! (I’m a transplant myself; moved here 5 years ago to be closer to my son.)

    Coleen

    1. Alex Kearns

      Hi Coleen. In that my mum was born and raised in England and spoke both the “Queen’s English” and, if she was in her cups, thick Cockney, I tend to gravtite towards “the BEEB” (BBC), Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, the brilliant Blackadder and so forth. I do rather well translating here…but there are several ads on the local news that I cannot, for the life of me, decipher – something about VEE-hickles.
      I’m only part-way up the learning-curve so tell me – why do you refer to Georgia as “the Red State”? What does that mean?
      Where have you “transplanted” yourself from, by the way?

  24. Canada is okay (just okay) compared to most countries. But whatever you do, don’t be an American living in Toronto. Hell hath no fury like a Torontonian scorned. Awful awful city full of people who think they are really special and live in the nearest thing to NYC. Foggedaboutit.

  25. Alex Kearns

    I beg to disagree, Sam – as would the millions of American tourists (and countless ex-pats) who so thoroughly enjoy their time in Toronto. I’m sorry that you had a negative experience for we have a global reputation for being almost excessively polite, accomodating and welcoming.

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