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Canadian-ness


Canada and the United States are neighbors, but in many ways the two countries are much more than that. Their backgrounds are very similar; both have their roots in Western Europe, particularly England and France. Both have an abundance of natural resources as well as beautiful vistas. Both also follow a similar economic philosophy. Many who are from other continents routinely look at the two countries as nearly identical.

And yet, Canadians and Americans are very different. The United States worships capitalism to near-blindness, whereas Canadians tend to be more amenable to socialism and socialist agendas. Americans are all about competition and success at all cost, while Canadians are more about co-operation and the greater good.

America has benefitted from a wider range of immigration, whereas Canada is beginning to catch up in that department. America is vibrant, self-confident to the point of cockiness and admires innovation. Canada is fiercely independent, protective of her own identity and promotes the new and the different with youthful enthusiasm.

I am proud to be an American and yet I’m also half-Canadian by birth, and I admire Canada very much. I am in Winnipeg, Manitoba as I write this, surrounded by Canadian family but still very aware of my American heritage. The United States is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination – no country is, not even Canada – but being abroad, particularly in a country so similar to my own gives me pause to reflect on the differences between the country of my birth, and the country that I feel such great affection for.

What is the difference between Americans and Canadians? It’s a fair question to ask, and not an easy one to answer. The people of both nations can be very warm and giving to strangers, the Canadians particularly. Both nations are filled with ethnic diversity which is celebrated by one portion of the population and regarded with nervous suspicion by the other. Both nations have a frontier spirit that comes from expanding across the continent, one which is forward-looking and promotes a can-do attitude that is appealing.

Both nations also have had similar challenges, from dealing with the native peoples who were here before the Europeans to over-reliance on petroleum for energy. It is also fair to say that the two countries haven’t always dealt with their mutual problems with similar solutions; for example, in providing healthcare for their people, Canada has gone the socialized medicine route whereas America has traditionally relied on the free market to supply health care.

Yes, we are fundamentally similar in many ways but there are plenty of differences too. America has greater geographical diversity and a milder climate in much of the nation. Canada is crazy about hockey while Americans worship at the altar of the football Gods. Both countries tease each other in a mostly good-natured way, although occasionally some bitterness spills through. Some Americans regard Canada with suspicion as a country bordering dangerously on socialism. Some Canadians regard America as arrogant, self-righteous and selfish. Both viewpoints aren’t without merit.

Canadians have a great sense of humor; Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival is perhaps the premiere comedy festival on Earth. Both countries concentrate their attention in their Eastern half, the Americans on the Northeast Atlantic seaboard and the Canadians on Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

Canadian-ness is a quality that is as difficult to pin down as American-ness. The stereotypes of the stoner Canuck that Bob and Doug MacKenzie promoted (take off, hoser!) are as invalid as those of the ugly American that comes out of Saturday Night Live, but in both cases there are some kernels of truth.

Defining what a Canadian is and an American is can be tough sledding indeed. There isn’t really a typical Canadian anymore than there is a typical American. Still, there is more to what differentiates us than merely the use of the metric system; I think Americans tend to define themselves by their success more than Canadians, who are much more sensible about the work to life relationship. However, it has to be admitted that the American work ethic has also created a society that is driven to achieve great things, and I have confidence will continue to do so.

So which one is the better place to live? That’s not an easy one to answer. In some ways, I think that Canada is a kinder, gentler nation that seems to put more value on the quality of life overall than America does, but I also believe that there is greater opportunity to make an impact in America, particularly now.

My feelings for both nations run very deep. I have family ties in both places, relationships with friends in both countries that are important to me. I value what each country has to offer the world greatly, although I will have to admit I’m much fonder of hockey than I am of football (I’m a diehard San Jose Sharks fan and I bleed teal). I’m proud of my roots in both countries; America gave my father refuge and he built a life and family there, while Canada nurtured my mother’s family when my great-grandfather fled the Soviet Union.

It is an interesting dynamic; no country understands America better than Canada (and vice versa) and yet no country is as mystified by America than Canada (and vice versa). We’re like cousins, very close cousins indeed and as family we’ve got each other’s back. At times, we can be snippy with one another but familiarity and proximity sometimes breeds irritation. All in all, we admire one another for what we are and sometimes we can be jealous of one another for what we have, but at the end of the day we are more than just neighbors; we are family.

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5 Responses

  1. This is good to know, for many years I have been very interested in Canada. The more I know about it, the more I respect it. Tell me more.

    • That will take a good deal more space than I have here. One thing I appreciate about Canada is the emptiness; the population is much more sparse here (mostly having to do with it’s geographical position) and there are vast wide open spaces that have little or no human settlements to them at all. While the cities are pretty much no different than U.S. cities, the small towns have a particular flavor to them that has to do with the harsher climate. Also, I think Canada’s aboriginal population is much less marginalized than they have been in the States, although that’s more of a matter of opinion on my part.

  2. Someone recently asked me why I left a country like Canada, well originally it was simply to see more of the world and was to be a visit and then, New York City seduced me and of course there I met my husband to be and this country became my home.Im glad you enjoy my roots, Canada has always felt the huge shadow of its neighbour no where else are their two countries with such a long border between them who manage to live in peace.

  3. yeah my dad will like this

  4. Great writing! You should definitely follow up on this topic!?

    Beatriz

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