By Alex Kidd
April 16, 2002
it’s time for a break”, my mom said in her soft voice over the phone.
I quickly dismissed the idea but she was right. She’s always right.
It was time for a break. My depression was now
in a full on downward spiral, my schoolwork had fallen behind, and my
social life was becoming non-existent. Nothing made sense anymore. Not
in New York where I had grown up into a man and not anywhere. Now 23
years of age, I knew it was time for something new. The only thing that
brought any kind of pleasure was my growing cigarette habit which would
eventually kill me if I kept it up.
Living in New York was killing me.
Around Christmas I received an invitation from
my cousin up in Canada to get away, if only for a few months, from the
hustle and bustle of New York. It was clear that my time in the big
city was coming to a close, one way or another, so I jumped at the opportunity.
This was my ticket out.
After some quick goodbyes and a long drive across
the border I arrived in the very cold and very small town of Picton,
Ontario, just in time for Christmas dinner. All of a sudden I was in
a strange house, surrounded by strangers in a strange land. Picton was
just a minuscule town, 6,000 people at most. My cousin lived about 6
miles (10 kilometers) outside of the center. I was definitely in Bumfuck,
Canada, and boy did it feel like it.
Not that I didn’t enjoy myself those first few
weeks and months. The people I met all made me feel welcome, whether
they knew me or not. If I had to write a story about Picton it’d be
called “They Wave.” It’s the kind of place where people stop their cars
to let you cross the street and they wave when you pass them by on your
bike. It felt odd at first to wave to strangers but after a while it
became second nature. I was officially a Pictonite.
Picton itself was known as a semi-famous cultural
center, home to many artists, writers, painters and poets. Many a intellectual
mind had grown and prospered in Picton, which was quite amazing considering
the town's size. Being an artist myself I felt quite at home. Until
I discovered my inherently fatal flaw: I was an American.
I didn’t quite understand it at first, but the
signs were there right from the beginning. Val, one of the women I was
staying with in my cousin's house, had a habit of making comments about
how wretched American politics and pop culture were and how superior
Canadian culture was in contrast. It seemed that in Val’s mind, every
American was pressed from the same mold, that being a fat, lazy, arrogant
asshole with decaying morals and Levi jeans. She made it a point to
shove it in my face how much “the Americans” were responsible for every
problem society had manufactured, past, present and future. “Americans
are so hard to talk to”, she said, while talking to me, an American.
I was frustrated but I kept it under wraps. Perhaps this was just one
Then one day I was watching television and I
innocently happened to turn to a show called Talking
to Americans. What could this be? The name piqued my interest so
I decided to give it a try. The basic format, much like Jaywalking from
the Tonight show, was the following: host goes out in American town
and ask simple questions, American idiot answers incorrectly and everyone
has a good laugh. The main points of the show seemed to be that 1.)
Americans are stupid and 2.) Americans know nothing about Canadian history
or politics. I was amused, and it was pretty funny come to think of
it, but something just didn’t feel right. Jaywalking was confined to
ditzy Californian chicks, Talking to Americans made fun of the whole
country. It was all in good fun, but was this really the way all Canadians
thought of Americans?
As I gradually became infused with this new
culture it became apparent that the mood of anti-Americanism was part
and parcel of Canadian society. Being pro-Canadia doesn’t exist without
being anti-America. It wasn’t always a rabid, vicious hatred but rather
a latent urge to show the world that at least Canadians aren’t as bad
as “the Americans.” But sometimes it was quite obvious, like when Carolyn
Parrish, a Liberal member of the Canadian Parliament, said at the end
of a meeting, “Damn
Americans, I hate those bastards.” She later retracted her remark,
but to me it felt like she was just the mouthpiece to what everyone
else thought but was afraid to say.
During all of this I quietly sat back and let
it slide. Many snide remarks were made, but over and over it was water
under the bridge. Once, a young girl, too young to know better, said
“Are you really an American? You seem so nice.” Was this so unbelievable?
If I had a dollar (American, those Canadian dollars are like pesos)
for every time I’ve heard some Canadian use the term “American asshole”
then I’d be investing the money in the stock market by now.
Still, I never fought the barrage of sourness
felt towards the United States. Not that I wasn’t going to change anyone’s
mind with a hot debate, and why should I? I’m about as patriotic as
a pet rock. I dislike Bush and the war as much as the next non-Republican.
I’ve read Michael Moore and Noam Chompsky. Still, when a Canadian made
fun of my country it felt like a personal attack, even though I knew
it wasn’t. All I wanted was some understanding.
Thinking about the issue at hand I could comprehend
the deep-rooted anti-Americanism that had grown over the past few decades
in just about every Islamic nation in the world. The United States is
simply the pinnacle of the Western Civilization, something the Muslim
Fundamentalists aren’t very fond of. The Arab world also has a beef
with the way the US has handled the Israel/Palestine situation. But
what was Canada’s excuse?
The first thing that popped into my mind was
envy, pure and simple. Was this just another case of "little brother"
syndrome? Did Canada resent always being in the shadow of a bigger sibling
that gets all of daddy’s (or the worlds) attention? In addition, Canada
relies on U.S. trade for it’s survival. When the U.S. economy suffers,
Canada suffers. And the Canadian media is infiltrated by American pop
stars, sitcoms, and big budget movies. I’d be jealous too if I was so
reliant of a superpower neighbor that constantly overshadowed me in
the world arena. Envy might be part of the equation, but I don’t think
it’s all of it.
I think Canada’s main hassle with the states
is the American’s oblivious attitude towards the rest of the world,
something which can’t really be denied. The first thing to go when budget
cuts come to American schools is always geography and history. Canadians
take it personally when you don’t know the name of their 13 provinces
or the last 5 prime ministers. I think they have a legit argument on
this front: Americans are oblivious. To this end I also think that Canadians
shouldn’t be so self centered as to take it as a personal attack because
we’re oblivious to the whole world, not just Canada. Hell, I
can barely remember the name of all 50 states, much less the capital
I guess what really bugs me about this whole
anti-American movement in Canada is the constant generalization. What
I think most Canucks don’t realize is that, unlike Canada, the United
States is a very diverse and country. Try comparing a living in Palo-Alto,
California to living in rural Missiouri and you’ll see what I mean.
Listening to what some Canadians say would have you believe that every
one of us are overambitious, arrogant dicks with an “I Love Bush” sticker
on the bumper of our new shiny Lexus. Sure, every country has it’s own
collective values and beliefs, but it’s harder to pigeonhole any kind
of paradigm onto the American populace than perhaps any other nation
in the world. If anything, the only constant in the United States is
that there is no constant. Being an individual is paramount in America.
Another thing often overlooked is the huge liberal
movement that has risen up in the face of war and destruction going
on in the world these days. Go to any campus in the states and you’ll
hear just about every derogatory remark possible hurled in the general
direction of Bush and his armada of hawks. Every day there are protests
against globalization, the war, police brutality and any number of American
type conflicts. Don’t we already hate ourselves enough already without
having Canada rub it in our face every chance it gets?
Kierkegaard said “when you label me, you negate
me.” Every time I hear someone say a sentence that starts with “The
Americans...” I hear another label. All I really want is to be seen
as an individual, not as something that can be easily put into a box
with a “Made in the USA” sticker on it. It’s easy to stereotype a country’s
populace down to their basest form, turn them into a caricature of themselves.
I just want Canadians to realize that if someone dislikes me then it’s
because I myself am an asshole, not because I’m an American. Is that
too much to ask for?
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