One of the stranger aspects of being a dual citizen and frequently floating back and forth across the Canada/U.S. border is that people on both sides often express their opinions regarding their neighbor-nation. I have informally kept track of the more common assertions over the years. I call them "Five Things Canadians Just Don't Get About Americans" and "Five Things Americans Just Don't Get About Canadians." Let's start with the things Canadians just don't get:
1. The Fear of Ending the Dollar Bill - Canadians chucked the paper dollar bill years ago; they later did away with the two-dollar bill. The Loonie and Toonie are generally popular and, because they don't wear out, they save taxpayers millions. And what's with the US keeping the penny when everyone else seems to be pitching it?
2. Ice Hockey in Phoenix, Nashville and Points South - Canadians like to visit warm places, but they don't expect to watch a hockey game there. Nor do they expect anyone else to. If there is a most hated man in Canada, it is NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman for his southern expansion strategy (and episodic player lockouts). Everybody in Canada knows that the NHL should move those southern teams to where they belong -- Quebec City, Hamilton, and Moose Jaw!
3. The U.S. Defense Budget - Sure, the U.S. helped win two World Wars and outlasted the Soviets during the Cold War -- but does any one nation need to outspend the next eight combined? The only rationale Canadians can think of is that those aliens at Roswell left a message that they're coming back... and we'd better be ready. Or that George Lucas is planning another Star Wars sequel...and needs extras.
4. Refusal to Adopt the Metric System - This is a philosophical cousin to the refusal to convert paper currency to coin. Jimmy Carter talked about doing it...and we all know what happened to him. Canadians made the switch years ago, joining virtually every other country in the world. They wonder if the fact the Metric system originated in France might have doomed it amongst Americans. Or perhaps not converting it is just a strategy to confuse those aliens (who undoubtedly will arrive with metric tools).
5. Saturday Postal Delivery - Again, the Canadians gave this up in the 1970's, but Americans seem to think the Republic will fall if the postman doesn't ring at least once on Saturdays. Of course the Republic might fall instead from the billions of dollar the U.S. Postal Service loses annually (but that's apparently never a compelling issue).
In the belief that turnabout is fair play, here are five things Americans most commonly tell me they just don't get about Canada:
1. The Whole Kraft Dinner Thing - Americans are mystified by the Canadian obsession with KD (or "Mac and Cheese", as they call it.). According to Sasha Chapman, writing in The Walrus, Canadians consume 3.2 boxes of the powdered cheese and noodle concoction each year -- 55 percent more than Americans do. It's bigger than poutine...bigger than beaver tails...and bigger than arctic char or northern pike. Americans figure the Great Depression must have never ended in Canada. What they don't know is that Canadians actually eat KD to prolong their childhood (if not their life expectancy). And they won't give it up, even for a million dollars.
2. Parliamentary Democracy - Americans, used to badgering their local Congressman about every imaginable issue, are shocked when they learn that there is something called "party discipline" in Canada, whereby members of parliament, with very rare exceptions, vote exactly as they are told by party whips. (Warning: Americans will fall over in a dead faint if you relay the additional news that a Canadian political campaign typically lasts only 30 to 40 days...and costs, compared to U.S. elections, about as much as a box of Kraft dinner.)
3. Love of Taxes - OK, maybe not love of taxes, but Americans, even Democrats, can't quite fathom Canada's high tax-pain threshold and near universal compliance. It's not just the higher income tax rates in most jurisdictions; there's also the VAT, or GST or HST or whatever it is we're now calling the sales tax. Add to this the lack of mortgage interest deductions and, in the eyes of most south of the border, you're pretty much looking at Sweden...with fewer blondes and duller knives.
4. Weird Holidays - Americans sort of get Victoria Day and Remembrance Day, and many secretly envy Thanksgiving coming in October. But "Civic Holiday"? Or "Family Day"? Real holidays should be about battles or dead Presidents! And the one they really don't get is "Boxing Day." Among other things, it just sounds so old-fashioned. "Cage-Fighting Day" anyone?
5. Canadian Politeness - It's not just that Canadians frequently ask to be excused, pardoned or forgiven, even when it is the other person who has transgressed. It is also the lack of boasting, bragging or conversational volume and the general good-naturedness. It can get on an American's nerves, especially after living in New York or Texas. Even Canadian dogs, the Labrador and the Newfoundland, seem to follow this pattern of tolerant affability, making them perfect pets for children, Tea Party members, and others who have not fully matured. But the truth is that it is possible to annoy a Canadian to the point of provoking an outburst. You simply utter the phrase "asymmetrical federalism"... or substitute his or her Labatts or Molson with a Bud Lite.
So that's my list. Feel free comment or add some of your own!