Some people I know say I grew up in “South Canada”. It probably speaks volumes for the condition of education in the United States that when I revealed my home state, I’ve been asked, “Maine? Isn’t that part of Canada?” I’ve also been asked if Maine was “part of the Union” and I’ve wondered just which century these folks think we live in. It’s jarring to realize how obscure my wonderful home state is to many people.
Then I realized that U.S. Americans tend to forget that we have “upstairs neighbors”. We in the U.S. tend to forget that the continent is named America, not our country. Our particular brand of arrogance is a topic that has filled libraries abroad. I love my fellow countrymen, but we do tend to act like the universe revolves around us.
I’ve heard Canada described as “America’s Attic” – that room in the house completely forgotten about until one day we finally take a look and end up finding all this interesting stuff! But we didn’t know it was there and never really needed it. I don’t think Americans mean to be derogatory in their thinking towards other countries. The feeling I get when I talk to fellow U.S. citizens is that we regard Canadians with fondness, like distant and somewhat less sophisticated cousins who eke out a living in the vast and freezing Canadian wilderness. We’re comfortable with assuming the stereotypes are true: that Canadians would rather bite off their own tongue than be rude do you, and that they’re innocent, down-home, folksy people who obsess over hockey. We think their accent is adorable and their customs are quaintly puzzling (Tintamarre? Poutine?). We know they would never cause us any problems – indeed, we would be shocked if border issues ever arose. We feel utterly safe when we visit Canada, and consider it a pleasant extension of our own country – easily navigated, few if any language barriers, and similar to home but with enough Asian (west coast) and European (east coast) elements thrown in to feel refreshing. Most of us even think that a passport shouldn’t be mandatory to travel to Canada, because we’re just all one big happy continent. Well, Mexico is a different story.
There’s also the general opinion that the Canadian lifestyle is nearly Utopian. Consider the following:
- Extremely low violent crime rate: 610 homicides reported in Canada in 2009, versus 15,241 in the U.S. That’s 1.79 vs. 4.86 per 100,000.
- Better, less expensive and universal health care: In 2006, per-capita spending for health care in Canada was $3,678 and in the U.S. it was $6,714.
- Fewer vehicular fatalities: 30,797 deaths in the U.S. vs. 2,011 deaths in Canada in 2009. That’s 9.98 vs. 5.90 per 100,000.
- Less obesity: 24% of Canadians vs. 34% of Americans.
- Less pollution: Canada ranked #12 and the U.S. ranked #39 on the Environmental Performance Index.
- Lower unemployment: It’s currently 8.3% in the U.S. and 7.4% in Canada.
I find it interesting that population size has little to do with the statistical results. Canada’s population is 34 million spread over 3,855,081 square miles, or 8.8 people per square mile. The population of the United States is 313 million spread over 3,718,691 square miles, or 84.2 people per square mile. So the U.S. has over nine times more people, but even when compared apples-to-apples the per capita data still shows a better rate in Canada on every point.
All this leaves me with the following concept to ponder: just why is it that Canadians are that much better at the general business of living together and caring for one another and their homeland? Is it by virtue of their European roots (though we know how peaceful they are)? Was it some sort of influence from Mother Britain, from whom they didn’t gain full independence until 1982? Is everyone just spread so far apart that they’d have to travel too far to start a fight? The answer, according to several of my Canadian friends, is simple: “We were just born and raised that way.” This vague answer demonstrates to me that even they don’t know how they do it. The real answer is just too intangible to grasp. That’s just fine by me because if you can’t define it, you can’t change it and you can’t ruin it. The problem is that you can’t emulate it either.
Bringing things back down from a national to a personal level, I simply adore Canada. My experiences over the border have been nothing but positive. Every person I encountered really was unfailingly polite. I really did feel safe. I really was able to find my way around. Every now and then I would receive a stark reminder that I was in another country – folks speaking to me in French before switching to English, roadway signs measured in kilometers instead of miles, and the ever-present poutine to name a few.
During one memorable trip to Vancouver, I encountered many people from other countries in much higher numbers than I ever encounter in the States. Folks from New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan, England, and Belgium were staying in our hotel in Whistler Village (even several years before the Winter Olympics were held there). Everyone was obviously happy to be there, completely entranced with the environment and delighting in the Canadian experience. There were many conversations about wanting to move to Canada. Dual citizenship has a romantic allure that sounds better than it would probably be in reality.
It just seems, however incorrectly, that the pace is slower and more relaxed in Canada. People seem to spend more time living, and living simply. Theirs is a population that seems to be heavily influenced by their environment, that treasures the natural resources and lives more outdoors than indoors (weather permitting). That is a lifestyle I covet, yet doubt I will ever achieve here in the United States. Maybe someday I’ll realize my dream, but for now I just have to admire and envy my upstairs neighbors while I toil away here in the basement.
I’ve asked a couple of Canadian friends if they would mind sharing with me their perspective – what makes living in Canada so great, how Canadians feel about Americans, and what Canadians think of our opinion of them. When they share their thoughts, I’ll be sure to post a follow-up to this article.