Canada on the US (and vice versa)

A recent poll has determined that 15% of respondents would give up their ballot in the next Canadian federal election in order to be able to cast one in the American presidential race. There have been a couple of commenters blaming that on the overwhelming media coverage of the race, and I’ve heard a few people shaking their heads and calling it some kind of crisis of national pride. Which is why I tend to appreciate this comment, by a guy identified only as Nathan from Alberta:

I’m rather bemused by some of the posts here. We all know how much Canadians (in general) despise Americans. We’re SO much better than they are. In fact, if asked to describe what it means to be a Canadian, most Canadians choose to contrast themselves to Americans….I hear so often about “arrogant Americans,” but my observation, both in this forum and elsewhere, is that we are “self-righteous and superior Canadians.”

The poll also determined that a large percentage (over half) of Canadians think that the US is a negative force in the world, and I suspect this commenter is fuming over that when he refers to our despising of Americans. But I do think he’s got a point in looking at how we keep thinking that bigger and more public must necessarily have a bigger impact on our lives. And obviously, the results of the US election will make a far greater difference to a far larger number of lives than anything that could ever happen in Canada. But you know…think globally, act locally and all that. There is something of an arrogance to wanting to be a small fish in a big pond, partially because I’m assuming it has at least something to do with assuming that eventually you’ll be a big fish. To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, maybe we can fix America!

And what’s the thing the Americans are mentioning about us these days? Well, it’s a week old, but apparently “Canadian” is the latest racist euphemism. I’ve seen a couple of hypotheses as to why, including one that attributes it to the name of a river in Texas that sounds quite similar to “Canada”, but what’s left of my linguist brain tends to assume that it takes too many steps backwards to make that one work (not least because at some point, even if you are thinking initially of the river, you have to make the leap to referring to people with the same derivation that we use for actual Canadians). That residual linguist brain is pinging a little more strongly with a point made in the National Post article, which hypothesizes that it’s based on a sense of Canadians as the “other”.

I’d go a step further and suggest that it’s actually based on a sense of Canadians as completely and totally innocuous and irrelevant. Nobody can be offended to be called “Canadian”, because it’s kind of like calling you a stuffed animal. It will go absolutely unnoticed to be speaking in negative terms about anyone using the term “Canadian”, because what could be wrong with Canadians? I think in order to “other” a group, one actually has to care that the group exists, develop some characteristics that must be attributed to/projected onto that group, a bunch of features that one can describe the self as “not”. For all the blather in the NP and whatever other Canadian media outlets have noticed this story, the word has absolutely nothing to do with Canadians.

This is one seriously messed up codependent relationship we’ve got going on, here.

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6 thoughts on “Canada on the US (and vice versa)

  1. Prole says:

    Hi, so sorry for the completely OT post, but I couldn’t find an email anywhere.

    You’ve been nominated for a Canadian F-word Blog Award!

    Details (and code for a badge if you like) are at A Creative Revolution. Congratulations and good luck!

    http://www.acreativerevolution.ca/node/596/

  2. Oliver Jones says:

    I was watching a Buffalo weather forecast the other day (I think I was watching American Gladiators) and one of my roommates commented on how odd it is to see Canadian cities represented on an American weather map and I looked at the image more intently and recognized that, indeed, the American side of the map retains much more geographic and political detail. It’s odd to think that we are still encoded as the Other, even in something as a banal as the tuesday night ABC weather report from Buffalo. And it’s even stranger to think that I was able to get myself worked up about something as banal as a half-digested late-night local weather spot…

  3. BetaCandy says:

    WTF? Okay, I lived in the South, and the collective IQ was 42. My guess is that the choice of “Canadian” as a code word was pretty random, which is in itself VERY dismissive of Canada. Like, you never run into real Canadians, so the word is up for grabs. Or something.

    What a bunch of shitheads. I have to stop before this fully dredges up my bad repressed memories of living in hell.

  4. purtek says:

    Oliver: Buffalo…so close, and yet so far. A friend moved to Texas and was describing where she was from as “just North of Buffalo”. Apparently more than one person looked at her like she had two heads, paused and said “Ain’t nothin’ North of Buffalo”.

    Also, I think it’s strange that you were watching American Gladiators in the first place.

    Betacandy: that’s kind of what I mean. It’s not like we’re encoded as “Other” because we’re essentially encoded as non-existent. Like paste or something. I mean, I don’t actually feel that shitty about it–I realize there’s no good reason why someone in WV should necessarily know anything about, I don’t know, hockey or whatever.

    It’s like Americans see us the way Humphrey Bogart saw Peter Lorre in Casablanca. We spend all this time worrying, and trying to get their attention and sucking up and whatever, and get so far as to say “You must despise me”. To which the response is “If I gave you any thought, I probably would”.

    But then, I’ve never lived there, so I don’t have to actually have that much association of the kinds of people who might be saying these things, either.

  5. BetaCandy says:

    Just for clarification, WV isn’t considered the South – I was referring to growing up in TN. Although WV is apparently quite racist, too, and I just somehow missed it the few years I was there.

    It’s unlikely anyone reading here would care, but a Southerner would flip… if they knew WV was a state, which they didn’t when I was there. *sigh*

  6. purtek says:

    Oh, thanks. As you say, I’m pretty sure I don’t have any Southerners reading here, but I have to admit, I think it would be pretty funny if someone were to show up and “flip”…especially if I could then use it as an opportunity to say “So, about that ‘Canadian’ thing…”

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