Sunday, October 28, 2007

38% of Canadians View G.W. as a Bigger Threat to World Peace Than Osama Bin Laden

I'm serious.

Read on.

(2nd part in a series I am featuring from MSN travel on the view of American travelers abroad).


How American Travelers Are Viewed Abroad: Canada

By Diane Vadino

Despite similarities in U.S. and Canadian culture, differing political philosophies and Canadians’ desire to assert their own national identity can lead to tension between geographical neighbors. Second in a series.

It's a gorgeous day in Toronto as Bruce Bell, one of the city's top tour guides, begins to unravel the close, complex and occasionally contentious relationship that exists between his country and its neighbor to the south—separated by what’s commonly (if erroneously) cited as the longest unguarded border in the world.

"When Bill Clinton came to Toronto a couple years ago to do his book signing, people were sleeping outside the bookstore, which was unprecedented," Bell says, as he leads a group of visitors through the city's Yorkville neighborhood, past the spectacularly refashioned entrance to the Royal Ontario Museum—the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, who is best-known in the U.S. for his work designing the master plan for the former World Trade Center site.

The neighborhood is absolutely buzzing—not just in front of the museum but along the streets and sidewalks of this busy shopping district, home to designer shops such as Gucci and Chanel and at least one small art gallery overflowing with visitors. It's exhibiting work by the Canadian musical icon Leonard Cohen, who’s in town to premiere a new collaboration with American minimalist composer Philip Glass at the city's new all-arts festival, Luminato.

As these architectural and artistic projects suggest, the relationship between the U.S. and Canada has strengthened in recent years. But it’s also been strained at times by American foreign policy and by a new U.S. law requiring both U.S. and Canadian citizens to carry a passport when traveling between the two countries. (Until next summer, this law affects only air travel, a rule that was temporarily relaxed this year after record backlogs at U.S. passport offices.) “We’re still trying to get the American government to change that and resume talks for making a special card for Canadian citizens,” says tour guide Bell. “All our lives we’d never needed a passport to cross the border. We’d always felt that America was our family, and [the new law] kind of hurt our feelings.”

While passport rules may be discouraging some cross-border travel, if there’s any single factor promoting it—at least southward—it’s the robust Canadian currency. As of Sept. 21, the Canadian dollar, known as the loonie, was on par with the American dollar for the first time since 1976—giving Americans traveling internationally yet another opportunity for recoil at the currency exchange, and Canadians a firm incentive to cross the border in search of shopping deals on American products.

The boundaries between American and Canadian tastes and identities are an ongoing point of sensitivity among Canadians. “Whenever a famous Canadian is mentioned in conversation, you’re guaranteed to hear one of the Canadians present say, ‘He's Canadian, you know!’ with pride,” says Stu Wilson, a Vancouver native now living in London. “Especially when the person is part of an industry that’s dominated by Americans, like Steve Nash winning MVP of the NBA.” (The Phoenix Suns point guard was born in South Africa, but raised in British Columbia.)

Among travelers, any confusion can be downright disdained: Witness the popularity of the Canadian backpack adorned with sewn-on maple leafs—rather stridently proclaiming the owner’s citizenship. “I used to wear a Canadian flag on my backpack until I met some Canadians that had them plastered with flags all over,” says Chris Vernon, also from British Columbia. “Now I simply state that I’m from Vancouver.” Wilson adds that he thinks the need for demarcation occasionally goes too far. “I think there's a feeling that Canadians want to distance ourselves from the Americans now more than we have in the past. It’s like Canadians want to make sure everyone knows ‘we're not American’ as the definition of who they are,” Wilson says. “I don't think that's a good thing, and in reality we’re so close to the Americans in cultural and general views that it's a bizarre place to be, when we’re so scared of being lumped in with them.”
Despite those apparent similarities, the Canadian affinity for the U.S. executive branch has dimmed a bit in recent years. (In a 2005 survey, 38% of Canadians ranked President Bush a bigger threat to world peace than Osama bin Laden.) But even the creators of that study pointed out that a significant majority of Canadians (68%) maintain an overall positive impression of Americans as individuals.

However, the countries do feature distinct political philosophies that divide Americans and Canadians ideologically. As filmmaker Michael Moore, among others, has amply pointed out, Canada maintains markedly different views from American policy on public health care, gun control and international relations. (Most notably, though Canadian troops were sent to Afghanistan, where dozens have died, Canadian participation in Iraq has been exceptionally limited.)

Dora, a Canadian attorney and mother who now lives with her American husband and children in Los Angeles, has witnessed this schism firsthand: “Very weird to me is the health-care system [in the U.S.]—all the paperwork, and the hassle of dealing with the insurance companies, and the tragedy of not having insurance,” she says. “For all its faults, the Canadian health-care system, as run by each province, is at least available to all­—and no paperwork.” But still, she defends her adopted home: “I cannot partake in much of the anti-American sentiment that floats around Quebec,” she says. “Like a mini-France, they trash-talk the Americans, but they’re all over U.S. goods in the most shameless way … Mickey Mouse or Marc Jacobs or whatever.”

Whether that tension is a variation on all-in-the-family ribbing or evidence of a more profound split may all come down to individual beliefs. But the question remains: Do Canadians and Americans maintain fundamentally different—and maybe utterly irreconcilable—worldviews?

“This is something that is discussed endlessly here,” says Sue, an Ottawa-based editor. “For Canadians, if anything, living beside the U.S. has given us a massive inferiority complex, which we express by making fun of Americans at the drop of a hat and being all smug about the fact that the rest of the world likes us better.” But that’s not the end of the story for her. “I don't really think actual Canadians think they're so different from actual Americans,” she says. “I mean, you're not all a bunch of war-mongering Bible-thumpers, right?”

Diane Vadino writes about fashion, travel and film from her base in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her debut novel, Smart Girls Like Me, was published in October.

No comments: