Saturday, July 3, 2010

Canada-USA: We May Look Similar, But... (Saudis and Others--students, immigrants, and observers--take note)

Border demarcation, Caswell St, Derby Line, VT. Credit: Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff

We may look similar, especially to outsiders, but in fact Canada and the US are quite different beneath the resemblance, rather like cousins--sometimes kissing cousins, sometimes distant cousins, more rarely feuding cousins (well, except about softwood lumber--we are like the Hatfields and the McCoys on that). Of what relevance might this be to readers of this blog? Plenty as it turns out. Leaving aside that those entering a mixed marriage with a Canadian would be well advised NEVER to call their (usually) beloved Canuck an American--even in a fit of temper, even justifiably piqued, even as a joke, even ...unless you like cold...just don't!

Leaving that aside, there are reasons to be aware of some fundamental distinctions. Those reasons include making your stay in either country happier, learning about more than one Western model of doing things, and staying on the right side of Canuck and Yank friends (we each think we are superior, whether male or female, no need for debate).

From conception, through gestation, birth, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood there are distinctions in the history and formation of contemporary Canadian and USA societies. The experience of studying the history of both countries in parallel taught me that quite overtly. American history is definitely more grand and exciting. They were on the world stage in a bigger way earlier, and have been consistently since.

Where Americans began with a revolutionary bang, we had a couple of revolts, both in 1837, one each in Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec, respectively), and an Act of Parliament in 1867. Where Americans had a Civil War, still the war with the greatest number of casualties of any war they have participated in, we had some skirmishes with the Métis in the west. There were slaves in Canada, but not in the numbers there were in the US, no plantation structure, and many became freemen, or arrived in Canada as former slaves, whether by resettlement as a reward for fighting with the British against the American revolutionary forces, or via the underground railway prior to the Civil War. Slavery was abolished here in 1834 when it was in Great Britain, by an Act of Parliament, the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, making slavery illegal throughout the Empire. Again, no war, just constitutional law.

Speaking of the West, theirs was settled by pioneers, Indian wars, and farmers vs ranchers. Ours was settled by the North West Mounted Police leading settlers forward. I am not sure, but I would imagine that our version of the shoot out at High Noon was a discrete letter written to the local constable. After the War of 1812-14 we burned the White House, and then agreed to a treaty, the Treaty of Ghent,  that established the status quo ante, in other words we won, but gave back the captured land. We can be extremely polite and reserved in treaty negotiations.

Signing of the Treaty of Ghent, December 24, 1814

Americans have had the draft for lengthy periods; we have had conscription crises, one in 1917, and one in 1944. Having a World War? We are in with Britain at the very beginning (well 5 days late for WWII, a gesture to show our autonomy). Part way in we institute a draft (in both countries more rightly called a conscription), and have a national crisis over it, one which falls into the usual Liberal vs Conservative, French vs English camps. We stay in the war none the less,  and end the conscription either before or at the end of the war. Then we play a major role in the development of UN peacekeeping forces, and as peacekeepers around the world.

We do take in US draft dodgers (and even the deserters) though. The Vietnam War coincided with a period of rapid growth in Canada and the need for specialists as well as the availability of work for most seekers of employment. There was an underground manual that instructed young Americans on how to get themselves to Canada and what to do when they got there, giving the addresses of  major support centres which would help with safe houses and work. Some of my professors ran safe houses at that time, that is took in American draft resisters and helped them settle. One was part of a major centre and drove with a group in a van to the US as a decoy, "bunch of uni guys on a spring break trip to the US" so that the American contact in Canada could return to the US on family business, and also bring someone back across the border.

Those were the days when a Bachelor's degree in just about anything could get you a very good position in just about anything. A Master's, a part of a PhD, or recent graduation with a PhD was a ticket to a tenure-track professorship. Ever wonder why Canada is farther left on the political spectrum than the US? The impact of Vietnam and the number of young American men who came here before their draft number was ever called, and after, or whose parents brought them/ sent them here to study before they were 18 is a major factor. Most stayed, and some became prominent in the media, business, and academia. Thanks to tenure, students like myself have been taught by Vietnam draft resisters, and now have them as senior colleagues.

Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal

Another factor moving Canada farther left politically, or at least resulting in more social programs, and a predominance of public over private educational and health care institutions, is the greater predominance of the Roman Catholic religion, Anglicanism, and Presbyterians, with less impact ideologically of the other Protestant religions, particularly Puritanism, Calvinism, and Evangelism. We are more Latinate and less Teutonic. Individualism and autonomy are valued but are not as core to our main ethos, and religion and economics are not as clearly tied as they are in Puritanism and Calvinism. We have a small bible belt, south-west of Calgary, with little impact historically, but growing in importance. We have our neo-cons but they are not embraced in the same way as they are in the US.

As described in the previous 2 posts--Happy Birthday Canada!: From Colony to Constitutional Monarchy--A Model for MENA? Saudi?, and Canada at 143 years young: The Presence of Saudis, Arabs, and Muslims--our institutions and politics are still modelled on and tied to those of Great Britain. A number of distinctions in governance, at the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches follow on. We have elections approximately every 4 years, and the Prime Minister of the day must call an election before he has completed 5 years in office. The head of the party that wins the "first past the post" balloting on election day is immediately the new Prime Minister. There are no public primaries. Each political party chooses its leader from within party member ranks and by vote of the party delegates only. We have 3 viable parties--from right to left politically, Conservative, Liberal, and New Democrat--and a number of smaller ones (the most prominent being the Green Party, but also a Marxist-Leninist party, etc). We also have a federally supported separatist party, the Bloc Québécois--think of the North helping the Seditionists stay in power in Congress. At one point the separatist party also formed Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, ie the main opposition party to the party in power. Legislation goes through the elected House of Commons and is approved by appointed Senate (near lifetime appointments). The judiciary is also appointed but from within the legal system. Judges don't run for office, they are nominated by their peers and superiors.

German-American Anti-Prohibition (of Alcohol) Poster
Wer nicht liebt Wein Weib und Gesang Bleibt Ein Narr sein Lebenlang--on the banner
Who does not love wine, wife, and song will be a fool for his lifelong!--translated

“Four and twenty Yankees, feeling very dry,
Went across the border to get a drink of rye.
When the rye was opened, the Yanks began to sing,
"God bless America, but God save the King!"
--drinking ditty in praise of being able to obtain "spirits" in Canada

Both of these, the cultural-religious and political structures, may contribute to our having less dramatic social debates. In the past the United States had a dramatic social experiment by prohibiting alcohol. This made certain families, Canadian, American, and Mafiosi, very wealthy "rum running" or transporting spirits from Canada to the US, via boat across the Great Lakes or along the Eastern Seaboard, or by truck across the mid-west and the west. Many now respectable families made their fortunes this way, the Seagrams in Canada, and the Kennedys in the US, for example.

Contemporary debates in the US, about health care, abortion, gun control, and the death penalty are largely resolved in Canada. There is more discussion here of fine tuning rather than a fundamental schism between the pro and the against. We have had universal public health care for decades, the same with legalized abortion (on demand, done by a licensed physician, under the age of viability), gun control raises few complaints and they are largely ignored, and the death penalty was abolished decades ago too. In fact, we keep certain prisoners rather than extradite them to certain US states which would have jurisdiction, so they won't be sentenced to death.

Americans who immigrate to Canada find us odd and vice versa. We are rather shameless about US bashing, and Americans are rather shamelessly ignorant about Canada (yes you do have to pay international postage rates to send us snail mail!). But mostly it is in good fun--until it comes to a "Coalition of the Willing" for Iraq, NAFTA, softwood lumber, Olympic Hockey, and who really won the War of 1812. Then the gloves come off!

There are maple leaves like these in the United States, but ours are better!

That said, we still have a very friendly border, as in the opening photo, and below.

Marker #543, Canada-US border, Holland Township, VT. Credit: Essdras M Suarez/Globe

What are your experiences of distinctions Canada/ USA or Canadian/ Americans?
Or are there any?
Can you tell us apart? How?
Have you travelled to or lived in one or both countries?
What were the circumstances and what was your experience like?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

Related Posts:
Happy Birthday Canada!: From Colony to Constitutional Monarchy--A Model for MENA? Saudi?
Canada at 143 years young: The Presence of Saudis, Arabs, and Muslims
Remembrance and Family Heritage in Bi-cultural Saudi/non-Saudi Families
Olympic Gold: Sports, Sportsmanship, Health, and Joy


Qusay said...

In Canada you say te word "about" in a different way than the American accent... the Canadian accent sounds almost the same except for that word, at least to me... south park made an episode about Canada and the US, and there was this movie which I cannot remember anything except them singing born in the USA while visiting Canada and saying nothing is better in Canada except the beer :)

Susanne said...

I plan to read the other posts I missed, but this one caught my eye. I've been to Canada once and it was many years ago, BUT I still remember it was sleeting in May! :-O

Oddly enough my dad joined the USAF during the Vietnam War because he knew it was only a matter of time before he was drafted. And where did they send him? To Canada! Goose Bay, Labrador. He said he remembers tunnels through the snow.

"staying on the right side of Canuck and Yank friends"

For what it's worth, most Southerners don't like being called Yankees. It's like the only time some of us use bad words, but "damn Yankee"....yeah. A Yankee was the enemy of the South during the War Between the States. So. Southerners are... well, as you said: "Americans who immigrate to Canada find us odd and vice versa." -- I could say the same. Yankees who immigrate to the South find us odd and vice versa. :D

"There were slaves in Canada, but not in the numbers there were in the US, no plantation structure, "

The South had more labor-intensive, agricultural work so it makes some sense that slave labor flourished among the harbor areas of the South (Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah) instead of the industrial North which had more cheap labor from Irish immigrants. Canada -- do y'all even have crops or do only maple trees grow there? ;-D

I loved this:

“Four and twenty Yankees, feeling very dry,
Went across the border to get a drink of rye.
When the rye was opened, the Yanks began to sing,
"God bless America, but God save the King!"
--drinking ditty in praise of being able to obtain "spirits" in Canada

I can often tell a Canadian by how they say "about" and "sorry" although some Americans who live along the Canadian border also speak the same so ...

Enjoyed this post! I am one of those shamefully ignorant about Canada, but isn't that good so I don't have to listen to y'all shamelessly bash me? It's more peaceful to just be ignorant of what the Canadians think. Or as Rhett Butler would say, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."


(Guessing Chiara is thinking like Robin [British comedian in men/women Doha debate]..."boy, those Americans just take it faaaaaar.") HAHAHAHA!

Off to bed!

oby said...

Very interesting post. I don't think I am COMPLETELY ignorant of Canada...been there Ottawa no less. Does that count? LOL!

the Cathedral is even more beautiful than that photo shows. Very very beautiful. As was the Parliament building.

Minnesotans sound an awful lot like Canadians with their pronunciation of "about" and constant "eh?". Lived there for awhile and despite the fact we had summer for about a week, and were hip deep in snow for the rest of the year (or so it seemed) it was hands down my favorite place in the USA that I have lived. I can't imagine how cold it must be in Canada as Minnesota was the one place I tried to start my car without gloves one winter morning...BIG mistake. Fingers froze to the ignition and had to yank them off with a layer of skin left behind I think. Started snowing in October and we didn't see the ground again until mid to late April (no kidding). When I knew I was going to be moving there for a while I was petrified as I thought I would freeze to death(or some such nonsense) and coming from Florida was not helping things...found out one can not only live in the cold but survive it well...and as an added bonus when it is 45 degrees outside Minnesotans officially declare it Spring and the shorts come out. Kinda weird seeing people wearing shorts and I am still in a coat. That is probably akin to the Canadians swimming in the ocean in Florida when no self respecting Floridian would even think of removing their jacket...that's how they tell the tourists from the natives!

However, I did date a man from Canada for brief while. Sadly that relationship was not destined to last. He was balding and had a major thing about it (though I didn't at all...I thought Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek was kinda attractive in a formal sort of way.)It was difficult to have to keep explaining over and over when I laughed at something that "No I am NOT laughing at your bald spot." But I should have seen the writing on the wall when I realized he had a major thing for his Mazda RX8...some major fancy, muscle car...hmmmm could it be a substitution for the long departed hair? When he wiped my finger prints off the chrome I saw the last dwindling vestige of our brief relationship flash before my eyes and I bid him and his bald spot adieu...but not before I took his offer to drive his prized possession full throttle through the darkened night on the highway somewhere outside of Montreal.

I hope he and his car were happy...

Shafiq said...

I have to admit that I know far more about US history than I do about Canadian history - there is a tendency in Britain for people to think that Canada doesn't really have a history because it's such a young nation.

Whereas the US had the War of Independence, the forming of the Constitution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the roaring 20s + prohibition, the depression, the 50s and 60s anti-Communist hysteria and Vietnam, Canada didn't (it played a role in each of these events, but it was a passive role).

Most of these events had consequences beyond US borders, which is why they're more widely known, and as you pointed out Chiara, the differences in histories are what created two very different peoples.

Chiara said...

Qusay--thanks for your comment! Indeed, it seems we are known for our "about". American colleagues tell me they used to joke as children about (aboot) Canadians saying "There's a loose moose in the oothoosse." To which I say "There are no loose moose in the oothoosse, it would be too crooded." :) :P
Ah yes South Park and their irreverence...Blame Canada! indeed.
Our beer is better! According to (Canadian) connoisseurs of my acquaintance. The alcohol content is higher and the beer stronger in taste, unless you really like lager then Americans make more of that, whereas Canadians favour ale. The "bestest" was Bras d'or available only in Quebec which allows higher alcohol content (6.5% for Bras d'or). However, it has been a long time since I ahem..trafficked... beer across provincial lines (Christmas gifts) so I'm not sure if it survived the brewery wars.
Thanks again for your comment!

Chiara said...

Susanne--Loving the drinking ditty are we? LOL :) :P

Ah yes, you did have that wee North-South problem, or as my nephew described it: "the New York Blues were having a war with the Atlanta Greys". He was all excited about a trip to Pennsylvania and a film he caught part of on television. But baseball kept interfering with his historical knowledge.:)

Goose Bay would be safe from the Viet Cong all right, but ugh the weather! Snowy alternating with rain, under an often overcast sky. Also the locals speak with a 19th century Irish accent. They didn't join Canada until 1949 and then just barely. Until then they were a British colony, and often consider the benefits of reverting to the mother country.

Canadians bashing Americans is unpleasant. Every American patient I have had says they just accept it, as it is fruitless to protest. It reflects badly on us though. The other day my sister was saying that the teachers were discussing Obama in the staffroom and one said "He is too smart for that country" right in front of a teacher from Texas. I think my sister felt worse than she did.

Yes the accent seems distinctive enough. I once was running through some airport in the US looking for my gate, and I asked someone passing by where the gate was and he said "Air Canada, over there!". LOL :)

Thanks again for your great Yank, I mean American comment! ;) :P

Chiara said...

BTW re above I don't drink alcohol, including beer--I just traffic it. :) :P

Chiara said...

Oby--Thank you for your comment, and yes you do have knowledge of Canada! You must have visited Montreal to see that magnificent Cathedral in Old Montreal which is wonderful in itself. I have visited many churches and Cathedrals and the sight of that altar is always breathtaking. The pictures don't do it justice it is true. I insisted that my sister-in-law see it when we spent a day in Montreal with her, and at the end of the visit she said "You were right to insist". She, like most tourists was captivated with the altar, and the stained glass windows, as well as the carved wood, including the pulpit. She was initially a bit reticent, but then accepted it was acceptable to explore as a cultural site, and is respectful of other faiths (she also went to nursery school with the nuns ages 3-6), and soon involved me only to take her picture in front of favourite elements. The reason I had to insist had more to do with "the chauffeur's" wish to move on to the next tourist destination, a rather universal Y chromosome trait it seems. :( LOL :)

The Parliament buildings in Ottawa are spectacular and have a grand view of both the city and the river. I took a boat cruise on the Ottawa River and it is a unique and enjoyable way to appreciate them from another perspective. Inside they are an artistic blend of wood, and stone as well. Did you see the Italian carver's rendition of a "beaver". Poor man had to invent one for lack of having seen one. At the time Ottawa had a huge (and stinky) pulp and paper industry. Surely someone could have brought him a specimen from upriver!

Wonderful description of your Canadian beau and the demise of the relationship! You have done so much better! :) We do have more secure men though. :)

Thanks again for your great comment!

Chiara said...

Shafiq--I see what you mean on both accounts. From the British perspective particularly, most of Canadian history would fall under British history, and the concerns in studying it would be different. For example the War of 1812 was a Continental European War and the "Great Battles" we study must seem as a footnote, or the purview of specialists. We provided troops for colonial wars, eg the Boer War but they would be under British command or perceived that way. I wouldn't say passive, but rather subordinate in some of the events you listed.

There is no doubt that the US,particularly in the 20th century is such a major presence (especially after WWII) that we all are more aware of their history and culture than of others. It is a good reason to study alternatives so that we may take the best and leave the elements unsuited to other cultures or noxious to its own.

You should apply for a Commonwealth Scholarship for Graduate Studies, and do a Masters in the Commonwealth country of your choice, or for a year or more of undergraduate study in Canada! :)

Thanks for your insightful comment and sharing your thoughts!

Scott Kohlhaas said...

I want to thank Canada for being a haven for draft resistance during the Vietnam war. Over 50,000 Americans went to Canada and another 8000 went to Sweden. That's 4 divisions lost to the US war machine.
Please visit for more on conscription.

Chiara said...

Scott Kohlhaas--Welcome, and thank you for your comment. During the Vietnam War, Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau (previously Justice Minister under Lester B Pearson) took a benevolent approach, partly from his own beliefs, partly due to pressure from activists and Church groups (United Church, Mennonite), and partly as a reflection of the then greater ease of immigrating, to allow draft resisters, and deserters to enter and live in Canada relatively free from reprisal (event though some did transgress the Canadian immigration laws). This was despite the considerable displeasure of LBJ and Nixon (you are probably familiar with their words about the Frenchman to the North). In essence Trudeau left or made favourable laws, and turned a blind eye to the goings on.

Servicemen and women who have recently "sought refuge from militarism", namely the Iraq War, have found the current Canadian government more active in prosecutions and less kind in their judgments.

I have left your link up as the site itself makes clear that you are advocating an illegal action by advocating that American men not register for conscription, as they are required to do by law at the age of 18.

As a candidate for Alaska's Libertarian party in the Congressional elections in November 2010, I appreciate that you are consistent about your beliefs, and present them in an honest manner.

Thanks again for your comment.

swamprose said...

Hello. Could you remove my copyrighted photo of the maple leaves please?

Chiara said...

Swamprose--please send evidence via the blog email chezchiara2 AT yahoo DOT com that the photo is yours and copyrighted, and I will be happy to change it, or credit you for the photo as you prefer.

Please note that I always check the copyright and accreditation carefully before using a photo, so if it is yours you may wish to make your copyright and accreditation more obvious.

I apologize in advance if there has been an oversight on my part, and I look forward to your email.


Related Posts with Thumbnails