“Would you like white or brown toast?”
The first time I went out for breakfast after I had moved to Canada from the United States, the waitress asked me this question. For just the splittest of seconds I thought to myself, “Isn’t all toast brown?”
Of course, now I know that in Canada when a waitress asks you that question, the American translation is: “Would you like white or wheat toast?” Perhaps the visiting Canadian could ask at that point, “Isn’t all toast wheat?”
I have had the privilege of calling both the United States and Canada my home. Some have made the observation that there really is no difference between the two countries. Most often those “some” are Americans. After living in Canada for over thirteen years, I’d have to say that, yes, the two countries share an amazing amount of similarities. We share a common language – one of the two official languages of Canada, that is – and there is little lost in translation except maybe when I Canuck might say, “Excuse me. I spilled some poutine on your Chesterfield. May I have a serviette, please?”
We share the massive landmass known as North America. Though somehow the U.S. got all the useable land while Canada got all the mass. I remember flying back to the States from Europe in January a number of years ago. At one point we made our way over miles and miles of endless white. While peering out the windows we could not make out one tree or any life forms in all that vastness. Then the pilot came on to say, “We are now making our way over Canada…”.
We share the largest undefended border in the world. Though don’t say that to any of the U.S. customs officials zealously guarding said border . When you cross at a hotspot like, say, Port Huron, MI the U.S. guards there will grill you as if you are trying to enter East Berlin. While traveling from Canada to the U.S., we once had an American official dump our entire bag of apples as we weren’t supposed to bring produce into the country. On the bag were the words, “Product of U.S.A.”.
There are many other things we have in common. But there are also a number of differences. These differences are not so drastic as to lead to war (not since 1812, at least); they’re more like the quirky differences between you and your college roommate – for the most part you get along fine, but he really has to stop clipping his toenails into the kitchen sink!
I grew up American. So much so that I thought that outline of the States on the weather map during the evening news was a map of the entire world. Being American just was what it was. I never really thought about it too hard until I visited and lived in other countries as a child and teenager. Even then, those visits were brief, and I was soon back Yankee Doodling along. But having lived in Canada for a number of years, having been married to a Canadian wife for longer, and having my two U.S. born kids become steadfastly Canadian, has given me a different perspective on my new country.
Canada is home now. When I travel back to the U.S., even to my stomping grounds of youth, it doesn’t feel like I’m home again until I’m actually home again, in Canada. My home feels kinder and gentler, less judgmental, more goofy, more authentically human to me.
I don’t mean to dis my former country. America is a grand land. Frankly, I am overjoyed that the U.S. is the Super Power in the world today; the other alternatives make my stomach twitch. Despite its shortcomings, the U.S. of A. is about the people, about freedom, about giving everyone a chance to prosper. Not perfect by any stretch but unlike any country in the world.
However, in Canada I’ve found a country that seems to have been crafted with me in mind. Or maybe that’s the other way around. Nevertheless, I now have a home that feels like it’s really my home. Canada doesn’t take itself too seriously, seemingly having a humility microchip planted in the collective brainstem. The U.S. applies a gravitas to just about everything it undertakes; from foreign affairs to Super Bowl coverage, from presidential elections to the Bachelorette. Canada knows it has a minor role in the grand drama of World Events. The U.S. knows it has a starring role in the production but often emotes and preens like a self-conscious Tom Cruise. Canada knows there are a lot of funny things about itself – like moose and Mounties and Celine Dion – which are consistently skewered for laughs. The U.S. does not like laughing at itself; it will laugh at the political party it hates or the celebrity who takes the public pratfall but does not like being the butt of the international joke.
To be fair, Canada has the advantage of being the wacky uncle at the Christmas party while the U.S. has to be the responsible hostess. Canada can go for laughs and finish all the cheese dip. The U.S. has to keep the party flowing and clean up all the mess when it’s done.
I have been American. I am now Canadian. Not a huge leap. However, I am thankful to call the Great White North my home and semi-native land. I love my Tim Horton’s coffee, my hockey with all its excitement and idiocy, my Canadian musicians who craft their own unique blend of northern soul. It’s everything I need it to be; not perfect by a long shot from the red line but a great place to pitch your yurt. Mixed metaphors aside, it’s a beauty way to go, eh?