America and Canada: Caught between customs…literally.

August 9, 2012

Oh, say can you see… Oh, Canada!

The London Olympics highlight many obvious similarities between the United States and Great Britain, first and foremost, our shared language. Yet what about our arguably even more similar neighbors to the north, Canada? Not only do we share the same vocabulary but the same landmass as well. I bring this up because lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in Canada, thanks to an exciting piece of new business there.

I’m hardly a frequent visitor to the Provinces, having perhaps visited 3 or 4 times in my life. And always to Toronto, which, being so close, is fairly Americanized. At least in comparison to Calgary…

Calgary is a boomtown of sorts, built on oil and livestock. It’s in the middle of Canada’s vast grasslands and close to some of the prettiest mountains in the world. But I haven’t been sightseeing. Mostly, I’ve been attending business meetings. However, that doesn’t preclude me from observing the culture. Ask any seasoned traveler how you learn about a place. Via its people.

Let’s start with a pair of clichés. 1) Canadians are annoyingly friendly and chatty. 2) They think we are not. Those are the mostly-accurate headlines but it’s the details where shit gets interesting. Not only are we Americans perceived as a lot less “nice” than they are but (if newspaper editorials and overheard conversations are any indication) we are also a hopelessly violent, gun-obsessed society getting worse everyday. Given current events in Colorado and Wisconsin, I don’t blame Canada for looking askance at their neighbors to the south. We are a violent, gun-obsessed society.

Don’t hate us ’cause we’re nice!

America, Fuck Yeah!

While not particularly dangerous (and yes this is a stupid comparison), Canada’s preternatural extroversion can be pretty f—king annoying, especially when you’re on a plane, trying to read or sleep or do anything other than talk. It’s true. Canadians love talking to strangers. Beats shooting them… but still.

And so I actually think I got caught in the crossfire between my aggressive, introverted Americanism and Canada’s shiny, happy friendly-ism. It happened at airport customs, upon entering their country. The agent asked how my flight was. I leveled with him. “It was brutal. A baby in front of me screamed the entire way.” Which was true. That infant wailed like Celine Dion. Instead of commiserating with me, man-to-man, the officer abruptly went the complete other way. His demeanor changed. For worse. He began subjecting me to a litany of questions, each one more interrogative than the last. It was like he was taking his country’s overtime Olympic loss to the States out on me! When I became flustered and annoyed Dudley sent me to the back room for further interrogation, this time by some gal in a gun vest. This one hated me even more than her colleague. And I know why. Because I had the nerve to be a nervy American. It was like, ‘We don’t disrespect crying babies in Canada…And you better not either.’

Obviously, I can’t substantiate any of this. Maybe they assumed since I worked in advertising that I was potentially a terrorist, which is not unreasonable come to think of it. Still, the entire episode had a trippy quality, like ‘Is this really happening?’ ‘Am I about to get arrested?’

Later, I discovered certain animus toward professional Americans was for fear we were there to take Canadian jobs. I’m no expert on NAFTA but that’s a two way street, eh? And besides, if the Canadian authorities knew how much allowance I spent on Rush albums they’d have given me a break.


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