Ps and Qs

When I was a kid, I was always taught to mind my Ps and Qs. It meant that I should say “please”, “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, not interrupt people when they were speaking, and be as respectful as possible. Of course, “reminding” me sometime required my father to lightly smack my knuckles with a spoon when I interrupted him at the dinner table. Some days that’s a practice I’d dearly like to inflict on some of the people in the city.

It seems that somewhere along the way, we forgot how to be respectful, both in general and to each other. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t push by me and not say “excuse me”. Or walk through a door I’ve held open for them without saying “thank you”. My mother always insisted that people notice these things, but I never really believed it until recently. Maybe I’m getting old.

But if I’m getting old then I’m fully prepared to take on the role of a crotchety old man. I’ve taken to yelling “you’re welcome!” or “no, you’re right, excuse me!” Sometimes I get an embarrassed look or an apology, but more alarming is the number of times that people don’t notice the comment at all, or consciously choose to ignore it.

It might just be that I like to kvetch, or it maybe Binkley was right: the world has gone to hell in a hand basket since David Lee Roth left Van Halen.

Damn Americans

This weekend, my wife and I were eating breakfast at a local cafe and chatting with a couple sitting next to us about the World Cup. At some point, we got around to talking about Team USA, and the general sentiment could only be described as “Thank god they didn’t win. We’d never have heard the end of it.” Later, once we had left the cafe, my wife expressed dismay at the way that Canadians openly show disdain for their American cousins.

My wife is American, and she’s encountered this anti-American sentiment quite often in Canada. I’ll freely admit that, personally, I’m not too fond of the Americans. They’re nice as individuals, but as a society they leave much to be desired. The question is: what drives the Canadian need to sneer at the US?

Where to begin? Well, I suppose the first thing that rubs any Canadian the wrong way is the consistency with which we get the short end of the stick in dealing with Americans. Take the current trade relations between Canada and the US in the areas of softwood lumber and agriculture. The US suspects that Canada is illegally (under WTO rules) subsidizing its softwood lumber industry through the mechanism Canada uses to collect fees from logging companies for the use of public land. The US responds to this injustice by launching a dispute with the WTO and slapping a 30% tariff on any softwood lumber coming from Canada that results in an immediate and serious impact to the industry (BC in particular). Jobs are lost, and Canada’s only option is to fight the dispute through the WTO, a process which could take years, by which time it won’t matter if it wins or not. US 1, Canada 0.

With the tables reversed in the case of US farm subsidies, you’d expect that the same rules that allow the US to beat Canada in softwood lumber would allow Canada to easily fight the US on similar grounds. Nope. Sure Canada can launch a dispute, but it can’t cripple the US agriculture industry in the same way that the US crippled the Canadian softwood lumber industry. After all, how much food does Canada import from the US? US 2, Canada 0.

It’s this continuous pattern of defeat that makes Canadians bitter towards the US. While the US claims to be committed to the highest morals of equality and justice, the actions of the US tell a different story. Whenever the interests of Americans are at stake, the rules of the game change. The Kyoto Protocol? Sounds like a great idea! It’s going to cost the US money? Then forget it! Israel and Palestine fighting? Solve the problem diplomatically! Some terrorists flew some planes into the Twin Towers? Bomb Afghanistan and overthrow the government!

The actions of the US government on behalf of the American people reveal the true soul of the country: a greedy child that takes his ball home when things aren’t going his way. For Canada, a society of people trying to work for the benefit of all to ensure equality and justice, the double standard employed by the US is infuriating.

More frustrating than having to deal with this child are the consequences of not dealing with it. While we may resent the sucking maw that is American consumerism, just about every industry in Canada (and the rest of the world for that matter) is focused on serving the US market. To add insult to injury, the people who receive accolades as Canada’s top talent are usually receiving it not because they became successful in Canada, but rather because they went to the US to gain their fortune. Every band, every author, every enterprise, everyone’s success is chained to this village idiot as it lumbers across the land, taking what it likes, sitting on what it doesn’t.

It’s not just Canada’s reliance on the US market that irks us, it’s the fact that the US is everywhere we look. The US is like the car salesman who’s always “on”, never quite knowing when to shut up and act like a normal person. Regardless of whether it’s movies, music, television, the American influence permeates every corner of the planet. We have no culture of our own.

We are American. Resistance is futile.

The most saddening part of Canada’s desire to put down Americans is that it reveals much about the country’s own insecurities, its sense of inferiority. Even Canada’s perception of our place in history is skewed, as if to make us feel better about ourselves.

Consider Alexander Graham Bell. Though Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps may insist:

“(Bell) is an inspiring example of a Canadian inventor who, by his ingenuity and his perseverance, contributed to the advancement of knowledge and the progress of humanity”

The suggestion that Bell is a Canadian inventor is a slight exaggeration. While it is true that Bell, born in Scotland in 1847, immigrated to Canada in 1870, what often isn’t mentioned is the fact that he immigrated again to the US in 1871. Though the first successful test of the telephone occurred in Brantford, Ontario, Bell’s status as a “Canadian inventor” is tenuous at best. Sadly, Bell’s path seems parallel to every other Canadian success story that followed him. Though Canada’s sons and daughters, both natural-born and immigrant, may find success, it seems inevitable that finding success will always mean leaving Canada for the US.

What about basketball? The game was invented by James Naismith, born in Canada in 1959. Unfortunately, Naismith invented the game in 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts, and spent the majority of his life in the US. Again, we call him a Canadian, but it was in the US that created the game for which he is famous, and there he lived until his death in 1939.

Perhaps this is the reason for our bitterness. All of our achievements have always been varnished by the touch of others, predominantly the US. Nothing is truly ours. While it may seem inevitable at this point that the US is the de facto ruler of the world and Canada may eventually join it, if not formally, then in every way except in law, we feel the need to fight the inevitable.

We are Canadians. We’re not Americans. Not yet. And not if we can help it.