A Tale of Two Countries

When my daughter was young she once said what she loved about going to a Lutheran summer camp was not having to explain what a Lutheran was. I completely understood that sentiment. I like to use the following analogy. Lutherans and Catholics have the same relationship as Americans and Canadians. Lutherans are relatively small in number worldwide. A denomination of Christianity, we have a bit of a chip on our shoulder. We feel dismissed by Catholics and in turn Catholics don’t think about us at all. Lutherans are like Canadians. Canadians have a secret smug superiority towards Americans. Ultimately we don’t understand why Americans think they are the greatest country when it is obvious to Canada that we hold title. In response, Americans don’t really think about us at all. Again a big chip on the Canadian shoulders. I once worked with a man from California who put it this way. They see Canada as an enormous undeveloped third world country. Hmm! Interesting.

When I was young we would visit Denmark, the country my parents immigrated from. Usually we were referred to as the Canadians but once, a friend of my cousin Inge-Lone, called me an American. I was outraged. His argument was that I was from North AMERICA. So, therefore an American. The only thing the world saw differently was perhaps the Canadians are known for being polite. A sort of unknown far off land of nice people. Our proximity and historical origins are closely tied so we are loosely lumped into the jumble that is North American. In Agatha Christie novels Americans tend to be boorish and loud whereas Canada was somewhere that a character had been sent years before. Never to be thought of again until they appear magically all grown up and using a different name, working as a maid to exact revenge on their Mothers nemesis. Even Americans see us as nice or polite. Once on a road trip in the States a woman backed into me in a parking lot in San Diego. She was a bit ditzy and when we exchanged insurance information she was so happy I was Canadian. She loved Canadians because we are so nice. I explained to her that polite and nice are two very different things. I think she was relieved because we aren’t as likely to sue people for minor mishaps.She asked that we get two estimates as she would prefer to pay for the damages rather than involve insurance. I agreed and after I sent them to her she told me her husband, the lawyer felt perhaps she wasn’t at fault and they were not comfortable paying me. If I was a stereotypical American I would have gotten mad, yelled, sent threatening texts, etc. As a “nice” Canadian I got even. When we exchanged insurance information I took a picture of her paperwork and her license plate. I noticed her slips were outdated. This can carry a fine of up to $1000 in California as I was told by the lovely police officer who I stopped to ask for advice. So I texted the gal and sweetly said, no problem. I would have my insurance company deal with the repairs when I got home. Would she kindly send me a copy of updated slips as the one I had was expired. It didn’t take very long for her to respond that they would send a cheque for the amount of the lowest estimate. The cheque arrived quickly and the car was fixed. Not only that, when I told the story to the autobody shop back home in Canada, they absorbed the excess cost. The repairs were a little over $100 more than I received from the gal, even after the currency exchange. Now that’s Canadian.

When I was young and living in college dorms, a dorm mate brought a book from home written by a Canadian who spent a year travelling across the United States asking people about Canada. I don’t remember the author or the name of the book but I must say it kept us entertained for hours. Even as teenagers we were aware of our differences. I must admit there were some very intelligent and knowledgeable answers, but for the most part, not so much. Besides, those weren’t funny. The most memorable comments were from a man in California and a housewife in New York. The man asked “Weren’t they the ones who gave India the bomb?” True but not our only claim to fame. The housewife said “When I think of Canada, I think of mountains, and people singing.” She may be thinking of the movie “The Sound of Music”. Be that as it may, although I do agree that Canadians in general are a little more informed about Americans than vice versa, we are all ignorant in many ways about the vast differences, even within our own country. Until I took a cross country motorbike trip I was under the impression that people from Ontario were the worst drivers in the country. HA! Not even close. I’m going with Calgary (passive aggressive drivers) and PEI (two cars on the wrong side of the road. in one day.) I was more afraid in PEI than anywhere else. Nice people but not really paying attention. Ontario they drive like fiends but they get out of the way for those driving faster. Quebec is known for being rude and yet I had three breakdowns in Quebec and everyone was wonderful. Loved it there.

And so although we in North America have our similarities and our differences that range from not just country to country but also region to region, I believe the biggest difference I see is this. The rights of individuals versus the rights of society as a whole. That’s really what it comes down to here in North America. Its a sliding scale here and there but Canada is truly a very socialist country. We maybe mess up a lot but we do tend to take care of our own. Even the farthest right wing, anti-social program Canadian would scream bloody murder if you were to take away their precious health care. It is so deeply ingrained in the Canadian psyche that most conservative types don’t even think of it as a social program. I live in Alberta, historically conservative and as American minded as you can get for a Canadian. I have mentioned I do not belong. Born and raised here my political leanings are very left. I should live in BC. I fit there. Alas, I prefer to stay close to family. But even here, the anti east rhetoric and right wing sentiment is a far cry from the American views. I would have to say that our conservatives are about as right wing as the American Democrats. Nothing shows that more than this time in crisis.

You can tell a lot about people when disaster strikes. This recent disaster has revealed a lot about the differences between Canada and The United States. Pretty much the whole world was caught with their pants down so I am not talking about timing or preparedness. I am talking about rights. Here in Canada, even in Alberta, society has been shut down like the rest of the world. To slow the spread so we can keep up with the Covid-19 virus. We can’t stop it so we slow it in order to spread the impact over months and years as opposed to days and weeks. It is hard on people. Staying home. There is some whining. Some young people think they are immune and so they may flaunt the rules. But what I see, in even my most non rule following friends, they are following the rules. Because you see, we need to take care of each other. Society needs to step up. Losing friends and family is too high a price to pay. So how do we do this? Money. The Federal government has responded with financial aid to help those in need. Each day the programs change to include more and more people. I think currently, under the rules, I am the only person not eligible for aid of some kind. But I don’t need it. My friend hates Justin Trudeau and complained that he thinks he can just spend us out of this and he needs to be stopped. She also fails to remember that she has family members receiving this money. There will be a day of reckoning in the future and we will all pay a financial price but anyone who has lost a loved one would pay anything to have them back. No price is too high. Nor should it be when we try to prevent deaths. In the news, I see protesters in the United States who want the economy back up and running. They don’t want to be stopped from working and going about their lives. They are demanding their rights. They are afraid that if they succumb to Government pressure whatever rights they give up now will be forever lost. They are afraid for their financial futures. They are fighting for their individual rights because that is priority number one in that country. The individual rights take precedent over the rights of society. The common good ain’t so common. It is also ultimately about money. So many people there just can’t make it without government aid. And so many will die because they can’t afford medical care. Something we here in Canada take for granted.

The leadership today during this crisis is almost a caricature picture of the stereotypes of these two countries. On the one hand we have a man who is controlled and evasive and repetitive, never answering directly when asked to take a stand. If you read between the lines you can see he is answering in a truly Canadian fashion. Whether it is in response to Americans hijacking face masks or opening the border too soon, he was never blaming or pointing fingers. His responses to questions were measured and deliberate and sometimes contained lightly veiled threats. He answers in a way to say something will be done but he tries hard to not offend. Especially other countries and their leaders. You have to learn to play well with others especially bullies. I am sure at home with the wife he is plenty outspoken. In the end we received facemasks. The border stays closed for another thirty days. We got what we wanted. Just like when that gal ran into my car. I got what I wanted. I think it is called diplomacy. Hmmm. Moving south for a moment we see a different picture. A leader who is a bully. A blustering fool who spouts any form of nonsense that pops into his mind. He uses his authority for self promotion and blames anyone and everyone for everything. Anyone who crosses him or in anyway opposes his decisions are punished swiftly. This 45th President of them there United States is without empathy and remorse. He doesn’t even pretend to care. He fights with all levels of government in his whole country and cares only that his country get up and running. This is a man who owns hotels and golf courses. Someone is getting hit hard in the pocketbook. In the end, although I always felt it in my heart, in times of crisis you need a caring and loving community to help you through it all. No one can do it alone. We need society to step in and help when the call comes. We need compassion from the top down. We need to forget about the almighty dollar for awhile and help as many people as we possibly can. In the last six months I have learned that money means nothing. Absolutely nothing. I would gladly give it all away to be able to check the box that says married, and not widow.

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