Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Same or different?

We had a lively discussion the other night about the differences between Americans and Canadians. In attendance were those with widely varying views - from there being basically no differences to there being radical divergences. I could see both angles. On a human socio-economic level, life is very similar in the two countries. However, I see huge differences in the way each interprets their national identity. It's not as simple as Canadians are peacekeepers and Americans are warmongerers. Actually I think Americans view themselves as powerful, yet benevolent. I tried to speak from my experience living in the two countries, and from there I see more of a sense of community here. Sure capitalism and consumerism are rampant up here, but there's a very (important in the minds of the people) strong social safety net that is not to be toyed with. Indeed, a recent poll in Quebec showed that people were not in favor of lowering sales taxes and instead felt it should be used to bolster the existing social programs in place.

So the way I see it, the way of life is very similar, but the worldview is different. Does that make Canadians nicer? Who knows.

And you? What's your take on the matter?

22 comments:

CoffeeDog said...

Many of the Canadians I have met face to face are here in the US. They are here to escape the Canadian way of taxation. I do think Canada, overall, has a more humanitarian POV. It's funny, many gays and lesbians flee to Canada for this very reason.

One set leaves because of extreme taxation which could be construed as being more humanitarian; another set comes because of this very idea.

bardelf said...

Having spent long periods of time in Canada for the past 8 years, vacationing and traveling around from Ontario to Newfoundland, I find the country and her people to be a breath of fresh air.
Setting aside Montreal and Toronto from my observations (due to their metropolitan characteristics), I find rural Canada reminiscent of the way life was in America 25-30 years ago. It is true that most folks don't lock their doors, are polite, neighborly, and not 'in your face' as so many Americans now are. There is much more of a 'live and let live' attitude in Canada than in the U.S.

Socially, I think that Canada is miles ahead of the U.S. Canadians may be slow to change their laws or adopt new ideas, but once they do, they stick by them. I do not see the constant bickering or desire to amend decisions once they are made here.

I am happy to be an American, but I feel that my country has become so militaristic and isolationist under President Bush. I know that I probably idealize Canada, but everytime I am here, I feel happy and hopeful.

Ed said...

All I know about it is that Canada has made Marriage legal for gays. The U.S. never will. Oh they may allow some civil unions but that is not equal.

Lemuel said...

My take would reflect much of what you stated. I think Canadians at their best reflect a much stronger tie to European culture, including an attitude of responsibility for the members of the community and civility. This attitude translates into their programs for medicine, et al. When you find them at their worst, Canadians appear to be reflecting the infection of greed and violence from their neighbors to the south. Sad.

mainja said...

This comment thread is going to be very interesting to watch...

Snooze said...

I'm saddened by the US policy shift to religion. I still remember looking to the States as the leaders in abortion rights. It makes me sad how much has changed.

David said...

I'm going to behave uncharacteristically for an American and say I don't feel I know enough to make any comparison. I've only briefly vacationed in Canada. I can't say I know the Canadian mindset.

St. Dickeybird said...

I think we respect the right to be different more than Americans do. One of our most respected leaders argued for a separation of church and state. And it seems to have stuck, for the most part.
And while I hate US foreign policy (and your habit of omitting the letter 'U'), I've never met an American I didn't get along with.

Steven said...

I'm sorry, but I don't see much of a difference.

Oops, there goes that politeness, again...

Frank said...

I agree with bardelf that the general feeling I've had after moving here is that I've returned to what life was like when I was a kid in the 70's. Meaning the pace of life is slower and there is less capitalist pressure.

I've found it interesting how France and the US are similar. Both are extremely proud people to the point of being xenophobic snobs and both are very much tied to Christian religion. The difference comes where France and Quebec have those social values that you mention.

GayProf said...

I think that Canadians have a different sense of national identity and imagine another role for their nation in the world. The good part is that they do have a better sense of human rights (except Alberta).

What I don't like about Canadian identity, though, is that it seems to always be set up against U.S. identity. In my experience, white Canadians are also much less likely to question assumptions about race despite their smugness otherwise.

em said...

I was listening to a Canadian radio show called As It Happens the other night. They interviewed an investment banker who said that it is a bad thing that Canadian companies are selling out to companies located in other countries. He started talking about the Canadian people, and a responsibility to provide them with jobs and a strong economic future. The people mind you, not the stockholders.

It made me want to cry. Who in the mainstream US gives a crap about the people?

Dantallion said...

I genuinely believe that we have more in common than not. That being said, the sociological, political, and cultural differences that DO exist between the two countries tend to be compared and contrasted by people on both sides of the border somewhat, shall we say, fervently...

Devo said...

This is very interesting, all the comments make compelling points. While rampant consumerism and all sorts of prejudice exist in both countries, I do believe that Canadians are full of themselves in an entirely different way than Americans are. Aren't all countries? It is called national pride. We have less people and more open spaces so we tend be a bit more laid back in the less urban areas, but have never been as ultra conservative as the US in its policies. For that I am grateful. Even Alberta is more liberal than most of the US. I don't know anyone here who is anti-gay or openly racist. The whole race thing is funny to me anyways, because non-white people often clump whites together in their rhetoric.

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

I fear Canadians.

Frank said...

I don't think Americans are like Americans. That is to say that in sweeping everyone in to one pile or the other we lose something. I suspect that there is as much difference between citizens of the US or citizens of Canada as there is between the two groups.

Dantallion said...

devo: I'm not so sure you can so easily equate national pride with being "full of themselves". While I do believe that Canadians have a certain degree of National Pride (like, as you've already pointed out, most countries do), "being full of themselves" would translate more into arrogance and unilateral conduct on the international stage - something that Canada has neither the will, nor the means to engage in.

madamerouge said...

The discussion would probably take on a slightly different tone depending on where the participating Canadians (and, for that matter, the participating Americans) were from. Albertans and Vermonters, for example. Ontarians and Oklahomans.

Factor in the urban/rural split, and you've got endless permutations and combinations.

Rebekah said...

Everyone is being rather polite! I thought for sure there'd be some kind of snippy remark somewhere.

Our countries are so different in size and influence in the world. That factors in.

It's frustrating for me to be included as part of the right wing, strong-armed nature of the USA, in the same way I hate being lumped together into a big homophobic, neo-conservative, idea of Christianity.

People are people. Good, bad, and boring.

I'm not sure we can compare all of one country with all of another.

dawn said...

I think of Canadians as a nicer people than us. But at the same time, I think one of the most interesting things about this country is the broad scope of people we have. I hate the "Americans are ______" thing, cause I think that one of the few things we have going for us, and the reason people literally risk their lives to come here, is because "Americans are - everything you could possibly think of." I would imagine lumping all Canadians together might be just as foolish.

Although I still have dreams of living there someday, it seems so peaceful.

But I'm going to have to wait for global warming to really take off, cause it's too damn cold up there right now.

bob said...

I find Canadians, as a rule, a bit more laid back and a trifle more funny. They are also much better at geography than most Americans. And they like curling, which I just don't get.

Why anyone would make a sport of taking a broom to a frozen bowling lane is beyond me.

Anyway ...

I've lived with one for 15 years now and have had the opportunity to know several through him, so your mileage may vary.

Let's not even get started on the English.

Thom said...

I think it's hard to make generalizations about "Canadians" and "Americans" - as someone suggested earlier, a typical Manhattanite probably has little in common with a dyed-in-the-wool red state conservative, and of course the same huge differences exist among Canadians.

That said, having spent a lot of time in Canada - but Québec only, so I only have one province to judge by - I am hugely impressed by the social progressiveness of the country which manages to get translated into law and government policy. Overall, I do think I notice more of a sense of community and more of a spirit of progressiveness than I see in the U.S. as a whole.

On the other hand, I have found some Canadians to be all too willing to paint all Americans with the same brush, to assume that we are all unenlightened right-wing bigots. Of course, our actual unenlightened right-wing bigots do exactly the same thing to those leftist, spendthrift, immoral Canadians, so I guess we're even!

And I should add as a disclaimer that I am biased because I absolutely love Québec and would move there in a heartbeat, in preference even to France, if I were going to take up residence in another country.