WHAT AMERICANS REALLY THINK ABOUT US
“You’re conservative and reticent, “Canadians seem to be happier than Americans. “Canadian businessmen want the same money “Canadian union men are less aggressive, lower
These are among the views of more than a hundred different Americans who know Canada — some well, some only fleetingly. They are nobody’s official opinion, but they, and others like them, offer perhaps the clearest picture yet of
WHILE CANADA AND THE U. S. were worrying publicly early this winter about their official relations. I set out to find out about another kind of relationship between peoples. Over the course of a few weeks I interviewed more than a hundred Americans who had come to Canada unofficially, to work, to live or just to visit. 1 asked them to tell me frankly what they thought of Canada and Canadians. I promised them first that I would use none of their names, and in the report that follows I have even scrambled some identities so that no one will be able to guess who's talking.
As far as it's possible to tell, I got the frank and honest answers I was seeking. One manufacturing agent, who makes frequent trips to Canada, said: "If you're going to quote me by name, my opinion of Canadians is that they're a great, industrious, intelligent people. But if you don't use my name. I’ll tell you that I really think they’re smug, lazy, carping bores.”
Not many opinions were as brutal as that. Not many, in fact, were hostile at all. Few of the Americans I talked to seemed to be eager to criticize Canada, but almost no one backed down from the opportunity to speak bluntly. I found that many Americans like us for virtues we aren't usually aware of — just as, of course, some Americans »/Alike us for defects we don’t usually admit we have.
Almost invariably, the Americans started by saying there was no difference between the two countries. And then they'd move on to enumerate (sometimes for more than an hour and a half) all the disparities.
More than any other group of foreigners in Canada, Americans seem to assimilate quickly, almost painlessly. One Texan who arrived only a couple of months ago said proudly, “You aren't going to believe this but the first week I arrived I managed to wangle a ticket to a Canadien-Leaf game.” A man from Arizona was willing to forgive a lot because Canada had introduced him to curling. He added: “This summer the wife and I are going to drive the Trans-Canada for two weeks. A Canadian buddy of mine says the restaurants along the way are pretty bad. I told him, ‘Look, boy. you've never eaten on Route 66.’ ”
While the Americans here have a natural curiosity and often want to “go native,” they also tend to make snap judgments without sifting all the facts. The result is often a mishmash of irritating errors. “I told my friends hack home,” an executive from Vermont said, “that if the Canadians didn't like their Senate, they shouldn’t vote the same guys in next time.” Nevertheless the Americans arc, perhaps, more eager and open-handed in their dealings with Canadians than any other nation. And they don't mind showing their ignorance — sometimes they don't even mind appearing rude, in public, either.
'o(l you’re blunt. No one is as honest as a Canadian” least they are more contented and more balanced” American executives, but they won’t work as hard” ed, more patient and more persevering
During the time I was talking privately to Americans, at least two visitors treated Canada fairly roughly in public. David Susskind, a New York television producer and performer, said on Canadian TV that, among other things: “Canadian men are the most sublimely dull on the face of the earth . . . They don’t laugh as much as Americans because their juices are all dried up." Shortly after, Jim Murray, a Los Angeles Times columnist, flew to Edmonton to watch a hockey game between the Edmonton Flyers and the Los Angeles Blades. He wrote: “Edmonton is a nice town. I think they bought it at Sears Roebuck and assembled it here. They should have left it in the box.”
And crass ignorance, publicly or privately displayed, is, of course, not rare. Nine years ago, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce published a booklet called Are Canadians Really? Many of the points it raises still apply. The editor of Are Canadians Really?, Samuel Ericsson, says in an introduction that the booklet's purpose was to give basic intormation and clear up misconceptions about Canada. Much of it is pretty basic, all right. “The prime minister is the real boss man of C añada, it says at one point. At others, it carefully explains that Canadians don’t live in igloos or hibernate: Canadian school children are taught to be literate at the same age as American children, and Canada is not owned by Britain. But Ericsson has some shrewd observations to make about Canadians and Americans who do know each other. “It’s a popular notion." he writes, “that Canadians and Americans beam so warmly at each other across their boundary line that the Great Lakes never quite freeze solid. The truth is that these smiles sometimes resemble the twitchings of the lips that result from gas pains.”
Only a few of the Americans I talked to waxed as violently anti-Canadian as the manufacturing agent or as Susskind and Murray, but none of them were unqualified in their praise of Canada. Not surprisingly, perhaps, most of the Americans who know Canada said they liked it. The longer they stay, it seems, the stronger the affection becomes. Many complained to me about anti-American feelings which, they said, hurt them. But, they said, they don’t believe recent disagreements over the Bomarc, trade with Red China and Cuba, the Canadian Communist Party or the cries of U. S. interference in Canadian affairs are seriously undermining confidence between the two countries.
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Canadians are unique because of an “unhealthy subservience"
"Look,” one said, "we hear all this anti-Americanism and we know' some Canadians resent us, but when we sit down and talk to the people we know' here, we find we agree on the basic issues.”
What concerns them more immediately is a characteristic that many of them claim is uniquely Canadian: unhealthy subservience to institutions, employers and elders. It stops the Canadians, they say, from stating individualistic opinions, from giving orders or making decisions.
A labor leader said: "Canadian
unionists tend to be more conservative and accept authority more easily. They don’t seek recourse as fast as their American brothers; they're less aggressive, lower-keyed, more patient, more persevering. They’re reluctant, at the early stages of a crisis to do anything against authority. In the U. S. there’s an animosity against authority that seems to be inbred. It's in the revolutionary roots of the country.”
Canada doesn’t like heroes
On the management side, the controller of a large manufacturing firm said, “American companies in Canada try like the devil to put top Canadians into top jobs. They train fellows. The men won’t take the responsibility. You have to put in long hours if you want to succeed. Canadians won’t do this — they want the same money as an American gets, but they just don’t want to work hard and they can’t make decisions or gamble.” Several American businessmen’s wives said their husbands come home from the office complaining that students looking for jobs are afraid to give their own opinions. And an American TV producer — not Susskind — said Canadians won’t take a position or put any faith in a person or a project. “They sit on the fence all the way through,” he declared. “They won’t commit themselves. You can’t build a country unless you have faith in it and its people. Canadians have to be persuaded to buy ‘Canadian.’ They’ve got billions of dollars sitting in their banks and they won't invest the money in their own country. I don’t understand it.”
The Americans I talked to generally can't understand why many Canadians thump for nationalism on Thursday and drive over the border on Saturday to buy cheap shoes in American stores. “There they are,” a technician said, “wearing their little maple-leafforever brooches, complaining that American stores won’t take their money at par. It’s a bit ludicrous, don’t you think?”
Nor would many agree with the Canadian proposition that we're flooded with Americanese and can't develop a character of our own. “We won’t buy that," a New Yorker said. “You’ve got a character and there’s something in your make-up that stops you from letting Canada develop. Anyone in Canada who looks like he’s going to be better than average gets pushed down. That’s why Canadians by the thousands go to the U. S. Canada doesn't like heroes. Name one war hero that everyone knows — or a doctor or TV producer. In Canada no one is allowed to shoot for the stars.”
“The Establishment." another young American said, "doesn't have respect for the individual's worth. That's why Canadians leave. I was shocked to hear Canadians on a television show saying the mayor of New' York City should be paid more than the Canadian prime minister. It’s as if no one in Canada wanted anyone else to become important.”
Most of the Americans in Canada who form less-than-ecstatic opinions about Canada live in southern Ontario. Ten thousand new temporary American immigrants enter Canada annually and about five thousand of them settle in Ontario. B. C. and Quebec receive another 1,800 a piece. The rest go to the Prairies and a scattered handful to the Maritimes and Newfoundland. Vancouver and Montreal in particular seem to charm Americans. Many said Vancouver has the natural breeziness of many western American cities. “Seattle is more aggressive than Vancouver,” one businessman said, “but if you tell a Canadian westerner something's important, he sees it through. You can't be sure of people in Ontario. They have less exuberance and, compared to the people in B. C., they seem plodding.” One American couple who moved first to 1 oronto and later to Vancouver said, “We liked O'Keefe Centre but they kept telling us in Toronto the U. S. was milking them. It made us feel like first-class heels. As yet no one’s said that to us in Vancouver. We like it better here.”
the Americans are also admitted suckers for French-Canadian charm. Arc Canadians Really? briefed its readers, “Quebec is so much French that parts of the province have the flavor of France itself. This enchants visiting Americans. It gives them an opportunity to exercise their highschool French without having to take a trip abroad. It also gives the Frenchspeaking C anadians a chance to be amused.”
“French Canadians are marvellous,” said one American from Alabama. He first moved to Montreal and regretted a later transfer to Toronto. "Quebeckers accept Americans, I think, before they'll accept someone from Ontario. This is because they figure we’re just tourists who'll spend money and leave. Besides, if you're living there and you're Protestant, they know you'll move on if you can when you get school-age children. American kids have great difficulty adjusting to the French curriculum.”
Ontario is rather Victorian
In Ontario, many Americans claim they brush up against a hypersensitive group of people, conscious of their social status and religion and their very small part in international affairs. Local politics interest and occupy the westerners and the people in Quebec, but Americans get the impression that in Ontario, Canadians are finding it painful to emerge from the Victorian age. One American living in Toronto said he was amused by little boys who called their elders “sir,” even when the elder is a cab driver. And the cab driver, he said, puts up with pompous passengers who condescend begrudgingly to tip ten cents. Americans notice that Jews live in ghettos in fortythousand-dollar houses and Protestants have an unnatural fear of letting too many Catholics into a badly unpopulated country. They also point out that property-proud parents let their children chant. “Keep off my grass. Don't touch my property.”
On the other hand, the Americans I talked to think Canadians have a high standard of education for elementary and high school students and generally they're glad to let their children take advantage of the educational system. One Ontario mother, though, objected to the final, senior matriculation year. “It's as archaic as your liquor laws," she said. “You aren't giving your children a foundation for college. You’re giving them an encyclopedia course and you tell them ‘you've got to almost kill yourself to get through that year.' I've seen Canadian students worried to the point of a breakdown. You sap all the joy of learning out of them."
Americans here, however, do believe that Canadian universities (they particularly point to McGill. Toronto and the University of Saskatchewan ) have a vitality that may be missing from American colleges. Some of our museums, and our artists and patrons have the same kind of vitality they admire. It's less sophisticated and blasé, they say. There seems to be more "involvement." an art connoisseur from New England said. “I know that Regina personifies the dull caution of Canadian towns, but there's a thriving university there and a museum. You won t find any American town five hundred miles south of Regina that’s as stimulating."
With such notable exceptions, most of the Americans 1 talked to worry that Canadians are becoming carbon copies of much that's mundane and common in their own American lives. They complained about the deluge of U. S.-made trash — movies, books, magazines and TV shows — that Canadians insist on importing into Canada. "You're lucky you can't mass-produce these items," a plant foreman said. "I thought I was going to get away from all that when 1 came to C anada."
They say Canadians judge the U. S. by Madison Avenue, Disneyland, the South and McCarthy. "It's just as insidious for Americans to believe Canada is populated exclusively by Mounties, Eskimos, wild geese and beavers," an American educator, teaching at a Canadian university, said. "All that is excellent in America is ignored in the process. And yet the U. S., Russia and Europe are producing the literature of the era. No writers in Canada compare with it. Oh, Canada has its freakish writers like Marshall McLuhan, but for pure intellect his ilk doesn't approach the regular contributors to Commentary magazine or the Columbia University press."
Americans admire much in the Canadian character. "Of all the people in the world," a visiting vice-president said, “you could tame us down. We trust you and we respect you, more I think sometimes than you respect yourselves. For instance, we know that when it's important you'll support us. You’re conservative and reticent bdt, God, you're blunt. No one is as honest as a Canadian."
"And no nation is more loyal," another said, "once it's committed. The individual Canadians are the same way. They II walk around a foreigner for months sizing him up. If they like him, they invite him to dinner. In the States we’re more effusive. We invite strangers to dinner and then see if we like them. Canadians have the better system. My first Canadian host is still my friend. Back home I'd be rushed for three months and never hear from the people again.”
Many of the Americans who said they admire the slow pace of Canadian social and business life also said there's a desperation in the U. S. that
isn’t evident in Canada. “Canadians seem to be happier than Americans,” one of these admirers said. "At least they’re more contented and more balanced. They don't hemorrhage if an order is slow getting out and. after all, they argue, is one late order worth an ulcer?"
What Americans would like to see happen, the ones 1 talked to said, is for us to shed our neurotic inclination to build ourselves up while we rip them down. Mason Wade, director of
the University of Rochester’s Canadian Studies Program, is currently a visiting fellow at the Canadian Studies Institute at Carleton University. No other American, probably, has ever put Canada under a more friendly sociological microscope. Wade has honorary degrees from McGill and the University of New Brunswick. He’s one ot the first foreigners ever awarded a Canada Council grant. While he was living in Rochester he used to border-hop to study Canadian institu-
tions like the opening of parliament.
But even Wade, a passionate scholar of Canada for more than twenty years, couldn't resist speaking out against what many of his fellow Americans feel is illogical criticism. “There's a certain tendency." he said three years ago, “to act as if being truly Canadian demanded constant and invariable disparagement of American ideas and actions. Americans are. I think, justified in being a little impatient with Canadian lectures on political immaturity . . . It can be irritating to receive only criticism and carping comment on our actions from those we regard as good neighbors, friends and allies. Canadians are apt to get a distorted view of Americans. They are like a small boy watching a baseball game through a hole in the fence; they see the main action, but miss the finer points.”
Many Americans, not surprisingly, like to compare Canadian-American relations to an intramural baseball game. Canadians, they’ll say, "can't get to first base because they don't have faith in their own team" or "they clutter up the infield with a lot of neurotic dog-trotting.” A retired army officer told me that the military in Canada "know they can only play third base, but the laymen seem to think they can play all nine positions and stay neutral at the same time.” None of the Americans think Canada can remain neutral, although many of them think that’s just what she'd like to be. "Last week I was back home in New York,” a traveling salesman said, "and I heard a fellow give a good definition of a neutral. A neutral, he said, is a guy that doesn't know fallout floats sideways. That's a Canadian. I thought; he won't commit himself. He lives in a dream world.”
"That's right,” a plant foreman said, "they're dreamers, who think we're raping their labor force. I'm a specialist and I was sent up here because my company absolutely couldn't find anyone else. Two daughters stayed behind in boarding school because my wife and I didn’t want to upset their education in mid-term. It's an added expense and the cost of living in Canada is much higher than in Texas. Canadians are always accusing me of taking away their jobs. I have to say politely, ‘No. There’s no Canadian available who is specialized for this job. I’m here to foster Canadian employment and industry.' One of these days I’m going to snarl the signals and offer some loud-mouthed Canadian five thousand dollars to become a specialist in my line and take my job. Why should Americans have to extend their foreign aid to Canada?” "It’s a great shock for most of us to find out what you're really like.” said the president of a business-machines firm. "The first thing most Americans see of Canada is a map on a classroom wall. Canada looks so huge. It looks like authentic Paul Bunyan country. Then we get here and find out it may be as big as Paul Bunyan but it's got the personality of a Tom Thumb.”