As almost any Canadian who has lived in the States for any length of time can attest, Americans don’t quite get the “Canadian thing.” They look at us— and see themselves. To their mind, we look like Americans, walk like Americans and, our English-speakers at least, talk aboot the same way as Americans. So we must be Americans, right?
Wrong, say most Canadians. Despite all the evidence that the differences between our two peoples are being thoroughly blurred, if not erased, by the progressive elimination of barriers to trade, investment, culture and employment, we insist we are different. Just for the heck of it, I conducted a thoroughly unscientific e-mail survey of some smart people across the country, asking them if they could identify three national characteristics that distinguish Canadians from Americans. All came up with at least three, and some listed a lot more.
There were themes that ran through many of the responses. One was religion. Fewer of us go to church, and religion plays a smaller role in our personal lives and in our politics. “From this,” said one respondent, “flows a sense that Canadians are less judgmental than Americans about personal
lifestyle choices.” Another agreed: “We are more secular, closer to the Scandinavians in attitude.” Another theme was Canadians’ attitude towards the state. We are less inclined to distrust government than Americans are; we believe it has a legitimate, even crucial, role to play
in the lives of citizens—our public health-care system being a frequently cited example. And on some public policy issues we have views that are quite different from those of our neighbours to the south. For example, Canadians are more likely to favour gun control, to oppose capital punishment and to sup-
port freedom of choice on abortion.
We have, several respondents agreed, a less open society than the Americans, and we are less confident in ourselves and our institutions. But we are also less chauvinistic. Historically, we have been a deferential society. “How do you get 150 Canadians out of a swimming pool in an emergency?” asked one of my respondents. “You say: ‘Please get out of the swimming pool.’ ”
Here are a few other thoughts. From an old newspaperman: “We actually don’t like stardom. We’re nervous about it, nasty about it.” From a West Coast writer: “Americans worship success; Canadians mistrust it.” From a veteran political operative: “Hockey.” From a pollster: “Americans see life as war; Canadians see life as an exercise in peacekeeping.” From the (slender) editor-in-chief of a national magazine: “They eat a lot more than we do. The size of those restaurant plates!”
email@example.com to comment on From the Managing Editor
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.