Friday, February 18, 2011

They Shoot Canadians, Don’t They?

I’ve often joked that if I ever travel abroad in a non-English speaking country, the first phrase I want to master in that country’s language is “don’t shoot, I’m Canadian”.

With other countries wearing their disdain for all things American on their sleeves, pretending to be Canadian while traveling seems smart.  It seems like the easiest way to get out of all sorts of unpleasant scenarios while traveling, from snobbish waiters to bloodthirsty mobs. We Americans look the same as our Canadian brethren (albeit tanner), we dress pretty much the same (maybe a little less flannel), and apart from a slight difference in our accents, it’s a deception we might just be able to pull off. Plus, I remember just enough of my high school French to make the story seem plausible.

Some of my fellow Americans might take issue with my plan. These are the same folks who will tell you that America is the greatest country on earth, bar none. Parenthetically speaking, it’s always interesting to note how many of those uber-patriots have never traveled abroad. They seem to view their neighbors to the north with a mixture of envy and disdain. They’ve got that health care system that supposedly puts ours to shame, for one. About 90% of the Canadian population lived within an hour’s drive of the U.S. border, so they’ve viewed as Fred and Ethel to America’s Ricky and Lucy: familiar, but not always welcome.

Canadians aren’t lightweights, to be sure. First off, they’re in Canada, one of the coldest countries in the world. That’s pretty badass right there. These folks host the Yukon, for crying out loud. So I have a ton of respect for them just for that. I’m nowhere near as tough. I’ll take the freeway debacle that is southern California, earthquakes and all, if it means never having to shovel snow again. Also, these guys love beer and hockey. You can call these folks a lot of things, maybe, but “wussies” is not on that list. This is a hardy bunch of folks.

As far as how I’m viewed by others when traveling abroad, I worry that whatever faults people in other countries would have with America, they would see personified in me. Americans traveling abroad have the stereotype of being loud, rude, and generally ignorant of other cultures. We almost never learn the languages of the countries we visit in advance, insisting that they all should speak English to us. And to our detriment, they agree. But that doesn’t mean I want to be beheaded because of my country’s foreign policies. It’s not like they ever consulted me.

One of the big differences between Canada and the United States (and there are many, to be sure) is that their government doesn’t seem to go around upsetting other countries. Canada may be far from perfect, depending on how you define the word. But can you name any countries Canada has invaded? They’re a democracy too, but they don’t feel the need to defend democracy in other countries, just their own.

It’s not that Canada doesn’t have an army or a Navy – they do. How do they compare to the U.S.’s army and navy? Well as an American I’m conditioned to believe that our armed forces are the best in the world, so maybe I’m not the right person to ask. In truth, I don’t know because I’ve never seen the Canadian military in action. The send in troops for U.N. stuff, but in general terms their military seems content to stay home and defend its own country. Easy work, too: I’m not aware of any country planning a full-scale invasion of Canada.

As a result, the world’s terrorist organizations seem to leave Canada pretty much alone. Seriously, when was the last time saw al Qaeda or any other group on TV marching in the street chanting “death to Canadians”? It’s not that Canada hasn’t had its brushes with terrorists: I looked it up, and in the last 25 years, four people were attacked and two killed by foreign terror groups, and there were seven attacks (mostly firebombs) attributed to domestic terrorists organizations and individuals. There are rumors of terrorist groups are lurking in Canada. But based on what we’ve seen, it’s more likely that they’re just trying to get close to America. I mean, really, why attack Canada? To what end?

So what I’m saying is, there seems to be a direct correlation between Canada’s foreign policies (live and let live, basically), and how their people are treated while traveling abroad. All things considered, if I make any trips to the Holy Land, Egypt, or anywhere else that they’re burning effigies of Uncle Sam in the streets, I’ll be sure to pepper my speeches with “eh?” at the end, just to throw them off the scent.