Sorry for the lack of activity around here the last few days. “Would you please stop telling the whole internet when you’re going to be out of town? It’s foolish,” my friends tell me, and they’re probably right. But now I’m back, and the truth can be told: We were in Toronto, the last KWF trip of the year. We were there for fact-finding, eye-opening and, as always when KWF travels, many toasts to international friendship.
Yes, even with Canada. Because it turns out — it really is a different country! Not America Junior, as Homer Simpson calls it. (For that it would have to have many more handguns.) If liberals could have their dream country, could pick it out of a catalog or custom-build it on the internet, it would be a lot like Canada (minus the hockey). Universal health care, much back-patting on its proud multicultural heritage, respect for authority and the sort of primness that made a few anti-Quebec japes by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog front-page news across the country. (More on that in a minute.) Bathroom posters give five good reasons to wash your mitts after a pee. Every trash container has three mouths, so you can do your part for recycling. “If a politician discussed his relationship with Jesus, people would be baffled,” the locals tell you. For the first 24 hours, you can’t believe your eyes: I love this place! Everything I’ve been saying is true! It really works when you do it this way! Then it starts to drive you crazy. Me, anyway.
Oh, but I’m oversimplifying to a preposterous degree, but when you try to cram an entire country into a blog entry, well, that happens.
It is a beautiful place, Toronto. “New York as run by the Swiss,” one writer famously said, and that’s about right. You’ve got your culture, your architecture, your funky shopping, your expensive coffee, a whole city’s worth of walkways underground, so you can walk around downtown when it’s -11 (Celsius) and not freeze your ass off. There’s a Chinatown, great restaurants, sports, an excellent, intelligent newspaper. Am I leaving anything out? An international film festival. Taxi drivers who don’t try to kill you. Drivers who, generally, respect traffic lights. This I liked.
What I didn’t: The Canadosity. This really is a country that couldn’t get behind the American Revolution. Its constitution promises not life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but “peace, order and good government.” It seemed to be best summed up by the Conan O’Brien business. The American TV star was in Quebec and Toronto for a week’s worth of shows, to try to drum up a little tourism in the wake of last spring’s SARS scare. He sent the guy with the rubber dog on his hand around some winter carnival in Quebec, where he yelled at passersby: “You’re in North America! Learn the language!” He stopped a couple and asked if they were separatists; when they said they were, he said, “Hear that? That’s the sound of no one giving a shit!” And so on.
You’d have thought Osama bin Laden had come to Washington, burst into the State of the Union speech and set fire to the American flag, before extinguishing the flames by peeing on it. At least, the media treated it that way. “Hateful and yes, racist,” huffed the Toronto Star, before indicating there may be a glimmer of hope: What is truly appalling, however, was the reaction of the audience at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre. Most members laughed wildly at the crude anti-French jokes.
I don’t mind a big, safe, non-war-mongering country full of beautiful cities, single-payer health care and even the accompanying high taxes. What got on my nerves was the smugness. I said before that if liberals could have the country of their dreams, it would be Canada. If conservatives could have theirs, it would be Iran by way of Texas. Because we smash these two groups together like pieces of flint, and don’t so much seek consensus between them as we do the appearance of consensus (while we shiv the other guy between the ribs), we strike the flames under the the messy, imperfect, rancid stew of a melting pot full of mixed metaphors we call these United States. The subways smell much worse, but it is mine.
Besides, they say all the same things about us, and they’re right, too.
But we had a great time. If I had a son who didn’t want to fight the next pointless war we get into, I’d be happy to visit him in Toronto. I’m just not sure I’d like to live there.
alex said on February 15, 2004 at 10:51 pm
Okay, Nance, you’ve sold me. That’s where I want to spend the rest of my days. What’s it take to renounce my citizenship here this booby hatch and get asylum there?
jcb said on February 16, 2004 at 12:37 am
I’m not sure what the existence of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog says about how low humor must now reach to be mainstream lowbrow…I guess this is what advancing age does to my sensibilities. I do know that Triumph the Insult Comic Dog is a poor choice whenever you’re booking cameo appearances for the Grammys, Emmys, and so on. And Triumph the Insult Comic Dog is sure as hell a poor way to make a good first impression in Quebec, slurs or no. Canadians are probably thinking “look at the legacy of great humor and humorists we’ve sent south of the border…and we…get…this?”
ashley said on February 16, 2004 at 3:18 am
Well, there’s plenty of dem dere anti-Quebecois jokes, the best of which was done by Edge 102, a Toronto radio station (coincidentally, the subject of Rush’s “the spirit of radio”). The parody is available here.
There is a long, long tradition of the Quebecers and other Anglophones publicly proclaiming respect for different cultures and Quebecois rights, whilst in private laughing at the “pea soup eater” jokes, the bare mention of Celine Dion, and the expiration of Rene Levesque in his vichysoisse.
And don’t forget that bitch Anne Murray, too.
Canada has sacrificed soul for political correctness. The US isn’t far behind.
Pam said on February 16, 2004 at 9:36 am
The Toronto Star can huff away — I HATE that rubber dog!! He reminds me of Chuck/Bob Campbell of Soap fame. If you don’t have the nerve to say something really insulting/disgusting, let the puppet do the dirty work. What! I never said that, the puppet said it!
Randy said on February 16, 2004 at 12:38 pm
Nancy mentioned that she wouldn’t want to live in Toronto.
Rest assured that most Canadians would not want to live in Toronto either. In fact, most Canadians, whether they live inside or outside of Toronto, consider the city to be a “distinct society” with very little resemblance to the rest of the country.
I love Toronto, I visit family and friends there every year, and it’s a happening place, what with the epicentres of business, media, and culture residing there, sort of like a great sucking vortex. But if the city of Toronto could literally emigrate to the US, it would be gone in a heartbeat. Toronto is an awkward blend of pleasant social consciousness and brash, balls-out capitalism.
Nancy pointed out that she was simplifying Canada in a very quick blog posting, and certainly there’s more to the country than what was described. The alleged flap about Conan’s visit was just fodder for lazy columnists, and hay for the P.C. machine. That kind of tsk-tsking by the media is evident in the US as well these days, but I’ll bet that like us, most Americans don’t sweat the small stuff.
I like what it means to be Canadian. And as much as I like the US, I’m glad that in some ways my values are different from what Americans (and Torontonians) hold dear.
KCK said on February 17, 2004 at 5:41 pm
Another nice thing about Canada is stuff like this: