America has a 10 million square kilometre blind spot; some people call it Canada.
People speculate (usually from well outside America) that Americans don't care about anything that happens outside their own country.
I find this untrue. The New York Times, for instance, usually has more international reporting than can be found in the main news section of most major New Zealand daily newspapers: European economic crises, China currency squabbles, intra-Asia conflict, uprisings in the Middle East, and crime in Mexico are all part of current American discourse. In turn, I've been given brochures with more words in them than the World section of a standard New Zealand newspaper.
But Americans don't think about Canada a lot... or at all, really. Which is odd when the two nations share a 6000km border.
There have been some fairly awkward examples of American ignorance toward their northern neighbours.
In 2000 George W Bush, the candidate, was on the Talking to Americans segment of the Canadian political satire show This Hour Has 22 Minutes. The presenter asked him about a recent endorsement from Canadian prime minister Jean Poutine (Poutine being a Canadian delicacy of serving French fries drenched in cheese and gravy). Bush said he respected the man's opinion and did not correct the error.
In April this year, a contestant on Jeopardy couldn't name the Canadian prime minister. And I always take those kids on Jeopardy to be a smart lot.
I think that the relationship between America and Canada is very similar to that between Australia and New Zealand, except that America casts a much, much longer shadow. I can remember being in Canada (I lived there a time, but I'll loop back to that) in early 2008 when the local currency had become more valuable than the American dollar. I spent a quarter of an hour listening to a radio broadcaster hoot and holler with glee and derision.
I'm sure any American paying attention was more upset that their country was in the financial tank than that Canada was winning.
Which is the way these rivalries go, I guess. New Zealanders like to go on about all things Australian, but I wonder if anybody in the whole of Australia ever takes any notice.
Aside from cursing Nickelback, and wondering what became of popular folk hero-slash-Ghostbusters star Dan Aykroyd, Canadians don't tend to make headlines in America. Or if they do, they do so secretly. Ryan Reynolds is Canadian. So is Ryan Gosling.
This spur to write about Canada came from a recent thought of mine: for anyone under the age of 30 wanting to live and work in North America who isn't a recent graduate, Canada is probably your best shot. Getting a Canadian working holiday visa is a breeze.
But for those people who are pulled to Canada in the hope of getting a taste of big living and a slice of the American dream without the paperwork (as I very much was, way back in 2007), is Canada a viable substitute?
My best answer is, both yes and no.
I have spent time in each of the three largest Canadian cities.
Some are very American, in their ways. Vancouver feels like an extension of the American Pacific Northwest. Toronto could pass for an East Coast USA city. Actor Peter Ustinov once called it "New York run by the Swiss".
Montreal is a city I only spent a few days in but it I remember it feeling like a whole other world to America. That city in the thick of winter seemed more Gotham-esque than New York ever did to me. I can remember it being thick with strip clubs and cathedrals.
Canadians sound kind of American and they play in three of the four major American sports leagues (NBA, NHL, MLB). There's Walmart and Starbucks there, and conjoined Taco Bell and KFC restaurants (synergy!). The shopping is also pretty good.
But they also play their own awkward brand of American football and have the Queen on their money. They call $1 and $2 coins "loonies" and "toonies". Which is a little silly. They really do pronounce it "aboot". The individual provinces regulate the sale of alcohol in much of the country (very un-American!).
I think Canadians have a little grass-is-greener syndrome, and I'm sure there's a chip on its shoulder somewhere. But in part, I think it instils a sense of humility in people that New Zealanders would identify with.
Canadians were also about the most incredibly earnest people I'd ever met.
I was on a tram and there was an annoying drunk on board. The driver stopped and came down the aisle. He looked as if he was going to throw the guy off but opted instead to give him a stern talking to.
"Look, just stop, okay? I don't want to tell you off but nobody here is enjoying your company and I don't see why you have to make a racket. So just stop and I won't have to throw you off."
The man didn't say another word. It was amazing.
I spent three-and-a-half months in Toronto, and two in Vancouver. I know I went to Canada because it was close to America. I liked it, in parts. I didn't think my trip out too well, so its relative lack of success wasn't Canada's fault.
But I'm not sure that all of the good I took from it was what I set out for.
I think in essence, Canada is less related to America than it is just next to America, if you catch my drift.
How does your experience of Canada and the US stack up against each other?
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