A friend of ours, a Canadian serial expat, speaks at legal conferences. In the grand tradition of opening with a joke, he sometimes starts by telling a story about U.S. vs. Canada Olympic hockey. The last time the Canadians beat the U.S., he asked some Americans about it. The American answered, “It sucks to lose. But at least we lost to Canada. I’m happy to see Canada win.” “No, no, no!” our friend protested. “You are supposed to be spitting mad that you got beat by your mortal rival! We want a rivalry!”
In sports, this unrequited rivalry is funny. He gets laughs when he tells it. But like many funny things, the humor comes from just touching the truth. The actual truth has a bit of sting to it.
Last week I was in Toronto. I arrived just after the Toronto City Council stripped Mayor Rob Ford of his authority. In the non-stop news coverage, the local news was a little giddy that U.S. big media was covering the story. They even excerpted part of CNN’s coverage.
The reporter’s excitement at the big U.S. coverage reminded me of my friend’s hockey story, and that bothered me. This wasn’t about rivalry, but about us noticing them. Doesn’t the northern U.S. cover Canada? Down in Texas, I’m not shocked that we don’t cover Canada. We cover Mexico. (I don’t buy the internationally ignorant American conventional wisdom. We are quite big. I can hop in a car and drive west for 15+ hours and still be in Texas. The American Resident covered this point well a while back.) Regardless, it isn’t remotely cool, for CNN or Canada, that this story was getting play outside of Toronto.
I sighed, made a mental note to discuss this with my Canadian friends later, and picked up Kay Hymowitz’s Manning Up which I was using for debate prep. (I was there to attend a debate on “The End of Men.” ) I forgot about Mayor Ford and the exceptional case of Canadian coverage for a few hours.
But at the debate, America’s treatment of Canada came up again, courtesy of Maureen Dowd.
She spent most of her time recycling Dick Cheney and Ted Cruz insults from her columns. If the Rob Ford scandal had not been all over the news, she wouldn’t have made any Canadian reference.
Not only did Dowd not bother to find examples relevant to Canadians, but also her repeated slam against Ted Cruz, a man she clearly loathes, was to call him Canadian. I know she simply hoped to sabotage any future presidential run for the senator from Texas, but she obviously didn’t consider how it might come off to a Canadian audience when she used their nationality as a slur.
In fact, the participants seemed completely unaware they were speaking to a Canadian audience. They kept using the royal “we” for Americans, as if they were debating in Toledo, Ohio, not Toronto, Canada.
This is probably the fastest way to annoy Canadians. It is why they wear a maple leaf on their person when they go abroad. It isn’t that they disapprove or hate Americans but that they are not Americans. They have their own identity. It’s probably annoying if excusable when, say, Germans mistake them for Americans. But when Americans, who should be aware of our differences, do it, when we completely subsume their identity in our own, it is insulting and disrespectful. That an educated and popular reporter from one of our grandest media institutions does it demonstrates an elevation of American partisan politics over everything, even simple knowledge.
Regardless of any sibling bickering among England’s offspring, Canada is our staunch ally, neighbor, and friend. She deserves more respect than this from us.
Cover image from many Pinterest accounts. Backpack image from Nomadic Samuel