Opinion » Maxed Out

Being a transplanted American...

Putting the power back into "will"



One of the first, and hardest things I learned about being a Canadian was to stop being an American. I know that sounds simplistic — and heaven knows there are plenty of you who have accused me of being simplistic — but it's true.

Like Canadian singer/songwriters or comedians or actors who have had to move to the U.S. to discover how great they are, I had to move to Canada to discover what an American I was. When I lived in the U.S., it never dawned on me I was an American. This may sound foolish — op.cit., and heaven knows... — but in Canada, Canadians are acutely aware they are Canadian. It's evident in how they struggle, endlessly, to define exactly what that means and how they proudly display their Canadian-ness when they leave the country, albeit more as a shield of self-deprecation than a sword of emphatic pride, pride being a highly un-Canadian sin.

The key was to step out of my American environment and be conscious of how different I was compared to those around me. It's hard to notice one mushroom in a mushroom patch, but hang it on a tree with some apples and it stands out like a tortured metaphor in an otherwise struggling paragraph. Or something like that.

I stood out partly out of ignorance. This was pointed out to me by a precocious 11-year-old waiting for a bus. In Montreal, where I lived, and Toronto, where I lived next, people line up for busses in neat lines, except they call them queues, ostensibly because they're Canadian. Americans call them lines. There's no real difference except lines is an easier word to spell than queue, which looks nothing like it sounds and repeats identical letters for no good reason. Of course, that's an American attitude; Canadians just learn how to spell it and proudly queue up for just about everything.

On the other hand, Americans hate to line up for anything other than Black Friday sales and I hate to line up for anything other than powder runs. In my case, it stems from my aversion to military order and general antsiness. I prefer to pace, wander, and chat up people in queues, something else Canadians tend not to do unless they know the person to whom they speak and even then, generally use hushed tones as though they were discussing troop movements during times of war or their most recent outbreak of genital herpes.

It took a bold Canadian youth, dressed in the fine clothes of a Westmount private school, clothes more befitting someone firmly in middle-age since that's what Westmount private schools try to turn out, to set me straight. "You're supposed to line up," he said to me in a tone generally used when one addresses a servant or underling, something I could understand since I looked a bit clownish in oversized running shoes, thick wool sox and a muffler long enough to cozy the necks of most of the people in the queue.

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