Monday, April 11, 2011

Glimpses of differences between Canada and the U.S.

Kingston, April 11, 2011
Back home, after one week in Denver Colorado, it is time to reflect on some of the obvious differences between America and Canada...and while much of the superficial aspects of both countries look very similar, there are really large differences that a newcomer might miss.
Both countries boast a hard-working, almost frenetic majority who work long hours,  commute often for at least one hour to get to work, (and to return home) and who attempt to juggle many tasks, seemingly simultaneously. Both majorities seems quite tired and a little listless by day's end, and certainly by week's end.
However, the exposure to global information, in the public media is radically different.
In Canada, we have three national TV networks, all of them spending more time on international news than any of the major American networks. And the tone and perspective of the coverage of the information from abroad also differs. It would seem that, for the American anchors, all international stories need special billing, special emphasis, almost as if they have to be "sold" in order for their audience to take an interest.
The personal attacks against American politicians far exceeds that in Canada. We encountered deep personal contempt for Obama, and a continuing perception that he is Muslim, obviously a projection of a deep-seated fear of the extreme elements of that religion onto their president.
The divide between the "have's" and the "have-not's" in America is so visible as to be almost embarrassing. One can and does experience both within minutes in the core of a major city like Denver, and often the difference is accompanied by a racial overtone with the have's often being white and the have-not's being black or Latino. And with that comes the note of a fear among some Americans that the second language, Spanish, will move some states to secession, should the majority of their citizens actually become Latino, as is happening in California. Even bilingual ballots in some districts sends shivers of anxiety into some conservative voters.
On the other hand, Canada struggles with a reality of one province, Quebec, willing and eager to send a majority of representatives to the national government whose sole raison d-etre is to separate from the rest of Canada. Ask a knowledgeable American who has travelled the world in fairly exclusive and intelligent company if he might know of another country willing to tolerate such an anomaly, and you will get the answer, "I can't think of one!"
And then there is the conversation in American conservative circles of Obamacare, the dreaded Health Reform Act, which is still being shrilled as "going to bankrupt the country" and "bring death panels" because of its "socialism"...a word feared like the word Russian, during the cold war. The American capitalism, clearly linked to globalization, is a virtual religion, and those on the right will fight for its labels as if they were fighting another civil war....anyone who suggests he might have socialist tendencies, like Lawrence O'Donnell did recently on MSNBC, is  considered an apostate to the state by the right.
In Canada, on the other hand, we welcome the Liberal party's committment to restore the National Health Care with substantial fiscal support in the 2014 negotiations with the provinces, without even speaking or hearing the word "socialism". We know it is one of the landmark signatures that keeps Canada a more or less compassionate country, seeking to achieve a kind of equality for its citizens that Americans would consider
taboo.
But if you want to shop, go to America where the choices are falling over each other in every category of consumer good and service. And if you really want to witness both eccentricity and kenetic energy, try New York city. We stopped briefly at JFK and just watched the parade of people, especially those working in the airport, and noted both their friendly attitudes and their helpful nonchalance, as foreground to the backdrop of airplanes from many world countries, sitting on the tarmac.
This last scene brought home the shrinking quality of the world through the availability of easy (if not cheap) travel to all corners of the globe, much of it eminating from New York city.
Does one good to get out to see other parts of the world for so many reasons...just as it is good to return home safely, at the hands of flight and accommodation professionals in both countries.

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