The day before I left Toronto for Laguna Beach, the cold was so bitter I began to weep unconsciously, walking home from a coffee shop. Here, I cruise Coast Highway with the windows down—and I realize the climate is far from the most noticeable disparity between Canada and California.
Mainly, I'm fixated on our supposed niceness, which is the same thing Americans are stuck on. Many of you consider it the national Canadian personality trait, which is an odd generalization, right up there with the one about all French being rude and unwashed. But then, most generalizations are odd, just as many cultural stereotypes have a grain of truth. Our pleasantness is most obvious on a national level—in our government's Commie-esque policies on immigration, same-sex marriage, gun ownership and warmongering—but that doesn't always trickle down to Canadians themselves. Far from it.
Canadians have bad days, too. We glower; we even flip people off. So do I have to accept the complimentary assumption that I'm inherently nice, or is it okay to resent it—which might make me not nice? (Also, it's my understanding that there's “pussy” nice and “not-an-asshole” nice, so which one do you people mean when you refer to us? Something tells me it's the former.)
And why do Spaniards get to be “fiery” and New Zealanders “weird” and 32 million Canadians get to be thought of as “nice”? Why can't we be “interesting,” a drab but slightly colorful adjective—rather than dull as muddy February-in-Ontario slush “nice”? I'd even settle for stereotypes taken from my ethnic background; they're at least more exciting. There's the Irish in me (drunk), the English (snotty) and First Nations Iroquois (drunk again—this time on gasoline).
Maybe Canadians seem nicer to you because there's so few of us. With an entire population roughly the same as the state of California, Canada is a huge landmass with a small number of people, most of whom live in the moneyed stronghold/”Golden Horseshoe” that snakes up the edges of Ontario. We don't have the manpower and subsequently the economic or political influence to dominate anyone, not even ourselves. We're the juice-box-drinking only child in Snoopy jammies to your sweaty, yellow-fanged, basketball-team-sized army of adolescents; the drooly lapdog at America's feet. We were once like you: a region nabbed by giddy European powers and now composed primarily of immigrants. But! While the U.S. took the imperialist ball and really ran with it, Canadians mostly stuck to decimating our own native population. Maybe that's what earned us our benign international rep.
Or possibly it's the lack of bloodshed. As Michael Moore posits in BowlingforColumbine, Canada has almost no assault weapons and very little real violence when compared to the U.S. Those nonplussed Ontarian high schoolers he interviewed in the Taco Bell parking lot, while quite possibly stoned, pretty much reflect my own (quite possibly stoned) attitudes on violence in Canada.
Although Moore's inconsistent-with-reality unlocked-door experiment didn't really make sense, Canada is pretty reliably safe. Aside from my first day of university in Toronto, when a man got shot near my new dorm, I've never been as aware of guns as I am in California. Like an adolescent realizing actual people have actual sex—studying every adult in the grocery store for evidence of such activity—I stare wide-eyed at the cars on the freeway here, positive that each one has a Glock stashed in the glove box.
There is violence in Canada; it's just not gun violence. Our national obsession is hockey, which is both bloody and oafish. When the Toronto Maple Leafs win (and, yes, it should be “Leaves,” but they're a sports team, not a debate club), the city erupts in an explosion of blue and white and highly alcoholized beer. Our most recognizable institution is Tim Horton's, a hugely successful chain of coffee shops named after a hockey player. Maybe hockey is our outlet, a way of exorcising the hostility and aggression that fester as we hold doors open, let dirty hippies smoke cheeb wherever they want and foster international diplomacy.
Comparing two different nations always means simplifying: there's a serious contingent of Guns&Ammo-reading conservatives in Canada who could put your good ol' boys to shame. Our prime minister is a doughy Bush-kisser who couldbenice—but clearly he's got no problem supporting some very violent shit. He knows how to, er, make nice.
But seriously, our two nations aren't that different in their approach to such big-ticket items as foreign policy; we differ in bloody but smaller matters such as violence—when, where and how much.
And after a few months in Southern California, I must say, I'm getting a taste for blood. I like knowing I'll know if I piss off an American. In Canada, you can never be quite sure. There's an immediacy, a directness, an honesty here that's refreshing—if slightly deadlier. I admire that; I'm finding I enjoy courting disaster.