On the day that the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favour of Barack Obama's health-care plan, Environment Canada issued a nationwide Smug Alert.
You could see it floating across the border, a cloud of self-satisfaction with America's foibles. And who can blame us? It's nice to have something that the guy next door doesn't, especially when half his family really, really wants it but his crazy uncle screams blue murder every time he looks at it.
But before we go out and get our health cards framed, let's pause tomorrow, and celebrate this 4th of July by acknowledging what we all, in our hearts, know to be true: Americans have stuff that we want.
Everyone has their list of envies, tucked away in the back of their heads. I asked around. For instance, I'm told Americans have something called Dramamine ("like Gravol without the dopeyness"), and a fake-meat product from a place called Morningstar Farms ("Loudly, proudly synthetic, in a weirdly tasty way. Also very flammable"). The U.S. has milk in a jug, for jug fans. There's "Nordstrom Rack," which cleverly doesn't tell you exactly what's on the rack. Ties? Shoes? Prisoners?
I know what Americans have that I covet. Americans have reasonable cellphone contracts. Smartphones are not built to pass the test of time.
Their hardware and software slows to a sludgy halt after two years. That, coincidentally, is the length of most American contracts. Canadian contracts, on the other hand, last 17 years or until you cry, which ever comes first. Americans also have many cellphone providers, who compete for customers' business.
Americans have Waffle Houses, and we don't. Waffle Houses combine all the grease of your local greasy spoon (really very greasy) and endow it with the consistency and ubiquity of a franchised national operation. An all-night greasy spoon at every interchange! Canada, my friends, has a waffle-housing crisis. It is time for a national waffle-housing strategy.
Americans get a real working Internet, with the moving pictures and everything, delivered the way it was meant to be. This is because they make all the moving pictures themselves. Netflix Canada is a great service if you want to enjoy the entire six-year run of The Nanny. It's not really Netflix's fault that Canada is the place where digital content goes to die.
Licensing agreements hamstring everyone. Hulu, Pandora, Spotify, Amazon, Sony all grind to a halt at the border.
Weirdly, Americans get unsweetened iced tea.
Americans have nice drivers on their highways. The country that gave the world cars actually knows how to use them. I've driven America up and down, from the freeways of Los Angeles to the New Jersey Turnpike, from Illinois to Texas, and do you know where the drivers suddenly become terrifying? As soon as you cross the border into Ontario.
Are you merging onto an Interstate? Americans will pull over to let you in. On Ontario highways, driving instructors teach youth to throw their arms in the air and yell GERONIMO! as they plunge down the on ramp. It's the only way.
Americans have highways, period. The Interstate system is a wonder of the world. Canadians grudgingly twin their highways where populations demand it, trailing them off into ribbons of asphalt through the bush. Americans twin their highways because they're in America. It doesn't matter if you're at the farthest tip of northern Michigan, hundreds of miles away from anything resembling a city. You're in America now, and that blue sign is a pan-American seal of quality.
Americans have one-dollar pizza, if you go to New York; they also have New York, which is generally considered a plus. Americans have the spirit of competition and self-promotion, which also seem to be subject to some licensing restrictions, because we don't get them here. Americans like a soapbox, like a sales pitch, like a person who goes out there and tells you why he's top.
Americans have Hillary Clinton, who not only brings a muscular foreign policy, but is so in charge of things, someone started an Internet meme about how in charge of things she is.
Americans get WiFi on planes.
Americans get America.
They get its size, its scope. The more you travel America, the more you understand why Americans don't get out to see the world as much as they might, because their country is a world unto itself. If you like big cities – and I mean, really, truly big ones – you can get them any style you want! Metropolitan, metrosexual, tight, sprawling, postindustrial, historic, artificial-and-probably-doomed. Americans get up and go where the work is.
On the coast of Florida, in the middle of a housing bust, you can get your head around the fact that somehow these people pulled the country together and built rockets made of three million parts that made it all the way to the moon, even though they were using the Imperial system. (The Soviet moon rockets blew up over and over again. It was really something.)
Imagine it from the American perspective. It's one thing to know that man, in the abstract, went to the moon. It's another to know that it was you, your government, your parents, the guy down the road, that made that happen. Suddenly the place seems like a fortress of unlimited potential; invulnerable, if not insensate to the storms it has unleashed upon itself, if only the government could be fixed. Opinions on how to fix the government vary from person to person, which is usually the catch.
Canada and the United States are separated by the world's longest one-way mirror.
Americans look and see a slightly greyer version of themselves; Canadians survey the landscape and see the world's largest, best-armed shopping mall. We might do them a disservice that way; there are things, from here, we just don't get.
America is a service not available in Canada.