Glynnis MacNicol is a writer living in New York.
A few years after moving to New York nearly two decades ago, I stopped telling people I was Canadian when travelling abroad and began announcing myself as a New Yorker. This wasn’t a reflection on my native country; I had, like so many teenagers, backpacked around Europe sporting multiple Maple Leaf flag pins, generously handing them out to eager Americans looking for friendly cover. But in addition to falling madly in love with my adopted city, I’d also discovered New York was the one citizenship more universally greeted with a free pass than Canada. It was a habit that stuck with me until this past summer, when, having decamped to France for a month, I unintentionally reverted to my teenage ways: “I’m Canadian … from New York.”
My switch mirrored a shift I’d been witnessing in America for months, one that recently went into wild overdrive. Increasingly, it’s felt as if the Canadian-American relationship – so agonized over in the north; practically undetectable in the south – has experienced a Freaky Friday moment and we’ve switched roles. Americans all around me are obsessed with Canada, while simultaneously experiencing a deep and vocal insecurity about their own county. Canada, meanwhile, is giving the U.S. public pep talks about its greatness. It’s truly bizarre.
The varying roots of this new Canadian obsession are not difficult to pinpoint. The arrival of Justin Trudeau, (central casting could not have produced a man more fitting to the moment) was going to muster international attention no matter what. More so, as the United States is about to lose the most glamorous (among other, more crucial qualities) couple ever to occupy the White House. That Trudeau is also the public face of the extraordinary Canadian response to the Syrian refugee crisis – one so starkly different to the United States – makes it an even more compelling story to American readers, as evidenced by widespread coverage of it here. (If you want a sense of how deeply uncertain some Americans are feeling right now, scan the comments sections of The New York Times recent multipart feature on Syrian refugees in Toronto; it is rife with apologies). Canada is not only sexy, it’s also behaving with a national heroism America traditionally likes to associate solely with itself. The Canucks are basically out America-ing America.
Enter Donald Trump.
It’s not unusual during U.S. elections to come across “how to immigrate to Canada” stories (inexplicably most of them feature Cape Breton, so well done to whoever is overseeing their PR). I’m long-accustomed to friends joking that my citizenship is the basis for their escape plan, but that sentiment has taken on such an alarming seriousness in the past two months that I’ve been compelled to point out any event grave enough to result in mass U.S. evacuation would also destabilize Canada, so extensive are our ties.
Still, when The Times recently ran an explanation of Canadian Thanksgiving, it felt a bit like a reassuring primer for increasingly terrified liberals: Fear not, there will still be turkey, just earlier!
It’s unlikely anyone is actually leaving the U.S. regardless of Tuesday’s outcome – Americans are not in the habit of cutting and running. Even so, it’s almost impossible to overstate the traumatic nature of this election. The anxiety is nearly paralytic. “It’s so hard to go on with business as usual,” a panicked editor wrote me. “I’m REALLY struggling,” admitted a high-level executive.
The country is experiencing an identity crisis unlike anything in its history, and from this vantage point Canada, so often a punchline or an afterthought, has become a reassuring beacon of sanity. Or, to paraphrase the great U.S. president, a better angel of the American nature.
This will not come as a surprise to Canadians. Yet, despite the tumult that has resulted in this shift, it’s both strange and wonderful to witness the “cousins” figure it out. Great White North indeed.Report Typo/Error
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