Allison Young is a freelance writer from Peterborough, Ont., now living in Arizona
Twenty years ago, I was about to graduate at Queen's University and was applying for the JET Programme to teach English in Japan alongside thousands of other travel-hungry bachelor-degree holders
The program was competitive, but when I made it through to the interview round I figured I was a shoo-in – until one question came up.
"What is the difference between Canada and the U.S.?"
Until then, most of my time in the U.S. was spent border-shopping in Buffalo or visiting the outlets in Freeport, Maine. I was there for penny loafers, not politics. And the requisite summer vacation to Disneyland was Donald Duck, not diplomacy. I was too excited to be staying in hotels with pools and actual shuffleboard courts to be weighing cultural distinctions. Heck, I don't think I even saw the U.S. as all that different until a diner waitress in Florida greeted us with a "Y'all from Canada?" Did we even have an accent?
But in that interview room, I had to give an answer. I managed to stutter out some superficial nonsense that included hockey and maple syrup, a non-answer akin to a beauty queen's response. I figured I blew it.
Thankfully, my botched answer didn't ruin my chances. I ended up getting accepted to the JET Programme and taught two years in Osaka, but I've never forgotten the question: It followed me to Japan where I lived, Melrose Place-style, with Brits, Aussies and Americans; it followed me back to Toronto where I worked for a magazine mostly distributed in the U.S.; and it followed me to Phoenix where I've lived and worked for the past 12 years, through marriage, divorce and two kids – rough-and-tumble American boys who recite the Pledge of Allegiance each morning.
So I'm politely asking for a second chance to answer, this time with experience, knowledge and insight to back me up, not to mention almost 20 years of pondering. Here goes … The difference between Canada and the United States is:
1. Quiet patriotism. There's less flag waving and more Canadian beer drinking.
2. The definition of masculinity is much broader. Hockey and the arts are not mutually exclusive. Canadian dudes can have their mullets and open-minded attitudes too.
3. No-fault auto insurance and no-fault personal collisions. If two Canadians bump into each other in a store, both will say sorry, and mean it.
4. We're dang funny. I don't like to brag because it's not very Canadian (see #1), but thanks to Mike Myers, Russell Peters, Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy, I don't have to. My theory: Canadian humour is a perfect balance of dry British wit and American fart jokes. If Benny Hill and Bart Simpson had a baby, out would pop Jim Carrey.
5. The cold is the great equalizer. Sure, universal health care evens the playing field, but nothing screams "we're in this together" like slush, snow and a wind-chill factor so cold that snot freezes. Holy h-e-double hockey sticks!
6. We're righteously confrontational. Yes, politeness is part of our nature, but I have witnessed a Toronto streetcar uprising all over someone not giving up their seat to a pregnant woman. The Canadian claws do come out.
7. Diversity, yes please! When asked what makes Canadians proudest of their country, we ranked multiculturalism above hockey.
8. Teachers are respected and rewarded with fair pay. My teachers in Canada coached and directed plays in their spare time, not because they were compensated (they weren't), but because they cared. I know teachers in the U.S. who have to take on second jobs to make ends meet.
9. We're music snobs. That's why Americans just don't get The Tragically Hip.
10. Hearing "Canadians are so nice" never gets old to Canadians.
11. We're like the younger sibling. Overshadowed and sick of American hand-me-downs, I think Canada skated to the left on certain issues – gun control, gay marriage and marijuana come to mind.
And it looks like America is now following Canada's lead. In response to our well-liked, good-looking, affable Prime Minister full of promise and yoga poses, America elected the opposite. But then again, we did have Rob Ford.