Five years ago my friend Abhi and I were walking into a bar in D.C. We showed our I.D.s and the bouncer angrily asked Abhi, “Where is your passport!?” Abhi had given him a Canadian driver’s license.
“You are not from here, you need to show your passport!!!”
“It’s cool man, it’s just Canada, it’s not really another country,” Abhi told him.
“What state is Ottawa in?” The bouncer asked.
“Okay, well it’s in Ontario, but — it’s Canada! It’s not the same thing.”
“Fine. You may go in. But DO NOT drink.”
Canada — “It’s not really another country.” I’ll drink to that (we did).
The existence of Canada really fascinates me, chiefly because I keep forgetting that it’s there. Whenever I see a map of the U.S., our country looks like this discreet landmass isolated from everything else. But in the blank space above that northern border there are like 30 MILLION people, GIANT cities, THOUSANDS of Tim Hortons. There’s an entire country north of the border, and in relative terms, it’s pretty similar to the one south of it.
When I was about seven years old I visited Ontario and Québec with my family, and I remember asking my parents why it looked the same. It’s a different color on the map, there’s a different flag, but everything was strangely familiar. I also thought that there would be something very different about Canadian people, but they all talked, drove and acted like everyone else I knew back home. I think I asked my mom something like, “Why don’t these people just live in the U.S.?”
I was seven, cut me some slack.
The truth is that objectively, Canada and the U.S. aren’t that different. They share the same gigantic landmass, have similar economies, similar levels of development, similar patterns of urbanization and similar literacy rates. Both countries have long histories of immigration (although the Canadians think about that multiculturalism in a different way), both share a British colonial past and both share English as the dominant language. This is all in addition to 5,525 miles of shared land border.
Now all you Canadians out there, don’t get your beaver tails in a tussle. Sure, I get it; there are plenty of differences. You’re officially bilingual, you have a parliament, the Queen is your sovereign, it’s kilometers and not miles, colours and not colors, and the whole socialist-government-free-healthcare-and-no-guns-thing seems to work out well for you guys.
Then there is Québec. Last weekend I went to Montreal for the first time in about eight years. The last time I had been was for a bachelor party, but we just went to the Basilica and did some volunteering, so I didn’t get the chance to experience much of the joie de vivre. On the drive up there was “congestion” on Route 720 but the blinking sign telling me where to “detour” was only in French. I had le confusion. In 1774 the British let the Québécois maintain French civil law and language to ensure that neither New France nor Old France would fight against Great Britain in the American Revolution.
Québec is proof that there are indeed differences between the U.S. and Canada, but in relative terms they’re not that different. During the War of 1812 the U.S. Government couldn’t even distinguish between the two. The army built a fort in Lake Champlain and then realized they had built it inside of Canada. Measure twice, cut once. The Canadians/British did burn the White House in 1814, though. A bit much, if you ask me. But being Canadian, they probably said sorry.
If you want to talk about a different country, let’s talk about Cambodia. It’s about 10,000 miles away, the GDP per capita is $2,100, 57 percent of the labor force works in agriculture, Khmer is completely different from English and we don’t share thousands of miles of land with them. Now THAT is a different sack of rice.
There may even be more variation between individual states than between the U.S. and Canada on the whole. In Massachusetts you can’t find adobe missions and in New Mexico you can’t grow cranberries for Thanksgiving dinner. New England might have more shared history with New Brunswick than with New Mexico. Two words: Candlepin bowling.
Given all these similarities between Canada and the U.S., I’m not sure we need to classify Canada as “foreign” the same way we do other countries. In practice, it just seems kind of silly.
At Cornell, Canadians can still come early for international orientation. Is it really necessary to get an extra orientation to American culture and customs? Same thing with visas. I was dating a Canadian girl once whose visa was about to expire and the U.S. wouldn't renew it — she was a foreign national working outside her field of expertise. Really? Grad schools don’t distinguish either. The aforementioned Abhi was lumped with every other international student when applying to med school, making the process significantly more competitive. Totally unnecessary. I say extend cell-phone coverage between the two countries, and let Canadians stand in the U.S. citizen line at airports.Throw ’em a bone, it’s just Canada.
Clearly Canada has some recent political problems that could be cause for concern if we are going to change their status. This June’s rioting and looting in Vancouver saw the opposition fighting oppression in the streets. Oh sorry, that was Syria. Vancouver burned because they lost a hockey game.
Relax, Canada. Learn how to take a joke, we tease our friends in this country.
By the way, the U.S. Secret Service just hired Tim Thomas because he’s so damn good at blocking shots.
I think it’s time we give Canada a special status as a “sort of” foreign country. Picture the U.S. as a club with a sign that says, “EVERYONE pays the cover, it doesn’t matter who you know.” Canadians never pay the cover, they know the bouncer. That’s the kind of status I want. Not a bad deal, eh?
Ben Koffel is a grad student in the College of Architecture, Art & Planning. He may be contacted at email@example.com. Come Again? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.