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Defending both sides of the border

By G.D. Maxwell We’re rolling right up to Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men time. I’m deckin’ the halls, makin’ my lists, jinglin’ my bells and silenting my nights.

By G.D. Maxwell

We’re rolling right up to Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men time. I’m deckin’ the halls, makin’ my lists, jinglin’ my bells and silenting my nights. I’m admittedly still balking at donning my gay apparel… not that there’s anything wrong with that. This is Canada and while we may not participate in everybody else’s rites of celebration, we try to encourage their self-expression and most definitely tolerate their differences.

But make no mistake: Canada is not – as many Canadian writers and a whole slew of misinformed Americans seem to think – the kinder, gentler nation Pappy Bush had in mind lo those many years ago when he made meaningless noises about leading the USofA in that direction. He was thinking of a superpower with a conscience, a nation of rugged individualists with a semblance of a safety net, a hot-rod with airbags, a switchblade with a finger guard.

Canada is kind; Canada is gentle. Canada is a bit like an overly sensitive, self-absorbed teenager living in his own apartment with enough income to get by, a wide circle of friends he can count on and, an old refrigerator with a keg inside and, most importantly, a deep and abiding friendship with the biggest, toughest bully on the block.

The kinder, gentler country that never was would still have been able, and occasionally inclined, to blow any oil-rich country in the world to smithereens. Canada, on the other hand, seems barely able to defend itself from a gaggle of delusional, Quebecois separatists with an overwrought sense of historical wrongs and no real clue what a puny, insignificant country they’d actually be on the world stage should that mindless tragedy ever play itself out.

On the world military stage, Canada’s greatest contribution may well be a regiment of Princess Patricia’s serving Timbits. Don’t knock the power of Timbits.

But there are disturbing signs of an upswell in conservatism, intolerance and outright meanness growing in the True North. Consider, for a moment, the provincial Alliance party in Alberta ran candidates in the recent election because they thought Ralph Klein was too liberal. Anyone who thinks Ralph Klein is liberal may well mistake Dubya Bush for an atheist.

And if that’s not enough, there even seems to be a small contingent of overly-nationalistic malcontents out there who believe Mr. Barnett ought to replace me with a Canadian. Me! With a Canadian!

I am Canadian!

If you prick me do I not bleed maple syrup? If you tell me it’s snowed 20 cm overnight do I not respond "Beauty, eh?" If you make me sing O Canada do I not mix the French and English words together into a seamless, though admittedly meaningless, melange? Mais oui, mon cher.

Jeez, just because a guy wasn’t born here, didn’t have a mullet during the ’70s, thinks listening to Celine Dion will give him cavities and still doesn’t understand the rules of hockey doesn’t mean he ain’t Canadian. Eh?

I’ll pit my Canadian-ness against anyone who was born here, raised here, never had to make the choice to stay or leave and never had the excruciating pleasure of filing both Canadian and U.S. taxes every year. Trump that you sniveling… oops, that would be the latent American-ness fighting its way to the surface.

Admittedly, I’m my own two solitudes. But in a town built on tourism, that’s a plus. And in the post 9/11, Blue State-Red State, United States of Nascar passion play working itself out south of the border – and the stinging allegation that we, Canadians, have treated our American visitors with disgraceful disregard to their tender feelings – I actually feel uniquely qualified to help you, my fellow Whistleratics, deal with this strange new world order.

Mind you, if there were any real justice in the world, we’d all just tell anyone who mistakes our disdain for official U.S. policy as personal dislike to pack their bags, go home, think about what they’ve done and not come back until they apologize.

But we can’t do that. We’re in the tourism business. Being in that business means we’re considerably less picky about who we do business with than, for instance, hookers.

So let’s put past hurts behind us. The snow has arrived, Christmas is coming, we know what we have to do and I’m more than willing to share my best tips for successfully dealing with our very great friends from south of the border.

• Speak slowly. Americans know they’re in a foreign country. They know Canadians, for the most part, speak English. But they’re suffering from sensory overload, having had to figure out both strange money and metric measurements. So speak slowly and enunciate ev-er-y syl-la-ble. They’ll appreciate the effort.

• Avoid sarcasm. While this is generally a good tip for dealing with anyone when you’re in the hospitality business, it’s especially true when dealing with Americans. Americans invented sarcasm. Well, actually, it was invented by French waiters but it was my generation of Americans who perfected it, raised it to an art form, and so thoroughly assimilated it into our everyday lives that it no longer has any effect on us. Save your sarcasm for someone who can appreciate it… the British, for example.

• Lower your expectations. These people are on vacation. Close your eyes and picture yourself on vacation. Pale, pasty, sucking back rum drinks on the beach, brain back in the frozen tundra. Nobody packs their smarts when they holiday. That’s why we go on holiday.

• Never discuss politics. As was made abundantly clear during the last election, the U.S. is split right down the middle. Should the subject ever come up, the best course of action is to act as ignorant about American politics as Americans are about everybody else’s. Practice saying something like, "You have a president instead of a Prime Minister? That’s fascinating."

•Deflect anger. Take a deep breath. Lean closer to your Angry American and, in a conspiratorial way, say something like, "I’m sorry. My boss is French." That should do the trick, but you might have to add something about cheese-eating surrender monkeys if it doesn’t.

• Embrace unwanted advice. Respond with a nod of the head – in the affirmative – a puzzled look that says, "Now why didn’t I think of that?" and say, "Boy, we Canadians could sure learn a lot from you Americans." Remember, they don’t recognize sarcasm.

• Finally, no matter how brief, how trivial, or how infuriating your encounter with an American is, always, always end it by saying, "God bless you." If you’re feeling the need to go that extra mile and ingratiate yourself further, tack on, "And God bless the United States of America." They’ve heard it so often, it’s like saying Gesundheit after a sneeze.

So, Happy Holidays… and God bless you all.