Maxed out 

The warming feeling of others’ misfortune

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There’s something inherently uneasy about the relationship between Canadians and summer. For starters, summer seems to be an all or nothing proposition in the Great White North. You either get it or you don’t. Getting it, as it turns out, is almost as much a mental exercise as a physical reaction.

Back in the old country — Toronto and Montreal — they’re getting it. Of course, now that they’ve got it, many of them don’t want it. Those so equipped are scurrying back inside where the air is conditioned, filtered, cooled and capable of being breathed without first cutting it with a knife and swallowing it off a fork.

Those who don’t have air conditioning and those who can’t or won’t pay $20 to see a tepid movie based on an insipid television show from their childhood are getting it too. If they’ve learned the hard way, or are just cautious Canadians, they’re getting it through a thick application of Crazy Canuck SPF 54-40 that adds a three-dimensional sheen to their fluorescent white skin. Unlike their wussy brethren, they consider the thick, torpid air nutritional and are eating their fill at local beaches, restaurants, patios and stuck in traffic while their life savings are exhausted through their tailpipes.

Summer’s here and the time is right for burnin’ in the streets.

On the left coast, summer seems once again to be a no-show. It was 5º when I woke up this morning and after several hours shivering in front of a computer screen I was trying to warm my hands on, checking every few minutes to make certain it was still the second week of June and not the second week of October, I finally snapped, crept downstairs and sighing heavily in defeat, relit the furnace. It was either that or watch mildew grow on the inside walls as I shivered my way to a slow death.

I’m still wearing pretty much the same clothes I skied in all winter.

This perpetual weather tease — too cold, too hot, neither extreme as rewarding as we hoped it would be when we were mired in its opposite — gives rise to a peculiar kind of Canadian schadenfreude . As Canadians, we’re far too polite and collective to take real pleasure in the misfortune of others. We feel everybody’s pain; their concerns are our concerns. But we can, under extreme stress, particularly a virulent bout of Canadian Weather Stress, allow ourselves to be mildly amused at the perceived misfortunes of others, especially others with whom we tend not to be particularly empathetic. And if we can couple this uncharacteristic amused feeling with a healthy dose of National Identity, which is to say something that makes us feel both different and morally superior to our southern neighbours, well, all the better.


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