Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Canada's National Inferiority Complex

I spent almost all my life living in Canada, and throughout most of it, I'd hear comparisons of Canada against the United States. I'd hear Canadian businesses comparing themselves against American businesses, Canadian professionals comparing themselves against American professionals, and Canadian cities comparing themselves against American cities.

One of the things that really struck me when I first moved down here is the fact that Americans don't spend much time comparing themselves to anyone, or even to each other. American cities each have their own personalities, and may even have their own rivalries (e.g.: the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox). But, you don't see New York comparing itself to Chicago, or Atlanta comparing itself to San Francisco. Each of these cities has their own unique flair, and all seem to be content with being themselves. Americans in general do not spend much (if any) time comparing the United States with other countries. Americans may travel and appreciate the differences with other countries, but are generally content with the United States the way it is.

Since moving to the US, I've traveled to Canada several times, and sometimes I'm asked by Canadians what Americans think about a particular issue, such as the recent drop of the American dollar versus the Euro or against the Canadian dollar. They usually seem shocked when I tell them that most Americans just don't seem to care much at all.

In 2002, an American fighter pilot flying his F-16 jet over Afghanistan mistakenly dropped a large bomb on a group of Canadian soldiers when he mistook their live-fire exercise for an attack on his aircraft. What was really striking was the difference in coverage of the incident between the Canadian press and the American press: in Canada, it was a huge scandal with big front-page newspaper articles and angry speeches in parliament, while in the United States it was much more subdued. It is not that Americans did not care about the issue, in fact the response here was pretty much the same as would have happened if the pilot had dropped a bomb on a bunch of American soldiers: he was tried before an American court martial, found guilty of dereliction of duty, and punished. Americans realized that, while the incident was tragic, it is not the first time a soldier has been killed by "friendly fire" and will certainly not be the last.

Now for those Canadians reading this, think about this scenario: if it was a Canadian fighter pilot who dropped that bomb, would there have been such an outcry? I think not. I suspect if it were a Canadian pilot, the response would have been much more muted, and probably about the same level as we saw here in the United States. But, the fact that it was an American pilot meant that many Canadians perceived it as an attack on all Canadians by the whole United States, and took personal offense when Americans did not see it the same way.

Canada in general seems to be suffering from a national inferiority complex, where Canadians feel insecure about their country's achievements, and their own strengths and capabilities. Canadians so easily get caught up in comparing themselves to each other and their southern neighbors that they can easily lose sight of what is superior about Canada. Most Americans I've met who have been to Canada tend to be very impressed with how clean the place is and how friendly the people are. The Canadian educational system is second to none and turns out a quality of graduate you can only get down here from an Ivy League school (at four times the cost). Canadian cities are clean, and filled with examples of beautiful architecture and well-designed facilities.

Canadian politics are filled with terms like "regional disparity", and all sorts of regional rivalries. Quebeckers (québecois) hate English Canada because they think English Canada doesn't understand them. Western Canadians hate Ontario because they think Ontario has too much pull, and think Quebec is a province of whiners. The Atlantic provinces only care about their fishing industry, British Columbia its timber industry, and the northern territories just want the rest of Canada to leave them the hell alone. Here in the US, even though regional diversity is more pronounced, you don't hear much talk about it.

Canadians really need to spend less time thinking about the differences between each other and between themselves and other countries, and take more pride in what makes Canada and themselves distinct. For me, it is ironic that I had to live outside Canada to discover that fact for myself.