Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Canadian girl: thoughts on the two sides of the border

I've gotten a lot of hits from a couple of Australian forums recently, and I really want to thank the people who both posted the link to my blog, and who said such nice things about it!  I really appreciate it! :-) Just one thing I wanted to add: I'm Canadian, not American.  Born and raised just outside of the beautiful city of Montreal, in the province of Quebec.

This led me to thinking, and mulling a few things over...  Like the fact, outside of North America, it seems many people consider Canada and America to be practically synonymous (not saying this was the case on the Australian forum - it just made me think of other things I've seen).  I don't know if that's an accurate view on my part, since I've only ever seen this online: I've never been overseas myself!  But it does seem to be an idea out there...

Continuing in a similar vein, it's only in the last year and a half that I've done much real traveling in the States.  Before that all I'd done was go on the occasional day trip into New York state, and go on a road trip to Florida when I was about 10 (something I have fairly foggy memories of...).  I'd never really had any American friends before the last couple of years, either.  Without traveling there, I suppose that's pretty logical!  I should say at this point that whenever I go to a new place, I'm absolutely fascinated by finding the similarities and differences compared to my own home of Montreal.  How are the buildings different?  Do the people speak differently?  What slang terms that I use are understood, and which ones aren't?  I find these things, small as they may seem, to be really interesting.  So I've been very interested as I've met so many Americans in recent times.  The U.S. and Canada are so similar, yet so different!  One thing that I've found slightly odd is how much of a wall many Americans seem to find the border.  I don't know anyone in my area who hasn't been to the U.S., even if it's just for a shopping day-trip!  Yet in the U.S., it's quite common to meet lots of people who have never been to Canada.  And when talking about traveling, many of the Americans I've talked to don't seem to ever consider traveling to Canada! There definitely seem to be different ways of looking at North American travel depending which side of the border you're on. EDIT: Note that *most* (definitely no where near all, but most) of the American peeps I know live relatively close to the border.  I understand quite well why Canada isn't a popular destination for those in the more Southern regions of the U.S. :-P

One other thing that I find interesting: I've been told I seem "very Canadian", and I have no clue what "Canadian" is to the people who have said that.  Canada is a fucking BIG country.  Winnipeg, Manitoba (and the people who come from there) has little resemblance to Montreal, Quebec, or the Northwest Territories, or any other random part of the country.  I know what's generally considered to be "American" here (though I find that to come up with one view of what "American" is makes as little sense as coming up with one version of "Canadian"!), but I've yet to discover what being "really Canadian" is, so if someone can enlighten me, that would be great. ;-)

But anyway, I'm just rambling now, so I think I'll bring this post to a close before I can ramble any more. ;-) Oh, one more thing: for a while I've been planning on writing a post about my home Province of Quebec.  Even compared to the incredible diversity found in Canada, Quebec is VERY different, and has a very interesting culture.  So I want to share a bit of that, whatever I can get across in a few words on a computer screen, anyway, with as many people as I can...  So hopefully I'll get that done soon. :-)


P.S. The pictures interspersed in this post are just shots from the last time I took my camera with me downtown...


  1. On Americans not visiting Canada: I think it's partly geographic. Most of the population of Canada is concentrated in the more southern parts of the country, which means most Canadians aren't more than a few hours outside of the US. Americans, on the other hand, are spread all over. You'd have to be extremely far north to be as far from America as I am from Canada, for example :) Statistically, that makes it far more likely that you'll encounter Americans who haven't been to Canada. Though I do wonder why people who live in, say, New England don't visit Canada more often!

  2. @Bonnie: I should have been clearer on that one! I was definitely *thinking* of New Englanders, and anyone else who is only a few hours from the border, when I made those comments! But yeah, obviously the more southern people don't visit Canada because it's really fricken' far away. ;-)

  3. This is something I've come across quite a bit, as a fellow Canadian. Any time I take a college course with 'Canadian' content, like "Canadian Literature" or "Politics of Multiculturalism," we spend quite a bit of time at the first class talking about what it is to be a 'real' Canadian, and in critiquing our personal definitions of "Canadian".

    I especially enjoyed the conversations in courses that focused on issues of race and racialization, where we'd discuss the "hyphenated Canadian" (as in Indo-Canadian for a Sikh person) and how Canadians of English or French descent are considered the "real" Canadians and everyone else, especially non-white looking people, is from somewhere else.

    I've been told by a couple of Americans who have done a significant amount of world travel that there's no difference between American and Canadian culture.

    I've been told that internationally, Canadians are seen as more polite than 'rude Americans,' and so it's a good idea to put that Canadian flag on your backpack so you're not assumed to be American.

    I also think that identity and social location are a lot more complex than nationality, so maybe there's more variation among Canadians (and among Americans) than there are between Canadians and Americans?

  4. I think a part of the travel thing is that Canadians expect to spend eight hours going to "The next place over" -- New England is so dense that traveling more than a commute-to-work seems like implausibly far to go, and our "next bigger place" associations all tend away from the Canadian border.

    How do Canadians seem so Canadian, whether Newfie, Quebequois, from the Yukon or Vancouver? The effusive politeness. Above all, polite. Like us, but not likely to avoid politics the same way, with a gentler attitude toward religion, and just a few things that make one seem so Canadian despite the other differences.

    I've met several Americans, and certainly a good number of Canadians who travel with a Canadian flag on their backpacks. They always know where they're going and are the more aware travelers.

    There's a lot more variety among Americans and among Canadians than among other people than nationality, but there's regional things too, and some things that mark us kinda uniquely.

  5. I really enjoyed your pictures of Montreal Idzie! I grew up in Pointe Claire and miss the beauty of downtown Montreal - it was nice to see.

  6. When we talk about vacations, places to visit, Canada is often in the top. Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, family wants to see bobsledding in Calgary. Go sea Kayaking in Nova Scotia. So many smaller nice cities not *that* far north of us too (we are in southern Wisconsin). My boys also want to take a ride on the Canadian Pacific Railway. :)

    I have personally only been to Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto in my life so far, but loved them all. I do know that most Americans I have met/known never think of a trip when considering where to go. Some of my best friends have been Canadian...maybe that is why! :)

  7. The only destination I've made it to in Canada is Niagara Falls when I was about 9. For me it's most geographical. The only places farther North or East I've visited were families homes.

    I would wager that people in the northeast US probably have so many options with NYC, Chicago etc taking center stage and being in their faces and that Canada isn't as blatantly obvious as a travel destination, kwim? It's not the firt that comes to mind for most.

  8. @Alison: Very interesting things to think about... Thanks for the comment! :-) I also agree with this bit:

    "I also think that identity and social location are a lot more complex than nationality, so maybe there's more variation among Canadians (and among Americans) than there are between Canadians and Americans?"

    I definitely feel more of a kinship with like-minded folk then I do with people who just happen to come from the same place as me!

    @Aredriel: I don't know... Within just a few hours of where I live, you can go to Quebec City, Ottawa, a million cool smaller vacation spots, Vermont, New York state... I don't really think it's an expectation that you're going to have to drive to get somewhere cool. In some rural parts of Canada, that would be the case, but not in many places!

    Haha, I should have thought of the polite thing. :-P It's such a stereotype, but I've definitely found that Americans do apologize less often than Canadians!

    Anyway, thanks for the comment. :-)

    @Suzy: I'm really glad you enjoyed them! :-) Downtown Montreal really is beautiful... And I don't live all that far away from Pointe Clare! I know a bunch of peeps from there (not to mention Pointe Claire has the best library around! :-P).

    @Denise: That's really cool! :-D I've been to Quebec City, Toronto briefly, and hopefully will get to visit Vancouver with a good friend of mine later this year (*crosses fingers*). And I want to go sea-kayaking in Nova Scotia as well, actually! :-P I haven't traveled nearly as much as I want, and there are so many cool places in Canada that I want to go...

    @Tara: Yeah, I can definitely understand the geographical thing. :-P

    I suppose that could be the case... It just seems that for many Canadians, even the ones who live in really cool, cosmopolitan areas, when they talk about traveling, they look at both American and Canadian destinations, so I guess I just figured Americans would as well... *Shrugs*

  9. Actually Australia is an American state, an island one you know like Hawaii and New Zealand. Feel the love.

  10. Hi Idzie! My family and I live in Connecticut and we took a trip to Montreal for my daughter's birthday in August. We stayed in Old Montreal so I recognize that shot of the artwork in the alley.

    On the way up, we stopped in Plattsburgh for lunch and discovered, after a brief conversation with the waitress, that she had never been to Canada. Ever. Lived her whole life just south of the border and had never been over it. I wasn't so surprised to find this out.

    I have lived for brief times in small towns in the US and have met many people who do not venture far away from home. I don't relate to it at all but when I lived in Grand Rapids, MI, I met many people who had never taken the 3 hour drive to Detroit or Chicago. While living in Detroit, I met many who had never been over the bridge to Windsor. My hubby has told me that he works with some people who live in New Jersey and have never been to Manhattan.

    I'm thinking that fear is a large factor in this inability to travel. People can tend to become such creatures of habit. Travel requires them to go outside of their comfort zones and confront something different. Like "Oh my gosh, how can I go to Montreal where they all speak French?" or "How could I go to New York City when we all know cities are so dangerous?"

    I don't think it's so much an American thing as just a people thing in general. I'm sure there are many French people who live close to England but have never taken the Chunnel to London.

    Just recently discovered your blog and am enjoying reading it!