Americans Should Take a Lesson from Canadians and Just Grow Up

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the Toronto Star

Americans Should Take a Lesson from Canadians and Just Grow Up

Their food, their clothing, even the way they cry, the United States is — how can I put this tactfully? — childish, with all the charm and menace that entails.

Trump will either shock Americans into maturity or cause them to regress even more, Heather Mallick writes.

Trump will either shock Americans into maturity or cause them to regress even more, Heather Mallick writes. (image/cc/DonkeyHotey)

Canadians and Americans are different. In this Trumpian moment of madness, what a pleasure it is to remember this.

Though this classic The Beaverton headline gets it right — “Homegrown Canadian racists determined to compete with flashier American racists” — and though we are sodden, absolutely dripping, with American culture in all its crass cruelty and violence, we haven’t done too badly.

Personable as individual Americans are — and I again invite lovely fed-up Democrats to apply for Canadian citizenship, we need your tired huddled masses, etc. — history and habit have made their nation singular.

To those easily offended here, may I remind you that it is my job to trace the pattern in the carpet, not each individual tuft.

The U.S. is — how can I put this tactfully? — childish, with all the charm and menace that entails. American adults dress like kids in baseball caps, sneakers and comfy pants, but add a semi-automatic rifle to the outfit and it’s... troubling.

Their cuisine is childish too, with huge servings of fried food loaded with high-fructose corn syrup and trans fat. Even their implements are primitive. “Consider the plastic drinking straw. Why do we suck so much?” the Washington Post asked this week of citizens unable to drink from the rim of a glass.

The reason must lie in the “shared psyche” of Americans, but what could it be, the Post wondered. “Laziness? Clumsiness? Germaphobia?” Infantilism went unmentioned. The drinking straw is the adult equivalent of a sippy cup.

And why the Disney fetish? “Americans long for a closed society in which everything can be bought, where labourers are either hidden away or dressed up as non-humans so as not to be disconcerting. This place is called Disney World,” was the journalist Adam Gopnik’s explanation. But he is an adult.

“A person doesn’t ‘visit’ Disney World; Disney World sucks you into its digestive tract,” the scriptwriter Adam Resnick says, but he is an angry adult, an intelligent American who will have no truck with candyland.

For children have no taste, as every parent comes to realize. They like bright colours, plastic, blatancy, simplicity and repetition. How do adults endure it?

The cruise industry offers daycare for grown-ups, crass all-you-can-eat vacations with all the adventure of a car seat. Have you ever been on an island and seen American tourists flood at you off a ship? It’s not the mercilessness of the crowd that scares you, it’s the smiling.

Americans love to smile. I don’t think at this point they actually enjoy it, but it’s mandatory, a fallback, a state of facial repose. Don’t do it overseas. People passing you on the street think you’re an idiot, an American idiot grinning pointlessly at nothing.

And what’s with the crying? American politicians have tears on tap. Prime Minister Trudeau cried about Gord Downie, which makes sense to me. The guy died. In Washington, men cry about their humble beginnings, the flag, the greatness of their nation. Silly men. They cry about clouds.

I’ll give you something to cry about, voters must think. Or maybe their hearts are swelling in unison, their vision equally distorted by tender tears. I don’t mind Americans being told the purpose of life is pursuing happiness — good luck with that, my friends — but the accompanying sentimentality is fatal.

I try not to use the word “patriarchy” for it has become over-generalized jargon, but the U.S. is indeed a fatherland, simultaneously “proud and servile,” as Alexis de Tocqueville put it in 1835 when he visited. Read that man, he’s a treat.

The president is a father figure. Canadians find this weird. I hope nothing so bad ever happens to me that the PM thinks he should phone, god forbid a hugging situation.

Dad is in the army. The military mindset is so baked into Americans that the president is seen as the commander-in-chief, although you’d think Trump’s bone spurs would have prevented that. Also he’ll be called “President” forever just as that lying John Kelly is still called “General” even though he retired.

It bothers me to see such militarism linked to family life and toddlerhood.

Does no one, upset by Trump’s foul attacks on “Gold Star” families, consider the awfulness of the phrase? Your child is dead. You get a gold star. If that is a euphemism for a blighted life without the child you gave birth to, it’s a tasteless, heartless one.

The Americans have a talent for unpalatable euphemisms, like calling something a “challenge” when it is a massive intractable problem like opioids or Trump being a racist, geriatric, sex pest who could kill us all. Evasion is the enemy of the free speech so celebrated, so degraded.

Back to my theme. This is how you talk to children. I note that Canadian media have picked up the habit of referring to “fallen” soldiers instead of dead ones, which makes war sound like a playground. This is part of the U.S. habit of demanding a happy ending to all stories, cheap sentiment being their particular poison.

U.S. movies are aimed at childish audiences. They are quite literally cartoons — such movie franchises are worth gold — or computer-animation with renderings of extraordinary violence that never seem real, part of the reason the Sandy Hook child slaughter had no effect on U.S. gun laws. American culture is literal, with a poor grasp of irony and complication. It would be taboo to show photos of the dead victims but not taboo to have let them be shot.

Canadians increasingly talk like Americans, which is inevitable as 325 million people drown out 37 million. But one of our best qualities is our understanding of the foreign, perhaps because so many of us come from elsewhere. We know that other nations exist and do things differently from us. It’s one reason we’re reluctant to wage war. Americans don’t even understand foreign as a concept. Like a child, the world revolves around them alone.

American exceptionalism is an idea whose time has passed. But we never thought of Americans as an ideal in the first place; it’s why once upon a timemany of us left or fought. We wanted peace, order and good government. It’s a funny thing to be passionately attached to something so sensible, but that is our Canadian way.

I wish Americans would grow up. Trump will either shock them into maturity or regression.

Heather Mallick

Heather Mallick

Heather Mallick is a Canadian columnist, author and lecturer. She writes a twice weekly column for the Toronto Star, an occasional column for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's website, and a monthly column for The Guardian's website.

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