A Tale of Two Countries

This essay was originally published on May 21, 2010

This weekend is the “May Long Weekend” here in Canada. Really, it’s Victoria Day on Monday, the celebration of Queen Victoria’s birth, in addition to the celebration of the reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth’s, birthday. I’ll say it this once and get it out of the way: “God Save the Queen”. Do I have to turn in my US passport now?

I’ve long been contemplating the differences between my two countries and I’ve found the more similar they become, the more different they are. Does that make sense?

Years ago, my relatives used to lament, “Everything is better in the United States”. I would strenuously argue the point, because having spent most of my life in the “States”, as they’re commonly referred to here in Canada, I know differently. Don’t get me wrong, each country is far from perfect; there are things I miss about the US, and things I’m very happy to have left behind. The same goes for Canada. But, for right now, Canada is the country I’m happiest in.

Americans can be pretty serious “navel gazers” as Bill Maher likes to say. I think some Americans honestly believe they would fall off the face of the earth if they left the well-fortified shores of their land. On the other hand, Canadians always want to be somewhere else. Everyone’s always travelling somewhere; be it for vacation, to further their education, or to take a job in an exotic locale, like Tanzania, for example. I admire this about them. Back in New York, I knew people who would pack a lunch before they left Long Island for Manhattan. The suburbs were bucolic; the city was where one had the potential to get raped, stabbed or pick-pocketed (not to mention car bombed); all while standing in line for half-price tickets to a Broadway show.

The only place you encounter navel gazing here in Canada is at the border. When you drive to the US, you have to deal with Homeland Security agents, who view every individual wishing to gain access to their glorious land as a potential terrorist. On the flip side, we have Canada Border Services agents, who sometimes resemble Rottweilers with badges. They, too are fiercely protective of their land, but for very different reasons – reasons Americans fear, but are more than happy to partake of when it suits their needs. You know what I’m talking about…don’t make me say it.

When you live in the Toronto area and want to go to the “States”, the ideal place to cross is the Peace Bridge, which connects Fort Erie Ontario with Buffalo New York. I’ve crossed that bridge many times in my life and it always strikes me as the perfect entry/exit point for both countries. On one side you have Fort Erie, the gateway to Niagara Falls, some of Mother Nature’s finest handiwork. On the other side, you have Buffalo, quite possibly the ugliest city in America. It’s a paradox, but lately, it’s less so; developers have turned Niagara Falls Ontario into a doppelganger of Las Vegas, and I hear Niagara Falls New York is not that far behind. Now, not only can you take in the fabulous scenery, you can leave behind some disposable income in your casino of choice. How wonderful.

At centre span of the Peace Bridge, there are three flags flying: An American flag, a United Nations flag and a Canadian flag. When I reach that point in my journey, I always want to stop the car, get out, and gaze at both lands from that vantage point. My mother used to call that spot “no man’s land”.  I’ve felt a lot closer to “no man’s land” lately, and I would love to just take in that vista (before one of the border agencies comes to arrest me), for a few minutes. Maybe I’ll add that to my personal bucket list of things to do before I die.

Yeah, I could go to one of those Vermont/Quebec border towns and dance back-and-forth across the undefended border for a few minutes, but I’d much rather stand at mid-span of a bridge. I grew up crossing bridges, so it would be much more meaningful. And a much bolder statement.

Enjoy your long weekend. Have fun at the cottage.

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