Heather Mallick: Dear Robert Reich, here is how to differentiate Americans from Canadians

“Canadians look and sound and act very much like us. And they’re just up there. The biggest difference is they have a government that works, led by people who respect facts and science and logic.” So said American economist Robert Reich, a Clinton Democrat and someone who should know better.

Reich was reacting to our then-improving stats that showed we had no new COVID-19 deaths on Sept. 11, the first time since March 15. Charming and wise as Reich is, he clearly knows very few Canadians.

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If he has indeed met the American-type Canadians he posits, I will equally generalize, and say that they must be crass, loud, paranoid, misogynist, child-caging mastodons with “bombs bursting” in their anthem and handguns-in-their-pants-type Canadians.

I have not met any of these myself. I do get elaborate death threats from a man who lives in a trailer, in Kamloops, I think. Perhaps Reich had a light lunch — Cobb salad and a spritzer — with this intense singular Canadian and drew vast unsubstantiated conclusions.

It is very easy to differentiate Canadians from Americans.

Canadians wear thick-soled shoes, even on formal occasions. They have a friendly artless mien but watch out, they can be manipulative. They hibernate in summer, but enjoy winter visitors.

American visitors, here’s how to impress a Canadian: say “I have paid off my mortgage.” Speak loudly and clearly.

Here’s how to start a conversation: Say, “Well, Canada has a few problems.” Canadians will, cobra-like, snap to attention and best the Americans. “Actually, we have a ton of problems” and follow up with some minor self-praise. “But we don’t really litter, or sue, and we buy cannabis in stores that have a cool but raw vibe, Apple Store combined with cottagecore, which is nice.”

The Canadian will have won, but not in a way that is apparent to the American, which is where Reich first landed on the beach of completely misunderstanding his northern neighbour.

There are other differences. Canada does not have a Rasputin, the mad, filthy, beardy priest who drew the Empress Alexandra and the Romanov family into his dark web. “How could so pitiful a wretch throw so vast a shadow?” a Petrograd citizen wrote after Rasputin was poisoned, shot and drowned to death in 1916.

Donald Trump is mad for Rasputin types and has welcomed many: Steve Bannon, the unwashed, septic-faced, double-shirted man of mystery; Roger Stone, the Nixonite Ukraine-hound imp with Prussian scientist glasses and statement hats; and Stephen Miller, a Uriah Heep doing a Goebbels imitation with “expel” rather than “exterminate” but who knows what a second Trump term might bring.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Rasputin is the sinister and duplicitous Dominic Cummings, a misfit in a grad-student hoodie armed with 360 degrees of indifference to the deaths of his countrymen.

Canadians don’t do sinister, at least not well. Stephen Harper was his own Rasputin, which doesn’t count. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is a rigid ideologue but so were most Alberta premiers.

Canadians and Americans differ in more important ways, of course. If you, an American visitor to Toronto, hear fighter planes overhead at the yearly Canadian National Exhibition, don’t say, “Who are you bombing?” Do say, “Did no one think how awful that must be for Syrian refugees?”

You and the couple at the next table can then tut-tut together. You may even become friends. It’s unlikely though because Americans are friendly and Canadians are not.

If an American chokes on his steak, the whole restaurant has advice. In Canada, we look shiftily around the room and are secretly relieved when someone else does the Heimlich Manoeuvre, which we know. Now that person can be the centre of attention. Canadians hate that.

A final advisory for Reich and his pals who think Canadians are basically Americans but with vestigial tails. Do not mention money, especially loudly. As in your salary, what you paid for your watch, and the room rate at your hotel.

Best keep quiet and study Canadian animals in their natural habitat. Learn their ways, note how they quack/honk/growl. One day you will pass as Canadian, and then we still won’t invite you to our homes because we don’t do that.

Heather Mallick is a columnist for the Toronto Star.

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