Dear Canada, Thanks for the Break

As we wind down our time in Montreal, the obvious question is ‘what is the difference between living in Canada and living in the U.S.?’

The 2 months we’ve spent here to start our adventure was mostly gratuitous. It’s where this grand scheme was first conceived, it was close to our starting point, and there’s nothing quite like Montreal in the summer, with festival-after-festival-after-festival stacked up around the city.

It’s probably not realistic for Montreal to be our full-time home. Janna has Canadian citizenship, but I don’t, and we both work for American companies, that pay for American health insurance, and etc. There would just be too many hoops to jump through, and I’m not sure it would be worth it.

But, that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t value from the experience, and wasn’t something to be learn.

The Canadian “nice” stereotype doesn’t really seem to extend to Montreal. Nobody here was particularly friendly. No, we didn’t run into any overt rudeness, but aside from the first person we met here, the owner of Cafe Lulu around the corner from us, nobody has really gone out of their way to be friendly.

I think what we’re learning is that the thing about Canada is less about people being outwardly friendly; but rather, they’re just not outwardly rude. They’re calmer, more of a ‘live-and-let-live’ society, with the rare exception of the French language/secessionist movement here in Montreal, which is a long and complex battle.

I’m writing this as we return home today from the Montreal Pride parade, and can’t help but feel a sense of anxiety as we prepare for our return to the USA. Or, maybe it’s not anxiety so much as it’s the escaping of the tranquility that overwhelms the Canadian culture.

In Canada, there’s far less of the tension that dominates American culture these days. If there is a class system here, you can’t feel much of it – the outside of everyone’s home pretty well feels the same, and the lines between “rich” and “poor” are more blurred.

Take the neighborhood we live in, the Gay Village, right off St. Catherine Street. Within half-a-mile of our home, we’ve seen no fewer than 20 arrests, and at least as many carted off in ambulances for drug overdoses. In the mornings, there are more homeless people than there are homed people in our area of St. Catherine, and it doesn’t take much of a search to see someone shooting this or smoking that plainly in the street.

And yet, the area is still heavily touristed, visited by the queer community, wealthy sight-seers, middle-class locals, and every color and bend of light in between.

And nobody really cares. Except one Latin guy, whose wife got her butt grabbed by a meth addict. He cared a lot.

But given the activity in the area, there was still a calmness about. Nobody was afraid, in spite of the drug and crime activity, in spite of the poverty. Everyone just carried on about their way.

And, that’s the biggest takeaway from this Canadian experience. The ‘us versus them’ mentality that now dominates America, while surely still prevalent here, isn’t at the forefront of everything. There’s not the experience we had in New York, where we went to an improv musical, and every other suggestion thrown out by the audience was about Donald Trump and whatever felonies he did and did not commit. There’s not the constant headlines about which politicians were barred from which restaurants for their political beliefs, and who is in turn boycotting those restaurants in retaliation.

There’s no preachers shouting from the street corners at passers-by, telling them where they’ll burn in the afterlife, and no ideologues on the opposite corner shouting that the traditional 6-color Pride flag is racist and doesn’t have enough colors. There is nobody fighting about whose lives matter, whose lives don’t matter, and whose lives just don’t matter right now. The waves of oscillating pride about what brand of awful is ‘ok’ at any given moment are of much smaller amplitude, and much closer to the middle.

The prime minister, Justin Trudeau, marched in the Pride parade, and we don’t have to be strip-searched to attend, nor has there been obvious threats of violence. There is still bigotry here, and peoples’ annoyance with his attendance can still be seen in the cesspool that is Twitter, but it isn’t everywhere you go, everyone you see, and everything you hear.

Even the Christian churches get into Pride, including staffing their booths with transgender individuals.

And not just the ‘non-denominational, turn a warehouse into a church’ churches. The giant buildings with a steeple that have been here for decades churches were there, too. Courtesy: Braden Keith

On Saturday, we went to a Major League Soccer game, to watch the Montreal Impact play the Chicago Fire. A 90th-minute goal by the Impact put them ahead 2-1 and won the game, but we both came through the fog of the late-game excitement with the same thought: when the national anthems were played, most people removed their hats, some people left them on, others continued walking to their seats, and nobody hissed them, or jeered them, or told them to leave their country (all of which I’ve seen at American sporting events). In Canada, Patriotism is a preference, not a state religion.

Everyone just lives, and exists, and enjoys a laugh, and moves through life knowing that they’re safer here (Canadians live, on average, 4 years longer than Americans).

I recognize that we have not experienced the whole country, and my experiences are based on a short time period in a small slice of the country. But, it’s been nice, it’s been relaxing, to not have Trump and politics be the inevitable end to every bite of banter.

Is it good? That’s a good question at least. America has a lot of deep, institutional problems that need to be solved, and for the populace, history has shown that protest (and voting) are the most effective ways to drive that change. I do think that the traditional nuance of protesting has been lost somewhat in an era of point-scoring, retweets, and the kind of life-altering backlash that can accompany either side of any decision. But, it is there in its most basic form.

I can’t answer whether or not the US needs to be more like Canada, or if Canada needs to be more like the US. Both countries (and all of us) could probably stand to learn a bit from the other. I am looking forward to being back where I speak the same language as most of the people around me. But, it’s been nice to have a break while we were here.

Thanks for that, Canada.

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