Saturday, June 25, 2005

Yank Like Me

In a rare bit of introspection about its anti-American attitudes (but also a not-so-rare bit of Torontonian navel-gazing)the Toronto Star sent reporter David Bruser to play the role of an American tourist in Toronto for a day, and discovered to its surprise that the most tolerant and diverse city in the world is as arrogant as ever towards Uncle Sam:

While many were happy to talk geopolitics and differentiate between the U.S. government and its citizens, several others did not make that distinction, projecting the perceived sins of a nation onto me.

In Kensington Market, the tone was shrill. Of five people I approached, two were downright sanctimonious.

First, I approached John, sitting on a stoop smoking, a Toronto hat on his head. I asked for a lighter, introduced myself and said I'd noticed anti-Americanism in Toronto. He asked if I was a Republican and I said I was.

Then John asked, "Are you a fundamentalist of some kind?"

"This is Kensington Market," he added. "It's about the worst place for fellow right-wingers."

After I thanked him for his time and started walking away, he instructed, "Reconsider your views."

Up Augusta Ave., closer to College St., Charlie, an elderly man sitting outside smoking, needed only my introduction as an American.

"You like Americans?" I asked.

"They brag too much, don't they?" he said.

"They boast. They have this and they have that. (If they spent less) time doing that, they'd just get their problems solved, eh?"

Now this might be dismissed as just the typical ravings of the Kensington Market crowd, where the anarchist bookshop and retro secondhand clothes shops are unlikely to attract the more mature and level-headed members of society.

But one veteran American observer of Toronto has neatly identified the fount and origin of the Toronto attitude:

"I've seen some really appalling behaviour simply because I'm an American," said New York-native Clifford Krauss, Canadian correspondent for The New York Times, who has lived in Toronto and travelled the country for several years.

Though he feels the attitude has improved a little since the November re-election of President George W. Bush and beginning of the war in Iraq, Krauss said he's noticed this "waving a virtuous finger of superiority" is most pronounced in Ontario.

"I think that the anti-Americanism is part of a regional character that fills a vacuum. The Canadian identity, which in some parts of Canada is quite strong, is not so strong here. I say with some trepidation, because it might sound very arrogant, but there are other places in Canada where the culture is richer and where people are more confident in their culture," said Krauss. And, as he points out, the feeling is ingrained in the national psyche, even if what makes an American ugly to some Canadians changes through time (from isolationist in the early days of World War II to world's cop today).

"It goes back to the American Revolution. It's inbred — the Loyalists coming up here, the fact that there was quite a bit of fighting going on between the United States and Canada," Krauss said.

Toronto endlessly reminds its citizens and the rest of the country that it is the most diverse and tolerant city in Canada, if not the world. The message is reinforced with every news article and advertisement.

Yet at its heart, it retains the old parochial attitude of Toronto the Good, that outpost of Empire where the Orange Lodge held sway and everything shut down on Sunday.

The insufferable Protestant moralizing of old has been replaced with a far more insufferable secular humanist moralizing. The Orangemen's Parade has been replaced with the Gay Pride parade as the symbol of Toronto's new civic identity and morality. Instead of temperance crusades, we now get hectored about recycling and carbon emissions.

Toronto, and Ontario itself, would not exist in its current form had it not been for the American Revolution. Its entire civic identity is dependent on a negative--not being American. As founding father John Graves Simcoe stated in 1792, "this province is singularly blest, not with a mutilated constitution, but with a constitution which has stood the test of experience, and which is the very image and transcript of that of Great Britain."

Much has changed in 200 years, but Simcoe's comment about the "mutilated constitution" still resonates in the Toronto psyche.

1 comment:

Canadi-anna said...

I don't think it has anything to do with history. We didn't learn enough about Ontario/Toronto history to have been filled with those kinds of views as a part of a local psyche.
It's a matter of laziness. We hear more about American news and politics than we do about our own, and when we do hear about our own we always hear that 'Canada has the best health care system in the world' BS or 'Canada is a nation of peacekeepers' or 'Canada is the most tolerant country in the world-- everyone wants to live here.'
People buy into all the platitudes because that kind of stuff is really pumped at the grade school level.
Toronto hasn't done anything lately to be proud of (except perhaps our new $4 million logo) so we have the 'at least we're better than Americans' thing going on.
Most of us wouldn't have a clue if that's true, just like all the people who tell me that Alberta is full of extremists. I ask them if they've ever been there, or met anyone from there -- the answer is usually 'no'. And when you press to find out why they think this, or how they know, it's the 'everybody knows'.