A lot of people ask me the difference between Canadians and Americans. Well, first the facts: our country’s larger, our population’s smaller, Canadian men liked wearing clogs in the ’70s and we’ve never considered testing the viscosity of spray cheese in space a worthwhile scientific endeavour.
I noticed while working abroad that colleagues soon began substituting American with North American in conversation. Such gestures are certainly appreciated but only serve to remind Canadians that while Americans have fifty states, we have only one: self-consciousness. Every Canadian feels guilty knowing their new co-workers are constantly bricking it lest they should inadvertently refer to us as American, a situation which can only ever lead to our greatest export: the apology. We’re famous for apologizing – we even apologize for it. I recognize that, even close up, we look and sound like our U.S. counterparts to most people. The differences are subtle, even to us sometimes. It is, however, my belief that the best way to differentiate between our two cultures is to study America’s greatest cultural icon: Barbie.
America has Malibu Barbie who likes strolling along the beach with the ocean breeze in her hair… Canada has Seal Hunt Barbie who is a crack shot.
Malibu Barbie drives a Dream Camper Van with built-in kitchen and fold-out tent… Ice Road Trucker Barbie cooks roadkill under the hood and homeschools three kids in her sleeper cab.
Prom Queen Barbie comes with her very own makeup and accessories table… Lumberjack Barbie’s sporting a Leafs toque in her wedding photos.
American Barbie hails from Wisconsin, studied in New York and now lives with her parents and younger sisters in California… Canadian Barbie was taken into care after her parents became addicted to online bingo and were caught trying to sell their own kidneys on ebay.
American Barbie dates long-term boyfriend, Ken… Canadian Barbie’s best friend is an orphaned bear cub whose mother was shot dead by two tourists up from Oregon for the weekend.
American Barbie is cosmopolitan and culturally sensitive… Yukon Barbie saw her first Sikh last week and asked him for three wishes.
American Barbie is a role model for her millions of followers on the internet… Canadian Barbie is completely unaware that a video of her bathing in what she thought was a secluded watering hole has placed her in Pornhub’s Top Ten.
Vegetarian Barbie only buys food from locally sourced producers… Marijuana Farm Barbie patrols the perimeter of her property in a JLTV.
American Barbie spent a fun-filled New Year’s Eve with Ken in Times Square… Canadian Barbie pointed out Ursa Major in the night sky to her orphaned bear cub – and apologized.
The figure on the mountain knew Far higher than the eagle flew Beyond the sun and past the light Were men who crossed the sky by night. Soon after dusk their fires appeared Then slowly, once a course was steered Their caravan set out en masse To make its empyreal pass.
Like beasts migrating on the plains Like swarms that form to greet the rains He found no word for the amount Of travelers he sought to count. A gallery would pass him by Whose outlines seemed to signify Proud emblems of a noble clan Led by an even a greater man.
The bearing, always east to west Suggested they were on a quest Or maybe searching for a door They’d passed through in a time before. Each night the figure danced and prayed Around the fire he had made In hope his kin might see its glow And teach him all he wished to know.
Then with the last beat from his breast Great Spirit granted this request And drew his outline in the sky That men as he should never die
“I’m being sued by the Catholic Church again,” Laverne announced in the midst of reorganising her purse. “I have no words for that.” “How unlike you,” she mused. “Hold on, I thought you were working on a piece about the East African Lion,” I suddenly remembered. “Turns out all they do is sleep. My son can do that.” “Have you ever been to Africa? I haven’t.” “Yeah, with my sister for her fortieth. We went on safari in Malawi.” “So is that where …“ “… my people come from?” Laverne zipped her purse and placed it on the chair next to her. “Couldn’t tell you; the furthest back I’ve been able to trace our roots is to The Shirelles.” “Ha, ha. Very funny. I was actually going to ask if that’s where your sister went with the Peace Corps.” “Oops, sorry,” she giggled. “No, that was Mozambique.” “I’d like to ask you another question though: when you were there, did you feel any connection to it?”
“Funny you should ask that,” she became more pensive. “I expected to feel ‘African’ from the moment I arrived but the whole time we were there I felt like just another tourist. People are people wherever you go so we had that in common. Culturally, however, I struggled to make a connection and that bothered me. I think maybe we’ve been gone too long.” “I felt the same when I met my Scottish relatives for the first time,” I concurred. “We shared the same name, same sense of humour and some even looked like me but culturally we were raised in two very different worlds.” “Not even close!” Laverne screamed with laughter. “Honestly, are you kidding me with that? Your parents emigrated using their Air Miles!”
“But their journey to The New World was horrific. First, they ran out of headphones and then they gave my mum’s gluten-free meal to someone else,” I explained. “Anyway, cut me some slack – you’re my only ethnic friend.” “Hey, I’m your only friend. I’ve got more in common with those lions than I do with you.” “How so?” “They don’t like to cook either.” “And we have our connection!” “Okay, but back to this business with the Church,” Laverne lowered her voice. “It’s over a certain someone I told you about at Christmas.” “Is this the same someone with the thing?” “Yup.” “And are you telling me they’ve now found the thing?” “Oh yeah, they found it alright,” she confirmed. “Was it on him?” “No, up him.” “Whoa!” I leaned back in my chair. “And the monkey?” “Still missing,” she arched an eyebrow.
I love secrets and Laverne knows plenty. A freelance journalist, she moved to the UK from Seattle over thirty years ago after meeting and marrying Elliot, a sound engineer at the BBC. The three of us first met at The Pu Pu Pot, our local Chinese restaurant, after she’d overheard my accent. “I need some human conversation during our stay on this island! I need someone who doesn’t talk about Bobby Charlton in his sleep!” she blubbered into her chop suey. “Who’s Robby Carlson?” I asked. “Exactly!” she cried. “And do you know where I can score some Fruit Loops because the last people to eat porridge were the Vikings.” That was twenty years ago.
Tonight we were out for our weekly meal at The Pu Pu Pot but without Elliot, who begged off to attend a Bolton Wanderers match. “What’s the viral load of the Szechuan Chicken today?” Laverne asked. “Slightly elevated I’m afraid, so I’d be happy to pee on it for you. We Chinese believe that urine possesses magical properties,” our waitress took her on. “Is that like chlorinated chicken?” I asked. “Well, if you’d prefer you can bring in a pet and we’ll cook that for you,” she smiled, sweetly. “We’re gonna need a few more minutes,” Laverne smiled right back at her. Just then, the kitchen doors swung open to reveal a tiny, sinewy man lifting the lid off a huge cauldron. As he did so, he stepped back to avoid the rush of steam. “What’s that for?” I asked. “We’ll be cooking shrimp in it once we take the shirts out,” our waitress stated matter-of-factly. “Would you excuse me for just one moment? I need to inform on my neighbours.” “She’s good,” Laverne nodded her approval, as she watched the diminutive figure disappear behind the bar. “Is she still in med school?” “Fourth year.” “She’ll have them in stitches.”
At one point during the evening Laverne made a visit to the Ladies’. While she was gone, a young woman breezed into the restaurant and joined a waiting friend at a table nearby. Tall, elegant and stylishly attired, she quickly attracted the attention of other diners. “I’m back,” Laverne announced, resuming her seat. “They have the nicest hand lotion here.” “Uh huh,” I replied, looking past her at the young woman. “What’s up with you?” she shot me a quizzical look. “It’s what’s behind you.” “What’s behind me?” “A girl walked in while you were gone and she’s got to be a model. She’s absolutely stunning. Definitely a model.” “On a scale of 1 to 10?” Laverne asked. “Ten.” “Hair?” “Lustrous.” “Make-up?” “None.” “Height?” “NBA.” “She’s got to have a flaw, everyone has a flaw.” “If she does, I can’t see it.” “Maybe it’s hidden,” she chewed on her bottom lip. “Slug feet?” “Killer farts.” “Fifty bucks says she uses disconnect as a noun.” “Another fifty says she has plans to name her first daughter Chandelier.” “Hmm… not even a split end?” Laverne wasn’t having it. “Turn around and see for yourself if you don’t believe me.” “Have I taught you nothing?” she reached for her purse. “Watch and learn, my friend… okay, which shoulder?” “Left.” She took out her compact and opened it, angling the mirror until she caught sight of her quarry over her left shoulder. At that same moment, the young woman put on her reading glasses and picked up a menu. Closing the compact with a snap, Laverne chuckled to herself, then leaned across the table and whispered, “Four-Eyes.”
Father Marc assumed his usual seat in the front pew of St Jude Church and unfastened his collar. Each evening after mass the old Jesuit liked to collect his thoughts for several minutes before extinguishing the candles and clearing the altar. His church had a cheery interior by day but sunset draped a grey cowl over the building which he didn’t like, entombing everyone and everything inside. Now peering into the shadowy recesses around him, he decided he’d turn on more lights for evening mass, even in summer.
In a grotto to the left of the altar stood a life-sized statue of The Virgin Mary, illuminated by several rows of red offertory candles. Earlier in the day an elderly parishioner had brought in a dozen crimson roses from her garden and asked if she might lay them at the statue’s feet. In the flickering candlelight the carefully arranged blossoms created a dramatic effect against the white linen which he now believed merited closer inspection. Genuflecting before the altar, he followed the raised marble railing which led to the grotto.
Father Marc gingerly lowered himself onto the wooden prayer kneeler before The Virgin. He could remain thus only briefly before his knees locked and he leaned forward to transfer some of his body weight onto the wooden book rest. The solitary figure studied the statue’s expression and thought she looked more melancholy than he remembered, while The Virgin’s gaze never wavered from the front entrance to the church. Reaching over the rows of offertory candles, Father Marc selected one of the roses to enjoy its scent but discovered it had none. Disappointed, he replaced it and began counting the number of offertory candles lit that day by the hopeful.
Nineteen… no, twenty. Will there be $20 in the donations box, I wonder? I doubt those three little monkeys threw in anything.
A deep, sinister chuckle rose from within the shadows behind him at this last remark. Father Marc tensed and the hair stood up on his arms; he was not alone. For a moment he thought he’d unknowingly locked in a straggler but dismissed the idea just as quickly. Every instinct told him this was not a believer. The laugh was not human.
“Let me blow those out for you, Father,” came the low, menacing snarl. “You know me… I prefer to work in the dark.”
This time the guttural growl came from much closer yet he’d heard no footsteps. His blood froze and his knees were now on fire as he tried to stand without success. Bracing his arms against the book rest, he looked to The Virgin for guidance but her gaze was fixed upon what was now approaching.
Help me, Blessed Virgin. What has come into my church?
“She can’t hear you, you fool!” the voice snapped angrily. “But I’m listening to your every thought.” It then softened in tone but couldn’t conceal an underlying rage. “Don’t be afraid. I’ve journeyed a long way to find you.”
In one final effort Father Marc managed to get to his feet and turned around but saw no one. The church appeared empty but he knew this was not the case because every nerve in his body screamed he was in mortal danger. Whatever was hiding was playing a game. Waiting. Watching.
“I need to make a confession,” the voice whined mockingly. “I’m about to revert to my old ways and you wouldn’t want that, now would you? Won’t you come in and join me? I really don’t want to have to come out there and get you,” it hissed.
At that moment the light above the confessional door lit up, giving the cleric a start. It was in there waiting for him. Father Marc took a tentative step towards the confessional then stopped. As a Jesuit he’d been trained not to fear evil and although every instinct was telling him to flee this was not an option. Whatever had entered his church had no right being there and he grew angry, not only at this act of defilement but its sheer audacity. As his anger grew, so did his resolve. All the years of training now took over and he advanced slowly forward.
Blessed Mother, stay with your poor servant.
“It’s only you I want for now, Father,” the voice threatened. “I’ll deal with her later.”
Father Marc was no longer listening to the demon behind the door. Whispering the Act of Contrition, he was imagining what God looked like. He hoped his creator would be forgiving and reward him for what he was about to face in his name. The priest also wondered where God was at this very moment. Was he watching events here on Earth? Was this a test? Was the plan to intercede at the last moment and then reward him for his faith? His mind now racing, he hadn’t noticed that the sun had now set, plunging the church into total darkness except for the candlelit grotto and the ominous light above the confessional door.
His knees no longer hurt and he’d regained control over his breathing. The only sound was the loose change in his pocket which rattled with every step. He tried to visualise the demon that lay in wait for him and how best to fight it, fully aware the odds did not favour an old man. Martyrdom seemed inevitable and the priest accepted his fate as many others had before him, while his mind continued to release thousands of memories, one of which was a prayer his grandfather had taught him:
Aronhiate, onne aonstaniouas taitenr
“You don’t know which gods to call upon, do you?” the fiend tormented him. “How pleased do you think they’ll be to learn you’ve been playing them off against each other all these years? If you’re afraid now, wait until they get hold of you…”
When Father Marc arrived at the confessional the light above the door went out. Maintaining his composure, he pulled a plastic lighter from his shirt pocket and flicked it. He listened for any type of sound coming from inside the confessional but the church was shrouded in silence as if every living thing was hiding and holding its breath. His left temple ached and his stomach was turning.
God have mercy on my soul.
He reached for the door handle but his right hand stopped short and hovered above it, shaking, while the small flame from his lighter continually rose and fell, threatening to abandon him at any moment. Scarcely breathing, he silently closed his grip on the door handle and was about to turn it when he had a revelation.
It’s behind me.
Before he could turn around Father Marc was set upon. The old cleric was seized from behind and hurled across the church, landing in a broken heap beside the grotto. Disoriented and bleeding badly, he was again raised off the ground and slammed face down into the prayer kneeler before The Virgin. He clung onto the book rest with the last of his strength, realising this was where his enemy wanted him. Daring to open his eyes, he tried to focus but all he could make out was a pool of blood at the feet of The Virgin where the roses had once been.
“We need to talk, old man,” rasped the voice, its breathing now heavy and laboured. “It’s coming and I know you feel it too which explains that prayer.”
Father Marc couldn’t speak but he knew his thoughts were no longer his own. He also knew these were to be his last moments on Earth, a prospect which now filled him with joy because he was ready to meet his god.
You thought it was me, that’s why you came here.
“Yes, I now know you were only a diversion, a fatal mistake on your part.”
We all have roles to play and I’ve played mine.
“I’m getting closer each time, Father.”
Time is against you. It’s started and you can’t stop it. No one can.
“I can make one night last a thousand years,” the demon reminded the Jesuit, “or have you forgotten that?”
Raging it had wasted time pursuing the wrong quarry, the fiend had nonetheless gleaned vital information in its race to find answers, but it didn’t like being mocked and Father Marc would pay dearly for his defiance. All promises of mercy were now forgotten as the demon snapped the priest’s head back, breaking his neck, before bearing down for the final, frenzied attack upon Mary’s poor servant.
Prince Harry chose to jet abroad And start his life anew Her Majesty had thought it odd He’d given not a clue. While chess has always been about The move that’s unforeseen No pawn has ever taken out A well-defended queen.
Several years ago while travelling around Ukraine I entered the only shop in a remote village to buy a couple of cold drinks. Placing my purchases on the counter, the elderly shopkeeper tallied my bill on an abacus then pushed it toward me. Not entirely up to speed on ancient counting tools which predate our own numeral system, I played it safe and handed him the equivalent of $5 in Ukrainian money. This, apparently, posed a problem and he asked if I had anything smaller. I replied, regrettably, that I did not. Thinking on it, he disappeared into the back before returning with a duckling which he duly handed over as my change.
The problem with holiday brochures is that they rarely cover an abacus/duck scenario. The pictures in them are enticing but the language is, at best, euphemistic and at worst, a flat out lie. And while it’s true that every situation can’t be covered, a bit of a heads-up regarding waterfowl as legal tender would go a long way for novices like moi.
Here then, is a list of terms from holiday brochures with their true meanings:
in-flight meal: UN ration with complimentary poppadom
in-flight entertainment: the sequel to the remake of the original, only this one’s set in the future where everyone can fly and stuff
short transfer to hotel: bring earplugs
car rental: how are you at changing a tire?
bus service: you may be seated next to a goat in labour
local delicacies: if we can catch it, we’ll cook it
chef’s special: cake with a fly on top
all-inclusive resort: venture off the property and odds are you’ll be kidnapped
in-house entertainment: an old man who takes out his artificial eye for the kids
cultural sensitivities: lose the Trump hat
conservative: lose the rainbow flag beach towel
stunning wildlife: pack an anti-venom kit
365 days of sunshine: no redheads
steeped in history: if they ask, tell them you’re Canadian
friendly locals: the waiter has just asked if he can marry your daughter
vibrant nightlife: gunfire
local amenities: you’re sharing a well with two other villages
stunning scenery: ignore the oil refinery
exotic spices: stick to ketchup
unspoiled wilderness: don’t go in unarmed
tranquil setting: abandoned due to an ebola outbreak
health clinic: the vet will see you now
museum exhibits: those artefacts our country forgot to cart off when we left sharpish 150 years ago