Star Spangled Boner

Image result for Canadian Barbie

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.

Less Cargo

SnailSnap Shows City Heat May Be Turning Snails Yellow - The Atlantic

Our friend, the snail, needs never pack

For all it owns is on its back

It heads out on the open road

Quite unencumbered by its load

Snails never need to book hotels

Instead they curl up in their shells

Emerging when they feel the need

To partake in an evening feed

We mock the snail, its sluggish pace

And yet some pay to watch them race

Ironic, say the French, and crude

Who view them solely as fast food

Seasoned Greetings

When greeting guests in Tokyo

The custom is to bow down low

While in Tibet both old and young

Say hi by sticking out their tongue.

In France it’s chic to peck the cheek

And friends will clap in Mozambique

Though Greenlanders will sniff your face

Before they help you with your case.

Most Eskimos rub nose to nose

In India they touch your toes

And Zambians will squeeze the thumbs

Of visitors considered chums.

Through handshakes, winks and nods we say:

I’m pleased that you dropped by today!

And bless those friends who always know

The sign for when it’s time to go…

Emotional Baggage

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.

Image result for cute funny duck

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

EU Turn

So we’re out of the EU.

Although I’ve lived in the UK over 30 years, I still play the role of casual observer even during times of great upheaval. This does not mean I’m short of an opinion or two, it simply means I know when to put up and when to shut up. Regarding the national catharsis that is Brexit, something that never fails to amuse me is hearing the British refer to the continent as Europe.

“Why do you want to leave the EU?”

“It’s Europeans… they’re all bonkers.”

“But aren’t you Europeans as well?”

“Are Canadians Americans?”

For some it’s much more straightforward while for others it’s a case of perspective. After years of soul-searching, many British have reluctantly conceded that they have no affinity whatsoever with foreign tongues, Carl Jung and snail croquette in vinaigrette. They genuinely enjoy visiting their European cousins on holiday but also enjoy returning home again, to the UK, where they believe good fences make good neighbours. So the guilt complex and hand-wringing need to end because Britain is no different from anyone else who decides to call time on a relationship that isn’t working.

Growing up in Toronto I had classmates from Italy, Greece, France, Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Spain, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Japan, Vietnam, Korea and thought nothing of it. Everyone was from everywhere. I myself was the son of immigrants and knew what it was like to be a hybrid kid: Canadian-sounding with accented parents who ate some pretty weird food.

And a large portion of my diet back then was ethnic humour – not racist humour – ethnic humour. There’s a difference and even as a kid I knew an ethnic joke from a slur because I was raised properly in a good community. On TV I’d watch Joan Rivers tell Jewish jokes, Richard Pryor tell black jokes, Dean Martin tell Italian jokes and Don Rickles tell jokes about everyone. And everyone laughed because we all recognised our own cultural eccentricities within them, along with those relatives certain jokes described to a tee.

Tell these same jokes today and you’ll be arrested by the Fun Police.

The referendum was, of course, about more than Polish plumber jokes. There were serious constitutional and inter-governmental sore points between the UK and the EU which neither side could resolve. This, however, doesn’t mean we’re no longer friends who can share a laugh among ourselves.

We’re simply getting rid of the joint bank account and the in-laws.

So then, what about the future?

Well, my guess is that nothing will change because nothing ever does. The British will still holiday in Europe, continentals will still come here to take selfies with the pigeons in Trafalgar Square and the French, as is their way, will continue to dine on creatures we wouldn’t even poke with a stick.

Plus ça change, eh?