Canada Day is coming, folks, just a few days now!
I am not Canadian by birth. I was born in a south suburb of Chicago and grew up there. I lived in other areas of the US as well, before falling in love with a Canadian boy while in the American south. After 9/11, we were having trouble getting him a new visa and agreed to try out living in Canada – at least for a while. I had no idea at the time that it would wind up being permanent, but now I can’t imagine my life any other way.
I feel incredibly lucky to be Canadian, and I take it seriously. I think many people in the US think that Canadians are just like they are, (and vice-versa!) but from my perspective some of the cultural differences are astounding, and I’d like to share those with you today.
Looking after your neighbour vs. Bootstrapping
There’s a thing – an attitude, and a saying – in the US about pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. People are expected to make their own go of it – to achieve the “American Dream” on their own, without help from others. And if they don’t make it? Well, then that’s their own fault for not working hard enough.
It doesn’t take into consideration privilege, income, family history, or where you start out in life. It’s just assumed that a kid born to poor immigrants, or a child who has a parent who was fifteen when he was born and dropped out of school, or a kid living in the ghetto has the same opportunity to make something of himself as anyone else.
Except, in the US that’s not really the case.
School districts are funded differently in the US than in Canada. Here, every child, regardless of where they live, receives the same amount of funding for school. More – if they have special needs. They have the same books, desks, programs, and teachers with the same qualifications. In the US, on the other hand, where you live makes a huge difference in the kind of school experience you have. Kids in poor neighborhoods may be crammed into classrooms with 40+ other children, using 10-years-out-of-date textbooks and sitting in falling-apart desks. The maps on the walls may show the old Soviet Union – if they have maps at all. The difference is astounding.
And it’s unfair. Kids shouldn’t be punished because their parents live in a poor neighborhood. That’s unheard of in Canada, and when I explain how school funding works in the States, most here are appalled. It’s just not what is believed in here. Which is why we also have child care subsidies and other tax benefits for children living in lower-income households. Because every kid deserves an equal start, if they are expected to be able to use those bootstraps one day.
I see and hear so much from people in the US about how angry they are to have to support people who “don’t want to work” and who might be “druggies” or “gangbangers” by using tax dollars for Welfare. Now, whether or not that is rightous is a whole other discussion (though if you want to see what an epic failure drug testing was for welfare recipients was, check this out) but my main observation is that I have very, very rarely heard such words, let alone seen such anger in Canada. I’ve asked a few Canadian friends about it, and here’s what they had to say:
“If they are having to receive welfare, well, that’s a shame for them. I’m glad they live somewhere where they can be taken care of while they are having a hard time. What’s the alternative? Let them lose their home, go hungry?”
“At least our benefits here include job training. So many people get displaced in this economy when their job disappears.”
And my favourite –
“Why would anyone ever be angry about welfare? What if they needed it some day? What then?”
Okay, maybe not all the employees in Canada are happy. Okay, definitely not. But once I tell them how much better they have it in Canada, they are surprised and delighted with their jobs again.
Well, in Canada everyone earns paid vacation days. Everyone gets paid maternity leave – and paternity leave for Dads, too! And paid adoption leave! You can’t get fired for taking sick days! You get holidays off, or get paid extra for working them!
What? How is that possible?
Easy. Every employee is entitled to two weeks paid vacation after one year of work. You earn a percentage of the days off during your time working, so you can take a day or two mid-year as well. And if you leave a job before you take your vacation, your employer pays it out to you. Really.
I think it’s just been around for so long here that people don’t realize how different it is in the states. When I talk about things I had happen at jobs there – like getting fired even with a doctor’s note for being sick, or being required to work overtime with no overtime pay, having to clock out for fifteen minute breaks or having to come in when I’m called on days off or be fired – people here are horrified. When I explain that all of that and more is expected in the US, they just shake their heads and say they don’t understand how people can live like that.
Privacy is kind of a big deal in Canada. You would think it’s a big deal in the US, what with the whole freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures and such, but it isn’t really. Not with all the intrusions into privacy the Patriot Act created (though now the USA Freedom Act has made some of these things better for Americans! Thanks Obama and Congressional Democrats!). These things sound good, they are named to make you think they are good, and they stand under the premise of “If you have nothing to hide, you won’t get hurt.”
Except, yeah, for that pesky little invasion-of-privacy thing.
And it isn’t just freedom from the government that’s an issue – it’s freedom from corporations like Google. They had to re-do several of their street-view maps in Canada when it was found that they had violated Canadian privacy laws. You know, just in case someone wanted to close their blinds that day, when Google went by.
Canada has some pretty hefty privacy laws about collecting information about individuals – even by the government (and you can see what the government has collected about you, here! The people get privacy, not the government.) You don’t even have to have a chip for tracking in your cell phone here. Go Canada!
You knew I was going to get there, didn’t you? This has always been one of my biggies of why I love Canada. And while the Affordable Care Act does open up the option of getting health coverage for more Americans, there are still some things I don’t agree with.
I like that in Canada, my doctors decide what kind of treatment I get, not my health insurance company. I like that they keep me in the hospital as long as my doctor says I should be there, not for as long as my insurance company covers it. I love that I don’t have a deductible, so I don’t have to decide between seeing my GP this month or getting an oil change for my car. I also like that in the hospital, my medication is whatever my doctor says it is.
We were watching a DVR’ed episode of The Night Shift recently – a drama that takes place in a Texas hospital – and my husband was horrified that a child in the hospital couldn’t get the drug he needed to live until the insurance company agreed to cover it – and that he might not last that long.
He was baffled. “But the doctor said he needs it!”
“I know,” I said. “That’s just how it works there.”
Its surprising to people here, often, how it works in the US. For example, that you might not be able to go to the hospital you want, or see the doctor that you want because of your insurance policy restricting where you can go or who you can see. Not to mention the fact that for many people, it’s office workers deciding on their care – workers who know almost nothing about medicine and even less about your particular case – than the doctor or specialist that they are consulting.
People here in Canada are sometimes angry that they have to wait for an elective surgery when they see people in the states paying to get them right away, and they think that the way in the US is better, until I explain to them that unless they have a big pile of cash or the best insurance on the planet – or both – that those scenarios just aren’t gonna be reality for them. I would much rather wait a little while so everyone can receive the care they need than to be able to pay to move up the line.
I was gonna say…
As I write this, people are celebrating across the United States because now everyone
is free to marry the person they love, regardless of race or gender. Awesomesauce. When people look back on this in 50 years, they are going to be as confused as to why this had to be a “thing” the way people now are confused as to why people had to sue to marry someone of a different race.
It’s been a decade since it became federal law here in Canada, and no one has imploded. No heterosexual marriages have crumbled because they have gay, married neighbors. No kids have fallen into lives of crime and villainy because their parents didn’t know how to explain gay marriage to them. And no one has set themselves on fire, thank goodness. I think you all will do just fine, and congratulations for gaining more freedom, more equal rights for everyone!
Now you all just have to get on board with other equal rights that are sometimes taken for granted in Canada, where people have been able to be out and serve openly in the military since 92, like discrimination protection and the right to adopt! (I know that some areas allow this, but it isn’t federal yet).