In today’s breaking news: I’m happy to say I’ve recently returned from a week in Canada. Alive, not compromised, and not poisoned by contaminated Crown Royal whisky or gored by an overly patriotic moose.
Information of this sort might have been greeted with great yawns and laughing emojis less than two years ago. In light of President Trump’s declaration of Canada as a national security threat, however, along with the tariffs the U.S. government has levied against major trade partners such as Canada and the European Union, I was actually a little nervous about making the trip. And that’s kind of nuts, because I’m someone who makes it to Canada at least once a year. Before I became my mother’s caregiver, in fact, I made multiple trips each year, to parts east and west of the country with which, by the way, the U.S. actually did hold a trade surplus in 2017.
What’s more, anyone who knows me well knows I am a Canadaphile of mammoth proportions who has tried to interest more of my fellow citizens in that huge swath of land to our north, along with that country’s nearly 37 million residents. Seven years ago, I even wrote a piece for MinnPost exhorting Americans to please (please) start paying more attention to our neighbor and top trading partner.
So, when I was treated at Canadian customs with the understated courtesy for which Canadians are famous (at least among people not including the president or his press secretary), I was not shocked — although I was mildly surprised. Not wanting to smash a canoe into a still river, I thanked the agent almost as politely as a Canadian might and quickly made my way out into a sunny Ottawa summer afternoon.
During the course of my holiday, I kept hoping someone might be less than kind to me. That they might blame me personally for governmental actions that have pushed Canadians to levels of near-American anger and culminated in vows to avoid U.S. travel and purchases of U.S.-made goods. Nothing of the sort happened, however. At all.
The closest I got to feeling marked with the Sign of the American is when I tried to use my debit card at Shoppers Drug Mart (the combined Walgreens and CVS of Canada, with a beauty boutique that alone makes a trip north worth it). When it was announced that, “help is needed with processing an American debit card,” no one around me said a thing. The looks I got from other shoppers were not sinister and more in the ilk of somewhat pained sympathy and “look-kids-an-actual-American.” Oh, and at a sandwich shop I was asked if I wanted American cheddar with my turkey. It was noted that, “American cheddar sounds more exotic.” I said, “Well, it doesn’t, but thanks for sussing out my Great Lakes–Minnesota hybrid accent in such a diplomatic way.”
Now, there was plenty of tempered discussion on CBC News as to why the Americans would take such actions against their friends. And my northern friends and some of their friends had Americans-stuck-in-moderately-light-traffic-strength words to say about things such as the tariff war, which they believe will hurt both countries. They also voiced opinions on the inequitable American healthcare system, the fact that Canadians have fought with Americans in more than a few wars (and were involved in World War I and World War II before we got in), and a U.S. tax base that, to their minds, doesn’t provide enough money for quality healthcare, lower-cost higher education or a reasonable immigration system. I didn’t disagree with them much.
Honestly, I admired their unexpected fervor. And then a friend of my friend bought me a drink at the Ottawa Bluesfest to thank me for employing American toughness while saving their seats. My friends had me take their teenage daughters shopping in downtown Ottawa. So much for thinking individual Canadians might be out for something resembling revenge.
After spending a pleasant vacation in a country long considered one of the best friends the United States has ever had, my great wish is that Americans and Canadians alike may one day be able to see this time of frustration, tension and tariff “war” as just a most unfortunate, short-lived interval in an otherwise good relationship. Famous words spoken by John F. Kennedy about our nations being joined by geography, history and economics remain words worthy of memory. But in the current fraught environment, I would ask citizens in both countries to think of something Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”
Let’s hope that stupid intervals between our two lands become quite rare indeed.
P.S. And go to Canada! Try to be as polite as you can, buy cocktails for others, and have Canadian cash on hand so you aren’t marked for special debit card treatment.
Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lives in St. Paul. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.”
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