Ten Curious Questions About Canadian Social Signaling

So the answer is pretty obvious. Canadians act like happy people, because they are. They live privileged lives in a privileged country. How else should they act?

It’s odd. I can walk around Moscow, Paris, Istanbul, or rural Hungary and understand the cultural signals people are using. Why is it that Canadian signaling is so strange to me when it’s right next door and they speak the same language?

(I’ve collected an interesting set of observations that foreign visitors make of the states. I’m trying to do the same for canada. The easiest country to understand is France. They have a fascinating signaling structure. But canada is hard to take apart for some reason — probably because I don’t know enough canadian economic history.)

Most of this behavior is kind of charming. But the fact that it’s charming simply doesn’t explain WHY people develop these signals in the first place.

1) Q: Why does every conversation about anything political end up using the Nazis as a counter example? It seems sort of ‘antique’. Or quaint. The world has moved on. Extremes are a way of actually avoiding complex issues. So I instinctually see it as a means of political self deception.
A: I found an answer to this one: Canadians have an international sensibility and the only people one can criticize without fear of offense is the Nazis. (Of course they don’t realize that radical Islam is using the Nazi propaganda playbook and the communist social and economic strategy.)

2) Q: Why is atheism worn like a badge of honor? Religion isn’t talked about in the states as much as it is here in eastern canada. It’s like canadians are more religious about not being religious than evangelicals are about themselves. Again, instinctually I see it as putting something down as an effort to raise one’s self up. But I suspect there is more of a reason for it. In Quebec I understand, because the church was so dominant in society. But I don’t understand the rest of canadian’s obsession with anti-religious statements. Is it a reaction to perceived american religiosity? (I don’t think canadians understand the economic value of american puritanism. It’s why we don’t have so much petty theft.)

3) Q: Why do people wear their injuries like an affliction is a war wound, and the cast a medal? Is it to promote the virtue of their medical system? That seems to be the canadian ethos. Very strange to me. Is it part of the victims-as-heros meme?

4) Q: Why is do Canadians grant each other the right to be oblivious? In most other germanic-language countries, you’re expected to be aware of those around you. In canada, waiting for someone to get out of the way is considered a sort of charity we should all be proud of. I mean, we all laugh at the Hindus and Asians for making shopping impossible. But what’s the deal with Canadians?

5) Q: Decisiveness. Canadians need far more information in order to decide something than most other westerners. This surprises me. I’ll figure out where it comes from eventually. Actually, it’s more like they’ve taken British lower class skepticism and distributed it across the entire spectrum. There is really no upper class here. It’s strange. In the states we have at least two layers of them. In Russia (Did I say I loved Russia yet?) they do. Or at least they still have aristocratic sentiments somewhat like the Germans.

6) Q: Customer Service. This is what people from other countries don’t understand about the states: the culture is the MARKETPLACE. That’s all we have in common. When you’re at your job, it’s ‘Game On’. When you go home you can relax. But we have high expectations of people who are ‘in the market’. Good customer service is a civic duty. It’s like french manners, or canadian deference, or german duty. In canada, people at work and home are little different. That’s why customer service is bad here, despite how nice people are. And really. They’re very, very nice. But why? Why didn’t they get the commercial social sentiment? I’m sure I can figure it out but I haven’t yet.

7) Q: Product Selection: Why, if we’re just across the border, is everything more expensive, with less selection? I swear, it’s like the USA in the 1970’s. Outside of Toronto you can’t even buy nice furniture very easily. There has to be a reason for it. But selection here is terrible by contrast. Like the UK in the 80’s.

8) Q: Health Movement. I know the health movement is a west coast thing that radiated outward, and as an Ecotopian (northwesterner) I have perhaps a odd expectation. But you literally cannot find food that isn’t saturated with every preservative and chemical on the planet. (Which for me is horrid.)

9) Q: The Quaintness of Political Problems. Really. To travel around the world, read newspapers and journals, and blogs from around the world, and the read canadian newspapers and the MUNDANE content of most political discourse is just amazing. It’s like kids arguing over whether Darth Maul or Boba Fett is cooler. I mean, is it so peaceful, spacious, gentle and comfortable here that the locals have to make something to talk about? I went through a week’s worth of newspapers circling the factual stories. You could reduce the entire content to half a page. Such is the lot of being a resource-rich english speaking country bordered by a friendly superpower. But the question is WHY is this noisy discourse so important to Canadians. They all seem to participate and care about it… but is that because the outcomes are so indifferent? Is it all they have to build community about given that there are no external threats? I have to figure this one out. All I end up with is that canada is the most privileged country on earth right now.

10) Q; Why less venomous racism? Living in Ottawa makes it very visible that the race problem is bigger in the states than I had thought. I understood that it was impossible to resolve in the states for historical reasons. But I didn’t realize how bad the problem was and how pervasive until I spent time here. Like the UK, the integration of blacks into society seems to be more successful than the states. I suspect this is largely an artifact of the power struggles in the states. But its painful. I still think affirmative action only exacerbates the problem.

A couple of other things in perspective:
0) Canada has roughly the same population as California. The population is centered along to the us-canadian border. the toronto-ottawa corridor is part of the “foundry’ culture, along with chicago, detroit, Cincinnati, new york, philadelphia. The Vancouver area is part of ecotopian culture along with san francisco, portland, and seattle. The plains provinces are indistinguishable from the US plains states, and they are culturally part of the “empty quarter” culture. Quebec is arguably its own civilization — and why english speaking canadians don’t support a quebec independence doesn’t make sense to me. Like their continental french peers, they are a blocking culture that is a hostile partner.

1) Power and Weakness. Canada is next door to a gorilla. They don’t have to pay for military, especially per square mile — so it’s amazingly cheap to be canada. The Weak generally treat pacifism as a virtue. (see the USA vs Europe prior to 1860). I can understand this influence on canadian culture. They are very proud of their little military. It’s a symbolic force. But they treat it with dignity. I find it very appealing.

2) Canada is unable to create innovative productivity because it is culturally too risk averse for widespread scale entrepreneurship. (Is it a cultural memory of being poor? A self concept of relative poverty that isn’t borne out by the facts? A class heritage?) And secondly, because they have a resource economy that makes high productivity unnecessary. But to pay for their social programs given the size of the country and the low population, they’ve been selling off land to immigrants like the USA did post civil war. This has not yet had the social impact in canada that it did in the 1930’s in the states. And they seem, like the english, to do a better job of integrating people than we do in the states, save for muslims, which don’t integrate anywhere in the english speaking world, even after three generations. This is probably what I see in the public discourse. I think the spatial stuff is just a remnant of ‘little england’. I know that Quebec was populated largely by members of the lower classes. Is the same true of english speaking canada? Was land that much cheaper here?

3) Consumer banking in canada is like consumer banking in the states before 1980. It’s much better for consumers here. Business banking is … (Amateurish?) by contrast. But I’d venture that either switzerland or canada has the best consumer banking system. I mean, I could write a book about it.

4) While there is a lot more petty crime in canada than the states (yes there is), the police are also a lot better here. Like the bankers they are here to help you. Cops in the states are there to punish and fine you. Bankers are there to soak you with fees. And that is the one thing about the USA that I have found simply intolerable. The militarization of the police force is more socially destructive than I would have predicted.

Anyway, that’s my list of curious questions.

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