July 1 was Canada Day and, on Wednesday, The New York Times asked 11 Canadians living in the States what they missed most about their native land. Turnabout is fair play and I started thinking about what I miss about home, having lived in Toronto since 1991. Here are a few things that come to mind as I quietly mark the July 4th holiday.
Insane Politicians – In the last month alone, there have been more political loonies making insane comments in the US media that there’ve been in the 18-plus years I’ve lived up here: Sanford, Vitter, Ensign, Palin, Gingrich, Lieberman, Boehner, Joe the Non-Plumber, Michelle Bachman. And those are just so-called national figures. Don’t overlook Missouri legislator Cynthia Davis, chair of the state’s permanent committee on children, who insists going hungry is good for kids whose parents are too poor to feed them.
Compare Canada. Back in the late 1990s, Canada had an angry old coot named Preston Manning as Parliamentary leader of the far-right wing Reform Party. Finally, even his supporters thought the guy with a 1950s-style flat top the colour of a steel brush and high, squeaky voice was so goofy, they not only replaced Manning as leader but changed the party name – twice – to shake off any connection with him and his racist, Neanderthal ideas.
Political Scandals – Whether it’s sex, drugs, rock n’ roll or influence peddling, the US stands first among Western nations for unleashing high-voltage political scandals; Canada barely measures a ripple on the Richter Scale.
The closest thing to a genuine scandal came when former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was accused briefly of accepting a bribe to steer Air Canada towards buying some Airbus planes. Not only did it turn out to not be true but the amount of money involved was something like $250,000. In Canadian dollars, which is like Monopoly money. Duke Cunningham’s price for making one phone call was higher than that and even the remodelling job on Ted Stevens deck probably cost more.
Good Bagels – Other than one or two Montréal bakeries and a place on Eglington Ave. in Toronto everyone calls The Dirty Bakery, there is not a Canadian alive who knows how to make a decent bagel. Up here, eating a bagel is mostly like biting into semi-chewy Wonder Bread with about as much taste. Why can Americans bake good bagels which, admittedly, is an art and Canadians think tossing in some blueberries or using whole grain flour is enough to pass off a doughy lump as a bagel.
Doughnuts – Speaking of inedible food, for a nation that has more doughnut shops per capita than maybe any other country, Canada does a lousy job of making doughnuts. Maybe it’s because relatively few Germans bakers settled here but I haven’t eaten a decent doughnut since I arrived 1991. The same goes for Danish: You’d think that in a country filled with all kinds of bears, someone would know how to make a Bear Claw.
Hamburgers – I’m not talking about fast food pretenders but honest-to-God real hamburgers. I have been in every major city in Canada and quite a few minor ones, as well, and the only place in the entire country that makes an edible burger is a lunchroom in Toronto’s financial core called The Senator.
Good Newspapers – Despite still being a newspaper reading nation – Toronto alone still has four dailies plus two freebies – the major papers around the country are pathetic. I’m an avid reader of papers but miss what still pass for newspapers in the US.
The Globe and Mail pretends to be An Important National Daily but isn’t. The National Post only prints Conservative Party talking points. The Toronto Sun may have the best sports section in the country and a photo of a bikini-clad Sunshine Girl every day but if a story doesn’t involve cars crashing, fires burning, pets being mistreated or cute kids selling lemonade in a park, the Sun doesn’t consider it news.
The Toronto Star has the largest paid circulation but it’s only good if you want to find an obscure local angle to a news event thousands of miles away. For example, the Star’s likely first paragraph to an African plane crash might be “No Toronto residents were on board a plane that made a fiery crash landing in Mbgobuto in a remote section of The Congo yesterday, killing all six passengers and a crew of two.”
Complaining – Americans are notorious for whining, complaining and suing over everything. Some people consider a day without complaining is like a day without sunshine, and I sometimes I miss their orneriness. Maybe not in-your-face, New York-style bitching but I miss hearing people speaking out, and out loud.
Up here, people are no less happy with the nonsense the world throws at them but they remain stoically silent. If Ottawa ordered everyone to wear their underwear on the outside of their clothes, no one would like it but no one would complain.
Well, except for me, I suppose. I just used 800 words complaining about things I miss about America.