When I tell people I am from the US - not that I advertise it, but it tends to come up in conversation - reactions fall into a few different categories. Some people are happy and excited; they understand the difference between the two countries and why an American might choose Canada. Interesting conversations ensue. But one fairly common reaction repeats itself nearly verbatim: "Why would you want to move here? We all want to move there!"
I first heard this during an interview at an employment agency, and let me tell you, I was taken aback. I hardly knew how to respond in a way that would be appropriate for a job interview. I laughed, played it down and changed the subject.
Since then, I've heard it many times, mostly from co-workers, but also from Canadian-born neighbours and in other casual interactions. To generalize, I would describe the people who say this as apolitical, largely ignorant of and unconcerned with events outside their own lives, and superficial. People who live in their own little world of family, friends, work and shopping.
By now I've figured out how to respond in a way that feels both comfortable and honest. The conversation goes like this.
Co-worker: You moved here from the US? Why would you do that? We all want to move there!
Me: Why do you say that?
Co-worker: The shopping is so good! We love to go to Buffalo to shop! [When we visit our relatives in Florida, we love to go shopping!] [My son lives in California, and when we go there, we shop all day!] [Etc.]
Me: There seems to be plenty of shopping here.
Co-worker: But things are cheaper there. You can get more for your money. There are more stores, too, a bigger variety.
Me: Next time you go shopping in Buffalo, think of two words: health care. Which would you rather have, free, guaranteed health care, or more stores?
Co-worker: Yeah, that's true! I hadn't thought of that!
Me: [it if still seems appropriate] Or think about Iraq. Which would you rather live in, a country that goes around the globe dropping bombs and invading other countries, or a peaceful nation where you don't have to worry about those things?
Co-worker: Oh yeah, you're right. We take all that for granted, but sure, that's true, I hadn't thought of that.
It doesn't take an hour of talk to get to that point. It takes only a bit of quick perspective. Nevertheless, the person's immediate reaction to the words "United States" is "cheap shopping". And cheap shopping is all you need to know, you'd rather live in a country that has it! (I never raise the issue of why shopping might be cheaper in the US. That seems too complex and abstract in this context.)
I've gotten so accustomed to this reaction in the workplace, I started assuming it. To the question, "Why did you move here from the US?" I started saying, "We wanted to live in Canada rather than the US, believe it or not." Little did I know, the person I said this to was more politically aware than I expected. She said, "Oh I can believe it. Good for you." She's a Canadian-born black woman with many relatives in the US. She was quite clear that her quality of life is better than theirs.
This "shopping" reaction, as I'll call it in shorthand, no longer surprises me, but it does still alarm me. Ignorance is so dangerous. Presumably these people vote. (Or do they?) How are they choosing their party and candidate? Are lower costs their first priority? Do they understand that higher taxes may be necessary for better services? And most importantly, do they fully recognize the rights and privileges they have as Canadians, and their responsibility to protect those rights?
Every so often on wmtc, I hear from Americans in Canada for non-political reasons - for jobs or family - who warn me about Canadian anti-Americanism. When I get more information, I generally find that they are confusing anti-US policy with anti-them. They carry the reflexive defensiveness that most Americans grow up with, the attitude that any criticism of the US is a personal attack.
The Canadians who pine over cheap US shopping and the Americans who feel threatened by criticism of the US government may be counterparts of each other. Each lives in an insular, superficial world. I'm used to that in Americans but it still bothers me in Canadians.