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.
For background, you might like to read that post, plus readers' comments.
This recently happened again while I was getting my hair cut. The woman cutting my hair is Vietnamese-Canadian. Most of her family lives in the US or in Vietnam; she and her mother live in Canada. In our conversation, she sighed wistfully and said, "I wish I lived in the States."
I said, "No, you don't. Unless you're rich, it's not a very nice place to live."
She said, "Yes, I've heard that. It's the health care, right?"
She said, haltingly, "It's not... it's not free, right?"
Not free, yeah, you could say that. I tried to explain that health care is very expensive, and the more money you have, the better health care you receive. And the less money you have...
She nodded, but she seemed unconvinced.
Then I said, "You know, we pay about the same in taxes."
"What?" She was stunned.
I said, "That's right. Our taxes didn't go up when we moved here. They're about the same. Except now we don't have to pay our health care costs, too."
"Wow," she said. "I didn't know that. What do they do with all the money?"
I thought, thanks for the cue. "It all goes to the military."
She looked aghast. She said, "I didn't know that. Wow. Learn something new every day."
As I mentioned, this woman is of Vietnamese descent. I don't know if the words "United States military" strike a chord with her, but I hope so.
I'm reading Overthrow, by Stephen Kinzer, right now, so the US's misadventures in Vietnam are on my mind.
Today I read the chapter on Chile, when the US destabilized a democratic country, overthrew their president-elect (Allende) and installed a dictator (Pinochet). And I remembered that one of my former co-workers who was part of the health-care-vs-cheap-shopping discussion is Chilean-Canadian. Her parents escaped Chile right after Pinochet came to power.
Now, maybe these two women are completely apolitical, and living in the country that tore apart the homelands of their parents and grandparents wouldn't bother them. But maybe they're smarter than that.
How dangerous it is when people don't know their own history.