7.17.2008

cheap shopping, health care and imperialism

Long-time wmtc readers may remember a discussion we had about Canadian perceptions of the US - of the positive variety - which I called cheap shopping vs. health care.
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?"

I nodded.

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.

17 comments:

West End Bob said...

How dangerous it is when people don't know their own history.

This is exactly how I feel when friends/acquaintances in the US ask: "Why does the rest of the world hate us so?"

They obviously have never read "Overthrow" or any other fact-based account of US imperialism over the years. Most textbooks in public schools either don't make much of, or totally whitewash events that make the US look less than perfect.

Once you have the knowledge, it's pretty easy to answer the question posed.

The person asking the question may not like the answer, however . . . .

L-girl said...

You're right, Bob. The average person in the US hears abouts world events completely out of context.

9/11 is the perfect example of that. An attack on the US comes completely out of the blue as far as most people are concerned. Nothing preceded it, nothing led to it except some irrational, angry people who "hate us for our freedoms".

And any attempt to put the events in any kind of context is seen as forgiving or sympathizing with the attacks, so can't be tolerated.

.Most textbooks in public schools either don't make much of, or totally whitewash events that make the US look less than perfect.


I'd go one step further. I think these events are completely invisible to most Americans.

L-girl said...

Yet at the same time, I also think most people in the world do distinguish between a government and its people. If they didn't, Americans could never leave the country!

Anonymous said...

I've heard the whole "move to the states, pay less taxes, get better health care, earn more, blah blah blah."

Uhm, hello? That's 1983 calling, they want their news back. You blogged about the MacLean's story that said you shouldmove to Canada if you want to live the American dream. Personally, since moving to Canada:

-- I'm making 1/3 more,
-- My taxes are actually less than they were in the States,
-- I get more time off,
-- I didn't have to look for a job, the jobs came looking for me,

and the list goes on and on about how my life is better since coming here.

Cheap shopping? I paid $10 more for an iPod at Costco in Burnaby than what they were charging in the States. Ten whole bucks! Okay, I was a tad annoyed, but then I paid $11 for the prescription that would have cost me $135 in TGNOTFOTE. All of a sudden, I was happy to fork over the ten loonies.

Keep in mind that Vancouver is less than an hour from the border, so the stores here have felt more of the pinch from cross-border shopping than elsewhere in Canada.

As for the U.S. being better if you're rich, that's only partly true. Those who are merely well-to-do have been losing ground since Saint Ronnie was in office just like the rest of us. It is only the super wealthy, the top fraction of a percent, that has done well since then, and their incomes have quintupled or more.

Just my $0.02 worth.

L-girl said...

And a fine $.02 it is! Thanks, M Yass.

Anonymous said...


They obviously have never read "Overthrow" or any other fact-based account of US imperialism over the years.


How about "A People's History of the United States"?

redsock said...

How about "A People's History of the United States"?

One of the greatest books we own!

Wrye said...

I actually research the US state tax codes for my day job. So please, take it from me: The US is not only badly taxed, but incompetently so. What's not obvious from afar is just how byzantine and inefficent the patchwork of State taxes can be, and how very badly designed some of them are. Pennsylvania, in particular, has a tax code straight out of the 18th century.

So, let's assume an income of 40K
a year for a single person, and gran a few random states.

US Fed tax rate: 25%
CAN Fed Tax Rate: 22%

BC Prov tax rate: 9.15%
Alberta: 10%
Ontario: 8.15%

CA State tax: 8%
SD State Tax: None
OK State Tax: 5.5%

So, a Canadian single would pay about 30-32%, while his or her US counterpart would pay between 25-33%. That's pretty much a sawoff.

PeterC said...

We had a particularly red neck gun toting old white guy at work who was constantly at my wife about this. We decided that Canada was a better choice so we imported her. (She worked in the same dept. as myself.)

I keep getting told how much money everyone saves shopping in the US and this guy was particularly bad for it.(I'm eastern Ontario, 15 min. from the local US mini-mall)How horrid the wait times are in Canada(I still have yet to wait more than a few hours for anything resembling importance), how high our taxes are and the same old clap-trap.

Well, to make this long story short; we explained to this redneck all the things we noticed when the wife moved up here. Such as better healthcare as well as free(he didn't believe it), one year after she arrived she went to university on a student loan(he said she had better opportunities in the US because the scholarships were so much better), food prices were identical to the mid southern US(his said that was impossible as he shopped cross border and everything is so much cheaper), clothing is much much more expensive(he liked honesty when it agreed with him), taxes were lower although it was hard to judge since she skipped from poor to upper-middle taxes in one fell swoop since she got her degree.

Still, my office mate saved 500 bucks by buying his video camera across the border, so lets just call it even. Bah, apolitical? Call it anti-political, even anti-thought!

I still don't know why that guys hasn't moved to the US, he loves it so and would be so much better off. I think deep down he knows though.

L-girl said...

Wrye and PeterC, thanks for this!

Still, my office mate saved 500 bucks by buying his video camera across the border, so lets just call it even.

Right! The folks I'm talking to are raving on about buying cheap shoes at a Pay Less. Wow, that will really change your life.

Bah, apolitical? Call it anti-political, even anti-thought!

Good point.

I still don't know why that guys hasn't moved to the US, he loves it so and would be so much better off. I think deep down he knows though.

That may be so. In the earlier post, I wrote an example of a typical conversation I have on this topic. The "cheap shopping" Canadians are very quickly led to the reality. Yet they persist in repeating this tired old myth.

Maybe, as M Yass said, it's a stereotype from the past that they haven't shook yet.

Maybe it's that legendary old inferiority complex, in knee-jerk reaction form. "US - better - wish we lived there - why? - dunno."

Scott M. said...

Of course there's nothing preventing your friend from shopping in the States when he wants to -- that's the nature of our countries' relationship.

Hopefully he's smart and declares what he purchased as he crosses the border, or he'll hate Canada more....

PeterC said...

Actually, he does, or claims, to declare everything in order tomake sure he pays the tax. Most of the people here claim to.

They also claim that most of the time they don't pay duties or taxes when they do declare.

Canada Calling said...

I always answer that my reason for moving to Canada (not the same as my reason for leaving the US)is politics and leave it at that. Most Canadians just nod knowingly as if we share the same secret. Consumerism is more affordable down south. My major bitch is the high price of nice wine up here. It is a legitimate gripe. But do you know what? For the most part, I now know where my food comes from, where my produce is grown and where my wine is produced. I have never had to wait an unreasonable amount of time for anything I've actually needed. Elective wants are just that. And the absolute best part is being able to be married to the person I have lived with for 18 years and have that relationship legally recognized and protected.

Nancy said...

I have people asking me the same question. One man even asked why I wanted to come to this 'miserable' country. I said it was a 'very good job' and nothing more.
I did the math before I came here and the taxes (from New York to Canada) will be about the same, except that I won't be paying a huge amount to a bloated war machine. Instead, I'm paying for health care, streetcars, a good transportation system, and the peace order and good government...I think that is a fair trade.
Oh, and I live in a rich suburb, so I can get gorgeous clothes at the local secondhand shops; one upscale one sold me a pair of designer pants for 1/4 the normal cost, and the more humble one has great summer tops for two bucks each. You just have to know where to look.
I think that the sales job/propaganda pioneered in California extends to the US as a whole, and that the Canadians may still have a slight inferiority complex due to their long colonial history. I like Canada very much and do not want to go back to the USA.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Great eye opening post.

L-girl said...

CC and Nancy, I agree, it's a fine trade off. Wonderful, really.

Thanks, Doc. Nice to see you here.

Nancy said...

I had some very humbling moments yesterday at a meeting of a club that I've belonged to for nearly thirty years. Some Canadian members had driven from Guelph to Kansas City for a convention a few years ago. They told horror stories of seeing 'burnt cars' as the main landmark in St. Louis, and 'more knives than they'd ever seen in their lives' inside a gas station in that same area. This year's convention was in New Orleans and a Canadian friend described, in horrific terms, the desolation in the still unreconstructed flooded neighbourhoods. They'd left the posh hotel and deliberately toured the poorer areas.
There was no way I could counter anything that they said.
Nor did I really want to--but the whole description of the middle US as a sort of decaying junkyard was nauseating me.