10.30.2008

your slogan here

It's been a very long time since I wrote a "difference between Canada and the US" post. I'm no longer constantly observing the subtle cultural differences the way I did when we first moved here, and no longer surprised by them like I used to be. You could say I'm assimilated now, for the most part.

But I did make one observation during this election season, something I have a feeling will resonate with USian readers and the US-to-Canada immigration community.

Bumper stickers.

Bumper stickers are a rarity on Canadian vehicles. At least that's the case in any part of Canada I've driven - all over southern Ontario, on the road to Ottawa and Quebec City, in Montreal, and all over Newfoundland. The occasional bumper stickers I do see are silly ("What if the hokey pokey is what it's all about?" "My other car is a..."). And I've seen only one exception to this.

But if you cross the border, every car is announcing the politics of the driver. Not just who she's voting for, although that's very common. But his or her stance on abortion rights, same-sex marriage, gun control, immigration, war, peace, global warming - you name it. You can drive around the highways of the United States and read slogans about every divisive issue of our era.

This is almost entirely absent in Canada.

In the US, everyone announces their political stance to everyone on the road. In Canada, it's just not done. It's not much of a stretch to put this in the category of bluntness vs politeness. People have strong feelings about important issues in Canada, but they don't feel the need to announce it to everyone everywhere they go.

Similarly, is there a workplace in the US where everyone doesn't know how everyone else votes? That may be an exaggeration - I'm sure readers will tell me so - but it's at least very commonplace to know how all your co-workers vote.

In the recent Canadian election campaign, I didn't know how anyone voted, except for one co-worker friend who I spoke to privately. (And may I add how refreshing it was to hear a sister worker say, "I vote NDP, because they're the party for working people"??) People are quieter about it here.

As I said above, in Canada I've seen only one exception to this bumper sticker observation. My friend Lone Primate and two other US-to-Canada immigrants I know have observed the same one. Lone Primate captured it on his blog. Revolting, isn't it?

47 comments:

Steve said...

Come to Calgary! You'll see bumper stickers, like the Support Our Troops one as linked to in your post.

L-girl said...

Steve, do you think the bumper sticker I linked to is "Support Our Troops"?

L-girl said...

Also, I'm not talking about the yellow ribbon magnets. I see plenty of those. Bumper stickers are something else.

M@ said...

There's a very common one in my area, I suspect because it is heavily invested in both car and car parts manufacturing. The sticker states:

"Out of a job yet? Keep buying foreign!"

Apparently this sticker was created by the Canadian Auto Workers union. It is ridiculous on two levels.

One is that it's not as though American car makers have been any friend to the Canadian worker. They eagerly take money from provincial and federal governments, and then lay them off and ship jobs offshore whenever it suits them. The CAW knows this better than anyone.

The other is that Toyota has been a huge boon to our area. Cambridge would be in dire straits if this "foreign" (as though the USA were not foreign") manufacturer weren't providing thousands of jobs.

Aside from that, you're right -- in fact the most bumper stickers I tend to see, going down the 401, are on American cars.

Stephanie said...

I had to chuckle when reading this post though since I hadn't really noticed the lack of bumper stickers before (but it does seem to be true).

While I do know at least two friends who own vehicles sporting bumper stickers "don't blame me I voted NDP" , "suport local agriculture","Pete Seeger for a Nobel Prize", the latest trend seems to be moving towards magnets these same friends also have the "question war" and "Support the troops BRING THEM HOME" magnets...

I would note however that I see an overabundance of fish decals and I am always quite pleased when the cross is replaced with "n chips" or "Darwin".

David Heap said...

Yes, that "stand behind the troops" sticker is pretty nasty.

My car sports a few stickers (not very typical of London, Ontario):

"Support local agriculture"
"War is not the answer"

They are sometimes conversations starters with total strangers (one older guy at a gas station told me that as a former soldier and former farmer, he agreed with both of these).

Fewer people here recognise or understand the most recent addition:
"Pete Seeger for Nobel Prize".
but I'm happy to explain.

Perhaps tellingly, I think all three are imports from south of the border (though the first two are retailed locally by a cool London resource which also happens to be a war resisters support group meeting place).

Obviously not imported is a bumper-sticker of another LWRSG activist (founder actually):

"Don't blame me, I voted NDP".

which has been there for a few years but is still relevant (strategic voting hard-liners might in fact blame one for voting NDP but this car is actually registered in a riding where the NDP was reelected by a healthy margin), and speaks to L-girl's second point.

Of course, the most omnipresent car-messages in this part of the world are the "support our troops" yellow ribbon stickers / magnets (even on public transport and other city vehicles, despite a vigorous local campaign against this travesty). My auto-rebuttal, also imported from the U.S., are the magnets that say "Question War" (with the yellow "ribbon" opened into a question mark) and "Support our troops, bring them home now."

My 13-year-old says all this is handy when looking for our otherwise rather generic-looking car in a crowded parking lot.

BTW, many of the above messages (and more) are also posted on the cultural archive which doubles as my office door at work, so most of my colleagues and students have a pretty good idea of my views on these issues, though not exactly how I vote (they can take a fairly educated guess at that, or ask me). Of course, university faculty have a license (if not a duty) to be opinionated (again, according to my teen-agers) and eccentric.

Traditionally though you are quite right about Canadians: we don't volunteer information easily about how we vote (one of the perpetual challenges in canvassing for the NDP, where what we want to do is identify sure or likely supporters to "pull the vote" on e-day, and our neighbours are typically evasive and vague).

One place Canadians didn't have so much trouble "coming out" with their electoral support was on Facebook though -- sort of a voluntary bumper-sticker, visible only or mainly to a community of choice. Plenty of friends changed their FB photos to Layton or Green (a couple of Liberal) signs during the campaign, and/or linked to (anti-)strategic voting sites.

And I just changed my FB profile to add "Hussein" as a middle name until next Tuesday -- not because I am an Obama supporter so much as I find the demonizing of a name to be reprehensible and childish.

David Heap said...

Here is a great sticker (applicable on either side of the border...) from the Canadian Peace Alliance. DIY: download and print on standard sticker sheets available from your office-supply retailer! Four to a sheet, there are many surfaces near you that could use (re-)decorating (including those Cdn Forces bus-shelter ads...).

I forgot to mention the stickers on my other vehicle: Cycle for Peace, Bikes not Bombs.

L-girl said...

"Out of a job yet? Keep buying foreign!"

Oh yes, I've seen that too! Forgot about that, thanks.

I agree it's ridiculous, and for one other reason as well. It puts the blame on the consumer. Consumers usually have no choice but to "buy foreign" because that's what is available. The fault lies higher up the food chain.

L-girl said...

I've never seen the bumper stickers Stephanie and David mentioned. If I listed all the bumper sticker slogans I know from the US, on both left and right, it would be the longest post ever.

Lorna said...

The strangest stickers I've noticed down here lately are the 'In memorian' type ones that display information rather like a gravestone but are in a clear background sticker that is on the rear window of the car. Why would anyone want to display something like that? It's not like they're for cancer research or have any kind of military affiliation. They're just announcing to the world that their mother died last month or whatever. The people who are displaying these had to have actually placed an order for such a customized display. I just don't get it.

John F said...

I live in a semi-rural part of Nova Scotia. Vehicle decoration here comes in a few varieties:

1. NASCAR aficionado. Usually pickup trucks, they feature Dale Earnhardt, Sr. memorial stickers, Calvin urinating on whatever automaker the driver dislikes, and the logo of the local country station. Then there are the custom painted slogans, such as the one I saw right above a license plate: "If ur not a HEMROID get off my ASS" (sic).

2. Stoner humour. More common on or around the campus of our local university. These are the sort you can purchase at the local record store, e.g. Col. Sanders over the motto "I'm Dead"., "420" and so forth. This often crosses over with the "Hokey Pokey" bumpers stickers you mention. Perhaps predictably, I often see variety 2 pulled over on the highway next to an RCMP cruiser.

3. The kind of thing that's obviously been ordered from a right-wing website, such as a hand holding a gun and the words "Is there life after death? Steal this car and find out." This third variety is quite rare, fortunately.

"Support the Troops" magnets are ubiquitous as others have reported.

When I was in my early 20s, I used to like decorating my car. I had a Canadian flag sticker, something about Cthulhu (I was, and still am, a hopeless nerd), and a little plastic skeletal model of a human hand tied to my rearview mirror. My taste for such things faded long ago.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Jeff. It's funny, driving through rural Newfoundland, we didn't see this at all.

"Support the Troops" magnets are ubiquitous as others have reported.

Are they really ubiquitous? I see them often, but they're not the norm.

Also, I want to make sure everyone really clicked on that link to Lone Primate's blog. That's a whole lot more than "support our troops".

Dharma Seeker said...

I used to have one that read "my Ontario includes pitbulls" (it fell off). I notice animal rescue bumper stickers here and there. I've also noticed the "out of a job yet" stickers m@ commented on.

I know how some of my co-workers didn't vote (meaning I knew they weren't voting Conservative) but nobody actually came out and endorsed a candidate or party (including myself). I feel very comfortable discussing what I consider important issues with anyone and everyone but wouldn't try to influcence a co-worker's decison about who to vote for.

For me it's more about respect than politeness. I'd be pissed if someone tried to tell me who to vote for, and the people I discuss important issues with at work are just as thoughtful and informed as I am.

L-girl said...

Thanks, D/S. Interesting.

I wouldn't say in US workplaces people are actively trying to change anyone else's vote. Some are, I suppose, but mostly it's like a verbal bumpersticker: this is me, this is what I stand for.

I love the pit bull sticker. :)

L-girl said...

The strangest stickers I've noticed down here lately are the 'In memorian' type ones that display information rather like a gravestone but are in a clear background sticker that is on the rear window of the car.

Weird!

I wonder if that's a Southern US thing?

West End Bob said...

You're right, L-Girl. The Lone Primate-supplied bumper sticker is revolting - probably not uncommon South of the 49th, though.

Maybe there is a lack of bumper stickers here in Canada because of the short duration of the campaigns. Here in Vancouver with all the high-end vehicles, the drivers probably don't want to mess up their Porsches and Bentleys with a bumper sticker for a month-long campaign . . . .

L-girl said...

Maybe there is a lack of bumper stickers here in Canada because of the short duration of the campaigns.

I thought of that, too, but I'm not referring only to election bumper stickers. I'm thinking of all the issue-oriented bumper stickers you see in the US - pro/anti-choice, pro/anti war, pro/anti guns, pro/anti environment, etc. I definitely don't see that in Ontario.

John F said...

Thanks, Jeff. It's funny, driving through rural Newfoundland, we didn't see this at all.

Interesting. I don't know enough about Newfoundland to tell you what the difference is.

Is "Jeff" a contraction of "John F"? I kinda like it!

Are they really ubiquitous? I see them often, but they're not the norm.

"Ubiquitous" might be too strong a word. They are VERY common in Halifax, which is a military town from way back (there's a reason that the city's most recognizable landmark is a fortress).

L-girl said...

Is "Jeff" a contraction of "John F"? I kinda like it!

Oh duh! Yes, that's exactly what it is, an unintentional contraction courtesy of a disconnect between my brain and my fingers. Sorry!!

They are VERY common in Halifax, which is a military town from way back

I hear that all the time re Halifax. That's probably a principal difference between Newfoundland and NS right there.

Anonymous said...

I thought of that, too, but I'm not referring only to election bumper stickers. I'm thinking of all the issue-oriented bumper stickers you see in the US - pro/anti-choice, pro/anti war, pro/anti guns, pro/anti environment, etc. I definitely don't see that in Ontario.

The bumper stickers I see most often (here in the GTA) are those showing off the owner's ethnicity -- little flags or those oval stickers with country abbreviations in them. But yeah, I'd say 90% of cars here have no bumper stickers at all.

But Americans have Team Spirit like no other people on the planet. I think this is kind of related -- everybody has an allegiance they're proud of, and it's perfectly natural to let others know about it. I am always amazed at how much more important sports are in the US compared to Canada.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

You're totally right about the bumper sticker thing, although it had never clicked with me. Bumper stickers are just a much bigger industry in the U.S.--whether political or no.

But when they are political, it probably has something to do with the other thing that you put your finger on, i.e. the fact that Canadians don't talk much about how they vote. Often not even among friends. I talked about this back here. It still feels foreign to me, to be honest.

L-girl said...

But Americans have Team Spirit like no other people on the planet.

Oh my, British football supporters, and Brazilians, and New Zealanders might have something to say about that, to name a few.

I am always amazed at how much more important sports are in the US compared to Canada.

This may be true (I don't know), but US team passions pale in comparison to the passions in many other places.

L-girl said...

But when they are political, it probably has something to do with the other thing that you put your finger on, i.e. the fact that Canadians don't talk much about how they vote. Often not even among friends. I talked about this back here. It still feels foreign to me, to be honest.

It's very different, isn't it!

Steve said...

Sorry L-girl, it was early and I had just finished working my night shift. What I meant to say was that the bumper sticker you linked too, I've seen on vehicles with veteran plates, (as amazing as that sounds), hence the association in my mind between the two!

There was also a lot of controversy here with The City of Calgary not allowing "bumpers stickers"/yellow (or more commonly camo) ribbons on City vehicles, with the end result The City caving in and selling the yellow and camo ribbons at City locations.

Anyway, that's one man's view from Calgary.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Steve. I couldn't tell if it was an "I agree" comment, or "come out west and see people who really support the troops!" comment.

Thanks for explaining. :)

We had a similar controversy here in Misssissauga and in Toronto. Both cities caved, and those who dissented were painted as unpatriotic. Bah!

M@ said...

Both cities caved, and those who dissented were painted as unpatriotic.

Same in Waterloo Region. I was asked about this when I was interviewed about my book; my answer was it's as ridiculous as slapping "SUPPORT OUR AMBULANCE DRIVERS" magnets on the tanks in Afghanistan.

I think one of the worst things we can do for our troops is to politicise them and their mission. It does them a great disservice and creates many, many problems.

impudent strumpet said...

I think there were more bumper stickers around when I was a kid. I remember them being an integral part of our car games, but now it's not unusual to go through a day without seeing any at all.

I wonder if it's because more people lease cars now? (Do more people lease cars now?)

MSS said...

Interesting observations. Not much to add, other than that I rather like the sticker culture. I don't know why...

On the "in memoriam" thing mentioned above, it is actually relatively common around here (southern California). I, too, do not get it. Seems really tacky. When I go, I really do not want anyone posting that on the back of their car!

Stephanie said...

Just a note on the absence of political discussion in the workplace...

Growing up here I can remember time and time again hearing mentioned the wisdom of never discussing religion and politics, though I feel that there was a fixed expression in there that is escaping me at the moment.

Would this be true of you in the US as well?

More or less on a par with never discuss your (your parents) earnings.

Jen said...

In the "funny sticker taken seriously" camp, Leah's mum had a sticker on her old mini van that said "Back off! I'm a goddess!" A taxi driver (GTA) got out of his cab and excitedly asked her what goddess she embodied... he was Hindu and in his worldview this could totally happen.

There is one car at one of our dog parks that is covered in religious, anti-abortion and anti same-sex everything stickers. The woman has a great dog (her only saving grace), but is generally considered a nutter by all who've tried/had to talk to her...

L-girl said...

I think one of the worst things we can do for our troops is to politicise them and their mission.

I agree, but when wars are fought for purely political reasons, it's a natural consequence.

L-girl said...

I rather like the sticker culture. I don't know why...

I have to say I like it too - for the same reasons as I like having a blog, or wearing a Red Sox t-shirt. The bumper sticker is an announcement of identity.

On the "in memoriam" thing mentioned above, it is actually relatively common around here (southern California). I, too, do not get it. Seems really tacky. When I go, I really do not want anyone posting that on the back of their car!

Me neither!!! :)

I've never seen it. I'll look for it next time I'm in the US.

L-girl said...

Growing up here I can remember time and time again hearing mentioned the wisdom of never discussing religion and politics, though I feel that there was a fixed expression in there that is escaping me at the moment.

Would this be true of you in the US as well?


Yes, definitely - but not never discussing them - never discussing them in the workplace. I think it was called "in the office" or "on the job" then.

Everyone discussed politics all the time when I was growing up. Civil rights, Vietnam, the women's movement - it was inescapable. But you - or your parents - were supposed to not talk about it at work.

In my experience, that's thought of as a relic of a bygone era, circa Betty Crocker. Perhaps USians from other areas of the country will have a different perspective.

L-girl said...

Leah's mum had a sticker on her old mini van that said "Back off! I'm a goddess!" A taxi driver (GTA) got out of his cab and excitedly asked her what goddess she embodied... he was Hindu and in his worldview this could totally happen.

That is hilarious! I totally love it.

David Heap said...

I've never seen the bumper stickers Stephanie and David mentioned.

I'm the first to admit these are far from representative. Absence of stickers = Canadian norm, as L-girl says.

If I listed all the bumper sticker slogans I know from the US, on both left and right, it would be the longest post ever.

I don't drive in the U.S. but I have seen some of the startling array of stickers for sale online for the U.S. market -- enough to plaster a whole fleet of trucks with messages I might sympathise with, another one with messages that make me shudder, and a few more with messages that are just puzzling.

The scale of which seems somehow un-Canadian, my own vehicle's decals notwithstanding.

As for sharing your voting allegiances, could this have to do with there being so little difference (most of the time) between the Republicrats and the Democratans? Not to trivialize either next Tuesday's vote or people's passionate affections for sports teams, but from this distance "rooting for" either of the U.S. parties seems more akin to wearing team colours than an real ideological stance. If so, it might be natural to cheer loudly for your team / party, just as one does for other public distractions, like sports.

In contrast, the European countries I am familiar with (was in Spain during regional elections and France during the presidential elections in 2007), lots of people are passionately engaged in the electoral process -- and of course it matters more because there is a broader range of genuine choices to vote for and (under proportional representation) actually elect. But the same people rarely seem to wear electoral political buttons, let alone decorate their cars or their homes -- I saw much less of either than in Canada.*

Could there be some sort of inversely proportional thing going on : less real political choice = more public display of politics? Admittedly the comparative sample isn't huge, but this would place Canada somewhere in the middle between Western Europe and the U.S.


* One exception being bumper stickers denoting regional political nationalism: in Spain, the Basque flag or colours, or the Catalan (to a lesser extent Valencian and Galician) are on many cars as an expression of both politics and identity. Also the donkey (symbol of Catalonia) vs. the bull (symbol of Spain) and occasionally the two of them in compromising positions wrt each other (depending on drivers' view of who is doing what to who). Try explaining that to a curious kid at 120+ km/ hr.

David Heap said...

, I'm not talking about the yellow ribbon magnets. I see plenty of those. Bumper stickers are something else.
Yes, but aren't they part of the same continuum? Canadians obviously have much less trouble putting these messages on their cars -- an expression of group-think patriotism which is somehow OK (?!) because not viewed as "political" (whereas opposing or even questioning war is "political", what BS!).

I have given the "question war" magnets to a couple of friends / colleagues who, though privately quite supportive, were reluctant to show their views on their cars (the magnets ended up on their fridges, I think). One expressed concern (only partially joking, I think) about whether it would attract vandalism to her car (and I admit that I take them off mine when parking for long periods in remote low-traffic places).

L-girl said...

Yes, but aren't they part of the same continuum?

No, I don't think so. I know plenty of people who would mindlessly say "support our troops" - the NDP supporter I mentioned above is one of those - but would never express the sentiment in that other bumpersticker.

an expression of group-think patriotism which is somehow OK (?!) because not viewed as "political" (whereas opposing or even questioning war is "political", what BS!).

I agree with this, of course. But I don't think it's on a continuum with believing someone who doesn't agree should be killed.

Sarah O. said...

John F. missed one sticker common here in N.S. - an Acadian flag sticker. And I can't tell you how often (okay: pretty darn often) I see a car here with an Acadian flag, a "support the troops" ribbon, and a GLBT rainbow flag, all on the same car. If you know a number of military people, that is not really unusual at all, but Americans might find it interesting.

Just as a minor, O/T quibble, I don't know that Nfld and NS's history regarding military presence is all that different. I think if Newfoundlanders' I.D. with the military has declined, it is a relatively recent change (the last 15-20 years). Out of sight, out of mind, perhaps?

L-girl said...

As for sharing your voting allegiances, could this have to do with there being so little difference (most of the time) between the Republicrats and the Democratans?

No, not at all. Most USians do not see it this way at all. And in this case "most" means a huge majority.

L-girl said...

Just as a minor, O/T quibble, I don't know that Nfld and NS's history regarding military presence is all that different. I think if Newfoundlanders' I.D. with the military has declined, it is a relatively recent change (the last 15-20 years). Out of sight, out of mind, perhaps?

Not OT, very welcome!

I couldn't speak to the history, obviously, but if there's a "support the troops" mentality in Nfld, it's well concealed.

David Heap said...

could this have to do with there being so little difference (most of the time) between the Republicrats and the Democratans?

No, not at all. Most USians do not see it this way at all. And in this case "most" means a huge majority.


Precisely what I was trying to get at: people can believe that their political choices are meaningful just as they believe that rooting for one sports team or another is a matter of life-and-death importance. But if the teams are mostly indistinguishable (again, an outsider's view) then rooting for one or the other to win the Whitehouse or the Congress or the pennant or the cup could be very much about a chosen "brand" identity, and not so much about a real ideological choices.

People believing their electoral choices matter doesn't necessarily make it so. So maybe rooting for one's team / party / spiritual (cheer)leader in publicly visible ways could really be a correlate of the impoverished spectrum of political choices.

Which might speak to Canadians being more reticent about how we vote, but really doesn't help with why the issue-based bumper-stickers are so common in the U.S. and so rare here.

L-girl said...

So maybe rooting for one's team / party / spiritual (cheer)leader in publicly visible ways could really be a correlate of the impoverished spectrum of political choices.

Maybe... but I doubt it. :)

Which might speak to Canadians being more reticent about how we vote, but really doesn't help with why the issue-based bumper-stickers are so common in the U.S. and so rare here.

To me it seems indicative of a general cultural difference - announcing your views to everyone whether or not they asked, vs politely keeping your views to yourself.

David Heap said...

vs. politely keeping your views to yourself.
I am less and less sure that this "reserve" is actually polite -- note that it doesn't seem to apply if said opinion is legitimated by the quasi-official campaign to display yellow-ribbon stickers, or to participate in "wear red to support the troops" days (among other places in PRIMARY schools, fercrissake). Such politeness bordering on conformity, this Canadian could do without (thank you very much, and sorry for the apologies...).

L-girl said...

David, now that I think of it in that light, I am inclined to agree with you - or perhaps there's a mix of politeness and conformity - or some form of politeness that demands conformity. Or something along those lines.

James said...

An extreme example.

L-girl said...

Ack! It's the wingnut version of the hippie VW microbus.

Anann said...

I was graced with the gift of a few random bumper stickers that a friend of mine picked up for me at some weird/cool little shop in Victoria. They read:

"God is coming, and is she pissed!"

and the other is a quote from Jonathan Swift:

"We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough religion to make us love one another."

I guess he thought I would appreciate them. :) I do, but they won't be on my car. The former is now on my laptop, and the latter doesn't have a home yet. :)

Peace.