Americans

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by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

My overt affection for Americans – specifically, the citizens of the United States of America just to be clear – is in one sense understandable, in another paradoxical. It is understandable in that many of my ascendants on both sides of my family are from the United States of America; it is paradoxical in that a good chunk of my ancestors were United Empire Loyalists which hardly speaks well of the early relationship between my clan and those to the south. It would of course be absurd to attach anything but historical significance to that quondam feud. Besides I wager that even though we Canadians have managed to keep up appearances as far as being British goes, the Americans frequently betray more than a passing (though admittedly disguised) admiration for the Crown. If this doesn’t effectively obviate past differences, I submit that the preponderance of current diplomacy speaks to a solid link between all three countries, Canada, Britain and the United States.

Anyway, I’m getting far afield of my original thesis; namely, the unending delight I derive from my American cousins. Let me first disclose that I enjoy bashing the Americans as much as anyone, but in a good way. It requires very little provocation for me to ridicule CNN, Fox News or Bloomberg radio, who doesn’t! And yet I listen to them on the satellite air waves constantly! The bravado, near shouting and entirely insular focus of the announcers and their programming are yet to be admired. Granted the insights are frequently little more than elevated navel gazing, but one has to respect them for their conviction! NPR does at least travel significantly beyond the customary boundaries of mainstream American radio, though in spite of the intellectualism the thread of intense nationality is impossible to ignore. The image of the “ugly American” (something which was especially popular in Europe several decades ago before the Germans usurped the bookplate) is something which has never entirely disappeared though I challenge anyone on a global expedition not to welcome an encounter with an American.

Speaking of travel, a good deal of my vacation time has been spent in the United States of America largely for the reason that the warmer temperatures are a considerable attraction during our frigid winter months and the preferred destinations involve few if any stop-overs. This however is not the entire story. Even in the summer months I have frequently wandered into the United States including Florida in July and August (something by the way which I consider the best kept secret).

Granted the more frequent summer adventures have been to Cape Cod and the Maine coast. When one compares these sorties to those which compete equally well in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in terms of beaches, one has to ask what tips the balance. The answer is not simply population, but it is undeniable that the large markets have afforded those with resources the stage upon which to offer up a generous board. Even then, however, the result is not complete without giving credit where credit is due, and by that I mean to the Americans themselves.

It is at this juncture that I become a bit schmaltzy. The fact of the matter is that I find Americans overwhelmingly entertaining (in spite of their often narrow and rock-ribbed views). If one avoids the polemics surrounding an intense discussion of religion, liberty and general constitutional rights, I think you’ll find as I do that Americans are exceptionally well adapted socially. I am further inclined to think that it is only upon delving behind the curtain of propriety that one is privy to the intimate workings of the American mind, but this should be no surprise to anyone for we all harbour those distinguishing features of “family” upon scrutiny. It is only that the Americans are so regularly subjected to that scrutiny that the obvious becomes apparent. One must guard against becoming too uppity when it comes to overall purity.

The true test of friendship is the reciprocal admiration of one for another without strings attached. I won’t go so far as to suggest that either one or the other of the components is “better” nor even that one or the other qualifies for superiority on the strength of any feature or age of development. I prefer to think of our relationship as “mutual” which I’m sure you’ll agree nicely avoids the trap of commitment. In any event my fondness for Americans is neither comparative nor derivative. It’s a stand-alone thing, like a work of art.

It is an inescapable observation that Americans cultivate generosity. I include in this compliment their preference for large portions in everything from food to automobiles. It is for example quite the challenge upon returning home from the United States to adjust to the smaller portions in one’s evening cocktail. The metaphorical thirst of Americans for all that life has to offer is pandemic and reminds one that the Wild West spirit isn’t far below the surface.

As anyone knows who has ventured to New York City, Americans, apart from the tourists, enjoy an enviable sophistication including, if you will, afternoon tea and of course opera, art galleries and architecture. There is of course a tradition of pushing the vulgar side of Americans, but I find that to be largely anecdotal. It is no accident that in its place of origin even the “Occupy Wall Street” movement has been polite.

Compared to many of the world’s more ancient societies, America is still virtually a teenager, indeed often an irascible and upstart youth. It is nothing to hear the so-called “average” American claim lineage to one of the founding Pilgrim Fathers. While it is not uncommon to hear that the “American Dream” is fast fading, that condemnation doesn’t fit well with what many others continue to believe. If anything, the recent pressures on the American economy have illustrated to me that Americans are pulling together to preserve what they have always valued. There is a certain child-like ingenuousness about the American psyche which appeals to me. As rebellious as some Americans can become, in the end I find they are disposed to listen to reason and common sense. The Americans have a certain civility which I think will put them in good stead in the long run.