Canada/US - the biggest differences, eh?

>> Monday, April 27, 2009

Shakespeare wrote:

I do actually have a question just for you, flit. Since I know you are Canadian... What would you say are the biggest differences between Canadians and Americans? I'm very interested in knowing what you think.

Yay! A question for the Canadian edition of Ask Anything. Thanks Shakespeare.

So ... the biggest differences:

Health Care

The first one that comes to mind is one which conflicts with some of the rhetoric I've heard for as long as I can remember. Common wisdom seems to be that Canadians are sheep - we are polite, tolerant, and all sorts of positive-but-wussy stuff. In contrast, Americans tend to be portrayed as louder and more demanding. That interests me because it is so totally contradictory to my perception when it comes to health care.

Canadians expect quality health care to be available when we need it - and when there are issues we squack about it. Loudly. Many Americans, on the other hand, seem to think it perfectly reasonable that people suffer for no good reason while insurance companies decide who lives and who dies and whose pockets their hard earned money ends up in. Even people who HAVE coverage are at constant risk of a huge financial hit, it seems to me. And yet nothing is done about it. That boggles my mind. Seriously.

I get that many people buy the hype about socialized medicine having all kinds of problems - and there are problems... but we have health care. I never once - even when I was an unemployed single mom, a student, whatever.. had to choose between taking my kids to a doctor and feeding them. And never once had to stay in a lousy job because my family needed the health insurance either.

I just don't understand why every American doesn't apply to emigrate to Canada - preferably all on the same day - that would make the point that health care matters, wouldn't it?

How can anyone look at life expectancy rates for people in the US and not realize that there is a problem?

There are other differences that I also find contradictory - no maternity leave? What's up with that? When I had my kids, the mandatory mat leave was 6 months - now it's a year.

Maybe it's true that Americans are more loud and demanding than Canadians - but if so, WHY do you keep putting up with so much less than pretty much every other developed country? I honestly don't ~get~ it.


My perception is that Americans need lawyers a whole lot more than we Canucks do. When I have talked to people or posted online about issues with doctors, or businesses, or schools, or just about anything ...almost invariably someone will suggest that I call a lawyer..file a lawsuit... take it to court.

We do have lawyers here - but very few malpractice or personal injury claims or that sort of thing; it is just not done. Most issues can be resolved using services already in place such as ombudsmen or mediation - without a lawyer.


Guns are no where near as easy to get or to use here as they are in Canada. Once upon a time, I wondered if that was just more media hype ...but the more people I've talked to/read online, the more clear it is that it isn't.

Not that nobody has guns here - criminals traffic them in from the US, and hunters have them .... and there are collectors (I know of one) ... but they just are nowhere NEAR as common here as there. I have never held a gun more dangerous than a water pistol - and have no desire to either, thanks.

We pay more for less

Last year when the Canadian dollar was at or near par with the US it became extremely obvious to me that we Canadians are paying WAY TOO MUCH for way too many things - even things that are made in Canada! Even before we pay taxes, which in many parts of Canada are considerably higher than you pay in the US, at least on a day-to-day basis, the prices were stinking stOOpid.

Even when the dollar was at par, our prices were still 20% or more higher than similar items in the US. What really irks me is when we get hit for things that we have plenty of here in Canada - beef, oil, lumber, water - that's just gouging, and it truly aggravates me.

We are a ~little~ slow sometimes

Canadians tend to be a bit slow in some areas that I wish we would show more initiative in. Space exporation; environmental technologies, entertainment... I'm sure there are others.

Not that we don't take the lead in any areas - we've done pretty well in medical research and RIM, the company that made my Blackberry is an industry leader - but in my opinion we could do better, quit behaving like the US' little brother and think for ourselves more often.

I'm sure as I think about it, I'll come up with more differences - or, if you have an opinion about any of these, or any things that I missed, jump in!


  • Shakespeare

    No, this is cool. I find it all fascinating. I had one friend from Calgary, and her main beef with Americans (besides our insatiable desire for beef over vegetables) was that we wear so much gold and silver--around our necks, in our ears, etc. She wore a great deal of jewelry, but it was usually painted metal or even plastic.

    Thanks for giving me your own thoughts.

  • flit

    all my jewellry is real gold... well, except for my medic alert bracelet, which I keep taking off and hubby keeps making me put back on ... worrywart!

  • Phyl

    For quite a while, something I noticed was a difference in humour. It seemed to me, at least for a few years, that Americans liked more outright, almost slapstick humour, while Canadians tended more to the British type (much more cutting and sarcastic). I think that may have been too much of a generalization. But on the other hand, the famous SNL sketches with Chevy Chase always falling down would just leave me cold, while the humour of Stephen Fry would have me screaming. I felt it was a difference between the optimism of Americans, and a sort of inherent pessimism (or at least caution and slight cynicism) of Canadians.

    Of course, I've met a lot more Americans since then, and I know it's not remotely as cut-and-dried as that, and it's a big mistake to generalize in that way.

    One big difference is that the "well, of course" attitudes apply to different things. In Canada, there much more of a "well, of course" attitude toward the government helping citizens, while it seems there's a more "well, of course" attitude in the U.S. toward people going it alone and government being a last resort.

    I heard a great summary a few years ago, when the journalist Patrick Watson did a mini-series for PBS, trying to explain Canada to Americans. He said the U.S. was settled largely by people forging into the wild, fighting every inch to tame the frontier, so an intense spirit of independence and self-reliance was forged.

    Canada, on the other hand, tended to be settled by the Hudson's Bay company. It would go ahead, plan the towns, and then move people in, so that most towns began as company towns. Everything was ordered from the beginning, the town started with a court and police and a bank and the Bay, and you all knew the rules and who the bosses were. So the mentality of the two types of settler was vastly different and got handed down.

    I know that there were exceptions to this, on both sides of the border. But it really seems like a very good explanation to me.

  • flit

    That is very well reflected in the literature.. we talked about it a lot when I took my course in US lit

  • JD at I Do Things

    Very interesting post. I especially enjoyed the comparison between Canadian and American healthcare. I think what you say about Americans is spot on. We do tend to sit back and say things like, "You'd think in AMERICA we could get better . . . " etc, etc. But maybe we're not saying it loud enough.

  • Phyl

    Flit, now I'm more fascinated than ever about your studies, and what you're discovering!

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