Monday, May 17, 2010

American vesus Canadian

The second volume of my autobiography called AFTER THE FALLS has just rolled off the presses in Canada. It will be out in America in November of 2011. Despite being born in America and spending my first twenty years there, I have lived my last 40 years in Canada. (There are three unaccounted for years-- maybe I was on another planet—oh wait it was weirder, I was in England!) Despite having lived the majority of my life in Canada, the book is about my life in America as a teenager in the happenin’ 1960’s. Therefore, I am glad that Penguin has seen fit to release it with some fanfare in the States in the fall.

I just received the American book cover in the mail and am surprised at how different it is from the Canadian cover. When you compare the two you can really see the difference between Canada and The States.

As you can see the Canadian cover has a small picture of me on the top half of the book and the bottom half is a much larger crowd of peace demonstrators. My image is a minor part of the cover. The majority of the cover is about demonstrating for the social good. In Canada it is considered to be gauche to put yourself forward. It is acceptable to write about yourself as long as it benefits society. I was part of a movement (civil rights and the peace movement) so my exhibitionism is socially sanctioned. It is acceptable to put yourself forward if it is for a worthy cause. The idea is that your ‘fame’ is a mere byproduct of your good works.

While the Canadian cover is white and demure, The American cover is black and edgy. It is covered with pictures of me and more me at various ages. It is supposed to be a page from my photo album. (Whether that works or not is up to you to decide. I'd be interested in your opinion.)The American version has ignored the social context of the memoir and focused on me growing up. Americans really think it is perfectly fine to say ‘It is all about me’.

The two covers are representative of what was stated in the two constitutions. In the American constitution you have the ‘right to happiness’. In Canada you have the right to ‘peace, order and good government’." You can see those two goals reflected in each cover.

In the U.S. It is acceptable to pursue your own happiness. If you want to ‘toot your own horn’ – so be it. In Canada whenever you leave the ‘pack’ you are suspect. In fact the phrases that each country uses to express individualism are the same. The tone however is different. In America you might say ‘She puts herself forward.’ That could be a compliment or a neutral statement. However, in Canada the phrase would have that English cutting edge and would be said as ‘She puts Herself forward’ and would be negative in tone. In America you would say ‘She hides her light under a bushel’ as in – what is that about? Why doesn’t she let people know what she can do? In Canada the same phrase would be a compliment. It could never be neutral or negative. You would be praised for your modesty. In Canada when someone asks 'what is new?'—they don’t mean new with you. It took me a few years to get on to that one. The flip side of that trait is that you will never see personal advertisements such as car stickers letting you know where their child goes to college ( Called University in Canada) or a bumper sticker with their personal slogan. You don’t see ‘support our troops’ since they would not presume to tell you whom to support.

When I first began to write I said to my Canadian friend that I was doing my own publicity. She said, ‘Really. You needn’t toot your own horn.' When I told a friend in the U.S. that I was doing some of my own publicity she said, ‘Oh great. Everyone works hardest for themselves.Go for it’

Of course each of these national traits has their pros and cons. In terms of making things happen and being a mover and shaker, the Stars and stripes has it all over Canada. If you want something done or a new idea put forward ask an American. However, if you want a door held open for you, no one to cut in line, and people who obey traffic laws, welcome immigrants and commit very little crime-- not even road rage—then you want a country who values working together – The mighty maple leaf.

Since I was born an American, all of you Americans will see me next fall blazing my way through the colorful leaves pushing my own book and giving whistle stop tours to whomever will listen. However, I have been in Canada long enough to never cut in line, have no flags on my car. Of course I will always hold the door for the next American behind me.