If you are an American considering moving to the UK, the biggest obstacle you will face here isn’t the English class system, or people judging you on your accent or even getting used to an unfamiliar culture. Your most significant challenge will come from…Canadians.
The citizens of Canada have a reputation for being amiable and polite. And there’s of course some truth to this. But make no mistake, if you are an American living abroad, every Canadian around you is a bitter opponent interested in nothing more than knocking you down a peg or two. Without warning, without provocation, and without pity.
It starts when you first meet one of them. You’ll hear an accent indistinguishable to you from ‘American,’ and perhaps you’ll feel a certain sense of kinship. You’ll approach the Canadian with an outstretched hand and an ingenuous smile. You’ll ask something innocuous like: “Oh, hello my fine fellow, where are you from?”
This is the cue for the Canadian to strike. Without exception they will recite some variation of the following mantra: “Oh I’m Canadian from Canada and I’ve been living here instead of Canada for 14 years on account of Canada being part of the Commonwealth and me being Canadian from Canada….and er, um, Canada!” And then they’ll skulk away, trying to put distance between you and them. It’s not national pride in their icicle of a country that prompts this strange response. Rather, it’s a conscious effort to separate you from them. You see, you are an American, and you are fat. You are an advocate of children having automatic weapons. You don’t travel to other countries. You invented plastic surgery. You don’t spell color and humor with a “u”. You’re one of the bad ones, and they are the good ones. It makes our Canadian friends feel more like they fit in, if they can prove at every opportunity that they are not an “ugly American.”
And their British overlords are full partners in this conspiracy. The people of Britain love the charade that Canadians are fundamentally different and better than Americans, because it reinforces their image of themselves as top of the pecking order of English-speaking peoples. (And who can blame them for trying?) If you live here long enough, you’ll meet a Brit who will cautiously ask you if you are… “North American?” Now of course, they know that no one self-identifies as “North American,” so what they’re really asking you is code for: “Did you vote for George Bush? Do you wear Hawaiian shirts? Do you watch TV shows about Kardashians?”
The clever Canadian knows this game well and plays it to the hilt, at your expense. They will pretend they are multilingual and multi-cultured, even though they grew up watching “Saved by the Bell” just like you did, eating Oreo cookies and Reese’s peanut butter cups just like you have, and speaking just about as much French as you do (French Canadians excepted of course).
So what can an American expat do to combat this scourge of Canadian oppression? Well, there’s not really much- except at every opportunity, when you meet someone with a “North American” accent, walk up to them confidently, look them right in the eye and ask: “Where are you from in America?” It’ll make them seethe with rage inside. Unless of course they’re American. Which, chances are, they probably are since there are so many of us and so few of them.