Navigating the minefield of potential faux pas with sensitive Canadians is a grueling business at the best of times. In British universities, where their most sensitive exports herd in considerable numbers, many nurse their wounded armour propre with an imperial humourlessness rarely matched even by the Germans. Doubtless, like most global problems, they can be laid at the door of Americans. When you think your provincial cosmopolis is the Athens of the North, it must be a wounding sleight to be asked if it has any good trout holes. But, even this insult paled beside the etiquette blunder I made at my first test; I missed the tell-tale funny pronunciations and asked whereabout in the Great Satan my short-lived friend was from. From then on, not a lot to be done apart from break off and move on to the next person I would never say hello to by the second week. These are perhaps small trials in the great combat of life but suffering is not a competition and I felt badly enough to exercise more care.
Weeks passed—I did just fine—and then the annis horriblis with a 28 year old PhD student from Toronto whose dissertation thesis was “First Nation Culture in an age of Cultural Imperialism.” I said Eskimo—she said lots more. After that, I just lay down with the inner bigot and stopped trying. I doubtless had a bad run, and I have never allowed my class prejudices to colour my judgement of the country. Of stupid Canadians, Ice hockey fights and Mark Steyn, I cannot speak highly enough but, of their lumpenintelligentsia and all its bovine subMarxist trendiness, it is impossible to be too offensive about and, lest it be overlooked, there are plenty of them. C.B Macpherson, Marshal McLuhan, James Endicott, Gerald Cohen—these are no walk-on extras. If some were too orthodoxly Marxist to be trendy (the revolting Christian communist Endicott reproached the Tianneman square protestors for ‘plotting a capitalist restoration’), later products such as Michael Ignatieff and Naomi Klein have risen to the challenge with élan. Nations which nudge up against a colossus are particularly prone to exaggerate them and it is the misfortune of Canadians that America set a good standard to deviate from. In the US E Pluribus Unum, standards have been losing traction for a while; in Canada it has been fascism for decades and this pronounced aversion to Western exceptionalism feeds off a very Canadian neurosis.