I remember sitting in a college class ( Nonviolent Defense and Conflict Resolution) listening to a guest speaker talk about life as a submarine commander. This was a few years ago, but here is what I remember from his lecture, “You can travel the world and see amazing things, or you can find out that a bar in Asia looks the same inside as a bar in England.” (The other thing I remember about the class was that on the final day we had a discussion about how our views of violence had changed. My friend Rick said he would still punch someone if the occasion arose.) In other words: If you travel and want to see something different, stay out of bars. I have not always followed this advice, but in my many years of roaming this planet I will add my own bit of wisdom. “If you travel, and you visit bars, you will believe that the entire country is filled with drunks.” This is true in all countries except England where the country IS filled with drunks no matter where you go. England, it might be time for a few of your friend-countries to sit you down and have an intervention.
My early experiences with Canada involved traveling for college basketball games to distant locations like Edmonton, Vancouver, and Victoria. Now one might think, “Oh, isn’t it lovely that all you boys could get together and go and exercise with other young fellows. That sounds so healthy.” Well it wasn’t. Most meals were at the Golden Arches and evenings when I could have been reading my textbook on Nonviolence I was doing research on drunk Canadians. Where do you find drunk Canadians? Bars, liquor stores, and just about everywhere I went.
Canada has changed. I don’t know what happened to the drunk Canada that I once knew, but these days Canada doesn’t remind me of Canada at all, it reminds me of Norway. (I have a feeling it wouldn’t take much research to locate this drunk Canada again, but I’ll leave that up to somebody who doesn’t have to be in bed by 8:30.) Canada is on a health kick. I don’t know if it was the Vancouver Olympics or if Canada just decided that it needed to lose a few pounds, but whatever happened has transformed this nation into a bunch of granola eating, flip-flop wearing, tree-huggers, and I love it. Who knew a trip to Norway could be just a drive away?
Spend two hours watching Canadian television (I am American, if I can’t watch TV I go into a diabetic shock) and you will see commercial after commercial selling the outdoors and exercise. These are not ad campaigns focused on selling hiking equipment but commercials for Timmy Horton’s Donuts and McDonald’s. Everyone in Canada is now out river rafting, mountain biking, and hiking. I don’t remember this being a Canadian thing but exercise is now hip in Canada.
Yes, this is the same Canada that is a frozen land of snow and ice for seven months a year, but just like the Norwegians, Canadians have adopted the “there is no bad weather, there is just bad clothing” attitude about being outdoors. They have also invested infrastructure to support exercise. It was like Canada woke up with a huge hangover a few years ago and decided that it was time to start doing something other than vomiting all over itself.
I’m sure my American readers (Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh) have already seen through this Socialist plot to make people healthy. “The next thing you know, they will have everyone outside doing T’ai Chi every morning dressed in grey jumpsuits.” Yeah, that could be. Maybe since Canadians have socialized medicine it made sense to see if exercise might make people healthier. These Communist plots are the kind of Communist plots I can go along with. That’s right, I’m a Socialist-Communist-Pinko-Pacisfist who believes in universal healthcare. I also think that America needs a new cultural identity. I will borrow from the American classic Animal House, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.” The world’s view of Americans is that we are fat and stupid (and they might be right), but we could follow Canada’s footsteps off the couch and become a nation of people who exercise, not just a nation who watch exercise. Or, or we could just wait another five years and hope that Mexico continues to get fatter. We might still look pretty good if we stand next to Mexico.