I fled the country this summer to a land where they sell milk in plastic bags, employ wishing wells as a major theme in yard dÃ©cor, and capitalize in maple flavoring in every aspect of their cooking. I am speaking of the country of Canada, specifically the tiny town of Perth, Ontario, which I have been visiting every summer since I was born. My grandparents own a cottage on the shores of the rural Lake Otty close by the town, and my family has journeyed every summer from the heat and humidity of South Carolina to the cool respite of the lakeside cottage. This last summer was especially eye-opening to me, for as I’ve grown older, I’ve been able to better appreciate what I can learn from the Canadians.
We flew to Syracuse, New York, then rented a car and drove the rest of the way to Lake Otty. There, I got to relax, enjoying fishing trips in the early hours of the morning, long, lazy afternoons swimming in the lake, and tranquil evenings echoing with the sound of whip-poor-wills in the darkness. We went into “town,” as we called Perth, about once a week. In Perth, a village famed for its annual garlic festival (which features such delicacies as garlic fudge and even more garlicky wine), there is a farmer’s market, a few overpriced boutiques aimed at American tourists, and–of increasing importance to me this past summer with the advent of my own Facebook account–a library which offers fifteen-minute increments of internet usage on its clunky computers. Often, my family would stop to visit our Canadian friends, and it was in talking to them this year that I gained perhaps the most valuable lesson of my trip—a new look at America.
As a child, I had viewed America and Canada as two cuts of the same cloth, separated only by a thin black line on the atlas map. But this year, in talking of politics and economies and current events, I grew to realize the two countries might be two different bolts of fabric entirely. I learned to see Canadians as their own individual people and to view my own country through their different viewpoint.
In Canada, I was not suffocated by biased American news channels (our cottage didn’t even have a television). Instead, I read American news from Canadian headlines and heard Canadian views on American events. They were often critical of our politics, but always more respectful about it than some of our own newscasters. They held different things important–hockey dominated the sports section of the paper with hardly a mention of football or baseball. When talking politics with Canadian friends, the conversation always seemed to center on America, perhaps because our government is filled with many more scandals and blunders than theirs (making it, dare I say, somewhat more interesting than the Canadian Parliament?). To hear their viewpoints gave me a new insight on America, an insight most Americans never get to experience. I came back to the U.S. with not only pastoral experiences of bass-catching and canoeing, but a reminder that there are people beyond our borders who can give us a new and helpful perspective on ourselves. When I think of Canada now, I do not think only of those odd bags of milk or the wishing wells or the bottles of maple syrup; I do not think only of the vast blue skies and the intense quiet of dewy Canadian mornings. I also think of the way I learned to better see the country I live in through the eyes of a different people.
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