Dec 4th 2013

I flew in from Tronna Aboot a week ago

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

The movie “Sylvia”, a biopic about the late American poet Sylvia Plath, has a scene in which Sylvia expects to be criticized by her London neighbour for some odd behavior.

“You must think I’m a stupid American bitch,” Sylvia says to her neighbour, an English matron. 

The neighbour is taken aback and replies: “Not at all my dear. I assumed you were Canadian.” I think I heard a collective gulp from the Canadians in the audience.

This happened in London, and I was just getting comfortable with being mistaken for a Canadian. Except for that film, I’m starting to like it, actually. When I visit the United Kingdom, I’m constantly being mistaken for one of them, although inside I’m as American as the next guy. 

A chatty London cab driver asked me the other day where I was from in Canada, and I heard myself saying, “I come from Tronna and I’ve been here aboot a week.” Feeling on a roll, I added, “Hope you know you’ve got a super town here, eh?”

The driver was charmed, called me “guv”,  and went on about what a nice bunch of people “you Canadians” are. I accepted his compliment but stopped just short of saying “we” are better than “those Americans”. 

I was so pleased he fell for my cover story that I even gave him a small tip (Canadians are rather tight.).

Pretending to be from Canada is a good way for Americans abroad to blend into the woodwork in times of turmoil. Throw in a self-deprecating comment about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and you’re home free. “Oh he’s just a fun and harmless chap,” I said. “He’s Canadian, you know.” The cabbie nodded his agreement. 

As I looked into this situation I realised that Britain’s soft spot for Canada is nothing particularly new. The British have always preferred Canadians. The Commonwealth creates some kind of bond that Americans will never understand because it has something to do with history.

The Canada thing is clearly a meaningful relationship, and a much closer one than the fictitious London-Washington corridor we hear so much about. (The Brits will find out just how fictitious when they exit the European Union in a few years and start depending on us for real.) 

At first I thought the Brits preferred Canadians because they don’t shout, don’t interrupt and don’t wave their arms about when they talk. But now I know it’s more about being harmless and unthreatening. In contrast, Americans are becoming so scary that when the British meet us on the street they hope we will turn out to be Canadians.

What great good fortune for Americans to have a cosy refuge in which to pretend to hide, a neighbouring country where people are like us yet in a different gray, benign way.

Canada has been so good to me that I’m going all the way. Like an animal that adopts protective colouring, I wear slip-on rubber-soled shoes and a plaid shirt, and I have a maple leaf dangling from my briefcase. I even spell neighbour with a “u”. 

Not one British person has taken me to task lately for Middle East bungling or shooting lawyers on the street or electrocuting Texas felons or causing world-wide obesity or not knowing which way is up. I’m a “Canadian”.

Okay, America seems to have more big faults than other countries but only because there are 316 million of us, and most of us have guns, some of them quite big. Ergo we produce more horror stories in the news than little countries like France and the United Kingdom.

This is not the answer most people want to hear, however. Like the cab driver, they prefer to chat with someone totally uninvolved in anything. 

So if the cabbie liked me so much, why did he throw my tip back at me as I walked away from his stupid old 1950s London taxi? I don’t know but I wasn’t abooot to let it lie there in the street. A tuppence is a tuppence.

 


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