English Canadians suck at shooting the breeze because they can’t let down the massive caker shields that protect them against new and potentially-challenging information.
When I’ve gone Stateside, I’ve struck up some really neat conversations with ordinary people who wouldn’t look like they did a whole lot otherwise. I met a colorful retired couple from Minneapolis about 4 years ago (hi Bert and Andrew!) who were really interested in the fact that I was in post-secondary schooling. Andrew was a schoolteacher before he retired, and Bert drove a bus in the Twin Cities. Collectively, they should not be terribly exciting; in fact, they had heartfelt opinions and the courage to express them to a random stranger who might not agree with them. Our conversation was all the more interesting because there was obvious mental investment behind it from all parties.
Asking for that kind of investment in Canada is a disappointment waiting to happen. Caker society is so profoundly defensive and untrusting that conversations devolve into either thoughtless condemnation or mindless banter about dreck. Opinions, particularly those that aren’t politically popular are profoundly unwelcome and debate takes the form of being barked at before being ignored. The standard point of entry for Canadians trying to converse with one another is thus empty, meaningless banter – how the hockeymans are doing, what the weather has been like the past few days, or complaining about a problem only to then apologise for Canada’s uselessness. It’s the sort of fluff that reveals nothing about a person and demonstrates nothing of a person’s analytical or social prowess.
Bert and Andrew like most Americans were not immediately off-put by me working on a degree in political science. The act of learning is understood as important and worth doing; being more informed is on the whole is a good thing, and it’s expected that you’ve learned things from your degree. By contrast, having any interest in government or history in Canada brings about snide comments about how useless understanding government is. Rather than potentially learning things that could challenge and defeat the idiocy of caker revisionism and make-believe the English-Canadian will instead decry academics and intellectuals as biased un-Canadian haters with no understanding of the “real world”. Because as we all know professors and scholars are hatched in labs and never interact with the outside world.
This streak of smugly passing judgement on strangers comes to a head when it comes time to actually have a chat. Since controversial opinions or ideas for improvement could come with a chance that the other guy’s going to pass caker judgement, the impulse is to cower and stick to rote conversation topics. Conversations revolve around consumer goods, cliché, and shadowboxing on an endless loop. Buying a new couch is a singularly uninteresting activity, but I’ve found myself trapped in conversations where the fabric, the salesman, fucking everything needs a lurid description. I’m sorry, Skeezix, but you telling me that the salesman looked like a beluga (though not in such colorful terms) doesn’t give me much in terms of new knowledge about you.
Even the cliché topics can bring caker-judgement. Cakers love to chide one another over what constitutes a “real winter”. Are you struggling to get around after the city dropped the plowing ball yet again? Huff, says the stranger – you should see where I’m from! Your opinion of bad weather doesn’t count and in fact lowers my opinion of you because there’s always someone in the room who has seen a worse snowstorm, been trapped in more dire straits on a snowed-out road, or has otherwise sucked Jack Frost’s wintery dong harder. Even the shitty parts of Canada that cakers acknowledge can’t be spoken of unless there’s a cutesy curtsey to Canadiana at the end. I can’t get anywhere because our cities suck ass but this is Canada and it’s probably worse in Indian Cabins, AB so guess I can’t ask for better.
Not even English Canadians are cold and rude enough to make friendships and acquaintances a impossibility, and you can talk to those people about certain topics outside of Sports and Weather. But God help you if you want to talk about anything important to you with an English Canadian stranger, because then you’ll get to inevitably hear a litany of reasons why your ideas for self-improvement are bad. And about how it sure is warming up this week, eh?