Spending a summer abroad in Europe, even working, has a whiff of romance about it. Museums, cathedrals, and train journeys all seem quite exotic, especially from your desk during April exam time. I jumped at the chance to spend the summer in England, paid in pounds sterling and British culture. Having the opportunity to settle down for a few months in another country is wonderful; I’ve always been a bit of a frenetic traveler, never spending more than a few weeks or a month in any one place. Here I had four months to appreciate marmite, high tea, and all those other bastions of sophisticated Britishness. Yes, I would work, read and discover British life.
So I went, and in between work shifts, I learned. I talked to people, read papers, wandered aimlessly, stopped for groceries, and did all those other little mundane that I never get the chance to do when I am “traveling”. It was interesting, of course, but it would take a far better writer to summarize my impressions of England in one article. Oddly enough, it was the sense I got not of England, but of Canada that was more revealing
Being a Canadian looking at British society is like looking in a funhouse mirror of our own country – or perhaps we rough colonials are the reflections. So much in Canada is built on the British model, of course: our political system, our legal system, even our spelling. The results of these systems seem to parallel each other as well. Their political situation is much the same as ours, with the Labour Party stomping around on the top of a similar heap to the one Paul Martin currently stands on.
Multiculturalism is policy in both places, and debated in both. Being in such a superficially similar place was very revealing. In almost every argument, I got very lazy and resorted to, “well, in Canada we do it this was an it seems to work fine.” The thing was, that argument tended to work. As much as Canadians (especially myself) like to moan and groan about the state of things here, we do live in a society that does a pretty good job of being fair, just and tolerant of everyone. It’s not just a matter of being the “shining city on the hill,” and fulfilling some grandiloquent vision of nationhood. We get by, and muddle our way towards being an ever-more progressive society with a lack of fuss. The vitriol tossed around about immigrants in the English papers in my few months there would do for a decade or so of debate here. It’s far too easily taken for granted how well, in the grand scheme of things, the Canadian experiment is working.
Not that we should get comfortable. There are a million things in this country that need change, right now, and tomorrow I think I’ll get right back to being angry about them. Tonight, though, I can honestly toast a country that has taken a nasty world and has carved out something decent from it.