Friday, August 6, 2010

Family Dynamics Of Some New World Countries

Pretty climate map of North America
I've always thought of the United States as a fundamentally adolescent sort of country.  Think about it:  the things America says are just the things teenagers say.  "I don't need you." "I'm going to do it my own way." "You're not the boss of me" and, of course, "I'm special and not like any other country on earth!"

It's natural to think that if the US is an adolescent, then Europe is a continent full of adults, and there seems to me something to this.  Some European countries have the air of people who have been through a lot of trouble and just want some quiet time to enjoy life.  They're like, OK, enough with the constant fighting and complaining! We've got better things to do.

I moved to Canada a few years ago, and I started to think, Well, if you think of Europe as the parents and the US as a kid, then clearly Canada is a kind of sibling.  Both the US and Canada are kind of like the children of broken homes -- the offspring of parents who don't always get along peacefully and who occasionally use the kids to get back at one another.

The thing is, I think, that where the US is a pain-in-the-ass ungrateful teenager, Canada is like a sensible younger child -- say, an eight or ten year-old.  You know those kids:  they basically have it together; they like doing things with the family; they have excellent senses of humor and mostly, they're annoyed and mystified by the behavior of their adolescent siblings.

Can't you picture it?  The scene:  an afternoon picnic with extended family.  America is texting under the table, rolling her eyes at her great-aunt, and picking a fight with some cousin.  She gets up to leave early, pissing everyone off.  Canada says, "Why do you always have to be so difficult?  Mom says we're going to all play scrabble and then go out for ice cream."

I love the United States, but as everyone knows, dealing with adolescents is exhausting.  In the excellent book White Noise by Don Delillo, there's a boy adolescent, Heinrich, who basically argues with everyone about everything.  There's one moment where his father, Jack, finally says something to which the boy responds "Exactly." Jack says something to himself like "I paused, savoring the rare moment of agreement."

I often travel between Canada and the United States, and I'm always amazed, coming back to Canada, by the absence of anger.  It's like you've been with Heinrich arguing all day and you're mad and worn out and irritable and then you encounter the younger kid, who gives you one of those knowing looks kids have, and says to you, "Hey, you wanna go to the aquarium or something?"

And you're like, "Yeah. Yeah, I do."


Daniel said...

Oooh, I like the analogy. I think of it sometimes too, but with a little bit of a different focus. Not with Canada and the U.S., but with Europe and the U.S. Europe is older, to be sure, but I guess I think of it's desire to just enjoy the good things, that there are better things to spend one's time doing, or whatever, instead of being disagreeable or misfit-like, as a sort of satisfaction that comes from exhaustion and being too tired to bother. I'm not sure how different from your take that is.

Patricia said...

Yeah, I think it's consistent with my interpretation. The too tired to bother feeling is interesting, especially when you contrast it with the always-ready-to-rumble sense of the US. Coming back from Europe to North America I always think, Oh yeah, ugly architecture, ugly chain stores, ugly fashion ... but what a lot of energy these people have for interacting with one another!