In a Canadian politics class in my first year of university, my professor did a survey on the first day: “What makes us Canadian?” Of all the varied answers, the one most consistent was, “we are not Americans.” This attitude is practically spoon fed to us at birth, and leads to a slight tendency to over-assert our Canadian-ness when we’re overseas. It is a direct product of our view of Canada as a soft power, working steadily and enthusiastically towards world peace and the end of poverty. Needless to say, I was taken aback when I began to be confronted with attitudes to Canada and America that surprised me.
Based on my academic understanding of aid, where sustainability is key and more does not necessarily mean better, I felt that Canada as a donor country would be in such a poor country’s good books, and America would be chastised for food aid: dumping agricultural products in developing countries and thereby undermining markets. Yet, when I arrived and started getting my NGO bearings, I found that this wasn’t the case. Instead, Canada’s institutional inconsistencies (particularly, withdrawal of bilateral aid, but as yet no return to NGO funding) were trumped by America’s long-lasting bilateral commitment to the country, even if the aid itself wasn’t the best kind. Morally as well, America comes up number one here, as its government continues stand up against gay marriage where ours doesn’t.
Yet, within the ex-pat community, this pro-American attitude is completely reversed. Out socially in Addis, I’m shocked at the number of times my American roommate is asked to claim responsibility for all his country’s missteps. He has been faced with unsolicited shouting, finger pointing, and dirty looks as he is questioned, “Why don’t you get your troops out of Iraq,” as if a withdrawal is within his power as an individual. One Canadian even went so far as to tell him that she hated him, simply because of his nationality.
By realizing that my perception of Canada as the “ideal developer” is certainly skewed, and coming face to face with my tendency to scapegoat America for the lack of global momentum towards development, perhaps I will be able to be more constructive in finding development solutions as a North American.