So I've now been in Toronto for four whole days - enjoying jetlag, insane credit card bills, and a horrific heat wave. I've also monopolized essentially any conversation I've had with my increasingly annoyed friends about how fabulous my summer was. In an effort to make it seem like Europe didn't make me more self-involved than I already was, I usually bookend stories with questions about what went down in Canada this summer, given I read nary a word of Canadian news post-June 15th.
"Uh... nothing," most say. "It rained a lot. Oh... but did you hear about the squirrel?"
It turns out the news event of Summer '09 in Canada was this, a story about how an American couple in Alberta's Banff National Park had timed a photo of them in front of a gorgeous Alberta backdrop, and a curious squirrel decided to pop into the frame and steal the shot:
It seems that now the squirrel has become a national icon.
"The legacy of a photo-friendly ground squirrel in Banff lives on," writes The Calgary Herald. "Banff tourism officials are piggybacking on the fame of the impish squirrel, whose infamous photo-crashing in a Lake Minnewanka snapshot made headlines around the world. 'We've been having a great time with it and it seems the rest of the world is having a great time with it as well,' said Julie Canning, Banff and Lake Louise Tourism president and CEO. The tourism office has set up Facebook and Twitter pages under the name of Banff National Park Squirrel, with visitors urged to send in their own pictures of the friendly creatures."
It was strange thing to come back home after two months of curiously observing international consideration of Canadians. Though for the most part it seems Europeans have this romanticized idea of Canada as the anti-America: a haven for accepted multiculturalism, freedom of sexuality, and free health care. All three of which I feel are greatly exaggerated. Yes, we are one of the most multicultural nations in the world. But we're also still pretty racist, and often quite segregated. Yes, we have gay marriage. But there's many a town or city neighbourhood where I'd be quite fearful to make out with a lad in public - and social hierarchies influenced by race and class dominate levels of acceptance. And yes, a trip to the doctor is free. But there's long wait times, and dental - as I'm about to find out quite severely from my first post-university-health-care-plan trip to the dentist - is very much not free.
But back to the squirrel. Somebody said to me once in Berlin, and at the time I was quite offended by it:
"Americans, they are obnoxious but they are interesting. Canadians, well - they're nice... but they're boring."
This is obviously an ignorant generalization on both fronts. But as this squirrel makes worldwide news, suggesting Canadians have so little going on - or are so uninterested in news that actually matters - that they make a squirrel that gets into a camera frame a national celebrity... well, it kinda speaks for itself.