Friday, September 18, 2015
Canadians love to plaster the maple leaf all over everything. Some Americans do the same with the stars and stripes.
One thing about visiting Canada is the chance to view a culture through different eyes. One thing you notice right off is the prevalence of maple leafs (leaves?) on everything. Canadians love to put them on everything from cars to clothing to furniture. Every Canadian RV seems to have a prominent maple leaf on it, just to get the point across. This ain't no stinkin' American RV! Nosirree!
At first, I thought this was odd, but then I realized that an equal number of Americans go ape shit with the stars and stripes, putting them on everything from motorcycle gas tanks to helmets, jackets, cars, and of course, even flags.
In Canada, the maple leaf often sneaks into products to make them seem more "Canadian". Living next to the United States (and the majority of Canadians live within 100 miles of the border), it is hard to keep a separate cultural identity. Moreover, American companies like to Canadian-ize their products to make them seem more unique and, well, Canadian. For years, General Motors took their cheapest cars (the Nova, the Chevette) and called them "The Acadian" replete with a tiny maple leaf logo. I am not sure it fooled anyone in Canada, as it was the same car, albeit with a standard block heater.
Ditto for Ford's Mercury pickup trucks, which were available only in Canada. American companies pander to the Canadian need to have a separate national and cultural identity. Often, this amounts to little more than adding a maple leaf to your logo. Wendy's, for example, uses a maple leaf as an apostrophe in their name. McDonald's puts one discreetly under theirs. My Canadian friends in college gleefully told me their McDonald's was "different" because you could get vinegar with your fries.
It's the little differences you notice...
Of course, most of these are pretty superficial changes. The lack of high-fructose corn syrup in all the foods is one real difference that is appreciated. But for the most part, Canada is, as Homer Simpson put it, "America, Jr." and I suspect that is one reason there is a lot of flag-waving up there. They don't want to get lumped in with us, or absorbed into our culture.
And this is not a new trend. During the Taft administration, a "free trade agreement" was proposed between the US and Canada. Conservative Republicans, who believed in "the Tariff" (more on that in another posting) tried to derail the treaty in the Senate. It passed. Frustrated, they spread rumors in Canada that this free trade agreement was the first part of a plan to "annex" Canada into the United States. That was all it took to call for new elections and install a new government, which quickly kibosh-ed the proposed free trade deal. If you want to hit a hot button with Canadians, it is their underlying fear of a US takeover.
But the point of this post wasn't to take a piss on our neighbors to the North, but to illustrate how we all like to wear logos or flags and use our bodies, cars, and houses as advertisements for our national loyalties, team loyalties, and brand choices. As I have noted in a number of postings, while you may wear a hat that says "Chevy" on it, the President of General Motors (an old classmate of mine!) doesn't wear one that says "Earl". You may be a fan of them, they don't know you exist.
Of course, much of this logo-ed stuff is given away for free. But others actually pay money to have someone's commercial advertisements on their clothing. The humorless road cyclists (road bikes, man, why?) love to sport jerseys with names of companies on them, as if they were being sponsored to race, rather than merely being billboards for others. Harley-Davidson has made an empire out of licensing its trademarks and logos to third parties, and people willingly line up with credit cards in hand to put these ads on their bodies.
And sometimes this is literal - people tattoo company names on themselves.
I thought about this and realized that since our old American flag wore out, we don't even own one. No flag stickers, no bunting, no stars-and-stripes shirts, pants, chairs, or whatever. Apparently, I am utterly unpatriotic. Or perhaps I think that patriotism is a little more than merely wearing symbols.
Ditto for corporate logos. I do have one BMW hat that was given to me at the Amelia Island Concours. But Mark wears that, when he finds it crumpled up under a seat of the roadster. I do have a lot of t-shirts and clothing with names of places we have been, which I like because they remind me of trips we have taken or are a good way to start a conversation. But for the most part, my life is logo-free.
Being a "fan" of anything, I think, is sort of silly - whether it is a sports team, a company, a product, or even a country. And sometimes, I think the folks who are fans are, in addition to being boorish, sometimes dangerous. Soccer (football) fans routinely kill each other (and even the players) in some countries in the world - all over a stupid game. Nationalists who wave their country's flag and proclaim it the best place on earth (uber alles) often cause all sorts of trouble the world over.
And being a fan of a company or product is sort of the height of stupidity, in my opinion. Companies make products to make money - selling them to you. Being a fan of the person you bought something from seems sort of odd to me. And companies change over time, as well as their products. You might proclaim yourself a "Chevy man forever" but what happens when the company goes bankrupt and their products start to suck? Do you keep on buying because you are a fan? Or do you check out what is for sale across the street?
I am not sure what the point of all of this is, other than to question why it is we do the things we do. It's OK not to have a logo or flag on everything you own.