I’m an American citizen, a privilege I acquired decades ago when I was born in the United States. This year, I became a Canadian citizen, too, after filling out a long application, providing additional paperwork to prove that I exist, and paying a fee of several hundred dollars. I also swore my allegiance to the British monarchy – in both English and French – a requirement that I fulfilled with some degree of bewilderment.
As a result, I am now a dual citizen. In other words, when someone asks if I’m an American, I can answer, “Yes.” When someone else asks if I’m a Canadian, I can answer, “Yes.” It’s a little like being a switch-hitter in baseball, or having type-O blood, or wearing a reversible shirt. Depending on your personality, it can either double the satisfaction of being connected to a nation, or it can magnify the feeling that you don’t really belong anywhere.
The true benefits of dual citizenship status were difficult to grasp in the beginning, but I’ve since discovered several important things about it.
First, I can sign up to serve in the military of either country, although that’s unlikely. Given my age and distaste for violence and thin mattresses, the lowest rank I’d accept is that of Brigadier General. And I’m not even sure about that, because rather than projecting power and respect, such a title makes me think of kitchen appliances. Also, the United States and Canada argue a lot, mostly over unfair trade practices involving softwood lumber and hockey players. If those conflicts ever escalated into full-scale war, I’d be caught in the middle, something like when your best friends get a divorce and you can’t decide which one to invite to your barbecue. In that situation, I might have to move to Switzerland, just to get away from the entire mess.
Switzerland, in case you didn’t know, is divided up into twenty-six regions called cantons, which sounds strangely Chinese and would likely confuse me to no end, especially when I consider that it’s taken me fifteen years to get used to provinces and territories and speaking French to the Queen of England. Switzerland is also landlocked, and while I’m not claustrophobic, a trip to the nearest beach looks to be about a three-day trip by bus, and I’d imagine that could be both uncomfortable and expensive. On the other hand, Switzerland is neutral, which I believe means they don’t have static electricity there. So their computer screens probably aren’t coated with dust all the time, and that seems like a good thing.
Another reward of dual US-Canadian citizenship is that I’m free to live in either country. Again, how to choose? It’s hard enough trying to decide on living room furniture, never mind national residency. Each has its share of attractions and drawbacks.
One side has alligators and hurricanes and rude taxi drivers, but has been blessed with an abundance of reasonably-priced Mexican restaurants. The other has hundreds of people who break out into spontaneous step-dancing and millions more who can’t stop talking about hockey, but is also home to inexpensive universities and free x-rays.
Both nations have a Niagara Falls, although the Canadian version is the one that gets into all the travel books. Both have cities called Vancouver in their corners, but I haven’t visited either, so I can’t comment on them with any level of credibility. Each country has lame television programming, but the United States has more channels, and therefore a greater variety of lameness. There’s better pizza south of the border, but lower property taxes to the north.
The biggest surprise is that I can vote in both places, a process that grows more discouraging all the time. In America, most elected officials seem narrow-minded and dishonest. But at least they’re interesting. In Canada, political debate usually involves endless squabbling about sovereignty rules and oil pipelines. Even their scandals are boring. Then again, in the United States, there’s no longer any such thing as scandal. You do something outrageous and two years later you’re back running for office. The only thing different is that now you have a book deal, and possibly your own radio talk show.
I’ve considered all of these issues as a whole, and have decided that the only logical step is for me to take full advantage of dual citizenship. I’ll build a house right on the border, so I can have pizza delivered to the front door and go for doctor visits out the back. And while I’d skip the military career, getting involved in both political systems seems like a good idea, although merely exercising my right to vote doesn’t go quite far enough. I may run for both president and prime minister.
If elected, my first acts as dual leader of the free world would be to make step-dancing illegal and go out for Mexican food. Then I’d visit those two Vancouvers, in order to settle the matter in my own mind. I’d also declare war on Switzerland, just to see what they’d do.