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"Oh, yes," I responded, maintaining a straight face and a steady, just-the-facts tone of voice. "It's halfway between Thanksgiving and Halloween, and it combines elements of both. There's nothing like eating a good roast pumpkin and watching the big soccer game on Leifenfest. Except instead of a soccer ball, the competing teams actually kick a pumpkin."
And on and on it went—I kept rolling out my revisionist version of Canadian culture and history, including tidbits like the "fact" that Leifenfest feted Canada's first monarch, Leif I, and that Leif was actually a man of the people, a former conductor on Canada's national monorail system.
We were driving through the brilliant fall foliage in southwest Michigan. Eric, a fellow travel writer, and I were there to research articles as part of a group media trip. In the great tradition of Rick Mercer's Talking to Americans television specials, I had decided to have a little fun with the group (which was comprised mostly of Americans), telling little white lies about Canada until either I could no longer keep a straight face, or these yanks realized that they'd been had. On this trip and others, in almost every case, the former came before the latter.
Take, for example, my trip to Detroit. While touring around just across the river from Windsor, Ontario, I told a young journalist from Washington, DC, that even though it was July and we were very close to the Canadian border, it was actually still winter in all of Canada—that the weather just a few kilometers away was still subzero.
She believed me.
And so, again, I started to build big stories, hoping she would call me on what were clearly towering, ridiculous untruths. Being called out as a kidder would be less upsetting than the realization that this woman, who lived in the capital of the world's most powerful nation, knew so very little, and was willing to believe so much, about my country. As we were in Motown, I built on an automotive theme, expressing to her my regrets that our own, Canadian auto industry had never progressed very far. While Americans drove around in sleek, modern cars, we in Canada still putt-putted along in models resembling an old Model T Ford.
She just nodded along, and never did stop me.
After a few of these conversations, I came to realize something. While in Canada, we sometimes bemoan our relatively small stature on the world stage and the fact that we share a continent with an outsized superpower, we needn't really worry. After all, while the United States may be bigger, we are undoubtedly smarter.
And then one day—finally—an American realized that I hadn't been telling the truth. It was Eric, actually. He sent me an email a few weeks after our trip. To be fair, he had a little help, in the form of a Canadian ex-girlfriend. He told me that on a recent phone call, he asked her what she and her family were doing for the big Leifenfest celebrations this year. "She laughed so hard at me. On the trip, I know you were sitting there, thinking, ‘What a stupid American,'" he wrote. But Eric's a man who appreciates a good joke, and despite being the butt of it, he recognized the humour. "The best part was that you kept it going and never stopped the joke. It was awesome. I bow before you, O great Canadian. Well played, my friend."
Well, maybe all Americans aren't so dumb.