As a Canadian on the front lines of ‘Murica’s Twenty-First Century, questions about “Canada’s cultural customs” rarely, but with decent regularity, rear their head.
“What is Canada, really like?”
Americans feign interest in Canada for obvious reasons: our health care system doesn’t come with weird acronyms like ACA, AHCA or BCRA; our head of state is a nonagenarian who is boringly polite (and comes with an amazing collection of hats); and best of all, our Prime Minister is better known for having a charming collection of novelty socks, instead of being known for a charming collection of fake TIME magazine covers that look like loot bag photos your cousin Jacob gave away at his bar mitzvah in Scarsdale.
For Americans who want to know, in the biblical sense, more about what makes Canada tick, I’m going to break it down and tell you what Canada is actually all about: Canada is a place of laws, a country where peace order and good government reign supreme and most importantly, it is nation where its citizens take their goddam shoes off when they enter a house.
The other day, I was in Penn Station waiting for NJ Transit to tell me what track my train was going to arrive on. Because this is the summer of transit hell (literally, I got an email from Amtrak the other day advising of sustained “service adjustments”; reading between the lines it felt like Amtrak may as well have closed with: “best of luck on your Delta flight instead”), the station was more crowded than usual. And as the crowd gathered, a homeless man walked under the screen, ate a donut and then proceed to vomit said donut in front of his audience. The domestic attendees in the audience were non-pulsed and proceeded to walk down to whatever track they were headed to.
New York is many things: it is, as Schuyler sisters sang in Hamilton, the greatest city in the world. It is the city so nice they named it twice. It is a city of liberty. The city that never sleeps. It is a city that epitomizes the beauty of the American dream.
And yet New York is dirty. So very, very dirty. People don’t think about this as they run across the Union Square subway station frantically wondering if the 4 or 5 express train they’re about to miss may be the last train, well ever. Or people forget about the amount of dog pee that’s excreted onto city streets in an average day. New York absolves you from such thoughts; New Yorkers are resolute in their ability to move forward.
And yet, though New York can such a fetid place, New Yorkers do not take their shoes off when they enter an apartment. In 2003, the New York Times, which was then real news and not fake, declared taking shoes off, “a tradition of many faraway cultures.” Having to take your shoes off at a house party became a distressing plot point in a seminal Sex and the City episode.
Apparently, keeping your shoes on is not just a New York thing. According to Bissel, the vacuum cleaner manufacturer, almost 75% of Americans don’t wipe their shoes off when they enter a home and over 50% of American’s don’t bother taking their shoes off when entering a residence.
Americans, what, what, what are you doing?
Think of your life choices. You threw tea over the side of a boat to unshackle yourself from tyranny and yet now you live your life in apartments full of carpets that are more likely than not to have traces of fecal matter in them as if liberating your feet from the oppression of shoes is somehow un-American.
Whatever is on the sole of your shoe, which could include aforementioned barf is being brought into your apartment and carried into your living room, your dining room, wherever it is that you watch your favorite Shondaland show, and even into your bathroom. The one area of your home that should remain as germ-free as possible is filled with the teeming mass of New York sidewalk germs yearning to be free.
According to Dr. Kevin Garey, chairman of the department of pharmacy practice and translational research at the University of Houston, shoe soles are known vector for infectious pathogens. In one recent study that Dr. Garey found almost 30% of shoe soles carried C Diff, a noxious bacterium that infects over half a million Americans a year (and causes almost 30,000 deaths). In Austria, researchers found that 40% of shoe soles have traces of listeria on them.
Let me tell you, America, that in Canada, this shit, literally, won’t fly. Do you want to pledge allegiance to Justin Trudeau? Do you want to clink champagne glasses with Carly Rae Jepsen? Better get ready to take off those Ivanka Trump branded pumps when you’re invited to 24 Sussex Drive (the Prime Minister’s Residence) for a Tim Hortons Double Double.
I don’t really know why Canadian culture tends to be shoes off, while American culture is not. One friend hypothesized that it’s the weather: Canadians are used to taking off winter boots. I don’t think it particularly matters why we do what we do. But what I do know is that Canadians take their shoes off when they enter a home. And that is the polite, orderly and healthy thing to do.
America has a lot of big issues that it’s trying to wrestle with, things like health care, energy week, collusion with the Russia, but maybe, just maybe, shoes off can become the bi-partisan issue that unites us all? Imagine Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer holding hands as they untie each other’s shoelaces before entering the White House, each one claiming victory in the “War Against Soles.”
And perhaps that’s the best epitaph for Canada. A nation known for its peace-makers brings peace to the fractured political realm of its southern neighbor.
A boy can dream.
Happy Canada Day.