Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From 2007 on The Canadian Dollar

Another piece from 2007, talking about the Canadian dollar reaching parity with the American dollar for the first time in several hundred years, give or take. It's actually higher than the American dollar at the moment, so let's look at it again:

So I don't remember exactly where and I don't remember exactly when... Clearly my raconteur skills leave a lot to be desired. In any case, it was some time in the eighties and somewhere in the Northeastern United States. I was a kid, a pre-teen, somewhere in the States. Probably on holiday with my parents. I was in a shop buying something. Something small like a chocolate bar or a bag of chips. I'm fumbling through the change in my hands and find I don't have enough American money. "Would you take a Canadian nickel," I timidly ask.

The shopkeeper takes it from my hands and looks down at it, turning it in her fingers, looking at the beaver on the one side and the fossil on the other. "All right, I'll take it," she suddenly declares in a gruff voice, "but five cents is all I'll take of that shit."

It wasn't the obscenity that shocked me; it was the bizarre hostility. What a way to react to a kid buying a chocolate bar, I thought. I'd heard stories - mostly apocryphal, surely - about Americans sneering at Canadian money, calling it "Monopoly money" etc. But even though I'd heard the stories, I was still truly amazed to see it really happen.

Canadians tend to view themselves in relation to the USA. It's this strangely passive-aggressive form of entertainment where we love to belittle the USA in whatever area - no matter how small - we can claim some form of superiority, all the while beating our chests at the things that make us inferior. It's a superiority-inferiority complex. And it's really silly too.

In any case, even though I'm no economist, it did seem like a regular humiliation in some vague and indefinable way that the Canadian dollar always appeared to drag its heels behind the American dollar. I don't really know why - there's something like 100 yen to the American dollar, but that hardly makes Japan an economic dwarf. Yet it was true. Our bills had prettier colours yet still seemed more drab. And taking your pretty brown mustache-guy hundred-dollar Canadian bill to the exchange office and receiving, like, sixty 'dead presidents' in return actually was a particular humiliation. It seemed like you were being penalised for being Canadian.

Now, of course, there are plenty of people who panic when a currency gains strength quickly. They talk about not being able to export, about tourists not coming, etc. I'm sure there's some truth to all of those things. But economists also send out warning lights when a currency is low too, so frankly it seems like there's just no way to make an economist smile. Still, maybe they're right. Maybe Canada's going to hell in a hand-basket now and Bush's efforts to make the USD more worthless will make the USA richer by making them the world's sweatshop... Maybe. Maybe one day we'll all be wistful about the day when one Canadian dollar was 60 American cents.

But at least for now... just for a few days, let's just smile. Let's forget that it's a silly and meaningless statistic. Let's forget that gloating is a kind of ugly jingoism that doesn't look good on Canadians. Let's forget that all it really means is that Bush has found yet another way to screw up his country. Let's forget that gas, beer and books are still, like, twice as expensive up here. Let's forget that there are still a million other ways that Canada remains statistically inferior to the United States.

Let's just all smile at the idea of CAD-USD parity and the fact that our multi-coloured Monopoly money presently has exactly the same value as the US dollar.

And let's just plug our ears and shout "I'm not listening" whenever an economist comes within 100 metres of us...

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