Samantha Henig, “The Meh List,” New York Times Magazine (January 20, 2013)
So Canada is on the “meh” list. As you can see from the photo above, this is for things that are “not hot, not not, just meh”; in other words, things that arouse a response no more visceral than a shrug of the shoulders or a muted sigh. Isn’t it a little bit harsh to relegate a whole country to this list? Things like orange Starbursts and panini I can understand; particularly something like panini, which has been trendy for so long that it has now become tiresome. But Canada? We are, after all, a country that most Americans probably know almost nothing about; how can we have become ubiquitous enough to merit such aggressive disinterest?
And to add insult to injury, we place sixth on a list of seven; so, not only are we “meh,” but we’re not even particularly “meh”; we’re less “meh” than January and downward dog; we’re less “meh” than orange Starbursts, for God’s sake. We can’t even excel at being uninteresting.
(And even more stinging, every time I type the word “meh” I can’t help noticing that it contains “eh,” our national intrjection. It’s as if this whole thing has been carefully calibrated to be as insulting as possible.)
It’s especially hurtful considering that, just a couple of months ago, we were being lauded in the New York Times for our willingness to welcome left-leaning Americans in the event of a Romney victory in the presidential election. Now that the danger has passed, it’s safe to sneer at us once again.
Even stranger, though, is the fact that Canada is actually praised in another part of the paper, in an article titled “Inequality Is Holding Back The Recovery”; and it’s written by Joseph E. Stiglitz, no less, a Nobel laureate in economics and so perhaps a slightly more authoritative voice than Samantha Henig:
Our skyrocketing inequality – so contrary to our meritocratic ideal of America as a place where anyone with hard work and talent can “make it” – means that those who are born to parents of limited means are likely never to live up to their potential. Children in other rich countries like Canada, France, Germany and Sweden have a better chance of doing better than their parents did than American kids have. (New York Times Sunday Review, January 20, 2013, p. 8)
Now that’s more like it. Canada – land of more opportunity than America! Doesn’t sound so “meh” to me. And notice we’re mentioned first in this list – ahead of France and Germany, and even ahead of Sweden. In my experience, when Canada is mentioned in this context, we always seem to be trailing behind Sweden, and perhaps another Scandinavian country as well, almost like an afterthought. But not this time.
Take that, Samantha Henig.