In Canada, we are a modest people and when huge international celebrity hits, it is very difficult to process with humility. I speak from personal experience:
PODCAST EPISODE EIGHTEEN
CANADA…THE LAND OF NOMO
© 2021 Matt Zimbel
Hi, I’m Matt Zimbel in Montreal.
Canada….the land… of “Nomo”. The land of no… mo-mentum. It is said that faced with an an innovative idea, an American executive is afraid to say “no”, while a Canadian executive is afraid to say “yes”. Things happen here very.... very… slowly. Urgency is delayed……until the last possible moment. In international diplomatic circles “the Canadian solution” is code for, “well, let’s study it, eh?”.
Up here, there are taxpayer funded government “white papers” on every imaginable subject of governance… these studies cost millions to produce and then rest comfortably on a shelf in a government archive somewhere, without an iota of implementation.
There is often very bold “thinking” in our country of Canada. But thinkin’ ain’t doin’ and consensus on bold “action” is rare. After all is said and done, more will be said, than done. The Canadian Senator and former Judge, Murray Sinclair, calls it the “platitudinal approach”. Sinclair was one of Canada’s very few Indigenous judges and he chaired the Residential School Truth and Rights Commission. We talked about residential schools on an earlier episode. The schools were a culture crushing government and church collaboration of horrors for that continued until the early 1980’s in Canada, resulting in an estimated 6500 deaths of Indigenous children… while in school. The UN called it a genocide.
Senator Sinclair explains the “platitudinal approach” by saying that when a government needs to get out of a boiling pot of water and doesn’t want to be involved in a “difficult” conversation; they create a commission or inquiry, give it a mandate, throw some money at it and boldly ask the commissioners to; “tell us what to do”. Part two of the government commandment is perhaps not as bold: “We probably won’t do it, but this commission will cool things down and we’re good with that”.
But retired Senator Sinclair has a work around. He says that in recent times, citizens are becoming more activist, and so when the people embrace a commission’s recommendations, the people will then push the government to take action and be held accountable on the recommendations of their own commission. Murray says the way to conduct an effective commission is to make sure the commissioners, quote: “speak to the people, because ultimately the people will force change, not the government.” End quote.
You’ll find the pace up here much more relaxed.
It’s said that in New York they need it yesterday. In LA they need it tomorrow. In Canada it’s more like – first of next week, if it’s not too much trouble.
A call to action! Isn’t our thing here.
When my family arrived in Canada in 1971, we watched a Canadian film awards show on TV. One of the presenters was an actor/director/ puppeteer by the name of Rod Coneybeare. The previous year he had won the best director award. I’m paraphrasing but in his acceptance speech, he said something like this: “Last year I won the award I’m presenting tonight. Best Director. What an honour. I was sure that this prize would be a life changing event. After the afterparty, I went home and waited for the offers to pour in. Nothing happened for a week and I thought, ‘well, I’m sure that producers are intimidated by this important award I won, and they want to be certain that when they approach me to direct their next feature, their project is in the best shape possible’. Six months later, I went down to the basement to check and see if the phone lines were still connected. Then, one day, after eight months of utter unemployment, an offer poured in.”
And I should just say for our younger listeners, phones lines refer to a cable, a little piece of wire, that used to be attached to a phone. Adorable, huh?
Back in the 1970’s we lived in the country, in Prince Edward Island – our phone not only had a wire, it had many wires because we had what was called… a party line - ten residents in our rural neighborhood all shared the same phone line. So, you’d pick up the phone to make a call and someone would be chatting away.
Of course, you’d do the polite thing and hang up and not eavesdrop on your neighbor’s private conversation. Of course. Understand this was in the 70’s long before phone sex was invented. Which is really a shame, because when you think about it, party lines in rural PEI could have been the birthplace of group phone sex!
Whatcha ya wearin, Boyd?
Coveralls, what are you wearin’ Florence?
What are you wearin’, Angus.
Coveralls, what are you wearin’ Siobhan ?
Overalls, why do you ask Angus?
My parents were both freelancers, my father a documentary photographer, my mother a writer and therapist. To feed their family, they depended on the phone ringing. So, they wrote the award-winning director Rod Conyebear’s phrase of wisdom “An offer poured in”, on a piece of masking tape and taped it to the receiver of the phone where it stayed until my parents left Prince Edward Island for Montreal 10 years later.
There are two reasons, offers don’t pour in up here in Canada.
The first is called the tall poppy syndrome, which we have reviewed on other episodes. It will not be on your citizenship test, but it goes like this:
You see the vibe up here is chill. Ambition is seen as American. Striving?... well, well, well, that is just a direct line to the horror of all Canadian horrors…an inflated ego.
The second problem is, we just don’t have enough people. Do you remember from our previous podcasts how many people? Cuz for sure this is gonna be on your citizenship test…
I’ll give you a hint - more folks than Australia, less folks than California. Say it quietly to yourself…
We are not a loud people we do not do volume up here. The vibe is chill.
And this is the key – we have a huge chunk of land – 2nd largest country in the world by measurement of land mass…but we have just a smattering of folks…37 point something or other humble folk, just sittin’ around Canadianing in the cold. And that is why we are a nation of nomo… no momentum.
We need more folks. We need a new immigration policy! We need a new peppy slogan. “Immigrate to Canada… bring a friend”, ok, granted, it’s not nearly as sexy as;
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” etc. etc. blah blah blah, but in a pinch, it will have to do.
Now, when you move to Canada you don’t want to just live here, you want to be huge up here. You want to become an enormous Canadian success story, why? Because you’re American. That’s what you do. I am going to tell you how to do this. You will get tremendous attention, admiration and lucrative funding by following this exceedingly simple rule. I can’t believe I’m giving this shit away for free. I should be like all the rest of the Americans and become a motivational speaker, telling my fellow Americans how they too can be great like me. Ok, not right now.
Success awaits you in Canada by simply…
Having Americans write and say nice things about you, give you awards, IPO you on Wall Street, whatever… That’s it. If you’re in The Globe and Mail, Canada’s paper of record, meh… if it’s in the New York Times well, then, that’s a thing!
Oh, yeah and if before you moved here, you pissed off everyone in your native land, then get the Brits to say nice things about you, because we love to have our people lauded by others, no one gives a shit about your Canadian success, your Canadian sales, your Canadian inventions. You are only a winner, an innovator, a visionary, if someone in America or Britain says you are. That! …is exciting.
In the mid-afternoon of April 1993, I received a most unexpected call:
Hi, Mr. Zimbel? My name is Sharon I’m calling from the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Los Angeles, congratulations on being booked to play the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl! I just want you to know that we are the rock and roll hotel and we’d love to have your group stay with us during the”
“Oh, sorry Sharon can you hold for a sec, I have another call.”
“Mr. Zimbel? Hi, my name is Tiffany, I’m calling from the Hilton in LA, that is really great news about the Hollywood Bowl, we’d love for you to…”
“Sorry Tiffany, can you hold for a sec?”
“Mr. Zimbel my name is Susan I’m calling from the Sportsman Lodge Hotel, in LA, wow. Playboy Jazz Fest, that’s really fantastic news, just want you to know, that all the groups stay with us…”
Well, I had no idea that all the hoteliers in LA attend the Playboy Jazz Festival press conference and then cold call the bands trying to get them to stay at their hotel, that my friend, is what we call “initiative!”
I was impressed. Flattered even. Suddenly we were in demand in LA!
I always like the underdog, so I thought I’d have a discussion with Susan at the Sportsman’s Lodge, that one sounded the cheapest.
She made her pitch; “Last week we had Bruce Hornsby, week before the Yellow Jackets, before them Van Morrison’s band was here, and ah we have a great pool, Michael Jackson’s band is staying with us now, free tour bus parking, we’re right near the venue and we won’t walk you, I promise.”
“Walk us? What does that mean?”
“Oh, yeah, right, you might not have heard that expression before. In LA if a hotel gets a booking from a higher profile guest, they will kick you out. That’s called ‘walking’. We wouldn’t do that to you. Promise.”
Let me assure you of two things, first there is no hotel in Canada enterprising enough to go to a music industry press conference and cold call bands all afternoon trying to recruit reservations and two, if Canadian hoteliers listened to this podcast and discovered this business building trick, they would never “walk you”, status is not that important up here and that would just not be polite.
“Oh, goodness, ’m so sorry sir, you seem to have become um, unreserved, eh?”
In Canada we are a modest people and when huge international celebrity hits, it is very difficult to process with humility. I speak from personal experience:
In 2017 someone in the Ministry of Culture in Beijing made a horrible mistake. A documentary film that I made with my friend Jean Francois Gratton about my father the famous photographer, George Zimbel, had played at the Shanghai International Film Festival in 2016. It had been warmly received and the commie culturecrat thought they should invite the film to play at the Beijing International Festival in 2017. Very much to my surprise, I was invited to give a keynote speech.
The festival flew me over business class, they put me up in a swanky suite, they gave me two assistants, a car and driver, a formal lunch in my honour and upon my arrival I was scrummed by the media. It was delightful. Clearly, these communist people know who I think I am. I was asked to be the President of the Jury for an important Feature Film Fiction Award. Now here I need to waste more of your time by telling you how eminently qualified I am to be the president of the jury awarding the prize for best international feature film. As my partner would testify, every year, I watch the first 30 minutes of roughly three films before falling fast asleep. So, if careful consideration of the feature that took you seven years to finance, six months to shoot and two years to edit is what you are looking for, I’m your guy. As long as the first 30 minutes rock, you’re in good hands.
On my first day in China, the heat in concrete Beijing was sweltering. As president of the jury, I was booked to screen the five nominated films, starting at 7:00 am, cuz, commies like to get an early start. My assistants (and please do note the thrilling plural on that word!) - meet me in the lobby of the hotel to guide me to my limo. In the cup holder there’san ice-cold bottle of water glistening with little goblets in the heat. It looked delicious.
The next day as I left the hotel, I thought, “well I don’t need to bring my water bottle, I’m huge in Beijing, they’ll provide water for me in my limo”. And I get into the car and God fucking damn it, there is a cup holder, but no water bottle. “Where is my fucking water”, I quietly think to myself. And then, in a moment of Canadian calm, I realize, “wow, dude, it only took you 24 hours to become an egocentric, self-centered, asshole. No more media scrums for you sir, they just go right to your head!”
Now, I’m afraid we’re going to have to walk you, we’ve got listeners way more high profile than you, who want to hear our cool theme.
Thanks to Lisa Evans who you also may know as, my name is Sharron I’m calling from the Hyatt Regency my name is susan I ‘m, calling from the Sportsman’s Lodge Hotel, my name is Tiffany, I’m calling from the Hilton in Los Angeles.