Canadians Among Us!

Yet, if any person is responsible for the cultural takeover of New York, it is Jeff Breithaupt, the public affairs officer at the Canadian Consulate. Mr. Breithaupt, 45, is tall and charming, with silver at his temples. His job is to target Americans, to sell them on the idea that Canada is super. (Read all about it in their newsletter, the Upper North Side.) He insists that "the quiet invasion of the United States is not part of the goal," although in his job, he hears a lot about the northern siege. "Definitely that joke has had a lot of traction: They’re here, they’re all around us, the Canadian body snatchers."

 

FOR MANY OF US, our Canadian-ness becomes a de facto identity when living in New York. Amy Cervini, a jazz singer, told me that she mentions her nationality so often at gigs and on press releases that her Israeli husband advised her to cool it. ("They know you’re Canadian after the first time you tell them!" he said.) A producer at MTV News, Matt Harper, told me that coworkers call him "Matt the Canadian," a nickname that only intensifies when he wears flannel shirts.

That sense of foreignness is no more apparent than when Canadians face the American health care system. They call it "confusing" and "terrifying."

"It’s what makes you feel unwelcome," said Adam, a 23-year-old New York University student who did not want his last name used. "It’s something that really reminds you that you’re not in the country you were born in."

Doctors visits are fraught with unease about what will be covered and what won’t — and how much everything will cost. I make sure to let everyone at the clinic know that I’m Canadian, as if to say, "Cut me some slack, I don’t get it."

Adam couldn’t believe that, under his student health plan, he would have to pay for a portion of emergency health services, even if he wasn’t at fault for an injury. Ms. Cervini tried to explain the notion of co-pays to her bewildered family back home, but they didn’t understand. Our Canadian bride fumed about a $250 doctor’s bill she received after a bad bout of the flu, and then told me: "I felt really alone."

At the same time, she doesn’t consider herself an immigrant.

"I feel like when you say ‘immigrant,’ it sounds like someone … from a Third World country, coming somewhere for a better life almost. As opposed to coming from Canada, [when moving to the States] is kind of like coming to a lower standard of living."

In the past few years, security at the U.S.-Canada border has increased. In January, regulations went into effect requiring Canadians to show passports (or equivalent documentation) when crossing the border; these rules are set to become stricter in 2009. And the number of customs agents almost tripled in the five years after Sept. 11, to almost 1,000, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The changes at the border have also affected the way Canadians view their positions as foreigners, reminding them of the boundary between the two countries. "They don’t want to make a mistake," said Rosanna Berardi, a Buffalo-based immigration lawyer. "They don’t want to get in trouble." Ms. Berardi’s practice, which specializes in Canadian emigration to the U.S., sees more clients than ever before, an increase she attributed to the rising fear Canadians have of applying for American visas. "It’s a pretty hot area of practice," she said.

Adam, the N.Y.U. student, has black, curly hair and a cocky grin. I can imagine him at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport last July, slapping his passport on the counter, proudly informing the customs official of his summer internship in radio journalism. He had no papers, but he also had nothing to hide; he wasn’t going to get paid for his work in New York City.

It didn’t matter. When Adam told border guards that he planned to intern, they escorted him to a secondary screening room. Yet, what amazed Adam was not that he was subsequently denied entry to the U.S., but that the border guards were so adversarial.

"It’s not like I’m saying I can’t handle this," he reassured me. "I’ve been to Israel, I’ve been through checkpoints. It was that, this is America. And they’re treating me like a threat. That’s what was amazing about it."

Eventually, Adam got rush service on a visa and made it to Manhattan. Yet, even after he arrived, he felt scared. When he opened a savings account and received a letter from the I.R.S. questioning his motives, he panicked. He told his parents stories about how nervous he was, how he feared "they" would come in the middle of the night. "Adam, you sound crazy," his father told him. "You really do."

As a Canadian, he wasn’t used to being treated like … an immigrant.

 

SO WHY DO CANADIANS continue to make New York their home? For the same reason that all newcomers touch down on American shores: opportunity. More money, more recognition, a better life — or at least a better job. We come, in short, for the American Dream.

Yet with the American economy in a slowdown and the job market becoming increasingly competitive, it’s difficult to say whether Canucks will continue to fly south. For the first time in decades, the loonie is roughly on par with the greenback, and the prospect of an inflated paycheck isn’t a guarantee.

"Before all these things happened with the market," said John Moore, president of the Canadian Association of New York, "you could almost say that there was a Canadian formula, whereby people would come here, and they would earn higher salaries, live in New York City, build up a bit of a nest egg, and they would want to go back to wherever they’re from in Canada, and settle there, and build their family."

And now?

The Park Slope bride, at least for one, is uncertain about the future. Her husband won’t be ready to leave New York for at least another five years, but she hopes to raise her future children up north.

"He says he’ll consider moving to Canada down the road," she said. "But I’m not sure that will happen or not. I told him that I really, really, really want it."

Last spring, without vows, music, or rings, the couple exchanged roses, and the officiant read an Apache blessing. "Tonight we celebrate international relations and a marriage," the officiant proclaimed.

The best man discreetly wiped a tear from his eye. We ate Magnolia cupcakes and drank champagne. The ceremony lasted about 25 minutes.

Canadians Among Us!