Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield Makes First Music Video In Space

It’s official. We Canadians rock. If William Shatner and Bryan Adams aren’t enough for you, there’s Chris Hadfield. He’s an astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency and has become hugely popular with his videos about life aboard the International Space Station, answering such profound questions as how to cut your nails in space.

Now Hadfield is coming home. He’s turned over command of the ISS to Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and will be departing on a Soyuz module, which will land in Kazakhstan today at 10:31 p.m. EDT. As a final sendoff, he’s made the first music video in space, a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Hadfield isn’t a bad musician, and the video has beautiful visuals of him on the ISS.

Put it on full screen, sit back and enjoy. It’s a great day to be Canadian.

In Praise Of National Pride While Abroad

The book “Rick Steves’ Guide to Germany” weighs in at more than 700 pages but devotes just three sentences to Heidelberg, one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Steves’ authors opine that Heidelberg, home to one of Europe’s oldest universities and one of the better preserved old town centers in Central Europe, isn’t worth visiting on a three-week visit to Germany because it’s “overrun with Americans.”

The book doesn’t list a single hotel, restaurant or attraction in the city, apparently in the belief that lemming-like readers will avoid the place simply because the author has instructed them to. I have a lot of respect for Rick Steves and I like his guidebooks, television programs and podcasts. But when I’m advised not to visit a place, it piques my curiosity. Is Heidelberg really that bad? And does it make sense to avoid a place simply because there are too many Americans there?

Heidelberg has been a stop on the American’s Grand Tour of Europe itinerary, particularly for college students, for a very long time. I have no doubt that there are plenty of Americans in the city in the summer but I’ve just spent a few days there and found it to be anything but “overrun” with Americans. In fact, very few of the tourists I encountered were English speakers, and quite a few of those were Canadians. (More on them later.)But even if the city was crawling with American tourists, would that be a legitimate reason to avoid the place? I have mixed feelings on this issue. On the one hand, there’s no point in spending a king’s ransom and losing a night’s sleep flying around the world only to hang out with Courtney and Trent from Connecticut. And David Farley recently raised some good points in noting that a place can seem less than authentic if other Americans are in the house.

But I have to laugh at Americans who completely eschew even making eye contact, let alone conversation with Americans they encounter abroad. I’ve met Americans overseas who act as though they’re almost ashamed to be Americans when they leave the country. As Americans, we carry a lot of baggage when we travel outside the country. In many places, we’re perceived as big, loud, monolingual rubes that have only a superficial understanding of the world outside the USA.

The stereotype doesn’t fit most Americans who take the time, effort and expense to travel overseas but some of our countrymen act as though they’re vaguely embarrassed of their countrymen – even when there’s no reason to be. That said, I have been to places that are so overrun with tourists that I have a hard time enjoying them. For example, there are 227 inhabited Greek islands, but two of them – Mykonos and Santorini – attract more American tourists than all the rest combined.

I’m not enamored with either place, not because I have a problem encountering Americans overseas but because once the locals to tourists ratio tips too heavily in the tourist direction – no matter what the nationality of those tourists – the place loses something. It’s hard to feel like you are in Greece when you hear more Swedish than Greek.

I grew up in Western New York State just a few minutes drive from the Canadian border and over the years, I’ve met scores of Canadian travelers overseas. Many of the Canadians I’ve encountered wear their nationalities on their sleeves, hats or backpacks much more readily than we do as Americans. I’m sure part of this is because they’re proud of their country but they’re also trying to advertise the fact that they’re NOT AMERICANS!

Sean McLachlan pointed out the futility of this tactic a few years ago, but estimated that only half of those who use the Canadian maple leaf on articles of clothing are actually Canadian. I’ve never met a fake Canadian in my travels, but I don’t doubt that the phenomenon exists.

Yesterday, while waiting in line at a bakery in Heidelberg, I met a nice group of Canadian college students from Oshawa, Ontario. There were dozens of them in the city and each and every one was wearing a bright red jacket with the word “CANADA” emblazoned in a large font on the back. We’re one of the more patriotic countries on earth, but I can’t really imagine a large group of American college students wearing blue USA jackets (unless they’re part of a national sports team, which this was not). In fact, most of the time I see people overseas wearing clothing or hats with the US flag on it, the person is not actually American.

I’m not suggesting that we should travel the world draped in American flags. I keep a low profile when outside the country and always make an extra effort to be a respectful visitor so as not to become a walking stereotype. But there’s also nothing worse than an American who leaves the country and becomes a self-loathing American. We have our issues, perhaps more than most countries, but there’s no reason to walk around with one’s head hung in shame. And please feel free to visit Heidelberg. It’s a great place, no matter what Rick Steves and the gang says.

[Photo credits- 1) Editor B on Flickr, 2) Dave Seminara]

Note: I haven’t seen the 2012 edition of “Rick Steves’ Guide to Germany,” so it’s possible he’s corrected the Heidelberg slight.

Canada “as cool as” America

In a bold and unexpected move, the US State Department issued a firm statement of non-rebuttal in response to United Nations Security Council Resolution 010410 Recognizing Canada has become almost as cool as America . . .” The unanimous resolution predictably cited the cast of SNL, polar bears, those tight pants worn by Canadian mounties, and the nifty way Canada keeps Alaska separate from us.

Now that it’s cool, “Canada is the new Spring Break,” announced MTV tween reporter Gina Voxx. Hot new destinations include bars serving minors in Windsor, Ontario and the birthplace of that guy who invented basketball. US State Department Travel Warnings should reflect the upgrade in Canada’s status within the next 36 months. Until that time, US Citizens should take precautions in dealing with funny, good-natured people but especially when confronted by self-righteous, socially-conscious northerners who recycle. US Embassy staff in Ottawa advise US citizens to try and blend in by not complaining, apologizing frequently (“I’m sore-y”), and then returning back to America with a huge chip on your shoulder.

US President Obama added his two Canadian cents by issuing a spontaneous speech that was later televised on Canada’s only TV station: “I have a dream . . . that every child in every school in America. . . . will have his or her own Canada Arm”. Canadian businesses have responded to this news by increasing exports of whiny female singers from the prairie provinces and rigging American vending machines to accept Canadian “money”.

Not all Americans are enthusiastic by this sudden change in status quo. Hundreds of mouth-foaming protestors marched to the Canadian Embassy in Washington to throw hockey pucks at an effigy of Sidney Crosby. “Fine, but Canadians only do cool things after they move to America,” said one protester. “Canadian Trivial Pursuit is stupid!” screamed another. An arrest was made after vandals spray-painted “Maple syrup sucks” on a nearby wall. Canadian counter-protesters outnumbered the American crowd 3-to-1 but they were too busy making a documentary about the protesters to really care.

America’s Immigration & Naturalization Service admits that over 300,000 people cross the Canadian-American border everyday, however they fail to specify in which direction said people are traveling.


Stuff Canadian people like

Last week, I attended a celebration of the lighting of the tree at Rockefeller Center hosted by the Canadian Tourism Commission. The logic goes like this:

  1. The 2010 Olympics are going to be in Vancouver.
  2. The Olympics will be aired by NBC.
  3. NBC is based at Rockefeller Center.
  4. NBC also airs the Rockefeller Tree lighting.

Is it a stretch? Yes, but it was also a lot of fun — particularly because of the abundance of stuff Canadian people like, including bison burgers and snowshoes. Never has a single venue in Rockefeller Center been so Canada’d out.

So, this one’s for you, Canadians, I can only assume that this gallery will make you squeal with glee!
And by the way, Vancouver hotels are all booked up for the Olympics, but you can still get in on the big celebration by visiting and checking out Canadian rental apartments and B&Bs.

Canada Holds Elections, Conservatives Win but Not by Enough

While their neighbors to the south fret over their own upcoming trips to the polls, Canada got on with it and elected, or in many cases re-elected, its parliamentary leaders earlier this week. The results: the Conservative Party led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper won 16 more seats while their Liberal peers dropped 18 seats. However, the results are not enough to give Harper’s party control of parliament. That means that they will have to form a minority parliament, relying on alliances with other, smaller parties to get things done.

Some of the other parliamentary players include the New Democratic Party (NDP), which earned 37 seats, and Bloc Québécois (BC), which now has 50 seats. The BC is a unique party because it seeks the Independence and sovereignty of Quebec Province and is not concerned very much with the rest of Canada. They gained two more seats in this election than they held beforehand. In the end, though, it seems that the elections did not alter the balance of power too much.

[Via CBC]