Sometimes, Americans can be so ethnocentric. It is difficult, for more than a few, to appreciate anything else different upon this great blue marble. All that one sees is their own interests within an ever-shrinking worldview.
I don’t hold that against them. After all, your average American appears to be indoctrinated, from an early age, with the notion that the US is the greatest nation on the earth. There is considerable truth to that idea. Unfortunately, any individual or nation that just happens to disagree with that sentiment, in whole or in part, is invariably considered irrelevant and/or a threat to their American Way of Life.
Strong words? Perhaps…but my point of view is quite prevalent amongst many Canadians, the Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, the EU, and a good deal of the rest of the world.
The questions remain. Is the aforementioned viewpoint or opinion valid? Is there some truth to this? Are Americans ethnocentric?
As an American, please do not allow your insides to get all tied up in a knot over mere words and opinion. Many Canadians have family, friends, and associates in the US, and visit various parts of America on a regular basis. California, Arizona, and Florida are filled with wealthy Canadian snowbirds and retirees. We are joined at the hip to Americans socially, culturally, economically, and so forth.
It is out of my own travel experiences, that I have come to some of my conclusions.
Sometimes, when I travel to the beautiful State of Montana, I am reminded how different we are as Canadians in some aspects.
I am frequently asked the question, “Where are you from?” in reference to my apparent accent and choice of vocabulary….eh?
Funny thing is that your average cowboy in Montana, dressed in Wrangler jeans, a plaid western-style shirt, a black Stetson, pickle-stabbers (cowboy boots), and adorned with a pearl-handled revolver in a ornate leather holster, often just does not get it.
Do they realize how difficult it is for people like me to grasp their unintelligible western drawl (strange pronunciation of English words), and seemingly threatening appearance (the gun-thing)? Just visit one of the local watering holes that many tend to congregate around as human beings and you will understand my dilemna.
You can talk about almost anything…just don’t talk about the politics of gun control in Montana.
I do love the warm hospitality of the people of Montana State, but their general preoccupation with firearms and apparent gun culture does make me a little nervous.
I have cycled through a significant portion of the Bitteroot Valley and some of the passes that traverse the majestic mountain ranges towering over both sides of that long corridor. What troubles me though, is the few occasions where I came across dangerous situations, i.e., people using firearms inappropriately in public spaces including National Parks.
It is a bit unnerving to be climbing the Skalkaho Pass on my road bike and come across a couple of guys rapid firing their Beretta 9mm* and Colt 45* pistols against a rocky outcrop, barely a few meters away from us.
The potential of something going haywire, perhaps a ricocheting bullet, could prove to be life-threatening for any of us within the immediate vicinity.
Unbelievably, on our return leg, descending the mountain at considerable speed, we came across a second group, this time several teenagers, not much older than sixteen or seventeen, carrying two semi-automatic AR-15’s* amongst them.
Wow…is all I could think to myself. Has everybody gone loco around here?
I knew this was the July 4th weekend, but does that justify the open-carry and discharge of firearms alongside a public highway in a National Park?
I wanted to stop, get off my bicycle and raise a little hell with those kids concerning their questionable and rather dangerous behaviour.
My cycling partner, a big, burly American, and native of Eugene, Oregon, strongly suggested that we just keep moving along.
“Locals around here do not take kindly to the suggestions of strangers, let alone Canadians, concerning what constitutes responsible firearm use.”
I get that…I truly do. I do not want to challenge anyone’s viewpoint on US Second Amendment rights and responsibilities.
But, seriously, a little common sense should apply here.
Canada, as a nation, has moderate gun control laws in comparison to the rest of the world. The events that I experienced on the Skalkaho would be considered extremely inappropriate and definitely in violation of various laws in Canada.
A few days later, I ventured solo up the same Skalkaho Pass with almost no one in sight. I think I was passed by only a handful of vehicles during the entire time I rode up and down the mountain.
So quiet and peaceful…
I decided to head home to our place of lodging via the shoulder of the Interstate highway, rather than the longer, and much more convoluted bicycle path that stretches from just outside the southern edge of Hamilton all the way to Missoula. A member of the Montana Highway Patrol drove up behind me, hit the siren and lit up his lights. He pulled off the Interstate rapidly, exited his patrol car, and made a cautious beeline towards me, his hand on his holstered weapon.
What the foosball? Now what? What did I do this time?
The police officer basically instructed me to get off the “damn” highway and onto the bike path. When I tried to explain to him that I often see cyclists, especially fully-loaded touring cyclists, pass through town via the Interstate, his demeanour immediately changed from irritable to down-right hostile.
He lectured me for a while and then demanded to see my ID. I carefully reached into the back of my jersey pocket, explaining to him what I was reaching for behind my back. I reiterated that I did not know whether or not it was legal for cyclists to ride on the wide shoulder alongside the Interstate highway, and apologized profusely. After my identity checked out, and a very stern warning, I bolted out of there as fast as I could.
It was a disheartening experience to be approached by an armed State Trooper, who was obviously having a bad day (or just did not like cyclists). I stood there sheepishly in the 27C heat for over twenty minutes, sweating profusely, dehydrated, and obviously exhausted from my 16+ kilometre climb. I was beginning to feel naked and vulnerable in my spandex cycling attire, wondering if I was about to be given a ticket, or worse.
Was I really in the wrong? Or was that experience just “business as usual” in an American State where guns are everywhere and just a part of everyday life?
The choices we make today become who we are tomorrow…
* My knowledge of firearms comes from being a former hunter, competitive target shooter, and biathlete.
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