February 4, 2005


I was reading a blog recently which reminded me of a story.

An ex of mine worked at the border between Washington state and British Columbia; she worked on the Canadian side, welcoming a lot of US-born visitors who had little to no knowledge about the country they were about to enter. Case in point:

A normal-looking family drove up, and she asked them the usual questions: Where are you going? How long are you planning to stay? etc. The answers? Alaska, they said. For the day.

They were completely unaware that Alaska lies a good 3,500 kilometres (about 2,200 miles) north of the border. They even offered up their daughter's school atlas, which proudly showed the continental US, with Canada completely obliterated from view -- Alaska sat just north of the Washington border, and Hawaii lay about 100 km (60 miles) off the California shoreline!

My ex suggested they drive to Vancouver, which she suggested was a very nice place to have lunch, as it's only about 40 minutes north of the border crossing. They could buy a city map and perhaps learn a little about their northern neighbours.

Well, the otherwise sane-looking family drove about 30 metres (100 feet) past the booth, and despite the August heat, proceeded to bundle up in parkas and other winter gear. It seems their TV weather station had displayed Fahrenheit temperatures south of the border, and Celsius temperatures north of the border -- because the number for Seattle said "100" and the number less than a 3-hour drive north said "35", they honestly thought the air was going to plunge 70 degrees in a matter of kilometres, so they'd better keep warm to avoid serious illness.

I know there are many, many well-educated, well-travelled and well-read Americans out there. But considering certain election results and the sheer number of incidents which point to cultural isolationism, it's amazing to me that the US is still as powerful around the world as it is.

Can someone explain to me how an entire nation can be so utterly ignorant of its closest neighbour? Sure we've not the biggest population, but our two countries do more trade per day than any other two nations in the world. It's beyond me how Americans could possibly live so close but know so little.


Desiree said...

Hello Jason,
I just came to my pc to print off some stationary to write (with pen!) a letter to my Mom to send off in the mail with a gift. Having sat at the computer, I did of course have to check my mail and saw the comment that came from you to the post you linked. I see you do have a post that extends out from my querry. Heading through the border to ALASKA, for the day!?! That is truly amazing - I am baffled too how they can know so very very little about the country that directly lies to the North... or in any direction of them. I truly did feel when down in the states that Canada seemed so obscure and distant --- there were no references to our great large country, the maps I did see in the paper and on tv did appear as the map I placed in the post... there was no Canada from what I could see. I think there is a huge gap in the education in the states, yes, there are some more informed, but the majority do seem to be very lacking in knowledge of their own country as well as their nearest neighbors.

Constance said...

A U.S. girl is here, me, who calls herself an American and only recently discovered what that is. Your post is so represenative of the Midwest non-information. I shudder to think how bad it gets in my second state, TX. Are Canadians this ignorant of South America? Our schools spend so much time dissecting Europe, we never see anything else. My maps are now starting to break up the states of Mexico and Canada. Lake Ontario and Quebec were the only school supported settlements or geo regions considered. Or maybe I was sick that day. If it improves your view any, I have saved $.37 in Canadian coin, which I noticed, before I ever saw Australian bills or Indian coin. In our defense, I can only walk to the end of my county. So, blame my auto-navigator.

Graham W. said...

hey jason,
that is just insanely hilarious...how could someone be so stupid. their map doesnt include us? just goes to show how dumb the american mass is. isolated like china, but without the huge ass wall. too bad.

MALA said...

I'm biased because I grew up on the east coast (of the US) and live in DC where most people know a lot about Canada and other countries in general - granted the majority of Washingtonians have either traveled abroad as Americans or are foreign transplants.

That said, I think the last statistics claimed that only 25% of Americans travel to other countries. Sad and more than a little bit scary.

But Canadians - or at least those I've had the pleasure of meeting in Toronto and Montreal - automatically assume that because I'm an American, I'm an ignoramous.

While at my cousin's wedding in Toronto a few years ago, I was quizzed at the reception for hours on Canadian politics, history and sports. Lucky for me, I knew most of the answers. But it was the most annoying thing.

I've gotten to the point where I don't mention I'm American when I travel north of the border just to avoid the hassle.