Tuesday, September 05, 2006

53rd point

John mentioned in the comments section the ignorance of people not knowing about Nunavut because of the driver's licence I flashed as ID in the U.S. I'm afraid it's worse than that. Anticipating that while Americans have many wonderful, redemptive qualities, a strong sense of world geography isn't one of them, we simplified things when trying to explain where we are living.

So when people asked 'Where do you live?" We said "Northern Canada" figuring they might clue in that we were emphasizing things by saying we're not just from Canada, but Northern Canada.

Sadly, we underestimated the geographic obliviousness of the country we were in. The most common response was, no kidding, "Oh around Toronto" (Never mind that at 43 degrees North, it's actually further south than some American cities). Following in a distant second was "Oh, you mean around Vancouver." (Which, at 49 degrees north, pretty well hugs the U.S./Canada border.)

By the way, that sound you might be hearing is that of our lovely American friend Karin, who lives in Nebraska, bashing her head on the keyboard. She knows a fair bit about Canada, having married a Canadian, and tends to take the errors of her countrymen a little too close to heart sometimes.

Anyway, we had to develop a follow-up response when people got confused by what we meant by "Northern Canada" (one person did guess Edmonton, which is northish, I guess). Cathy's follow-up answer was "Imagine Santa's workshop. We're a little south of that." I went for the slightly more pragmatic answer of "No, we're just west of Greenland." Sadly, one or two still had troubles figuring even that outÂ…

Most people managed to then clue in that when we said Northern Canada, we weren't fooling around. Although there was still one or two that were having problems getting their heads around the notion that people willingly lived in places that cold. It's a California thing, I suspect.

We did have a couple of interesting conversations with people while waiting for trains or whatnot about Nunavut. The best was probably with a recently retired teacher who was horrified to discover that after 34 years of teaching and being a vice-principal at her school about an hour outside of San Francisco, she was making only about 25% more than Cathy is right now with about five years experience. And that was taking into account the currency exchange.

There are challenges to living in Nunavut, to be sure. The money isn't one of them.

Oh, and that brings me to Point 54 – Americans will ask questions about your salary, retirement package, mortgage, etc that most Canadians would be horrified by. We consider it terribly rude and nosey. They're just trying to help to make sure you're not being screwed over. Which is nice, but still a bit jarring when you first experience it.


John Mutford said...

I'm said to say that it's not just Americans.

Three anecdotes to illustrate my point:

1. When my wife first found out she was pregnant, we happened to be in Vancouver and she happened to have the flu. She was worried about the effect it might have on the unborn, and so we went to a health clinic to see what they might do. After arguing with the receptionist that our health card (from Nunavut) was actually Canadian, she had to get a surpervisor to check. Then we went to a pharmacist who had also never heard of Nunavut. (And these are the educated amongst us).

2. In Ontario, a pet store owner asked us where we were from. I remarked Rankin Inlet. She asked where. I remarked Nunavut. She remarked where. I remarked that it was a a territory formed in 1999. She remarked that Americans have no clue about Canadian geography and asked if we had watched Rick Mercer's show.

3. On our last flight up, we asked our Air Canada stewardess from Montreal to Ottawa about making the connector to Iqaluit. She wanted to know what country that was in. We said, "Canada, it's in Nunavut." She said she had never heard of it. When we deboarded, we realized we had parked next to a Canadian North jet. She works for our national airline, flies to Ottawa where there are direct flights to Iqaluit and lands next to a Canadian North plane and she has never heard of Nunavut. Or licked a stamp or spent a toonie in the past five years apparently.

Terri Lynn said...

This summer, working in tourism, I had an American ask how much I would be in debt by the time I finished University. And how did I plan on paying it back, how long it would take... etc etc.

Mireille Sampson said...

John, some days I think the only people who know less about Canada than Americans is Canadians. All those jokes Rick Mercer does on how ignorant Americans are could be done within our own country - I think that's part of the reason why Rick's show has him traveling a lot and showing Canada to Canadians.

An aquaintence of mine was living in BC and wanted to get a mortgage that would be co-signed by her parents, who lived in NF. The bank lady asked: "Are there any banks in NF?"

Sitting in a cafe in Victoria a conversation came up with the stranger sitting next to me. "Where are you from?" he asks. "Newfoundland," I reply. "Must be easier to get around now that the bridge is there." "Ummm, that's PEI."

Johnth said...

It's not just Canadians knowing little about Canada, either. When I was working as a guide at Cape Spear, the best all-time question I ever got was "Is that the Atlantic Ocean?"

Forgiveable for a lot of people. Canada is, after all, a dang big country.

These people were from Stephenville.

Simon said...

I spent 2 years in the US so I feel your pain. My favourite story re americans:

I was at a party and chatting up this girl. The conversation was good and the chemistry was there. It comes out that I'm from Canada and my "exotic" factor goes through the roof.

Any inclination I had shattered into a million pieces when she leaned in and said, "Cananda. . wow. . .where did you leanr your English? You speak it so well."


towniebastard said...

You know, it was a near thing at MUN between a History degree and a Geography one (it is my minor). I love geography and had a ridiculous average in it while in high school. I consider it an important subject, although Cathy kind of laughs at that.

So all these postings about staggering geographic ignorance is really, really depressing. And I'm sure there are worse stories out there. Although John's about the couple from Stephenville is quite bad. I'm not sure if I want to hear worse.

crackedactor said...

Of course it's not "just" Americans - I'd challenge the Canadian populace at large to point out North Dakota on a US map.

Mercer's tack on this, though funny, always felt cheap to me.

Point #54 is dead on, though, at least on the US coasts. It took me a while, but I figured out eventually that in many cases the "rude" American tourist is more than likely operating in their normal, direct/forthright state... which to the repressed British (and semi-repressed Canadian) can come off as loud and boorish. Out of their element, it's discordant. In the US, it's just a normal way of being.

vickyth said...

How about the couple I met at Cape Spear one summer who were from Deer Lake. Their crime? "Wow! Is that the *Atlantic* ocean?!"

They're everywhere.....

Anonymous said...

I just found your Blog and would like to let you know that the same thing happens to us in Inuvik, Northwest Territories.

Calling a Canadian toll-free number to order something-or-other about a year ago, the voice on the other end wanted to know what currency we use up here!

I also think (after 2+ years) our friends and family have finally figured out that Inuvik is in the Northwest Territories and that is not pronounced IN-YOU-VICK)