Joe Lavin

November 29, 2004

From The Montreal Gazette

Canada 101: An Introduction for Americans

Now that George W. Bush has been re-elected president, there are suddenly many Americans anxious to move to Canada. However, I'm one American with an excuse: my girlfriend lives there.

After dating a Canadian for several years, I would like to think I am well prepared to move north. I like to think I'm an expert on all things Canadian. I would also like my girlfriend, Jody, and her Canadian friends to stop laughing at me whenever I say this. According to them, I know practically nothing about Canada.

Indeed, most Americans are oblivious to Canada. Whenever I mention I'm dating someone from Winnipeg, they invariably have no idea where that is. It could be anywhere, from British Columbia to Nunavut. Considering that in a recent National Geographic survey, 11 per cent of Americans age 18 to 24 could not even locate the United States on a map, it's clear we're not exactly geography whizzes. Some of us may want to move to Canada, but we might need a little help finding it.

Of course, from dating a Canadian, I know a great deal more about Canada than most Americans, but I'm told that's nothing to brag about. Luckily, Jody is always happy to point out the gaps in my knowledge.

"You don't know what Smarties are?" she shrieked with disbelief during a recent conversation. Sorry, I had never heard of them. When she later bought me a pack, I enjoyed them thoroughly despite her glare after I said that they tasted "a little like M&Ms."

"You've never heard of The Northern Pikes?" she said another time. Sorry, and I haven't heard of The Pursuit of Happiness or The Irish Descendants either. I do know of the Crash Test Dummies and Barenaked Ladies, although I didn't actually know they were Canadian until she told me.

"Hey, did you know that you spelled cheque wrong on your Web page?" Jody's friend Erin

e-mailed. Actually, I spelled it the American way, which I've since been informed is also the wrong way. This is from the same people who refer to the Fourth of July as Truculent Colonies Day.

And, if you would like to know all the famous Canadians living in America, just ask one of them. William Shatner, Keanu Reeves, Shania Twain, Neil Young and Jim Carrey are just the tip of the list. "He's Canadian, you know," Jody delights in saying.

Of course, they are not so quick to claim Pamela Anderson or Tom Green. And it doesn't tend to go over well when I ask, "Well, why'd they leave Canada, then?" I'm told that it's part of Canada's secret plan to invade the United States, which probably wouldn't be difficult since most of us wouldn't notice. Just make sure there's something good on TV, and come on down.

Occasionally, I will try to make fun of Jody for not knowing something American, but it seldom works. At first, I assumed her knowledge of the United States was similar to my knowledge of Canada, but I soon learned how wrong I was.

Sure, Jody asks questions about my country, but these are usually questions like "What's the deal with the electoral college?" or "How could you elect him president?"

Sadly, I cannot answer these, either.

In that National Geographic survey, it's especially telling that more Canadians than Americans could spot the United States on a map.

When Jody and I first met, I didn't realize what I now know to be true: Canadians know everything about Canada and everything about the United States, if only to determine whether the American item contains anything that can be claimed for Canada.

Back then, I would carefully explain simple things about the United States to her just in case she didn't know. This didn't go over well, either.

Once, I mentioned Tom Brokaw. "He's one of our main television news anchors," I started to explain.

"Jesus, Joe! I know who Tom Brokaw is!" she said with sudden contempt. Of course, I couldn't figure out why she was so insulted. After all, if she were to ask me to name a major Canadian news anchor I would have absolutely no idea.

Well, aside from Peter Jennings, that is. He's Canadian, you know.

Joe Lavin is learning something new about Canada every day.

©2004 Joe Lavin

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