I read the following statement in an outline forum last week, "As a Canadian, I often feel that Americans are out of touch with the world around them." It was stuck in my head all weekend long.
My daughter was with me the weekend and I asked her about a family roadtrip we took to Canada in 2002, and she immediately recalled the same incident I was thinking about. One exchange with a Canadian that stands out in my mind. We were at a Canadian historic site and the volunteer said she was a school teacher. She asked my children were they local to the area, and where did they go to school. They replied, "we don't live around here, we live in Delaware." Her reply was, "Is that in North Carolina?"
Living on the east coast of the United States, we have been to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., many times. As a family I took my kids on one roadtrip where we visited Ottawa and Toronto, and another where we visited the North Atlantic, driving through New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.
While in Canada I compared historic sites and their significance to Canadian government, to similar places in the United States. While we in Ottawa we visited the Canadian Parliament. While in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, we visited the historic sites of the Canadian Articles of Confederation.
An online exchange with an angry Canadian
I vividly recall an online conversation with a Canadian in 2004 where the question was asked, "Are you aware that 85% of Canadians think that the US is partly or fully responsible for the 9/11 incident? What can you say in your defense?"
I asked for a reference to a specific poll that supports the claim, but never saw one. Another statement was made during the conversation, " Are you aware that a recent public opinion poll in Europe has named US and Israel the main threats to world peace."
I asked, please by all means give the link to any articles you have on such polls, I would love to read them. I never saw the actual poll or any article to back the claim.
I am weary of polls. If you watch any public opinion polls you will notice they are very fickle, and can swing wildly over very short periods. Asking someone on the street, or on the phone, a very short question gets their gut reaction which does not always reflect the more deep seeded truth.
On the road in Canada
The online conversation from more than ten years stands out in my mind, much like the recent statement made. I can honestly say in my travels through Canada, I was a bit surprised about how little Canadians actually know about the United States. In conversations I had with Canadians, many people said they were concerned about how little their kids were taught in school about Canadian history, let alone American history.
My family has toured many tourist attractions in Canada, like a typical tourist, but we have also toured many historic sites in Canada. I would venture to guess that I have spent more time teaching my family about Canada, than most Canadians have teaching their families about the United States.
On Canada day 2001 we were at Dundurn Castle, Ontario, learning Canadian history. Earlier in that trip we visited Ottawa and learned about Canadian government, we learned of rich culture of RCMP as we watched them perform drill and ceremony on horseback. We also visited Fort Henry and a host of other historic sites.
Our next Canadian adventure was post 9/11, and I did not see any anti-American sentiment. I asked a lot of questions about Canada and its culture, and I was not shy in answering any questions asked to me about the United States and its culture. We spend some time in Prince Edward Island, and toured Founders Hall where my family and I learned of why there is a Canada Day, and what was involved in the formation of Canada.
I took my kids to visit American historic sites, and learn about American history and culture. I was concerned about how little my kids are taught in school about American history, let alone Canadian history. I would venture to guess that I have spent more time teaching my family about Canada, than most Canadians have teaching their families about the US.
Do Canadians feel Americans are out of touch with the world around them because of something they read on the internet, or is it something they saw on television? Just like the angry man from many years ago, who was asking me to defend America based on polls he read, I wonder why people form these beliefs. Too many opinions and stereotypes are formed in the media. I don't rely on the media for my information, and I surely don't expect the media to educate my kids. Hopefully my children will retain at least some faint memory of my attempts to educate them throughout their lives.
I would never think to ask if all Americans think Canadians are out of touch with the world around them. I really hate stereotypes. It's not about nations and nationalities, it is about people. People understand people. People understanding who they are, who other people are, and finding ways we are similar to build upon, rather that looking for differences to use to divide us apart.
Graphic: Questy Roadtrips to Canada 2001 Ontario and 2002 PEI
Photos by Tom Peracchio