Why Are Americans Clueless About Canada?

canada, america, united states, american-canadian flag

I know you may be thinking that I’m being a little radical with today’s post by asking the question in the title – Why are Americans clueless about Canada? But it’s something that’s been on my mind for a while now. I visit the United States anywhere from 8-10 times a year for business and pleasure. In my lifetime I’ve visited 30 out of the 50 states. Yes, I know that United States has 50 states and that flag has 50 stars that represent each state. I’m willing to bet that the majority of American citizens can’t name how many provinces and territories are in Canada. For the curious ones, there are ten provinces and three territories Canada – therefore making Canada the second largest country in the world by area.

But, that mini geography lesson is neither here nor there, and instead I’m curious why Americans clueless about Canada? As Canadians we deal with United States on daily basis, and to some degree I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that Americans rely on Canadians to a high degree – like we rely on United States. Here are a few quick examples:

  • Canada is America’s largest trading partner.
  • No other country in the world supplies the U.S. with more oil.
  • 1994 was the year that the NAFTA was signed – making trading between United States and Canada the largest amongst two countries in the world.
  • The two nations cooperated closely in World War II and many other wars since.

Despite all of this, very few Americans know as much about Canada as Canadians know about United States. Canadians know that Barack Obama is president of the United States. Surely I’d think that Americans would know the name of the most important elected official of one of only two countries that borders their country. This same country that’s a mere 10 minute drive from Buffalo, New York.

Stephen Harper has been the prime minister of Canada for six years. Yet, most Americans don’t know the answers to basic questions about the friendly neighbor they share a 3,145-mile border with.

Reasons For The Limited Knowledge

Lack of Media Coverage

The main reason American’s don’t know enough about Canada is because the U.S. media hardly covers Canada. All of the TV programs, radio shows and newspapers are largely devoted to lame local news of a cat getting stuck in a tree or how Las Vegas is down in business since 2008. However, I’ll give credit where it’s due though – there’s the odd curiosity mention of Canadian hockey, beer and cold weather. Furthermore, there imply isn’t enough time in a 24 hour period to feature anything Canadian, because the media produces content about Lindsay Lohan, Snooki, Charlie Sheen and lots of other lame celebrities.

Maybe Canadian’s Aren’t Cool Enough

While Lohan, Snooki, and Sheen are cool peeps, Americans sometimes forget that many celebrities in their media are actually Canadian. Here are a few: Justin Bieber, William Shatner, Pamela Anderson, Jim Carrey, Michael J. Fox, Liann Rimes, Alex Trebek, Kim Cattrall, Shania Twain, Ryan Gosling, Seth Rogan and many others.

Oddly enough, Las Vegas loves Canadians. For years the largest running show in Las Vegas was Celine Dion, which ended last year – and she’s Canadian. Today, the biggest show on the Las Vegas strip is  Shania Twain – she’s also Canadian.

Lack of Travel Experience

Another problem is that the vast majority of America’s media content just dwarfs basic information about the world – Canada included. While Canadians heavily advertise American travel destinations, our friends south of the border rarely return the favor. Hence, why most Americans choose to go to the Disney World for the 10th time rather than taking a short drive or flight to explore Canada. So, it doesn’t surprise me that  many can’t identify any major Canadian landmarks or say much about Canadian culture as a whole.

This embarrassment could easily be fixed by driving or flying to Montreal or Toronto — two of Canada’s more popular cities. Or the American friends can visit some of the lakeside retreats in Canada where recreational activities like fishing are very much alive. Canada is only a few hours away — much closer than Disney World, where most have been several times.

Diversity Makes The Society Grow

Diversity strengthens a society because the influence from different cultures with their various beliefs and ideas will make a society open-minded and dynamic. Diversity is what creates tolerance and contributes to reduce racism. It also makes the society interesting to live and work in. To get to know people from all over the world, eat their food, learn about their cultures, all make living in a diverse society very educating and interesting.

According to a 2012 survey conducted by the nonprofit education company World Savvy, along with the International Baccalaureate Organization demonstrated:

  • 45 percent of the Americans surveyed thought the most common language in the world was English
  • 77 percent of respondents couldn’t identify Canada as America’s largest trade partner
  • 72 percent had no idea what region Afghanistan was in, but knew America was at war with Afghanistan

Supporting Cast

Here are some funny examples of different comments that were left on Finance Fox  from 2012 in various posts that illustrate the point in this post a little more.

  1. “I had a different experience in Toronto. Found the people to be harsh and unfriendly. Canada is not for me so I’m doing all I can to avoid this place from tanking.”
  2. “Thanks for mentioning me here! I have to be honest, we Americans are clueless about Canadian stuff (or maybe it’s just me). Ask me who your prime minister is :) LOL. Anyway… who wouldn’t want free shipping with their purchases!”
  3. “Thanks for the mention, from one Ed to another. :) Pretty cool that Canada has a Financial Literacy Month.”
  4. “There are some really smart finance bloggers in Canada, eh? Noting to do with finance, but it’s really funny that I’ve heard lots of really conservative people in our area say they were moving to Canada because Obama got re-elected and they hate Obabacare, he’s trying to socialize us, etc. When you ask if they know that Canada has universal healthcare, they just kind of change the subject. I’ll let you know if they decided to come, and you can hide.”
  5. “I love Canada! I’ve only been to Buffalo, Ontario once, but I’d love to go again in the future.”
  6. “Where does Canada fit it? I’d be curious to see if you have a higher percentage of English speakers than the US, even though there are two official languages.”
  7. “What are you guys trying to do, hijacking our country’s birthday weekend?”
  8. “We’re turning into Canada here in the US with Obamacare, so we too shall celebrate Canada Day! :)

Final Thoughts

While you may be thinking that I was trying to stir the pot with this post and paint everyone with the same brush – well that’s not the case at all actually. Everything I’ve said is strictly based on personal encounters. Do I love Americans? Totally. Am I jealous of their selection of products in stores such as Walmart? Absolutely. I spend enough time in the United States throughout every year, and it baffles me how many Americans I run into who know very little about Canada and Canadians as a whole.

There’s more to Canada than universal healthcare….eh!

Readers, do you think Americans are clueless about Canada? Why is that?

Cheers.

Eddie

Comments

  1. Christian L. says:

    Eddie,
    I’d like to think we’re not clueless, but I’ll admit we know less about Canada than its people know about the U.S. If I had to pinpoint a reason, I’d guess it’s because we travel that way less than you come this way.

    I’m not using that as an excuse, but it’s certainly how I feel. Travel outside the U.S. isn’t encouraged quite enough. I still met people who couldn’t see why I wanted to enjoy three weeks in Europe this summer. All I could think is why I wasn’t spending the rest of my life there.

    I digress. If more travel was encouraged people would be more curious to learn about their destinations.

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

    • But there’s a reason why American’s travel less to Canada than the other way, and it ain’t due to finances. I’ve listed a few reasons why that’s the case, but American’s need to get over the whole idea of “we’ve got everything within our borders.”

  2. Good post! I think many of us are clueless. I think a lot of it comes down to apathy and just plain ignorance. I think we can be guilty (survey results clearly showing this) of being ignorant of things going on around us as well as what’s in the news.

    I’ve not had the pleasure of travelling to Canada, though my wife and I definitely have it on our short list of where we want to go next. I’ve had several family members make multiple visits to Canada and they’ve always spoken highly of their experiences.

    I would also agree with your insights on diversity. We’ve been on several international trips and I always love learning about other cultures. Not only does it help me appreciate someone else, I get to see just how young our country is. It forces you to look beyond your borders and see that there’s a big world out there to be discovered.
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  3. I know most Americans are clueless about Canada and many other places. You hit the nail on the head when talking about the media. A lot of people learn about things through the news, which is filled with hollywood crap. I have been to Canada and loved it. Some of my good friends are Canadian. I also think that our educational system does not spend much time on Canada.
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  4. Soooooooo true! I live in U.S. and think of myself as someone who follows current events around the world yet I know very little about Canada myself. If you were to ask me who your prime minister was prior to reading this post, I wouldn’t be able to answer! I think the lack of media coverage is the primary reason we are clueless about your country. It’s not that we’re stupid or don’t care, we just don’t hear much about Canada! What little we get to learn sometimes comes from Olympics coverage, and even that media venue is very limited in terms of coverage. We have to pay for stupid cable channels just to get unlimited Olympics coverage. With our countries being as close as they are to each other, you’d think we’d have more interest in knowing what’s going on with our neighbors to the north, yet it’s not the case.

    Mexico… that’s another story.
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  5. I’ve actually considered moving to Canada. Any pros and cons I should know about?
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  6. I think most Americans are pretty clueless about geography and the rest of the world in general, and it is nothing personal against Canada. Sure, for being so close, they should pay more attention. Their country is over represented in the medias that it is hard to ignore. Being well traveled and interested in world events myself, I have to admit that I don’t know much about Canada, even though I can probably name more cities than most and know how your political system works, I have learned a lot from your post.
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  7. I see you Canada but raise you Mexico. They are also part of NAFTA, but I know very little about them. Granted, they comprise substatially less of Canada’s trade, but I would say culturally and politically they are probably much higher on Americans’ radars. I can’t even name their president right now, though I have looked it up in the past. I know nothing about their states or system of governance either, other than that the presidential term is very long. So, yes, I think most Americans don’t know enough about us, but we may also be discounting their knowldge of their other big neighbour.

    i checked – Enrique Pena Nieto
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  8. I will admit that I know nothing about Canada or most other countries for that matter. Where I grew up, you learned the states that bordered you and everything else didn’t matter. When I ventured West of the Mississippi River to move to New Mexico after school, my Mom told everyone I lived in Mexico. She thinks Colorado might be Mars. I think Americans are pretty self centered for the most part. What other country can you think of that doesn’t start learning a second language in elementary school? We just assume everyone will speak English. I love the US. Don’t get me wrong, but we are clueless about other countries for the most part. I did visit Montreal and Quebec on a French club trip in high school, and would love to come back some day. I’m so glad I started blogging. It has helped with my geography skills for sure.
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    • Thanks for your honesty Kim.
      But, don’t you think the education system is at fault for that?
      Even we as Canadians know the quality of the American education system, and I’m not talking privately funded Ivey schools.

  9. You make a really good point about how American’s are clueless about Canadians. I admittedly am clueless as well.

    I think part of the reason is b/c besides RIMM, I can’t think of any big company that is affecting my life. Where are the Apples, Googles, eBays, TWitters of Canada?

    Do you know why Canadians aren’t starting such companies?

    Sam
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    • You just named only tech companies from your backyard in the tech valley.
      Canadians do have companies like that, here are a few examples:
      1. Bombardier
      2. Tim Hortons
      3. Lululemon
      4. RIM
      5. Thomson Reuters
      6. Barric Gold
      7. Suncor Oil and Imperial <<< 8. Potash Corp
      9. RBC/TD/CIBC/Bank of Nova Scotia <<

      So, we do have quite a bit of Canadians starting companies and large multinational corporations – just that most are outside the tech valley. For a country that’s 10% the size of United States, I think we’re alright.

      • Lululemon, now that is a surprise! I guess the others are OK, but… the banks and oil companies really don’t count for example. Every country has a “Bank of X.”

        Where is are the McDonald’s, the Microsofts, the Proctor & Gambles, the Googles, the Apples, the Groupons of the world?

        Also, where are the Mission Impossibles, Transformers, Shawshank Redemptions, etc in the movie business? I definitely know of Canadian actors, but where are the Canadian movie blockbusters? Curious to know!

        Thx

        Sam

  10. I think this is true not just for Canada but the rest of the world (but probably more pronounced because you guys are neighbours). People from the US don’t seem to know very much about New Zealand.

    “Another problem is that the vast majority of America’s media content just dwarfs basic information about the world” – probably true, it is the centre of pop culture today.
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  11. I live in Buffalo and probably visit Canada (mostly Toronto) 5 or 6 times per year. I’d like to think we here in Buffalo know a bit about Canada seeing as we’re so close to the border, but maybe we just like Tim Hortons and the Tragically Hip! While I do agree the most Americans are clueless about Canada, you shouldn’t take offense…most Americans are clueless about most other countries (and some even about our own!).
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    • I don’t take offense, if it doesn’t have anything to do with myself personally, why take offense?
      I wrote the post in sheer humor, because deep down inside I knew the answer and reasons for it. As I said in the post, diversity is what makes us all grow.

  12. Simple Moolah says:

    Eddie…I have to agree with you 100% on this one man. I am from Toronto but now live in Windsor. I am in Detroit, Michigan quite often for work, and I kid you not…do you know how many times I get asked “so is it cold in Windsor? ” In my head I’m thinking ” are you serious right now?!… You’re seriously asking me if it’s cold in Windsor?…the city that is RIGHT across the river from you? The city that you can see from downtown Detroit?” So I respond saying ” we’ll actually, Windsor is south of Michigan so actually, it’s MUCH MUCH warmer than Detroit” (and I’m not making this up either. Detroit is actually north of Windsor)

    It is hilarious how they are soo clueless about a city that is right across the river, never less the country of Canada. I have met many Americans who have never left Detroit at all.

    I think you touched on a lot of good points. Media definitely plays a part, educational system plays a part…but I think that as a culture ….not all…but many Americans are just not interested because Canada or other countries don’t seem to be as “cool” or as “interesting” as the mighty U.S.A. And when you’re always told you’re #1 throughout you’re entire life….some people …not all….may begin to develop a “everyone else doesn’t matter attitude”

    I think we all should learn more about each other. It helps to break down social barriers and bring people together to unify us as one world. As much as we are different, we would find out that we all have a lot more in common than we think.

    • That’s hilarious. Funny you mentioned that, because I ran into that many times in Michigan. We attaend yearly football games (Lions and State), and anytime we go into a McDonald’s or similar, we get asked, “Where y’all from?”….”Canada…..how’s it up there?” Too funny!

      • Simple Moolah says:

        Ahhh haaaa haaaa! I know…. You just have to laugh at it because it is just too funny. And when it’s a regular occurrence, it really just makes you think and wonder how little they actually know about their neighbor to the north. Or in this case… The south. :)

    • I lived in Windsor for the first 25 years of my life so I know exactly what you are talking about. We traveled across the river every Sunday and it amazed me how little people knew about Windsor, because as you said, many have never stepped foot outside of Detroit.

      I love this article Eddie! I’ve written it in my mind a hundred times.

      I remember standing at a Craps table in Vegas about 4 years ago and a few of the other players asked my husband where he was from. He said Saskatchewan and I immediately looked at them to see what their reply would be. I was shocked when they said that they knew where he was talking about.

      Another dealer asked my father where he was from and when he said Windsor, she of course asked where that was and he told her to look for Detroit on a map and then look a little to the east. He also made some joke about the snow shoes we in Canada supposedly wear all the time.

      And when it comes to the US news it kills me how for example the Today Show will talk hours and hours about the recent hurricanes that have hit the US east coast and not even so much as mention Ontario or Easter Canada, yet they spent how many days in Vancouver covering the Olympics?

      Then I switch to CBC to watch Canadian news and all they talk about is how NY is flooded and the US election.
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  13. BTW, if you ever watch Jay Leno’s “Jay Walking,” you will soon discover that the average American isn’t that knowledgeable, so don’t get offended if we don’t know much about Canada.

    We don’t know much about nothing!
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    • Haha!
      That’s too funny you mentioned Jay Walking. I seen it, and it’s hilarious.
      I was never offended, I just put it out there to hear directly from the horses mouth. Most Canadians already know that about Americans.
      A very good movie that depicts that is “W” << I’m sure you’ve probably seen it.

  14. I know I’m waaaaay late to this post, but I had to comment.

    I love Canada. I’ve even been to Ontario once. I feel like I would love to live in Canada. Unfortunately, I’m still guilty.
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  15. It’s the classic majority/minority case. We don’t know about Canada, because we don’t have to. We’re the bully here. The big kid. The popular one. You need to know us, and we don’t need to know you. It sucks, but it’s true. I have been to Canada so many times, and I still can’t name your PM.
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    • I think it’s a case of narcissism and lack of education in the American Culture. At one point of time I would said you were the big kid bully, today there are more problems in the U.S. that they don’t know where to begin, yet U.S. continues to meddle in others business by “trying to help” others AKA boost your local economy. United States will never be what it once was – 911 changed that and 2008 Financial Crisis really set the country in. It’s kinda sad to see 47 million Americans living on food-stamps, but harsh times have come unfortunately.

  16. When I worked at the university, I got to meet a lot of Americans who were up here in Vancouver to study or work. Even the well educated ones don’t know much about their neighbors up north :) It’s fun trying to explain Canadian Thanksgiving.

  17. I lived in NY state for 4 years…

    Trying to buy beer at the supermarket and showing my Ontario Driver’s license, “Ontario?!? What state is that?”

    It’s stunning… but after a while when you realize how narcissistic and introspective American Culture is, you understand why. Generally speaking, they don’t care and they don’t give a @#$*… And they are proud of that.
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  18. Being from the U.S. I totally agree that people from United States are clueless about Canada and honestly clueless about the majority of the world. I think it has to due quite a bit with media. While I was in Europe this summer I noticed President Obama on the news quite a bit over there. Yet here in the U.S. you rarely see foreign officials on our news. Also, alot of people from the U.S. just aren’t that bright.

    I have traveled to Canada in the past and it was absolutely beautiful. After the Vancouver Olympics, my wife and I put Vancouver and surrounding area on our bucket list of places we would like to travel.

  19. I am American and I admit I know little about Canada. It’s definitely the media coverage. I probably know more about North Korea and Syria than Canada.
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