Monday, February 09, 2009

Like water off a beaver's back

One day, we will stop worrying what Americans almost never think of us, right about the time Canadian geography is on the curricula of fine U.S. public schools.

Lindsay Carson, from the University of Guelph's fine track program won the 3,000 metres at a meet last weekend at Notre Dame, dusting a field that included all-American runners. The interviewer, afterwards, not only asked where Guelph is ("a hour outside Toronto," Ms. Carson replied) and then seemed incredulous that you can run outdoors in the winter in Canada: "You run on a treadmill?" Big Man on Campus mused, "I'm surprised he didn't ask if she trains indoors in an igloo."

At 1 p.m, ET, according to a quick Google check, the temperature in Guelph was 2.9C. In South Bend, Indiana, it was 4C, more or less the same, but apparently to someone there it is impossible that you can jog outdoors at this time of year.

This calls to mind one of the great burns a fellow journalist ran on the very same University of Notre Dame several years ago. He applied for press credentials to a Fighting Irish football game through a community weekly that serves a town of 8,000 people, where the present-day mayor is actually named Deb. He told the flack he was located "just north of Toronto," and the idiot went for it, hook, line and sinker.

At this point, American impressions about Canada are pretty much water off a beaver's back. The beauty of this day and age is that there is more evidence that the country of 300 million to the south does have, 10 million, 20 million people who are knowledgeable about Canada for reasons which go way beyond beer, curling, CBC, hockey and everything else which supposedly knits together our national fabric. Besides, we can't call out the Americans when we tend to be just as ignorant about our own country sometimes.

Good job, Lindsay Carson. Your 9:10 3,000 metres (second-fastest ever by a Canadian university runner) earned you some American respect and hopefully people outside CIS nuts and track-and-field types will know you soon enough.


perpetual student said...

Neate, the topic of Americans and their naive views on others is not an infrequent one on your blog. Please do not think I am an apologist because I feel compelled to advocate for a journalist covering collegiate track, about which I care little. You seem frustrated that the interviewer did not think it necessary to look up the location of Guelph University before the meet. Do you think it would have been better for him to leave the meet not knowing where Guelph was, as opposed to asking because he did not know and might have been curious? As for running out of doors, I think this is something which people who do run view differently from people who do not. Everyone whom I know who runs regularly vastly prefers to run outside, unless temperatures are below freezing. (I've heard that running on a treadmill is hard on the knees, but don't have a source for that.) But to people who don't run, myself included, the idea of running in the cold is unappealing. I think the interviewer's incredulity over running outside reflects his own tastes moreso than a disbelief that Canadian runners train in the same way that American runners do. Finally, as a reporter, is not not likely that he asked the question to flush out the interview, in the way that many journalists ask dumb questions because they can't think of good ones?

If you wish to argue that American schools inadequately teach students about the countries around them and their histories, you'd have a hard time finding an American who disagreed with you. If it makes you feel better, many districts are even cutting back on teaching American history to make time for the almighty standardized tests. Since this is a topic which interests you, I will ask, what do you think Americans should know about Canada and Canadians that most don't think or care about? I know this is an extremely broad and dense question, so I guess I am asking in the interest of starting a dialogue which can be insightful and rewarding.

sager said...

I am not sure where to begin in terms of what Americans should know about Canada. I'll give you one: Most of us are culturally American and realize that American thought dominates the world. We like a lot of the same things, but do not aspire to be Americans. In terms of general knowledge, I don't know what to say, since Canadians are so careless about what symbols we prize (does anyone under 40 believe we should still recognize the British monarchy?)

With respect to the clip, I'm not frustrated. The point was to poke fun at ourselves a bit our tendency to get our back up when confronted by an American not knowing much about Canada.

I'm not a big fan of the whole (going back a few years) Rick Mercer Talking To Americans routine. It amounted to trying to validate ourselves by laughing at others, which is wrong. It was only funny when a little kid called Mercer on it. ("Hang on! Canada has provinces!")

Layson shared the clip, including his interpretation of the treadmill question. It seemed amusing enough for a lazy Monday afternoon.

Your interpretation of the "treadmill" question is pretty plausible too. I cannot speak for Greg, but I thought it was odd how he went from processing that Guelph was "a hour away from Toronto" (Lindsay's answer) to wondering how she could possibly train outdoors. He presumed that if Carson could beat Americans, then she automatically had to be the best in Canada. However, he got a very good answer when she pointed out two other runners who are running in the 9:10 range for the indoor 3,000. In other words, he did his job.

I do not know how if that answers your question, but that was a best stab.

Dennis Prouse said...

There are all kinds of Canadians, some of them very well off, who have never extensively travelled their own country, and know absolutely nothing about the history and culture of Canada outside the narrow confines of their own city. (They can tell you plenty about Maui or the Dominican, though.) The sanctimony of Canadians tsk-tsking the "ignorance" of Americans gets old in a hurry when you look at our own shortcomings.

Anonymous said...

I always felt the history lessons taught in any country are far too politicized. We learn far more about Louis Riel and his drunken farce of an uprising in the hinterlands than we ever learn about our REAL history which began in New England and the colonies. Americans learn a lot about post-revolution stuff when so much of the reason they are who they are was because of things happening in Great Britain. A damn shame really. I'd love to know more about my family's history before we came north for the free land.......the border is not where our history ends. And the anti-Americanism preached in this country is growing old (I'm not saying this article was, it was the opposite). Someday we'll realize that the world really doesn't care what we're up to, they don't hate us, they're not snubbing us, and there's no reason to pay attention to us. The great failure of the "cultural mosaic" is that we don't care about our "identity" either......

perpetual student said...

Ah, okay. I misinterpreted your tone. I apologize if I seemed defensive. Even if I could go on for hours about my country's shortcomings, it gets frustrating to hear others do the same. One thing that I am as guilty of as anyone is forgetting how big the US (and Canada as well) is and the immense regional variation found in attitudes on all manner of subjects. It's easy to accept stereotypes about people and places we've never seen, even as we strive to reject the stereotypes of ourselves.

Anyway, to bring this back onto a sports topic, I've been counting down the days to the opening of Spring Training, and have already cleared my afternoon for Opening Day. You?

sager said...

@ p.s.: No need to apologize; you raised fair questions. Anyone writing about attitudes in a foreign country should be prepared to defend what he or she said.

Baseball-wise, I'm looking very forward to Opening Day and the WBC, even if I'm alone I'm in my enthusiasm.