Thursday, June 04, 2015

"The Star-spangled Banner" . . . and all that

Found Beauty
“Quebecois pretend not to know English just to irritate you when you're buying gas there,” and “Americans don't know anything about Canada.”

Two of my pet-peeve urban myths.

The latter myth was “illustrated” by a CBC story about a Jeopardy category involving Canadian cities in which the American contestants got not one answer correct. I'm skeptical about this proving anything; the clues were pretty abstruse: "An intersection in this provincial capital is the original western terminus of the Trans-Canada Highway." I would have said “Vancouver?” and I would have been wrong—it's Victoria. I guess I was blind-sided by the “highway” word so that I missed the “provincial capital” phrase. 

Highways don't generally cross features like the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Another question asked for the name of a Canadian city whose inhabitants were called “Moose Javians,” and I wondered how many Canadians would have known the answer. Another depended on your knowledge of Shakespeare and his city—Stratford upon Avon—to come up with Stratford, Ontario which is also located on a River Avon.

The myth of American congenital ignorance about Canada came up in one of my adult ed classes. I countered it by asking them questions about the USA: “If you drove straight south into the USA from Westlock (where the class was), which state would you be in?” Nobody knew. I could have countered with “It would be Montana, and what is the capital city of Montana?” I wonder how many Canadians know that it's Helena.

It's pretty easy to show that Americans ignorance about Canada is equalled—and possibly exceeded—by Canadians lack of knowledge about the USA.

As regards the myth about Quebecois pretending to be French-only, I'd remind people that the majority of English Canada is also uni-lingual. I live across the river from St. Isidore de Bellevue, a French-speaking village, and I'm totally incapable of conversing with them in their language. Am I pretending when they come through Rosthern and ask me for directions in French?

Such myths encourage stereotyping, and stereotyping is one of the scourges of our age. In police forces, it results in profiling so that the majority of people stopped for questioning in the street by the police are black or aboriginal young men. In the general public, it restricts individuals in minorities from involvement in the affairs of the community; if one is stereotyped, profiled, judgements are made about you by people who don't even know you. You're pre-judged, the origin of our word, prejudice.

To sum up: the range of ignorance/knowledge among Americans is very similar to that of Canadians, and French Canadians who can't help me out in the English language are no different from me, who can't be helpful to them in French.

Shame on the CBC for reprofiling Americans on the basis of one category in one Jeopardy episode.

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