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Americans Are Clueless About Canada -- and Other Countries, Too

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My book about Canada wasn't THAT dangerous. In fact, it wasn't dangerous at all.

HuffPo blogger and Just for Laughs director Andy Nulman, in his high-profile Canada Day piece here, called my Canadian-published 1977 joke book about Canada and Canadians, The Retarded Giant, "one of the most dangerous books ever released about my beloved homeland of Canada."

I just wanted it to be funny. (Sample joke: "Why does a haircut cost $4 in Toronto?" Answer: "A buck for each corner.")

In actuality, The Retarded Giant (cover illustration by Aislin, Canada's top political cartoonist) was snarky, mostly. It took a lot of undeserved cheap shots at Canada. ("Q. How do you spot a Canadian? A. When he walks in a room, it's like someone just left.") It was the product of a young Montreal Gazette sportswriter (me), a new immigrant to Canada.

I know better now. Far better.

Over the intervening years I've developed a deep and continuing respect for Canada's decent society and evolved political system and laws.

But I've also become increasingly appalled with Americans' dismaying and provincial lack of knowledge about Canada. (Then again, that's true of any other country, not just Canada.)

Nulman thinks Canada "needs to change its dopey reputation," and that it needs a new image.

I would argue that my fellow Yanks need to cease their navel gazing. I keep telling Americans that there's a country living upstairs, Canada, that is well ahead and better-evolved than the U.S. in many ways, whether it's health care, marriage equality, mass transit, gun control, immigration, etc., etc.

Americans could learn a lot from Canada -- a whole lot -- but they don't have a clue. And they don't want to.

What they often hear about Canada in the U.S. media are outright lies -- especially about Canada's national health care, a subject I've addressed here in HuffPost several times.

Americans' ignorance about Canada goes beyond appalling.

I live in northern Washington state, right near the border with Canada. You can see B.C. from down the street.

When I first moved up here and began covering Canada for Dow Jones' U.S. business site MarketWatch.com, I spoke at a local Rotary Club. The members were mostly college graduates and business leaders.

I gave a quiz about Canada to the Rotarians, who share a Rotary district with B.C. There was even a Canadian flag on their wall.

I asked: What's the capital of Canada? Maybe half the members knew. OK, who is Canada's Prime Minister? Even fewer hands went up. And you don't even want to know how many Canadian provinces most of these supposedly well-educated people could name.

Vancouver is only a two-hour drive away, and few of my neighbors have been there in years. I'm there all the time -- my Canadian-born son and his family have moved there -- and every time I go, I am impressed by the decent, forward-looking society Canadians have built. One few Americans know or appreciate.

When I tell Americans that Canadian parks are well-maintained and funded, or that Vancouver's beaches have lifeguards, well-behaved bathers, and no unrestrained dogs running around, they are impressed. When I tell them it is a safe place compared to the ever-fearful U.S. or that Canada's political system still works and isn't overwhelmed by corruption and crassness, they nod approvingly.

But Canadians visiting the U.S. don't usually bother to tell Americans these things. They are resigned to Yanks' cluelessness and lack of curiosity about any other country.

In other words, the greatest image campaign you could devise about Canada, Andy, would almost certainly fall on deaf ears and blind eyes here in the U.S.

Sadly, many -- most -- Americans don't just have their heads up their butts. They also seem to enjoy the view.

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