A Kids in the Hall skit once offered this pithy observation: "Americans know as much about Canada as straight people do about gays."
It struck me as especially funny because I'm a gay American living just two hours from Canada. It also seemed devastatingly true. I once watched a Canadian friend flummox a roomful of Americans by asking us to name all of Canada's provinces. One person thought Toronto might be a province. Nobody could get all the Maritime provinces. It was embarrassing.
And this was in Michigan! A good, solid percentage of attendees at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival have come from all over Michigan for decades. Both our peninsulas border Canada, we get Canadian TV stations, Michigan is filled with hockey fans, and yet....
My Canadian friend went on to name all 50 American states, alphabetically. He threw in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico for good measure, adding that of course they weren't states, but in his opinion, they should be.
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. Canada has been advertised for American tourists as "The World Next Door," but American ignorance of the world is legendary. My father's heavy accent in English immediately gives him away as foreign-born and all his life in the U.S., when he's told people he was from Czechoslovakia, they've asked, "Where is that?"
I'm happy to say that when it came to naming all the Canadian provinces, I got them right, though I wasn't certain about how to pronounce or spell Nunavut. But then, I was a geography maven as a kid, and even growing up in New York, I was curious about Canada and went there for the first time when I was 17. I was my high school's star French student and wanted to practice my French in Montréal.
I didn't get the chance to come back to Canada until I moved to Michigan in the early 1980s and started attending the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, eventually becoming a member. Some seasons my partner and I have gone up two or three times. But we've also branched out and have visited Toronto three times, and Montréal and Québec City twice each. We spent close to a week in Vancouver and added Victoria to a working vacation in Seattle.
We've stayed at a super B&B in the Niagara region several times and discovered some amazing wines there. We have also spent several romantic getaways at a country manor hotel and spa in Cambridge, Ontario. Canadian friends down the street have relocated to Calgary and we have an open invitation to stay with them. It's very tempting.
Even with its current government, Canada still seems like an outpost of sanity from the vantage point of a state that has banned gay marriage even though it's broke and everyone knows how much money marriages bring in to local economies. Too bad for Michigan.
Great for Stratford, where my partner and I got married on our 21st anniversary. Stratford has come to feel like a second home after 20 years and we couldn't think of a better place.
There's a Canadian flag on my desk that I got at the end of the wedding trip and it's more than a reminder of all the other wonderful days and weeks I've spent in Canada, and of my Canadian friends. It's a pointer towards freedom that I hope my own country will someday echo and embrace.