Thursday, January 15, 2009

What do Ontarians know about Michigan?

So what do Canadians, and in particular Ontarians, know about the Big Mitten? Well, the answer is practically nothing, much to my surprise.

Based on the many conversations I’ve had with the Canucks I’ve met, their US exposure has pretty much been limited to:

*Buffalo, New York
*Traveling through Detroit on their way to Florida
*What they see on TV about the US (usually about New York or LA)
*The portrayal of Americans by the Canadian media (see previous post)

So, this leaves me with the self-inflicted responsibility of educating the Ontarians about Michigan and the momentous duty of countering the incorrect stereotypes I encounter about the US and about Michigan.

Even though in my previous post I indicated that people in Michigan are aware enough of Ontario to know that Ontarians don’t live in igloos, I am in no way implying that Michiganders are entirely knowledgeable about their neighbor to the north and east. I’m just as likely hear “So how’s the weather up there in Canada” from one of my friends in Michigan as I am to hear “Are you going down to the States for the holidays” from a colleague in Canada. Neither party seems to be aware that the majority of Ontarians, and in fact, the majority of Canadians, live within the same latitudinal lines as falls the state of Michigan. My travels across the border don’t involve much up or down at all—in fact, I’m usually traveling almost due east or west Where I live now is only about 30 miles further north than where I lived in Michigan.

But, one characteristic that’s common between Michiganders, Ontarians, and any other resident of a northern jurisdiction is what I call Ice Ego. Ice Ego is a group’s collective belief that they can nobly endure more hardships due to cold and snow than any other group. Michiganders have a very big Ice Ego. So do Ontarians. However, characteristically of any type of ego, neither group seems to want to acknowledge the other’s heartiness as it would detract from their own. I’ve already explained that the most populous areas of Ontario are similarly distanced from the equator as Michigan. Likewise, Michigan and Ontario are both extremely susceptible to the wrath of the dreaded weather phenomenon known as “lake effect” where the weather is heavily influenced by the mood swings of the Great Lakes. An area’s proximity to the eastern edge of a Great Lake usually is proportionate to the amount of snow they can expect to receive in winter (and spring and fall and sometimes summer). I currently live two to three times further from a Great Lake than I did in Michigan; therefore, I now live somewhere that gets less snow than I’m used to experiencing in an average winter.

This winter has been especially harsh. It started snowing on November first and hasn’t stopped since. We’ve had several feet of snow so far this winter, and many days of nose-hair-freezing temperatures. I wish I had a loonie for every time one of my co-workers or hockey teammates has asked me, “So, how do you like your first Canadian winter, eh?” It seems the Canadians think that snow hardly falls outside the borders of their country. If I also had a loonie for every time I had to explain to the Canucks that my hometown in Michigan routinely has, and this year has had almost twice as much snow as they’ve had here in Southwest Ontario, I’d be able to buy a nice new hockey helmet.

(Maybe it’s just my need to flex my Ice Ego here, but as an aside, I’m astounded at the number of Ontarians in my area who have snow tires put on their cars each winter. About 70% of people I know here have winter snow tires. Back in Michigan, I didn’t know ANYONE who put snow tires on their cars. I’m not really sure what this means, but I guess it could indicate a superior skill level at winter driving in Michigan.)

The Ontarians, in addition to their insular climatic comprehension, also seem to believe that the geographical boundaries of Michigan don’t extend beyond Detroit, or at most, Ann Arbor. My co-workers and teammates know I’m from Michigan, and despite all my detailed explanations, which include using my hand as a map in a desperate attempt to illustrate that I am not from Detroit, will still ask me when I am going to take a trip back home to Detroit. When I meet new people in Ontario and I tell them I am from Grand Rapids (with emphasis) in Western Michigan, they invariably reply with, “Oh, I was in Michigan once. I went to my nephew’s hockey tournament in (insert-name-of-Detroit-suburb-here).”

Much to my dismay, my hockey teammates have decided to nickname me “Motown Mary.” My protests against this have fallen on deaf ears. They also like to give me a hard time about the Detroit Lions, the worst team ever in NFL history, as if I am the owner of the team. After all, I’m from Michigan so I must be from Detroit, right???

Most of my teammates are from the Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge area. Kitchener is about three-hours’ drive from Detroit. So is Grand Rapids. I explained to them that their hometown is just as far from Detroit as my hometown, yet it appears that the more I object to my nickname, the less likely I am to lose it.

My Ice Ego would be much more appreciative of a weather-related nickname that reflects my ability to endure harsh winters. However, if I can’t convince my teammates I’m not from Detroit, I doubt I’ll be able to convince them that I’ve persevered through winters that would make the ice arena feel like a tropical escape. Yet, even if I did tell stories of frozen tears, dead car batteries, ice dams on the roof, and bone-chilling power outages after ice storms, a major communication gap would present itself—I don’t communicate in metric or Celsius!

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