Why do Americans know so little about Canada?

I consider myself fairly sophisticated about politics and current events. Yet, when I came across the title of this thread – http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=373048 – I had to think a moment to recall who Harper is (the current prime minister of Canada). I would have recognized the name of Hugo Chavez or Vicente Fox or even Manuel Lopez Obrador (who may be the next president of Mexico but ain’t there yet) without a moment’s hesitation. Why is it that Americans generally pay so little attention to Canada, and know so little about what’s going on in there?

Some would have it that Americans are just too self-absorbed, but it’s clear to me that the American Media are the ones who are too self-absorbed. There far too little coverage of events in Canada and Mexico, even though they’re our closest neighbors (there’s not much on other countries of the world, either, but it’s particularly galling that our neighboring countries feature so little in the news). There’s not really a good reason for this. Border crossing is still, even in the post-911 world, relatively easy, and people cross the border and have business dealing with them all the time. In most of Canada there’s not even a language barrier!
it’s not all the media’s fault. We teach precious little history that even mentions Canada and Mexuico. and people could find out more about the news in these countries, especially in the Age of the Internet (I admit that I usually don’t make the effort). But even those Internet home pages rarly feature CVanadian and Mexican news.

Seriously, most Americans care about what is changing, or potentially changing, in ways that effect them. Canada’s relations with the US are mainly stable (excepting a few trade issues that are only significant to particular markets). Canadian domestic issues even when actually interesting and in a state of significant flux still have little chance of affecting the lives of the average American or of major any American policy. Therefore Americans care little.

I can name most of the American Supreme Court from memory. I can’t name even one member of the Canadian Supreme Court. It’s a tragic example of how the bombardment of American television has overpowered the relative whisper of its milder Canadian counterpart, and made me less inclined to criticize Americans for limited knowledge of what’s beyond their borders.
As a side note, I (and the rest of the audience) chuckled at a mention of Montreal in the new X-Men movie at last night’s screening.

Canada is a US ally, who we don’t have any major conflicts with (except for some economic issues, like the softwood dispute, while, which is of major importance to the people involved, isn’t all that big, in the overall scheme of things). They’re a liberal democracy and economically well off, which means you don’t have refugees or large scale economic immigration from Canada to the US. And (in large part because America is bigger and economically stronger than Canada) Canada is a lot more influenced by American culture than the other way around. So, there isn’t much incentive for most Americans to know a whole lot about Canada.

Don’t forget the Northwest Passage! http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=361058

(Some Canucks expect global warming will turn the NWP into an economically valuable major shipping lane by rendering it ice-free. I suspect if that happens, there isn’t going to be all that much long-distance shipping any more; we’ll all be preoccupied with more urgent concerns.)

The sad answer is “Why should we?” As mentioned by others, we tend to focus on countries and people who affect us directly. With limited exceptions, Canada doesn’t matter to us any more than Zimbabwe does. It isn’t right, but it is a fact.

(bolding mine)

[nitpick] Did you perhaps mean “economically bigger and stronger?” I ask because geographically speaking, Canada is bigger. [/nitpick]

I meant bigger, bigger. The US has a population of almost 295,750,000. Canada has a population of about 32,800,000. Population tends to matter more than land area when you look at cultural spread.

And, actually, nitpicking again about relative sizes, while it’s true that the total area of Canada is larger than the total area of the US, in terms of land area, the US is bigger than Canada. (Canada claims a lot of water in the North Atlantic, and a good chunk of the polar ice cap, up to the north pole.)

That’s entirely untrue. The thing is that, in terms of it’s relationship with the US, Canada is so stable that we don’t have to pay attention to it. If all hell broke loose in Canada, it would get a lot of attention real fast.

Could you provide a cite? I’m not disputing this, I just find it interesting.

Surprised me too:

Canada is 3.511 million square miles without water

US is 3.537 million square miles without water

American Media focuses on America (and American Media). When it looks outside the USA, the news reports trouble spots and the entertainment side shows some British shows and news. So overall an American is exposed to Canadian issues very little. We know far more about the Middle East, Russia, China and the UK.
Our overall knowledge of Japan is probably low again. In the 80’s Japan was covered constantly. We do not get much coverage of Mexico either unless it concerns immigration.
One of the many things I like about the SDMB is you pick up on Canadian issues that I do not run across in daily life.

Jim {I hold out hope that someday North America will unify into one very large Union.}

Called the United States!

This is, of course, completely false. Canada matters to you a great deal. Canada provides more oil and natural gas to the US than any other country. Canada is the largest trading partner of the US. The economic interwoveness of the two countries means that significant issues in one country will have an impact on the other.

The reason for the apathy isn’t about how important Canada is, but rather about how reliable the relations are. Canadian politics doesn’t make the news in the US for much the same reason that Massachusetts state politics doesn’t make the news in Oregon. Sure, there might be scandal and contraversy, but the aspects of the relationship between the two places that actually impact the people of Oregon are vanishingly unlikely to be impacted. The same applies in the case of Canada/US. Heck, Canada could split in two, and the real impact on people in the US aside from those living on the Quebec border would be pretty negligable. Now, if we turned off the taps in Alberta, we could crash the US economy pretty much overnight. But that won’t happen, and is so certain not to happen that there’s no need to talk about it.

God what an appaling idea!

Regarding Canada being of no importance to the US - well, we are your largest trading partner. Even if it’s not glamourours, I would suggest that it is fairly important.

Probably more important than the US’s trade with Zibabwe, for instance.

And I don’t know much about the United States itself, even having grown up there and gotten a basically good education.

Bad phrasing on my part. By “affect” what I really meant was “negatively affect or influence.” Because the fates of our two countries are so intertwined, any conflict between the two would either be very minimal or so cataclysmic as to destroy both. Neither country wants to be the other, but we are blessed/doomed to forever be partners. Until Canada starts acting against what is perceived as “our best interests,” it can safely be relegated to the back-burner of most people’s minds. What’s going on on “American Idol” is much more important to most people.

I’m going to blame Canada on this one.

Don’t fret. Average Americans know as little about Canada as average Canadians know about most other countries too.

The fact is that Canadians know a great deal about the US. One can learn a whole lot of basics through media osmosis. Heck I can even tell you how to build a Big Mac:

Two all beef patties
Special sauce
On a sesame seed bun.