What’s the capital of Canada?
That’s the question students at Harvard University were asked in a man-on-the-street video posted by the campus newspaper, The Crimson. And most of the Ivy League students didn’t know the answer.
“Probably Vancouver or something,” one man answered.
“Alberta?” another guessed.
“Is it Toronto?”
“Is it Quebec?”
Some were embarrassed with their lack of knowledge. “Oh my God, I don’t know. Oh that’s really bad,” one said. “I don’t know. I’m sorry Canada,” another girl said.
Only one student got the correct answer. And she was Canadian.
While the video has made the rounds on Canadian media outlets, most aren’t surprised or even offended by the students’ apparent ignorance.
“We should acknowledge that at least most of the students seemed embarrassed by the fact that they didn’t know. And besides, Canada, unlike the UK or France or Japan, is one of those cases where the capital city is not the largest or most prominent city -- so it’s a tricky question,” Todd Pettigrew, an associate professor at Cape Breton University wrote for Macleans Magazine. “I bet most Canadian students think the capital of Australia is Sydney.”
“Consider, for example, the world’s 10 most-populous countries. Can you list all of them? And if you can, can you name the capital cities of each of them?” he asks. “I’m going to assume that you know the capital of China is Beijing, but what about India? Mumbai? Guess again.”
This isn’t the first time Americans were quizzed about their apparent ignorance toward their northern neighbors. In one of his well-known segments, Canadian comedian Rick Mercer visited several U.S. cities and Ivy League campuses asking passersby whether they were upset over the invasion of Saskatchewan by Russian forces, the construction of a Mount Rushmore replica in Canada that will have the country’s “most famous Eskimo president” or how global warming is melting Canada’s “national igloo” which is a downsized replica of the U.S. Capitol. Others were fooled into congratulating Canada on getting its first McDonalds, having 800 miles of paved road and legalizing insulin.
Mercer also visited the campuses of Columbia University and Harvard University, where students signed petitions to end the Canadian government’s “tradition of putting senior citizens on northern ice flows and leaving them to perish” and to end the seal hunt in Calgary, Alberta.
Other Canadian columnists aren’t surprised by the responses in the recent viral video. In fact, a 2011 poll found that just 48 percent of Americans knew the name of the Canadian capital. The same study found that nearly two-thirds of Americans said they learned nothing about Canada’s history in school, seattlepi.com reports.
For Pettigrew, geography isn’t everything.
“Don’t get me wrong: I think world knowledge is important,” he writes. “But there is a lot more to knowing about the world than knowing game-show style trivia. It’s more important to me that people know more about efforts to reduce poverty in Bangladesh than the fact that its capital is Dhaka.”
What do you think?