Every time that I visit Canada I am struck by how weird the average American's relationship with Canada is. Unless they happen to live near the border, I suspect that Canada barely enters into the consciousness of most Americans. And yet, there's this massive country right next to ours. Sure, it has a small population relative to the U.S., but a lot of famous people in the U.S. are Canadian. There certainly is the potential for it to come up on a regular basis. But for whatever reason, it doesn't seem to pierce the consciousness of most of the American public.
A few months ago an old friend, an American who now lives in Australia, visited us. She brought her Aussie girlfriend with her and at one point the girlfriend mentioned the constant rivalry between Australia and New Zealand. "It's probably like the U.S. and Canada," she said, explaining. "No, it's not," piped up our friend. "In Australia I hear about New Zealand all the time, but when I lived in America, Canada barely came up. Canada isn't a rival to the U.S., at least not to Americans. It's absent." That's what I'm talking about. And that's why Canada as a mental concept to an American is so weird.
The existence of Quebec makes it odder still. While Anglo Canada could be dismissed as a cultural extension of American society, it's much harder to think of the French Canadians that way. When I am here, it certainly feels like I am in a foreign country, much moreso than when I visit Ontario or British Columbia (both of which really do feel like an extension of American, although with noticeably cleaner cities). What makes it strange is that this foreign land is so close, and yet so absent from the average United Statesian's mind. Even with the massive ego that comes with American exceptionalism, it's hard to see how so many of us manage to keep it up.
I'm not sure if I'm adequately expressing what I'm trying to get at here. But I'm giving it a shot.