People in Lauderdale and on the cruise are amazingly friendly. The first question almost always is: "where are you from?" And the conversation always goes like this:
Me: Fort McMurray, Alberta
Me: Home of the oil sands?
Me: Northern Canada?
Them: Oh, anywhere close to Montreal?!? (Don't ask me, it's always Montreal)
The word they trigger on is Canada - but it most certainly is not Fort McMurray or oil sands. So far I've met people from America, El Salvador, Peru, Great Britain, Serbia, France, Italy, Portugal,and Haiti and not one single soul has recoiled in horror when I named my home town or what we do for an industry. In fact they seemed not only indifferent but entirely unaware of any of it, which has led me to suspect that the focus on our community and the oil sands is of interest to far, far fewer people than one might assume when you live in the community and are part of that industry.
The funny thing about being in the bulls-eye is that you may come to believe that all the attention truly is focused on you. You can lose the perspective and realization that you are really just a small cog in a very large machine, one that encompasses a world of billions of people who kind of have their own communities, industries and worries of their own.
We invest very heavily in trying to "change the image" of Fort McMurray. This investment hinges on the belief that there is already an image in people's minds about us, and an unsavoury one at that. The reality is that as you move further away from our community in an ever expanding circle that image, or even any knowledge, of our community fades until it disappears. It seems so vital at ground zero and yet here in the middle of the Caribbean it disappears into a tropical mist.
I suspect we have two things: a fairly large ego about being the economic engine of Canada and a fairly large chip on our shoulder about being targeted as the bullseye of environmental groups and external media. The reality I am finding though is that both are quite out of proportion with the way the majority of others see us, which is some strange place with a fort close to Montreal.
Last night our server from Morocco asked where we are from. This time I just said "northern Canada", to which he smiled and said "I have an uncle in Montreal!". I smiled and laughed, and said we didn't live close to Montreal, and that Canada is a big place - but that the IJB does speak French, at which point he chattered at her in flawless French.
This cruise trip has been amazing, and it isn't over yet. One of the most enlightening parts, though, has been the realization of one thing. Fort McMurray, we probably need to get over ourselves, because the rest of the world hasn't just gotten over us. Most of them never even knew we existed.