Who could have known that hockey isn’t Canada’s national sport, that Canadian passports contain hidden messages or that it was a Canadian who invented peanut butter? Well, if you had read Marianne Jennings’ delightful book, So You Think You Know Canada, Eh?, you’d easily score in any game of Canadian trivia. Marianne chats with us this month about how the book came about, what she does for fun and what she liked to read when she was growing up.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: You define yourself as a “self-proclaimed adventure craver and adventure addict.” Was this passion for globetrotting instilled in childhood or did it come along later?
A: I’ve always loved learning about different places, different cultures, and different people around the world. I grew up in a very small farming community where most people never even left the state. I would read National Geographic magazines and books from the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series and dream about these places I wanted to see when I grew up.
My family would take road trips, but I didn’t get to travel internationally until after college. Except for one road trip with my grandparents where we saw Wyoming, North and South Dakota, and then up into Ontario, Canada. It was the first time I’d ever been out of the U.S., and I found it fascinating. I loved everything about it – the people, their slight accent, the friendly painted fire hydrants, and the breathtaking scenery.
Q: You have also parlayed that passion into a 9-5 job. Tell us about it.
A: A few years back I was able to get a job managing Utah.com, which is a travel and tourism website for all things Utah. Utah is an outdoor-lovers playground. For a long time, I took for granted where I lived and didn’t realize that Utah was a bucket list location for people all around the world. It’s been so fun to be able to see more of the great state of Utah and to help others plan their dream trips here.
Q: Your shoes have logged a lot of miles and your passport has collected a lot of stamps. Is there one place in particular you’d like to go back to and, if possible, spend more time?
A: New Zealand
Q: Top three places on your bucket list (and why)?
A: Antarctica – It’s remote, rugged, and screams adventure. I’ve even looked into working there for a season.
Scotland – Castles, bagpipes, kilts, and ceilidhs. Plus, they have some amazing long walks (or hikes as we call them) that I’ve wanted to do.
Alaska – Once upon a time I wanted to be a bush pilot in Alaska. Again, the rugged, remote, and untouched nature screamed adventure. I have a feeling if I ever go there, I may never come home.
Q: So how is it that someone who lives in Utah chose Canada as the subject of a fun fact book?
A: I get asked this question a lot. I am not Canadian, but have lived with Canadians, have friends who are Canadian, and have been to Canada several times. Canada was the very first place I visited outside of the U.S. and I have loved it ever since. Canada is our neighbor to the north and most Americans know a Canadian, have visited Canada, and are familiar with a few of their fun quirks. It just seemed like a fun place to start and something a lot of people would enjoy.
Q: I love the title, especially the “eh?” at the end of it. How did you come up with it and, for that matter, why do Canadians’ say “eh?”
A: I did a lot of keyword research to come up with a fun title and put up several options on Facebook to have people vote. A Canadian friend commented and said why don’t you just call it, “So You Think You Know Canada, Eh?” and that ended up being the winning title by popular vote and personally my favorite.
Canadians say eh for several reasons and it means a few different things. One example is when it’s similar to how Americans would end a sentence with “huh,” “right?” or “isn’t it?” So if you said “It’s a nice day today, eh?” it would mean the same as “It’s a nice day today, isn’t it?” Sometimes it’s used as an alternative for “excuse me?” “please say that again” or “what?.” Several languages have words that are used in the very same way, “Eh” just happens to be a popular Canadian stereotype that most people are familiar with.
Q: During the course of the book’s development, what was the most surprising thing you learned?
A: There were several surprising and fun things I learned, but I didn’t realize that A.A. Milne’s famous Winnie-the-Pooh character was named after a real black bear female cub who was originally from Canada. Her owner named her Winnipeg after his hometown. He was a soldier and was transferred to Europe and took Winnipeg with him. Knowing he couldn’t travel around Europe with her, he made arrangements to keep her in the London Zoo where she was nicknamed Winnie for short. She was a crowd favorite and A.A. Milne’s son, Robin, was a huge fan.
Q: Was this also your favorite thing or was your favorite thing something else entirely?
A: My favorite thing I learned is that Santa Claus is officially a Canadian citizen, has his very own special postal code (H0H 0H0 which spells Ho Ho Ho) and answers every letter that is sent in whatever language it is sent in. Some years this means, close to 200 different languages.
Q: What might we have found on your bookshelf when you were a kid? A teen? Now?
A: As a kid you would find “The Boxcar Children” series, “The Indian in the Cupboard” series, several “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, and a few encyclopedias I borrowed from my grandparents (yes, I was that kid.) My all-time favorite book as a kid was “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.”
As a teenager I read autobiographies by Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Doris Day, Barbra Streisand and Reba McEntire.
Today, you’d find a random mix of nonfiction like how-to books (how to sail, how to rock climb, and how to write a book), international cookbooks, travel guides and memoirs, more autobiographies, and fiction from Veronica Roth, J.K. Rowling, and Dan Brown.
Q: What’s your favorite quote (and why)?
A: My favorite quote is by Lucille Ball who said, “The more things you do, the more you can do.” I love to learn and try new things and this is the quote that has guided my life since I was a teenager. Life really is one big adventure and it’s true, the more things you do, the more you can do.
Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: Adventure travel is my favorite kind of travel, but I think most people would be surprised to learn that every single trip has scared me in some way or another. But I firmly believe that being scared isn’t an excuse not to do something and the experiences I have on each trip are very much worth it.
Q: Top three tips for traveling on a budget?
A: Travel on shoulder or off-seasons to get cheaper rates on flights, accommodations, and tours. Stay in guesthouses or Airbnb type places to get cheaper rates, but also get local information on things to see, do, and places to eat that are often off the beaten path and cheaper than the touristy places. Try and only eat out once a day and get supplies from groceries stores to take with you as you’re out and about. Visiting grocery stores in other countries is often its own little adventure.
Q: What’s the most memorable souvenir you’ve ever bought?
A: A Claddagh ring I got in Ireland 8 years ago, that I have worn every day since.
Q: And what’s the one that made you say, “What was I thinking?”
A: A traditional Icelandic wool sweater that is incredible warm, but really itchy so I rarely wear it.
Q: When you’re not writing and traveling, what do you like to do?
A: Hiking, gardening, reading, learning new things like knitting, and catching up with friends I’ve met on my travels over WhatsApp and Zoom.
Q: The world is currently in an unsettled state of lockdown which is changing the way we work and the way we interact with one another. As soon as the storm has lifted, where’s the first place you want to go?
A: I had a trip planned to the UK that was cancelled. I plan on visiting several of my friends I’ve met from recent travels. I almost have more friends in the UK than I do here in the U.S.
Q: Any new projects/books on your plate?
A: A companion Canadian quiz book to compliment the original, So You Think You Know Canada, Eh? A few other So You Think You Know fact books are in the works and are scheduled to be released this year under my Knowledge Nugget Book series.
Q: Where can readers learn more about you?
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I’d say if you’ve ever wanted to learn to do something, then do it. Find someone to teach you, find a book, watch a video, or just try it out. Life’s too short not to try and experience everything you can while we’re here.