During last week’s seminar, I had that awkward moment between presenters, where the laptops are being swapped out and the lav mic belt packs are being detached and re-attached, and so I decided to fill. I told the attendees that I was happy to be speaking to them, and especially glad to be back in Toronto, because that’s where I grew up. I offered them some advice for fitting in (especially since they would be doing an observational research exercise later) by not calling the city TOE-RON-TOE as many Americans do. Instead, I told them, we call it Trawna, and I even spelled it out – T-R-A-W-N-A. This is an old semi-truthful joke about the name of the city.

Turned out this was the meme-of-the-day. People came up to me at the break and asked again how they should spell it. Every time someone else said Toronto they stopped and said Trawna. It was just a funny thing that spread more than I had expected.

The next morning we had a followup session to the observational research people had done (briefly – walking through some different neighborhoods in Toronto with some different lenses through which to observe. As people settled in, they were asked to share a key story with a partner. One woman at one table announced to those within earshot that she does not write stories; she hasn’t done it since high school and she doesn’t do it now. O-kay. The rest of the group went about their business and were actively talking. This same woman summons me:

“Excuse me?! Excuse me!”

I look at her.

“Where is this Trawna thing coming from? Because…uh, we’re FROM HERE and we don’t say that.”

I replied that I was from here as well, and sure we do. This didn’t satisfy her and she seemed very annoyed. I thought it was strange that she had never heard of this phenomenon. It’s widespread. is a website about Toronto. It’s everywhere. My friends told the joke three days later over brunch. And not only doesn’t she know it, but she’s pretty damn angry with me for starting everyone else saying it. I guess it’s a version of the native effect where we reject observations about our own culture, because we don’t see it that way. Meanwhile, the rest of the morning must have been torture because we got into a lot of detail about what people learned and synthesized about the city from their observations, and I’m sure some of it would have bugged the hell out of her, accurate or not.

In another example of that (without the venom, mind) I was looking at Nicolas Nova’s photos from his trip to California, and being intrigued by the things he noticed that I take for granted. They reminded me of my pictures from when I travel – stuff you see on the street and so on, but it was things that I don’t think to photograph because I see them all the time. The familiar through someone else’s eyes.


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