Canada, Eh?

Thursday, July 01, 2010 Road Junkies 0 Comments

29 Days North: What We Learned about Canada
1.  Canada is vast.  Yes, we were aware before our trip that Canada is larger in land area than the U.S. (including Alaska and Hawaii).  But in 29 days, driving 3,600 miles in the country, we barely scratched the surface.  
Yes, we visited five of the ten provinces but saw only a thin slice of Ontario (1 1/2 times the size of Texas) and a tiny sliver of Quebec (more than twice the size of Texas).

2. Canada looks like the U.S. If an American were dropped into the middle of a midsize Canadian city, it might take a while for him to realize he wasn't in the U.S. The local shopping center offers familiar fare: Wal-Mart, Staples, Michaels, Best Buy, Hallmark, Sears, and others. Lunch is available at Wendy's, Burger King, KFC, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Subway or DQ. 
McDonald's with a Canadian twist
Autos are about the same makes and models one finds in the States.  Roads bear similar markings and signage, and architectural styles look familiar.  Currency is similar-- the dollar, quarter, dime, nickel and penny.  Coins are even of similar size and color.  People look mostly the same, except that Canada lacks the ethnic diversity one finds in the U.S.  Since 90% of Canadians live within 160 miles of the United States, it's not surprising that so many similarities exist between our cultures.

3.  Canada is different from the U.S.  In the month we spent with our neighbors to the north, we were consistently treated with courtesy and respect.  Not once did we encounter the churlish, ill-mannered employees we see so often in U.S. businesses.  Bon Qui Qui does not live in Canada.

Language provides another striking difference.  Canada is officially a bilingual country and in the parts of eastern and central Canada we visited (except Prince Edward Island), we were as likely to hear French spoken as English.  Any time we were initially addressed in French, when we responded in English, the hotel desk clerk or restaurant server or retail clerk immediately shifted into flawless English.  Because the country has two official languages, school children are taught both languages from an early age.  
Even in France, stop signs are usually marked in English only.
The parts of Canada that we visited are much more environmentally conscious than most of the U.S.  Litter doesn't appear to be nearly as pervasive, and recycling efforts are much more intense and consistent.

And lest we imply that all Canadian retail businesses stem from U.S. parent corporations, there are many Canadian chain stores and restaurants.  Tim Horton's, a fast-food cross between Dunkin' Doughnuts and Subway, is ubitiquous in central and eastern Canada and has made inroads in some parts of northeastern U.S. 

On the whole, we found the parts of Canada that we visited were more... well, more relaxed than the U.S.  We saw evidence of only one traffic accident and it was an encounter with a moose.  When one watches the news on television or reads the local newspaper, reports are not so focused on crime as in the U.S.  And as we noted in an earlier post, there isn't nearly the intense emphasis on security as one finds in the States.

Taxes are significantly higher in Canada, but then again, so are government services (particularly health care). The most surprising difference was in the numbers of Canada geese.  Although they are greatly in evidence in the U.S., we saw very few in Canada.   

And perhaps the most fun difference is that Canadians often end a sentence with "" Linguists speculate that this tendency to "eh?" is a manifestation of Canadian courtesy.  It is a reminder of the politeness, friendliness and inclusivity of Canadians. It softens a sentence to involve the listener, asking their opinion on the matter and including them in the conversation.  

We liked it, and we learned to love Canada.  It has cemented a prominent spot on our "Places We Want to Return to" list.