Their Neighbors to the South

Having just spent a week en Canada, I am continuing to think about the small but notable differences I encountered while there. They may be little things, but they’re enough to remind one that one is in a foreign land, a land largely absent of GOP/Democrat partisan bickering, American Idol crooning (they have their own version), and conversations about whether evolution is a Real Thing or not.

1. Yellow traffic lights are shorter—By the time the amber lights comes on, you’d better be braking or already in the middle of the intersection. And yes, that’s a photo camera on the pole next to the road, to catch your illegal ass.

2. Tiny cereal box tops—the little side flaps are only a bit of cardboard, and it makes me wonder why Americans have such meaty side flaps down here. I know we don’t get cardboard on the international market, but gosh, what would it mean to have lighter packaging in this country?

Tim Horton's building3. Tim Horton’s—The bright signs with enthusiastic red writing are as omnipresent as our green and black mermaids. Only these folks have way better sweet things to eat. And cheaper. You can’t get 20 ounces of frozen cappuccino goodness at Starbucks for $2, that’s for sure.

4. The rounded “O”—Not only do Canadians say “aboot” and “oot,” they also choose the long O sound for “process,” “project,” and “program.” (Or “programme” if we’re being purists here.)

5. The love of hockey—There really is no comparison here in the states to the affection Canadians have for hockey. Our fans are divided among different sports, after all. And other than some people along the border with our northern neighbor, we don’t get excited enough about hockey to spend a weekend in the bitter cold chasing after a puck. But the hockey thing is so big in Canada that in Edmonton at least, a single road will change names three or four times because long sections are named after adored players. Not an MLK Jr. Blvd. in sight, but there’s a Mark Messier Trail, and a Wayne Gretzky Drive, and hell, there are even lakes named after hockey players! Yes, I know we have sports figures on our roads here, too, but again, the concentration of one sport in Canada is fascinating.

6. Wildlife seems much more wild—When Susanne and I traveled to Radium, BC, a couple of summers back, we rolled our eyes as we pulled into the driveway of the condo, seeing these really ugly bighorn sheep statues on the lawn. And then one moved. They were, uh, actual sheep! There is still so much unbroken land in Canada that humans need to remember we are still among wild animals. As we are plugging in our engine block heaters in the Safeway parking lot before running in to buy more Molson. There are few open-mouthed garbage pails outside urban areas because they need to be bear-proof. Bear-proof, people. We’re not just talking national parks here.

Canada marks some big differences from the United States, of course, with universal health care, a stance against capitol punishment, and much greater access to reproductive planning and abortion. But as a traveler I don’t come into constant contact with those things. I’m just staring at the cereal box and wondering how much less the pulp mill in Wallula would need to manufacture if we cut four inches off of every box top.

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Categories: driving, visiting

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