Prior to my vacation, I’d never been to Canada, although I’ve met plenty of Canadians, and northwestern Montana appears to be Alberta South. I’ve seen a lot more Canadian flags in the US than I saw American flags in Canada. My expectation was that Canada would be a sort of parallel-universe US: mostly familiar, but just different enough to know I was in a foreign country, That’s pretty much what I experienced.
Considering that travel days are generally a wash, and I spent a solid day-and-a-half dealing with problems, I really only had 1 1/2 days in Vancouver, and a couple days in the Calgary-Banff area. Not very much time at all, but when I’m in a novel situation, I keep my eyes open and my mouth shut, and I try to put the new situations in context with my experience. Some observations from my all-too-brief time visiting our northern neighbor.
Canadians appear to have a stronger national identity than Americans. Considering the entire population of the fifth largest country is smaller than that of the DC – Boston corridor, this is perhaps not surprising. It’s a relatively small club, and the population density works out to about one square mile per person. I think that the fact Canada has a wilderness frontier also contributes to the mind-set. It’s a little mind-blowing to consider that nearly the entire population is in the southern quarter of the country, and beyond that, it’s nothing but wilderness to the North Pole. The US has vast swaths of undeveloped land, but next to Canada, we’re comparatively built-out.
The ‘Canadian accent’ is overblown. I noticed some folks had stronger accents than others, the same as in any other large country, but couldn’t say which accent went with which region. Most of the folks I talked to sounded pretty mid-western American, with only the occasional ‘eh’ thrown in. I did notice that accents became more pronounced with emotion.
Also overblown is the idea that Canadians are ‘nicer’ than Americans. I had a gentleman bring this up, and I opined that the idea was generated in the northeastern US; full of, um, direct individuals. Compared to them, Canadians probably are nicer. My travels were confined to the western part of the country, and I’d say that the civility was on par with anyone in the upper western part of the US.
You seriously do not want to enter Canada without hotel reservations, or at least knowing a Canadian. I understand that it’s Canadian Customs job to protect the citizenry and national interests of Canada, but there’s a line between that and harassment. I was a middle-aged businessman on vacation to a place I wanted to see. All documentation was valid, including a paid-for return flight, and I had ready access to several thousand dollars. Hell, I even had business files with me showing jobs for the next six weeks. My biggest threat to Canada was dealing with Vancouver traffic. Why it took an hour-and-a-half to figure that out is mystery.
Vancouver is a nice enough place, but I realized that visiting a city on vacation isn’t really my cup of tea. I live in an urban area, and if I want shopping, or nightlife, or spectacular scenery, I have that at home. Unless a city has something that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, I’ll pass.
Well, Stanley Park doesn’t exist anywhere else, so there’s that. A truly amazing place: it was an unexpected pleasure.
I like the consumer end of Canada’s monetary system. They’ve eliminated pennies, and the lowest denomination of currency is the five. Small change is similar to the US, and loonies and twonies are easy to get used to.
Canada does not want people to drink or smoke. The country overall is more expensive than the US, but when you get into sin items, you’re going to pay. A lot. There’s no popping into the convenience store for a beer; all alcohol is sold in liquor stores. Some US states have the same system. Granted, most liquor stores are open later than their US counterparts, but it’s still inconvenient. Bar prices for alcohol are similar to the US, maybe cheaper given the currency conversion, but you will pay at the store. I was told that the exorbitant prices for alcohol and tobacco were a funding mechanism for the health care system, and this makes sense. On the other hand, it appears the drinkers and smokers are subsidizing health care for the non-users. No system is perfect, but Canada hits the sin taxes hard.
I’m convinced that if they could, news outlets would run every story through a hockey filter. I’m sure that during the Second Coming, the questions from the Canadian reporter would revolve around hockey. I’d had an inkling of this, but hockey is more deeply ingrained in the Canadian psyche than baseball in the US. The US sporting scene has the Big Four of football, baseball, basketball, and hockey, in about that order. Canada has hockey. Sure, there was some interest in the Toronto Blue Jays, who are having a very good season, but it felt bandwagon. There was strong support for the CFL Calgary Stampeders in Calgary, but hockey was the clear ruler of the sporting scene.
Most of the people I met had been to the US, and a fair number had spent time there. I’d posit that a high percentage of folks in the upper tier of the US have been to Canada.
Canada doesn’t appear to do chain stores, unless it’s Tim Horton’s. I don’t mean they don’t exist, it’s that the franchises don’t appear to be allowed to sport the company standard signs and architecture. The chain franchises I saw in various towns weren’t distinguishable by color or appearance. They’d have a sign, and that would be about it. Fast food chains were mostly noticeable by their absence. Subway is around, and there are some McDonald’s, though fewer than you might expect. A&W is big.
A few folks wanted to talk about US politics: something I avoid even at home. One gentleman remarked that he hoped we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves. I replied that it was already too late.
Although the vacation was not really, I truly enjoyed my time in Canada. I didn’t get to see as much of the country as I would have wished, but the things I did see and the people I talked to were fascinating. I took French for three years in elementary school, and had the opportunity to dredge that up. I expect to be back in the eastern provinces next year, so reason enough to brush up on the language.