Saturday, July 22, 2006

Eleven Canadian Peculiarities

A valentine to 5 days spent in Canada

why eleven? Because it is how many I thought of. Think of it as a 1.08 exchange rate.

And at that rate, I can open with...

11. the bacon
It's a cheap and obvious start. And not very fair, when you consider what we are comparing it to.

At least it's meat (in the way that bologna is meat). Consider this the opening metaphor of things we could stand to learn from our neighbors: one oz canadian bacon = 50 calories and 2 g of fat. 1 oz strip bacon = 160 calories and 13 g of fat. Of course, you wouldn't measure canadian bacon in ounces.

10. gas by the litre
Speaking of the metric system... It is not true that Canada sells gasoline by the litre to hide the high price of gas. (get over yourself) They sell it by the litre because the next size is a decalitre...and we would just make fun of that too. The going rate last week in Nova Scotia was $C 1.19/L. $53 to fill the tank. Holy Macanoly.

Sidebar metric story: I heard a man near us at dinner ask for a pint of beer. The waitress promised she had never in her waitress life heard someone order a beer by the pint. Take that, English ancestry.

9. all fish is haddock
It's a perfectly good catch and makes a dependable fish-n-chips. We didn’t find many other menu options during our stay. The one time halibut was available, it was blackened in celebration of Jazz Week. I am not complaining about the haddock. It is local, plentiful, nutritious, and an actual species (unlike scrod).

8. where is everybody?
Of the nearly 1 million residents of Nova Scotia, 1/3 live in the capital. We became accustomed to empty galleries and exhibit halls, open road, the best table, free rein of the sparkly teen information centre staff. I think if I lived along the scenic route, I would take the summer off.

7. punny shoppe names
Those who do not take the summers off open the awnings of their roadside craft shoppes and brush the winter dirt from their signs to reveal the whimsy of “The Boot Legger,” “Just in Thyme,” and “Sodalicious.” (full disclosure: nearly every store on the US side features a play on the word “mainly.”)

I enjoyed re-enacting the licensing board meeting where the local representatives debate whether Clyde Parker’s registered business name is “punny” enough. I enjoyed re-enacting a lot of scenes. You can imagine how fun I am in a 7 day car ride.

6. GST
Goods and Services tax. For me, this translated as Massachusetts x 3. For my New Hampshire-based travelling companion, it was a fascinating system worth beating.
I am recommending this site here just so you can play with the cursor toy.

The refund rules read like a software design document:
Each recepit must be at least $50 AND
All receipts must total at least $200 AND
You must not be a resident of Canada AND
Your receipts must be properly validated UNLESS
They are for hotel accommodations, ELSE…
No else really. Just follow the directions. Because Americans are so good at that and love to be inconvenienced with math that they will eagerly fill out the forms.

I had one receipt that I promise you was $49.94. Curse you, Anglo-American war texts…

5. "1 check or 2?"
Every waitress opened with this. We talked often about testing it out. Was there something to be gained by the 2 checks? Something tax related? Whose gain is it? Do they ask mixed couples? Do boys ever wait tables? Are they all at sea? Does anyone order the escargot?

We always asked for the single check. And we always wondered.

4. the freakish niceness
These people are truly nice. Not a “what are you selling” nice, or a “thanks, I have my own church” nice. An Up With People Nice. I learned to recognize the Canadian expression – a wide-eyed, open-faced eagerness to hear how, in fact, you are.

When you are wondering how people know you are American, it was because you look so miserable.

3. the $2 coin
Speaking of jaded Americans, some say the $2 coin has been successful in Canada because the dollar has no value. (rim shot) Define "value," I say. We horde US quarters because machines run on them. After 2 days in Canada, we were setting aside the “twoonie” (a term I never once heard anyone use and only learned of when I downloaded this picture of one) for tolls, ferries, and washing machines, and chastising ourselves for forgetting to spend them instead of breaking our twenties and tens.

2. the Anglo-American War
You learned it as the War of 1812 (though it lasted until 1815). And chances are you didn’t learn much: Dolly Madison, Francis Scott Key, Battle of New Orleans. You may have special understanding of impressment and piracy if you are Mary. You probably didn’t learn that Thomas Jefferson considered acquiring Canada to be “a mere matter of marching.”

Canadians learn they kicked the United States from one side of the Lakes to the other, thanks in large part to the help of Black Loyalists and native warriors. When President Madison declared war (previous posts on Manifest Destiny right here), the head of the Canadian militia decided to throw the first punch by boarding the next American schooner that sailed by and taking all on board as prisoners of war.

Cut to Madison scowling at a breathless runner: “who the what now?”

1. restaurants run out of food
This is the next item in the waitress routine, after establishing the check needs. “I have everything tonight but…” This does not only refer to specials (only one rappie pie left) but to the possibility that you are too late to order sausage with breakfast, we are down to one juice, and the only dessert left is the bread pudding. I had never seen this in our land of plenty (read: gluttony), but it was common enough that it happened nearly every meal. One hears that, then the specials, then gets a few minutes to think before ordering.

Let me close this over-long post with a call to Canadian readers to please comment, and to accept that my use of the word “peculiar” is a literal one. Its connotation has come to mean “strange,” or “odd,” but it originates from peculium, private property. I am affirmed that dictionary. com specificially uses the example phrase “an expression peculiar to Canadians.”

Please also note that not once did I discuss “eh,” which is no better or worse (only shorter) than Americans’ use of “you know what I mean” or the New Englander’s “Ooooo…haaaah?!”

A great week. Cheers, thanks a lot.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the summary of Canadian peculiarities. When my parents lived there, they continued to comment on how "genuiunely nice" the Canadians were, with an accent on "genuinely" that made me suspicious of everyone in their world who was merely "nice". Rappie Pie sounds like what 50 Cent would call the bevy of women who appear in his (and all other hip hop) videos. I'm glad you're back safe & sound from that crazy, crime-ridden country.


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