Chicken’N Waffles flavoured potato chips, two dollar and fifty cent wine, and state troopers who look like Smokey the Bear. What are; things you can only see in America.
As a tourist in the Caribbean and Europe, Canadians are sometimes confused with Americans. But not often, and not for long.
Living within an hour or so of the U.S. border, Canadians often like to make the trip south for a little break, and to shop.
We get a kick out of seeing alcohol on grocery store shelves, and an even bigger kick out of bringing a bottle or two of otherwise high-priced hooch across the border.
If you’re familiar with Michael Adams’ studies on the sociological differences between Canada and the U.S.A, which argues we are becoming more and more divergent when it comes to the values we espouse as nations, you will have some idea of the subtle differences that give these two North American countries decidedly distinct identities.
If you haven’t read the books, or thought much about it, let me give you my non-political, purely biased perspective.
U.S.A. vs Canada
1) Size matters in the U.S. Meals are served on platter sized plates, drinks are served in gallon pail sized glasses, and the result is that the folks south of the border like their elastic waist bands way more than we do in the Great White North.
2) Food is a chemical and caloric shit-storm. If it’s palatable, it’s ok to eat. Welcome to the U.S.A. Admittedly I did not seek out any ‘organic’ specialty stores, however, there were none visible during two days of driving to, through and around a major city.
3) The accent. First of all, in Canada, you’re out of luck in 99.9% of cases if you’re looking for grits. In the U.S., it’s pronounced ‘gree-its’, and they’re everywhere.
4) Americans love booze, but hate weed. Canada regulates booze like it’s crack-cocaine, and treats marijuana like it’s alcohol’s adorable little sister.
5) State troopers seem to have a permanent presence at convenience stores. They seem to be in a constant state of dehydration, lingering at the counter holding some giant beverage from the cooler. In Canada cops like coffee and donuts – they hang out at Tim Hortons.
6) American men all seem to have a hang-dog face and some terrible nasal condition which causes them to breath out of their half-open mouths. Canadian men are adorable, rugged lumberjacks underneath all of their please’s and thank you’s.
7) Brand names are big. If you don’t have at least one tagged on your body in the U.S., you’re an outcast. Canadians are slightly less attached to the thought of being walking billboards.
8) Salespeople in the U.S. are more aggressive, and smile while doing it. I’ve never seen so many over-the-hill women in heavy make-up and veneers this side of drag-night on Church Street as I did at the Macy’s cosmetic and fragrance counters. I kept expecting the saleslady at Estee Lauder to say, “All the better to eat you with my dear“. She also happened to love every shade of lipstick I tried on, and held my chin firmly in her hands while applying it. Run. For. Your. Life.
9) Pizza. The US border cities definitely do it better. Crust that tastes like dough not cardboard, real cheese, and fresh herbs. Mom and pop shops always do pizza better.
10) Canadian highways, although aging and in a dismal state, are almost always more clean and maintained than U.S. interstates. “Tired”, was an adjective recently used to describe the infrastructure in New York state, and I would have to agree.
Each time a Canadian customs agent hands me back my passport and waves me through, I breath a deep sigh of relief. Canada is home, and I’m glad of it. Now, if we could just get our politicians to see the light…