Thursday, May 27, 2004
our neighbours to the south
I'll tell ya...there's nothing like a road trip to the USA to remind a Canadian of the vast differences between our two countries. To those living outside the two countries there likely seems to be very little difference, but I'm telling you there is. Sometimes subtle, sometimes not. (here's a funny list, though somewhat outdated now that we have a different Prime Minister. and just for si, who no longer has comments on her blog, here's a page that outlines the religious differences between the countries, though it doesn't do them justice. the differences are MUCH more apparent in person. and just for Rat, here's a very long essay outlining the differences between Canada, the US and Australia. get a coffee it's long. let me know what it says. :-P)

First of all, I get very stressed crossing the border even on a good day, but it's been that much harder since Sept 11th. I get border anxiety something fierce and I don't know why. I say lots of "yes, sir" "no, sir" when talking to the border guard. I used my passport this time (normally Canadians only need their birth certificates) and I noticed I got an extra glance or two when the guards (both sides) flipped through my passport and saw Israeli stamps in them. I just politely smiled.

There's also the small matter of the bridges from one side to the other (I think there were 3 or 4). Laugh if you will, but really really big bridges over water friggin' terrify me. I've had a lot of nightmares since I was a child, and for some reason I have this completely irrational fear that the bridge is going to crash into the water (too many disaster movies for this girl!). So that was a point of stress for me as I tried to keep cool while driving over them. My friend Marco was a total sweetheart at keeping me calm (as possible, that is. Which isn't saying much).

Once on the other side of the border we promptly got lost. I blame it on two things: (1) the fact that we were using a placemat map (which I have now called our "placemap"). You know the kind of maps you get at cheap restaurants or motels in tourist areas? (kinda like this) Not the most accurate of maps. This was a problem, particularly since it wasn't to scale. (2) Americans are crazy. This was our mantra for the few hours we spent in the Buffalo area. See, in *Canada* our road signs are well labelled and extremely easy to follow. It helps people, especially tourists, find their way around. It's just a good idea. I don't know WHO was in charge of the road signs in Buffalo, but they are awful and amazingly confusing.

Alright, so when I say our mantra was "Americans are crazy" I'm mostly joking so don't get upset. By crazy I mean...different. First of all, while I think it's wonderful you guys are patriotic and you really need to have your flags EVERYWHERE?? On *every* car at the dealership, little flags stuck into the ground around every garden and cemetery and there was even one was on a flag pole that was standing in the middle of a field with NOTHING else around (like a home or some other building). It's kind of over the top. Then again, maybe you guys need that when things are a little rough in Iraq, I have no idea. Canadians are patriotic, we got flags here and there, just not everywhere like you guys do. It's a *tad* much. (like this picture I took of a truck in all it's patriotic glory. trust me, you'd NEVER see something like that in Canada. and ignore the poor quality and the fact that it's cut off on one side; TextAmerica has taken to slaughtering my pics lately)

Marco and I also had another mantra...."blend in!". LOL. We are paranoid and try our best not to give away that we are Canadian....we like to make like we're one of the natives. First of all, be sure to NEVER say "Eh", that's a dead giveaway. Not much of a problem for us, we don't use the word much anyway. But there are other ways you can give it away, such as excitement over the small differences ($2 for gasoline!?!) or doing stereotypical Canadian things. For example, I was in a grocery store standing in an aisle (looking at cereal more on that later) when an old lady was trying to squeeze past myself and another lady; I said "sorry!", apologizing for being in her way and promptly moved. Now, I'm not saying Americans are rude, I'm saying Canadians are known for being overly polite. As the joke goes: "How do you make a Canadian apologize?" ..... "Step on his foot". har har.
So my cover was blown and I grabbed my cereal and ducked out of the aisle before I was found out and lynched. LOL. Ok, so I might be a little paranoid, but sometimes that's how I feel when I go across the border. It's weird. It feels like a very foreign land, and if I'm found out or discovered..well who knows what could happen. LOL! I know, it's insane, but it's funny too.

As Canadians, my friend and I see the habits and lifestyle of Americans in a completely different way. We notice the differences. For instance, I have no problem seeing why the USA is the most obese country (this'll start a feud, I'm sure). And I don't mean this offensively, I just notice big differences in things. Like the types of foods, how available it is and the *quantities* of the servings. Wow. However, it's because of the food differences that I love to go the the US ... I like to shop for the foods we don't get, as a treat to myself. Sure we have much the same stuff up here 95% of the time...but it's that 5% difference that makes it fun. I buy different packs of gum and different drinks and stuff. Might seem silly, but it's just a fun treat for me once in a while.

Allow me to illustrate with specific examples. Here's what I bought:

Cereal is *always* the first thing I look for because I am a self admitted cereal whore. I even brought back cereal from Israel. I love breakfast cereal. Love it love it love it. This trip I bought two, Strawberry and Banana Cheerios and Shrek cereal (check out that link, the guy reviews all kinds of Shrek food items including green popcorn!). The Cheerios will eventually make it up to Canada in the coming months, but I couldn't wait. Tried it this morning and it was ok, but not as good as the Triple Berry Cheerios. Those are quickly becoming my favourite. And the Shrek cereal I bought because it is made by Genereal Mills, one of the greatest cereal manufacturers ever. That and it looks a lot like Pac-Man cereal (made by the same guys) and though it was discontinued many years ago it was one of the best. Not for the marshmallow parts, but for the crunchy cereal part. SO good. (am I talking too much about cereal?). Anyway, I had some of that before bed last night and was quite happy with it. Mmmmm.

I also bought two chocolate bars that you can't find in Canada, PayDay and Reese's FastBreak (good lord, who makes up these names??). I have seen PayDay on prior trips to the States but never tried it before (and still haven't yet) and I am in the middle of eating this FastBreak. It's not doing much for me and I'm wondering how many different peanut butter/chocolate bars Reeses can make.

Bought some gum that I don't have in Canada, though I'm thinking it will be soon. Juicy Fruit in two flavours: Strappleberry and Grapermelon. Pretty tasty stuff, I liked it.

I also got two drinks. General Foods International Chai Latte and BerryClear Sprite. Don't get me wrong, you can get lots of Chai tea up here, but this stuff I picked up is more of the instant coffee variety...or something. I'm not sure, I'm gonna try it and see. I might end up sticking with my Israeli Chai. And the BerryClear Sprite was actually not bad...I kinda liked it, it was different and tasty.

Anyway, that's what I bought. Oh, and some pills that you either can't get in Canada at all or you have to get a prescription for; our regulations are a lot tougher up here. I also picked up a toy for my friend and some A&W Cream Soda for his wife (what the hell?? once upon a time you could get that cream soda up here! where did it go??). Marco got a Star Wars figure. All was right in our world.

At the border coming home we were just anxious to get home. As we waited to see if the border guard would search our car (the first one just asked us to open the trunk) the guard was busy talking to someone on the phone. And then we heard the border guard say that magical word when talking on the phone....he said "Eh". We turned to each other with a big smile and with glee we exclaimed that we were home!! LOL!! And after answering a few questions ("we were only visiting a few hours, sir" "we only spent about $100, sir") we were on our way home. Home to the land of smaller sized food portions and random Canadian flags.
Altogether the trip took us about 8 hours.

And I would like to congratulate anyone who actually read this entire post. If you did, you have the patience of a saint. Thanks for listening. For the rest of you.....well, your loss. :-P