11 August 2010

Oh, Canada!

We tend to think of Americans and Canadians as a single people divided by Quebec, but after a week, more or less, in Montreal, I have to admit to some differences:

1.  They are serious about this French thing.  In fact, the more urgent the information on some sign, the less likely it is to have English on it.

2.  They really are nice, even the French speakers.  They are gracious enough to pretend to be fooled by my jaunty "Bonjour" and immediate douse me with a torrent of French.  I then say, "En Anglais, por favor," and off we go.

3.  They call their pastrami "smoked meat."  But it is just as delicious.

4.  In the stalls in public accommodations, the slide is on the door frame and the hasp is on the door.

5.  The McDonalds sell "double Big Macs," which are exactly what you think they are.

6.  More restaurants have full bars than you would find in the States.

7.  Waiters and Waitresses are both overly solicitous and subtly rude.

8.   Much more smoking.

9.  Even the casual food is better.  The croissants are much better.

10.  The portions are more reasonable (except at McDonalds).

All in all, Montreal would like to be the Paris of the New World, but succeeds in being the New York of Canada.


erp said...

Surely not. Montreal may be the Boston or the New Orleans of Canada, but there is only one New York City and there aren't any others like it, not even the real Paris comes close.

Ali said...


Harry Eagar said...

Yes to the croissants.

Since you were on the paying end, you may not have noticed, but the jokes about Canadians being cheap? All true.

Peter said...

Having spent a delightful couple of hours with David last weekend discussing weighty issues and trashing the rest of you, I can attest to his instinctive knack of fitting in in foreign parts. Never mind his jaunty "Bonjour", you should see the flair with which he drops a resounding "Merci" after ordering and being served his breakfast in English. The man is a budding multiculturalist.

Of course, we Canadians treasure our differences and talk endlessly about them at dinner parties, etc., but I've never seen a list this like one. Not even our most fervent nationalists have picked up on the hasps in public washrooms. The next time my lefty colleagues go on about our comparative gun-free peacefulness and committment to social justice, I'm going to put on a bland look and say: "And we have double Big Macs too".

The New Orleans of Canada? I guess that would make Stockholm the Minneapolis of Europe. erp, you do live in a Ptolemic world, don't you?

erp said...

Peter, my comment was tongue in check.

Peter said...

I know, erp, but it's me against the bunch here and I'm just being faithful to the ancestors.

It's our turn tomorrow as we set out for Maine and NH. The family is dreaming of lobster rolls and White Mountain vistas, but I can't sleep for the excitement of checking out those bathroom stalls!

erp said...

Peter, you must know that we only kid around with those we hold in great affection.

I know what David means about things being a just a little bit different up your way. We've driven all over Canada from Nova Scotia to the Rockies (never did get to Vancouver) and except for the bilingual signs and the natives strange propensity to pronounce "about" as "aboot," we'd have thought we'd never left home.

The Canadian Rockies were so spectacular and we had such an absolutely great time in Jasper, we never did get up to the Edmonton mall.

Peter said...

Having just returned from a most agreeable NH & Maine holiday, I am pleased to correct David's work by reporting on the really significant differences between Canada and the States:

1. Canadians are nice, Americans are friendly. But Americans are more helpful too. No one can apologize and commiserate like a Canadian who can't help you, but an American will take the time to try and steer you to someone who can;

2. If Americans can go to the moon and depose tyrants on the other side of the world, why can't they make a coffee cup lid that fits securely?

3. Legal disclaimers abound in this Land of a Million Torts. TV commercials for drugs end with warnings about side effects that are so alarming one places the odds they will kill rather than cure you at 50-50. But surely the ne plus ultra is this notice outside a Maine seafood take-out joint:

Food at this establishment is or may be served raw or undercooked. Consuming raw or undercooked food increases your chances of contacting foodborne diseases. Consult your physician if you have any further questions about the dangers of consuming raw or undercooked food.


4. American Diet Coke is vile and much fouler-tasting than the Canadian variety. I have no idea why.

5. If you need medical attention on a holiday, the States is where you want to be. One is not surprised that the treatment is faster and more welcoming, but Cape Cod decor and complimentary coffee, tea and juice in an emergency clinic?!

6. It can be disarming how quickly Americans will share personal information. Meet a nice couple at your hotel and within two hours you are qualified to write their official biographies.

7. Croissants notwithstanding, American baking is to die for. It's all over, but New England in particular is dotted with quaint bakeries selling all manner of scrumptious fare. They seem to be run by very efficent, slightly surly women who, judging from the pamphlets and notices on the walls, are baking in protest against capitalism, racism, sexism and homophoboa. Long live the Revolution, I say.

8. You can buy whiskey and cigarettes in pharmacies. Live Free and/or Die!

9. American TV schlock is getting schlockier as absurd reality and game shows take over the airwaves. On one game show we watched, they patched in the contestant's ill and estranged father to tell him that, while he was sorry they weren't closer, he loved him, always believed in him and just knew he could "do it". Tears and cheers all over. Was our hero about to lead the assault on Iwo Jima? Nope, he was gearing up to try and blow three coloured ping-pong balls into the right holes in under sixty seconds to get to the $125k level.

10. There are a lot of very big people in the States.

11. Appearances are more deceiving. The beefy, tatooed hulk in biker gear and long greasy hair you wouldn't dare go near at home is just as likely to help you with a smile and a " Yes, Sir". Before sundown, anyway.

12. America is sorely in need of Tim Horton's.

David said...

An excellent list, Peter. But what about the latching mechanisms of bathroom stalls? Also, I thought you folks were all about the metric system? What's with this list of 12?

As for your specific comments:

1. Yes;

2. Heck, yes;

3. A nation of, by and for lawyers. In Massachusetts, that warning is on every menu;

4. Hmmm, I didn't notice that.

5. You've just made our small, uncaring anti-ObamaCare hearts beat a little faster;

6. I assume that other couple wasn't from New England;

7. Northampton, as you might imagine, is chock-a-block with these places. My favorite is an artisanal baker specializing in sour-dough breads named for a Zen theology. I love all these places. The politics isn't too overwhelming, the products more than make up for it and I get to be secretly amused when their mutterings about the evils of capitalism accompany the pouring of a gallon of cream into their pastry batter;

8. Not where I live, more's the pity;

9. But you've got to watch Wipeout, a heartbreaking work of staggering genius;

10. A gallon of cream;

11. The tattoo craze can't die fast enough;

12. I know that this is just begging the Canadian army to cross the border, hunt me down, and gently chide me, but I was in a couple of Tim Horton's and except for the signage it was Donkin Donuts.

Glad you enjoyed your trip, come back next year, y'hear!

Brit said...

True dat about the life stories. I always thought the cliche about British 'reticence' was overstated but in comparison to Americans it definitely isn't.

Americans will frequently tell you their salary before the end of the first beer. My own mother doesn't know my salary, and my wife only knows because of the practicalities.