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A Canadian primer for Americans

POSTED July 17, 2009 10:51 p.m.
I’m what, 30 miles across the border? If that?
It’s amazing how quickly it becomes apparent that you’re not in Kansas anymore, Todo.
From the second I stepped off the plane and into Vancouver, Canada, for a week-long writer’s retreat I felt as though I’d entered bizarro America.
The subway is on the honor system; there are no turnstiles to check your tickets, you just walk on. They call gyros “donairs” for no apparent reason. And, heck, they think Coors Light is a premium beer there.
How many problems must a country have to consider Coors Light a premium beer? I mean, really.
I could continue on with my list of oddities in America’s hat for quite some time.
Their banknotes look like the sort of thing that the Parker Brothers would have considered too improbable for Monopoly, adorned with pictures of hockey and obscure aboriginal art. Your pockets are constantly weighed down with what seems like pounds of “loonies” and “toonies,” their coin-based $1 and $2 denominations that are ridiculous even before considering their name.
And they actually say ,“eh!” I was amazed. It took all my inner reserves to not burst into laughter the first time I heard the word used.  I thought it was all a running American joke, like the whole “Throw another shrimp on the barbie, mate,” nonsense.
Despite all this, I’m not saying I disliked my trip to Vancouver. Not in the least. The city was beautiful, one of the greatest I’ve ever been to.
Vancouver is a bit like a friendlier, less-hip version of San Francisco. Or, perhaps, a more metropolitan, French-inspired Seattle.
But, you see, that’s the problem. I can’t discuss Canada without referring to it in American terms.
It’s not like a trip to Italy, Spain, France, or the United Kingdom, all of which are dissimilar enough from America to make the things we have in common become pertinent.
When in Canada it’s so easy to forget that you’re not in America that the subtle differences become somewhat shocking.
On several occasions I had to sit back, to stop, think, and ask a native Canadian what it was that made their country so different from ours, yet so similar. After a week’s worth of pondering, I came to only one conclusion.
It all goes back to two years: 1787 and 1982.
The former is, clearly, when the United States of America adopted its constitution, after having fought off the British Army. The latter is when Canada first adopted its own, independent constitution, with the Royal Assent of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Canadians are a patient, kind people. They don’t get riled up about much. In fact, nearly the entirety of the Vancouver Sun newspaper is comprised of editorials that plead with Vancouverites to, please, care about some important thing that’s happening in the city.
But they don’t really mind. They just sit and wait.
Let me give you an example.
I was out at a bar one night, standing and waiting for a drink. I’d been there for few minutes and I lifted my finger to get the bartender’s attention as he walked by.
“Hey, what’re you doing man?” a Canadian says to me. “Everyone here at the bar is waiting for a drink. He’ll get to you when he gets to you.”
Stunned, I looked around to see that, indeed, no one in the bar was trying to get the bartender’s attention. It was a bizarre scene, something I’ve never seen in an American bar in my entire life.
When Alexandre Dumas wrote, “All human wisdom is summed up in two words - wait and hope,” Canadians took it to heart.
We Americans are a bit surly. We’re a bit rough around the edges. But we go out and fight for the things we want and believe in.
I loved visiting Canada. I loved the beautiful sights of the ocean, forests, glass towers and wildlife. I loved the people, and how accepting and nice they were to a foreigner touring a city on his own.
They live a slower-paced life in Canada, one where success is measured just a bit differently than here.
But I’m proud to be an American, I’m proud to live in a country that can count among its successes “Invented the Internet, telephone, television, and airplane,” “Went to the moon,” and “Saved the free world, twice.”
As for Canada… Well, at least they’ve got hockey, eh?
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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