Saturday, October 22, 2016

impressions of canada*

*based on approximately 6 collective hours of driving through Ontario

Fact: the fastest way to drive from Boston, MA to Lansing, MI is to cut through Canada. So because I appreciate efficiency (and because it felt really cool that my Google Map directions alerted me that my route "crossed international borders"), cutting through Canada is exactly what I did when I visited my brother and his family. This was my first time "in" Canada, and here are my impressions:

Crossing the Border

:: First things first: what is the preferred title for the personnel at the customs checkpoints on the border? Border guard? Border police? Border agent? Border captain? Guardian of the Border? Border buddy? If there are any border employees out there, please let me know so I can call you what you'd like to be called. For the purpose of ease, I'm just going to go with border guard.

:: So crossing into another country (when that country is Canada) is way less dramatic than I expected. For reasons I don't understand, I was actually nervous when I got to the customs checkpoint. I generally don't wear shoes while driving on long road trips (that's normal, right?), but I left them on after my last American pit stop, because I was irrationally concerned with the border guard noticing I wasn't wearing shoes and getting suspicious. Like....what? What would he/she have been suspicious about? Me preferring comfort? I don't pretend to make sense. Anyhow, two factors made me even more nervous once I was actually handing over my passport:
  1. The bizarre look I got when I hesitated/stumbled when he asked me where I live. I've lived in three states in the past six months, okay? And my brain came up with all three simultaneously, and then my mouth wasn't sure which one to say. I did eventually manage to say, "Massachusetts," though. I need to work on the geographic identity crisis I'm evidently having. 
  2. The fact that he was really, really, ridiculously good looking.  I was left contemplating whether it's intentional to have the first Canadian visitors lay eyes on be, as they say, smokin'. I was going to be all witty and say that this gives a whole new meaning to "put your best face forward," and then I realized the adage is actually "put your best foot forward." But I guess it still applies. And for anybody who is wondering, all of the border guards I encountered (American and Canadian) were quite attractive, so maybe it's an industry thing?

Traffic and Roads

:: One of the first signs I noticed upon entering Canada was an upside down U-turn sign. As I was driving approximately 90 km/hr (see how Canadian that sounded!?!) at the time, I wasn't able to ascertain if that actual sign was upside down or if Canadians represent U-turns by....not a U. I did see another right side up U-turn sign later, which added to my confusion. In an attempt to get to the bottom of this very mind-boggling issue, I Googled "Canada U-turn sign upside down" (not my finest search string, I'll admit). I'm not sure if I would recommend this particular search, as it resulted in pictures of Hilary Clinton, Adele, and Nicki Minaj with their faces turned upside down; what I refer to as the Gleeful Gollum picture (this one); and a stock photo that looks like it's maybe trying to recreate the movie poster for The Fault in Our Stars. So interesting viewing material, but no closure on the U-turn issue.

:: In a somewhat disappointing turn of events, Canada, too, has road construction and traffic. I guess I was just picturing everybody just gently floating through traffic on waves of maple syrup or something?  Regardless, traffic jams in Canada just felt friendlier than their American counterparts. There was no honking. No aggressive driving. No cutting other people off. Maybe the contrast was stark since I came from the Land of Aggressive Drivers (aka Boston), but it was lovely. Drivers let other cars in, even when the merging car did that really annoying thing where they drive in a lane that is ending due to construction up until the last possible moment and then, WHOOPS! they need to merge into the line of traffic in which everybody else has been sitting because they got over when the sign told them to. Not even then. And instead of getting the finger from disgruntled drivers, somebody actually flashed me the peace sign! And I was quite happy about that until I remembered that some hand gestures actually mean different things in other countries, and I wasn't sure if the peace sign is actually peaceful in Canada? I assumed it would be (because, you know, Canada), but maybe it's one of those weird oxymoronic things. I then spent the rest of my time sitting in that line of traffic evaluating my interaction with the other driver and racking my brain on all the things I know from BuzzFeed and travel magazine articles about hand gestures in other countries so I could decide if I was supposed to be offended or not.

:: Canadian traffic cones = Halloween. As in orange and black stripes. If the Canadian government hasn't already thought of this, I'd like to suggest a full line of seasonal traffic cones: red and green for Christmas, pastels for Easter, white and red for patriotic Canadian holidays (yes, that was a cop-out, but I don't have a working knowledge of Canadian holidays, okay? I was only there for 6 hours!), pink for Valentine's day (so as to not be confused with the red and white of patriotic holidays), earth tones for autumn, etc. etc.

Filling up the Tank

:: Fact: I'm extraordinarily paranoid about running out of gas. Put me in a foreign country, and my paranoia skyrockets. (Referring to Canada as a foreign country makes me feel like Michael Scott saying he was going on an international business trip when he went to Winnipeg. Just in case you were wondering.) I had nearly a full tank before leaving the U. S. of A, but when my tank started drifting toward a quarter full and I was in the middle of nowhere, I decided to fill up just in case. As it turns out, I totally could have waiting until I was stateside, but I didn't know I was only 27 kilometers from the border crossing since I wasn't able to access the data on my phone (thereby rendering my GPS useless) and no signs told me how far it was to America until after I filled up  my tank. In any event, here are my steps to filling up the gas tank in Canada:
  1. Put card into card reader backwards. (To be fair, I just do this all the time, regardless of country.)
  2. Put card into card reader the correct way, but get squawked at because the machine detected a chip card, and those have to be left in the card reader for roughly three and a half days to be effective. 
  3. Wait and wait and wait for chip reader. 
  4. Put in chip verification PIN (tbh, I didn't even remember setting one of these up, but I guessed right on the first try. Go me!)
  5. Choose how much money's worth of gas you want to put in. This definitely threw me off. It had $20 increments you could choose from, or you could put in an alternate amount. Like when you withdrawn money from an ATM. 
  6. Try to determine how much it will take to fill up the tank.
  7. Fail to determine how much it will take to fill up the tank. If I know the price of gas, I can easily estimate about how much it'll cost to fill up, but the price was given in cents/litre (litre not liter b/c Canada), and that meant squat to me. Plus exchange rates and all that. 
  8. Guess how much it will take to fill up the tank. (I was pretty accurate, thank you very much.)
  9. Fill up tank.
  10. As the tank is filling up, notice a sign taped to the pump that says that American/International customers have to pump their gas and then go inside to swipe the card, because the cards won't work at the pump. 
  11. Become very confused, because your card seemed to have worked just fine once you figured out your directional and chip issues.
  12. Finish pumping gas and go inside to double check everything with the attendant. 
  13. Get crazy eye from attendant before he says, "You're fine. You paid." 
  14. Mumble something about "just wanting to make sure" and walk away. Fast. 
  15. Hear the attendant say something derogatory about "those stupid Americans." (Okay, this part is fictional. But his eyes were saying that, so I bet he thought it, too.

All in all, I'm a fan of our neighbor to the north. Maybe someday I'll actually stop and visit for a while. 

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