An American’s View of Canada

We spent over a month in Canada this summer and thoroughly enjoyed our stay.  We felt warmly welcomed and right at home.  Canada and the United States are alike in many ways.  Both countries are thriving democracies and capitalistic societies, most citizens speak English, and the two countries have shared values about right, wrong, and the rule of law.  The border between Canada and the USA is the longest undefended border in the world and a model of peace between all nations.

But we’ve also noticed some obvious and some subtle differences between Canada and the USA that make each country unique.  Note that these are not scientific facts based on research and data.  Like all broad statements, they don’t apply to all Canadians or even to a majority of Canadians.  These are just some things we’ve observed during our limited time in Canada, from our exploration in a small part of a very big country, mostly in National Parks in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Yukon.

A quick disclaimer:  I do not wish to offend any Canadians with my comments.  Also I do not wish to offend any Americans or people from other countries when I talk about how awesome Canada is.  These observations are for entertainment, humor and conversation purposes only.

The stunning Wapta Falls in Yoho National Park

Beautiful Land.  Canada is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  Canada has been blessed with majestic mountains, crystal-clear turquoise lakes and rivers, endless forests, and an abundance of glaciers.  Even when we weren’t driving through the parks and just moseying along the regular countryside, the land was often green, pristine and beautiful.

Roadside sign in the Yukon

Friendly People.  Just about everyone we met in Canada was as nice as could be.  We learned how warm and friendly the Canadian people are on our very first encounter at the Border Patrol.  Our Milepost guidebook was very explicit recommending that we maintain a serious demeanor while crossing the border and absolutely not joking about anything.  Yet the Canadian Border Patrol officer was cracking jokes throughout our 30-minute interview while he inspected our passports, backgrounds and firearm.  Finally Theresa said to him, “We were told not to joke around with the Border Patrol, but you are very funny.”  The officer replied, “I’m just human after all.  My job would a lot harder if I didn’t maintain a sense of humor.”  

Canadian Budweiser

Expensive Prices.  Most everything is 25% to 200% more expensive in Canada than in the USA.  There are some exceptions.  Locally grown meat, fruits and vegetables were only slightly more expensive, and delicious blueberries were actually cheaper than in the USA.  After seeing the outrageous prices at a store in Radium Hot Springs, we were convinced it was a tourist trap, so we asked a local resident where she shopped.  “Here,” she replied.  When we asked how she could even afford to get by, she said, “It’s not easy.”

Crystal-clear turquoise water of the Simpson River in Kootenay National Park

Bottled Water.  Even more expensive than gasoline is bottled water, that is when we could find it on the store shelves.  But we quickly discovered why.  The water in Canada is clear, cold and delicious.  So why pay for what flows from the tap for free?  Apparently the only people who buy bottled water in Canada are rich Americans.

This pickup cut in front of us in Vancouver

Aggressive Drivers.  Canadian drivers love to tailgate, even when we’re going 10 KM/hour over the speed limit; love to pass going uphill, around curves, and in no-passing zones; and never want to let us merge ahead of them.  This is especially true of semi-truck drivers who seemed intent on us reading the truck brand off their front grille.  Though to be fair, a lot of the aggressive drivers we encountered in the Canadian parks were foreign tourists.

Cold and cloudy over the Yoho River in Yoho National Park

Cold and Cloudy.  Canadians are a hearty bunch to be able to withstand the long, cold, and dark winters and the chilly summers.  When we arrived in Canada in late May, it was still dropping below freezing at night and snowed on us twice.  The sun came out to stay perhaps one day in every five.  And we thought it was a heat wave if the temperature made it into the 60s Fahrenheit.  Our favorite joke was, “Canada is so beautiful that everyone in the world would want to live here.  To ensure that didn’t happen, God gave Canada really lousy weather.”

In the USA, gas prices vary widely from station to station, such as this Chevron in Death Valley

Fixed Gas Prices.  There’s no need to compare gas prices in Canada.  Every gas station in a given town had the same price.  So where you stop depends on which gas station is closest, or perhaps which station has the best rewards card or cinnamon rolls.

Cinnamon roll from Johnson's Crossing

Cinnamon Rolls.  Every country has its signature food that you find in towns along the way, with each stop claiming to have the best.  In the USA, it’s Bar-B-Q.  In Canada, it’s the cinnamon roll.  Of course we had to decide for ourselves which place had the yummiest gooiest cinnamon bomb.  And in our expert opinion, the winner was the Johnson’s Crossing Campground, which even provided a side dish of hot cinnamon icing.  Be careful, you may get a sugar rush just from looking at this picture.

Who needs signs when the scenery is this beautiful?

No Signs Where You Are.  In the USA there’s a sign every few miles along the road (or every tenth of a mile on the Interstate) that tells you on which road you’re driving and in which direction.  There’s also a sign identifying every road and river you cross.  Not in Canada.  Perhaps it’s like the locals in the Kentucky used to tell me: “If you don’t know where you are, then you don’t belong here.”

Town of Jasper in the middle of Jasper National Park

Development in Parks.  The Canadian National Parks were originally created and promoted by the Canadian Pacific Railway, so many of the parks have railroads and major highways running through them.  In addition, many of the parks have cities within them that contain thousands of residents and hundreds of businesses.  So sometimes when we’d hike to a mountain peak, instead of seeing pristine wilderness, we’d see buildings and roads.  Instead of hearing birds singing and the wind blowing through the trees, we’d hear the roar of traffic or the rumble of a train.

Trash at a rest stop in Kootenay National Park

Littered Roadside Stops.  We noticed a rather unsightly condition at many of Canada’s roadside stops: trash.  And not just ordinary litter.  Much to our dismay, we’d often find tissues soiled with human feces.  We discovered this because our dog Shadow unfortunately has a gross fetish for human poop, so we had to keep him on a tight leash whenever we stopped along the road.  At first we thought perhaps Canadians were unsanitary or didn’t care about the environment.  After meeting the Canadian people, however, we realized none of this could be true.  But when we returned to the USA, it dawned on us.  In the USA, most roadside stops have restrooms and trash cans, but not in Canada.  Hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go.  So it’s not that Canadians are more messy, it’s that they aren’t provided with the proper containers and facilities to dispose their waste.

Every official sign in Canada is bilingual

Bilingual.  Every sign, brochure, and menu in Canadian government facilities is printed in both English and French.  It seems like a waste of space and effort.  This point of view probably makes me narrow minded and uncultured, but I believe a country should unify on a single language.  People can speak whatever language they want in their homes and to their friends, but a country whose citizens cannot communicate with each other is a country divided.  Though when I think about it, Americans are also hopelessly divided by two separate languages: Democrat and Republican.

Copyright © Jimmy Emerson. Used under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Metric System.  Want proof that Canada is smarter than the USA?  The metric system.  In the 1970s, Canada switched over to metric, the global system of measurements based on a mathematically pure factor of 10.  Whereas America has chosen to remain stuck in the past with our lengths based on a factor of 12 inches per foot and 5280 feet per mile; our weights based on 16 ounces per pound and 2000 pounds per ton; and our volumes based on 8 ounces per cup, 2 cups per pint, 2 pints per quart, and 4 quarts per gallon.  Can we make it any more convoluted?  American products are already dually-labeled with the metric equivalent, so we might as well bite the bullet now and make the switch.  The worst that will happen is Sammy Haggar will have to change his iconic song title to “I Can’t Drive 88!”

The Queen is right on the money

All Hail the Queen.  I asked a park ranger what’s the deal with all the references in Canada to the Queen of England.  The money bears her image; many towns, mountains, and lakes bear the names of her royal ancestors; and even public land is called “Crown Land.”  The ranger replied that Canada used to be a colony of Great Britain.  I told her that so was the USA, but we fought a war to become independent of royal servitude.  The ranger was probably accustomed to arrogant Americans, so she remained calm and politely countered that many people in Canada are still loyal to the Crown.  However, I think Canada should be like America where we honor our elected politicians.  Wait, that’s not correct.  Perhaps Canada should be like America where we honor celebrities, professional athletes, and the Kardashians.  Hmm, on second thought, perhaps Canada has it right after all by honoring Her Majesty The Queen.

Whether you’re American or Canadian, I hope you enjoyed this article and had a chuckle or two.  If you live south of the border, I highly recommend you plan a long vacation to our wonderfully hospitable neighbors to the north.  Canada is a majestic land with terrific people and well worth a visit.

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