Monday, July 15, 2013

Country Review: Canada

I rake up too many of these
things to find it inspiring.
Having spent Tuesday night through Friday evening in Canada a couple weeks ago, I feel knowledgeable enough to give a review of the nation in general.

The Arrival: I hadn't received my "enhanced drivers license" (sort of a local passport thing that Michiganders can get for entering Canada) in the mail yet, but the Office of Homeland Security assured my wife that a birth certificate and official photo id would be sufficient. The Canadian border agent was nice enough about it, and encouraged me to get a passport so I could take my wife somewhere nice.

The Driving: This was just off enough to be disconcerting. No, not the transition from good ol' 'merican miles to sinister kilometers but the fact that all the signage was just a little different than I was used to. Word and arrow placement was just varied enough to make me have to think about what each meant. Does this sign mean that if I stay to the left I will be going toward the stated road, or does it mean I should be following those arrows off to the right? Hmmm. I obeyed the 100 kph speed limit on most Canadian highways rather rigorously, and that meant feeling like I was going slooowwwwww. I was fun to pop my instrument panel back and forth from English to metric units and watch my speedometer go back and forth from 100 to 63.

The People: From what I can tell, nearly all the people who work service jobs in Canada are non-Canadians. From the hotel desk staff to any number of people in town, a dizzying variety of accents made understanding what people were saying challenging. I can do okay with accents, but having to adjust to such a rich tapestry of unfamiliar pronunciation made my brain a little dizzy. Everyone was super-nice though. Seriously. Not just regular nice.

The Hotel: The training and amenities were at the Hilton Garden Inn, and it was certainly passable. I understand that $40/day for parking is not unreasonable right downtown, but I still grumbled about funding Paris Hilton's lifestyle. The room was nice. The restaurant was crazy overpriced ($10 for continental breakfast? Really? Oh, and I can upgrade to some eggs for only $8 more? Wow.) At least breakfast was provided in the training (the same fare as the hotel continental.)

The Money: The bills are weird. Some have transparent sections. I think one of them sings when you spend it or something. The coins are weirder. Canadians seem to hate coins, yet have coins for their smaller denominations of dollars. If you purchase something they will routinely round the purchase price to minimize the number of small value coins involved, then give you your change in all coins. One of their coins even looks like a coin stuffed in a donut coin. Your money frightens and confuses me, Canada.

Work In Progress: As best as I can tell, Canada is a fairly new country because they still seem to be building it. Everywhere I looked there was construction. The only thing that could have used some serious work were the sidewalks in Toronto. It was like the third world from the ankles down.

Tell me again why Canadians
aren't all morbidly obese?
The Food: this was pretty close to what I was used to... a hamburger (presumably) made by Wayne Gretzky, some chicken fajitas, Thai combo platter.... the only decidedly unique experience was poutine.

If you've never had poutine, it's an interesting mix of french fries, gravy and cheese curds. At the franchise poutinerie (yes, that's what they called it) there were many varieties to be had, and two sizes: more than you can eat, and more than your family can eat. I got the bacon and chili poutine, which was tasty. Stef got the steak fajita poutine which she reported as being tasty but which looked revolting. Luke got bacon cheeseburger poutine, which looked as good as my bacon chili version. None of us could finish the whole serving. I will refrain from mentioning Tim Horton's in terms of the food. It is well known that any Tim Horton's establishment in any country is considered Canadian soil for diplomatic purposes, so you can probably experience that for yourself.

The Return: The U.S. Homeland Security agent was somewhat less nice than the Canadian border agent had been. He informed us that all the paperwork we presented him, the same paperwork that we have used to sign up for our enhanced licenses, was all easily forged by illegal aliens. Hmm. It made me wonder why it was good enough to get an enhanced license but not good enough to get me across the border. Eventually he poked at his computer screen and looked irritated enough to make us feel like we had made his day difficult and let us through without detaining us Checkpoint Charlie style.

The Verdict: it was pretty nice. I'd go back.


  1. glad you enjoyed - too bad didn't have enough warning to set something up, I could have played you through a game of blood bowl or something.

    as for poutine - I have only once ever had it with anything beyond gravy and curds that has been good, and that was with lamb & feta at this strange restaurant inside a small independent hotel - go for the standard next time it's much better than all these new fangled attempts to improve on something which was always delicious due to it's simplicity.

  2. I've a friend in Canada who visited the States last year and they put him through murder crossing the border.

    I've always wanted to visit there as all of the Canadians I've met through the hobby are the nicest people. And everyone in every country likes Canadians and likes to have them as tourists as they are so polite and respectful.

    Glad you had a nice time, despite the minor difficulties.

  3. Not being a fan of curds I think i'd have passed on that concoction, or at least asked to substitute actual cheese. I've never been to Canada, but I sure do hate border crossings.. the evil side of traveling.

  4. LOL... a fun and oddly useful review. My cousin has been working as (spanish language) teacher there for long, so I can see how you noticed people's accents as nowadays it seems to be lots of people going canada for a living. The only thing she pointed out (except the extra-nice people) was the cold but then, I still have to meet a woman who wouldn't feel cold even in hell.

    Good read, I'd love to see more of those reviews arround :)


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