Back in Town & Tips to US Visitors

Yes­ter­day I returned from my vis­it to my broth­er and his fam­i­ly in the Seat­tle area. It was great to spend some time with them, and they have plen­ty of room (espe­cial­ly when it’s just me and not a whole slew of fam­i­ly mem­bers descend­ing upon them, as some­times hap­pens). I also picked up a new Mac­book Pro (woo-hoo!), and hope­ful­ly will be post­ing entries from that com­put­er from one of the many, friend­ly cof­fee­hous­es that seem to be designed for just such an activ­i­ty some­time soon.

Pam is still out of town, now stay­ing with her broth­er and his fam­i­ly in West­ern Mass. I’ve checked the fish and can’t find the one that was sick; I fear that a crow may have come and got­ten him, but I can’t be sure. In the mean­time, I’m cook­ing, doing laun­dry and try­ing to keep the place rea­son­ably clean. With a beau­ti­ful day like today, it is hard to resist the urge to sim­ply go and sit in the park. For­tu­nate­ly, it’s just a bit too chilly to just sit.

As the com­ments on my post: A Beau­ti­ful Day and Career Coun­sel­ing from the Pointy-Haired Boss have sug­gest­ed, my work with the strate­gist at Career Man­age­ment com­pa­ny have had hit a rocky patch. I’m sure this will all work out in the end, but I’m not used to being the ‘prob­lem cus­tomer’ in any busi­ness rela­tion­ship. If they are run as well as they should be, it should still work out in my favor.

Advice to US Vis­i­tors
Its been a long time since I explored the whole US to Cana­da expe­ri­ence. Part of it is that I’m set­tling down, I sup­pose. In just 2 months, we’ll have been here 2 years(!)

Nev­er­the­less, with an upcom­ing flood of US rel­a­tives due to vis­it my friend Matt for his wed­ding, he is com­pil­ing some ‘Advice to Amer­i­cans’, with some tips and FAQs for those who may not have been to Cana­da before. Some are as sim­ple as ‘Do I need a volt­age con­ver­tor?’ or ‘Will my Cell Phone still work?’ (No, you won’t need one, and Yes, but it’ll cost you some hefty roam­ing charges), so I thought a lit­tle bit about things that I’d add, and could­n’t come up with much. Is this because I’m start­ing to for­get the way things used to be and am tak­ing dif­fer­ences for grant­ed? Here are my addi­tions, for the record:

  • Watch out for some vocab­u­lary dif­fer­ences, like ‘Parkade’ instead of ‘Park­ing Garage’, and ‘Homo’ instead of ‘Whole Milk’.
  • The tem­per­a­ture in Centi­grade can real­ly take some get­ting used to. (is 10 degrees hot? Is it cold?)
  • Be care­ful about using cred­it cards. They often employ a ter­ri­ble exchange rate (which is slow­ly but sure­ly mov­ing toward 1 US dol­lar = 1 Cana­di­an dol­lar these days) and also can charge a ‘ser­vice charge’ for each pur­chase. Bet­ter to con­vert as much mon­ey as you can to cash, if you feel com­fort­able doing that.
  • Most pedes­tri­ans obey cross­walk signs to a sur­pris­ing degree of strict­ness. It’s just the way it’s done here. (I’ll bet I get some dis­agree­ment on that point…)
  • Expect sur­veys. You’ll get sur­veyed on every­thing. Not just hotel rooms, but tourist attrac­tions, and even some stores and restau­rants. Unlike the some­what cyn­i­cal view they are viewed with­in the US, Cana­di­ans take sur­veys very seri­ous­ly, and are sur­prised that oth­ers don’t. I can’t explain why this is the case, but it was true years ago when we went on our hon­ey­moon in Nova Sco­tia, and it’s still true today.
  • Some­times restau­rants and clubs look worse on the out­side than they actu­al­ly are on the inside. I have no idea why, but this is fre­quent­ly the case. Don’t let it stop you from explor­ing some shops and eater­ies that look a lit­tle dicey. Chances are they just have a lit­tle worn façade, but the tables and kitchen are fine.
  • Unlike the US, in Cana­da, bus­es are not just for the poor and mar­gin­al mem­bers of soci­ety. Here, every­one uses them, so don’t be afraid to.
  • Don’t be sur­prised if you see an Adult Book­store in a rel­a­tive­ly nice area. Unlike the US, where they only occu­py the worst areas of town that one should nev­er be caught in after dark, they are bet­ter inte­grat­ed into soci­ety here. That’s does­n’t mean that you’ll see them in real­ly nice areas of town, but don’t assume just because you see a Porn pur­vey­or in the neigh­bor­hood that the whole block is a slum.
  • Iced Tea here is always sweet­ened. For­get about try­ing to get some with­out sug­ar added. I hope this will change some day.
  • In the US, which was sup­posed to be ‘the melt­ing pot’, peo­ple still seem to define oth­ers by where they came from. A cowork­er is not just a cowork­er, they are a Chi­nese or Indi­an cowork­er, and peo­ple from the US inevitably ask some­one from Asia where they are from, and are sur­prised when some­one who is clear­ly from Asia does­n’t speak with an accent. That’s not the case here. If you work or inter­act with some­one who is of Chi­nese, East Indi­an or some oth­er decent, they are fre­quent­ly Cana­di­an, born here and with no trace of an accent. Remark­ing on some­one’s lack of an accent may brand you as igno­rant, an Amer­i­can, a big­ot, or all of the above.

That’s all I could think of for the moment. Most of the oth­er dif­fer­ences I remem­bered that I had to adjust to (aspects of bank­ing, gro­cery shop­ping, doc­tor’s appoint­ments) were the sort of thing that applies to liv­ing here, rather than vis­it­ing.

6 Replies to “Back in Town & Tips to US Visitors”

  1. These are very slight dif­fer­ences that I may not even rec­og­nize (as being a Japan­ese res­i­dent) but enjoy­able and infor­ma­tive. Nice!

  2. Quinn! Good to hear from you. I’d be curi­ous to hear what a Japan­ese visitor/resident notices. Is the sushi here that dif­fer­ent? Is the dif­fer­ence in den­si­ty of peo­ple the biggest dif­fer­ence of all?

    Thanks, Bob — hope you’ll be able to make the adjust­ment with ease. Maybe we can all make a con­cert­ed push for unsweet­ened iced tea…

  3. David: Re your “cross­walk eti­quette” com­ment, this may be a Pacif­ic North­west thing, not just Cana­di­an. At a con­fer­ence in Seat­tle last year (a trip that includ­ed vis­it­ing my Van­cou­ver rel­a­tives), I pre­pared to step off the curb against the “red hand” one ear­ly morn­ing on a down­town cor­ner in typ­i­cal New York­er fash­ion. Before my foot hit the street, how­ev­er, a local well-suit­ed busi­ness man put his hand on my shoul­der and said: “Sir, we don’t do that here.” And you know, as I observed over the a next cou­ple of days, it was true. And so I suc­cumbed to local cus­tom and kept my East Coast agres­sive street cross­ing in check! Best to you and Pam.

  4. Thanks, cousin. I have to remem­ber that some of the dif­fer­ences I’ve seen (polite­ness, cross­walk eti­quette, friend­li­ness to strangers, good sig­nage) are because of the move from Boston west­ward. I sus­pect that many west coast res­i­dents on either side of the US/Canada bor­der would be equal­ly over­whelmed by some of the East coast’s man­ners (or lack there­of…)

    I always made excus­es as to why Bosto­ni­ans were so stand­off­ish; it was an extreme case of respect of per­son­al bound­aries (in both direc­tions). This could be mis­con­strued as some­one being cold or dis­tant, but I saw it as peo­ple not intrud­ing in one anoth­er’s space (since there is so lit­tle of it in that part of the con­ti­nent). As to the lack of obser­vance of cross­walks, I got noth­ing. Noth­ing except per­haps a lack of respect for author­i­ty. Per­haps that’s a more pos­i­tive spin on it.

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