Questions of the Garden Variety

Hey Americans – you’re traveling – Montreal beckons.  What’s a gal or guy to do?

    • Do Americans need a passport to get into Canada?

Answer: Despite all the name calling and joking around, Canada’s a separate country from the US and as such requires official documentation.  A passport, if you will.

    • What if I live in Vermont?  Canada is only a couple miles from my house.

Answer: And Zion, Illinois is only minutes away from Racine Wisconsin.  You might not need a passport to travel from the Land of Lincoln to get admitted into the Eat Cheese or Die state, but it does not mean you won’t get called a FIB or a fish tab.

    • Can I find pot in Montreal or should I just bring my own?

Answer: If you have to ask it means you don’t know about the tam-tams on Sunday afternoons. And if you ask me again about this while riding in my car?  I will set off the passenger side airbags on you.

    • Where’s a good place to eat?

Answer: I hear that the Paris McDonald’s serves a mean Royale with cheese.

    • Do they really speak French everywhere in Montreal or is it just for show?

Answer: Amazingly most Montrealers speak French amongst themselves and, bonus, also to strangers.

    • Will I get attitude around anyone who’s a french snob?

Answer: Most often no, but maybe!  But the good thing in all of this is, not knowing any French prevents you from feeling shame since you can’t understand any dressing down you might experience. The only thing you have to watch out for? Other Americans in the city who insist on using American dollars to buy stuff.  Then not only will there be a lot of attitude floating around, you’ll also be able to understand it.

    • What if I don’t follow hockey?

Answer: As long as you stay away from buying your turkey sandwiches at Slovenia’s on Blvd St-Laurent, you should be good to go.

    • No, I mean, what else is there to do if I don’t want to follow hockey?

Answer: Montreal has a population of a million or so people in it who are kissing strangers and stealing change off of your table in celebration of the summer. There’s the festival of fireworks every July. Countries bring their A games to the city to compete, twice a week for the entire month.  I hear there’s also a bunch of other festivals too.

    • Montreal is the home of the Cirque du Soleil.  I hate clowns.  Will I be bumping into a lot of clowns on the street?

Answer: just hockey fans.

    • Is it true you drove expensive paintings from Canada to the US and only declared them to be from a friend for your birthday?  And that you presented a fake birthday card signed by the famous artist who said, ‘Maybe some day I hope my paintings will get good enough to sell’?

Answer: That is completely and totally false.

Arrival

photo by Kelly Mitchell http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1392552

 

[dropcap]People Ask Me[/dropcap] “What’s different for you between Canada and the US?  What are American / Canadian cultural differences?”

This conversation happened every week, when I drove strangers (soon to be friends) in my car between Boston and Montreal.

IN the late ’90s, when I was in grad school in Vermont I was friends with a few Montrealers.  They were francophones; their work was not about differance.  But there were a couple of other Canadians at the school, native English speakers, who made it clear that they were Americans, too, though not from the US.  Some of their writing contained comparisons between the US and Canada, certain pronunciations and spellings of words, or wourds.  And brands of food: for instance Oreo cookies sold in Canada are made by Mr. Christie and not Nabisco. Of inferior quality, I must note, but having the ability to kill you more slowly with the poly-sorbitant hydrogenated concentated oils from the peel of a banana rather than the requisite rim of an old tire.

I queried my pack, my Montrealers, about this and they said, “Yes, this is the difference.”  Maybe something was lost in translation.  It could not be so superficial.  Maybe it was just the beginning of the conversation to be continued.  But I dropped out shortly after for non-Canadian reasons, and so, perhaps, missed out on further discussions.

TEN YEARS LATER I began my own exploration of the differences between my giant country directly south of the quieter northern neighbor.  Thus began conversations with people from everywhere, on my drives from my life in the US to my new life in Canada.  For the first couple of years the drives were pretty much a darkened solo effort.  It wasn’t until I looked for the hundreth time at Craigslist, making yet another electronic purchase for the magic lottery number of $20 that I finally saw the rideshare link, which thus changed my life forever. Continue reading “Arrival”