People Ask Me “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.
The list off the top of my head goes something like this: Canada. California. Massachusetts. Colorado. Vermont. Maine. New Hampshyre. Illinois. Michigan. New York. Pennsylvania. Oregon. Georgia. North Carolina. Wyoming. Ohio. Iowa. Washington State. Arizona. Morocco. Algeria. East Berlin -> turned Berlin. Frankfurt. Costa Rica. Mexico. Finland. Denmark. Sweden. Paris. Lyon. Pakistan. South Korea. Japan. England. Wales. Northern Ireland. the Netherlands. Switzerland. Lebanon. Egypt. Syria. China. India. Maldives. the “Palestinian” territories. Saudia Arabia. Brazil. UAE. Iran. Spain. Croatia. the Dominican Republic. South Africa. Haiti. Argentina. Australia. New Zealand. Turkey. Russia. Hungary. Italy. And definitely Bulgaria.
I am pretty sure there might be a few more people from other locales who have taken a ride with sheilerama.
Many of my riders were well familiar with the US, having done a semester or more at a university there. But there were others who had just arrived to our continent, or to the Eastern and Northern part of the US. Others nervous about riding with a stranger. Others excited for the opportunity to meet new people. It was always something completely different every week, people wanting to talk and entertain, others not so much. So we’d play music on various ipods and sing along in the car (if I brought Europeans with me, that is).
I began avoiding certain stops in favor of other ones along the highway, because someone was rude, or it just didn’t fit into what I wanted strangers to see of my country. I began favoring others like the small town in New Hampshire that seemed chock-full of military families and devoid of foreigners. The Market Basket grocery store was just across the street from the gas station we went to. The gleaming wide aisles amazed some. One cashier would see me so frequently that she asked me once, “Didn’t I see you over the weekend at the game?” To which I’d laugh, saying, “No, I don’t live in New Hampshire.”
The riders would proffer their blue, green, red passports to prove their ages when purchasing 2 bottles of wine (No sales tax!, I’d tell them) at the grocery store. This made the cashiers blink a few times at first. Toward the end of the first decade of the 2000s it became less of thing to discuss with the store manager. The bountiful produce in the store enticed many a rider in the warmer months to grab and share cartons of strawberries back in the car, throwing the stems out the window, or handfuls of blueberries, the occasional peach.
Bisquits from Corsica, chocolates from Belgium, crackers from Taiwan came out from their personal stashes.
There are differences between the US and Canada by way of food. But other stuff too. I’ve arrived at the decision to explore this further just because. To be continued…