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Graeme Garvey
on his first trip to Canada

Well, it’s there, I can confirm. Having always suspected Canada did exist, I thought I should check it out this summer. I found it and it goes on f o r e v e r. Thank goodness the world has shrunk in recent years, though, so you can fly over the most boring bits. Living in England, we have simply no appreciation of a country that has several time zones. All right, it goes dark in the English west country a bit later than in Kent but Canada is so vast, people have mostly done with the day in Newfoundland when they are only getting into it in British Columbia. One country? Canada is stretched east-west so that every day is a day and a half. It is split English-French. It feels the pull of both Mother Country and vulgar, pacy neighbour, USA. It doesn’t just have seasons, it has SEASONS. Too hot in summer and still far too cold in winter for all of global warming’s efforts, only the short Spring and Fall are, according to Goldilocks, just right. For all of this, it comes across as a very welcoming and hospitable place.

It is a land of heroes. The twentieth century proved that as countless brave men answered Empire’s call. Just think of Beaumont-Hamel or Dieppe. It is a land with a guilty conscience, too, as all the best places are. Canadians felt so guilty, eventually, about the eskimos that they allowed them a brand new name to be proud of - "inuit". They felt so guilty about stuffing the French that now everything federal is bi-lingual, this being an elaborate form of apology, so that, when you are cleaning your teeth/dents, the toothpaste caters for two tongues.

Everbody is polite in Canada. They would probably murder you politely. They are polite about how they don’t like Americans. And they don’t. Yet, to an outsider, the two nations are so similar. Can you tell the accents apart? Both lots have taken to posting their national flags outside their equally spacious houses. Gasolene (sic) is cheap and what we would call minibuses are bog-standard, get-around vehicles for one. They drive exceedingly long distances, relatively slowly, on the left and the staple diet of each is fast food. Each dislikes the other and this is beautifully summed up at the crossing town of Cornwall by how Canada’s border sewage works is answered with the USA’s border chemical works.

Canadians might seem like Americans to us; they like baseball for instance but Canadians don’t see it that way. The English Football Premiership is easy to catch live in pubs and bars, and is watched by large numbers. The many ex-pats see to that. Absorption has been incredibly slow, particularly because of the inbetween nature of Canada. They seem Canadians as much because of what they are not as because of what they are. This is perhaps harsh since nobody goes round constantly defining themselves, they just go round being people. And before ‘Outraged of Ontario’ starts furiously keypunching, I must admit that a trip to Canada made me embarrassed about many aspects of modern Britain. We are ruder, vainer and more selfish than Canadians who at least care enough about the future to ban smoking in all public places in their capital city, like it or not. We are untidier, too. Canadians don’t have the first idea how to litter a place. The Old Country can really show ‘em there.

We also might be 3,000 miles from Canada but we’re a million miles from something as friendly, efficient and cheap as the "Tim Horton’s" chain of coffee and cake shops. Had a nice stay!

© Graeme Garvey September 2002

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