Thoughts on Canada

I was just thinking about our trip to Canada and how much we enjoyed it. As you know, our time was primarily spent along the St. Lawrence in southern Ontario, in Ottawa and in Montreal. I thought I would share a few observations and comments...

  • If you're planning on driving into Canada or crossing back and forth across the border, you'll find that Canadian border control agents are relatively humorless. Any attempt at humor tended to fall flat. American border control agents, while more thorough (ex: making you open the trunk) at least had a sense of humor.
  • Speaking of humor, we were surprised to find most Canadians we met were relatively reserved and, in a sense, cautiously friendly. My wife referred to some as boring. At the same time, those who were outgoing were very friendly and engaging. It seemed like it was either feast or famine. Surprisingly, we found people in Montreal were much friendlier than in Ottawa. We expected the opposite.
  • Speed limits in Canada are awfully low. Major highways like 416 or 401 are only 100 k/h or 60 mph. Now, I would never condone speeding, of course, but I did notice that most people drove around 120 - 130 k/h. Reading the speed on a U.S. car is annoying since the kilometers are much smaller on the speedometer.
  • Speaking of numbers, let's talk taxes. Any perceived discount from the exchange rate (and it's not that much) is quickly wiped out by absurd taxes. City and provincial taxes can add up to 15% to a transaction.
  • Hanging out in a small town, you soon realize that, yes, you are the outsider. People definitely know that you aren't one of them. In some places, it was a good 5 minutes before people stopped staring at us.
  • Ontario is truly a bilingual province. Even in small towns like Morrisburg, we would hear both French and English. Signs are bilingual most everywhere, particularly in Ottawa. Of course, as soon as you cross the Ottawa river into Quebec, everything is French. Bilingual signs are, for the most part, out the window. While everyone will assume you speak French, they do speak English. Just like in France, I found that a little French goes a long way to earn respect.
  • The whole French and English dynamic is due to an very interesting and rich history. If possible, pick up a Canadian history book while visiting. Building up your personal knowledge of Canadian history can add a new dimension to your travels up north.

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