Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How well do you really know your neighbor?

As most of my family and friends are actually Americans (I'm from Ohio, and Eric is Nebraskan), I thought maybe it was a good time to talk about my current country of residence. Many of you may not actually realize... today is Canada Day! Here are some interesting (or at least interesting to me) things you may or may not know about the Great White North, along with some things I've observed since moving here in 2010. Note: I'm not including any references - some is personal experience and some is from the interweb, and we all know everything you read there is true.

It's sparse. Canada is the second largest country in the world, behind Russia. It is bigger than the USA, but it has about 1/10th of the population - just 35 million people. If it weren't for immigration, Canada's population would probably be shrinking. It is the 8th LEAST dense country in the world. There is a LOT of area here where there is no one around. NO ONE.

Canada became its own country in 1867. Well, wait, I'm not really sure. I've also read 1931. And also 1982. And actually, I think it's STILL sorta considered part of the British commonwealth. The queen is on our money. And did you know - our money is colorful? Wait - colOURful. 5s are blue, 10s are purple, 20s are green, and I don't know anything higher than that because I never have them myself.

When we first moved here, I rented a 13-dvd set from our local library about the history of Canada, and I remember the scene where Canada first gained its independence from England. They sent three of their leaders to the queen and ASKED if they could be their own country. Now, think back to how the USA got its independence - it was called the Revolutionary War. People fighting and dying. Terrible bloodshed and unrest. And all Canada did was ASK. Now, I know there was MUCH more to it than that, but my point is, Canadians really ARE nice!

Where we live in Alberta, we commonly experience drastic changes in temperature, due to Chinook winds, which I've heard are part of the larger Santa Anna winds from California. They bring warm air up and over the Rockies and melt our snow away. "Chinook" is the native word for "snow eater". The biggest temp swing record was in Pincher Creek, AB, when it went from -2ºF to 72ºF in one hour! I've never experienced anything THAT dramatic, but we often see the Chinook arch in the sky - it's a pinkish colored sky, where the clouds are in an arch shape - and some people get killer Chinook headaches.

Right now the Canadian dollar is weak. It takes about $1.25 Canadian to equal $1 USD. It cyclically fluctuates.

(Pause) Stepped onto the back deck to watch the C-Day fireworks. At this moment it is 10:52pm, and there's still quite a bit of light left in the sky, but it's just now dark enough to see the fireworks.

There are two official languages in Canada - English and French. I don't know a lot of people who solely speak French. It's not common as far west as we are. That's more in Quebec. Still, most of our road signs are in both languages. And many of our towns offer "french immersion" schools - public schools where the teachers and students all speak french the whole time. These are regular kids (we have several friends with kids in french immersion) learning regular subject matter - history, math, geography, etc. - but learning it while speaking french. Another thing that blew my mind was that Catholic schools are considered public school - and are free.

Speaking of school, did you know that Canadian school children are actually required to learn American social studies? They learn our states and capitols, our important dates, and our political and economic systems. I THINK I might have learned the national capitol of Canada - of course, I'm talking about Toronto. Gotcha! I was testing you! It's Vancouver. Okay, SEE how little I learned about Canada? And Canadians know all kinds of stuff about the USA. (And many of them really resent having been required to learn it... not that I really blame them.)

Every month has at least one holiday. There are some months where it's a given - like Canada Day or Thanksgiving. But for any month that doesn't already have a holiday, they just take off the first Monday of the month. So, like, in May, we observe May Long Weekend. And August Long.

Much like various parts of the USA, there are regional terms and dialects here that sometimes cause me confusion.
• "College" is strictly used for 2-year, trade-type post-secondary education - think junior college.
• "University" is the 4-year experience where you change your major six times and go on study abroad - like what I did. They literally say stuff like, "Cayden's going off to University next year."
• Dinner rolls and cinnamon rolls are called "buns".
• You "have" a shower - you don't "take" it.
• A "hoser" is a thrown out term for a bum, a bozo, a joker, a turkey.
• The plastic thing they put your groceries in is a "bag" - never a "sack".
• "Smarties" are chocolates with a candy-coating - like a larger M&M, and smarties (sweet tarts) are called "rockets".
• "Poutine" is fries with cheese curds, drowned in brown gravy - and often lots of other things. It's Quebec slang for "a mess". It's wonderful.
• What I call mac & cheese is strictly called "Kraft Dinner". Mom, can we have KD tonight?

We have nothing bad to say about the socialized health care system in Alberta. Eric broke a wrist, and I broke a nose. Eric got kicked in the head by a horse and knocked unconscious, taken by ambulance to the ER. I've had two babies here. We've had the run-of-the-mill winter sickness and infections, and of course the expected crud that kids get from time to time. But we are young and basically healthy. We've never had to wait in much of a line or been denied for anything. And we've never paid a dime out of pocket. And believe or not, on the whole our taxes are lower here than they were when we were living in Iowa (do you like how I can read your next thought?)! Oh, and also - we get $200 a month just for having kids, it's called a "child benefit". And we can claim some of their education and physical study expenses on our taxes (think, piano lessons, gymnastics, etc.).

My daughters, Hoxie (2.5 yrs) and Cordelia (1) were both born here and are both Canadian AND American citizens.

Canadians ARE really polite - they DO apologize for everything, even if it's not their fault. And they ARE really funny. Some notable Canadian comics: Dan Aykroyd, Will Arnett, John Candy, Jim Carrey, Tommy Chong, Michael J. Fox, Tom Green, Phil Hartman, Eugene Levy, Norm MacDonald, Howie Mandel, Lorne Michaels, Rick Moranis, Mike Myers, Leslie Nielson, Catherine O'Hara, Ryan Reynolds, Seth Rogan, William Shatner, Martin Short, and more!

One of the funniest people I love now but had never heard of before coming north is Rick Mercer. Search youtube for "Rick Mercer - Talking With Americans" - hilarious!

About 39% of Canadians are Roman Catholic. About 28% protestant.

We have most of the same TV channels you have in the USA, plus some specifically Canadian ones.

Yes, we have same-sex marriage (since 2005).
No, I've not yet met Justin Bieber.
Yes, we have Walmart and MacDonalds.
No, we don't have JoAnn Fabrics - I KNOW you were wondering.
Yes, hockey really is LIFE.

Honestly, for the most part, you wouldn't really even realize you're in a different country. We are much more ALIKE than we are different. And isn't that really the way it is the world-over?

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