I went to Canada for the same reason explorers have always sought the horizon: It was an unknown, a land of mystery. I grew up in a border state but I couldn’t tell you which province is directly overhead. Sure, I laughed when George W. Bush was stuck for the Canadian Prime Minister’s name. But now that W is gone, I can say what I secretly thought then: “Glad that wasn’t me!” I know more about Mexico than I do about Canada, and I’m not sure why. It’s like there’s a long black hole stretched across the 49th parallel.
Among the few things I did know about Canada before my recent trip: It’s cold. It’s inhabited by a morally upright people. They like syrup and hockey. Their beer is even worse than ours. These things, I can now report, are all true. But there’s more! Canada, I discovered, is nothing like Jack London made it out to be. And Vancouver, the city where I stayed, is a lovely place with cars and electric lights, which is good, since the Winter Olympics will take place there shortly.
So, if you’re planning to attend, or go north for any other reason, here are a few more things to know before crossing the border:
1) Canada is not a U.S. state. It’s a state of mind.
2) Ambient temperatures have no discernible effect on the customer service, which is quite good.
3) Canadians that have made great contributions to American culture include Frank Gehry, Kim Cattrall and Tommy Chong.
4) Bryan Adams? Celine Dion? Shania Twain? Blame Canada.
5) Like us, Canadians love guns. But unlike us, they are too polite to use them at work.
6) If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a Canadian national animal, the majestic … beaver.
7) Hockey was invented in Canada as a way to make use of that last inch of beer in one’s can, after it freezes.
8) In Canada, there’s a French/English dictionary on every bag of chips: “Mordant” = ZESTY. Munch and learn.
9) Canada has the fourth-lowest density of exciting things happening in the world.
10) Most of that excitement is concentrated in an alley in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
11) For a brief time this winter, it will move several blocks south to the Olympic Village. Then, probably, it will move