As it turns out, Canada is a foreign country.
You might be laughing at me right now because of course Canada is a foreign country. Obviously. However, since it’s so close to home and requires no air travel to visit plus the few Canadians I’ve met in my life have seemed, well, pretty much just like me and all the Americans I know (maybe nicer, if I’m being honest), I didn’t think it was gonna be any big deal crossing the border. Well, I was wrong. Dead wrong.
A friend asked me a few days beforehand “Did you contact your cell phone provider to upgrade your plan?” Um, no. Should I? I naively asked another friend flat-out Is Canadian currency the same as American currency? Um, no. But surely they take American currency, right; like, I don’t have to exchange my money, do I? Um, probably not and yes, you do. Okay. I had some work to do. Firstly, I had to shed my apparent ethnocentrism. As it turns out, I’m teeming with the notion that America is the center of North America. (Eye roll.)
Calling Verizon was easy. No problem. 30 minutes and I was set.
Talking with the border patrol agent coming into the country was not so easy. In fact, it was downright terrifying. I think I’m a pretty good person, and I’ve certainly not committed any serious crimes in my life…but I felt like I was barely passing a lie detector test as the dude in the customs booth grilled me about this, that, and the other thing, almost all of which seemed entirely irrelevant to my visit. The more questions he asked, the more nervous I got…and I’m probably one of the most honest people you’ll ever meet (!), so I’m certain my what-felt-to-be visceral response to every question – even the most mundane – betrayed my terror. And the more questions he asked, the more fearful I became of answering incorrectly and being detained.
He didn’t believe that I live in a tent on top my car, so I had to lie and give him my old address in Portland. So, he essentially coerced me into committing perjury (or the border-crossing equivalent). And he confiscated my pepper spray, curiously leaving me in possession of two giant cans of what I believe to be exactly the same substance labeled as bear deterrent. And I didn’t even mention my expandable baton because I was certain he’d take that from me – and it wasn’t inexpensive. So…another lie, this one of omission. Oh. My. Gosh.
My first two hours in the country were the most shocking. It probably didn’t help I crossed the border into a reservation because I feel a bit out of my element there regardless of country (apparently)…but when I needed gas and couldn’t find anything resembling a modern station (is a gas bar the equivalent?), I was baffled. When I saw the speed limit switch to metric, I felt flummoxed. And when I couldn’t locate a restaurant or bank for many miles (er, kilometers) – and feared I couldn’t pay for food or fuel even if I did – I began to panic. Soon, it seemed like everyone was speaking French but me!
Within a couple of days, I found my groove…and I certainly learned some lessons along the way. I still don’t know the difference between a loonie and a toonie, but the Canadians I’ve met have been kind and accommodating – and I’m grateful for their patience. Hopefully I haven’t been too American in my foibles or stumbling to assimilate.