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Shrewsbury, United Kingdom

Initial impressions of Canada were how big everything was – the roads, the cars, the buildings and how inexpensive; about £ for $ but with roughly $2 to the £, it made everything half price.

We found Canadians are incredibly generous and hospitable; with the exception of the security guard at the Prime Minister's residence and the Customs Officer at Toronto, we were made to feel welcome everywhere.

There is a perhaps surprising definite language difference. Last year down under, we noticed a few idiosyncrasies and some unique local vocabulary but broadly, we seemed to be speaking the same language. Canada has followed the same route as its neighbour, the US in using a number of different words to those we would normally use. Highway and sidewalk are two well known examples, but others would include GPS instead of satnav, purse instead of handbag and bathroom or washroom instead of ladies, gents, toilet or loo. While the differences are small, usually self-resolving and amusing, it meant that conversation did require more energy than usual. (Though it was useful to have an expert at translating from one to the other in Val, to hand.) It is also well known that ordering food or drink at a fast food outlet is a far more complex than in the UK because of the range of options that are invariably available and the sms type language employed to get through the menu without keeping the next customer waiting too long. We got caught on this early on when ordering a tea being asked 'baggin?'. Not being familiar with the expression we asked the girl to repeat the question – 'baggin?'. We had heard right then but were no nearer being able to answer until Ollie translated - 'Do you want the tea bag left in the cup?'. Those early orders were certainly possible only because we had guides!

In addition to brewing a number of lagers, Canada also brews their own ales which are very good; although for my taste, there is too much emphasis on freezing the living daylights out of some of them. I found that Rickards Red was very refreshing, especially as the glass warmed a little and allowed the flavours to develop. The Honey Brown was exactly what it claimed to be with a lovely rounded and full body. The Unibroue Trois Pistoles that we had in Quebec was an exquisite Barley wine with an extraordinary chocolately flavour that worked – and carried on working for some time afterwards! In Ontario, the LCBO (liquor control board of Ontario) operates its own stores and controls locations that sell alcoholic drink; I'm sure that this works well to control alcohol but less sure how any state monopoly benefits the consumer. Having said this, prices didn't seem exorbitant.

Although Canada hasn't escaped the fuel price rises, petrol is about half the cost in the UK, diesel is not as common as here and as we found down under last year, engine sizes tend to be larger and gearboxes automatic.

At a national level Canada has decided to publish everything in both English and French, to which the anglophonic part adheres in stereotypical style. Of course with typical gallic panache, the provincial government of Quebec has decided that they will ignore national government and issue everything in only French, officially – although pragmatically, many businesses are making provision for anglophones. Clearly the Francophones are worried that their language is under threat – and not without some justification. However, I think it sad as a broadly francophilic person that the typical french stick is used instead of the typical gallic charm. It seems to me that there are other better means of achieving the preservation of the french language and traditions (leading to cultural richness) within the greater Canada with a sympathetic anglophone community than by separation and alienation.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 31, 2008 from Shrewsbury, United Kingdom
from the travel blog: Two Thumbs up for the Canucks
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