North America is a pretty unified continent. Here in Canada we watch 90% US television and movies, our bestsellers are generally the same, we eat mostly the same foods, listen to pretty much the same music, eat at most of the same fast food restaurants. Although as Canadians we like to think of ourselves as really different, if you travel around the world it is hard for most people to move beyond the stereotypes to tell you how those differences exist.
After traveling through 7 states, I have determined it is the little things that make the difference. Here are four, in no particular order.
How we measure. The US is on the imperial system, while here in Canada we are on the metric system. This makes figuring out the true cost of gas complicated (how many litres in a gallon, again?) and made it hard to judge time based on distance. Apparently I have a very good grasp of how long it takes to go, say 150km. 150 miles? Not such a good grasp! (Hint – it definitely takes longer to go 150 miles!) Speed limits weren’t a big issue, as our speedometer has miles and kilometres on it. But it was weird not seeing any signs with speeds over a hundred on the big highways (and yes, I know they are called freeways in the US – another word difference).
Where we stop to freshen up. In Canada, at least wherever I’ve lived or traveled, we refer to a bathroom, washroom or toilet. In the US it is universally referred to as a restroom. Which I find a little funny, because I don’t go in there to have a rest :)
Letters on the hillside. Please, one of my US friends, explain this to me. Does every town put its initial on a hillside nearby? We saw it in at least five of the states we visited. I’d really like to understand this one better. In Canada we do love our large and odd monuments (largest beaver, etc) but I don’t recall ever seeing the initials on a hillside.
Large flags. While Canadians are patriotic, and we really like our cool maple leaf flag, we obviously do not love our flag anywhere near as much as the people of the US love their flag. I had heard this before, but thought it was hyperbole. I was taken aback every time I saw a giant flag, and I saw a lot of them!
So there you have it. Some of the quirky little things that make you realize you’re not in your own, familiar country, as much as we all think we are becoming a part of the US culture. I assure you, based on my trip, we are not.
PS OK, one more thing. I know our money looks like monopoly money to a lot of other countries, but I’d never appreciated how it sure is easier to know what you are pulling out of your wallet when each of your denomination bills is a different colour! And getting pennies again was weird.