Postcard: My life north of the border
Before I studied abroad, I was like most of you: a fat, stupid American who couldn’t even tell you that Canada is one of the world’s largest supplier of agricultural products, particularly wheat. But this past weekend, I finally mustered the courage to leave my homeland and participate in a grueling, total-immersion study abroad experience that had me outside the United States for almost 48 hours.
“Michael,” you’ve likely just exclaimed. “You daring adventurer! Tell us of your exploits! How is Canada? Have they finally settled that softwood lumber dispute?” Well, friends, I’m glad you’ve asked. Canada is terrific and, as you might imagine, the softwood lumber dispute is still a hot button issue that Canadians will passionately argue over a steaming mug of tomato juice (a Canadian delicacy).
Before I crossed the Canadian border, I stopped for provisions in Jackman, Maine, a plucky little town that bills itself as “the Switzerland of Maine.” In Jackman’s Town Hall, there is, available for viewing, a handwritten letter from Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, the president of Switzerland, assuring the citizens of Jackman that Switzerland considers itself “the Jackman, Maine of Europe.”
Canadian border security, despite having the reputation as an outfit of bad boys who don’t play by the rules, could not have been more professional. Also, they do not ask for passports, a boon for would-be mischief-makers, though those mischief-makers would be wise to ask themselves what sort of mischief, exactly, they had hoped to get up to in Canada, as Canada seems to possess the world’s largest collection of empty spaces.
Once I had arrived at my lodgings in Quebec, I went out to explore the city. I was told before arriving there that it had a “distinctly European feel,” which seems to be a descriptor that Americans use for any place with fewer than 11 Olive Gardens per square mile. I will admit that the town had a somewhat foreign feel; perhaps because of the cobblestone streets, perhaps because of the French being spoken, or perhaps even because of a certain “abondance des serveurs pretentieuses.”
Canadians are generally thought to be a polite bunch, so the snooty waiters were a surprise. They may have been imported directly from Paris. I’m not sure. I am sure, however, that it is not customary to remind diners that the tip is not included in the bill after taking drink orders.
Now, I’m sure some of you have a burning question, and you are a little nervous to be asking it in such a public forum as this. That question is, of course: has Canada decriminalized? You’ll be happy to know that the answer is yes. Crack is completely, 100 percent legal here, and is sold by policemen. Simply approach the first policeman you see and ask!
One of the most difficult parts of any study abroad experience is homesickness; this weekend was no exception. Sure, I was able to skype my family. And I did. Six times. But there’s nothing—not alcohol, not museums, not romantic horse and carriage rides around the city’s historic district with your friend Alec—that will mitigate the feeling. Friends abroad, if you find yourself stricken with homesickness, just remember: you will be back in the United States by Monday.