differences between Canada and the U.S.

At least that’s the advice the Huffington Post’s Ryan McCarthy had forreaders yesterday because while the United States is mired in the economic equivalent of the Biggest Loser, Canada put on a hefty 93,200 jobs last month.

And our housing prices do nothing but rise!

Plus we have free universal health care, gay people can legally marry and unicorns roam wild on the prairies.

Okay, maybe we don’t have unicorns.


But the rest? True. Except that health care is not really free when the tax rate is put under the microscope, Canadians could care less about marriage in general as the majority live in common-law relationships for the most part, housing prices are so outrageous that the average person can’t afford home ownership and all those jobs? Service sector. Think Wal-Mart greeters and working the drive thru at Timmie’s*

I emigrated to Canada just a tad over three years ago. I met a Canadian on the Internet. We fell in love. The U.S. had way more archaic immigration rules and he had the better paying job anyway, so I moved north.

Since then, I have heard nothing from my liberal left-behind friends but how lucky I am to have escaped the imploding American Dream for Canadian Utopia.

And Canada is great. Don’t misunderstand me. I love it here. But in many ways, it’s no different from the U.S.

The government is conservative and more interested in business interests than people. Money is the driving factor behind public policy. Education is being savaged when it’s not just overlooked or neglected. Health care hangs on by its teeth but only because the average Canadian would riot in the streets if the provincial governments did away with it, so they nickel and dime it to death in the hopes that people aren’t really paying attention (they aren’t). Our housing is ridiculously over-priced and long overdue for a sharp correction.

Even though some Canadians like to promote the idea that Canada is the anti-America, the reality is that Canada is much more like America than it realizes.

It’s just lucky. For now.

Luck. That’s all that separates us from being you.

People here in Alberta, where I am, live dangerously on the idea that the oil in the sands will last forever and that the damage done by the foreign companies exploiting our resources won’t leave us with polluted fields and undrinkable water.

The spice oil must flow, eh?

My husband just rolled his eyes at the thought of Americans sneaking across the thousands of miles of largely unprotected border like Mexicans in Arizona.

Canada has a points system immigration system which basically has no use for anyone over the age of 42 who can’t speak English and/or French and isn’t skilled and/or a college graduate.

I actually squeaked under the wire on the points thing but fortunately marrying a Canadian meant I was able to get into a completely different immigration line – one that was no less tedious, incomprehensible and arbitrarily humiliating – but it was faster.

But I still can’t find work in my field – education – because the government has slashed funding and there are no teaching jobs to be found just about anywhere a person would want to live and work or anywhere they would die first before considering.

So I write for a blog that pays me peanuts and is, ironically, based out of California, and I teach yoga – not exactly Fortune 500 paying gigs.

Yes, there are jobs. Canadian Tire (think Kmart) is perpetually hiring as is the local Wal-Mart. You can wait tables just about anywhere and the 7-11 in town can never keep night managers. Hotels need housekeepers and if you are really a go-getter, you can probably hobble together two or three part time jobs which will just about pay the outrageous rents with enough left over to eat, pay utilities and cloth yourself. Just yourself. Try not to marry and especially don’t breed because daycare is scarce to non-existent and quite expensive.

But … you love Canada … right?

Yep, I do. But I am not average. I wasn’t an average American either. I live in the upper edges of the middle class. I am skilled and have two university degrees. My husband is an engineer in a field where more of them are retiring than entering.

And I didn’t come here for any reason other than being in love and wanting to spend my life with a guy who happened to be Canadian.

I know some people would regard that as something akin to winning the lottery, but life can be livable anywhere as long as your expectations are aligned with your reality and you don’t make the mistake of believing that salvation lies outside yourself.

*Tim Horton’s. Think fast food but waaaaay better than anything in the States. Seriously.

A movie I have not seen but for the trailer got me thinking about the whole “marrying a foreigner” thing which I honestly don’t give any thought to at all unless I am tangling with Immigration rules and hoops, or I use some American saying or slang that Canadians don’t know (because it really is never safe to assume that people up here are “just like us” – us Americans that is). In the film, Blue State, it is 2004 and Bush has been re-elected prompting one fervent young Democrat to make good on his threat to move north and become a Canadian. At one point in the trailer we see him perusing a website called Marry a Canadian.com because, I am assuming, he has discovered (as most people do) that it is not so easy to pick up and move to another country. Pack a bag and visit is okay, providing the FAA is not making an example of the particular airline you are traveling with that day (and you aren’t leaving from New York City as the only timely way out – or in – after a certain point in the early morning is really by car). Emigration however entails a lot of paperwork and can take months, or years, depending on your situation. Although this movie portrays marriage as the quickest route to residency and citizenship, I can assure you that it isn’t. There are rules, mountains of paperwork and documentation and a whole lotta waiting involved. And they will check to make sure you are, um, consummating on a regular basis.

Rob wondered idly after we saw the clip if anyone wonders how he met me. Anyone who doesn’t know our story that is, and who could read me and not know more than they ever wanted to about us?  We are quite open with having met on the Internet (interesting how many of us speak of cyberspace as though it were a real place), and probably not as apologetic as some would think we should be when we elaborate that our meeting site was a widowed support board.

Back in the early days of our friendship, a new friend at the YWBB and I were chatting on the phone and she enquired as to Rob’s accent. She was not assuming it was a Bob and Doug Mackenzie “hey, hoser” type of thing but French because her perspective led her to believe that most Canadians are of the French persuasion. Canadians do have an accent that is not the over-exaggerated one of the Mackenzies but is similar in a very non-cartoonish way. Most of the people I know use “eh” as their end sentence filler and have the distinct “ou” pronunciation. Canadians have their own slang, thank you very much, that is not American derived. Given the ubiquitous number of Canadian cities masquerading as American ones on U.S. television, I was surprised to note that there are subtle but still noticeable differences like traffic circles and a softer, more rounded shape to traffic lights and light poles. The Canadian post boxes are everywhere in residential neighborhoods and the concept of a freeway American style doesn’t seem to exist anywhere I have traveled and that includes the length of Saskatchewan, from Calgary to Grande Prairie in Alberta and a chunk of B.C.

One of the things I get quizzed on quite a bit is the health care system here because, unlike the States, anyone who cares to buy in can have access to health care. So right away one should notice that it is not free. There is a premium that varies according to income and is sometimes paid for by your employer, and you are correct if you are muttering that it doesn’t include the cost of prescription drugs. Medications are out of pocket for the most part though again an employer might have a prescription plan as part of one’s compensation. Speaking however as an asthmatic with allergies, I can tell you that the out-of-pocket cost for some of the medication I need is on par with just the co-pays my health insurance plan stuck me with back in Iowa. It’s odd not to have access to just run of the mill care on the weekends. Clinics just aren’t open. Many people use only clinics and haven’t any primary care physician because like everything else up here in terms of labor, there just aren’t enough doctors. Which is also why whole wings of hospitals are closed and it’s hard to get into a hospital for non-emergency things, there aren’t enough nurses either. But our little town of just a bit over 16,000 people has its own hospital when I know that rural folk in Iowa were having to drive hours to get to a hospital and in the case of an emergency, you would be treated somewhere.

Having just done taxes, I have noted differences there too. There is no such thing as filing jointly. Every adult is required to file yearly regardless of whether they worked or earned a single dime (and they do have dimes here but not dollar bills. The dollar is a coin called a “loonie”). I had to get a SIN in order to file taxes. It is similar to the U.S. Social Security number. They have two types. One is for citizens and legal residents and another for temporary workers. Wow. Differentiation. What a concept.

Canadians don’t have any idea what real consumerism looks like as I have written before. Stores close at 6PM on Saturdays and 5PM on Sundays (after only opening at noon). The shelves are often bare and strangely, to an American, sometimes stay that way. For example, during the heat wave last July, stores ran out of air conditioners. The end. There were no more shipments until probably now when they stores begin to gear up for summer again. Seriously. This happens. When stuff is gone, well it will be back next season.  Oh and Canada is devoid of Target.  Not a single one anywhere. ‘Nuff said.

I have never thought of myself in terms of place. I was born in Iowa and lived there my whole life before coming here. I had thoughts of living somewhere else before I met Rob, but I hadn’t fleshed anything out. A place is a place really and it is your human connections that make it home. Even so, I have never really missed a place once I have moved on to another one. Oddly, or maybe not, I feel more at home and connected here – to this place, Canada – than I have at any point in my life. There is a genuineness to the people I meet and a sense of perspective of time and the ground we occupy that I don’t remember from back in the States.  Not that I have developed any anti-American sentiments that I didn’t already have, but I am comfortable in my Canadian skin. Enough so that I can heartily recommend marrying a Canadian to anyone who gets the chance.