Originally published in Arthur No. 14 (January, 2005).
Illustration by Tom Devlin.
CANADA RULES, OKAY?
Thinking of leaving? Arthur catches up with an American in Quebec to find out what life is like on the other side of the border.
Arthur: You moved to Montreal from New York City in 2003. At the time we thought you were onto something. Now, in the wake of Bush’s re-election, with tens of thousands of disgusted liberal Americans suddenly interested in leaving the country, we can confirm it: You’re an early adopter! So, we were wondering, how it’s going?
Mademoiselle X: Canada rules. Well, I live in Montreal, Quebec so I should say, “Quebec rules.” Many Americans think of Canada as this big liberal oasis, which it is to a degree, but the country is different city to city, province to province. Alberta is the Texas of Canada where the provincial dance is squaredancing and cowboys are in, Toronto is Canada’s New York and Quebec and Montreal…well, there is no American equivalent for those two, really. But anyway, different provinces have different policies. At a business meeting in Vancouver last winter, I quickly learned that the social programs that are available here in Quebec—like subsidized daycare and a year’s maternity leave—are not available everywhere. Paul Martin is trying to subsidize daycare nationwide. Can you imagine that ever being on the national agenda in the States?
Wait a second. Who’s Paul Martin?
You’re such an American! Paul Martin is Canada’s Prime Minister. He is the head of the Liberal Party that held on to a ruling minority in the last election. They narrowly defeated, who else, but the Conservative Party. It was like the first time in maybe ten years or so that the Liberals did not have a ruling majority. Unlike the States, though, two other parties played a major role in the election: the NDP, which is an extreme left party, and the Bloc Quebecois, which is also to the left but is always threatening to be sovereign. Since it’s a parliament, the theory is that more lefty initiatives will prevail as the Liberals will have to work with the NDP and Block, rather than the Conservatives. When the Liberals were the ruling majority they tended to be more moderate.
So Canada really is more liberal…
Canadians just tend to be more left. The average Canadian is closer to the average Arthur reader than to the average American. Every single person I know here has seen Fahrenheit 9/11, The Corporation and Supersize Me. It is refreshing to live in a world that has a social conscience, though I wish they hadn’t kicked Howard Stern out! Anyway, we’re pretty surprised at how conservative the election went in America. I can’t believe the same country that voted for Fantasia Barrino also elected George Bush.
How much do Canadians follow what goes on in America?
I get all the news that America gets, so most Canadians probably know more about national American politics than Americans. And of course, if a Canadian makes news anywhere in the world, we know about it.
The CBC rules. Canadians do not know how lucky they have it. On TV, you can turn it on Friday night, and a movie along the lines of You Can Count On Me is on. On the radio, the midnight program “Brave New Waves” is a program that most 20-30 something Canadians can reminisce about what years they thought were best. NPR is great, but I love the CBC.
Personally, I love to watch Canadian Idol: it oozes way more talent than American Idol. The winners tend to wear glasses, sing rock songs and play instruments. Otherwise, with the exception of Degrassi High and the brilliant Corner Gas, Canadian TV is rather lackluster. Of course, I only get three English stations, the rest are French. On one of the French stations, every night after 11 or so, they air porn movies. There is also a porn shop and exotic dance club down the street from the office, about a block away from the library. I feel so Puritan to find it odd and not treat it with the nonchalance of the average Quebecer, maybe all of those years living under the Guiliani administration brainwashed me.
Does it matter that you don’t know French?
It’s not an issue. The east part of the island is French and the West is English and we live in the middle. The fact that we’re Americans means we get a free pass. People just go, Oh well. But if you’re Canadian and don’t know French, they’re not so happy.
So, how cold is it, really?
It’s pretty damn cold here but, you know, there were record cold snaps in Boston and New York City last year that were just as cold. Here, though, it’s a given. If there’s a snowstorm, people don’t wait it out, they just bundle up and go about their business. It’s gonna snow again tomorrow, so there’s no point in stopping what you’re doing. It’s practically a military operation here clearing out the snow: sirens, dumptrucks, and so on. It’s amazing.
How’s the beer?
Quebec beer is sooo delicious, but you have to watch yourself as they’re usually about twice the alcohol content of normal beers. They come in tall bottles with corks, and have the best romantic names like “La Fin Du Monde” (The End of the World) and “Don de Dieu” (Gift of God). Spruce Beer (non-alcoholic) gets a thumb’s down, though—it tastes too much like Pine Sol to me.
There’s a thing called “poutine” that I really love: it’s french fries and gravy with cheese curds. I never had them before in my life, but they are great on a cold day. Le Belle Province is where you go for REALLY good poutine. The Canadian smoked meat makes up for the lackluster French hamburgers. Also, coming from New York City, I thought everyone was full of it when talking about Montreal bagels. They are different and better—less bread, if that makes sense. I live one block away from the bagelerie, and I take any out-of-town friends by there.
It sounds like a European city.
Yeah. There’s fresh bread, cheese and meat on every corner, and there’s the Jean Talon Market, a huge year-round outdoor market where somehow I can find ripe tomatoes and avocadoes any day of the year, for a reasonable price. In New York City, all vegetables looked they rolled off the BQE, and cost $5 each. Now we try not spend over $2 on any item.
For sweets, we have Cadbury’s. I’ve been to Hershey Park and I love Hersheys, but Cadbury’s has them beat hands down. Every store has a full selection of the crazy British chocolates like Mr Big and Wunderbar. Beware: American Smarties are called “Rockets,” and Canadian Smarties are actually M&Ms.
What about coffee?
Every good hockey dad (not such a bad term in Canada) has a cup of coffee and a maple doughnut. The “gourmet’ coffee chain is called “Second Cup”—I swear is owned by Starbucks as it’s an exact replica of everything about it, but it’s actually proudly Canadian. Starbucks here are called Cafe Starbucks Cafe, which in French I believe translates to Coffee Starbucks Coffee. There’s no filter coffee, no four dollar cappuccino. You know life is civilized when your allonge (long espresso) is less than $2 CDN.
What’s your living situation like?
We rented an apartment. Check this out: in Quebec, landlords are not legally allowed to charge anything more than one month’s rent at a time—no security, no last month.They’re also not allowed to ask for any personal information. And tenants are able to do a “lease transfer” where you can give your lease to a friend and the landlord can’t refuse. It’s easy to move here and stay. No one checks. The guy whose apartment we got came here from the US during the Vietnam war. I don’t believe he was dodging – he was just like, Seems like a good time.
Do you miss America at all?
The one time I missed being in the States was during the Olympics. It took Canada five days to win a medal—and it was bronze. I’m sure it all changes with the Winter Olympics, though, so watch out! But you know, at the end of the day I would much rather have my own free membership to the Y pool than to have the money going to train Olympic athletes. So I shouldn’t complain.