Five Takeaways from Canada

There's nothing like a little travel to make you reflect upon your normal routine–including those daily interactions that make up the cultural air that one breathes. We've just recently returned from a trip through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and brought back five things that Canadians do that could improve life here in the US of A. This isn't to say that Canada is utopia by any means, but we'd happily teach the Canadians a few things about marketing and public relations–subjects about which Canadians in the Maritimes are clueless–if they send a few coaches across the border to teach Americans the following:

1. Courteous driving: The Trans-Canada and other roads have numerous climbing lanes for trucks and slow vehicles. These, of course, eventually come to an end. The American way is to gun your engine for all it's worth to make certain you pass as many cars as possible, even if you have to squeeze a few drivers off the road. The Canadian way is to gauge your speed and that of the car ahead of you and politely drop back and wait for the next passing zone if you can't comfortably overtake that car. Lesson: Drive nicely.

2. Waiting in general: Driving habits are indicative of an overall patience commodity that's in short supply in the USA. One sees it everywhere. Pedestrians routinely wait for walk signals, even if traffic is light; bicyclists use hand signals and follow traffic laws. No one jostles in supermarket lines or makes a mad dash whenever a new lane opens. I saw exactly one child take a tantrum. He was tucked into the back of a car with Maryland plates. Lessons: What's the hurry? And it's not all about you.

3. No penny for your thoughts. Canadians have pretty much phased out pennies and no one stands around moaning about getting cheated. They simply round up or down to the nearest nickle and figure that sometimes they'll make out by a penny or two or will pay a few cents more. Either way, it's been centuries since old Ben Franklin's adage "A penny saved is a penny earned" was close to being true. Pennies cost more to produce than they're worth and they simply make routine exchanges cumbersome. As one clerk at a store said when I asked about pennies said, "It's just a penny. What's the point?" Lesson: There is no point to pennies.

4. Modicum of national pride: Nova Scotians are as far from Ottawa as a lot of Americans are from Washington, DC. Like folks here, Canadians complain about Ottawa and politicians in general. What they don't do in the Maritimes (or even in wide swaths of Quebec these days) is confuse the good of their nation with the worst of her politicians. Never thought I'd say this, but Canadians  have much more pride in their country than Americans do. Lesson: Rooting for American soldiers is not the same as loving your country.

5. Being nice: It comes up all the time. The first thing that pops into most people's mind when they think of Canadians is the word "nice." I've met a disagreeable Canadian or two, but it's generally true. They go out of their way to be helpful or strike up conversations. Some people would say that Canadians are too wholesome and, hence, are on the boring side. I say, "Smite me with such boredom." Lesson: I'll quote my good friend Steve,"You might as well be a mensch."

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