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The Great White North – Tips 1

December 26, 2007

Sorry, my dear readers, for this blogging dry spell. This past two weeks has been pure-D insanity! My company asked me to travel to The Great White North the week before Christmas to deal with some pre-audit issues — what fun! There’s nothing better than talking about compliance for lifting people’s spirits and spreading Christmas cheer!

That week threw off my groove… entirely. But I think I’m recovering from the madness of rushing around like a crazy person at the last minute, having lost an entire week of purchasing, planning, baking, decorating time. We managed to squash everything we needed to do into approximately two days, which left us exhausted and irritable… what was it I was saying about lifting spirits and spreading cheer?

To get back in the groove, I thought I would share with you some important tips for travel to The Great White North. It was an interesting trip.

1. If you are addicted to 44 oz. Diet Dr. Pepper and must have one to get through the morning (and again in the afternoon), you will suffer mightily on two fronts.

For some strange reason, folks up there don’t believe in super-sized drinks and just those little 12 ounce cans (do the math, it would take 4 of them to match my ONE 44 oz.) cost a dollar apiece! If you cave and just buy two 20 ouncers, make sure you aren’t carrying your laptop bag and your purse at the same time, because juggling doesn’t work so well then.

And? They don’t have Dr. Pepper, Diet or regular… anywhere. Thank goodness for Diet Coke.

2. If you don’t speak French? That could be a serious problem. In the city of Montreal everyone is mostly bilingual.  Everyone is mostly NOT bilingual in the suburbs which is, of course, where I happened to be.

So the entirety of the Subway menu appears in French and you had better have your pointer finger ready. Even if you have a translator, they call things like the “Cold Cut Combo” the “Cold Meat Combo” and will laugh riotously at your best efforts to explain it.

And you better not argue about anything that might be on it when it does finally arrive. Those folks are pressed for time and don’t have the cycles to deal with your “too many banana peppers” or “I asked for mayo not mustard” issues.

3. When I mentioned that $1.00/12-ounce Diet beverage thing before? It’s not just the soda that is twice as much as things here in the US. It’s pretty much everything.

So when the folks there said, “Let’s go to the mall and go Christmas shopping tonight,” my first thought was, “Yes, how lovely. I’d like nothing more than to spend my hard-earned dollars far more quickly at your shops and come home with far less than I’d planned. I’m sure my kids would be super excited about that.”

I did go shopping. I bought a six-pack of 20 ounce Diet Coke (for $7.00)… and some Oreos with the packaging written in French (a bargain at around $5.00), because other souvenirs were out of the question. (See the next paragraph for clarification.)

If you need sundries, pack them in your suitcase beforehand.  Don’t buy them there.

4. Souvenirs? Oh. My. Gosh. A single deck of cards with the maple leaf on them was $8.99.

I think if I had known I was giving those cards to my Grandmother, who loved to play cards, was the most responsible human being alive, and would keep decks of cards for longer than 20 minutes (more like 20 years), I would have shelled the nine bucks.

But knowing that I would be giving them to my kiddos, who I love very much but will almost surely lose at least a face card and two number cards within the first 24 hours? Um… no. So I bought some candy bars instead ($2.50 apiece, but I won’t feel bad when those are missing!), to go with the French Oreos.  They’ll just have to deal.  Stuff I would normally buy?  Like T-shirts and stuffed animals with “Canada” written on their furry bellies?  Out of the question.  I will NOT pay $25.00 for a Beanie-Baby-sized bear any more than I will pay $9.00 for a deck of cards.  Seriously.

If you are planning on bringing home souvenirs from Canada?  Maybe you can find a good place to buy them online ahead of time and just have them shipped to your house. 

5. On to the work week. Those French Canadians work a 35-hour week… including a nice, long, relaxed hour and a half lunch. I’m not kidding. Even when they’re getting ready for an audit. And things like “Red Finding” or “Shut down the site” don’t seem to phase them or worry them into working more hours. And? They’re completely closed for the week of Christmas AND the week of New Year’s.

You should consider asking your boss to give you the same courtesies here in the good, old US of A.

If Diet Dr. Pepper wasn’t non-existent, and Diet Coke wasn’t $1.00/can, I might seriously consider moving there…

6. Except for the snow. I have never seen so much snow in all of my life. While I love snow, adore snow, wish for snow, wait for snow, love to watch the snow fall, this was far too much for even me.

These folks have a dump site for snow, a whole giant parcel of land where they take huge dumptrucks full of snow and dump it, so that people can drive on the roads and do other tasks required for life. The big topic on the news while I was there was that the dump site was full. They were wondering what on earth they would do with the rest of the snow. Crazy. Pure-D insanity, I tell you.

If you can avoid flying in and staying for any length of time during the months of December and January, do it.

7.  Also except for the cold.  I had a heavy down coat, a scarf, a stocking cap (gotta love Hat Head), gloves, and snow boots, and I will still frozen to the core.  I come from snow country.  I understand the cold.  But it’s an entirely different kind of cold there.  It’s “in your bones” cold.  I think it’s possible that they have to have a 35-hour work week because it takes so much time to bundle and unbundle every time you come in or go out.

If you’re heading that way?  Pack the warmest things you own and wear at least 5 layers of clothing any time you have to go outside.

8. Also except for the driving. While I was waiting for the driver to get the car that would take me to my hotel, the snow plow came through the taxi stand. There was a cacophony of honking back and forth as taxis maneuvered in and out, the snow plow honking behind them, trying to get up close to the curb. It was like a ridiculous ballet for awhile, which was rather amusing.

But as soon as the snow plow got to the curb, the driver proceeded to mash the plow to the ground and run over every. single. sign along the sidewalk. By run over, I don’t mean that he bent them. They were all mounted on steel poles, sunk into the concrete sidewalk. No, he didn’t so much bend them as he did just rip them out of the ground, concrete still hanging on, the sound of groaning metal hurting my ears.

That snow plow driver? One of the better drivers I saw while I was there.

If you plan to be there, take a taxi.  Don’t get your own rental car.  You would literally take your life into your own hands.

    I have more to tell you about my trip, and about Christmas, but to keep this from being the longest post on earth, I will stop for now.

    Tune in tomorrow for The Great White North – Tips 2…

    10 Comments leave one →
    1. Lynda permalink
      December 26, 2007 8:57 am

      Oh my! Sounds like quite the experience. I hope that it had some redeeming merits, but I’m not finding too much in your post to encourage me to visit the Great White North! Looking forward to tomorrow’s post.

    2. Allison permalink
      December 26, 2007 9:37 am

      35 hour work week? Time to learn French and kick my Diet Pepsi addiction. Au Revoir!

    3. December 26, 2007 10:34 am

      HA! What a great post. I love Montreal, and if you’re ever in need of a pseudo-European vacation, that’s the place to be.

      You’re right — the value of the dollar just stinks right now. My brother commented recently that one of his vendors (a global security spyware software maybe?) is requiring payment in EUROS and not dollars.

      WHAT?!? Yikes.

      Glad you had a fairly decent trip. Looking forward to seeing you guys this week!!!!

    4. December 26, 2007 11:24 am

      My husband and I went to Montreal and the “Five Towns” area for our first honeymoon. It was so freaking cold that the insides of my ears hurt. Even with a hat. The only thing, other than food, that we bought the entire time (keep in mind this was supposed to be our honeymoon) was a bottle of windshield wiper fluid.

      Needless to say, I made him take me to the Bahamas the enxt year to make up for it.

    5. December 26, 2007 12:42 pm

      That kind of freeze-the-hairs-in-your-nostrils-cold? I have experienced something close. Dave and I attended college in Minot, North Dakota. Pretty darn cold!

    6. clevergrl permalink
      December 26, 2007 1:20 pm

      I grew up in Michigan, and spent a lot of time in Western New York, and therefore a lot of time in Canada (Ontario). I remember when the exchange rate was MARVELOUS and you could go shopping in Canada and get SO much stuff it was ridiculous. Nowadays, not so much.

      As for the snow, pah! on whatever they had. Spend a winter along the southern end of Lake Ontario, then come talk to me about snow and cold! 🙂

      Oh, and snowplows are like that everywhere. I dare you to leave your car on the street, then try and find it in the mound of snow in the morning! And plan on replacing your mailbox at least twice every year…

    7. December 26, 2007 2:08 pm

      yuck, to cold! yuck to not supersizing…and, in english!!!
      same as clevergrl, i grew up in michigan. every year, for boxing day, we’d go to toronto and go shopping. the exchange rate was amazing. i would save up money and my parent would give us some…hit the bank and hit the stores!!! now, it’s opposite…canadians find better shopping here, with better exchange rates!

    8. December 26, 2007 11:11 pm

      All that and no boxed wine to go with it? It’s criminal. btw, I’ve started my research…I’ve looked through an entire photo album of a cruise to the Mediterranean, Adriadic and points all around while visiting these folks here in OK – no boxed wines anywhere in their pictures. But we got snow today! Nothing to rival your Montreal though.

    9. December 27, 2007 7:08 am

      You didn’t take in a hockey game?? 🙂 The closest I’ve been to Candada is Detroit, and I was plenty cold there. How did the kids like the Canada candy bars and French Oreos?

    10. August 12, 2008 11:49 am

      I’m getting ready to go on a Bahamas honeymoon vacation so I’ll be glad to get away from the cold. I’m glad you got to take your Bahamas vacation AmyBow. 🙂

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