Tuesday, 4 September 2007

The big T.O.

Canada is like America without the disadvantage of Americans. All the stores, highways, culture and opportunities are here, yet it is blissfully free of the self-obsessed whine of their neighbours to the south.
The dual-language thing is big here. I haven't actually heard a conversation in French, but public signage is often in French as well as English. The only problem is automated telephone systems; you have to wait twice as long to get through, as all the statements are repeated in lingua Francais.
There's a hesitancy to glances, to social interactions. Canadians are timid, and despite the size of the country and the city, there's a small-scale feeling in Toronto. The malls are large, but not expansive. The streets are broad, but not grand. The city is engineered for comfort. It is Greece, not Rome; built around culture, not around empire.
Goods in the U.S. were cheap, as if they remembered when the greenback was strong. Goods here are more expensive, as if they remember when the CAD$ was weak. Many things cost the same in CAD as Kiwi stuff costs in NZD, despite the 30% value difference. Some things are cheaper than in NZ: $5 T-shirts, $1.25 coffee, 30c/min cellphone calls. The States is another world, though, for ridiculous savings. Apart from the 99c store (a Wonka-like revelation for me), online shopping in America yields incredible discounts. Order across the border, though, and you're immediately paying 25-30% more for the same stuff. With one-tenth the population and one-twentieth the economy, the numbers just don't work the same.
My first full day here was a national holiday, Labor Day (yes, they drop the 'u'). There was a parade down Queen Street of float after float of union workers of all stripes. It was charming in an old-world sort of way; I had to bite my tongue not to sneer at their solemnity. One float had a black guy singing Old Blarney, in full voice with an Eire accent. Not sure it was genuine, though I suspect it was heartfelt.

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