Postcards from the Highways

We’re often asked by our American friends how life is different in Canada — and almost as frequently asked by our Canadian friends how life is different in the States. The truth is, aside from health care and politics, there’s not much difference at all — at least in our daily lives. There are a few minor things that are done slightly differently in each country though, so this time when we crossed the border, I started keeping a mental list of things that stood out as being different here in Canada. Most of these were noted while on the highway home, or on the stops along the way. I don’t know if that’s because those are the only differences, or because by the time we got home I stopped paying attention. But here they are, anyway, for interests sake…
Debit/Credit Cards
The first time you go to buy something using your bank account, this difference is readily apparent. In Canada we use a system called Interac, that essentially behaves like a tiny ATM connected directly to a vender’s Point of Sale system. Its entirely unlike the credit card system, and technically not related at all.
At the time of its inception, and for easily 10 years before the States caught up, Interac was brilliant, and a huge benefit to banking in Canada. I have to admit now, though, that it seems a little backward.
In the States, instead of requiring each retailer to have a seperate credit and debit system, your debit card is simply a Visa or MasterCard that withdraws funds immediately from your bank account. Anywhere that takes credit can, at your choosing, debit your bank account.
In Canada, many small shops are forced to choose which system to use, since they can’t afford the fees for both, so if you don’t have the card they require, you’re out of luck. In the States, everyone takes credit, ergo everyone takes debit.
There are a few advantages remaining to Interac — one being the speed and detail of the reporting system. But even with that, we’ve developed a strong preference for the US system.
Buying Gas
Aside from the fact that gas prices are better in the States, there’s also the issue of paying. I would say that 90% of the gas stations we’ve used in the States are pay-at-the-pump. That percentage is much lower in Canada. We bought gas soon after crossing the border, and I was shocked to find that there was no slot in the pump to stick my credit (debit) card. I actually had to go inside and pay.
However, the few non-pay-at-the-pump stations in the States invariably require that you pre-pay. This is a HUGE pain in the butt when you’re trying to fill up your tank, because you basically have to go in, over-pay, pump your gas, then go back in and collect the difference. This easily doubles the amount of time you spend at the gas station — worse if there’s a line-up both times you go in.
This one is a tie, because although there are less pay-at-the-pumps in Canada, the ones that aren’t don’t abuse you with time wasted in line.
Touchless Bathrooms/Highway Rest-Stops
So this one is primarily a comment about highway rest-stops, and although the win will go to the States, I’ll acknowledge that our experience is along major Interstates, so the difference might be less drastic on small routes.
Nonetheless, bathrooms in the States seem to, in general, be more frequently hygenically developed. Here again I was astonished, upon stopping at the first rest stop in Ontario, that the designers of the bathroom actually expected me to touch the taps on the sinks to turn the water on. Given a choice between the few germs I may have encountered on my person while peeing, and the germs of the hundreds of travellers who had, just today, touched those faucets, I obviously went with the devil I knew.
There’s no excuse, in this day in age, for having to touch a toilet handle, faucet, or even a paper towel dispenser. Canada fails miserably on this one, and given that most of the rest stops are joint operations between major restaurants, I think they really need to step up.
As an aside, New York Throughway rest stops ALL have free WiFi. All of them. WiFi hotspots seen in Canada between Niagara Falls and our home town? Zero. Get it together, Ontario!
Tolls are something of a necessary evil in New York (and something of a farce-of-numbers in New Jersey). One which should be mitigated in Ontario by our insanely high taxes. There is one major highway here that requires a toll — but doesn’t require you to even slow down to pay it. And that one is there as a convenience for commuters to Toronto, not as a necessary route for general travel.
Canada wins on this one, despite the taxes, because as nice as EasyPass is, I’d rather not have to pay for it at all.
Tim Horton’s
Another win for Canada — hands-down. There are two Starbucks between our home in New York at the border, and they make for a nice treat during that 5 hour stretch. But there are easily 20 Tim Horton’s in the 3 hour stretch between the border and our home in Ontario. And each one of them is a little oasis. Their coffee is better, their food is better, and their prices are WAY better.
Tim’s is slowly making their way into New York, but the US really needs to understand the value of a good cup of coffee. None of that Dunkin Donuts crap.
Anyway, that’s all I could come up with worth blogging. There are a few minor things we noticed — position of stop-lights being one that New York seems to have gotten all wrong, but most of them are a wash. Some of our readers might be surprised to find that South-Western Ontario and North-Eastern New York are almost identical places to live, with comperable costs of living, average incomes, and common ammenities. I’m sure the differences would become more apparent as you headed North in Canada, or South in the States, but from where we’re looking, both countries are pretty great places to live.
Well that does it for 2007. Happy New Year, everyone! See you next year!

4 thoughts on “Postcards from the Highways

  1. Nice Jon, thanks! We travel north of the border on occasion and it’s nice to know ahead of time some of these things. Will CERTAINLY try out Tim Horton’s next time we’re up there.

  2. I never really understood why you guys loved Tim Horton’s so much but I do now! There is a NYS thruway stop somewhere near Buffalo on 90 eastbound that Brian and I stopped at on our way from Pittsburgh to Syracuse and even though we didn’t need anything, the sheer novelty of having a Tim Horton’s right there compelled us to grab a couple of coffees…and Timbits 🙂

  3. You seem to have forgotten what the Asian toilet looks (and smells) like while you have been trashing the Canadian crapper. We would give a lot to find a toilet on the road that a) wasn’t awash with water – on the floor, walls, whatever, b) didn’t reek – there’s no trap on an Asian toilet, remember, and c) came equipped with toilet paper. Germs on the faucet? Give me a break!

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