I’ve been living in the US for a month now, and every day I encounter a little thing that is different from Canada.
Food (and Beer) Prices are Lower and Portions Are Huger
In the US, I can come out of a restaurant stuffed to the gills and with food left on my plate for $10, including the tip. $15 if I get a beer. In my first few days here, I found that funny, but now I think it’s sad; there’s just so much waste. Some things I can take home and end up with two meals for very little (thank you, Applebees!), but foods like potato wedges just aren’t worth taking home. I’m learning to ask for smaller portions and making it clear to the server that I don’t care if I get charged the same thing as for the full meal.
Cash is Currency
In Canada, we’ve been using the Interac debit system since 1994 and cash has really fallen by the wayside. I remember the old days when there were $5 minimums for using our debit cards, or a 50 cent transaction fee, but now you can use your card to buy as little as a stamp. I very rarely carry cash in Canada, and even more rarely more than $40 worth.
The US has a debit card system now, but it’s not the same as in Canada. I don’t quite get the nuance yet; it seems like it’s associated with the two major credit card systems. However it works, Americans seem quite distrustful of it in general and people carry cash. Moreover, I was shocked to discover that some gas stations here offer a discount for paying with cash, something that is illegal in Canada.
I’ve been using my credit cards as much as possible, but for smaller transactions for which I would normally use debit, I’ve been using cash. Doing so is very onerous because the bills all look the same. I’m learning to keep my bills in different sections of the wallet so as to better keep tabs on what I’ve got. It’s very easy to think I’m flush when all I have is a thick stack of singles!
Finally, in Canada we use US coins like they are our own. Most stores here have signs saying ‘No Canadian coins! (Our banks won’t take them)’. I understand that for the loonies and toonies, but for nickles, dimes, and pennies?
Cream Cheese and Hershey’s Chocolate Suck
The bakery at the Birch Bay Market sells a really nice pumpernickel loaf, so I’ve been having a lot of toast for my breakfasts. My favourite thing to put on black bread is cream cheese. I always buy the Philadelphia brand in the plastic tub, like so:
In Canada, the cream cheese is just moist and it spreads thickly. In the US, it’s viscous and melts into the bread like butter.
I actually discovered the Hershey thing during my Chicago jaunt back in ’99, but it hasn’t changed. It seems that water differences at the Canadian and US Hershey factories affect the flavour. US Hershey’s bars have an awful aftertaste. No Hershey’s with almonds for me while I’m here, but that’s okay because…
More Chocolate Bar Variations and Types
Americans have access to more varieties of Kit Kats, Reeses, and other chocolate bars. They have Milk Duds and my absolutely favourite, the Baby Ruth Bar. They don’t have Smarties or Coffee Crisp, however.
This translates to other foods, too. In Canada, we might have two or three different kinds of chips with onion as an ingredients. Americans probably have twenty, and all manner of flavours with cheese. But they don’t have ketchup! Oh, and Americans still have Bugles. Unfair!
(This section of the post might indicate that I eat an inordinate amount of junk food. I actually spend an inordinate amount of time looking at junk food while talking myself into buying fresh fruit!)
Americans Are More Cheerful and Friendlier
I hate to generalize, but I’ve traveled enough around North America to say that, generally, Americans are more cheerful and friendlier than are Canadians.
One thing that shocks me every time I go into a store is that there is customer service in the States! Maybe it’s because Americans have so many more stores with similar low pricing than we do, but I always come out of a store feeling that my business was appreciated.
I wonder what else I’ll learn about this country in my remaining time here…