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A few differences between our countries

Last week, I spent a week with my in-laws in southern Vermont. I had last been to the States for more than a few hours back at the end of 2005, making this past eight months the longest gap in US visits for me since 1994, when I attended a boarding school less than a mile from the US border. There were a few subtle differences that I noticed that I really don't need to discuss, but will anyway...

One of the first things to note is that it's an election year in the US. That's not unusual in its own right - half of all years are election years down there - but it really brings the differences in our democracies into focus.

In a lot of states, every conceivable office is up for election. The President is elected every second election, each senator is elected every third election, congressmen are elected every election, the Governors are elected every second election, as are the lieutenant governors and all the state representatives, and every other public office from the district attorneys down to the county sheriffs, to assistant judges to, my personal favourite, the registrar of deeds.

Of course, in a televised democracy like the US, each one of these positions requires an election campaign, and each candidate in each campaign needs to have their television ads. The result is an incomprehensible array of disjointed and contradictory ads on television, often for different states on the same channel only adding to the confusion. How anyone can figure out anything that's going on in the US politically at a state or lower level is completely beyond me. When elections are not in session, US television ads are already far more lengthly and obnoxious than their Canadian counterparts, but in election silly season there's really no point in even turning the idiot box on.

Another thing that struck me in this visit was the fast food. We had mostly very good, home cooked food on our trip, but on the way home we spent a couple of days exploring New York state's vast and obscure rail lines. Meals on the road are most easily and expeditiously handled with the help of fast food and, so, we stopped at a Burger King near Oneonta, NY on Friday night and ordered two double whoppers, or whatever it is they are called at that chain.

When they arrived a few minutes later, my wife and I both stared at these enormous burgers before us and wondered if we were in the same chain as the one we knew in Canada by the same name. The burgers tasted different and were significantly larger than what we were used to from fast food joints.

On the same topic, my wife picked up a pack of double-cream Oreos before we left Canada which my 16 year old brother in law mostly, but not completely, polished off the night we got to the states, and so my wife picked up their US counterpart - double-stuf Oreos - while we were preparing to set out for our trip home.

On the highway, I tried one of these Oreos and frowned. It looked and tasted quite different from the Oreos I know, though they're clearly the same brand and ostensibly the same kind of cookie. They're bigger, the cookie part is lighter in colour and harder, and the cream is thicker and more sugary than the Canadian version. The US cookie is all round much worse than the Canadian one, though my wife disagrees...she's American.

The final difference I wanted to note is that it is hard to go more than a few miles without passing a police car in the US, though at least they don't have the spike strips and armed roadblocks prevalent in Nairobi. From the time we left the house we were in in Vermont to the time we left the town a few minutes later, we passed no fewer than three police cars from two jurisdictions (state and local). By the end of the trip I'd seen more than I can count. The only discernible result is a much greater adherence to speed limits in the US. The limits on the interstates are mostly 65 miles an hour, with occasional drops to 55, and most traffic does not exceed about 72 (116 km/h). When I crossed into Canada, I made mental note, I was being pushed and passed on both sides at 85 miles an hour (137 km/h) on the QEW. To me, the faster speeds are more reasonable for limited access highways, but nevertheless these higher speeds are far more prevalent on this side of the border.

Once across the border, I did not see a single police car between the border and my house.

Posted at 17:59 on September 12, 2006

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Analysis of the September 10th, 2006 Liberal leadership debate | foreign | First question period of the new session

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