DEAR AMERICAN visitors/touristes américains,
On behalf of the government/gouvernement of Canada, I would like to welcome/bienvenue you back to Victoria as you celebrate your Fourth of July long weekend.
We realize that for most of you, this is your first trip to Canuckistan since pandemic-related travel restrictions were eased, and that you might have forgotten the ways in which our home differs from yours. It’s only natural that you, having just been screened by the Canada Border Services Agency/Agence de la Cherche des Cavités, might wonder what other surprises await.
Never fear! From the gutted hulk of our much-loved Royal B.C. Museum to a traditional game of Guess The Speed Limit as you cross the borders of our 13 boutique municipalities (each with its own delightfully whimsical laws governing everything from use of plastic bags to the permissible number of backyard chickens), you’ll find that little has changed here in Dysfunction-By-The-Sea.
Still, we thought you might find these answers to frequently asked questions helpful during your visit.
• What is the exchange rate?
Remember, our loonie is actually worth 78 cents in your currency, which makes for a fun math challenge when the price tag says $17.32 (and don’t forget the sales tax). Should conversion prove too daunting, you might prefer the convenience of those stores that display a U.S. Dollar Taken At Par sign in the window. No need to say thank you to these shopkeepers; it’s just their way of making you feel welcome!
• If I pay with U.S. cash, will my change be in Canadian currency?
Yes, though some of our coins – one that appears to depict a duck, and another that resembles a subway token — might be unfamiliar to you. Also, some merchants may give you low-denomination banknotes bearing the words Canadian Tire and the image of a man wearing a tam o’shanter.
• Are these banknotes legal tender?
Sure. Trust us, we’re Canadian.
• Who is the man wearing the tam?
Sandy McTire, our second prime minister.
• What happened to the first prime minister?
We aren’t allowed to talk about him anymore.
• Is weed legal in Victoria?
• Beer in corner stores?
• Kinder Surprises?
• What about weights and measures?
Canada fully converted to the metric system in the 1970s. By “fully converted” we mean “got halfway and stopped in 1985.” This is why bars sell litres of wine but pints of beer, grocers charge $1.68 per 100 grams of deli meat but $4.99 a pound for chicken breasts, and marathoners run 42.2-km races with an elevation gain of 628 feet. Gasoline, which we formerly sold by the Imperial (as opposed to U.S.) gallon, is now priced by the metric thimble. Television screens, which we used to size in inches, are now measured in hectares. Butter, once sold by the pound, now comes in 454-gram packages.
• How much is 454 grams?
• Robin Williams once compared Canada to “a really nice apartment over a meth lab,” while another U.S. comedian called this country “the designated driver of North America.” Are these idealized characterizations accurate?
Absolutely. We are the politest, most rational people on Earth. And the most modest. Just ask us. Actually, you don’t have to ask, we’ll chase you down the street to tell you how modest we are. And rational. Please ignore Victoria’s totally level-headed bike lane debate, Vancouver’s peaceful Stanley Cup riot, the completely reasonable honking/hot-tubbing convoy crackpots in Ottawa, the last-chopper-out-of-Nam psychosis that grips us as we race for the last spot on the ferry and our explosive rage when there’s no wi-fi on said ferry.
• Speaking of ferries, is it easy to catch one to the mainland?
That depends. Have you ever piloted a ship before?
• No, but I was a cook in the navy.
Close enough, you’re hired.
• How’s Victoria’s night life?
As a matter of fact, a just-released study based on TripAdvisor approval ratings ranked Victoria the top city in Canada for a night on the town. For real. We even beat Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto.
• Um, are you sure they meant Victoria, the home of 5 p.m. late-night dining? Was this a scientific analysis?
Yes, they said they had “done our own research.”
Jack Knox is a born-and-raised Kamloopsian who once worked at the Kamloops Daily News. He is now a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Since joining the Times Colonist in 1988, Jack has worked as a copy editor, city editor, editorial writer and editorial page editor. Prior to that he was an editor and reporter at newspapers in Campbell River, Regina and Kamloops. He won the Jack Webster Foundation’s City Mike Award for Commentator of the Year in 2015.