The Strange and the Familiar – Revisited

In late May 2015, not long after I had started this blog and before I settled on what to write about, we set off on a three week camping trip to Ontario, Canada and New England, USA.  When we came back I wrote two short posts about our travels but there is so much more to share and so, over the next few weeks, I’ll be revisiting adventures past.  To whet your appetite, below is one of the original posts, the other can be found here.

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The Strange and the Familiar

Not wishing to make this post the written equivalent of an unrequested holiday snap slide show, I’ll keep it brief.  It’s cheesy but it’s true, travel really does broaden the mind.  The strange has an uncanny knack of casting light on the familiar, particularly when ‘the other’, at first glance, seems so similar.  There is nothing more alien than the almost same.

Here are a few things we learnt on our journey through Canada and the US:-

1. I have a thick accent.  Anyone that knows me will realise how much of a shock it was for me to learn this.  It was a particularly hard truth to take from the man behind the counter at Wendy’s whose accent, in my view, was significantly thicker.  Lesson One – everyone considers themselves normal, everyone considers all others to be strange.

2. British people say ‘brilliant’ a lot.  This nugget of gold came to us via Vermont public service radio, in a report by an American travel writer recently returned from a trip to newly re-friended Cuba.  How we laughed at her description of middle-aged British cultural tourists and their polite exclamations of wonder and gratitude.  How the laughter dried in our mouths as the very same word came pouring out, unbidden, every time we spoke.  Being given directions to the supermarket – brilliant; informed of black bears in the vicinity – brilliant; $10 discount on a motel room – brilliant.  Go on, listen to yourselves, I dare you.  Lesson Two – there is nothing as cuttingly truthful as the words of an observer who thinks their subject cannot hear them.

3. If you have a ‘fancy’ camera, people will want you to take their picture.  If you say “yes, of course”, and then hand their camera to your non-camera equipped spouse, they will be cross.  Lesson Three – despite what we’re told, image is apparently everything.

4. You can not take peppers from Canada to the US.  Nor can you take citrus fruit or celery.  You can however take tomatoes.  There are no signs in advance of the border that tell you this though if you admit fault immediately to the scary looking border patrol man he will be lenient.  He will also admit that the rule is ridiculous as, in all likelihood, the peppers and citrus fruit were imported in to Canada from the US to begin with.  He will then ask you if you like beer.  You will not know how you are supposed to answer this question.  He will be mildly offended at your rebuff of his friendship but go on to recommend some good pubs in your destination anyway.  Lesson Four – despite what we are told, image is not everything.

5. Everyone loves a Scot.  Though neither Mr S nor I are Scottish, it is not untruthful for us, when asked where we have come from, to say Scotland.  After all, this plausibly ties in with our thick accents.  During our trip we received numerous discounts for simply being Scottish.  We also met enough people who were also ‘Scottish’ to re-populate the country several times over.  Lesson Five – what it says on your passport is of little significance, our true identities are what we make them.  Every day we write the story of ourselves.

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