To celebrate July 4th, and to just get away for a day, my girlfriend and I made the popular Winnipeg-Grand Forks drive for some shopping and to experience some American culture on Independence Day.  I was a little surprised at how deserted the main streets were.  The parking lots had as many cars with Manitoba plates as North Dakota plates.  Columbia Mall was nearly vacant.  It was an enjoyable day nonetheless, just not quite what I had expected.

I have traveled to a few different parts of the United States, mostly by car.  I have spent time in major cities such as Seattle, Chicago, and Minneapolis; and I have been to smaller towns in Pennsylvania, Idaho, and New York.  I also made the 14 hour drive to Mount Rushmore to see what the fuss is about.  In the end, there are four main things I have noticed that are common to all of these areas:

  • Gas Prices.  Any time I hear an American complain about gas prices I want to slap them.  This weekend was no different.  While we measure our gas here in litres, the equivalent price right now in gallons is 4.056 per gallon.  In Grand Forks, a measly two hour drive south, gas was 2.499 a gallon at the Holiday gas station I filled up at.  That works out to a difference of 35 cents a litre up here.  I do a lot of driving for my job, and I can’t even begin to imagine how much money I’d save if I had those kind of gas prices to work with.  Given the price of flying these days, it is no wonder more and more people prefer to drive when heading to America.
  • The Roads.  Perhaps this is an especially touchy subject at the moment given the horrid state of the Trans-Canada highway just east of Winnipeg right now, but the roads in the States (especially the Interstates) are far superior to what we have up here.  The physical conditions of the roads are better, the speed limits higher, and there are far more 2/3/4 lane roadways.  One of the best moments of the drive to Grand Forks is crossing the border to hit the 75 MPH Interstate 29 where travels are much more efficient.
  • The Variety.  Naturally with so many more people in the United States, there is much more to offer.  As potentially nerdy as this sounds, one of my favourite stops anywhere south of the border is a grocery store (Target was this weekend’s choice).  I started down the cereal aisle to find Trix, Cocoa Pebbles, Apple Jacks, and several other unfamiliar varieties to choose from.  Also making it into my cart was Red Bull Cola, Blue Mountain Dew, Rice a Roni, some Bushes Beans, and other fascinating products which my Canadian mouth have never had the opportunity to taste.  Don’t worry, I kept it legal and didn’t bring back and meat or produce!
  • The customer service.  It doesn’t seem to matter what industry we are talking, Canadians could learn a lot from their neighbours to the south in this area.  I find Americans to be much more helpful, smile more often, and have much better manners than Canadians whether I be shopping for a shirt or purchasing a burger for lunch.  I am not sure quite why this is.  Canadians and other countries seem to have the impression that Americans are jerks in a lot of ways, but I definitely don’t see it when it comes to someone helping me find the right size of pants.  Having said this, I have found Americans to be shockingly much more rude when dealing with them over the phone (though that is a story for another time).  My number one customer service award goes to the folks at Wall Drug in South Dakota (if ever travelling to Mount Rushmore this is a can’t miss – look it up online)

I don’t know when I will be back next to visit down south, but there are still many more places I plan on seeing.  I am glad to know that when I do go, I can count on the above four to be there for me to make my trip that much better.

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Tyson Turner writes a weekly column for the Casual Observer, focusing on Canadian issues. His articles can be found North of the Border.

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