Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Those Canadians

So this morning I got up early and drove and drove and drove down the highway , through icy rain that turned into snow flurries, past Surrey, past Langley, all the way almost past Abbotsford, hung a right and went through the tiniest cow crossing border station with a tiny border wait five or six cars long, handed over my passport and had it handed back without so much as a question about where I was from or how long I was staying. And then I was driving down the main street of a tiny sleepy border town with no living human beings out and about that I could see. Just storefronts and rain and giant candy canes lining the streets.

I kept driving down the main street and within three minutes I could tell I'd missed the turnoff for the post office because the town ended and there was nothing ahead but fields and farms, so I made a U-turn in the middle of the street, headed back, and found the P.O. over by the railroad tracks.

There was no stamp machine, but that was okay because there were only two people ahead of me, and even though they were all taking their time, chatting with the postmistress about their mailboxes and their trips to Mexico coming up, it was only five minutes before I got my turn. I whipped out my big stack of stamped envelopes and my big stack of unstamped envelopes and my small stack of parcels that needed weighing, and she sold me two books of Christmas stamps (no Chanukah or Eid or Kwanzaa or even nondenominational snowflakes, not out here) and one book of Yoda stamps, and rang everything up, and clucked in sympathy about the line at Point Roberts yesterday, and I spent another five minutes sticking the stamps on the unstamped envelopes, and handed them in, and she wished me Merry Christmas, and that was that.

I stopped at the gas station to fill up with (relatively) cheap American gas, and then stopped at the IGA for cheap cream cheese and some treats to bring to the staff room. The checkout clerk listened to my tale of Point Roberts woe, and seemed puzzled that I'd come all the way down here to mail my holiday cards. "Well, it's cheaper, and faster too," I explained.

"Ohhh," she said, "That's why there's always Canadians at the post office. I wondered, why do they come down here all the time?"

"Well," I said, "Plus, if you're mailing something to the States, it's not international if you mail it from here, and it is if you're in Canada."

"Oh, right," she said. "Yeah, well, I guess that's why our post office is so crowded all the time. You can't even park in the parking lot. You know, I go over to check my mailbox, and I can't even get in, it's so full of all those Canadians. I mean, this is our town, you know! And we can't even get into our own post office.

"But," she added, "now that you explain it, now I know why."

I shouldn't have said anything but thanks and goodbye and Merry Christmas, but I guess I was a little stung. And a little incredulous that someone who lives in a border town would never have thought about any of this before, about the many symbiotic exchanges across the border, the people who migrate in one direction or another, the uncounted strands connecting across that artificial political line drawn so long ago. So I shrugged and said something about, well, at least probably some of those Canadians came and shopped at the grocery store, and that was a good thing, probably, anyway.

She got a little revved up. "Well, see, the way the situation is around here--" and I don't know what she was going to say next, because she stopped herself. "Anyway, you have a Merry Christmas," she said, and handed me my receipt.

Huh, I thought, as I waited for the three cars ahead of me to go through the Canadian border crossing a block up the road. There was a longer line of cars headed South, I could see now, across the grass divider. Huh. I've heard some resentful talk about Americans, from friends and sometimes strangers in Vancouver, back when we used to visit. And now it's Those Canadians.


Or maybe I mean: eh?


Anonymous Arwen said...

Well, hey, you know. It's the Post Office.
My dad had a mailbox in Blaine. It was pretty crazy.

11:39 PM  
Blogger elswhere said...

I thought about going to Blaine, but I figured the border line-up and the P.O. line-up would be better further afield. My Point Roberts experience has made me wary of anywhere known widely as a border hub.

12:13 AM  
Anonymous monkeypants said...

That's pretty funny. I know a few Canadians with vacation homes in Point Roberts.

Whats'erPostOfficePickle probably was one of those folks who just doesn't think, much.

1:59 AM  
Blogger S. said...

Was she reading you as Canadian?

6:17 AM  
Anonymous otbkb said...

Hi Elswhere, can you send me an email. I want to ask you something.
Louise from Brooklyn (OTBKB)

8:34 AM  
Blogger elswhere said...

S.-- Good question. I'm not sure. I think she might not have known exactly how to read me, which accounts for her starting to vent about whatever she was going to vent about and then stopping herself. I wish she had gone on-- then I'd know more about what was fueling her resentment, and whether it's general in that town. The postmistress and the gas station people both seemed perfectly nice and friendly, despite my B.C. license plates.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Kate R said...

HEY LOOK! LOOOK THERE YOU ARE! That is so extremely cool.

I never ever do Christmas/Holiday cards, but I love getting them and the ones with photos are the best. I love it. OOOoooOOOO it's the best thing, ever. I love it. Thank you! Oh boy.

10:20 AM  
Anonymous cheesefairy said...

I used to work in a post-officey type place (in Vancouver) and this time of year made me seriously want to kill people. "I want 40 stamps...oh, don't you have PRETTY stamps? I don't want UGLY stamps for my christmas cards...is this going to get there for christmas? Do you PROMISE?"
So maybe it was that...or maybe a Canadian ate all her chips or something. I may have been known to eat a lot of chips.

Happy holidays! Hope you're enjoying the snow.

9:01 AM  

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