By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Yes, Canada is different

I am on a brief vacation to Mont Tremblant in Quebec (on my way to an academic conference in Montreal). It's a ski resort — I don’t ski — that has been extended, with apparent success, to a summer resort as well. The “village” at the center of the resort has a Disneyland-like feeling of faux history. Indeed, the center of the village is called on the official village map Old Tremblant, though it is no older than the resort development. Though we are in the middle of Quebec, most of the guests appear to be Americans and English-speaking Canadians.

People often note that Canada is not the same as the United States, despite the common language and many similarities. I noticed this immediately on arrival at the airport, where the immigration line for returning Canadians was easily three times as long as for foreigners. In the many times I have returned to the U.S. from abroad and gone through immigration control, the line for foreigners has always been much longer than for Americans — and Customs and Border Protection adapts the number of windows for the two groups to make sure this is the case. In the U.S., our returning folks come ahead of foreigners. Apparently not so in Canada. I did note, however, that border control for foreigners was nowhere near as perfunctory as, say, for entering Europe, and while the questioning of visitors probably doesn’t quite rival that at U.S. immigration control, they did ask everyone I saw in front of me questions before letting them through.

This may or may not be consistent with the information above, but I also noticed on a sign that their organization is not called Customs and Border Protection like ours, but the Border Services Agency.

One other thing I noticed at the airport was how hard it was to find rental cars. There were not only no inside-the-airport counters (which admittedly don’t exist at some U.S. airports), but no signs indicating how one proceeded to the rental car area. I had to look on an airport map to find it. Not the same car orientation as in the U.S., I guess.

One interesting reminder of home was a long article in yesterday’s Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading national newspaper. The article, which consumed a full page, was about a Twitter account set up on behalf of a robot, nicknamed R2, that NASA is launching to do maintenance work on the International Space Station. (The idea is to take away some nonscientific tasks from the astronauts.) R2 will be keeping fans updated on what he’s doing. The robot is apparently one of the most advanced in the world, developed in a partnership between NASA and General Motors, a leader in the use of robots in factories. The article also noted that the Canadian government’s economic stimulus package included $110 million for the Canadian Space Agency to develop “signature technologies” for use in the space projects of various countries.

Finally, not surprisingly, the dispute between the United Arab Emirates and Research in Motion, the Canadian company that makes BlackBerrys, about the use of the devices in the U.A.E. is big news here. Last night’s TV news prominently featured a statement by Hillary Clinton that she would seek to mediate the dispute — interesting given that this is not a U.S. company and reflective of the Obama administration’s position on the importance of Internet freedom that has been on display with U.S. policy toward China.

Posted on Aug 06, 2010 at 12:08 PM


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