Thursday, December 3, 2009

A typical Canadian-American encounter

After nine years of knocking around Montreal, I've finally managed to get thru the paper work and become a recognized legal resident. I'm not a citizen yet, that's a couple years down the road, but I'm going to get health coverage and pay taxes up here. 

Yesterday and today I visited the government bureaus where you receive your Social Insurance number (like our Social Security number) and apply for your Medicare card (like nothing we have in the U.S. unless you're 65 and up and/or live in Massachusetts.

All went smoothly. At each office you file in the door, get a slip of paper, sit in bucket seats and look at a screen where your number comes up. Then you go off to have papers stamped and/or handed to you by a bureaucrat sitting without very much desk space and not at all far from other bureaucrats. Everyone is polite and they know what they're doing. I guess I waited 20 minutes at the Social Insurance office before a lady talked to me. That was by far the longest wait at either office. My dealings with the lade herself took maybe five minutes.

She was 40ish, a blond English Canadian of a type that I think may not be so common here in Montreal, radiating benign nicey-niceness. She spoke good French from what I heard, which you don't expect from someone so wheat-blond.
I offended her because, when she was explaining to me what a Social Insurance number was, I caught on a bit early. "Oh, okay, it's like Social Security," I said. "We've got something like that. Okay, I'm all used to all that." The last bit was to let her know I knew all about what she was explaining at the moment, namely the precautions one must take not to let one's number slip out.

She kept on, explaining how the program provided for old-age pensions, and I said, "Right, yeah, it really sounds like a close equivalent."

A few moments later she handed me my number on a printout, and I said goodbye. It surprised me that she was glaring. For the moment before I left, when I looked at her to say bye, she no longer seemed benign.

Thinking about it later, I figured she wasn't used to being interrupted. To tell the truth, what put the thought in my head was the memory of my brother quoting a sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, that sent the characters up to Ontario. One of the characters was Canadian but living in the U.S., and the fellow behind the Tim Horton's counter reproached her as no longer being a true Canadian. "You come in here talking fast and not saying hello," etc. Maybe he also said she interrupted.

Anyway, that's me, the American cutting short the Canadian, signing up for the government's generosity and taking about the program in question as an "equivalent" of one back home in the U.S. The arrogance of it, eh? No thought of fitting in.

On the other hand, my French has become halfway decent over my decade here, and at the Medicard office (run by Quebec, not Canada proper) I had the pleasure of speaking with a pretty young woman who dropped English and switched to French once we established that she would speak slowly. In general I like the French Canadians more than the English, but I think everyone says that except for English Canadians.    

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