When you visit a foreign country, you kind of expect it to look foreign. You want to see street signs in languages you don't recognize. You want to see brands that are completely unfamiliar. You want to turn on the TV in your hotel room and see news that has nothing to do with "back home."
That ain't the case in Canada.
At least, that isn't how things have shaped up in Ontario—the only part of Canada I've seen so far. In fact, while I've been driving around and checking things out here, it's stuck me that it's incredibly similar to the Greater Houston area.
Both are very international regions, with a plethora of cultures all congregating in the same spot. Both offer a wide range of cuisines. Both take pride in their multi-cultural heritage. Both regions are populated with some of the nicest and most considerate people around—something that I can say is not true of all US cities, much less a few European cities I've visited.
On the whole, being in Ontario isn't all that dissimilar from being in Houston—there's just more snow.
That's cool. It's made this a very familiar feeling experience, and I was instantly comfortable here. There was none of the "home sick" feeling as I moved around, looking for a place to grab breakfast or to sit and do some writing. I negotiated my way through neighborhoods and retail spaces in exactly the way I would back home.
Although I did have to stop myself from chastising someone for putting Canadian coins in a tip jar. Almost forgot that's ok here.
And I'm not really disappointed that the experience isn't all that "foreign." I'm more interested in looking for and finding the tiny little nuances that are different. There really are brands here that I've never seen. The McDonalds serves white vinegar as a condiment. The regional bookstore tends to be a Chapters rather than a Barnes & Noble. Everything is in meters and kilometers. There are red maple leaves everywhere.
There are enough small differences that it gives me that tiny thrill of discovery. It's like finding an unknown part of your neighborhood back home, with shops and landscape that's just slightly different from the familiar stuff you're used to. It's enough to satisfy the explorer in me.
I'm enjoying Ontario, and the people I'm encountering here. It's been good to meet up with some of my friends who live in the region—getting to meet them in 3D for the first time, after years of knowing them online. And it's been fantastic to encounter new people and learn new stories, pick up new character traits, add them all to the mental gallery of characters I'll draw on for my books.
This place is familiar enough to seem a bit like home, but different enough to give me a chance to stretch and grow just a bit more. And that is travel at its finest.