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Some thoughts on Canadian and American English, from my recent trip to Chicago:

1. Whoever said that Canadians are the only people in the world who measure distances in time couldn’t have been more right. Exhausted and exasperated on my way from the Kalamazoo train station to the University (Western Michigan), I asked the driver how far away the dorms were. To my surprise, he answered “3 miles.” I had to ask him again, and this time I had to specify that I wanted to know how long the drive was. The same happened at least 2 or 3 more times on my trip. I always took for granted that the natural answer to “how far away is ____” comes in hours and minutes; so much for that idea.

2. I think I’ve figured out why Canadians get a rep for being overly apologetic: we use “sorry” as a synonym for “excuse me,” while Americans don’t. I kept saying “sorry” as I was passing by people, only to be told not to worry about it, or to get a surprised “that’s ok!”. On the other hand, I don’t think we hear “excuse me” quite as often on this side of the border – at least I certainly noticed it more over there.

3. There really is such a thing as a Canadian accent. I of course got a lot of comments on how I pronounce “about,” but I also had to repeat the phrase “north and south” 3 times before the Chicagan (Chicagoan? Chicagian? ????) I was talking to understood me. I also had to enunciate “To-ron-to” when I was asked where I was from – the usual “toronow” wouldn’t register. I always knew the accent was out there, but I never really thought the difference was strong enough to make it hard to understand. Then again, Chicago is in the midwest, and their accents were also hard for me to understand now and then.

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