Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Breakfast at the Exit Café: Take 2

In Breakfast at the Exit Café: Travels Through America (Vancouver, B.C.: Greystone Books, 2010, 2011), Wayne Grady and Merilyn Simonds take their readers across the USA in the months spanning 2006 and 2007. Their West-to-East road trip was so eerily similar to one I'd taken in my twenties that reading it brought me great joy. Here were two Canadians looking at some of the same highways and byways, but with an international slant. I'm still learning much from their perspective, even when wanting to set the record straight from time to time.

For starters, let's take up distinctions between Canadian English and American English: they are sometimes subtle but always there. This I find fascinating. For example, after a restaurant meal, Wayne goes to "the cash," which had me wonder, what do Americans call that motion? "I'm going up to pay," "I'll settle the bill," "I'll be up at the cash register," "Check, please"?  Cash register sounds so ancient, maybe because it goes back to the 1870s, if not earlier.

Another example. The authors describe traveling along highways like "the I-40;" most Americans, I think, would call it taking or driving on "I-40," dropping the article. 

And another observation. Grady and Simonds note how signs and actual latter day names for places in the USA tend to have dropped little things like apostrophes. I first noticed this phenomenon myself at Harpers Ferry -- formerly Harper's Ferry -- West Virginia.

On the other hand, sometimes they go too far, as in remarking that Americans call all sodas "Cokes." While it's true that some do call sodas Coke, it's equally true that some call soda soda, and some call it pop, and some call it soft drink. Another thing they're mistaken about: regional dialects are not being effaced by TV and radio. There is still plenty of variation and, if one listens carefully enough, you can usually figure out where a person hails from, has lived, or even where their parents came from (depending on age and time of arrival to new geographic point). Philadelphia speak is distinct from Boston speak, Atlanta speak is distinct from Charleston, South Carolina speak. And so on. Maybe not as distinct as, say, between French-speaking Québec and an English as first language neighborhood in Toronto, but certainly variations endure and evolve. 

Finally, is it fair or accurate to make this statement, as Wayne does? "Americans don't seem all that interested in anything but themselves" (page 313). This may be true of some, even many, but certainly not all or even most Americans. To be fair in turn, he says this to Merilyn after hurtfully noting also near the end of their two-month journey across the USA: "I can't remember anyone who asked us about Canada."

Today's Rune: Protection.   


the walking man said...

Maybe no one asked because they were afraid of crossing that one peculiar Canadian boundary of "steadfast political correctness at all costs."

Yep we are a self centered self absorbed people especially for the past four years when most of us were just clinging to what we had spent a lifetime buying or saving. Unlike the Canadians who only got wealthier as their loonie gained value. *shrug*

They made their trip as we were involved in two wars and that was still embedded into the American psyche. I wonder what they would find today if they crossed the border.

jodi said...

Erik, self absorbed? U say it like it's a bad thing!! KIDDING!! I say you can be into self and still a caring, generous person. Loonie shmoonie, Mark!