Loonies, poutine and donuts


I've always felt a bit sad to admit that I've never traveled outside of the U.S. when asked. I've been to plenty of states and really can't complain about traveling inside our international borders. But I've never used different currency, tried local food nor spent time with people from a different cultural background.

Now, after last weekend, I can finally say that I've been to Canada ... for about 7 hours.

I've been in Toastmasters International for a little over two years. I joined my wonderful club (Duluth Toastmasters 1523) because I missed high school speech team and I needed to keep practicing my public speaking skills. Every fall since I joined, I've competed in the annual humorous speech contest. And I've made it to the Division level both years in the past and made the long drive to Grand Marais to compete.

But this year, the Division A director decided it was time for the contest, which has included delegates from Thunder Bay, Ontario for several years, to move across the border. Which meant that I finally had a legitimate reason to get a passport and venture into Canada!

I excitedly applied for my passport in late August, anxiously waited for it to come, hoping it would arrive before Oct. 1. I worried about it arriving on Oct. 3, two days too late. But it didn't. It came a week and a half before the contest, thank goodness.

Now it was time to head to the land of the Sleeping Giant. My friend Reba accompanied me for the long drive. We left early Saturday morning so we could account for the time zone change and have plenty of time, just in case. We stopped in Grand Portage so I could exchange some currency. It was on my list to bring back a loonie (the Canadian dollar coin) or two.

I was a bit of a hypocrite when we stopped at the border patrol station. Right before we pulled up, Reba said something jokingly. I immediately replied, "Reba, please don't joke with border patrol. These guys can be kind of serious."

"Don't worry. I won't. We'll be fine."

We handed over our passports and I told the officer about going to the speech contest. She asked if we were planning on selling or leaving anything in Canada.

"Just my words," I said.

She said that was fine and we could pull ahead. As we drove away, Reba tapped me on the shoulder.

"Teri! You joked with border patrol! Those guys can be kind of serious!" Then we laughed.

In Canada, I enjoyed feeling like I was going "super-fast" while driving 90 kilometers per hour. We made it to the contest location with plenty of time.

I gave my speech. It was about how some friends and I once "borrowed" another speech team's plastic Thanksgiving decoration turkey after they were obnoxious. I was honored to receive second place.

After the contest, most of the Canadian Toastmasters went out to dinner as a group. We chatted about the U.S. election and the drive between Thunder Bay and Duluth. Reba and I tried poutine (gravy-covered fries) and found out from our new friends that it was technically more of a Quebec dish.

"I've only seen it pop up in Ontario in the past 10 years, but it is good, eh?" one friend said.

That was one thing that surprised me. I thought the "eh" thing was a myth. But by listening closely, I noticed several Canadians do actually say it sometimes. Though, I'm sure people could say similar things about my speech patterns, especially since I'm an Iron Ranger.

After dinner, Reba and I picked up some Tim Horton's donuts. We both wondered whether or not they'd let us take them across the border, knowing there are some restrictions on food. When we got there, the officer asked if we were taking anything back with us.

"Just some donuts and my second place trophy," I said.

"That's all? Ok, go ahead," he said.

Although I only spent a grand total of 7-8 hours in Canada, it was a fun experience. I'm excited to go back and spend a little more time outside the U.S.