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Conversing in Canadian

This post has nothing to do with bees. In fact, I just set up a new category called, “Nothing to do with bees”—just to be clear. Instead, this post is about a vowel.

My husband and I decided to spend a four-day weekend camping in British Columbia. We left here on an azure September morning and drove straight through to the border station at Sumas-Huntingdon, stopping only long enough to change drivers.

At the border, the line was long, at least an hour. The day was getting warm and drivers were testy. A number of vehicles cut in line from the side streets and tempers were on edge.

When we finally pulled up to the gate, I passed the border agent my U.S. passport and my husband’s Canadian one. The agent glanced at them and asked our purpose—or rather my purpose—since my husband didn’t need one.

I said we were going camping. He asked where. I said, “Chilliwack Provincial Park.”

“Chilliwack,” he said.

“Chilliwack,” I confirmed.

“Chilliwack,” he said again, a little louder.

“Chilliwack,” said I, suddenly understanding why the line was so long. This was a ridiculous conversation.

He sighed and leaned right through his little window with a condescending expression that made me feel like I was three. “Chilliwack,” he said firmly. “It’s not ChilLEE, it’s ChilLA.”

“ChilLAwack,” I repeated obediently, though I couldn’t hear much difference. I thought I saw a hint of a smile, but I’m not sure.

“Do you have a place to stay?” he asked.

“We’ll stay at Chil . . . I mean, the park campground,” I said.

He sat back in his chair and stared through me. “There is no provincial park at Chilliwack.”

Now, seriously, I never thought there was a future in arguing with border officials, but this guy was wearing on me, so I took a stab at it. “Yes, there is,” I said. I had a fleeting image of being pulled into secondary and having my sleeping bag sniffed by dogs.

I don’t remember what he said next because my husband was stuffing a sheaf of papers in my hand. It was a Google map, directions to the park, downloaded and printed before we left home.

I passed it on to the linguistics/border guy. He looked at it and said, “Oh, Cultus Lake! Why didn’t you say so?”

I didn’t say so because we weren’t going to Cultus Lake, we were going to Chilliwack Lake. I thought that was clear by now, but I just nodded. I think I could say “Cultus” if I had to.

He took forever with the map, but finally passed it back along with the passports. “Well, okay,” he said s-l-o-w-l-y, although he didn’t sound one bit convinced. I mumbled something gracious, grabbed the paperwork, and bolted outta there.

The rest of the trip was perfect, although my husband, who had grown up in a border town, couldn’t figure out why the agent was so hung up on one tiny vowel. I didn’t think about it too much, not until that night when, sitting in front of the campfire, I got of fit of the vapors. You see, for dinner I had brought along a can of—you guessed it—chiLA!

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Foot-Bridge-to-Radium-Lake
Footbridge on the path to Radium Lake in Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park.

Comments

Phillip
Reply

You’d have a wonderful time in a place like Newfoundland, which you probably just pronounced incorrectly. Say out loud this short sentence: Understand Newfoundland. If you pronounce Newfoundland correctly, those two words should rhyme. Be honest, you got it wrong, didn’t you?

Rusty
Reply

Now Phillip,

If you were paying attention, you would know I’m married to a Canadian. I also gave birth to a Canadian. What makes you think I can’t pronounce Newfoundland? Honestly? I’m sorry to disappoint. (Although, that’s one of the few place names I’ve even thought about pronouncing.)

Ken
Reply

I used to live in north central Montana bordering Alberta. Lots of Albertans would come to shop in the States. Once when we were going to Lethbridge, my articulate 3 year old saw a very large rock (boulder) and wanted to know if that was a ‘canadian’, he didn’t realize it meant the people. When I was younger we used to say that Albertans spelled Canada; C-N-D. [C-eh-D-eh-D-eh].

Nothing meant by that lil’ joke, I have many good friends from Canada, in fact, a brother-in-law. We never had a hard time getting in, it was the U.S. officials that could be a little testy.

Rusty
Reply

Ken,

I like that CND bit. I tried to fit an “eh” into my story, but couldn’t make it work.

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