Monday, November 29, 2010

Nicole L.V. Mullis: When in Canada, shop like Canadians

American and Canadian holidays are close cousins. Instead of Independence Day, it's Canada Day. Instead of Memorial Day, it's Victoria Day. Instead of Labor Day, it's Labour Day. Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving too, but they do so in October. There is one holiday, however, that unites both cultures and it has complicated this expatriate's life: Black Friday.

Canadians don't celebrate Black Friday on Canadian soil. It is an American holiday, inspiring pilgrimages from the Great White North. Although Canada has beautiful malls, everything just plain costs more. Buying in the States makes sense. Plus, recently, their dollar can look our dollar in the eye and call it shorty. It is Christmas come early.

Canadians celebrate Black Friday and stay the whole holiday weekend. Their motivation is simple. They need to be in the States 48 continuous hours to bring more than $50 of merchandise back duty-free. So, they rent hotel rooms, they take off work and they keep shopping. However, just like Americans, they need to get back home Sunday night.

Now imagine all those people crossing an international border with a sleigh-load of goodies to declare or defend. It's the Customs Nightmare before Christmas. And I'm in the middle of it.

I am not a Black Friday disciple. I far prefer waking up around noon only because I digested enough turkey to scarf down that fourth helping of my grandmother's dressing. Unfortunately, taking an all-day Turkey Nap isn't an option this year. I am an American with Canadian purchasing issues.

I belong to a super-sized family, which means I have a super-sized Christmas list. My husband and I have a Christmas budget based on American shopping norms. Having lived in Canada since July, I now know that budget is 20 percent short of goal unless I shop in the U.S. The only time I'm in the U.S. before actual Christmas is, well, now.

Even if I shopped in Canada, I would still have to ship from Canada. Lacking a sleigh and magical reindeer, that would require paying UPS a small fortune. While regular mail is more affordable, I would have had to finish my Christmas shipping by August.

Although we live in the part of Ontario that kisses Michigan on the thumb, mail between the two apparently routes through China. This holds true no matter which side of the border you lick your stamp. Shipments from my Nestle Chocolate Chip supplier, who shall remain nameless, take a month to arrive in Kitchener from Battle Creek. Same with letters. And don't get me started on checks sent by post. Apparently, NAFTA doesn't apply to the mail.

I could drive the Christmas loot over the border, but custom agents are always asking if I have anything to declare. I prefer to answer, "No". Anything else involves forms. And, possibly, drug-sniffing dogs. This would put a serious dent in my Christmas Spirit.

Long story short, we're eating like Americans and shopping like Canadians this holiday weekend. My mother offered a closet for North Pole Storage, which is cheaper than UPS.

Of course, being Americans living in Canada, we got the mess of both worlds: American Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday and Get-the-Heck-Out-of-the-States Saturday. We had the option of celebrating Canadian-Customs-Snafu Sunday, but this ex-pat wanted her Turkey Nap.