Thursday, May 19, 2016

Coming from America

The Canadian customs officer feeds my passport into the scanner, then looks up and asks: “What are you bringing back with you?”

I suppress the urge to say what I always want to say after crossing the U.S.-Canada border: “Nostalgia. Just a lot of nostalgia.”

Each time I return from the U.S. I am loaded with nostalgia. I have so many good feelings about America – so many good memories – and find myself yearning for the way things used to be. Way back, when the border was barely noticeable.

There is a sense of lost freedom when crossing the border these days. Security has diluted much of the welcoming you used to feel both coming and going. The world is smaller and much too dangerous for anyone to drop their guard.

Few would argue that increased border security is not a necessity, but it has reduced the pleasure of going south.

Besides security, other factors also lessen the joy of cross border travel. Exploding health care costs make the possibility of getting injured or sick in the U.S. a serious concern.  

A slip, a fall and a broken arm can cost a visitor to the U.S. hundreds of dollars. A heart attack that leads to stents or more serious surgery can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Ontario’s health insurance pays roughly $400 a day for U.S. hospital costs but U.S. hospitals charge far beyond that. Ontario also reimburses U.S. physician costs, but only at rates it pays Ontario doctors – rates far below what U.S. physicians charge.

Supplementary is a must for most of us travelling into the U.S., even for a day or two. Then there is the worry about your insurance company trying to avoid paying your claim. Insurance is a business and the fewer payouts, the better the profit.

Anyone buying travel insurance should spend considerable time and effort learning  eligibility requirements, terms and conditions, pre-existing condition limitations, restrictions and exclusions of the policy.

On top of security and health insurance worries there also is the concern about the money exchange rate, which was relatively stable until recent times. In times long past the exchange rate was really not a factor with the Canadian dollar running at par, or even above par for long periods like in the 1950s.

Changes to security, health care costs and exchange rates are what they are and we can’t go back to the way things were. Still, it is nice to slip into nostalgia.

Years ago we never gave much thought to the border. We used to walk across the bridge at Pigeon River into Minnesota to buy ice cream with barely a wave to customs officials. Visits to Duluth to buy clothes for the new school year or to visit relatives and friends were regular with no thought of health insurance or counting days outside the country.

My grandfather used to run the Lake Superior shoreline in his small boat from Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) to Minnesota lakeshore taverns to drink beer with friends.

Little thought was given to the border, or to specific citizenship. Rules were not nearly as rigid and many families had a history of mixed citizenship. It was sometimes hard to remember who was Canadian and who was American.

My maternal grandmother was born Canadian in Alberta but died an American in Nevada. My paternal grandmother was a Canadian from the Kenora area, and lived a chunk of her life in Minnesota before moving the family to Sault Ste. Marie, then Port Arthur. I can’t even recall if she died a Canadian or an American.

My dad’s dad was born an American who became Canadianized but never changed his citizenship. My dad was an American who eventually took Canadian citizenship.

It was like that back then. Less concern about borders and citizenship. Less involvement by government.

Back then we considered ourselves North Americans with more freedom to come and go where and when we wanted. We found little need for nationalistic labels.

I would love to see a return of those days, but that will never happen. However, a little nostalgia once in while never hurt anyone.


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