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!