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I recently returned from a trip to my home of origin -- Canada. After three years of living in the U.S., it was an opportunity for me to see the differences between the two neighbors in a new light. And what differences there are. From a marketing and business perspective, here are my observations:

First, my disclaimer. These represent my personal observations and opinions having grown up in Canada and now as a U.S. resident. There is absolutely no scientific data to support these statements. And to be fair, smaller North American cities and towns will likely present a very different experience. With that in mind...
1. Retail customer service in Canada cannot come close to what it is in the U.S. At the grocery store checkout, cashiers do not customarily greet you or make eye contact. You're just the next transaction in line. You're lucky if you hear a thank you. In some retail stores, you can stand and wait for two sales staff to complete their conversation and notice you before they ask if you need help.
2. Canadian consumers continue to respond to environmental issues. In urban centers, it's common to see smaller cars and excellent public transit. Yes, that may have to do with the fact that gas in Toronto was $1.01 a litre last week. (One litre is approximately a quarter of a U.S. gallon - you do the math.) Although Canada is the number one country for U.S. oil imports, much of the gas pump costs go to taxes. They have been recycling for years and some cities have now added composting containers to their kitchen countertops - all provided by municipal tax dollars.
3. Canada's economy is booming with the Canadian dollar fluctuating recently between $1.05 and $1.09 U.S. That's a record breaker. It's lousy for Canadian exports to the States, but it'll be a great winter for southern states with snowbird and visitor tourism flourishing. Enjoy it while it lasts.
4. The cost of living in Toronto is still very high. The house next door to my old house sold recently for $1.2 million! That's insane considering that the entire postage stamp lot is about 43' feet wide by about 140' deep. The house was built in 1952, so unrenovated rooms are quite small. Sounds similar to major urban centers in the U.S. before they were affected by sub-prime loan fallout. (Those are not allowed in Canada by the way.)
5. OK, this one's not about marketing. The traffic is horrendous! I couldn't imagine it growing worse in the past three years, but Toronto's streets are gridlocked all the time. Time for some Torontonians to move to Halifax! The city just hasn't been able to keep up with the growth and population boom, even with amazing public transit.
My advice? Canadians can learn a lot about retail customer service (and overall friendliness)from Americans. Americans can learn a lot about environmental responsibility from Canadians. I could write a book on this subject, but for now, what's your advice? What's been your experience?

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Elaine Fogel is president and CMO of Solutions Marketing & Consulting LLC, and a marketing and branding thought leader, speaker, writer, and MarketingProfs contributor. She is the author of the Beyond Your Logo: 7 Brand Ideas That Matter Most for Small Business Success.

LinkedIn: Elaine Fogel

Twitter: @Elaine_Fogel