Oh, Canada!

ARE OUT-OF-TOWN guests coming and you don't know how to entertain them? Relax. When that carload of cranky visitors shows up, just jump in the back seat and tell them to keep driving to Canada, where the air is clean, football is played in the summer, and the French are a persecuted minority.

Sound too good to be true?

Those are just a few of the delightful quirks of this vast, puck-infested land that make going there almost like visiting another country. Plus, Canada is conveniently located, has clean restrooms, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and, if your guests spill drinks on it, you just drive away.

One of Canada's prime attractions - besides the funny accent, eh? - is Canadian beer, which is the philosophical opposite of light beer. In addition to being a delightfully full-bodied disinfectant, Canadian beer is a willing accomplice to Canadian cuisine, such as french fries with brown gravy, a ham-like bacon, moose pie, brown gravy with french fries, antler chips, powerful smelling cigarettes and fried potato strips in a brown sauce.

In order to balance its strong beer, Canada has light money (one fourth less buying power than regular money). But don't let those board-game colors fool you: Canadians gladly trade these Victorian wallpaper swatches for goods and services, just like real money, which is a uniform green and has a dead white man's picture in the center. If you and your guests have trouble telling the

denominations apart, just remember there's a maple leaf on their single, a beaver on their five, William Shatner on the sawbuck, and Gordie Howe on the 50. Figuring the exchange rate is easy if you remember this simple formula: To get from Canadian to U.S., multiply by 5/9 and subtract 32. And don't act like a tourist and say "dollars"; Canada uses the metric system and measures currency in Imperial kiloliters.

Driving in British Columbia (Fact: British Columbia is neither British nor Columbian) can be somewhat scary for an American (or "idiot hoser from the states," as the locals often good-naturedly josh in their playful Arctic way). B.C. has mandatory no-fault car insurance provided by the government, which makes drivers there a little more casual about automotive contact than you or a demolition derby driver might be.

When you arrive, maneuvering your vehicle can be difficult because 98 percent of Canadians huddle against the border, loudly proclaiming how awful the U.S. is and how they would never live there, and spilling Cokes on their Chevies in the McDonald's parking lot. Just drive three miles north and you'll have the place to yourself.

On the bright side, driving in Canada can be lots of fun because the speed limit is usually 100. In fact, feel free to flout traffic laws like a native, because those Mounties couldn't catch you even if they were riding Kentucky Derby winners. Yugo drivers, however, should have passports and bribe money handy, just as in Mexico.

Primitive emptiness is everywhere up north, even on radio and TV, which are subject to Canadian content rules requiring a large portion of airtime be devoted to Canadian artists. If your guests yearn - or even hanker - for Burton Cummings, Loverboy, April Wine or Chilliwack, then by golly they can probably stomach Canadian TV game shows, too, many of which offer prizes in excess of $200 (Canadian).

ALTHOUGH CANADA HAS THE look and feel of an overgrown theme park, before entering you must pass a Canadian customs inspection, which consists of several tough questions:

1. "How long will you be in Canada?"

2. "Where did you hide the illicit narcotics or firearms?"

3. "Do you want gravy on your fries?"

Be sure your responses are in both French and English, as required by law.

Coming home, you will have to pass through U.S. customs. Although U.S. customs may seem like an incredibly slow toll booth, do not take the customs people lightly. When they ask you if you have anything to declare, do not say something like, "No, unless plutonium and heroin are considered fresh fruit," even though they should realize that's a real funny joke.

And because of our nation's zero-tolerance policy, you might not get back in the country at all if there is something about you the customs person cannot tolerate, such as you just had a fun Canadian vacation while he was stuck in a humid booth listening to strangers say, "We have nothing to declare" as their tailpipes drag from the load of Chivas Regal in the trunk, which is probably the real reason they stripped my car and asked me questions about plutonium and heroin for five hours.