To the rest of the world, Canada and America are essentially one and the same. There are people abroad who don't recognize the difference, and there are those from Canada who call themselves USA folk because, and I quote, "it's just easier." On the other hand, if you're actually from Canada or the States, it seems as if the two countries couldn't be more different.
As a proud product of Canada myself, it's easy to see what makes the "Great White North" and the "Land of the Free" so different. For starters, Canucks are much more comfortable in the cold. I mean, we change our tires every winter because our roads get so icy! Yet, when I take a step back, I've come to realize the two countries are as much alike as they are different.
Depending on which side of the border you find yourself on, you may have a different impression of your neighbor. From up North, I like to think of the two countries as close cousins. America is the big cousin, first gaining independence in 1776 from our shared ancestor, the UK. Canada is the younger cousin, achieving independence in 1867, and as the younger cousin, we often look up to America. From the sidelines, we observe the US hungrily consuming media and passionately following all of America's current events, almost with the same feverishness someone would slyly scroll through an ex's social media profiles. We're curious, we care, and it comes from a place of love.
Like all big cousins, USA folks don't want much to do with their little cousin Canada.
No matter where you stand, North, south, or continents apart, it's worthwhile to see what the two countries have in common and what some of our significant cultural differences are.
Updated by Gabriel Kirellos, November 26th, 2021: There are many cultural differences between the United States and Canada, and the two countries also share countless similarities. This list was updated to include the significant difference between the two countries with regards to immigration, and the considerable resemblance of excellent service at restaurants, and the tip expectations.
People From Canada apologize, a lot (Major difference)Canucks have a reputation for being the friendliest nation around, and that generous stereotype probably stems from the fact that we are all addicted to apologizing.Saying sorry and other niceties are so permeated in brains up North that when I sneeze in my car alone in traffic, I actually say "excuse me" aloud. This is not a joke. I have done this several times.What's also not a joke is how rich I'd be if I got a nickel (five cents) for every time I said "sorry." I've said sorry because I didn't hold the door open wide enough for people behind me.I'm not sure where we learned our excellent manners, but there are millions of moms doing a great job in Canada, and the States could take a lesson or two from their book.
Both countries consume a lot of US Media (Basically the same)What makes our two countries most alike is the media we collectively obsess over.Canada has tried to take US programs and make them local. For example, Canadian Idol failed after 3 seasons, and The Amazing Race Canada and The Bachelor Canada are still running. Still, the winners of the shows have a few thousand measly followers on social media and then just fade into nonexistence after their season ends. Essentially, you can't quit your day job if you're on television in Canada.Yet I'll happily get together with friends to watch the latest season of the US Bachelor / Bachelorette / Bachelor in Paradise. Heck, our girl Vanessa Grimaldi won the whole thing a few seasons back! We're tuned into US media, radio, literature, film, the whole nine yards. And that won't be changing any time soon.
Free health care in Canada (Major difference)I can't imagine giving birth and then being slapped with a bill at the end of it. In Canada, you can walk into any hospital, patiently wait for hours in the waiting room, then speak with a doctor about your ailments.Free healthcare is excellent and fantastic for people of all income levels. However, while expensive, the US healthcare system is competitive, experimental, and offers some of the world's best specialists. You get excellent care in the States; you get free care in Canada. Take your pick.
We all love a big US breakfast (Basically the same)The weirdest thing about traveling abroad is that not all countries obsess over breakfast like people from Canada and the US do. If I could only eat waffles, french toast, and fruit for the rest of my life, I'd be a happy lady.Alas, countries across the Atlantic do not share our obsession with brunch foods or bottomless mimosas . Instead, you'll see a lot of sad continental breakfasts with nothing but stale muffins. Not an egg to be seen and no smell of bacon in the air. It's terribly sorry.
Expensive flights across Canada vs. cheap flights across the USA (Major difference)
One thing America gets very, very correct and Canada gets very, very wrong is domestic travel. In the States, if you want to travel from one end of the country to the next, you can manage to find a flight for cheap thanks to Southwest, JetBlue, Am. Airlines, Delta, United...the list goes on. There are often deals from one major airport to the next for one or two hundred dollars roundtrip.
In Canada, traveling the same distance domestically will cost you upwards of $500 roundtrip, and I've never seen prices dip below that. We have fewer airlines, essentially only Air Canada and WestJet, so prices are pretty fixed. We don't offer the same type of low-cost carriers or flash deals. It's a sad shame.
17 We're both really proud of our countries (Basically the same)
Ask anyone from the States, and they'll say they're living in the greatest country in the world. Ask anyone from Canada, and they'll talk your ear off about how great it is to live in Canada. We're both incredibly proud of our respective countries and aren't afraid to toot our own horns about it.
Objectively speaking, both countries are pretty great. We both have freedom, diversity, acceptance, forward-thinking, and adorable kids who love to wear stars and stripes or red maple leaves.
16 Canada has two official languages (Major difference)
In America, Spanish is pretty big, but it's not an official language. Instead, many people grow up learning and speaking only one language.
In Canada, we have two official languages, French and English. All children are required to take classes in their second language at school (French as a second language for English speakers in most of the country and English as a second language for French speakers in Quebec).
If you forget that Canada is bilingual, just think of our lovely Celine Dion living in Caesars Palace in Vegas and her classic French accent. That'll jog your memory.
15 Our kitchens and restaurants represent all our cultures (Basically the same)
Both Canada and America have absolutely fantastic food that blends together flavors from all over the world.
If you travel to Thailand, they have great Thai food. If you travel to France, expect incredible French cuisine. But in Canada and the States, we don't necessarily have a trademark (we'll get to burgers and fast food later). Still, we're great at highlighting the different ethnicities in our cities and hosting some really delicious places to eat.
If I had to pick out my top five favorite restaurants from my city, one would serve sushi, the other Thai, another Asian, the next Pizza, and the final one serves hot dogs and poutine. It's a diverse mix.
14 Longer maternity leave in Canada (Major difference)
Mommies have it great in Canada. We have governmental paid maternity leave for one year, and we have the option to take more at a lower percentage of our salary. Most moms I know take at least the whole year, if not more! While mom is at home with the baby (or dad, since parental leave can be split any way you like), they continue to receive part of their salary, usually between 80-55%, for the full 12 months, they're away from work. The minimum a mom can take is 17 weeks of paid maternity leave.
In the States, it's pretty different. It's not the government that pays new moms and dads; it's their employer. And instead of 12 months, new parents in the States get 12 weeks off work, with no guaranteed pay. That's up to the discretion of the employer.
13 We're both smart, literate, powerful countries (Basically the same)
Both countries fair pretty well as far as literacy rates go, general education, and street smarts. Canada rounds out the list of the top ten most intelligent countries globally (Singapore is number one, FYI), and New York takes the number 1 spot for the most brilliant city in the world.
What qualifies these countries and major city centers as intelligent when we see grown men struggling to answer 5th-grade questions, you might ask? Well, according to Forbes, it's a combination of attracting and nurturing talent, a strong economy, a positive environment, international outreach, and innovative technology.
12 Cheaper University in Canada (Major difference)
One of the biggest problems with US education is the price tag. Students pay tens of thousands of dollars to get a degree, whereas it costs next to nothing compared to Canada.
Yes, America is home to some of the best universities globally, like Harvard and Yale, but even if you go to a local college, you'll likely pay close to $30,000 a year for your Bachelor's degree. That means most students who don't qualify for scholarships leave with a diploma and close to $100,000 in debt.
In Canada, we offer schools at reduced rates for local residents, and a year of Undergraduate University costs around $3000 (even at the top schools in the country).
11 We share the same hobbies (Basically the same)
People across Canada and America are pretty active, generally speaking. Most people I know enjoy some type of hobby or activity that involves going outside, playing a sport, or exercising. Of course, that doesn't mean we're all bodybuilders. There's a massive chunk of people from both nations who would rather curl up with a book. However, I've seen enough Am. Ninja Warrior to know that there are quite a few fitness buffs across the States, and I know Canada is no different.
We love to play hockey, soccer, ski, bike, hike, swim, go hunting, go fishing, kayaking, rock climbing, you name it! There are lots of yoga classes, Zumba courses, dance lessons, gymnastics, figure skating, and just about anything else that gets your heart beating.
10 Canadians like hockey more than football (Major difference)
Once a year, I watch the Superbowl, mainly for the commercials and the halftime show, but if you're a Canuck you can't help but have a soft spot for hockey.
Hockey is one of only two leagues we share with America (NHL and MLB), so the stakes are higher when we tune in to a game. Our football league is anticlimactic, our soccer league plays to a stadium perpetually three-quarters full, and not all major cities have baseball teams in the MLB. Hence, as a whole, our country is pretty indifferent.
But hockey! Oh, man. Parents buy onesies and hockey jerseys for their home team before their babies are even born; we're that intense, kinda like our cousins to the south with their favorite football teams.
9 We're both fast food nations (Basically the same)
Of course, it's unhealthy, but we can help it, all-day breakfast! Both countries are pretty much dependent on fast food to run. A big chunk of millennials can't function without their Starbucks coffee in the morning and then a second in the afternoon. And another big piece of millennials winds up at McDonald's at three in the morning after a night out, sobering up to a chicken nugget trio.
Nothing much changes, whether you're to the North or south of the border; America may run on Dunkin's, but Canada runs on Tim Horton's, and that's more or less the same thing.
8 Canadians use the metric system, sort of (Major difference)
Canada and most countries worldwide use the metric system to measure weight and distance, and temperature. For example, miles per hour is an abstract concept we only hear about in US movies. Fahrenheit is a weird measurement that makes it sound like the Earth is so hot it'll melt (I mean, 100 degrees Celsius is 212 Fahrenheit, which sounds post-apocalyptic).
Yet, even if Canada officially uses the metric system, it's hard to think of Subway sandwiches as anything but a foot long or six inches. And when I read the back of a frozen pizza box, I set the oven to 350 Fahrenheit. I also have no idea how many kilograms I weigh, but I can tell you in pounds. Canada uses a weird hybrid of the US standard system and metric, so really, we're a lot more similar than different in the end.
7 Our celebrities are your celebrities, and vice versa (Basically the same)
Canada is happy to share our lovable celebs with America. You may not even know they're from Canada when you look at stars like Ryan Reynolds or Ryan Gosling. I mean, they seem so Hollywood, right?! I mean, I just found out funnymen Seth Rogen, and Matthew Perry were both Canucks today, like right now! But that just goes to show how similar our cultures really are.
Some of the top artists on the radio come from Canada, including Bieber, Drake, The Weeknd, Shawn Mendes, and Alessia Cara. Because our entertainment systems are so blended, your celebrities are our celebrities, and it's nice that it works both ways for once.
6 Rainbow plastic vs green paper money (Major difference)
Paper money is not the smartest thing invented. I can't count how many times I accidentally lost my money in the pocket of my dirty jeans when they went through the laundry. Plastic money is just a lot safer. Plus, there's a myth that it smells like maple syrup.
The USA's money, all green and papery, is far less exciting the look at. Call our money Monopoly money all you want, but it's easy to find what you're looking for, and Canada's money is not so easily destroyed.
5 We share the classic dream (Basically the same)
One of the reasons US media and entertainment appeals to its northern neighbors so much is because we share common values and ambitions. We're both ambitious, we want to make the world a better place, and we want to build the best lives possible for ourselves.
The white picket fence idea may be a bit outdated, but the concept of security, love, and family is pretty universal. There's a lot of people sharing the same dream of buying a house in the suburbs, raising a family, and maybe getting a dog or two, all while having enough for vacations. I mean, is that really too much to ask?
4 We Differ In Our Approach To Immigrants ( Major Difference)
More immigrants flock to Canada than to the United States. This is what led to the Canadian population becoming more culturally diverse. Almost 45% of Canadians belong to the second generation of immigrants, and around 20% were born outside of Canada. On the contrary, the United States is home to more old families, and only 13% of the population is born outside of the country.
3 Tips At Restaurants Are A Similar Thing Between The Two Countries ( Basically The Same)
While the price that is shown on restaurant's menus is not the price that people will pay in the US and Canada, since taxes will be added to it when receiving the bill, those dining at the restaurant must expect to also pay a 15% to 20% tip for good service in both countries. However, it is worth noting that both the US and Canada have friendly servers and excellent service at their restaurants.
2 Canucks drink milk from bags (Major difference)
Bags of milk make sense. Why waste a carton or plastic jug when you can just fill these thin plastic bags with milk instead? I didn't even know this was not a thing in other countries until people started asking about it and saying it was weird.
Usually, a house will buy 4 liters of milk (which is just over one gallon), which comes in three transparent bags. Every home has a rigid plastic milk container. You put the bag inside the milk container, it sticks out a bit, and then you snip the corner of the load off to make a small hole to pour from. Again, it just makes sense when that's all you've ever known.
1 You'll see the same style and brands (Basically the same)
If you travel from Canada to America or America to Canada, you'll see many of the same brands. There are, of course, specific stores that are country-specific that never made their way across the border, but a lot of major brands like Nike, Old Navy, Gap, or Michael Kors are available in both countries. H&M and Forever 21 are popular with younger women. Walmart and Costco are in every major city across both countries. Most importantly, Amazon is taking over the world, especially in Canada and the US.
If you're driving through Ontario or if you're driving through Burlington, you're not going to notice much difference when you look out your car window at the stores around you.
Ultimately, the two countries are similar at first glance. Maybe even a second glance. It's only when you get down to the nitty-gritty that you start to see our differences.