Canada, the country notoriously known for its ever-present politeness and poutine. A nation that values above all else its multiculturalism along with its sweet, sweet maple syrup. Canada is physically expansive with a relatively small population. In fact, the total population of Canada is 2 million fewer than just the state of California alone but the land mass itself is 25 time LARGER. It's because Canadians need our space.
We aren't close talkers, we aren't really even known to be huggers (more like high fivers)! My Italian friend seems to think the cold weather makes us cold people (who isn't cold when compared to an Italian?) but the truth is, we are just used to having our space!
In this crazy place called Canada, we humbly welcome tourism from all over the world but perhaps most notably are the visits we get from our neighbours to the South. In 2017 alone, Canada welcomed visits from 14.33 MILLION Americans! It used to be that Americans came across the border to shop since their dollar strength made it easy to afford a nice holiday. Nowadays, word has gotten out that there are any number of reasons to visit Canada: stunning nature, international festivals, delightful maritime culture including fresh lobster and walks along the ocean floor, or simply for our good old fashion manners - one thing is for sure, Americans love visiting Canada.
Since it can be a big adjustment if you're an American visiting Canada for the first time, we've created the list that we think sums up the culture shock pretty well with 20 Thoughts Every American Has When Visiting Canada for The First Time:
20 Is that milk... in a bag?
Why yes, yes it is! This is commonplace of many Ontarians and Quebecers, so if you're over in Canada visiting a residence you might note a plastic jug in the fridge that contains a bag of milk in place of your beloved carton. In fact, at least 75% of all milk sold in Ontario is in a plastic sealed polyethylene bag.
Why would anyone sell milk in a bag you might be thinking? It began as a solution to the waste-producing glass bottles that were difficult to lug around and often broke. While Canada made the leap to the metric system, manufacturers created the bag of milk as a stop-gap while they converted their machines to accommodate a different system. What they found, however, was that by using the bags it produced less waste and created more space in the refrigerator and the rest is history as they say. If this is truly too weird, you will still be able to fund trusty old cartons too.
19 Where are all the flags?
Americans are generally super proud of their country and aren't afraid to show it! When visiting you can often throw a coin and hit at least two American flags from virtually any position, ever, in any state (okay, maybe a slight exaggeration). So, it might seem odd that when visiting Canada for the first time, you can't easily spot the Canadian flag on every doorstep, car, and/or diner window.
One place you will find our precious maple leaf is when you spot us visiting YOUR country. That's right, Canadian travellers are notoriously known for ironing a big old flag to their backpacks and luggage. You're more likely to find flags supporting hockey teams in car windows than our red and white Canadian flag.
18 We must have just missed the Igloos/huskies?
This is a wildly outdated stereotype but one that can be rather amusing as a Canadian speaking (read: toying) with foreigners nonetheless. While we do boast beautiful Arctic territories to the far north of our beautiful country, you likely won't find igloos or huskies when you're visiting any of the more typical tourist destinations or cities in Canada. That's not to say that you can't arrange for some good old fashioned dog-sledding in the wintertime when the snow is crisp and white if visiting natural parks.
Generally though, we use cars and live in regular old houses like you. Sorry!
17 These disco fries Are Missing Something
Perhaps one of the single-most glorious food items of our home and native land is the poutine. Originating from Quebec in the 1950s, the poutine is a certified work of art. It is fries (preferably hand cut and deep fried) with quebecois cheddar cheese curds (if they don't squeak against your teeth, they're not legit) and steaming hot gravy. The chicken gravy is lighter in colour and saltier where the sauce brun variation is a mix of chicken and beef and quite a bit darker.
If you've never experienced the magic of poutine, you might mistakenly think they are a variation of the disco fries but after sampling, you will see that they are truly in a league of their own.
16 Rainbow Money is for Monopoly
Our money like our people is quite cheerful and bright and is often mocked as resembling Monopoly money. It doesn't help that in recent years we traded our paper money in for a polymer variety which almost feels like plastic (and sort of like toy money). The benefit to Canadian money is it's pretty easy to distinguish a 10 dollar bill (purple) from a one hundred dollar bill (brown). In more recent years our 2 dollar bill was replace by the toonie which only makes it easier to make fun of our currency. It's spelled toonie because it's two loonies. Two loonies equals a toonie, but it's not twonie. Confused yet?
15 It’s Not THAT Cold
For some reason Canada is always depicted in a totally glacial manner in most films and television shows with snow blustering into the screen from all angles. If you're from states like New York, Alaska, North Dakota or even Minnesota then visiting Canada in the wintertime won't be too crazy for you. In fact, it'll probably feel just like home!
That being said, if you're looking for a more of a challenge then visiting the Northwest Territories could give you a run for your money with average lows reaching between 9 and -5 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to get the proper gear and take a drive on the ice road highway when you visit!
14 It’s REALLY Cold!!!
If you hail from states like Florida, Texas or Hawaii, your first thoughts could be generally disturbing when visiting Canada in the wintertime. If cold weather isn't your bag then it's safest to visit coastal places like Vancouver in BC or Halifax in Nova Scotia as the average winter temperatures tend to stay within 33-45 degrees Fahrenheit! If that's still too cold for you, it might be best to work your way up to winter by visiting in the fall as a starting place. Witnessing the leaves turning from green to fiery red is one of the most magnificent ways to see Canada on a country drive.
13 This bacon is WEIRD
This looks like plain old ham! You might hear an uninformed tourist say peameal or back bacon. Declared Toronto's official dish in 2017, peameal bacon is one of many Canadian delicacies that is a must-try for any first time visitor. Thick cut, juicy bacon made from boneless pork loin is trimmed fine, wet cured and rolled in cornmeal. It was originally rolled in crushed peas (hence the pea-meal) by ham and bacon curer William Davies who had a stall in the St. Lawrence market in the early 1900s. Incidentally The St Lawrence Market is where you can find the world's BEST peameal bacon sandwich today - at Carousel Bakery (full disclosure: this happens to be a business owned by my family since 1977, but personal bias aside, it has been accredited by many chefs and critics, including the late Anthony Bourdain who featured our humble bakery on his series Parts Unknown).
12 Baxter, you know I don't speak French
As a first time visitor you might notice that in Canada we have two, count 'em TWO official languages. Pretty much every sign, label and official document comes equipped with both English and French. We are taught and tested in French in school up until high school and many schools offer French immersion for students who wish to pursue a fully bilingual education.
The good news is that pretty much everyone speaks English. The only place you might get a few eye rolls is in Quebec but that's pretty standard across the the board and a small price that even we, english speaking Canadians are willing to pay to enjoy the delightful poutine that awaits in Quebec.
11 So, Eh is really a thing, eh?
Canada has a fair few stereotypes (just take a glance at the photo above if you're not sure what i'm talking about). We can confirm that at least one of those stereotypes, that little word "Eh", is totally a thing. Eh is much more of a thing than the claims that all Canadians say OOT and ABOOT (we'll get to that). Eh is a nice little lyrical thing Canadians say as a conformational. We just want to know that you agree with us at all time, basically.
The world likes to use 'eh' as a way to make fun of Canadians but it turns out the 'eh' predates Canada's very own confederation. The parody use really took off in the 80's when CBC TV featured SCTV sketch comedy duo Bob and Dough Mackenzie that glorified Canada's stereotypical drinking, hockey playing and eh-saying personas that many still affiliate with us Canadians to this day. How do you like them apples, eh?
10 It's How Far?!
It could be difficult to get used to the metric system in Canada if it weren't present in almost every country ever outside of the United States of America. While visiting Canada you might be lured into an IKEA thinking that you can stretch your USD-converted loonies a lot further in a Canadian store. Then only to realize that the amount of time it takes to convert all the measurements on your iPhone from cm to inches and kilos to pounds, creates a totally tedious task that may or may not be worth the effort. The same could be said for say, baking a cake and trying to read the oven (Celsius vs Fahrenheit) or driving a car (Kilometres vs Miles).
9 Do I smell Nature in Toronto?
It may come as a pretty big shock that Toronto, the largest City in Canada is also ranked as one of the greenest cities in the entire world. Say whaaat? Vancouver takes the cake in 2nd place overall but considering the sheer size of Toronto, it's a pretty amazing feat that it's on the list at all. It could be confusing for a New Yorker visiting to actually smell the scent of trees as you walk down bustling downtown avenues and disorienting for an LA native to note all the pedestrian friendly foot (and bike) paths that link the city together in a network called the Toronto Ravine System. All more reasons to visit!
8 What on earth is a Zed?!
I think we will just have to agree to disagree on this one. I don't think the Zed is going anywhere soon and it seems to be a bone of contention for those alphabet song enthusiasts who claim that Zed is simply a misfit considering that the first line ends with G, then P, then V, then ZED!? The truth is that this letter (like most of the english language) is derived from latin (and french) and is therefore quite old. Perhaps Canadians made the distinct choice to stick with it to emphasize strong ties to Britain or perhaps, it's just tradition, and it's part of our education system. In any case it's not going anywhere, people, so let it go!
7 I Miss My Netflix
We salute you American Netflix and we bow down respectfully as a nation. Canadian Netflix just isn't the same and until you visit Canada you would never even believe how different that they could be! That is, until you go looking to kick back after a long day of ice fishing to some 30Rock because what else would you be watching while on holiday in Canada (particularly Season 5, Episode 14). It's not the same and it largely comes down to the C word. As in Contractual agreements between major networks. This is just an area that we simply can't compete with.
6 I’m glad we made it OOT to the East Coast
Because then you could finally see that it is this specific region of Canada that speaks with this ever-famous accent. I honestly love that this is a stereotype because it does sound quaint and darling but we just don't really speak like that... except in the maritimes. In Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick is where you get this concentrated Canadian dialect. It's also where you get fresh lobster, dynamite potatoes, sunsets that will make your heart melt and just the friendliest people you've ever met in your life. The East coast (or COOST as the locals will say) of Canada is easily my top recommendation for tourists for these very reasons.
5 The Four Seasons.. I Get It Now
The Four Seasons Hotel chain which started a Canadian Enterprise now has over 100 properties worldwide. The namesake being a tip of the hat to Canadian climate, with 4 true and distinguishable seasons across the year.
It was started by Canadian businessman Isadore Sharp in the swingin' 60s who was originally working as an architect in the family business. Isaac built a two story motel in suburban Toronto called Inn On The Park that housed Canada's first-ever discotheque. Other claims to fame include the invention of the teeny tiny toiletries offered in-room that you now see carried out by most every hotel.
It is also known in the hospitality industry as being a world class employer with the lowest employee turnover rate in the biz.
4 THERE ISN'T A TRADER JOE'S / IN-N-OUT BURGER / WALGREENS?!
Trust me, we are just as disappointed as you are. Any Canadian who has toured across the border knows just how monumental these establishments could be in Canada. Let's start with the ever-favourited Trader Joe's: excellent newfound treasures at good prices not to mention the diversity in products!! This could be a perfect offering for Canada. Next, we have In-N-Out Burger- the church of burger lovers in the US seems to have a cult following that Canadians can't understand because we haven't been given the chance to! Walgreens is arguably quite similar to Canadian Walmart and they're probably not far off from one another but for a tourist, seeing a familiar name of a brand from home can make all the difference.
3 So The Major Dramatic Divide in Canada is Based on Tim Horton's
Basically the biggest nation-wide drama is about where one acquires their daily coffee. Tim Horton's is seen as a Canadian cache because it's named after hockey player Tim Horton, serves notoriously famous Timbits, and a few times a year offers the fan favourite 'rrrroll up the rim to win' contest. You literally roll up the rim.. to win! Often it's a bagel or a donut, but whatever, free feels good! The issue that many Canadians have with Tim's is the declining quality as a result of being a corporate sell out. Bagels have gotten less toasty, donuts much smaller, and there are a lot of weird 'trendy' food items like 'paninis' and 'macchiatos' that aren't that good and therefore have no business taking the spotlight off the Ice Caps. It is a touchy subject with most Canadians so please, tread lightly.
2 Please, please, please STOP apologizing
Seriously. Canadians absolutely apologize for everything! It's more of a way of saying more than just an apology. In fact, we often say sorry when someone bumps into us! It's sort of passive aggressive but mostly because we're too polite to be full-on confrontational and too awkward to be direct in most instances with strangers. Sorry is a substitute for 'excuse me', 'excuse you', 'move out of the way now please', 'speak louder I can't hear you', and many other things we would rather just not get into. I feel like the person who invented #sorrynotsorry was most definitely a Canadian.
1 OH Canada!
It's true, it's beautiful, clean and generally super safe. Oh Canada! Is a normal reaction to a first-time visit and probably how we got our National Anthem. I can just see it, a first time American tourist visited Canada n in all of her natural beauty, and poutine glory and uttered the words in utter amazement OH CANADA!
Okay probably not, but most Americans who visit Canada for the first time are amazed at the history, culture and ultimately interesting-ness that they weren't told about in school growing up. It's true in Canada we learned all about the United States but most Americans only started paying attention to us when we got Trudeau in as top dog. The important thing is we're all here now so let's cherish our differences and continue to enjoy each other's lands with reverence and curiosity, eh?
References: MyLifeElsewhere.com, statista.com, CBC, USA Today, CurrentResults.com